February 11, 2017

Word: Mencken and Thurber

A friend asked your editor about the works of James Thurber and HL Mencken and so I sent her some of the quotes I had collected over the years:

If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons - James Thurber

I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on. -- James Thurber

You may remember that on one occasion when a suspicious plainclothes man, observing that, whereas only two Marxes were seated at a certain breakfast table, there were nevertheless covers laid for twice as many, said sharply: "This table is set for four." Groucho, in no wise confused, replied, "That's nothing, the alarm clock is set for eight." If nothing else set off the Marx Brothers from Karl Marx that would. Karl Marx had the sort of mind which, when faced with the suggestion that the stolen painting was hidden in the house next door, would, on learning that there was no house next door, never have thought to build one. Here is where, again, he parts company with the Marx Brothers. The significance of this divergence becomes clear when it is known that the Marx Brothers recovered the painting -- James Thurber

The long night's journey into day -- James Thurber

[A professor whose specialty is punctuation] queried twelve of fifteen commas in twelve or fifteen different New Yorker pieces, finding them "unnecessary and disturbing." From one casual of mine he picked this sentence. 'After dinner, the men moved into the living room.' I explained to the professor that this was [editor Harold] Ross's way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up. There must, as we know, be a comma after every move, made by men, on this earth. -- James Thurber

Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, 'How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?' and avoid "How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece.' -- James Thurber

I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth. - HL Mencken letter to a young William Saroyan who had written for advice on becoming an editor

College football is a game which would be much more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students, and even more interesting if the trustees played. There would be a great increase in broken arms, legs, and necks, and simultaneously an appreciable diminution in the loss to humanity. - H. L. Mencken

It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just, omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money. - HL Mencken

"The natural tendency of every government is to grow steadily worse -- that is, to grow more satisfactory to those who constitute it and less satisfactory to those who support it." - HL Mencken

It reminds me of a string of wet sponges. It reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup... It drags itself up out of a dark abyss of pish and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash. - HL Mencken on Warren Harding's rhetorical style

All ideas are beyond them. They can only grasp events -- HL Mencken

JOURNALIST - A rat-like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability. The capacity to steal other peoples' ideas and phrases is also invaluable - HL Mencken

Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished. - HL Mencken, 1924

Puritanism: the haunting fear that somebody, somewhere, might be having a good time.- H.L. Mencken

The function of a newspaper in a democracy is to stand as a sort of chronic opposition to the reigning quacks. The minute it begins to out-whoop them it forfeits its character and becomes ridiculous. - H.L. Mencken

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart - HL Mencken

Shakespeare: All he did was string together a lot of old, well-known quotations. - H. L. Mencken,

All the durable truths that have come into the world within historic times have been opposed as bitterly as if they were so many waves of smallpox - H.L. Mencken.

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth." -- H. L. Mencken

Self-respect: The secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious -- HL Mencken

"The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer." -- HL Mencken

The whole drift of our law is toward the absolute prohibition of all ideas that diverge in the slightest form from the accepted platitudes, and behind that drift of law there is a far more potent force of growing custom, and under that custom there is a natural philosophy which erects conformity into the noblest of virtues and the free functioning of personality into a capital crime against society. - H. L. Mencken

All the extravagance and incompetence of our present government is due, in the main, to lawyers, and in part at least, to good ones. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every federal judge is a lawyer. So are most congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizen has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we'd all be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half -- H. L. Mencken

I never listen to debates. They are dreadful things indeed. The plain truth is that I am not a fair man, and don't want to hear both sides. On all known subjects, ranging from aviation to xylophone-playing, I have fixed and invariable ideas. They have not changed since I was four or five. - HL Mencken

Democracy must be a sound scheme at bottom, else it would not survive such cruel strains. -- H. L. Mencken

Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them. - HL Mencken

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