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MENCKEN Henry Louis  (1880-1956)

American journalist, critic, and essayist, whose perceptive and often controversial analyses of American life and letters made him one of the most influential critics of the 1920s and '30s. Mencken, born in Baltimore, Md., on Sept. 12, 1880, began his career as a journalist with the Baltimore Morning Herald and in 1906 switched to the Baltimore Sun, where he remained in various editorial capacities for most of his life. With the American drama critic George Jean Nathan (1882-1958) he coedited The Smart Set, a satirical monthly magazine, from 1914 to 1923. Again with Nathan, in 1924, Mencken founded the American Mercury, the literary heir to their previous joint endeavor; Mencken remained as its editor until 1933. The shortcomings of democracy and middle-class American culture were the targets of Mencken's wit and criticism. A six-volume collection of his essays and reviews, entitled Prejudices, was published between 1919 and 1927. Mencken's most important piece of scholarship was The American Language (3 vol., 1936-48), which traced the development and established the importance of AMERICAN ENGLISH (q.v.) . Mencken died in Baltimore on Jan. 29, 1956. Happy Days (1940), Newspaper Days (1941), and Heathen Days (1943) are his autobiographies.

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