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Mencken On Babies

“The mother of such a prodigy is proud of its attainments, and feels a glow when bored friends hypocritically marvel,” advised the adult Mencken decades later in his anonymous publication What You Ought to Know About Your Baby. “Later on she will wonder why her child has watery eyes, constant colds or round shoulders.” Such a boy, he advised, should be taken out of school and turned out to grass, to breathe pure air “and make acquaintance with splinters, bruises and sunburn.”

“Of the whole faculty of the school, once they entered the ordinary classes, the senior dummies liked best Miss Bertha and Miss Elvina, for both confined their chastisements, which were very gentle, to girls and never touched a boy above the baby class. The dummies all boarded at the Institute and were full of complaints about the food. One day, when my lunchbox happened to include a couple of doughnuts, two of them told me that they had not tasted a doughnut for six months, and I handed over both. A week later they told me precisely the same thing and then again a week after that, and so on until suspicion began to dawn on my infant mind and I ate my subsequent doughnuts myself.”

“Some men can learn almost indefinitely; their capacity goes on increasing until their bodies begin to wear out. Others stop in childhood, even in infancy. They reach, say, the mental age of ten or twelve, and then they develop no more. Physically, they become men, and sprout beards, political delusions, and the desire to propagate their kind. But mentally they remain on the level of schoolboys.”

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