Puritanism As a Literary Force

by H.L. Mencken

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[38] American Literature, tr. by Julia Franklin; New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1915.

[39] New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1916.

[40] The first edition for public sale did not appear until June, 1917, and in it the preface was suppressed.

[41] Second edition; Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1859, xxvi.

[42] Cf. The Puritan, by Owen Hatteras, The Smart Set, July, 1916; and The Puritan's Will to Power, by Randolph S. Bourne, The Seven Arts, April, 1917.

[43] An instructive account of the organization and methods of the Anti-Saloon League, a thoroughly typical Puritan engine, is to be found in Alcohol and Society, by John Koren; New York, Henry Holt & Co., 1916.

[44] U.S. Rep., vol. 242, No. 7, p. 502.

[45] The majority opinion, written by Mr. Justice Day, is given in U. S. Rep., vol. 242, no. 7, pp. 482-496.

[46] New York, (1914).

[47] I quote from page 157 of Anthony Comstock, Fighter, the official biography. On page 239 the number of his prosecutions is given as 3,646, with 2,682 convictions, which works out to but 73 per cent. He is credited with having destroyed 50 tons of books, 28,425 pounds of stereotype plates, 16,900 photographic negatives, and 3,984,063 photographs—enough to fill "sixteen freight cars, fifteen loaded with ten tons each, and the other nearly full."

[48] By Charles Gallaudet Trumbull; New York, Fleming H. Revell Co. (1913).

[49] An example: "All the evil men in New York cannot harm a hair of my head, were it not the will of God. If it be His will, what right have I or any one to say aught? I am only a speck, a mite, before God, yet not a hair of my head can be harmed unless it be His will. Oh, to live, to feel, to be—Thy will be done!" (pp. 84-5). Again: "I prayed that, if my bill might not pass, I might go back to New York submissive to God's will, feeling that it was for the best. I asked for forgiveness and asked that my bill might pass, if possible; but over and above all, that the will of God be done" (p. 6). Nevertheless, Comstock neglected no chance to apply his backstairs pressure to the members of both Houses.

[50] Now, with amendments, sections 211, 212 and 245 of the United States Criminal Code.

[51] Vide Anthony Comstock, Fighter, pp. 81, 85, 94.

[52] Now sections 1141, 1142 and 1143 of the Penal Laws of New York.

[53] U. S. vs. Casper, reported in the Twentieth Century, Feb. 11, 1892.

[54] The trial court dodged the issue by directing the jury to find the prisoner not guilty on the ground of insanity. The necessary implication, of course, was that the publication complained of was actually obscene. In 1895, one Wise, of Clay Center, Kansas, sent a quotation from the Bible through the mails, and was found guilty of mailing obscene matter. See The Free Press Anthology, compiled by Theodore Schroeder; New York, Truth Seeker Pub. Co., 1909, p. 258.

[55] U. S. vs. Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 368-9 (1877).

[56] Idem, 362; People vs. Muller, 96 N. Y., 411; U. S. vs. Clark, 38 Fed. Rep. 734.

[57] U. S. vs. Moore, 129 Fed., 160-1 (1904).

[58] U. S. vs. Heywood, judge's charge, Boston, 1877. Quoted in U. S. vs. Bennett, 16 Blatchford.

[59] U. S. vs. Slenker, 32 Fed. Rep., 693; People vs. Muller, 96 N. Y. 408-414; Anti-Vice Motion Picture Co. vs. Bell, reported in the New York Law Journal, Sept. 22, 1916; Sociological Research Film Corporation vs. the City of New York, 83 Misc. 815; Steele vs. Bannon, 7 L. R. C. L. Series, 267; U. S. vs. Means, 42 Fed. Rep. 605, etc.

[60] U. S. vs. Cheseman, 19 Fed. Rep., 597 (1884).

[61] People vs. Muller, 96 N. Y., 413.

[62] U. S. vs. Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 368-9.

[63] U. S. vs. Smith, 45 Fed. Rep. 478.

[64] U. S. vs. Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 360-1; People vs. Berry, 1 N. Y., Crim. R., 32.

[65] People vs. Muller, 32 Hun., 212-215.

[66] U. S. vs. Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 361.

[67] U. S. vs. Moore, 16 Fed. Rep., 39; U. S. vs. Wright, 38 Fed. Rep., 106; U. S. vs. Dorsey, 40 Fed. Rep., 752; U. S. vs. Baker, 155 Mass., 287; U. S. vs. Grimm, 15 Supreme Court Rep., 472.

[68] Various cases in point are cited in the Brief on Behalf of Plaintiff in Dreiser vs. John Lane Co., App. Div. 1st Dept. N. Y., 1917. I cite a few: People vs. Eastman, 188 N. Y., 478; U. S. vs. Swearingen, 161 U. S., 446; People vs. Tylkoff, 212 N. Y., 197; In the matter of Worthington Co., 62 St. Rep. 116-7; St. Hubert Guild vs. Quinn, 64 Misc., 336-341. But nearly all such decisions are in New York cases. In the Federal courts the Comstocks usually have their way.

[69] St. Hubert Guild vs. Quinn, 64 Misc., 339.

[70] For example, Judge Chas. L. Benedict, sitting in U. S. vs. Bennett, op. cit. This is a leading case, and the Comstocks make much of it. Nevertheless, a contemporary newspaper denounces Judge Benedict for his "intense bigotry" and alleges that "the only evidence which he permitted to be given was on the side of the prosecution." (Port Jervis, N. Y., Evening Gazette, March 22, 1879.) Moreover, a juror in the case, Alfred A. Valentine, thought it necessary to inform the newspapers that he voted guilty only in obedience to judicial instructions.

[71] Vide Newspaper Morals, by H. L. Mencken, the Atlantic Monthly, March, 1914.

[72] As a fair specimen of the sort of reasoning that prevails among the consecrated brethren I offer the following extract from an argument against birth control delivered by the present active head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice before the Women's City Club of New York, Nov. 17, 1916:

"Natural and inevitable conditions, over which we can have no control, will assert themselves wherever population becomes too dense. This has been exemplified time after time in the history of the world where over-population has been corrected by manifestations of nature or by war, flood or pestilence.... Belgium may have been regarded as an over-populated country. Is it a coincidence that, during the past two years, the territory of Belgium has been devastated and its population scattered throughout the other countries of the world?"

[73] For example, the printed contract of the John Lane Co., publisher of Dreiser's The "Genius," contains this provision: "The author hereby guarantees ... that the work ... contains nothing of a scandalous, an immoral or a libelous nature." The contract for the publication of The "Genius" was signed on July 30, 1914. The manuscript had been carefully read by representatives of the publisher, and presumably passed as not scandalous or immoral, inasmuch as the publication of a scandalous or immoral book would have exposed the publisher to prosecution. About 8,000 copies were sold under this contract. Two years later, in July, 1916, the Society for the Suppression of Vice threatened to begin a prosecution unless the book was withdrawn. It was withdrawn forthwith, and Dreiser was compelled to enter suit for a performance of the contract. The withdrawal, it will be noticed, was not in obedience to a court order, but followed a mere comstockian threat. Yet Dreiser was at once deprived of his royalties, and forced into expensive litigation. Had it not been that eminent counsel volunteered for his defence, his personal means would have been insufficient to have got him even a day in court.

[74] The chief sufferers from this conflict are the authors of moving pictures. What they face at the hands of imbecile State boards of censorship is described at length by Channing Pollock in an article entitled "Swinging the Censor" in the Bulletin of the Authors' League of America for March, 1917.

[75] For example, the magazine which printed David Graham Phillips' Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall as a serial prefaced it with a moral encomium by the Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst. Later, when the novel appeared in book form, the Comstocks began an action to have it suppressed, and forced the publisher to bowdlerize it.

[76] An account of a typical prosecution, arbitrary, unintelligent and disingenuous, is to be found in Sumner and Indecency, by Frank Harris, in Pearson's Magazine for June, 1917, p. 556.

[77] For further discussions of this point consult Art in America, by Aleister Crowley, The English Review, Nov., 1913; Life, Art and America, by Theodore Dreiser, The Seven Arts, Feb., 1917; and The American; His Ideas of Beauty, by H. L. Mencken, The Smart Set, Sept., 1913.

[78] Vide The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. XI, p. 225.

[79] The point is discussed by H. V. Routh in The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. XI, p. 290.

[80] In Boon; New York, George H. Doran Co., 1915.

[81] In a letter to Felix Shay, Nov. 24, 1916.


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