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That Infamous Diary

"Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should
not be able to find my way across the room."

—William Hazlitt

Rarely does a published diary, even of a celebrated writer, become anything more than fodder for the specialist. Yet H.L. Mencken's diary has been turned into a cause célèbre by its editor, Charles A. Fecher. Fecher's introduction is probably the most spectacular knifing by an editor of his own author since Max Lerner, then in the Marxist phase of his endless career, denounced Adam Smith, in the introduction to the Modern Library edition of the Wealth of Nations (1937), as "an unconscious mercenary in the service of a rising capitalist class." Equally in tune with the dominant cultural climate as Lerner had been in the 1930's, Fecher's hatchet job has succeeded in organizing a veritable lynch mob against the shade of the Sage of Baltimore. The gist of the lynching was summed up in one large-type newspaper headline: "Mencken Pro-Hitler, Diary Reveals."

Fecher's introduction is reminiscent of nothing so much as the immortal line of Claude Rains in Casablanca: he is shocked . . . shocked to discover from the diaries, unsealed only since 1981, that Mencken hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, that he strongly opposed America's entry into World War II, and—always the killing...

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