Hl Mencken Essays

In fact, this desolate picture, however accurate it may or may not have been, is much the same view as that of the post-bellum Southern plantation romancers.

Using his own ir­reverent style, Mencken argues, in effect, that the 20th century South remains a frontier for Northern conquest and reconstruction.

Remember that Mencken was himself a Southern writer from Maryland, a Southern-leaning border state.

As such he was influenced by the viewpoint of the post-bellum tradition in the South, especially the plantation romance, a form per­fected (if not invented) in John Pendleton Kennedy’s ) are in this tradition.

This means that Mencken’s “Sahara of the Bozart” ex­tends far beyond the boundaries of the South.

Indeed, for Mencken, the only oasis to be found in the Sahara is where remnants of the Southern gentry still reside.Mencken’s “Sahara of the Bozart” is one of the most famous essays of 20th century American let­ters.Since its appearance in 1919, the essay has become widely regarded as Mencken’s “slur on the South,” as his acid-laced repudiation of Southern culture (indeed his assertion that the South had no culture).One thinks of the interstellar spaces, of the colossal reaches of the now mythical ether.Nearly the whole of Europe could be lost in that stupendous region of fat farms, shoddy cities and paralyzed cerebrums: one could throw in France, Germany and Italy, and still have room for the British Isles.His peculiar qualities have a high social value, and are esteemed. And furthermore, this superiority at the top is ever-so faintly re­flected in the conduct of the lesser multitudes in their man­ners, their “civility.” And in their worst aspects the ignorant masses of the South are seen as suffering corruption from an alien influence: The tone of public opinion is set by an upstart class but lately emerged from industrial slavery into commercial enterprise—the class of “hustling” business men, of “live wires,” of commercial club luminaries, of “drive” managers, of forward-lookers and right-thinkers—in brief of third-rate Southerners inoculated with all the worst traits of the Yankee sharper. The philistinism of the new type of town-boomer Southerner is not only indifferent to the ideals of the Old South; it is positively antagonistic to them…It is inconceivably hollow and obnoxious.One observes the curious effects of an old tradition of truculence upon a population now merely pushful and impudent, of an old tradition of chivalry upon a population now quite without imagination. What remains of the ancient tradition is simply a cer­tain charming civility in private intercourse—often broken down, alas, by the hot rages of intolerance, but still generally visible.The South, until it is truly and finally con­quered and reconstructed, will always be the “New Fron­tier.” More surprising in this connection, perhaps, is the contrast Mencken goes on to present between the Northern and Southern people today.Indeed, his presentation does not portray Southerners as ignorant and coarse.The North, in its way, is also stupid and obnoxious.But nowhere in the North is there such com­plete sterility, so depressing a lack of all civilized ges­ture and aspiration.


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