Newspaper Days

By H. L. Mencken
MR. MENCKEN has done a fair amount of growing in the course of years and is still doing it, but, like other growing boys whether sixteen or sixty, he doesn’t mean to give the fact any avoidable advertising. it gets, indeed, an almost invisible minimum of betrayal in this account of his years as cub reporter and presently as city editor, which he became as an infant of twenty-three. He performed the chores of these offices, manifestly with precocious brilliance and stupendous energy, for a single morning daily, the Herald of Baltimore (obiit 1906). The Herald early becomes the dominant character of his narrative and so remains throughout. The next most important characters are likewise institutions: first, the Baltimore of the period; secondly, the profession of journalism as then practised outside the metropolis. Outspoken and copious on these topics, H. L. M. is as reticent as ever about himself. No man, in a chapter of ostensible autobiography, can ever have been less present for purposes of self-disclosure. Mencken is present chiefly as a point of view; and the point of view is deliberately that of the enfant terrible whose principal function (and sole fun) was to shock the serious-minded — the Mencken of Prejudices and the Smart Set.
Newspaper Days is written in the vein of that period, with all the old verbal high jinks, all the gratuitous mockery of everything and everybody including himself, all the resolute flaunting of a tough-mindedness that is probably two-thirds mask. (‘On July 28, 1899, when I was precisely eighteen years, ten months and sixteen days old, I saw my first hanging; more, it was a hanging of the very first chop, for no less than four poor blackamoors were stretched at once. . . . There was a large gathering of journalists, for quadruple hangings, then as now, were fancy goods.’) The manner is one that, as in 1912, titillates us by the paragraph at the cost of saddening us by the hundred pages, the volume. In one superb passage there is a sudden deepening of the note, a quickening of the pace. In February ot 1904 the Herald building, along with the whole business district of the city, was gutted by a fire not brought under control for days; but the Herald continued to appear without missing a single issue. The miracles of physical endurance and professional contrivance that kept it going in defiance of manifest impossibilities make one of the most stirring chapters Mr. Mencken has ever written.
If he were reviewing this book, he would not fail to include a moan for its total lack of an index.
W. F.