Thursday, May 05, 2011


The Honorable and Most Worthwhile James Harlan (1820-1899)

"Let us summon from the shades the immortal soul of James Harlan, born in 1820, entered into rest in 1899. In the year 1865 this Harlan resigned from the United States Senate to enter the Cabinet of Abraham Lincoln as Secretary of the Interior. One of the clerks in that department, at $600 a year, was Walt Whitman, lately emerged from the three years of service as an army nurse during the Civil War. One day, discovering that Whitman was the author of a book called "Leaves of Grass," Harlan ordered him incontinently kicked out, and it was done forthwith. Let us remember this event and this man; he is too precious to die. Let us repair, once a year, to our accustomed houses of worship and there give thanks to God that one day in 1865 brought together the greatest poet that America has ever produced and the damndest ass."

- H.L. Mencken
From Prejudices: First Series, 1919, pp. 249-250
First printed in the Smart Set, June 1919, P. 45

This rather terse little squib, which was penned by H. L. Mencken in 1919, defends the incomparable Uncle Walt and impugns rather admirably one James Harlan, the former being one of America's greatest poets, the latter being a tit of the first division who dismissed Walt from the government's service presumably because he found Whitman's poetry to be morally questionable, and no doubt also because he suspected the hairy bard to be an authentic pole-smoking queen. Mencken, who is on my short list of men I'd let sleep with my fiancĂ©e if they were still alive, sought to memorialize Harlan's transgession against the poet by publishing the above-printed piece once a year in the Smart Set.

Mencken, RIP
Because that poor bastard Mencken is dead, I thought I'd continue the tradition, just in case the Harlan line managed to extend into this generation. No doubt they'd benefit from a pleasant reminder that their ancestor in lineage was a homophobic Puritan with a comb-over.