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H. L. Mencken Letters to David Warren Ryder


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Mencken, H.L. (Henry Louis), 1880-1956

H. L. (Henry Louis) Mencken (1880-1956) was an American journalist, magazine editor, critic, satirist and essayist. He was born in Baltimore and lived there all his life, and was known as the "Sage of Baltimore." He started his writing career as a journalist at the Baltimore Morning Herald , from 1899 to 1905, and then moved to The Baltimore Sun , where he contributed full-time until he suffered a stroke in 1948. In 1908, he became a literary critic for the magazine The Smart Set , and in 1924, he and George Jean Nathan founded The American Mercury . Dent Smith was founder and editor of the Hoboken-based literary magazine ENCORE between 1942 and 1944.

The collection consists of 110 letters (two are autograph letters, the rest typed) by Mencken to David Warren Ryder, a San Francisco area journalist, written mainly from Baltimore and New York between the years 1922 and 1947 (but nearly all from the 1920s & 1930s, and the majority of these from the 1920s). Ryder was a frequent contributor to The American Mercury, edited by Mencken from 1924 to 1934. (Ryder had previously written for The Smart Set,edited by Mencken and George Jean Nathan.) In the letters, Mencken critiques Ryder's submissions (there are many brief letters turning them down but usually for stated reasons), offers ideas for different articles, and generally exhibits the distinctive style that made him one of the most influential American magazine editors of the twentieth century. Aside from his remarks on Ryder's submissions, Mencken's letters are full of pithy, acerbic comments on a variety of subjects, including religion, politics (and the presidents Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Prohibition, California, censorship, hypocrisy, "modernism," international affairs, life in America, books he is working on, and John Steinbeck. Nearly all of the letters are single-spaced on letterheads of The Smart Set or The American Mercury, and on personal stationery. Included with the Mencken letters are carbon copies of two Ryder letters to Mencken, a 1924 typed letter from George Jean Nathan to Ryder, and four letters (1922-1955) from Mencken secretaries to Ryder.

Purchased from Bart Auerbach in 2007 (AM 2008-60).

Folder Inventory added by Hilde Creager (2015) in 2012.

No appraisal information is available.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Collection Inventory

Letters from Mencken to Ryder, 1922-1947. 2 folders.
Physical Description

2 folders

Letter from Lohrfinck to Ryder, 1955. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

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