The Last Happy Days of H. L. Mencken

A graduate of Cambridge University, ALISTAIR COOKE first came to the United States for two years in the early 1930s on a Commonwealth Fellowship to Yale and Harvard; in 1937 he returned, and became a U.S. citizen in 1941. Since 1948 he has been Chief American Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian and a voice conveying our doings, and our foibles, to Britain via a weekly BBC broadcast. His book, One Man’s America, is as perceptive as it is delightful. One of his earliest friends and saltiest advisers was H. L. Mencken, and his recent The Vintage Mencken, a pocket anthology which he edited for Alfred Knopf, is a wise and amusing choice. Of late he has been welcomed into millions of American homes on Sunday afternoon as master of ceremonies on Omnibus.

by ALISTAIR COOKE

IN THE summer of 1948, H. L. Mencken was within two years of his Biblical allotment. As a lifelong hypochondriac he was more aware of its coming, as a kind of I) Day, than most men of sixty-eight; and he felt the east wind in his bones. He accordingly pasted down his cow-licks with more determination than usual, put on a new seersucker suit, stuffed it with enough cigars for a siege, picked up his portable typewriter, and headed for Philadelphia and the nominating conventions. There he sat as anonymous as any other old reporter, wedged in along the wooden press benches under the bristling glare of the high arclights, pecking out incomparable sentences on his typewriter with that deliberate manual incompetence which is one of the professional reporter’s occupational vanities. Mencken carried it to the extreme of parody, hitting the keys only with his two stubby forefingers and spacing with his elbow, like a stud horse imitating a drum majorette. He would glare in a steady trance at the keyboard, while the loudspeakers rattled with the sobs and bawlings of the party chieftains, and then slap out a lament for “the traditional weather of a national convention ... a rising temperature, very high humidity, and lazy puffs of gummy wind from the mangrove swamps surrounding the city.”

The shift from the tropical stew of downtown Philadelphia to an air-conditioned bedroom in the Sunpapers’ suite at the Ritz was too much for him. He caught a bad cold, and being no use to man or beast when his sinuses were inflamed, he retired from the Republicans and went snuffling home to Baltimore. But he was back for the Democrats, wedged in the trenches again in time to applaud the fetching appearance of Mrs. Dorothy Vredenburgh, secretary of the National Democratic Committee, who being “slim, pretty and smartly clad” very pleasantly outraged the tradition that lady politicians shall “resemble British tramp steamers dressed up for the King’s birthday.” He was in rare form, and he knew it: determined to show that he was a working newspaperman to the end.

None of us, including Mencken, knew how near the end was. For this turned out to be his last reporting stint. August and September were always a weeping ordeal for him, since he regularly collapsed under the seasonal hay fever. He emerged dry-eyed and in his right mind by November but on the 23rd of that month suffered a cerebral thrombosis. He never picked up a pen or a book, or stared at a typewriter, after that. So the Wallace convention was his last fling at being himself in action, the monstrous agnostic, practicing satirist, and very amiable companion who had enlivened American life and letters for forty years or more.

Copyright 1956, by the Atlantic Monthly Company ,Boston 16, Mass. All rights reserved

This is a memoir of those few days at the end of July, 1948, when he frolicked in his favorite sport, politician-baiting: the last time he might fairly have said, as he did of his early newspaper career, that “the days chased one another like kittens chasing their tails.”

Philadelphia that summer was also the burial ground of a rather sullen and unhappy feud he had been having with his old paper for seven years. The core of it is probably encrusted by now with innumerable small indignities and protective recriminations; but the original sore truth was that Mencken had hoped to keep up through the war years his incorrigible attacks on democracy and to go on writing about Hitler as a harmless jackass with a new broom, a character that at some other time could have been suitably housed in Mencken’s private menagerie of demagogues: Bryan, Gerald K. Smith, “ the Rev. Woodrow Wilson,” and the rest. But the shiploads of fugitive Jews who came into America soured the joke as early as 1938, if not before; and the attested rumor of Belsen and Buchenwald turned it rancid. By 1941 at the latest, Mencken’s playful treatment of the European war was a daily trial to Paul Patterson, the publisher of the Sun papers. And when the paper came out on the interventionist side, Mencken affected to be a hireling of “world savers.” To everyone’s relief he quit his column. At his own insistence he went on half-pay as something vaguely called a “news-consultant ”; and he retired to edit his files on the American language and to salvage his father’s old household bills for a book about his boyhood.

2

BY THE winter of 1947-48, when the wartime feuds were fading, Patterson and his son Maclean were ready to forgive and forget, and they contrived a plot to fetch their most famous prodigal back into the fold. They wanted him to cover the nominating conventions of 1948. Ten years earlier, nothing would have been more proudly taken for granted. Mencken “began to sniff at politicians so long ago as 1902” and had covered his first convention at St. Louis with the Democrats in 1904. For the next thirty-six years a convention was to him the annual arrival of the circus to a country lad. Once every four years he went to work on them with his self-confessed “impartiality,” which is to say the Hippocratical zeal of a surgeon who picks the same scalpel to excise the appendix of a Boy Scout or a dope peddler.

Not until 1936 did he give any sign of falling off his high and scornful fence and succumbing at last to a political spellbinder, He had resisted every political Circe for thirty years, but Alfred Landon brought him down. Westbrook Pegler promptly wrote a “Farewell to Mencken” in which, observing the Sage “staggering down the street under the wieldy weight of an enormous Landon banner, a sunflower in his lapel as big as a four-passenger omelette,” he steeled himself against the awful day “when he joins the Tennessee fundamentalists and is totally immersed in Goose Crick wearing a white shirt and blubbering ‘Hallelujah, Brother’ between plunges in the cleansing flood.”

Mencken’s apostasy was announced as a wild protest against a second term for “ Roosevelt II.” But it was a symptom of his anti-Roosevelt mania, a strong hint of his exile to come. Those lonely seven years, from 1941 to ‘48, were in fact the most fruitful of his life. For though he did no reporting, and his ribald dissenting opinions were available only to a shrinking circle of his friends in the back room of Schellhase’s, he brought himself new esteem with the two massive language “Supplements,” the three volumes of his memoirs, and the completion of a twenty-five-year project, his NewDictionary of Quotations. By the spring of 1948, when the Second Supplement came out, he was on the cover of the news magazines again, looking very pink and cocky, one elbow up against the glass bells that his wife had treasured. But he was brooding even more than usual on the frailty of the human body in general and his own aches and rheums in particular. In the preface to Supplement Two, he wrote that he did not expect to attempt a third supplement since “at my age a man encounters frequent reminders, some of them disconcerting, that his body is no more than a highly unstable congeries of the compounds of carbon.”

I wrote a review of this for my paper and wound up a tribute to him with the sentence: “ Who would have thought the old man had so much carbon in him?” The day he received the clipping I had a note from him in which he said that he was “still blushing” and speculated where we should next celebrate “ my declining faculties with a globe of malt.” I wrote back to wonder if he would be tackling the conventions, a suggestion he repulsed with such horror that he was clearly very taken with the idea.

It seems that Patterson and Son had been after him for months by then, but he was damned if he would risk another assignment for the Sun papers. He had been deeply wounded by the rift, but as a professional anesthetist against all public forms of sentiment he was too proud to say so. He knew well enough that the Sunpapers had stretched to the limit their tolerance of his unpalatable jokes about Hitler, his mockery after Dunkirk of “those great moral engines, the British,” his mischievous relish of such overtures as Churchill had to make to Rumania so as “to enlist King Carol in the holy war for religion and morality.” Mencken was grudgingly aware that few papers in any country, and none in this, would have yielded him for so long his dogmatic principle that a man should be allowed to say and write whatever he thought.

His frustration at Patterson’s new approach was complicated by the fact that he was at all times a sentimental man about his friendships and allegiances, and he had been the chief glory of the Sunpapers for a quarter of a century at least. Now that they raised a gingerly white flag, he was touched. He bore his wound in silence but he yearned for the salve they offered him. And at last he took it.

He wrote me that he was looking forward to a banner year, one in which “there would be not two but three circuses.” He advised that the Wallace show would be the best of all, and he cautioned me not to pass up the meeting of the platform committee, which was to get under way the evening before the convention was formally called. I met him there, in a hotel ballroom, and we sat through the long hours while the committee patiently canvassed a rampaging horde of reformers from most of the States and all, it seemed, of the Territories and Island Possessions.

In the chair was Rexford Guy Tugwell, a sincere New Deal renegade (I suggested). “ A scoundrel of the first chop,” said Mencken and put down a note to that effect. This was my sixth convention, but I was a novitiate at Progressive performances and I was fascinated at the range of zealots who had come to Philadelphia consumed with some private obsession. Nationalization of the banks, the railroads and merchant marine, was a familiar parrot-cry. So was repudiation of the Marshall Plan, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, the abolition of state and city taxes, “the end of the colonial system in all its forms.” But I was shaken by the trembling anger of countless delegates who, just when Berlin was threatening a European war, were exclusively dedicated to liberating Puerto Rico, drafting a Safety Code for Longshoremen, demanding federal funds for dentistry and a Cabinet post for the fine arts. “ Wait awhile,” Mencken whispered; “any minute now you’re going to get Henry Garrison Villard and the thirty-hour day.”

Toward one in the morning, the newsmen began to decamp but Mencken stayed to the end, plugging his poker face with the inevitable cigar and regretting that the Progressives had produced “a surprisingly good crop but nothing so bizarre” as the eccentrics he swore he had seen at the Bull Moose convention of 1912. On the way out we ran into a liberal journalist, who introduced himself to apologize for a boorish review of Supplement 1 wo done by a friend of his on the New Masses. Mencken turned his pot-blue eyes on the man.

“ Tell me something,” he said, “are you a liberal?” The man said that was right. “Well, now,” said Mencken, “I thought that was a fine review.

Trouble with you liberals is you get uneasy when people don’t agree with you. The man wrote what he thought, and it was a swell piece of writing.”

It was very late, and I thought that Mencken, after so much recent moaning about his approach to the grave, would beg off on account of his sinuses (he was as conscious of his sinuses as an alcoholic is of his hangovers) and go to bed. But again he appeared to want to show that he could be as casually professional as any other reporter, who on such assignments behaves like an oblivious infantryman, snatching sleep or food only when the firing lets up or the liquor has all gone. He knew a place where we could get German beer and we downed a barrel of it in the conviction that “hoisting schooners of malt” was the best possible preparation for a two-day bout of Henry Wallace as a Presidential candidate.

When we got back to the Party’s hotel headquarters the faithful were still up, milling around the entrance and embracing on the steps. To a veteran of the two regular parties, they were an odd lot. It was a slow-paced crowd by the usual standards and in the full bloom of bohemian youth. Many of the men had their collars folded back over their lapels, like emancipated clerks at Atlantic City, or fledgling Los Angelenos. The women divided sharply between down-to-earth, no-nonsense types with sandals and off-the-shoulder blouses, and thin brunettes wearing long earrings meant to convey the piercing, on-stage elegance of Greenwich Village femmes fatales. Wandering like scoutmasters through these political innocents were older, blue-chinned men who might have been union secretaries, economics professors up against “the system,” or schoolmasters with a new purpose in life. There was a generous sprinkling of Negroes, most of them slender and studious.

Outside the hotel, on trucks got up as miniature carousels, small groups of young people danced and plucked expertly at guitars, and sang lampoons of old hymns, folk tunes with new words, and the Wallace campaign songs. As we arrived, a Youth For Wallace brigade was proclaiming the wide, Whitmanesque representation of the new party, a merry crew (nowhere in evidence) of

Lumberjacks and Teamsters,
And Sailors from the Sea;
And there’s farming boys from Texas
And the hills of Tennessee;
There’s miners from Kentucky,
And there’s fishermen from Maine,
All a-ridin’ with us
On this Wallace-Taylor train.

Mencken stood on the steps allowing that the older parties could learn a lot about singing from the Wallaceites, and groaning only slightly over the determined illiteracy of their syntax. Some sad-faced older women sifted in and out to recruit the heathen idlers. To all of them, and all the pushing youth, he bowed with quick gallantry, bulging his eyes in sly admiration at the homelier females and letting them catch an echo of some hoarse compliment: “ What grace! did you ever see such ravishing creatures?” He pretended great reluctance to leave this “ Valhalla of the pure in heart” and bowed to the women, and greeted the men as “Comrade,” right across the street and into his hotel, and in the elevator all the way up to his room. Nobody had the slightest idea who he was.

3

NEXT afternoon, the official proceedings got off to a furious start with a now historic press conference with Wallace. He was rigid from the start. He knew, he said, that the press was “desperately hoping” he would repudiate the Communists. Well, “I will not repudiate any support that comes to us in the cause of peace.” (It should be said, by way of explaining his bristling behavior, that he was even then feeling the pull, and hating it, of the small tenacious crew of Communists, or nearCommunists, who had already taken over his party; and who, the next morning, were to slam through a sheepish convention in forty minutes a “constitution ” for the new party so absurdly patterned after all Communist constitutions that two innocent New England farmers were flabbergasted at the smothering of all dissent or debate and were thunderously booed from the hall.) It was not the Communists that flushed Wallace’s face that afternoon, though his guilt about their rising power was such as to make him appear in public with chips on his shoulders as big as epaulettes. He was afraid rather that he was going to be joshed for his alleged penning of “the Guru letters,” a correspondence with the Russian mystic Roerich, which Westbrook Pegler had somehow procured and printed in his column above the signature of Henry Wallace.

Sure enough, someone rose at once and asked him if he was in fact the author. He snapped in reply, “I never discuss Westbrook Pegler.” A girl from a friendly radical sheet asked the same question. He intoned the same answer. Suddenly the room whirled as a big man with sandy-white hair got up. It was Pegler himself, glowering back at Wallace like a bull squaring off for a fight in which the matador is also a bull.

“Did you or did you not write the Guru letters?”

Wallace tried to look casual, his feet on solid ground. “I will never,” he chanted, “engage in any discussion with Westbrook Pegler.”

Three others put the same question. To each of them he recited in an obdurate singsong that he would “never engage in any discussions with stooges of Westbrook Pegler.”

Then Mencken was seen, by the people near him, to be on his feet. To everybody else he looked, as he always did in a public gathering, to be risen to his knees; for he had the longest torso on the shortest legs in the entire history of legmen. Softly he said: “Would you consider me a Pegler stooge?”

The laugh started before Wallace could stop the applause. He broke into a grin and said, “ No, Mr. Mencken, I would never consider you anybody’s stooge.”

“Well, then,” said Mencken, “it is a simple question. We have all written love-letters in our youth that would bring a blush later on. This is a question that everyone here would like to have answered, so we can move on to weightier things.”

Wallace swallowed and in a steadier voice said he would “handle that in my own way in my own time.” So far as I know, he never did, and thus — as Sterne once wrote — he “put upon the reader the odium of the obvious interpretation.”

That night the party christened itself the Progressive Party in the convention hall and sat with great intentness through the keynote speech of an Iowa lawyer, a handsome and substantial Negro with a soaring baritone voice. Mencken described him as easily the best of all the orators that had appeared in Philadelphia that summer but he slipped into his dispatch the typical note that the man had “the complexion of a good ten-cent cigar.” Next morning, a well-plotted uproar developed when the convention met to chant “aye” to the draft constitution. Silence was prayed for a resolution pronouncing that “whereas H. L. Mencken” had been guilty of “ Hitlerite references to the people of this convention,” that he “Redbaits, Jew-baits, and Negro-baits,” and in other noxious ways had indulged in “un-American slander of the people of this convention . . . therefore be it resolved by the delegates here assembled, That this convention severely censures H. L. Mencken and his contemptible rantings which pass for newspaper reporting.”

Mencken goggled with unaccustomed pride. It was the first time in all his reporting years that a national convention had officially deigned to regret his existence, although the Arkansas state legislature had once asked for his deportation. He took a small bow to acknowledge the passing tribute of a boo, but the resolution got no further. The chairman threw it out as a dangerous precedent inviting an endless litany of curses against other blasphemers, of which there were plenty.

Over a piece of beef and a glass of beer that evening Mencken complained about the growing sensitiveness of politicians. “Nobody denounced me as a white-baiter,” he said, “when I wrote that Herbert Hoover had a complexion like unrisen dough.” He took a swig of beer with poorly feigned resentment, but his blue eyes winking over the mug never looked more like gas jets. He broke down into his extraordinarily crafty chuckle, looked at his watch, and we took off for the final rally in Shibe Park. On the way out there, he was in a frisky mood, grumbling with great gusto over the sameness of American cities, of their slummy petticoats especially, and recalling with a contrasting tenderness San Francisco and the Democratic Convention of 1920.

4

WHEN the rally was over and the Progressive Party was a fact, there were rolling black clouds overhead. The wind shifted, the atrocious heat gave out, and there was a miraculous chill in the air, which sent us all nipping back to the hotel. Paul Patterson had arranged a farewell party in his suite for the whole Sunpapers’ team; and maybe I should say that since the Manchester Guardian had had a long and friendly connection with the Sunpapers, and I had been working through the conventions out of their quarters, I was the only outside guest. A table was laid out with sandwiches and beer. At the start visitors would drop in, but the gathering was as cliquish as the Mafia and they would soon duck out, after a selfconscious nibble at the viands reserved for the troops. The last of them was a lady journalist of declining reputation and rising girth. She was drawn to the food like a castaway and kept wolfing it helplessly and declaring in between gulps that her doctor warned her against letting her figure go to rack and ruin.

Mencken twirled his cigar in his lips and professed to be shocked at such an obviously inept prognosis. “Never trust the butchers, Mary,” he cried, and after a pause and a puff, “God, you were never lovelier, you were never in better heft.” He went on this way while the lady wriggled her bulk in simple delight. She was the only woman present and after a while she too sensed our trade-union impatience with her and left. She had no sooner shut the door and gone down the corridor than Mencken grabbed his stein and mumbled into its froth: “My God, she’s an elephant, isn’t she?”

Through what was left of the night, Mencken sat on a central couch, between Price Day and me, from which he could survey the reigning Patterson and his buffet table on the left, and the ring of reporters lounging and squatting all the way over tew the windows. (There is a deception implicit in this sentence, and indeed in this piece, which is common to all biographical mementoes. This is a piece about Mencken and therefore he is bound to be the hero of it. But he was not so treated at the time. He never condescended to anyone, least of all to professional newspapermen. In fact, he went out of his way to pretend to shrewd admiration of their pieces, even when he thought that the writing, “like most newspaper writing,” was abominable.) He sat simply as an old reporter among equals. And for an hour or more nothing happened to make him the comic hero of an occasion that grew to be precious and memorable only three months later, when his sudden stroke gave the guarantee that this was his last bit of horseplay on this earth.

Shortly after one in the morning, our small talk and anecdotage was interrupted by a commotion reaching us from the street. We heard a stamping and, a singing. Someone threw open the window. Evidently, a detachment of Wallace’s soldiers were making a stand outside the Ritz, as handy a symbol as any of the “finance capitalism” which was then Wallace’s favorite hobgoblin. Paul Patterson had the idea that we should invite them up and Mencken seconded it briskly, because “at the very least we could sing, since they certainly have the catchiest numbers.” Soon afterwards the stamping and cheering died away. It seems that Yardley, the Sun papers’ cartoonist, had gone out after them. He was back with the word that they had scattered or fled, so we lifted some more sandwiches and beer and forgot them.

But suddenly there was a scuffle somewhere nearby, right in the hotel; and it grew denser and came on louder in our direction till it passed, like Marley’s ghost, right through the door. “It” was five or six of the Minnesota Youth For Wallace battalion, the leader being a bulky black-haired Swede. He was bearing a banner with the help of a raddled, jumpy little man and a shapeless, dropsical blonde, the archetype of the young radical female everywhere in the Western world. Mencken gaped at them in genuine alarm. “My God,” he whispered to Day and me, “just look at that woman. Makes you want to burn every bed in the world.” Day nearly fell off the couch at this, and the rebels took it as a sign that we were jeering at them, which, come to think of it, wre were.

“So who are you all, anyway?” the leader challenged.

It was a brash note to begin on, but Paul Patterson caught it tolerantly and replied quietly, “We are the press, ladies and gentlemen — the capitalist press.”

Mencken looked innocently over the ash of his stogie and added mildly, “Except Mr. Cooke here, of the — er —London Daily Worker.

At one bound the little raddled guy shot out from underneath the banner. He seized my hand and shouted, “No kidding? D’you know Rhoda— you know, Rhoda—in London?” To this day I think tenderly of Rhoda and the bond that links her with Minnesota. The greeting produced even more confusion among the Minnesotans, and when Lee McCardell made it plain with hurried whispers through the ensuing guffaws that the Guardian was my paper, the raddled guy wilted and the leader fumed again. Patterson invited them to eat, an unnecessary kindness, since two of them, including the blonde, had been doing some fast stoking under the flapping tent of the Wallace banner.

It was not a large room, and Mencken persuaded them to “furl the flag” and settle to a singsong. He made a naïve, very artful pretense of having forgotten the “swell lyrics” of their best songs.

They leaped to the cue like the converts by the Tennessee brooks whom Mencken had long ago observed. And we all gave voice and began: —

“Lumberjacks and Teamsters,
And Sailors from the Sea;
And there’s farming boys from Texas....”

When they saw how well one or two of the Sun men knew their songs, they lost or at least modified their suspicion of us. Mencken sighed occasionally over the more gruesome lines (“Oh, Henry Wallace is a friendly man” was one, I recall, that pained him excessively). At last, when we had exhausted the whole Wallace hymnal, Mencken stood up and buttoned his tight coat. One of the team thought he was coming at them (I doubt that any of them knew he was the “un-American Mencken” of the lost resolution; with his red homely face, his white hair slit down the middle, his stocky legs, he could well have been the proprietor of the delicatessen store that had provided the food). But he raised his very small hand and got attention. He proposed that since we had so lavishly celebrated “our beloved Fuehrer ” (happily the Minnesotans thought of Hitler, if of anybody), it was only right “under God to salute the Republic he hopes to preside over.”

This sort of talk, which was as natural to Mencken as breathing— rather more so — baffled them until he said, “Now, let’s try our national anthem.” He held his finger up and tilted his head and piped out several wobbling keynotes. He picked something about as impractical as F Major and led with a fluting tenor. He let them take it away after the first few bars and whispered to me: “ Just wait till they hit the middle, it will really throw them.” He had hardly stopped hissing at me when the citizens’ chorus lurched up to the necessary and impossible high E, squawked in alarm, and broke down. They looked to Mencken for help, but he had stuck his cigar between his lips and was grinning through his eyes.

The leader took this badly and mumbled something about the national anthem’s being nothing to make fun of. Mencken agreed with a marvelously affected humility but admitted that “ as a practical matter, we have paid our respects to our great anthem, which is unsingable anyway.”

More beer was rushed to the visitors, and just as we sat down Mencken rose again. He put his cigar between his thumb and forefinger and held it up like the stump of a baton. He had one more favor to ask of the visitors. We had just afflicted on “an alien and a special guest the caterwaulings of the official hymn of our Republic.” He thought it only “seemly” that they should all now pay respects “to His Majesty King George VI, Defender of the Faith, till lately Emperor of India” by singing “the national anthem of Mr. Cooke.”

The visitors were appalled at this audacity, even more when Mencken added, without a smile, “of the London Daily Worker, that is. ” (Mencken knew very well that at that point I had been a citizen for seven years but he trusted to my sporting awareness of the fact that an Englishman naturalized in America must in his own lifetime resign himself to be thought a renegade in his native country, a British spy in his adopted one.) The Minnesota Youth were stung to their principles. Only that night Wallace himself had described the proper Progressive image of Britain as an imperialist beast. The leader folded his arms and conveyed by the’ swelling veins in his neck that this was the end. In fact, what finished them were the lines, sung — after much coaxing — in a pleasing unison, “Long to reign over us, God save the King!” Mencken was probably the only man who knew any other verses and he wanted to go on with it. “How’s it go?” he blandly asked. “ ‘Scatter his enemies, confound their knavish tricks’?”

They were already scattering and raising their standard again. And they barged out as noisily as they came in. The reader will appreciate, from the personal memory of similar brawls, that however mild this joke may read on paper, it was an hilarious end to a great occasion. As they stomped off down the corridor, we groaned and bellowed all around the room. Mencken restored his stogie to his mouth and sat down and wiped the happy tears from his eyes with a blue handkerchief.

Last spring, when I went to Baltimore to see him, he was the one who brought up the Wallace evening, and he cackled again over the thought of the little raddled man still bickering by correspondence with Rhoda over finance capitalism, to say nothing of her relations with me. We went on to other things. He asked how the food was these days at Lüchow’s, and that brought on memories of all sorts of literati of the Smart Set days and of his particular affection for Edgar Lee Masters. He talked of him in the past tense and I asked him how long Masters had been dead. He looked over at his brother August, who suggested something like 1948. “Yeah,” said Mencken with no guile at all, “that’s right, I believe he died the year I did.”