In response to:

Mencken and the Great American Boob from the February 26, 1987 issue

To the Editors:

Alfred Kazin’s essay on Mencken [NYR, February 26] abounds with his usual recipe of honeyed observations, and, naturally, it made for agreeable reading. However, he ought to restrain the boastfulness that creeps in every now and then. We have enough of this Rambo stuff in our nation’s capital.

I have in mind particularly his reference to The Liberal Crack-Up. This is now the second time that Professor Kazin has publicly drawn attention to his own courage in making it all the way to page 62 of my book (he made a similar boast in The New Republic two and a half years ago). Admittedly that is more combat duty than any other New York Review of Books writer has been able to endure, but Professor Kazin ought to allow us to admire him on our own. Moreover his understanding of the crucial passage under discussion remains woefully inadequate and raises doubts about his earlier scholarship. Contrary to his assertion, I do not ridicule “the homeless in our great cities” but comment on those comfortably sheltered moralists who, unable to distinguish insanity from sanity, abandoned the helpless to the streets of our great cities. There I write, “Some were instantly slaughtered, set upon by wolf packs…common brutes. Others perished from exposure.” Of those who survived at least temporarily some encamped on fashionable streets “jeering, flapping their ragged limbs at pedestrians and giggling lewdly—strutting loons ridiculing the lunacy of the New Age.” Perhaps Professor Kazin has seen them, my point is that they need not suffer so.

R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.

The American Spectator

Arlington, Virginia

This Issue

October 22, 1987