The Siege of Baltimore

"Newspapers have degenerated, they may now be absolutely relied upon."
—Oscar Wilde

It is 36 years since the gaseous incorporeal soul of Henry Louis Mencken, summoned before the throne of Him in Whom he for 76 years had expressed unbelief, presumably uttered the words the fleshly Mencken had rehearsed for such unlikely occasion: "Gentlemen, I was wrong!" In the interval between 1956 and the present, the art and ideas—and through them the personality—of the defunct Mencken continue to withstand time, political correctness, the assaults of hostile journalistic successors like Garry Wills and the late Henry Fairlie, and the more insulting attentions of those singalong-with-Mitch imitators whose paragon is R. Emmett Tyrrell of the American Spectator.

Still, it is my opinion that nobody yet has got H.L. Mencken right. For instance, Fairlie, in an essay he wrote to commemorate the Mencken centennial in 1980, dismissed his subject for having been merely a superior example of the personalizing writer who in Fairlie's view typifies the American journalist; while Louis D. Rubin, Jr., writing for the Sewanee Review's summer 1991 number, professed to find only "mystery" in the supposedly contradictory attitudes upon which Mencken's work rests. It has become a commonplace that nobody writing as Mencken wrote could...

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