Seven Years

"The Gaseous Verterbrata who own, operate and afflict the universe have treated me with excessive politeness, and when I mount the gallows at last I may well say with the Psalmist (putting it, of course, into the prudent past tense): The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places."
—H.L. Mencken

In the past 23 years, enough material has been released from the sealed deposit left by H.L. Mencken at his death in 1956 to superannuate the late Carl Bode's Mencken, published a quarter-century ago and a pedestrian job in any event. Thus the time had arrived for a new and definitive biography of the critic, journalist, philologist, and memoirist, and it cannot be said that Fred Hobson, author of Serpent in Eden: ILL. Mencken and the South, has wasted the opportunity. Mencken: A Life is incomparably superior to Mencken, and while written without the dash of William Manchester's Disturber of the Peace: The Life of H.L. Mencken (published several years before its subject's death), it is well written enough, with an objectivity and distance that Manchester's early experiment in the technique of the New Journalism, heavily reliant on a sort of literary chameleonism, precluded. Terry Teachout, reportedly at work on still another biography of Mencken, is left in the uncomfortable position of a man whose swimsuit has been stolen in the public baths.


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