01 May, 2008

The greatest piece of writing ever

So here's the thing:

I'm watching The Daily Show tonight, and the interview was with someone called Robert Schlesinger, who has just written a book called White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. Given the sub-title of the book, it's unsurprising to learn that its about the way various presidents over history have used speechwriters to craft and communicate their message. And it seemed like it could actually be an interesting book. I'd like to read it.

Anyway, my reason for writing a post about this was that, at one point in the episode, Jon Stewart read a brilliant piece of media criticism. This was written by H. L. Mencken, published in The Baltimore Evening Sun, regarding President Warren G. Harding's inaugural address in 1921.

"He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."

Wow. There is a lyricism, an elegance, a beauty to that writing. The underpinning intelligence of Mencken just shines through every word, every phrase. Damn, that is brilliant. If I was feeling insecure about writing my blog before, wondering whether I am making a fool of myself, it's amplified ten-fold now. Because everything I attempt to write pales when compared to "the dark abysm of pish" and "the topmost pinnacle of posh".

Anyway, I just wanted to share that quote with you, just because it was so great. (The interview itself was also really good, and worth watching.)

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