“Men Versus The Man” HL Mencken & Robert Rives LaMonte

I finished my first book on my Kindle. I really enjoyed th reading experience, and moreso the note-taking/highliting feature. It’s because of the latter I’m able to bring you every single passage that I highlighted. With a few button clicks one can highlight a selection and it’s automatically saved into a text file that you can access on the memory when you plug it in via USB cable.

I didn’t even know this book existed, and last time I searched Google Books for “Mencken” I know it wasn’t there. when I read the title page I was immediatly sold on the book:

Men Versus the Man:

A CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN

ROBERT RIVES LA MONTE, Socialist

AND

H. L. MENCKEN, Individualist
New York, Henry Holt & Co., 1910

That it was free to download helped with the immediate sale as well.

Oh boy, Mencken vs. a Socialist, this’ll be a hoot. I was reading it with such enthusiastic partisanship that when I picked up my Kindle after a break, I was mistaken in who I was reading. I thought it was the advocate of universal brotherhood and read his words like they were poisoned turds. Luckily it was only a few paragraphs in did I realize I was reading Menken’s words and I went back over them and realized they were brilliantly witty and a joy to consume.

I’ll leave the rest of this post to Mencken, a better writer by an infinite multiple. I will note that there may be some typos mixed throughout. The text was OCRed by Google, and I noticed a number of errors when reading.


All quotes that follow are from Mencken:

==========

Now, all the illusions which have afflicted the human race since its days of nonage may be divided into two classes. First come those which have arisen out of the imperfection of our powers of perception; and secondly come those that have arisen out of errors made in the interpretation of facts accurately observed. An excellent example of the first class is the familiar doctrine, held today by the ignorant, and until very recently by all, that the disease called malaria is caused by breathing impure air. Tested by the evidence of the naked eye, this doctrine seemed entirely sound. But by and by men began to use microscopes to aid their eyes, and one day, seized by a happy thought, an enterprising man took the trouble to place a drop of blood from a malaria patient’s veins beneath his glass. Since then the old doctrine has been put aside forever by all whose beliefs are worth hearing, and we know that malaria is caused, not by impure air, but by various minute parasites of the class of sporozoa. The human race, within historic times, has rejected thousands of delusions of this class, but many yet remain. As we perfect apparatus to reinforce our dull senses they will go overboard, one by one. The delusions and illusions of the second class resolve themselves into two grand, or king delusions. One of them is the notion that a human being, by his words or acts, is capable of suspending or modifying the immutable laws which govern ” the universe. The other is the notion that a human being is able to make laws for himself which shall have the force of the immutable laws aforesaid. Out of the first of these delusions springs the doctrine of the efficacy of prayer, and with it all of the world’s vast and bizarre stock of religions. Out of the second springs the ancient science of morality, with all its multitude of efforts to combat the eternal and inexorable law that the strong shall prevail over the weak. The latest of such*’ efforts is comprehended in the political theory called Socialism. It is the most fatuous of the whole lot, for it proposes, not only to make human laws as immutable as natural laws, but actually to make them supersede and nullify those natural laws. Here, indeed, we behold human beings on the topmost pinnacle of bombastic folly. I can imagine no more stupendous egotism.
==========
I am no apologist for the existing order of things. Like Huxley, I believe that the management of the universe is by no means perfect, but such as it is, we must accept it. If you point out that human progress, as I have defined it, involves the practical enslavement of two-thirds of the human race, my answer is that I can’t help it. If you point out that a slave always runs the risk of being oppressed by a particularly cruel master, I answer that a master always runs the risk of having his brains knocked out by a particularly enterprising slave. If you point out that, by my scheme of progress, it is only the upper stratum that actually progresses, I answer that only the upper stratum is capable of progressing unaided.
==========
The mob is inert and moves ahead only when it is dragged or driven. It clings to its delusions with a pertinacity that is appalling. A geological epoch is required to rid it of a single error, and it is so helpless and cowardly that every fresh boon it receives, every lift upon its slow journey upward, must come to it as a free gift from its betters— as a gift not only free, but also forced. Great men have fought and died for the truth for a thousand years, and yet the average low-caste white man of to-day, throughout Christendom, still believes that Friday is an unlucky day, still believes that ghosts walk the earth, and still holds to an immovable faith in signs, portents, resurrections, redemptions, miracles, prophecies, hells, gehennas, and political panaceas.
==========
Herein you will discern my first and last objection to Socialism. I believe, in a word, that it overlooks certain ineradicable characteristics of the human animal, and certain immutable laws of the biological process. Going further, I believe that these characteristics and laws deserve to be fostered and obeyed rather than opposed, for to their influence we owe all that we have of progress. Every comfort that we have to-day was devised by some man who yearned to get more out of life than the men about him; every great truth that ” helps us face existence bravely and confidently was unearthed by some philosopher who yearned to be honored above all other philosophers; every law that gives us safety and order was written by some law-maker who yearned to see his own notion of security and order prevail over the notions of others. Just as every micro-organism in the sea ooze fights for that pin point of space which will give it life while its fellows die, just so every man fights for that microscopic degree of superiority which gives him eminence over his fellowman—better food, a better coat, more leisure, greater honor, respect and love, and a more poignant and widespread feeling of something lacking after he is gone. You Socialists, seeing part of this dimly, talk of a ” materialistic conception of history,” and say Karl Marx invented it. But you are wrong, for it was invented for all time on the day that the first living cells began to fight over their first meal.
==========
…the majority of persons who succumb to preventable and curable diseases to-day go down to their graves, not so much because they are poor, as because they are ignorant—because they are handicapped by the low-caste man’s chronic and ineradicable suspiciousness, orthodoxy, stupidity, lack of foresight, and inability to learn.
==========
My own city of Baltimore, on account of its wealth of hospitals and clinics, has been called the medical capital of the New World. Its hospitals are open to all, and those who cannot pay are given treatment free. It is possible for a man without a cent in his pocket to profit by the skill of the greatest physicians and surgeons in America. Beyond the city boundaries are free sanitoria for the treatment of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Medicines and nursing are free. Those too ill to move are treated and nursed in their homes. The attentions for which visitors from all parts of the country pay thousands of dollars are free to every indigent citizen. And yet the death-rate of Baltimore is higher than that of any other city of its size in the United States. The Christian Scientists, of course, say that this is because there are so many hospitals, but the real reason lies in the fact that among Baltimore’s 600,000 inhabitants there are 100,000 negroes and 200,000 ignorant and superstitious foreigners. The negroes, when they grow ill, take patent medicines or send for some frowsy quack of their own race. When they grow worse, they summon a filthy black ecclesiastic and begin to pray to God. The result is that the death-rate among the lowest classes of these semi-human savages is fully sixty per thousand per annum. This is just about five times the normal death-rate among civilized white men. Is the negro—or low-caste white man—to blame for his poverty and ignorance ? No more, I think, than he is to blame for his filthiness and dishonesty. He can’t help being lazy and he can’t help being stupid, for he is a low-caste man, and he has a low-caste mind. That mind is unable to grasp any but the most elemental concepts. Tell him, as his pastors tell him, that if he gives five cents to the church he will be saved from hell, and he can understand it. But try to make him grasp the complicated chains of ratiocination whereby civilized man has determined that vaccination will almost infallibly prevent smallpox and rabies, that quinine will cure malaria, and that a long and complex treatment will arrest tuberculosis—and he is as pitifully helpless as the average college professor in the presence of a problem not solved in the textbooks.
==========
We vaccinate negroes, not because they want to be vaccinated or because we harbor a yearning to preserve their useless lives, but because we don’t want them to fall ill of smallpox in our kitchens and stables, and so expose us to inconvenience, danger, and expense. With few exceptions, they are piously opposed to baring their arms, and regard the necessity for so doing as proof positive that they are down-trodden and oppressed. Let them choose for themselves, and they would be dying of smallpox to-day just as copiously as they are dying of tuberculosis.
==========
In their vain rebellion against the very things which make life bearable for them, they reveal the eternal philosophy of the low-caste man. He is forever down-trodden and oppressed. He is forever opposed to a surrender of his immemorial superstitions, prejudices, swinishness, and inertia. He is forever certain that, if only some god would lend him a hand and give him his just rights, he would be rich, happy, and care-free. And he is forever and utterly wrong.
==========
Well, then, what virtues do I demand in the man who claims enrollment in the highest caste? Briefly, I demand that he possess, to an unusual and striking degree, all of those qualities, or most of them, which most obviously distinguish the average man from the average baboon. If you look into the matter, you will find that the chief of these qualities is a sort of restless impatience with things as they are—a sort of insatiable desire to help along the evolutionary process. The man who possesses this quality is ceaselessly eager to increase and fortify his mastery of his environment. He has a vast curiosity and a vast passion for solving the problems it unfolds before him. His happiness lies in the consciousness that he has made some progress to-day in comprehending and turning to his uses those forces which menaced him yesterday. His eye is fixed, not upon heaven, but upon earth; not upon eternity, but upon to-morrow. He enters the world infinitely superior to a mere brute, and when he leaves it his superiority may be expressed (in bad algebra) by infinity plus x. By his life and labors, the human race, or some part of it, makes some measurable progress, however small, upward from the ape.
==========
The educated negro of to-day is a failure, not because he meets insuperable difficulties in life, but because he is a negro. His brain is not fitted for the higher forms of mental effort; his ideals, no matter how laboriously he is trained and sheltered, remain those of the clown. He is, in brief, a low-caste man, to the manner born, and j he will remain inert and inefficient until fifty generations of him have lived in civilization. And even then, the superior white race will be fifty generations ahead of him. I have used the negro as an example because in him the inherited marks of the low-caste man are peculiarly conspicuous.
==========
The efficient man of highest caste makes it his rule to accept the world as he finds it, and to work u out his own salvation with a light heart. His joy is in effort, in work, in progress. A difficulty over come, a riddle solved, an enemy vanquished, a fact proved, an error destroyed—in such things he finds the meaning of life and surcease from its sorrows. But the inefficient man, unable by his own hand and brain to cope with the conditions J which beset and menace him, seeks refuge, soon or late, in the notion that the world is out of joint. Sometimes he concludes, finally, that the horrors of existence are irremediable, and then he is ripe for religion, with its promises of repayment in some gaseous paradise beyond the grave. At other times he arrives at the idea that all would be well if there were some abysmal reconstruction of the scheme of things—some new deal of the cards, with four aces pushed his way. When this madness falls upon him he gropes about for a ready guide to the Utopia that arises nebulously in his brain. And thus it is that discontented, ignorant, helpless men subscribe to the poetical fancies of imaginative dreamers, and become single-taxers, Christian Scientists, Anarchists, or Socialists.
==========
The great objections to Socialism, as a philosophy, are that it encourages and aggravates the feeling of martyrdom which burns in the breasts of all such incompetents, and that it inflames them, at the same time, with the idea that their discomfort is due, not to the operation of natural laws, which benefit the world by ridding it automatically and harshly of the unfit, but to the deliberate and devilish cruelty of their betters. Your true Socialist is firmly convinced, before everything else, that his personal existence is of vast and undoubted value to the world, and that the world, if it were not a swindling felon, would reward him handsomely for remaining alive.
==========
Socialism is indissolubly linked with the doctrine that a man, merely by virtue of being a man, is fitted to take a hand in the adjudication of all the world’s most solemn and difficult causes. It insists that the voice of the ignorant shall be heard as respectfully as the voice * of the learned. It contends that the yearning of the hod-carrier for a high hat and a keg of beer shall receive as much consideration as the yearning of an Ehrlich for the secret of cancer. It maintains that the Russian-born tailor, filthy to his finger tips and the devotee of an outlandish, incomprehensible creed of nonsensical text-searching, shall be the equal of the men who conquer the wilderness and harness the lightning. It sees something portentous and holy in the trivial accident that the negro loafer, drowsing in his wallow, was born without a tail. It fastens a transcendental importance upon the word ” human ” and converts it into a synonym for ” intelligent,” ” honest,” ” wise “—for every adjective that distinguishes” one caste of men from the caste below it. You may protest all you please, and qualify your meaning of ” equality” however you please, but the fact remains that if this notion that one man is as good as another—” before God,” or ” as a citi zen “—be taken away, Socialism ceases to be intelligible to rational creatures,
==========
But am I arguing, I hear you ask, against government by the consent of the governed? Do I propose the overthrow of our democracy and the erection in its place of some form of absolute monarchy or oligarchy? Not at all. All things considered, I am convinced, as you are, that the republican form of government in vogue in the United States and England to-day is the best, safest, and most efficient government ever set up in the world. But its comparative safety and efficiency lie, not in the eternal truth of the somewhat florid strophes of the Declaration of Independence, but in the fact that those strophes must ever remain mere poetry. That is to say, its practice is beneficent because its theory is happily impossible. Once a year we reaffirm the doctrine that all men are free and equal. All the rest of the twelvemonth we devote our energies to proving that they are not.
==========
suppose that these swine actually recorded their own thoughts in the ballot-box ! Just suppose that the honest opinions of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, white and black, were transformed into laws upon the statute-books of the State! If they were, it would be a misdemeanor to call a Baptist clergyman an ass, and a felony to put a lock on a henhouse door.
==========
If it were actually possible to give every citizen an equal voice in the management of the world—if it were practicable to provide machinery whereby the collective will of the majority could be registered accurately, and made effective automatically and immediately— the democratic ideal would reduce itself to an absurdity in six months. There would be an end to all progress. Emotion would take the place of reason. It would be impossible to achieve coherent governmental policies. The mind of the government, as a government, would be the mind of the average citizen of the nether majority—a mind necessarily incapable of grasping the complex concepts formulated by the progressive minority. The more childish the idea the more eagerly it would be adopted and put into execution. The more unreasoning the prejudice, the more desperately it would be cherished and the longer it would survive.
==========
The clod-hopper’s distrust of his betters will be accentuated, rather than ameliorated by Socialism. Our scavenger, even after he is the political and economic equal of Dr. Eliot and Mr. Rockefeller, will still view such men with suspicion —if there be, indeed, any men of their sort in the socialistic state—because it is an inherent and ineradicable characteristic of all low-caste men to look with suspicion upon those whose ambitions, ethics, and ideals are more complex than theirs. The old hatred of the man who would rather read a book than bask in the sun has not died out in the world. The old cry of sorcery is still raised. And the low-caste man, whenever he has the chance, still prefers to trust himself to a delegate from his own caste, whose yearnings are his, and whose mental processes he can follow. Socialism can never change this.
==========
The negro loafer is not a victim of restricted opportunity and oppression. There are schools for him, and there is work for him, and he disdains both. That his forty-odd years of freedom have given him too little opportunity to show his mettle is a mere theory of the chair. As a matter of fact, the negro, in the mass, seems to be going backward. The most complimentary thing that can be said of an individual of the race today is that he is as industrious and honest a man as his grandfather, who was a slave. There are exceptional negroes of intelligence and ability, I am well aware, just as there are miraculous Russian Jews who do not live in filth; but the great bulk of the race is made up of inefficients. In the biological phrase, the negro runs true to type. There are few variations, except downward. I have known, I should say, at least five hundred negroes in my time, and of all these not more than ten have displayed any inclination whatever to rise above their racial level. Socialism, as I understand it, proposes to let these savages plunder civilization. It holds that they should get more pay for their loafing; that the comforts and luxuries which represent the ideals and ingenuity of the highest caste of human beings should be handed over, gratuitously, to these parasites. It proposes to heed and satisfy their yearnings, to take account of their opinions, to give them a hand in the government of the state, to dignify their laziness with sounding names, to hail them as brothers. I am unable, my dear La Monte, to subscribe to this scheme. I am far from a Southerner in prejudice and sympathies, though born on the borders of the South, but it seems to me that, so long as we refrain, in the case of the negro loafer, from the measures of extermination we have adopted in the case of parasites further down the scale, we are being amply and even excessively faithful to an ethical ideal which makes constant war upon expediency and common sense.
==========
You yourself are the anthropomorphist; not I. You still hold to the ancient theological doctrine that the human race is a race apart—that because it is molded ” in the image of God ” it is superior to natural laws which govern other races. In the days when men believed that Jerusalem was the capital of the universe this was a credible doctrine; but the history of all exact knowledge is the history of its gradual decay. When adventurers proved, despite St. Augustine’s masterly logic, that the earth was a sphere, it received a telling blow. When they proved, despite Moses, that the earth was but one of countless worlds, it received another. And when Darwin came, and his like, it ceased to be a living doctrine, and became a mere empty shell upon the garbage-pile of dead ideas. But you Socialists want to resurrect it. You ask us all to believe it, as John the Baptist believed it—despite a mass of evidence so enormous that one man can scarcely hope to master even its daily accretions.
==========
Saving only psychical research, no modern cult seems to be so well outfitted with college professors as Socialism.
==========
My own private view (the child, I must admit, of a very ardent wish) is that the idea of truthseeking will one day take the place of the idea of money-making. That is to say, I believe that the Huxleys and Behrings of the world will one day loom up, in the eye of the race, as greater heroes than the St. Pauls and Augustines, the William Conquerors and Alexanders, the Rockefellers, Cecil Rhodeses, Krupps, and Morgans. But that day is far distant. As yet there is scarcely a sign of its dawn. The name of Huxley is still as strange, to the common people, as that of Duns Scotus. His influence upon their daily thought is still infinitely remote and infinitesimal. They still pay numbskulls to mount pulpits and preach down at them the dead fallacies of a primeval necromancy. They still insist that Friday is an unlucky day, that blasphemy is a crime, that the Book of Revelation is authentic. The race is yet in its childhood. Its yearning for the truth is yet swallowed up by its yearning for a rock and a refuge.
==========
You Socialists, when you come to discuss the magnates, surplus values, bourgeoisie, and other fantastic fowl in your aviary of horrors, too often borrow a dialectic device from your blood brothers, the Christian Scientists. That is to say, you insist upon using private brands of epistemology and logic, unknown and incomprehensible to mere human beings, in the conduct of your philosophical feuds.
==========
There is, in a word, no irreducible minimum of compensation, due to every man by , virtue of his mere existence as a human being. No man has any right to life, save that which he proves by mastering his environment.
==========
You Socialists, in the very first paragraph of your philosophy, make one of the errors that I have mentioned in a preceding paragraph. That is to say, you give very unlike things the same name, and then assume that they are like. As examples of these unlike things, I can do no better than mention Thomas Henry Huxley and a man whom we may call the Rev. Jasper Johnson. On the surface you will find many points of resemblance between the two. Huxley was a male of the genus homo, and so is Johnson; Huxley had five fingers on each hand, and so has Johnson; Huxley expressed his ideas in the English language, and so does Johnson; Huxley was carnivorous and so is Johnson. Reckon up all these points of resemblance and you will find them almost infinite in number. But, reckon up, then, the points of difference between the two men, and you will find them equal to *n plus a million. In every characteristic, instinct, habit, and quality which serves to differentiate any man from any ape, Huxley was more lavishly endowed, perhaps, than any other individual man that ever lived; but in Johnson these characteristics, instinct, habits, and qualities, when they appear at all, are so faint that it is well-nigh impossible to detect them. Huxley, in a word, was an intellectual colossus; while Johnson, intellectually, scarcely exists at all. The one pushed the clock of progress ahead a hundred years; the other is a foul, ignorant, thieving, superstitious, self-appointed negro preacher of the Black Belt, whose mental life is made up of three ambitions—to eat a whole hog at one meal, to be a white man in heaven, and to meet a white woman, some day, in a lonely wood. And yet, by the socialistic and Christian philosophies, these men are equal. According to the Christian seers, they will kneel before the throne of God side by side, and spend eternity as brothers. According to the Socialist seers, they are equally fitted to deal with the great problems of society and the state, equally worthy of ease, protection, and leisure, and equally entitled to have the aid of their fellow-men in the achievement of their ambitions. I am unable, my dear La Monte, to grant this much. It seems to me, indeed, that the man who attempts to prove merely that Huxley and Johnson belong to the same order of living creatures has a staggering task ahead of him. The gap between them, I am convinced, is greater than that between Johnson and the anthropoid apes. Physically, true enough, there is probably only a difference in degree, but mentally there is an abysmal difference in kind. No conceivable course of training, however protracted, could convert Johnson into an imitation of Huxley. The one came into the world with certain inherited traits, certain invaluable forms of congenital efficiency, which the other can never hope to acquire. The one belonged to a caste of men whose value to the human race, and whose consequent right to life, no sane person would venture to deny; the other belongs to a caste whose value is obviously nil, and whose right to life, in consequence, must be proved before it is admitted.
==========
…in the struggle for existence an act is never actually moral or immoral, but only (in the broadest sense of the words) profitable or unprofitable, worth doing or not worth doing. The view of it taken by a moralist, however accomplished he may be, is always a mere opinion, and you can always find some other moralist to contradict it. To show you how nearly this is true, I need only recall to you that practically every act possible to human beings has been the storm-center of furious moral debates. To one man the act of eating flesh seems indecent, while to another it appears as the most agreeable operation imaginable. To one man the habit of taking money from ignorant folk, on the promise of getting them into heaven, seems the most dignified and honorable of human avocations, while to me it bears the aspect of a peculiarly heartless and nefarious form of fraud. To one man the soldier is a hero; to another, he is a vile loafer and chronic criminal. To one, marriage is a holy sacrament; to another, it is a dangerous vice.

And we know that the things of the world belong to Satan.

There are many ways to understand Satanism as a philosophy, many tacs to take when discussing it. From literary or artistic to philosophical or religious.

Satanism proper is relevant in a Christian dominated society, but the philosophy behind it is universal. Outside of a Christian society, it would probably need to be called something else (unless there’s enough Christian influence that it is still a sort of exoticism). Changing the label doesn’t change the underlying content, though it can change how people view that content.

But while on vacation I ran across this little book:  “The Joy of Womanhood: The Keepers of the Home Series” by Keepers of the Faith.

It seems to be a sort of workbook for Christian women to work out how they are fallen creatures by answering leading questions. I couldn’t bring myself to buy it, but when I saw one of the questions I had to at least snap a photo of it and post here.

“When you look at all the things in the world (And we know that the things of the world belong to Satan.) such as posessions, education, fame or fortune, what are some of the things you desire?”

Here. This is one of the angles, where I say “Yes, you’re right Christling, it is the Lord of This Earth that I pay tribute to. I enjoy my posessions, education, and fortune (though this latter thing is only on a theoretical level) and I want the same for my wife. You continue to reject these things, keep your kids home from school, don’t buy them anything, and continue to let them know they are nobody and will never amount to nothing.

Book Nerd :: Where someone asks me to recommend books…

Someone writes:

I am enjoying reading your ‘Iron Youth Reader’ Vol 1.    Approve of your ‘self-directed study’ emphasis.  Further to this, which top ten books would you recommend or which had the profoundest positive effect on you?  Am always looking out for books that come with the highest recommendation from people with a similar outlook.

Thanks for writing, and that’s awesome that you’re enjoying the collection. I’m outrageously tardy in putting a second volume out, but I have released some pretty interesting titles in the meantime. It’s pretty much just me here punching away, trying to get some eyeballs on this stuff.

I like your question, but as a bibliophile the task of a Top 10 is daunting. It’s so easy to rank the most recent books higher, or forgetting ones that lead me to other great ideas, so putting an honest list together is going to take a bit of time.

I will say that the one book I’ve recommended most over the past few years has been Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”. It has the advantage of being a fun read and not so “kooky” that I’d be hesitant to tell someone more… ahem… “normal” about it.

Then there’d be a book like “The Satanic Bible” and “The Devil’s Notebook”. It was my gateway drug in my youth to some really great thinkers, but did it with an appreciation for style, sleaziness and fun. LaVey was a deeply flawed anti-hero, and I mean that in the absolutely best way.

“Atheism: The Case Against God” was my first introduction to critical thinking about religion, my first Atheism book proper. I was godless before I read it, but I had good arguments afterwards.

The two books on groups psychology “The True Believer” by Hoffer and “The Crowd” by LeBon were important in dissuading me from ever really falling for populist rhetoric. Years later (for me) Stirner’s “The Ego and It’s Own” worked well in  those prior two, a smashing assault on statism, populism, socialism, anything outside of MEism… heh. Just now I’m reminded of the quote on my website from Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead”: “I hate everything which is not in myself.”

HL Mencken’s “Chrestomathy” would have to be on the list. I can’t get enough of his writing. From his own translation of “The Anti-Christ” to his three volumes of “The American Language”, it’s all fascinating and inspiring.

There’s also a slew of more “cultural” books that had a major influence on me that I don’t think are going to be important for others. From RE/Search’s “Industrial Culture Handbook” to Feral House’s “Apocalypse Culture”. Moynihan and Soderlind’s “Lords of Chaos”, Jim Goad’s “ANSWER Me!” and then later “The Redneck Manifesto” (it’s been over a decade since I’ve read that… I just checked and I couldn’t believe it. I bet it’s still good.)

Similar to what I find in Mencken, I’ve recently discovered Theodore Dalryple. First recommended to me by the co-author of the aformentioned “Lords of Chaos”, his “Life at the Bottom” should be read sometime after Luc Sante’s “Low Life”. A more fun book that I mentally connect with the two is “Tales of Times Square” by Josh Allen Friedman.

I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Peter H. Gilmore’s “The Satanic Scriptures”, a book I was heavily involved with from nudging the author to finally publish, to overlooking every stage of production to promotion once it was released. In a way I feel the book is partly my own.

But that’s not an exhaustive consideration, just my struggling to scrape something together to serve as a rough list. I may try to do something better, but that could take a while, if the time it took me to just slap this together is any gauge. I would post it on my personal blog: http://www.kevinislaughter.com

Thanks again for writing, hope this at least gives you a few leads for further reading.
Kevin I. Slaughter

Periodical Nerd :: American Mercury Frenzy

The first issue of HL Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s The American Mercury had a German oriented spine.image

In the photo above, in the middle, are the first 5 issues… Vol.1 No.1 – Vol. 2 No. 1. The first issue had the text of the spine reading from bottom to top, rather than from top to bottom. Not sure why, but I do know that that’s how the spines of German books are done.

Next to those are 4 issues from the 1950s, including an article from George Lincoln Rockwell.

As is clear from the photograph, the three other items are bound collections of 4 issues that make up a volume.

I can’t remember if I posted this before, I might have, I’m not checking right now and you probably didn’t see it when I did:

From “Clinical Notes”, published in The American Mercury vol. 1 no. 2, Feb. 1924
by HL Mencken and George Jean Nathan

The beautiful day, the day of blue and gold and sunshine, is God’s gift to the plain people; the bad day, the day of gloom and gray and rain, He has reserved for the exclusive pleasure of the aristocracy. The artist, the connoisseur of emotions, the philosopher —these have no use for the fair day: it distracts them, summons them from their introspection and solitude, calls them into the open. On such a day, work and those pleasures dear to men with a taste for the sequestered are impossible: the outdoors beckons too persuasively and too disconcertingly. But when the world is full of wet and fog and the monotony of rain, then the artist, the connoisseur of quiet, the philosopher and all their brothers are happy. It is on such days, while the yokelry is eating dill pickles and cheese sandwiches on the roadsides, or riding in Fords through the Jersey swamps, or chasing small white balls across the grass with a repertoire of clubs, that men of soul and sadness revel in the happiness that only God’s elect can comprehend.

Interesting excerpts from “Up from Slavery” by Booker T. Washington… (updated)

Since the book is so readily available online, and I’m reading a hardcopy, I’m going to excerpt interesting passages here. I’m ineterested in parts of his book that contrast what I’ve come to understand as the canonical story of slaves and blacks in the South, or other bits I want to make note of. Page numbers correspond to the Penguin Classic edition.

One may get the idea, from what I have said, that there was bitter feeling toward the white people on the part of my race, because of the fact that most of the white population was away fighting in a war which would result in keeping the Negro in slavery if the South was successful. In the case of the slaves on our place this was not true, and it was not true of any large portion of the slave population in the South where the Negro was treated with anything like decency. – pg. 12

In order to defend and protect the women and children who were left on the plantations when the white males went to war, the slaves would have laid down their lives. The slave who was selected to sleep in the ” big house ” during the absence of the males was considered to have the place of honour. Any one attempting to harm ” young Mistress” or ” old Mistress” during the night would have had to cross the dead body of the slave to do so. I do not know how many have noticed it, but I think that it will be found to be true that there are few instances, either in slavery or freedom, in which a member of my race has been known to betray a specific trust.

As a rule, not only did the members of my race entertain no feelings of bitterness against the whites before and during the war, but there are many instances of Negroes tenderly caring for their former masters and mistresses who for some reason have become poor and dependent since the war. I know of instances where the former masters of slaves have for years been supplied with money by their former slaves to keep them from suffering. J have known of still other cases in which the former slaves have assisted in the education of the descendants of their former owners. – pgs. 13-14

I pity from the bottom of my heart any nation or body of people that is so unfortunate as to get entangled in the net of slavery. I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. Then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe. This is so to such an extent that Negroes in this country, who themselves or whose forefathers went through the school of slavery, are constantly returning to Africa as missionaries to enlighten those who remained in the fatherland. – pg. 16

 

The following quotes are from my Kindle, and do not have page number associated with them:

 

This experience of a whole race beginning to go to school for the first time, presents one of the most interesting studies that has ever occurred in connection with the development of any race. Few people who were not right in the midst of the scenes can form any exact idea of the intense desire which the people of my race showed for an education. As I have stated, it was a whole race trying to go to school. Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn. As fast as any kind of teachers could be secured, not only were day-schools filled, but night-schools as well. The great ambition of the older people was to try to learn to read the Bible before they died. With this end in view, men and women who were fifty or seventy-five years old would often be found in the night-school. Sunday-schools were formed soon after freedom, but the principal book studied in the Sunday-school was the spelling-book. Day-school, night-school, Sundayschool, were always crowded, and often many had to be turned away for want of room.
I have great faith in the power and influence of facts. It is seldom that anything is permanently gained by holding back a fact.

The influence of ancestry, however, is important in helping forward any individual or race, if too much reliance is not placed upon it. Those who constantly direct attention to the Negro youth’s moral weaknesses, and compare his advancement with that of white youths, do not consider the influence of the memories which cling about the old family homesteads. I have no idea, as I have stated elsewhere, who my grandmother was. I have, or have had, uncles and aunts and cousins, but I have no knowledge as to where most of them are. My case will illustrate that of hundreds of thousands of black people in every part of our country. The very fact that the white boy is conscious that, if he fails in life, he will disgrace the whole family record, extending back through many generations, is of tremendous value in helping him to resist temptations. The fact that the individual has behind and surrounding him proud family history and connection serves as a stimulus to help him to overcome obstacles when striving for success.

From any point of view, I had rather be what I am, a member of the Negro race, than be able to claim membership with the most favoured of any other race. I have always been made sad when I have heard members of any race claiming rights and privileges, or certain badges of distinction, on the ground simply that they were members of this or that race, regardless of their own individual worth or attainments. I have been made to feel sad for such persons because I am conscious of the fact that mere connection with what is known as a superior race will not permanently carry an individual forward unless he has individual worth, and mere connection with what is regarded as an inferior race will not finally hold an individual back if he possesses intrinsic, individual merit. Every persecuted individual and race should get much consolation out of the great human law, which is universal and eternal, that merit, no matter under what skin found, is, in the long run, recognized and rewarded. This I have said here, not to call attention to myself as an individual, but to the race to which I am proud to belong.

The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women. Instead of studying books so constantly, how I wish that our schools and colleges might learn to study men and things!
I have referred to this unpleasant part of the history of the South simply for the purpose of calling attention to the great change that has taken place since the days of the ” Ku Klux.” To-day there are no such organizations in the South, and the fact that such ever existed is almost forgotten by both races. There are few places in the South now where public sentiment would permit such organizations to exist.

Naturally, most of our people who received some little education became teachers or preachers. While among these two classes there were many capable, earnest, godly men and women, still a large proportion took up teaching or preaching as an easy way to make a living. Many became teachers who could do little more than write their names. I remember there came into our neighbourhood one of this class, who was in search of a school to teach, and the question arose while he was there as to the shape of the earth and how he would teach the children concerning this subject. He explained his position in the matter by saying that he was prepared to teach that the earth was either flat or round, according to the preference of a majority of his patrons. The ministry was the profession that suffered most—and still suffers, though there has been great improvement — on account of not only ignorant but in many cases immoral men who claimed that they were ” called to preach.” In the earlier days of freedom almost every coloured man who learned to read would receive ” a call to preach ” within a few days after he began reading. At my home in West Virginia the process of being called to the ministry was a very interesting one. Usually the ” call” came when the individual was sitting in church. Without warning the one called would fall upon the floor as if struck by a bullet, and would lie there for hours, speechless and motionless. Then the news would spread all through the neighbourhood that this individual had received a ” call.” If he were inclined to resist the summons, he would fall or be made to fall a second or third time. In the end he always yielded to the call. While I wanted an education badly, I confess that in my youth I had a fear that when I had learned to read and write well I would receive one of these ” calls ” ; but, for some reason, my call never came.

More and more I am convinced that the final solution of the political end of our race problem will be for each state that finds it necessary to change the law bearing upon the franchise to make the law apply with absolute honesty, and without opportunity for double dealing or evasion, to both races alike. Any other course my daily observation in the South convinces me, will be unjust to the Negro, unjust to the white man, and unfair to the rest of the states in the Union, and will be, like slavery, a sin that at some time we shall have to pay for.

Though I was but little more than a youth during the period of Reconstruction, I had the feeling that mistakes were being made, and that things could not remain in the condition that they were in then very long. I felt that the Reconstruction policy, so far as it related to my race, was in a large measure on a false foundation, was artificial and forced. In many cases it seemed to me that the ignorance of my race was being used as a tool with which to help white men into office, and that there was an element in the North which wanted to punish the Southern white men by forcing the Negro into positions over the heads of the Southern whites. I felt that the Negro would be the one to suffer for this in the end.

I saw coloured men who were members of the state legislatures, and county officers, who, in some cases, could not read or write, and whose morals were as weak as their education. Not long ago, when passing through the streets of a certain city in the South, I heard some brick-masons calling out, from the top of a two-story brick building on which they were working, for the ” Governor ” to ” hurry up and bring up some more bricks.” Several times I heard the command, ” Hurry up, Governor!” “Hurry up, Governor!” My curiosity was aroused to such an extent that I made inquiry as to who the ” Governor” was, and soon found that he was a coloured man who at one time had held the position of Lieutenant-Governor of his state.
Of course the coloured people, so largely without education, and wholly without experience in government, made tremendous mistakes, just as any people similarly situated would have done. Many of the Southern whites have a feeling that, if the Negro is permitted to exercise his political rights now to any degree, the mistakes of the Reconstruction period will repeat themselves.

In the fall of 1878, after having taught school in Malden for two years, and after I had succeeded in preparing several of the young men and women, besides my two brothers, to enter the Hampton Institute, I decided to spend some months in study at Washington, D.C. I remained there for eight months. I derived a great deal of benefit from the studies which I pursued, and I came into contact with some strong men and women. At the institution I attended there was no industrial training given to the students, and I had an opportunity of comparing the influence of an institution with no industrial training with that of one like the Hampton Institute, that emphasized the industries. At this school I found the students, in most cases, had more money, were better dressed, wore the latest style of all manner of clothing, and in some cases were more brilliant mentally. At Hampton it was a standing rule that, while the institution would be responsible for securing some one to pay the tuition for the students, the men and women themselves must provide for their own board, books, clothing, and room wholly by work, or partly by work and partly in cash. At the institution at which I now was, I found that a large proportion of the students by some means had their personal expenses paid for them. At Hampton the student was constantly making the effort through the industries to help himself, and that very effort was of immense value in character-building. The students at the other school seemed to be less self-dependent. They seemed to give more attention to mere outward appearances. In a word, they did not appear to me to be beginning at the bottom, on a real, solid foundation, to the extent that they were at Hampton. They knew more about Latin and Greek when they left school, but they seemed to know less about life and its conditions as they would meet it at their homes. Having lived for a number of years in the midst of comfortable surroundings, they were not as much inclined as the Hampton students to go into the country districts of the South, where there was little of comfort, to take up work for our people, and they were more inclined to yield to the temptation to become hotel waiters and Pullman-car porters as their life-work.

The public schools in Washington for coloured people were better then than they were elsewhere. I took great interest in studying the life of our people there closely at that time. I found that while among them there was a large element of substantial, worthy citizens, there was also a superficiality about the life of a large class that greatly alarmed me. I saw young coloured men who were not earning more than four dollars a week spend two dollars or more for a buggy on Sunday to ride up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in, in order that they might try to convince the world that they were worth thousands. I saw other young men who received seventy-five or one hundred dollars per month from the Government, who were in debt at the end of every month. I saw men who but a few months previous were members of Congress, then, without employment and in poverty. Among a large class there seemed to be a dependence upon the Government for every conceivable thing. The members of this class had little ambition to create a position for themselves, but wanted the Federal officials to create one for them.

I felt that the conditions were a good deal like those of an old coloured man, during the days of slavery, who wanted to learn how to play on the guitar. In his desire to take guitar lessons he applied to one of his young masters to teach him; but the young man, not having much faith in the ability of the slave to master the guitar at his age, sought to discourage him by telling him: ” Uncle Jake, I will give you guitar lessons; but, Jake, I will have to charge you three dollars for the first lesson, two dollars for the second lesson, and one dollar for the third lesson. But I will charge you only twenty-five cents for the last lesson.” Uncle Jake answered: ” All right, boss, I hires you on dem terms. But, boss! I wants yer to be sure an’ give me dat las’ lesson first.”

At the time I went to Alabama the coloured people were taking considerable interest in politics, and they were very anxious that I should become one of them politically, in every respect. They seemed to have a little distrust of strangers in this regard.  I recall that one man, who seemed to have been designated by the others to look after my political destiny, came to me on several occasions and said, with a good deal of earnestness: ” We wants you to be sure to vote jes’ like we votes. We can’t read de newspapers very much, but we knows how to vote, an’ we wants you to vote jes’ like we votes.” He added: ” We watches de white man, and we keeps watching de white man till we finds out which way de white man’s gwine to vote; an’ when we finds out which way de white man’s gwine to vote, den we votes ‘xactly de other way. Den we knows we’s right.”

In fact, one of the saddest things I saw during the month of travel which I have described was a young man, who had attended some high school, sitting down in a one-room cabin, with grease on his clothing, filth all around him, and weeds in the yard and garden, engaged in studying a French grammar. The students who came first seemed to be fond of memorizing long and complicated ” rules” in grammar and mathematics, but had little thought or knowledge of applying these rules to the everyday affairs of their life. One subject which they liked to talk about, and tell me that they had mastered, in arithmetic, was ” banking and discount,” but I soon found out that neither they nor almost any one in the neighbourhood in which they lived had ever had a bank account. In registering the names of the students, I found that almost every one of them had one or more middle initials. When I asked what the ” J” stood for, in the name of John J. Jones, it was explained to me that this was a part of his “entitles.” Most of the students wanted to get an education because they thought it would enable them to earn more money as school-teachers.

Miss Davidson and I began consulting as to the future of the school from the first. The students were making progress in learning books and in developing their minds; but it became apparent at once that, if we were to make any permanent impression upon those who had come to us for training, we must do something besides teach them mere books. The students had come from homes where they had had no opportunities for lessons which would teach them how to care for their bodies. With few exceptions, the homes in Tuskegee in which the students boarded were but little improvement upon those from which they had come. We wanted to teach the students how to bathe; how to care for their teeth and clothing. We wanted to teach them what to eat, and how to eat it properly, and how to care for their rooms. Aside from this, we wanted to give them such a practical knowledge of some one industry, together with the spirit of industry, thrift, and economy, that they would be sure of knowing how to make a living after they had left us. We wanted to teach them to study actual things instead of mere books alone.

The more we talked with the students, who were then coming to us from several parts of the state, the more we found that the chief ambition among a large proportion of them was to get an education so that they would not have to work any longer with their hands. This is illustrated by a story told of a coloured man in Alabama, who, one hot day in July, while he was at work in a cotton-field, suddenly stopped, and, looking toward the skies, said: ” O Lawd, de cotton am so grassy, de work am so hard, and the sun am so hot dat I b’lieve dis darky am called to preach!”

During this first Christmas vacation I went some distance from the town to visit the people on one of the large plantations. In their poverty and ignorance it was pathetic to see their attempts to get joy out of the season that in most parts of the country is so sacred and so dear to the heart. In one cabin I noticed that all that the five children had to remind them of the coming of Christ was a single bunch of firecrackers, which they had divided among them. In another cabin, where there were at least a half-dozen persons, they had only ten cents’ worth of ginger-cakes, which had been bought in the store the day before. In another family they had only a few pieces of sugarcane. In still another cabin I found nothing but a new jug of cheap, mean whiskey, which the husband and wife were making free use of, notwithstanding the fact that the husband was one of the local ministers. In a few instances I found that the people had gotten hold of some bright-coloured cards that had been designed for advertising purposes, and were making the most of those. In other homes some member of the family had bought a new pistol. In the majority of cases there was nothing to be seen in the cabin to remind one of the coming of the Saviour, except that the people had ceased work in the fields and were lounging about their homes. At night, during Christmas week, they usually had what they called a ” frolic,” in some cabin on the plantation. This meant a kind of rough dance, where there was likely to be a good deal of whiskey used, and where there might be some shooting or cutting with razors.

While I was making this Christmas visit I met an old coloured man who was one of the numerous local preachers, who tried to convince me, from the experience Adam had in the Garden of Eden, that God had cursed all labour, and that, therefore, it was a sin for any man to work. For that reason this man sought to do as little work as possible. He seemed at that time to be supremely happy, because he was living, as he expressed it, through one week that was free from sin.

Perhaps I might add right here, what I hope to demonstrate later, that, so far as I know, the Tuskegee school at the present time has no warmer and more enthusiastic friends anywhere than it has among the white citizens of Tuskegee and throughout the state of Alabama and the entire South.

Not a few times, when a new student has been led into the temptation of marring the looks of some building by leadpencil marks or by the cuts of a jack-knife, I have heard an old student remind him: ” Don’t do that. That is our building. I helped put it up.”

My experience is that there is something in human nature which always makes an individual recognize and reward merit, no matter under what colour of skin merit is found. I have found, too, that it is the visible, the tangible, that goes a long ways in softening prejudices. The actual sight of a first-class house that a Negro has built is ten times more potent than pages of discussion about a house that he ought to build, or perhaps could build.

 

 

HL Mencken on the first great evolution trial…

I’ve spent a LOT of time putting together a series of 13 podcast episodes of HL Mencken’s Baltimore Evening Sun reports on the Scopes trial from Dayton, Tenn. I’m releasing them in somewhat “real time”, according to the dates they were published 85 years ago. I’d like my visitors to this blog to hear them, and if you enjoy it, please pass a link along to others.

First, a list of the episodes and dates they’ll be released, I’ll link them up as they come out:

June 29th – Homo Neanderthalensis
July 9th – Sickening Doubts About Publicity
July 10th – Impossibility of Obtaining Fair Jury
July 11th – Trial as Religious Orgy
July 13th – Souls Need Reconversion Nightly
July 14th – Darrow’s Eloquent Appeal
July 15th – Law and Freedom
July 16th – Fair Trial Beyond Ken
July 17th – Malone the Victor
July 18th – Genesis Triumphant
July 20th – Tennessee in the Frying Pan
July 27th – Bryan
Sept. 14th* – Aftermath
*Will be released by July 30th.

The full text of the report at the end of the blog!

As frequent readers of this blog know, I’m a big fan of Mencken’s writing. He’s got a viewpoint that is hardly expressed anymore – a no-bullshit commentator on the follies of his day. Moreso, much of what he criticised then has only gone downhill, and his mockery and scathing verbiage is a balm for the mind appalled by the utter stupidity of the modern scene. The only man I’ve read that was able to mix his best elements together with style was Anton Szandor LaVey. LaVey introduced me to Mencken, as well as any number of authors, philosophers, artists and ideas. LaVey is indeed the proverbial gateway drug. It is the opposite of the religions of “the book”, his was a religion “of the world”. When Adversary Recordings rereleased his “Satan Takes a Holiday” CD, and I was tasked with writing promotional copy, this is the tail end:

“…as with most of the work that Anton LaVey has done, it’s a small door to a sometimes unseemly and Satanic world. Applying the true definition of “occult” to these songs is probably most appropriate, as they are hidden wonders.”

A few of the folks who didn’t get turned onto LaVey get real tripped up on the S-word. I’m not going to go into apologetics here, but I think I will be doing an episode on the topic. Let me assure you that you are nowhere near the first person, if you’re like many, to ask “But why not just call yourself ______?”

***

I’m not a writer. There are a few things that I’ve pecked out on the keyboard that I’m proud of, but I hold no illusion that they could even serve as an introduction to Mencken’s own words. Though mecken has penned a few pithy quotable lines, there has been one that I’ve found most reflects my own lifelong work, and I’ve used it many times. It is, in fact, the very first quote on my quotes page:

“I hope I need not confess that a large part of my stock in trade consists of platitudes rescued from the cobwebbed shelves of yesterday… This borrowing and refurbishing of shop-worn goods, as a matter of fact, is the invariable habit of traders in ideas, at all times and everywhere. It is not, however, that all the conceivable human notions have been thought out; it is simply, to be quite honest, that the sort of men who volunteer to think out new ones seldom, if ever, have wind enough for a full day’s work.”

-H.L. Menken, from “In Defense of Women”

***

July 6th was my 35th birthday and the 2nd anniversary of Underworld Amusements (I made a public announcement in October of ’08, but July was the time I started working on it seriously… well, as seriously as I’ve had spare time for). I’ve done quite a bit in the last two years under the banner of UA, but I’m reevaluating it as one should do everything. The podcast started in

The past month and a half I’ve been running ads on Facebook. It’s as cheap or expensive as you want to make it, so I made it cheap and tried to target the people I think would be most interested. It’s brought traffic to the site, but the idea of paying .15 to .50 cents for someone to merely visit the site is hard for me to do. UA is a no-budget operation, more or less. The meager profits from books just go to spending money on website hosting and whatever expenses come along.

This isn’t a wind-up to hitting you up for donations, though it probably sounds like it. No, this is a wind-up to ask anyone who has enjoyed a podcast or book released under the Underworld Amusements banner to occasionally, or at least once, post a link on facebook, write a review on itunes, or do some simple free task to promote what I’m doing. After 14 podcasts, including a number of interviews (from Oscar winner HR Giger, to one-time “worlds worst person” John Derbyshire, to Church of Satan High Priest Peter H. Gilmore, among others), I’ve received exactly one review on iTunes, and that I hounded a friend for.

A few folks have been very supportive, and I’ve done my best to reciprocate. That’s how I roll. I’ve done my best to avoid SPAMMY behavior. I haven’t trolled social network sites begging for folks to “friend” me. I rarely do it on my personal profile and just as rarely do it on my “business” pages. I promote other projects and publishers directly on the UA site and moreso on my personal site. This respectable method isn’t working. Paying for clicks is, but it’s also spending the little money I make that could be spent on new projects or making ongoing projects better.

***

I’ve tried thinking of ways to organize some sort of project that would assist others who are working on projects or have blogs or books to promote to do so easily. Something either a little more targeted than “facebook”, but not a whole separate system that competes with the established sites. I don’t want to build a social network for misfits, but I would like something like an Instapundit for misanthropes. Something that’s compelling enough to bring returning visitors, but not so involved that people have to set up identities, and something that can push that same info out to folks.

I’m not sure what form it’ll take, but it has a name and a url, though I’m not letting that on right now, as it could radically change or not happen. It’d be like telling you my sons name while still a virgin (well, technically, after I had the first two kids aborted, and was planing on making another kid).

Book Nerd :: John Waters “Role Models”

I bought a copy to be signed at Atomic the day before he was there. The day of I wouldn’t have been able to make it, and from photos of the line, I’m glad I didn’t. I met John at the gay bookstore a few years ago for a signing of the reprinting of an expanded edition of Crackpot.

Since I was asked to write what I wanted him to dedicate the book to, I put down “Rev. Slaughter”… I had G. Gordon Liddy autograph a copy of “Will” to that same name as well.

image

image

image

Now I get to pull out the protective covering for the dust jacket and bone folder so that one day, many years from now, when I die, the jacket will be in pristine condition when someone throws my possessions away.

Thieves and Vagabonds by Jim Tully

The following story was transcribed and introduction was written for a ‘zine a few years ago and was never published. I offer it here now because I just rediscovered it on my computer.

Jim Tully is one of my literary heroes, and I don’t have many. Tully was a defacto Satanist, of this I have no question. He lived his life as he saw fit.

Credited with originating the hard-boiled writing style practiced later by such authors as Dashiell Hammett. His own story is on par with such figures as Jim Thompson and Jack London, writing not from fantasies, but from his own hard won experiences.

This red-headed Irish bruiser became one of the most respected writers during the roaring twenties, a time filled with more historical greats than probably ever before or since.

A literary bum, Jim also spent time doing an assortment of jobs to get him from one day to the next. By the time his first book was published in 1922, he’d been a dishwasher, chainmaker, boxer, newspaper reporter, tree surgeon, circus handyman, and Hollywood press agent. Through these jobs he compiled a few lifetimes of experiences and characters to write about.

Just like the most of the once great figures of history, Tully has been all but forgotten. His works slowly went out of print and his name brought up less and less. Just like the legacy of Al Jolson, who was in his time considered to be the greatest entertainer the world had known, is resigned to the intrepid hands of those who search the dustbins of our uniquely American past.

As Satanists, we search these dustbins. Most of the dust it churns up is lung-choking garbage, but once in a while an amazing thing will be found.

“Thieves and Vagabonds” was originally published in H.L. Mencken’s monthly magazine The American Mercury in 1928. This work is being published for the first time in 80 years.

Since we’re talking about Mencken, I’ll quote him now. It’s one I’ve sort of adopted as my own long-form motto:

“I hope I need not confess that a large part of my stock in trade consists of platitudes rescued from the cobwebbed shelves of yesterday… This borrowing and refurbishing of shop-worn goods, as a matter of fact, is the invariable habit of traders in ideas, at all times and everywhere. It is not, however, that all the conceivable human notions have been thought out; it is simply, to be quite honest, that the sort of men who volunteer to think out new ones seldom, if ever, have wind enough for a full day’s work.”
-H.L. Menken, from “In Defense of Women”

Enjoy,

Kevin I. Slaughter

THIEVES AND VAGABONDS

Jim Tully

NO BIRD flew through the air. No bare branch stirred. The turbulent water of Lake Huron was icily supine in the midst of the frozen desolation. The little town in the Thunder Bay river section was buried deep in snow. For days the weather had remained the same.

The cold cut to the marrow of sparsely clad bones, like frost-bitten razor blades. The deep drifted snow glinted chameleonlike under the spasmodically shining sun. It, too, seemed a frozen candle in the sky.

All day the wind had whirled the snow in every direction. It abated by night, and the snow ceased falling. A deadly calm, and a deadlier cold settled over the earth. It was twenty degrees below zero.

Every living thing had hunted shelter for the night. The stars glistened above, as if piercing through the atmosphere with swords of burning steel. The moon was a mist of frozen white and yellow.

To keep beggars from freezing the calaboose was left open. A pine structure for the lesser offenders, it stood on a side street―alone.

A group of vagabonds huddled around a jumbo stove in a wretchedly furnished room that faced a row of cells. The window of the room was stuffed with rags; there were but three unbroken panes of glass left. The door was cracked and frostbitten. The unbroken panes were covered with a heavy frost. A large lamp, fastened with a bracket, was above the door.

The echo of a locomotive whistle was heard, like the faraway sound of vibrant music. The vagabonds listened, and a flare of interest passed over their life-beaten and weather-lashed faces. But no word was said as they turned their eyes to the round stove again, like tired dogs dozing. The engine whistled once lore and all eyes became alert.

“That old boy’s a ramblin’ to git out o’ the cold,” said a derelict with a weazened face. “He thinks !it’ll be warmer ‘n Detroit.”

“Yeap,” said a one-legged man, “it’s a hell of a night for yeggs and hoboes. I wouldn’t even want a railroad bull out on a night like this. We’re gittin’ punished for our sins.”

“It’ll be hotter ‘n this when you git punished fur your sins, One Leg,” grunted a heavy man with a red kerchief around his neck.

“Maybe so, maybe so,” drawled One Leg. “I been punished enough in my time for all I ever done.”

The heavy man, a crumbling mountain of muscle, smiled a crooked smile, rubbed his week-old beard with a knucklecracked hand, and said, “What da hell, what da hell―gittin’ soft, One Leg? You’d steal pennies from dead men’s eyes.”

“You bet your life I would, Husky. Dead men don’t need no pennies, and they don’t need their eyes shut-they can’t see nothin’.”

The group laughed without mirth.

“I hope no hobo’s on that rattler just pullin’ in. He’d freeze―sure’s Gawd is just,” said the derelict with the weazened face.

“Don’t worry your potato soul, Weazle,” advised the man called One Leg. “They ain’t no smart ‘boes ridin’ freights tonight. And them that ain’t smart―well, the deader the better. Too many dumb ones on the road already.”

The decrepit of the earth lapsed into silence. The husky vagabond arose and reached into the bottom of the wood-box. He pulled out a chunk of wood. “Don’t know what we’ll do when the wood’s gone,” he sneered. “Burn the shack down, I guess.”

“I’d just as soon,” responded One Leg. “These jails are gettin’ rottener every year. A self-respectin’ tramp can’t stop in them no more. It used to be when I first went on the road they was decent jails. You’d git good eats and java. Now all you git is hell from the jailers and corn bread and chicory.”

He was interrupted by the man with the weazened face. “Well, if you don’t like the jails you kin quit trampin’.” Then, scornfully, “Quit your crabbin’! You’re lucky they let the jails open.”

II

The large man moved his shoulder and neck muscles nervously, completely oblivious of the conversation.

“What’s the matter, Husky, old snowbird, do you want a shot?” asked a vagabond, looking at him.

“Naw, I don’t want a shot. Gosh! Can’t a man sit quiet without you mosquitoes buzzin’ at him? I was jist thinkin’ o’ the days I was a man―and a damn good one at that.”

“What you was don’t buy any ham an’ eggs,” laughed One Leg. “People go to Hell ’cause they was what they was. No one gives a cockeyed nigger for what you was. What you was is all over―has-beens ain’t useful to society nohow.”

“That may be, One Leg, but a hasbeen’s better ‘n a never-was, any day. What you were shows what you was-and I was one of the two best men of his weight in the world. Think o’ that, you bums and would-be yeggs! The world’s damn big―and they wasn’t any man in it―millions and millions o’ them―that could lick me. Huh,” he looked about with scorn, “that’ll make your eyes pop out like eggs―huh―the world’s damn big.” He raised an immense hand. “Lookit that mitt―and this mug”―putting his hand to his jaw. “It’s stopped wallops from all o’ them―an’ the best any o’ them ever got was an even break wit’ me―and only one o’ them ever done that.

“I used to go ’round ’em like hoops on a barrel and they called me the Ghost Wit’ the Kick of a Mule. I put the fear o’ Gawd in their hearts, I did. I played on their ribs till they cracked. Didden I put the Chicago Slasher out wit’ a rabbit punch―and he croaks before mornin’? I’ll say I been a man in my time!”

The derelicts looked at Husky in a disinterested manner. He rose and went on.

“When Regan was champeen, who fought him a twenty-round draw? Me! An’ the gong saves him in the last round. I was gittin’ better ‘n the twentieth. I kin hear the crowd hollerin’ yet. No one ever stood up in front o’ him twenty rounds before, neither. In the third round he sez to me, he sez―’Say your prayers, Husky, you’re a goin’ to Heaven to-night,’ and I grunts back at him, ‘Not ’til I gives you hell first,’ I sez. And then we went at it. Lord almighty, what a battle! In the ‘leventh round I drops him for a count of eight. Eight, do you hear that? I jest come within two counts o’ bein’ the champeen o’ the world, I did. But the Kid he gets up and shakes in his knees and then comes at me with his right sailing plumb fer my jaw, an’ quicker ‘n lightnin’ I squared ‘roun ‘n’ hooked my left―an’ doubles him up like a rusty knife.”

Husky gulped.

“It was a night like this an’ colder ‘n Hell wit’ the door open. They was forty thousand people there an’ I come near bein’ champeen. You git that―you bread-beggars―you crums―you meat-snatchers―you unbathed bastards! ―an’ don’t make fun o’ your betters! I’m still man enough to clap your heads together.” He slapped his immense broken-knuckled and finger-twisted hands together and went on: “Don’t you never call me Snowbird agin, One Leg, or I’ll make you pick your teeth with that crutch o’ yourn. I’ll make you dig your grave with it if you say I’m a hophead out loud.”

One Leg looked about the room, then turned with a bored expression away from Husky. The other vagabonds did the same.

The ex-bruiser, baffled by their unconcern, trembled with the memory of past glory. The crumbling muscled hero of a little hour that had passed, he looked about forlornly.

His hands dropped from their clenched position; his taut muscles relaxed. He jerked the soiled red kerchief from around his neck and wiped his rheumy eyes. He then seated himself by the stove. A strained silence followed.

III

One Leg broke it with, “Well, ‘boes, any of you want to see my new invention?”

“Sure―what did you invent?” asked Weazle.

“A dog-fooler,” answered One Leg, pulling up the trouser of his remaining leg and showing the calf of it wrapped about with heavy brown paper. “There ain’t a dog in this country can bite through that,” he said proudly.

Husky felt the paper and exclaimed, “Gosh, it’s only paper!”

“Sure! What did you think it was―cement?” One Leg snarled.

“Well, a fellow needs somethin’ like that―there’s a lot of dogs in Michigan,” commented a vagabond.

“Well, I ain’t very fast on this one leg,” resumed the inventor, “so I had to rig up somethin’ to protect it.”

“I’ll bet a Newfoundlan’ kin bite through that,” said a vagabond who had not spoken before. “I seen ’em up in Maine bigger ‘n cows.”

“How about a bull-dog?” asked another.

“Oh, they can’t bite very hard,” answered One Leg. “Their jaws don’t open very far―it takes a big mouth for a hard bite.”

“A collie’s mean, though,” ventured Husky. “They’d bite their uncle if he wasn’t lookin’.”

“Them little terriers are pizen to me,” said a nondescript. “They don’t bite so hard, but they raise old Ned till they git all the darn dogs in the neighborhood after a guy. ”

Husky looked bored. “Let’s forgit about dogs,” he said. “Doc don’t care about dogs, do you, Doc?”

The vagabond addressed might have been any age. from fifty to eighty. His shoulders were round, his hands delicate, slender and bloodless. His face was pinched pink and blue. His hair straggled silver into his bleared and insane eyes.

His pockets were ripped on his buttonless coat, the collar of which hid his thin neck. There remained still a touch of authority in his incisive manner, as if he belonged not in such crass surroundings. With precise enunciation he turned to his mountainous questioner.

“My name is Dr. John Abercombie, if you please, sir, and I may say that I am not at all interested in dogs-only the human brain.” He raised his right hand in the manner of a professor before a class. “It is, gentlemen, the most marvelous gift of God. I speak of man’s brain―not woman’s.”

Laughter interrupted him. He frowned at his audience.

“And I often said to her, ‘But, dear, remember our position―and your own good name―even if you do not love me―you cannot afford a scandal. You surely would not trade a brain specialist for an Italian teacher of the dance! Ah, dear wife, do you not recall the words of the woman-weary Shakespeare, “Frailty, thy name is woman?” Madness lies in getting what we want―one should be careful of the brain. The convolutions of the cerebrum are many―this man belongs in the medulla oblongata position. He has touched the pia mater which connects the nerves of your body―it is that most delicate portion of the brain.’”

Weazle rubbed his yellow eyebrows in a bored manner.

“Well, one thing’s a cinch―none of us has any brains―that’s why we’re here.” He looked at Doc. “Believe me, herdin’ sheep in Idaho beats this life. The sheep may be dumb, but they hain’t any dumber than us.”

“Chortle for yourself, Weazle,” snapped One Leg.

“Well, I’ll sing, then,” returned Weazle beginning in a cracked tenor voice:

Oh, all you young Dukes and you Duchess,
Just listen to what I do say,
Because it ain’t ourn that we touches,
You send us to Botany Bay.

Singin’ too-ral-too-ral-looralay,
And too-ral-loo-ral-lorray,
Because it ain’t ourn that we touches,
You send us to Botany Bay.

Oh, had I the wings of a buzzard,
I’d spread out my pinions and fly
‘Way back to Old England forever,
And there I’d be willin’ to die!

“Gentlemen,” said Doc slowly, “most anyone would be willing to die in England.”

Weazle flared into a cockney accent:

“England’s a white man’s country―and the women are all beautiful―not like in this hick country.”

Doc rubbed his thin, bloodless hands, and gazed at Weazle with the round eyes of the insane.

“Slandering womanhood ill becomes a gentleman, young man. Perhaps you have never known a real American woman.”

“No―but that wop did.”

Doc was frozen dignity.

“I shall not discuss such matters with children.”

His head sank. He looked a fragment for the pity of his fellows.

All were oblivious except Husky. He rose from his seat and put a heavy hand on Doc’s shoulder. “Don’t take it so hard, old boy. You were up an’ now you’re down. I know what you mean-these yaps don’t. They’re just a lotta hogs an’ they hain’t never seen but one pen in their life. We been in real ones, ain’t we, Doc?”

He patted the remnant of science. Doc did not stir.

“No use talkin’ to these yaps about brains, Doc. They don’t know what you mean.”

IV

The door opened.

A rugged fellow of about thirty-three entered. He held his hands funnel-like to his mouth and blew hot breath upon them.

He wore a dark suit that had been well tailored. Full of the grease-stains of the road and pricked in several places by the sharp pieces of coke upon which he had lain, it nevertheless fit him well and accentuated the lines of his powerful body. He was about six feet tall. His hair curled around the edges of his cap. His face was intelligent, well cut; his eyes a vivid blue. When he removed his hands he showed a sardonic sneer. He tried to smile. The sneer remained.

All in the group save Husky were deferential to the new arrival. They acted as though a man had appeared among them. He walked toward the stove.

“God Almighty, what a night! Is this all the wood you’ve got?” He blew on his hands again. Then as if irritated at the scarcity of wood, “What a hell of a bunch of vagabonds and thieves you are! You’d all sit here and freeze before you’d rustle some wood.”

He pushed One Leg from his chair, tore it apart, and put it in the stove.

He pulled a quart of whisky from a sagging coat pocket.

A constable’s voice was heard.

“Come on, here! It’s a wonder you ain’t froze! You oughta be in school instead of galavantin’ around the country.”

He stood in the door with a youth of fine features.

All the vagabonds looked up except Doc. He still stared at the rotting floor. The youth walked to the stove.

“They’re comin’ younger an’ younger. Soon babies’ll be on the road,” laughed a vagabond.

“Yes―lovely babies,” remarked Doc, looking at the youth. The sound of the constable’s footsteps could be heard, dying.

Tacked to the wall was part of a map of America. The ruffian in the tailored suit walked toward it.

“It’s not all here. The Gulf of Mexico and the Southern States are missing.”

“Well, you don’t count ’em anyhow,” laughed One Leg.

The man traced a route with his finger.

“We’re a hell of a ways from nowhere…and along ways to go.”

He walked away and stood with his back to the stove. His eyes scanned the array of derelicts.

“Where you from, Bozo?” He turned to the youth.

“Over yonder,” returned the lad, circling the room with his hand.

“We’re all from over yonder,” put in Doc.

The wind rose in a terrifying crescendo. The kerosene lamp flickered. A shadow passed over the room.

The wind died down, then rose again, louder than before. Doors and window rattled violently.

“It’ll blow the cells outta the building if it keeps this up,” laughed Weazle.

“Or the wool off a sheep’s tail, eh, Weaz?” suggested One Leg.

Doc spoke in a cracked, appealing voice to the youth who had taken his fancy.

“So you’re from over yonder?” He broke into a half song:

Over yonder―when the roll is called
Over yonder―I’ll be there!

The ruffian in the worn tailored suit took up the words in a rich vibrant voice:

On that bright and glorious morning
When old time shall be no more…
When the roll is called over yonder
I’ll be there!

He beat time with feet and hands. The youth and Weazle took up the song.

They stopped suddenly. The wind pounded at the door. The ruffian in the tailored suit took another drink.

“Gimme a swig o’ that, for God’s sake!” pleaded Husky. “I’m needin’ a drink for a week. I’m goin’ nuts in here―two whole days of it.”

“Who ran your saloon last year? I’m not feedin’ good liquor to hoboes. You get a couple of swigs of this an’ it’d blow your empty can off. It’s not regular liquor, you know. It’s nitro-glycerine. I use it for soup―it opens anything.” He looked at Husky, trembling on his pine box scat.

“Lord, have a little pity, ‘bo! I’d give everybody a drink if I had it. I’d give the sun away an’ sit in the shade… That’s why I’m here.”

The man’s sneer vanished for a second. “I’ll give you a swig-just to watch it work.” He handed him the bottle. “Bathe your troubles on Nitro Dugan.”

V

The vagabonds became alert at mention of the name.

Husky clamped his immense jaws about the neck of the bottle.

“Here―what the hell! I’m giving you a drink―not the whole bottle!”

Nitro Dugan wrestled with Husky, who held the gurgling fluid upward.

Impatient, he stepped backward and slammed a heavy fist against Husky’s jaw. The bottle broke and fell to the floor.

Husky stood, legs apart, the neck of the bottle in his mouth.

“Give a bum a horse and he’ll want a stable,” snapped Nitro, looking at the spilled liquor. The bottle neck rattled to the floor.

Husky’s mountain of muscle trembled as though lava poured through it. He frowned at his benefactor with menace and seated himself on the pine box. Nitro sneered at him, “Now would you like some ham and eggs?” His voice rose. “What do you think I am―a traveling bartender?” Pointing to the floor, “Look what you did-you’d muss up Heaven if they let you in.”

Husky’s heavy voice boomed. “Gwan away from me-afore I tap you on the button!”

“Don’t talk to me that way, ‘bo. I’ll put a hole through you so big you can bury yourself in it,” sneered Nitro Dugan.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen―remember where you are,” pleaded Doc. “It ill behooves men to forget themselves over such trifling matters.”

“Shut up!” snarled Husky, pushing the emaciated vagabond backward.

He stood before Nitro with fearful menace. “Go ahead and try to put your hole through me, ‘bo. They hain’t a bullet made that kin go through my hide.”

Nitro stood with his defiant sneer, his right hand buried in his coat pocket.

All eyes opened startled wide.

“Don’t, for God’s sake! Don’t you see he’s just a wreck? And now you’ve drove him mad with hooch,” the youth pleaded.

“The hell I’m a wreck! I’m Battlin’ Hagen, you whippersnapper! No longlegged sap kin talk about drillin’ holes through me an’ git away wit’ it.”

All drew in closer. The youth held Nitro’s right hand. Nitro commanded, “Hands up, you bum, or I’ll throw a bullet through you!”

Husky dashed toward Nitro. A bullet missed him. He twisted the snub blue revolver from Nitro’s hand. The youth picked it up.

Nitro made a move for the gun, but Husky was upon him.

“Now we’ll take it―man to man―you yellow dog!” Nitro, with the same defiant sneer, twisted a left fist upward. It connected under Husky’s chin. The blood spurted from his teeth.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” pleaded Doc. A wild blow caught him. His jaw went to one side. His eyes popped. He fell unnoticed.

One Leg decided against Husky and thumped him with his crutch. The blows rattled from his head.

Then, as if irritated, Husky pulled his right shoulder back in the midst of the general melee. His fist caught One Leg on the right ear. It shot him perpendicular for at least six feet. He then fell like a telegraph pole, chopped low.

Husky did not look at him.

Now roused, he rushed in relentlessly, using every trick long years in the ring had taught him.

Nitro parried, feinted, and stalled for time. His blows rattled on Husky’s jaws like pebbles on an iron roof.

Hurtling bodies drowned the noise of the roaring wind. Nitro’s coat was torn from his shoulders. Crushed against the door, he began to push his knees upward in an effort to cripple Husky. The ex-bruiser, equal to the occasion, used the same tactics.

“Stop it! Stop it! I’ll shoot,” the youth cried.

The gun was leveled at the bloody assailants. As if eager for a breathing spell, they stopped hostilities and looked at the youth.

Doc sat erect, rubbing his jaw. He rose shakily and stood, a ghoulish spectator, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth.

One Leg still slept, like a crippled soldier, with the crutch across his breast.

The blue gun was held firmly. The monsters of men looked down its barrel.

The lamp above the youth accentuated his fine cut features. A strand of blondishbrown hair fell from under his cap. The vagabonds faced him in a half-circle as he leaned against the door.

“You wouldn’t shoot, would you, kid? Why do you care if we kill each other?” coaxed Nitro.

“I don’t―but if you do, they’ll blame it on us―and throw the key away.”

“Ho ho―that’s it―lookin’ out for yourself!” Nitro again sneered, stepping closer.

“Sure―ain’t I human? But stand where you are!”

The revolver was shoved forward.

“Now quit your fightin’―both of you. You’ll get us all thrown out in the cold. If you want a fight, beat it on out of here. Then you kin freeze and go to Heaven like little babies swattin’ flies.”

Husky sprang forward. He grabbed the gun with one hand; and with the other he ripped the youth’s clothing to his waist. The lad’s cap came off in the scuffle.

The half-circle of vagabonds gasped in unison.

“God Almighty! It’s a girl!”

VI

The words awoke One Leg. He clattered to his one foot.

Centuries fell from every face save Doc’s. Impassive as stone, he saw not a girl, but a fellow vagabond.

The girl, with hair falling over her slender shoulders, now stood with the expression of a trapped animal; arms folded across her breast. The half-circle began to close in.

“You dirty devils! Now you want to paw me! You’re all alike―every one of you―even the damned preacher in the Reform School!”

Her words made them hesitate. Her left hand searched for the door knob. An awful stillness followed. The wind could be heard trumpeting outside.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” pleaded Doc.

“Shut up, you nutty yap!” from Nitro Dugan.

Husky, his mind on weightier matters, held the revolver loosely in his hand. He touched the girl’s arm. She shrank.

Nitro Dugan moved closer, and delivered a powerful blow to Husky’s Jaw. He grappled for the gun.

It turned downward and exploded. A moan followed.

The girl looked upward for a second. Her left hand searched for the door-knob again. Her right crashed the lamp to the floor. A blue flame spread over the kerosene in Husky’s direction.

Dodging low, she was gone. The door slammed shut.

Husky awaited the fast creeping flames. Nitro Dugan jerked the door open with,

“Well, it’s our move―damn the luck!” Doc remained.

The other vagabonds scurried after Nitro Dugan.

“Wait a moment, gentlemen,” Doc called. “Perhaps he isn’t dead.” No hobo heard.

An obscure paragraph in a Detroit paper announced next day that the jail at______ had burned to the ground.

Two unknown tramps, seeking shelter for the night, had been found dead among the ruins.

Book Nerd :: Ayn Rand, Florence King, Clausewitz On War, Sacks talks to the deaf

image

Strange… I don’t see a way to rotate this damn photo in WordPress. Oh well, break yer goddamn neck.

Few books from Ukazoo. I was thrilled to have my Nexus One with me, as Ukazoo has a computer and all their books cataloged. I was able to pull up my Amazon.com wish list and search for books one by one.

“The Florence King Reader” by … take a guess.

“One War” – Clauswitz

“Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” Leonard Piekoff

“Seeing Voices” Oliver Sacks

Book Nerd :: It’s been a while…

I haven’t done a book nerd update in a while. I tried remembering all the books I’ve picked up since I last posted, and I’m not sure if this is it…. probably not.  In fact, I just remembered two I’d left out…

Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom

This Will Change Everything edited by John Brockman

The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (Advance Copy) by Thomas Ligotti

Prison’s Inside Art edited by Curtis Knapp (reference for design project)

Selfish Little by Peter Sotos

Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection by Deborah Bloom

The Kingdom of Evil by Ben Hecht

Fantazus Mallaure by Ben Hecht

Books and Printing: A Treasury for Typophiles ed. by Paul A. Bennett

Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Seicle Culture

Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Charles Krafft’s Villa Delirium

Eighty Years of Book Cover Design ed. by Joseph Connolly

The Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley (partially obscured by the cat)

alright… I took a second photo and amended it to the bottom… I don’t think this is all of them either, but I’ll cut it off at this point.

“We” by Charles A. Lindbergh

Can Life Prevail by Pentti Linkola

The New Modern Coin Magic by J.B. Bobo