The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, and thus this passage came to be written at a time when H. L. Mencken, two years into his ten-year stint (1924-34) of editing the American Mercury, was at the zenith of his fame. People with intellectual interests of an age to remember the American Mercury recall even today the special excitement with which they awaited each new monthly issue. Writers who felt spiritually at odds with what they took to be the reigning values of the day bowed down to the magazine, manuscripts in hand, as the Mecca from which their own true values were most stentoriously cried. Agnostic in spirit, catholic in interest, and urbane in outlook, the American Mercury never presented its readers any problem in discovering precisely where it stood. It was against the genteel tradition in literature; it was against Prohibition and puritanism generally in social life; it was against the banal pretensions of organized religion, of politicians, and of businessmen. As Hilton Kramer has neatly put it, during the 1920′s H. L. Mencken “served his readers as a sort of intellectual counterpart to the neighborhood bootlegger.”
About the Author
Joseph Epstein is a regular contributor to COMMENTARY.