I observe a tendency since his death to estimate him in terms of the content of his books. . . . Nothing could do him worse justice
—H. L. Mencken, on Huneker, in Prejudices: Third Series

The passage of time has not been kind to the reputation of H. L. Mencken. While the writer who was famously described by Walter Lippmann in the 1920s as “the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people” is still a legend in the folklore of American life and letters, it is my impression that he is now very little read. Only the pioneering, often entertaining studies in his multi-volume, much-revised The American Language (1919–1936) seem to have survived the oblivion to which posterity has consigned the bulk of his enormous output. Yet even this, his magnum opus, is now mainly consulted by other specialists in the study of American speech. Almost everything...

 

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