MENCKEN: A Study of His Thought by Charles A. Fecher

MENCKEN: A Study of His Thought

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What Mencken's ""prejudices""--against gentility, for blunt honesty--contributed to America's cultural coming-of-age after the First World War is attested to by a ten-foot shelf; but he was not the Sage of the Ages that Fecher makes him out to be--until, that is, he pulls the rug out from under the long-suffering reader in the book's final pages. First we are asked to consider that Mencken's narrow ideas ""constitute an impressive body of thought,"" that his diverse interests make him a ""universal man,"" that his critical writing accomplished more than that of Goethe, Coleridge, or Saint-Beuve, and so on and on. There follow lengthy chapters on Mencken's practical/practical-joking German conservative Baltimore background, on Mencken the Philosopher (70 pages to reach ""his fundamental postulate,"" the division of mankind--per Nietzsche--into the ""intelligent minority"" and the ""morons""), the Political Theorist (democracy is the ""universal murrain"" of the Western world), the Critic (once again, ""he literally changed the course of Western literature""), and, all too briefly, the Philologist. Then, in the last chapter, we read that Mencken's style is what distinguished him. His humor, to be precise. ""His ideas were not really very unusual or radical."" ""His thought. . . was seldom original or profound."" if this garrulous, witless, unscholarly book had any merit, its specific flaws might be worth discussing (like the relegation of Mencken's anti-Semitism to footnotes, the failure to link his literary iconoclasm to Van Wyck Brooks'); but the hapless reviewer can only wonder if everyone but the typesetter dropped off along the way.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1978
Publisher: Knopf