To the Editors:

We wish to express our dismay at the over-reaction to the Diary of H.L. Mencken. The Diary does indeed contain discourteous remarks about Jews and blacks. It also contains discourteous remarks about most races, nations and professions; in fact, Mencken’s harshest words are directed at ” ‘the only pure Anglo-Saxons left in the United States’…a wretchedly dirty, shiftless, stupid and rascally people.” Discourtesy was Mencken’s style, as it was to a considerable degree the intellectual style of the 1920s. His hyperbole did not foreclose warm friendships with Jewish publishers, writers and doctors; no white editor of the day did more to seek out and encourage black writers; no editor did more to fight for freedom of expression for all Americans.

Whatever Mencken’s “prejudices”—the word he himself used to describe his essays—he was a tremendous liberating force in American culture, and should be so celebrated and remembered.

Louis Auchincloss, Ralph Ellison,
John Kenneth Galbraith, John Hersey,
Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller,
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.,
William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut.

This Issue

March 15, 1990