Even high school students knew of H. L. Mencken in the day. That is no longer true, according to the blank stares that greet a mention of his name among today’s developing intelligentsia. More’s the pity. Revisiting this early 20th century journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English is a continuing revelation. Witness these segments from a review of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, published so long ago. And note especially the summation in bold face, predicting what Mencken then foresaw as the next reality in our national destiny.
“I have a notion that he [Roosevelt] died too soon [in 1945]. His best days were probably not behind him, but ahead of him. Had he lived 10 years longer, he might have enjoyed a great rehabilitation, and exchanged his own false leadership of the inflammatory and fickle mob for a sound and true leadership of the civilized minority. The old theory of free and autonomous states has broken down by its own weight, and we are moved toward centralization by forces that have long been powerful and are now quite irresistible. So with the old theory of national isolation: it, too, has fallen to pieces. The United States can no longer hope to lead a separate life in the world, undisturbed by the pressure of foreign aspirations. However unpleasant it may be to contemplate, the fact is plain that the American people, during the next century, will have to fight to maintain their place in the sun.
Even more from one who may have become a virtuoso himself:
“There was a time when the American citizen was an idealist himself. Now he is only idealism’s raw material, as a cow is the raw material of butter, ice-cream and custard pie — a stuff milked, tickled, clubbed and pulverized into beauty by ordained virtuosi. I am still so young that my toupee looks natural, yet I can remember when, if ordered to toe a mark or climb astraddle upon a rail, the Americano would resist with harsh words, and even with his fists. Now he leaps into position like a well-trained circus horse.” –
(Baltimore Evening Sun, March 23, 1925)