Baltimore Evening Sun (12 April 1912): 6.
Pithy saying by the Hon. the super-Mahon at a recent banquet:
The human head is frail.
If the honorable gentleman was generalizing from his disciples, perhaps “brittle” would have been a more accurate word.
Whether a ward heeler, on the whole, is better or worse than a mental healer--here is a problem that must ever engage and flabbergast the connoisseur of graft.
The Hon. Charles J, Ogle. secretary of the Direct Legislative League, in defense of certain rabble-rousers:
[The Hon. Mr.] Mencken * * * intimates that [the Hon.] Messrs. Bryan, Wilson, Roosevelt and La Follette are correctly classed among the folk “whose yearning to say something is unaccompanied by anything to say.” But he must acknowledge that no other four men in any wise approaching their political magnitude actually deliver so much per square word.
I do acknowledge it most cheerfully, but I also venture to submit that the fact proves nothing. All four of these honorable gentlemen are ceaseless geysers of speech, as the Hon. the super-Mahon is a ceaseless geyser of malicious animal magnetism and tears, and all four borrow the ideas of other men with a degree of hospitality almost bordering upon mayhem. The result, quite naturally, is a prodigious emission of more or less intelligible propositions. But it would be easy to show, I think, that 95 per cent. of these propositions are far too old to be worth stating anew, and that the remaining 5 per cent. are so absurd that it is a waste of wind to state them at all.
In brief, all four gentlemen, at least in their current incarnations, are professional politicians engaged in frank efforts to inflame the vulgar--and I hold sentimentally to the doctrine that nothing a professional politician utters in the course of such endeavors is ever worth hearing. The most one may say of any member or the quartet--and this, I take it, is what the Hon. Mr. Ogle is trying to say--is that the balderdash he discharges at the moment is appreciably less insane than the balderdash diseharged by the average politician of lower rank--say, the average member of of the Legislature of Maryland. But that is merely saying that a dishpan is larger than a baby’s rattle. Neither becomes thereby, in any sense, a musical instrument.
Consider, for example, the case of the Hon. Mr. Bryan. Does the Hon. Mr. Ogle presume to argue that the Hon. Mr. Bryan, in the course of 16 years of incessant vocalization, has given us (a) a single valid idea that was original, or (b) a single original idea that was valid? If so, what was it? The free silver idea? He borrowed it, bodily and shamelessly, from the Populists of yesteryear, long weed-grown and obliterated by their own whiskers. The recall idea? The initiative and referendum? Local option? Foreign missions? The direct primary? All old--and all turned sour! The Hon. Mr. Bryan’s sole original contribution to human thought, indeed, has been a figure of speech–and that figure set fire to the popular hair, not because it was apt or clever or penetrating, but merely because it skated close to blasphemy.
The Hon. Messrs. Wilson and La Follette, as virtuosi of ratiocination, are even less respectable than the Hon. Mr. Bryan, for neither of them, so far as I know, has even given so much as a figure of speech. In his earlier days, true enough, the Hon. Mr. Wilson wrote sanely and thoughtfully upon public problems and contributed his mite to political theory--but that was long ago. Today he merely plays cacophonous variations upon popular tunes. In so far as the ideas of his political nonage were honest and sound ideas, he now repudiates them. And the ideas he retails in place of them are the common stock of all contemporary tub-thumpers--which is the same as saying that they are hollow, fallacious, insincere and not worth hearing.
As for La Follette, the whole of his political doctrine may be reduced to two propositions, neither of which is true. The first is the proposition that the common people are wise and honest and the second is the proposition that all persons who refuse to believe it are thieves. Take away these ideas and all that would remain of La Follette would be a bow-legged man in need of a hair-cut. Does the Hon. Mr. Ogle presume to defend such a fellow as a thinker? Certainly, I hope not.
There remains the Hon. Theodore Roosevelt. Obviously, he is a far better man than any of the other three, for in the first place he has 10 times as much skill at argumentation, and in the second place he is a truly clever and original phrase-maker. Such phrases as “big stick,” “race suicide,” “undesirable,” “nature faker” and “short and ugly word” have entered into our living speech, and are now as familiar as the metaphors of Shakespeare. But it we proceed from the Hon. Mr. Roosevelt’s mere phrases to the ideas underlying them we quickly discover that very few of those ideas have.been hatched in his own cerebrum. In brief, he is a chronic borrower, too, like Bryan, Wilson and La Follette, and he differs from them only by the fact that his borrowings have covered a far wider range than theirs and have been made with vastly greater skill.
The whole world of thought, indeed, has paid tribute to Theodore. He has borrowed from Schopenhauer and Machiavelli, from Plato and Nietzsche, from Tolstoi and Gen. William Booth, from Hamilton and Jefferson, from Stirner and Kant, from Adam Smith and William Jennings Bryan, from Populists and Anabaptists, from Copernicans and homeopaths, from ultra-violet radicals and infra-red tories, from “The Playboy of the Western World” and “The Origin of Species,” from the Koran and “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” from politicians and Christians, from cowboys and metaphysiclans. And these chaotic and antagonistic borrowings he emits incessantly and in incandescent streams.
Certainly not an original thinker. Certainly not a Great Teacher. Certainly not a man to be heard with bated breath. But in two ways, at least, he shows genius, and so he rises infinitely superior to the Hon. Messrs. Bryan, Wilson and La Follette. First, he constantly translates his intellectual loot into grotesque and arresting phrases, thus giving it wide and instant currency. And secondly, he translates it into overt acts, thus giving it validity and vitality. Out of “Also sprach Zarathustra,” on the one hand, he fashioned “The Strenuous Life,” the most characteristic and memorable pronunciamento of his life. And out of “Also sprach Zarathustra,” on the other hand, he also fashioned the First Regiment of Volunteer Cavalry and the Panama Canal--his objective high points, his chief claims to fame, his sheet anchors in history--[More perhaps, anon].