On this date in 1880, America's most prominent journalist, H.L. (Henry Louis) Mencken, was born in Baltimore. Although his father was agnostic, his Lutheran mother sent him to Sunday School, which he later defined as, "A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents" (A Mencken Chrestomathy,1949). The cigar-chomping, iconoclastic journalist worked most of his life at the Baltimore Sun, where he began his trademark column, "The Free Lance," in 1911. Mencken also coedited Smart Set magazine (1914-1923) and edited American Mercury magazine (1925-1933). His lifetime production of 28 books included a 6-volume collection of his essays, Prejudices (1919-27), In Defense of Women (1917), Treatise of the Gods (1930), and an autobiographical trilogy, ending with Heathen Days, published as one volume in 1947.
The sardonic critic of the "booboisie," who also coined the term "Boobus americanus," was famed for his coverage of the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. Mencken's many epigrams include: "Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable" (The New York Times Magazine, Sept. 11, 1955). "The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore" (Minority Report, 1956). "No one in this world, so far as I know . . . has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people" (Notes on Journalism, Chicago Tribune, Sept. 19 1926). "Puritanism - The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy" (A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949). "Sunday - A day given over by Americans to wishing that they themselves were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in Hell" (A Book of Burlesques 1916, 1924). "Theology: An effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing" (A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949). "The most curious social convention of the great age in which we live is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be respected" (American Mercury, March 1930). D. 1956.