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Published Sunday, January 29, 2012 @ 12:05 AM EST
Jan 29 2012

H.L. Mencken, (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956)

A bachelor's virtue depends upon his alertness; a married man's depends upon his wife's.

A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know.

A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.

A gentleman is one who never strikes a woman without provocation.

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

A great nation is any mob of people which produces at least one honest man a century.

A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.

A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness. But after that he begins to bunch them.

A man may be a fool and not know it- but not if he is married.

A misogynist is a man who hates women as much as women hate each other.

A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.

A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.

A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.

A Sunday school is a prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents.

A writer is always admired most, not by those who have read him, but by those who have merely heard of him.

Adultery is the application of democracy to love.

After a revolution, of course, the successful revolutionists always try to convince doubters that they have achieved great things, and usually they hang any man who denies it.

All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it.

An altruist is one who would be sincerely sorry to see his neighbor's children devoured by wolves.

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.

As an American, I naturally spend most of my time laughing.

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft.

At the end of one millennium and nine centuries of Christianity, it remains an unshakable assumption of the law in all Christian countries and of the moral judgment of Christians everywhere that if a man and a woman, entering a room together, close the door behind them, the man will come out sadder and the woman wiser.

But the razor edge of ridicule is turned by the tough hide of truth.

Certainly there is something radically wrong with a system which enables a Henry Ford to posture magnificently as one who pays lavish wages, and then, when the pinch comes, to lay of men by tens of thousands and throw them on public charity.

Change is not progress.

Christendom is that part of the world where, if a man declare himself to be a Christian, his hearers laugh at him.

Clergyman: a ticket speculator outside the gates of heaven.

College football is a game which would be much more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students, and even more interesting if the trustees played. There would be a great increase in broken arms, legs, and necks, and simultaneously an appreciable diminution in the loss to humanity.

Communism, like any other revealed religion, is largely made up of prophecies.

Complete masculinity and stupidity are often indistinguishable.

Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends.

Conscience is the inner voice that warns us someone may be looking.

Courtroom: A place where Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot would be equals, with the betting odds in favor of Judas.

Criticism is prejudice made plausible.

Deep within the heart of every evangelist lies the wreck of a car salesman.

Demagogue: One who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

Democracy is the theory that the people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Do not overestimate the decency of the human race.

During many a single week, I daresay, more money is spent in New York upon useless and evil things than would suffice to run the kingdom of Denmark for a year.

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.

Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

Every great wave of popular passion that rolls up on the prairies is dashed to spray when it strikes the hard rocks of Manhattan.

Every man sees in his relatives a series of grotesque caricatures of himself.

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

Explanations exist; they have existed for all times, for there is always an easy solution to every human problem- neat, plausible, and wrong.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.

For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe... Marriage is a scheme to accomplish exactly that same end.

For it is the natural tendency of the ignorant to believe what is not true. In order to overcome that tendency it is not sufficient to exhibit the true; it is also necessary to expose and denounce the false.

Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.

God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.

Government in America has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men. (1926)

Government, today, is growing too strong to be safe. There are no longer any citizens in the world; there are only subjects. They work day in and day out for their masters; they are bound to die for their masters at call. Out of this working and dying they tend to get less and less.

Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one at least is disposed of.

How little it takes to make life unbearable: a pebble in the shoe, a cockroach in the spaghetti, a woman's laugh.

Human progress is furthered, not by conformity, but by aberration.

Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.

I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone.

I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.

I believe that it should be perfectly lawful to print even things that outrage the pruderies and prejudices of the general, so long as any honest minority, however small, wants to read them. The remedy of the majority is not prohibition, but avoidance.

I detest converts almost as much as I do missionaries.

I get little enjoyment out of women, more out of alcohol, most out of ideas.

I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.

I'm against slavery simply because I dislike slaves.

If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.

If I had my way, any man guilty of golf would be ineligible for any office of trust in the United States.

If I have been wrong in my agnosticism, when I die I'll walk up to God in a manly way and say, Sir, I made an honest mistake.

If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.

Imagine the Creator as a low comedian, and at once the world becomes explicable.

Immorality: The morality of those who are having a better time.

In a man's world... simian aptitudes are rated high, and so not too many women get in. To succeed as a lawyer, for example, a woman would have to throttle two of her chief attributes: her disdain for the petty accumulations of useless knowledge, and her sharp feeling for the truth. What men in their imbecility consistently mistake for a deficiency of intelligence in women is merely an incapacity for mastering small and trivial tricks.

In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell.

In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for; as for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican.

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.

It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.

It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man.

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.

It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics or chemistry.

It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or of the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely.

It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull.

It seems to me that society usually wins. There are, to be sure, free spirits in the world, but their freedom, in the last analysis, is not much greater than that of a canary in a cage. They may leap from perch to perch; they may bathe and guzzle at their will; they may flap their wings and sing. But they are still in the cage, and soon or late it conquers them.

Legend: a lie that has attained the dignity of age.

Love is an emotion that is based on an opinion of women that is impossible for those who have had any experience with them.

Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.

Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.

Man is a natural polygamist. He always has one woman leading him by the nose and another hanging on to his coattails.

Man weeps to think that he will die so soon; woman, that she was born so long ago.

Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.

Men have a much better time of it than women. For one thing, they marry later. For another thing, they die earlier.

Metaphysics is almost always an attempt to prove the incredible by an appeal to the unintelligible.

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”

Most people want security in this world, not liberty.

Nature abhors a moron.

Never let your inferiors do you a favor- it will be extremely costly.

Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only error to be exposed.

No man can be friendly to another whose personal habits differ materially from his own. Even the trivialities of table manners thus become important. The fact probably explains much of race prejudice, and even more of national prejudice.

No man, examining his marriage intelligently, can fail to observe that it is compounded, at least in part, of slavery, and that he is the slave.

No matter how happily a woman may be married, it always pleases her to discover that there is a nice man who wishes that she were not.

No matter how long he lives, no man ever becomes as wise as the average woman of forty-eight.

No matter how much a woman loved a man, it would still give her a glow to see him commit suicide for her.

No one ever heard of the truth being enforced by law. Whenever the secular arm is called in to sustain an idea, whether new or old, it is always a bad idea, and not infrequently it is downright idiotic.

No one in this world, as far as I know... has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.

Nobody's got a right to be a nuisance to his neighbors.

Of all escape mechanisms, death is the most efficient.

One of the merits of democracy is quite obvious: it is perhaps the most charming form of government ever devised by man. The reason is not far to seek. It is based on propositions that are palpably not true- and what is not true, as everyone knows, is always immensely more fascinating and satisfying to the vast majority of men than what is true.

Only a government that is rich and safe can afford to be a democracy, for democracy is the most expensive and nefarious kind of government ever heard of on earth.

Opera in English is, in the main, just about as sensible as baseball in Italian.

Psychotherapy is the theory that the patient will probably get well anyhow and is certainly a damn fool.

Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration- courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and, above all, love of the truth.

Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.

Self-respect: the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.

Sin is a dangerous toy in the hands of the virtuous. It should be left to the congenitally sinful, who know when to play with it and when to let it alone.

So few men are really worth knowing, that it seems a shameful waste to let an anthropoid prejudice stand in the way of free association with one who is.

Suicide is belated acquiescence in the opinion of one's wife's relatives.

Sunday: A day given over by Americans to wishing that they themselves were dead and in Heaven, and that their neighbors were dead and in Hell.

Temptation is a woman's weapon and a man's excuse.

The allurement that women hold out to men is precisely the allurement that Cape Hatteras holds out to sailors: they are enormously dangerous and hence enormously fascinating.

The American people, taking one with another, constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose steppers ever gathered under on flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages.

The argument that capital punishment degrades the state is moonshine, for if that were true then it would degrade the state to send men to war... The state, in truth, is degraded in its very nature: a few butcheries cannot do it any further damage.

The average man doesn't want to be free. He wants to be safe.

The average man never really thinks from beginning to end of his life. The mental activity of such people is only a mouthing of cliches. What they mistake for thought is simply repetition of what they have heard. My guess is that well over 80% of the human race goes through life without having a single original thought. Whenever a new one appears the average man shows signs of dismay and resentment.

The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high-school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police-station lawyer.

The average woman must inevitably view her actual husband with a certain disdain; he is anything but her ideal. In consequence, she cannot help feeling that her children are cruelly handicapped by the fact that he is their father.

The basic fact about human existence is not that it is a tragedy, but that it is a bore. It is not so much a war as an endless standing in line.

The best years are the forties; after fifty a man begins to deteriorate, but in the forties he is at the maximum of his villainy.

The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal.

The chief contribution of Presbyterianism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore.

The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it. Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning to give him the ride.

The Creator is a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.

The cynics are right nine times out of ten.

The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act; even when it has worked and he has not been caught.

The doctrine that the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy is like saying the cure for crime is more crime.

The essence of a genuine professional man is that he cannot be bought.

The essence of science is that it is always willing to abandon a given idea for a better one; the essence of theology is that it holds its truths to be eternal and immutable. To be sure, theology is always yielding a little to the progress of knowledge, and only a Holy Roller in the mountains of Tennessee would dare to preach today what the popes preached in the thirteenth century.

The existence of most human beings is of absolutely no significance to history or to human progress. They live and die as anonymously and as nearly uselessly as so many bullfrogs or houseflies. They are, at best, undifferentiated slaves upon an endless assembly line, and at worse they are robots who leave their mark upon time only by occasionally falling into the machinery...

The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.

The first Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist “Jack”.

The formula of the argument is simple and familiar: to dispose of a problem all that is necessary is to deny that it exists.

The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.

The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable.

The great secret of happiness in love is to be glad that the other fellow married her.

The idea that the sole aim of punishment is to prevent crime is obviously grounded upon the theory that crime can be prevented, which is almost as dubious as the notion that poverty can be prevented.

The lunatic fringe wags the underdog.

The man who boasts that he habitually tells the truth is simply a man with no respect for it. It is not a thing to be thrown about loosely, like small change; it is something to be cherished and hoarded and disbursed only when absolutely necessary. The smallest atom of truth represents some man's bitter toil and agony; for every ponderable chunk of it there is a brave truth-seeker's grave upon some lonely ash-dump and a soul roasting in Hell.

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell the truth.

The more a man dreams, the less he believes.

The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.

The New Deal began, like the Salvation Army, by promising to save humanity. It ended, again like the Salvation Army, by running flop-houses and disturbing the peace.

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.

The older I get, the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants beyond everything else is safety.

The only guarantee of the Bill of Rights which continues to have any force and effect is the one prohibiting quartering troops on citizens in time of peace.

The only really happy people are married women and single men.

The only way to success in American life lies in flattering and kow-towing to the mob.

The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral.

The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.

The plain fact is that I am not a fair man and don't want to hear both sides.

The public demands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false. But there are no certainties.

The saddest life is that of a political aspirant under democracy. His failure is ignominious and his success disgraceful.

The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God's children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the devil.

The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians.

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

The true aim of medicine is not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices.

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth- that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top there is no limit to oppression.

Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.

There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.

There is no record in human history of a happy philosopher.

There is something even more valuable to civilization than wisdom, and that is character.

Time is the great legalizer, even in the field of morals.

To wage a war for a purely moral reason is as absurd as to ravish a woman for a purely moral reason.

Truth would quickly cease to become stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule-and both commonly succeed, and are right.

Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.

We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine.

We have our spasms of revolt, our flarings up of peekaboo waists, free love and “art,” but a mighty backwash of piety fetches each and every one of them soon or late.

We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

What men value in this world is not rights but privileges.

When a husband's story is believed, he begins to suspect his wife.

When a man laughs at his misfortunes, he loses a great many friends. They never forgive the loss of their prerogative.

When a new source of taxation is found it never means, in practice, that an old source is abandoned. It merely means that the politicians have two ways of milking the taxpayer where they had only one before.

When the water reaches the upper decks, follow the rats.

Whenever “A” attempts by law to impose his moral standards upon “B,” “A” is most likely a scoundrel.

Whenever a husband and wife begin to discuss their marriage, they are giving evidence at an inquest.

Whenever a reporter is assigned to cover a Methodist conference, he comes home an atheist.

Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sure sign he expects to be paid for it.

Why assume so glibly that the God who presumably created the universe is still running it? It is certainly conceivable that He may have finished it and then turned it over to lesser gods to operate.

Women don't like timid men. Cats do not like prudent mice.

Women hate revolutions and revolutionists. They like men who are docile, and well-regarded at the bank, and never late at meals.


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