Friday, March 18, 2011

An Embarrassment . . .

What follows is probably one of the most embarrassing intellectual confessions I’ve had to make:

I’ve never knowingly read anything by H.L. Mencken.

In fact, probably about the only thing I know about Mencken is the story of the Bathtub Hoax.

Mencken filled the story with nonsense, such as:

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Del.) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.
And it was believed. And in some corners, it is still quoted as fact.

But that’s a pittance compared to Mencken’s literary legacy, to which Louis Untermeyer and the Treasury of Laughter will give me a preliminary introduction. For that, I am grateful.

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