The Prince of Popularizers (1922–1928)
During the 1920s the reputation of the iconoclastic journalist H.L. mencken reached its pinnacle. Perhaps for the first time in American cultural life, a critic, rather than a novelist or a poet, was the most influential American writer. Called by Walter Lippmann in 1926 “the most powerful personal influence on this whole generation of educated people,” another journalist dubbed the self-taught linguist “the nearest thing to Voltaire that America has ever produced.” Of course, there were negative opinions too. Some considered him to be “the most universally hated man in the United States” or “the Geng his Khan of the Campus.” As contemporary author Louis Kronenberger put it, “Mencken came in like a lion. [He] liked the noise and fun of battle [and] launched a massive attack on everything this country held inviolate, on most of what it held self-evident.” In any case, Mencken was a phenomenon. A recent biographer has even called him “our nay-saying Whitman” and compared Mencken’s writing in the early 1920s to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”1
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