Friday, April 5, 2013

On This Day In Literature: Mencken, The Prostitute & The Police

Steve King at the web site offers a piece on the late great journalist H. L. Mencken.

On this day in 1926, H. L. Mencken was arrested by the Boston vice squad, charged with the possession and sale of indecent literature. The literature in question was the April, 1926 issue of Mencken's American Mercury magazine, found offensive for a short story entitled "Hatrack," by Herbert Asbury. "Hatrack" is the nickname of a skinny but welcoming small-town prostitute, one whose attempts to reform have been rebuffed by the upright and churchgoing of her community. This causes Hatrack to fall back to her old and not insensitive ways: servicing her upstanding clients so that those Catholic are accommodated in the Protestant cemetery, and those Protestant in Catholic graveyards. The punch line of Asbury's story compounded hypocrisy with miserliness: when one gentleman tenders Hatrack a dollar, she responds, "You know damned well I haven't got any change."

Reverend Chase, secretary of the New England Watch and Ward Society and a type that Mencken loved to bait, was not amused. He managed to get all available copies of the Mercury pulled from newsstands in the Boston area and he promised trouble to those who attempted to sell any new ones. Editor Mencken conveyed his feelings clearly to publisher Alfred Knopf: "I am against any further parlay with these sons of bitches. Let us tackle them as soon as possible."

The showdown was an orchestrated affair. Chase and his seconds made themselves available at the appointed hour on Brimstone Corner of Boston Common; before police and press, Mencken offered the purchase of his magazine; Chase tendered his half-dollar, and Mencken was hauled off to the station -- though not before biting his coin for the crowd, as Hatrack might have done. The next day the court ruled in Mencken's favor, thus giving him victory, as much publicity as he had the year before with his reports from the Scopes trial, and yet another application of Mencken's Law: "Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of improving or saving X, A is a scoundrel."

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

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