Hi, my name is D and this is my writings on subjects. I'm no rapscallion or anything at all. If you want to you can read my writings on subjects if you have free time. If you want to argue with me or call me names then please comment. Negative feedback is very welcome...I love dat shit. Me? I'm not even a noun, I'm a fucking verb, dude.

Monday, August 13, 2012

This H.L. Mencken seems like a Pretty Chill Guy...

October of last year, I wrote a little article about how the internet is filled with lies and nonsense, about how recorded history is mainly erroneous, and about the trouble with wikipedia.

(here: http://writtting-d.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-deception-and-counter-deception-also.html)

After I wrote that crap, I re-read it once to look for spelling mistakes and while I was re-reading it...I started to think to myself along the lines of, "wait a sec, this is pretty interesting. I got some good little anecdotes here. I might not be as dumb as I think I am."

I thought I was being pretty original and interesting when I wrote that. I thought I was a pretty smart guy. Turns out, truth be told, that someone wrote exactly what I was thinking on December 28 of the year 1917. Yup, almost 100 years prior, someone beat me to those opinions. I guess it just goes to show that it really is hard to think of something that hasn't been said or done before.

I was browsing a very interesting website today called The Museum of Hoaxes which chronicles many of the most whackiest, zaniest, stupidest, weirdest hoaxes in history and came across an article entitled, The History of the Bathtub, which details how an absurdly fictitious history of the bathtub began being accepted world wide as fact. The absurdly fictitious account was typed by a guy name Henry L. Mencken for the New York Evening Mail. 

Here is Mencken's purposely self-aware erroneous article in its entirety from google newspaper archive:

The first bathtub in the United States was installed in Cincinnati December 20, 1842, by Adam Thompson. It was made of mahogany and lined with sheet lead. At a Christmas party he exhibited and explained it and four guests later took a plunge. The next day the Cincinnati paper devoted many columns to the new invention and it gave rise to violent controversy.

Some papers designated it as an epicurian luxury, other called it undemocratic, as it lacked simplicity in its surroundings. Medical authorities attacked it as dangerous to health.

The controversy reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition was reflected in legislation. In 1843 the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and this ordinance failed of passage by but two votes.

During the same year the Legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up. In Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington special and very heavy water rates were laid on persons who had bathtubs. Boston in 1845 made bathing unlawful except on medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

President Millard Fillmore gave the bathtub recognition and respectability. While Vice President he visited Cincinnati in 1850 on a stumping tour and inspected the original bathtub and used it. Experiencing no ill effects he became an ardent advocate, and on becoming President he had a tub installed in the White House. The Secretary of War invited bids for the installation. This tub continued to be the one in use until the first Cleveland Administration.

These tidbits of seemingly true and researched information on the history of the bathtub began showing up everywhere in the following years. They showed up paraphrased or verbatim in other newspapers, in academic medical journals, in encyclopedias, and other media information outlets.

Eight years after Mencken ran the article, he wrote a follow up piece for The Chicago Tribune, in which he states that NOTHING in his his original article was even a little bit true. In his follow-up piece he basically says EVERYTHING I wanted to say in the article I tried to write, except he does it much better...

On Dec. 28, 1917, I printed in the New York Evening Mail, a paper now extinct, an article purporting to give the history of the bathtub. This article, I may say at once, was a tissue of absurdities, all of them deliberte and most of them obvious...

This article, as I say, was planned as a piece of spoofing to relieve the strain of war days, and I confess that I regarded it, when it came out, with considerable satisfaction. It was reprinted by various great organs of the enlightenment, and after a while the usual letters began to reach me from readers. Then, suddenly, my satisfaction turned to consternation. For these readers, it appeared, all took my idle jocosities with complete seriousness. Some of them, of antiquarian tastes, asked for further light on this or that phase of the subject. Others actually offered me corroboration!

But the worst was to come. Pretty soon I began to encounter my preposterous "facts" in the writings of other men. They began to be used by chiropractors and other such quacks as evidence of the stupidity of medical men. They began to be cited by medical men as proof of the progress of public hygiene. They got into learned journals. They were alluded to on the floor of congress. They crossed the ocean, and were discussed solemnly in England and on the continent. Finally, I began to find them in standard works of reference. Today, I believe, they are accepted as gospel everywhere on earth. To question them becomes as hazardous as to question the Norman invasion.


* *

And as rare. This is the first time, indeed, that they have ever been questioned, and I confess at once that even I myself, their author, feel a certain hesitancy about doing it. Once more, I suppose, I'll be accused of taking the wrong side for the mere pleasure of standing in opposition. The Cincinnati boomers, who have made much of the boast that the bathtub industry, now running to $200,000,000 a year, was started in their town, will charge me with spreading lies against them. The chiropractors will damn me for blowing up their ammunition. The medical gents, having swallowed my quackery, will now denounce me as a quack for exposing them. And in the end, no doubt, the thing will simmer down to a general feeling that I have once more committed some vague and sinister crime against the United States, and there will be a renewal of the demand that I be deported to Russia.

I recite this history, not because it is singular, but because it is typical. It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess -- or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie -- ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books. One recalls the gaudy days of 1914-1918. How much that was then devoured by the newspaper readers of the world was actually true? Probably not 1 per cent. Ever since the war ended learned and laborious men have been at work examining and exposing its fictions. But every one of these fictions retains full faith and credit today. To question even the most palpably absurd of them, in most parts of the United States, is to invite denunciation as a bolshevik.

So with all other wars. For example, the revolution. For years past American historians have been investigating the orthodox legends. Almost all of them turn out to be blowsy nonsense. Yet they remain in the school history books and every effort to get them out causes a dreadful row, and those who make it are accused of all sorts of treasons and spoils. The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.
* *

As a practicing journalist for many years, I have often had close contact with history in the making. I can recall no time or place when what actually occurred was afterward generally known and believed. Sometimes a part of the truth got out, but never all. And what actually got out was seldom clearly understood. Consider, for example, the legends that follow every national convention. A thousand newspaper correspondents are on the scene, all of them theoretically competent to see accurately and report honestly, but it is seldom that two of them agree perfectly, and after a month after the convention adjourns the accepted version of what occurred usually differs from the accounts of all of them.

I point to the Republican convention of 1920, which nominated the eminent and lamented Harding. A week after the delegates adjourned the whole country believed that Harding had been put through by Col. George Harvey: Harvey himself admitted it. Then other claimants to the honor arose, and after a year or two it was generally held that the trick had been turned by the distinguished Harry M. Daugherty, by that time a salient light of the Harding cabinet. The story began to acquire corroborative detail. Delegates and correspondents began to remember things that they had not noticed on the spot. What the orthodox tale is today with Daugherty in eclipse, I don't know, but you may be sure that it is full of mysterious intrigue and bold adventure.

What are the facts? The facts are that Harvey had little more to do with the nomination of Harding than I did, and that Daugherty was immensely surprised when good Warren won. The nomination was really due to the intense heat, and to that alone. The delegates, torn by the savage three cornered fight between Lowden, Johnson, and Wood, came to Saturday morning in despair. The temperature in the convention hall was at least 120 degrees. They were eager to get home. When it became apparent that the leaders could not break the deadlock they ran amuck and nominated Harding, as the one aspirant who had no enemies. If any individual managed the business it was not Harvey or Daugherty, but Myron T. Herrick. But so far as I know Herrick's hand in it has never been mentioned.
* *

I turn to a more pleasant field -- that of sport in the grand manner. On July 2, 1921, in the great bowl at Jersey City, the Hon. Jack Dempsey met M. Carpentier, the gallant frog. The sympathy of the crowd was overwhelmingly with M. Carpentier and every time he struck a blow he got a round of applause, even if it didn't land. I had an excellent seat, very near the ring, and saw every move of the two men. From the first moment Dr. Dempsey had it all his own way. He could have knocked out M. Carpentier in the first half of the first round. After that first half he simply waited his chance to do it politely and humanely.

Yet certain great newspapers reported the next morning that M. Carpentier had delivered an appalling wallop in the second round and that Dr. Dempsey had narrowly escaped going out. Others told the truth, but what chance had the truth against that romantic lie? It is believed in to this day by at least 99.99 per cent of all the boxing fans in Christendom. Carpentier himself, when he recovered from his beating, admitted categorically that it was nonsense, but even Carpentier could make no headway against the almost universal human tendency to cherish what is not true. A thousand years hence schoolboys will be taught that the frog had Dempsey going. It may become in time a religious dogma, like the doctrine that Jonah swallowed the whale. Scoffers who doubt it will be damned to hell.

The moral, if any, I leave to psycho-pathologists, if competent ones can be found. All I care to do today is to reiterate, in the most solemn and awful terms, that my history of the bathtub, printed on Dec. 28, 1917, was pure buncombe. If there were any facts in it they got there accidentally and against my design. But today the tale is in the encyclopedias. History, said a great American soothsayer, is bunk.

Yup. That is what wanted to say in my article alright, I wanted to say cool things like...

"It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess -- or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie -- ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books..."


Embalmed into the history books. Embalmed. What a good word to use. I can't generate quotations like that. Heck, that's a type of quote to conclude an article with.

So without further ado, I would like to conclude with one of my favorite quotes. It is a quote from a pretty chill guy who was named Henry L. Mencken and it goes a little something like this:

"It is out of just such frauds, I believe, that most of the so-called knowledge of humanity flows. What begins as a guess -- or, perhaps, not infrequently, as a downright and deliberate lie -- ends as a fact and is embalmed in the history books..."

-H.L. Mencken

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