The Wit and Wisdom of H.L Mencken

(1880 - 1956)




1.          Hope is a pathological belief in the occurrence of the impossible


2.          Morality is the theory that every human act must be either right or wrong, and that 99% of them are wrong.


3.          A professor must have a theory as a dog must have fleas.


4.          The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.


5.          Historian:  an unsuccessful novelist.


6.          Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy.  It is an art like any other.  Its virtuosi are called altruists.


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

8.          Before a man speaks it is always safe to assume that he is a fool.  After he speaks, it is seldom necessary to assume it.

9.          The New Logic.  It would be nice if it worked.  Ergo, it will work.


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


11.     Happiness is peace after strife, the overcoming of difficulties, the feeling of security and well-being.  The only really happy folk are married women and single men.


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


13.     Creator:  a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.


14.     Temptation is the woman's weapon and the man's excuse.


15.     The difference between an optimist and a pessimist:


                 a.  an optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds.


                 b.  the pessimist is afraid he is right.


16.     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.


17.     I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever endured by mankind.


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


19.     Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again next time.


20.     To sum up:


                 a.   The cosmos is a gigantic fly-wheel making 10,000 revolutions a



                 b.   Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it.


                 c.   Religion is the theory that the wheel was designed and set spinning

                          to give him  the ride.


21.     Every man is his own hell.


22.     Evil is that which one believes of others.  It is a sin to believe evil of others,

             but it is seldom a mistake.


23.     In every woman's life there is one real and consuming love.  But very few

             women guess which one it is.


24.     Philosophy, as the modern world knows it, is only intellectual



25.     Q.    If you find so much that is unworthy of reverence in the United States,

                       then why do you live here?


             A.    Why do men go to zoos?


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


27.     Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.

28.     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 and chemistry.


29.     There are people who read too much:  bibliobibuli.  I know some who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whiskey or religion.  They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing.


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


31.     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.


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


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


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


35.     Poetry has done enough when it charms, but prose must also convince.


36.     Theology:  an effort to explain the unknowable by putting it into terms of the not worth knowing.


37.     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.


38.     Husbands never become good; they merely become proficient.


39.     Bachelors know more about women than married men.  If they didn't they'd be married too.


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


41.     Women have a hard time of it in this world.  They are oppressed by man-made laws, man-made social customs, masculine egoism, the delusion of masculine superiority.  Their one comfort is the assurance that, even though it may be impossible to prevail against man, it is always possible to enslave and torture a man.


42.     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.


43.     Alimony:  the ransom that the happy pay to the devil.


44.     Women always excel men in that sort of wisdom which comes from experience.  To be a woman is in itself a terrible experience.


45.     Puritanism:  the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.


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


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


48.     Women have simple tastes.  They can get pleasure out of the conversation of children in arms and men in love.


49.     All great religions, in order to escape absurdity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism.  It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely.


50.     Archbishop:  a Christian ecclesiastic of a rank superior to that attained by Christ.


51.     When women kiss it always reminds one of prize-fighters shaking hands.


52.     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.  To the average man, doomed to some banal drudgery all his life long, they offer the only grand hazard that he ever encounters.  Take them away, and his existence would be as flat and secure as that of a moo-cow.


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


54.     Judge:  a law student who marks his own examination papers.


55.     Nietzsche, to the end of his days, remained a Russian pastor's son, and hence two-thirds of a Puritan; he erected his war upon holiness, toward the end, into a sort of holy war.


56.     Adultery is the application of democracy to love.


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


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


59.     Nature abhors a moron.


60.     Lawyer:  one who protects us from robbers by taking away the temptation.


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


62.     Misogynist:  a man who hates women as much as women hate one another.


63.     A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

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


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


66.     Clergyman:  a ticket speculator outside the gates of Heaven.


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


68.     Pastor:  one employed by the wicked to prove to them by his example that virtue doesn't pay.

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


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
















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