Book: Mencken Chrestomathy


Mencken is a curious figure. He was an unabashed elitist with an absolute disdain for much of humanity. He was also a lover of civilization, or at least certain of civilization’s highest accomplishments like classical music, literature, and science. He was a devout classist, sometimes marking nine or more gradations of men (usually men) from the first-rate (a very, very select few) down through the ninth-raters and beyond. Mencken’s humanity was a pyramid and for him only the tip-top really mattered at all. But he could see Mark Twain was one of America’s most significant artists, an artist for the ages, when many others could not, or could not see past Twain’s public shtick. But jazz went right over his head, he could not hear it at all. I think perhaps he loved the past so much he was in some ways simply blind to the future, and thus by his own standards he was not a first-rate man. But he’s still worth reading anyway.

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