Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Some Bon Mots from H.L. Mencken


Shakespeare’s Sister, through no fault of her own reminded me to compile a list of my favorite H.L. Mencken quotes. The man had his flaws to be sure, but did he have a way with words.

The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is
no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong
probability that yours is a fake.

The scientist who yields anything to theology, however slight, is
yielding to ignorance and false pretenses, and as certainly as if he
granted that a horse-hair put into a bottle of water will turn into a
snake.

The God business is really quite simple. No sane man denies that the universe presents phenomena quite beyond human understanding, and so it is a fair assumption that they are directed by some understanding that is superhuman. But that is as far as sound thought can go.

It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and
omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of
gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the
board of a corporation that is losing money.

What is the function that a clergyman performs in the world?
Answer: he gets his living by assuring idiots that he can save them
from an imaginary hell. It is a business almost indistinguishable from
that of a seller of snake-oil for rheumatism.

The believing mind is externally impervious to evidence. The most
that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one
delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked.

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind -- that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I am unalterably opposed to all efforts to put down free speech, whatever the excuse.

Freedom of press is limited to those who own one.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.

Life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull. Heave yourself into Hell today, and you may miss, tomorrow or next day, another Scopes trial, or another War to End War, or perchance a rich and buxom widow with all her first husband's clothes. There are always more Hardings hatching. I advocate hanging on as long as possible.

No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."

Firmness in decision is often merely a form of stupidity. It indicates an inability to think the same thing out twice.

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.

The men American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try and tell them the truth.

I believe that it is better to tell the truth than a lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.

Truth would quickly cease to become stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

If after I depart this vale you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner, and wink your eye at some homely girl.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Gee, funny how so many of these hit home now. Not naming any names, but I'm thinking of a guy whose initials are George W. Bush.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

Gotta steal that second to the last quote there, Viscount. Gotta use it somewhere. It's just too perfect.

9:01 AM  
Blogger XTCfan said...

Fantastic, Al. Thanks for gathering these together. Now, I know what I'm going to say to myself as I stumble out of bed each morning:

"In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican."

3:41 PM  
Blogger Sticky said...

I'm keeping my eye out for that buxom widow.

6:34 PM  

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