Free speech

Mencken didn’t say it, Hislop

In the comments to yesterday’s post about Ian Hislop’s article Sam Duncan says:

“It was HL Mencken, the great American satirist, who said we should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”


No it wasn’t. It was Finley Peter Dunne, and it wasn’t an instruction or recommendation; he was mocking the self-importance of newspapers and the journalists who wrote for them.


Mencken did say that “What men value in this world is not rights but privileges,” though. Which seems somehow appropriate.

Further research indicates that Sam is right. It wasn’t Mencken. It always seemed to me odd that Mencken had (supposedly) said this, because I’ve read a lot of Mencken, and it didn’t sound right.

I also like this quote from David Baddiel that I came across (not that I trust him entirely either):

To those quoting satire should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable I say: satirists shouldn’t have to be high-minded to live.


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One thought on “Mencken didn’t say it, Hislop

  1. That was my reaction too, Hector. I’d never even heard of this Dunne character before looking it up, but it just didn’t sound like the sort of thing Mencken would say.

    Hislop sets himself up as a bit of a historian of satire. He did a series for the BBC a few years back. (I remember rather liking the idea he put forward in it that, contrary to popular belief, satire is essentially conservative in nature; the satirist is the guy standing in the middle of the mess wondering what the hell the world is coming to these days.) You’d think someone like that would know a fake Mencken quote when he saw it.

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