- NAME: H.L. Mencken
- OCCUPATION: Activist, Literary Critic, Editor, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: September 12, 1880
- DEATH DATE: January 29, 1956
- Did You Know?: In 1926, H.L. Mencken was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts, for selling a copy of The American Mercury, which had been deemed obscene by the New England Watch and Ward Society.
- EDUCATION: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Baltimore, Maryland
- PLACE OF DEATH: Baltimore, Maryland
- Full Name: Henry Louis Mencken
- AKA: Henry L. Mencken
- AKA: H.L. Mencken
- Nickname: The Sage of Baltimore
- Nickname: The Bard of Baltimore
Best Known For
Known for his wit and cynicism, journalist and editor H.L. Mencken was an influential American literary critic.
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H.L. Mencken was born on September 12, 1880, in Baltimore, Maryland. He became a writer and editor at The Baltimore Sun, penning a celebrated column. Concurrent with his work for The Sun, Mencken edited The Smart Set magazine and started The American Mercury. During the 1940s, he published three memoirs. After a stroke forced his retirement in 1948, he died on January 29, 1956, in Baltimore.
"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."
"I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant."
Henry Louis Mencken was born on September 12, 1880, in Baltimore, Maryland, the eldest son of a German-American family. When he was 7 years old, his father, August, gave him a printing press. In the first volume of his autobiography, Mencken claimed the gift incited his passion for the newspaper industry.
As a teenager, Mencken attended the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, graduating as class valedictorian in 1896. He had hoped to become a newspaper reporter, but instead his father gave him two choices: he could either go to college or work for the family tobacco business. Mencken chose the latter.
Shortly after his father died in 1899, Menken set off to pursue his dream of becoming a reporter. He achieved that dream when, as a result of his persistence, the Baltimore Morning Herald agreed to take him on as its youngest reporter. Within four years, Mencken rose to the rank of managing editor.
When the Morning Herald folded in 1906, he joined the staff of The Baltimore Sun as the paper's Sunday editor. Before long, Mencken was promoted to editorial writer. In 1911, he was awarded his own column, "The Free Lance," which ran for 18 years in the Monday edition of The Evening Sun. Mencken's celebrated columns not only critiqued literature, but also humorously questioned popular political, social and cultural views.
Concurrent with his column writing for The Sun, Mencken co-edited The Smart Set literary magazinefrom 1914 to 1923. He also started his own monthly magazine, The American Mercury, in 1924. During the 1940s, Mencken published his autobiography in three separate volumes: Happy Days, Newspaper Days and Heathen Days.
Mencken was forced to retire in 1948, after a stroke robbed him of his ability to read and write. His wife, writer Sara Haardt, had died 12 years earlier of spinal tuberculosis, after the two had moved back into Mencken's childhood home. Mencken remained at his parents' former Hollins Street home in Baltimore until his death on January 29, 1956.
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