Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. His satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial", also gained him attention.
As a scholar, Mencken is known for The American Language, a multi-volume study of how the English language is spoken in the United States. As an admirer of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was an outspoken opponent of religion, populism and representative democracy, the latter of which he viewed as systems in which inferior men dominated their superiors. Mencken was a supporter of scientific progress, and was critical of osteopathic and chiropractic medicine, but was an ardent critic of economics.
Mencken opposed both American entry into World War I and World War II. His diary indicates that he was a racist and anti-semite, who privately used coarse language and slurs to describe various ethnic and racial groups (though he believed it was in poor taste to use such slurs publicly). Mencken at times seemed to show a genuine enthusiasm for militarism, though never in its American form. "War is a good thing," he once wrote, "because it is honest, it admits the central fact of human nature… A nation too long at peace becomes a sort of gigantic old maid."
His longtime home in the Union Square neighborhood of West Baltimore was turned into a city museum, the H. L. Mencken House. His papers were distributed among various city and university libraries, with the largest collection held in the Mencken Room at the central branch of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Mencken was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 12, 1880. He was the son of Anna Margaret (Abhau) and August Mencken, Sr., a cigar factory owner. He was of German ancestry and spoke German in his childhood. When Henry was three, his family moved into a new home at 1524 Hollins Street facing Union Square park in the Union Square neighborhood of old West Baltimore. Apart from five years of married life, Mencken was to live in that house for the rest of his life.
When he was nine years old, he read Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, which he later described as "the most stupendous event in my life". He became determined to become a writer and read voraciously. In one winter while in high school he read Thackeray and then "proceeded backward to Addison, Steele, Pope, Swift, Johnson and the other magnificos of the Eighteenth century". He read the entire canon of Shakespeare and became an ardent fan of Kipling and Thomas Huxley. As a boy, Mencken also had practical interests, photography and chemistry in particular, and eventually had a home chemistry laboratory in which he performed experiments of his own devising, some of them inadvertently dangerous.