Rare Recording of Controversialist, Journalist and American Literary & Social Critic, H.L. Mencken

Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) was a famous American journalist, essayist, critic of American life and culture, and a scholar of American English. An expert in so many fields, he was called “the Baltimore Sage.” At the age of 22, Mencken became managing editor of the Morning Herald in his hometown of Baltimore. But it was not only through his work as a journalist that he was “as famous in America as George Bernard Shaw was in England.” The influential literary critic helped launch the Southern and Harlem literary renaissances. With his literary journal The Smart Set, Mencken paved the way for writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O’Neill, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, and James Joyce. He also wrote several books, most notably his monumental study The American Language.

“The two main ideas that run through all of my writing, whether it be literary criticism or political polemic are these: I am strong in favor of liberty and I hate fraud.” (source) His spirited defense of the freedom of speech and of the press almost landed him in jail when he fought against the banning of his second literary journal, The American Mercury.

This interview above was conducted by Mencken’s colleague Donald Howe Kirkley of The Baltimore Sun in a small recording room at the Library of Congress in Washington on June 30, 1948. It gives you a rare chance to hear his voice.

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.


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