8 APRIL 2006, Page 26

History is for blockheads

From Professor Robert H. Taylor

Sir: Byron Rogers’s review of Marion Elizabeth Rodgers’s biography of the American journalist H.L. Mencken (Books, 25 March) notes that her effort to capture the man and his times is marred, among other things, by the lack of quotations from its subject. Perhaps this quotation from Mencken’s own selection of his writings may explain Ms Rodgers’s reluctance to print her subject’s words: ‘It is the misfortune of humanity that its history is chiefly written by third-rate men. The first-rate man seldom has any impulse to record and philosophize; his impulse is to act; life, to him, is an adventure, not a syllogism or an autopsy. Thus the writing of history is left to professors, moralists, theorists, dunderheads. Few historians, great or small, have shown any capacity for the affairs they presume to describe and interpret.’ Robert H. Taylor London N11