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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 423

exclusively, and to vast profit, to the composition of arresting and uplifting apothegms, and the fruits of their fancy are not only sold in books but also displayed upon an infinite variety of calendars, banners and wall-cards. It is rarely that one enters the office of an American business man without encountering at least one of these wall-cards. It may, on the one hand, show nothing save a succinct caution that time is money, say, “Do It Now,” or “This Is My Busy Day”; on the other hand, it may embody a long and complex sentiment, ornately set forth. The taste for such canned sagacity seems to have arisen in America at a very early day. Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” begun in 1732, remained a great success for twenty-five years, and the annual sales reached 10,000. It had many imitators, and founded an aphoristic style of writing which culminated in the essays of Emerson, often mere strings of sonorous certainties, defectively articulated. The “Proverbial Philosophy”of Martin Farquhar Tupper, dawning upon the American public in the early 40’s, was welcomed with enthusiasm; as Saintsbury says, 35 success on this side of the Atlantic even exceeded its success on the other. But that was the last and perhaps the only importation of the sage and mellifluous in bulk. In late years the American production of such merchandise has grown so large that the balance of trade now flows in the other direction. Every traveling American must have observed the translations of the chief works of Dr. Marden that are on sale in all the countries of Europe, and with them the masterpieces of such other apostles of the New Thought as Ralph Waldo Trine and Elizabeth Towne. No other American books are half so well displayed.
  The note of all such literature, and of the maxims that precipitate themselves from it, is optimism. They “inspire” by voicing and revoicing the New Thought doctrine that all things are possible to the man who thinks the right sort of thoughts—in the national phrase, to the right-thinker. This right-thinker is indistinguishable from the forward-looker, whose belief in the continuity and benignity of the evolutionary process takes on the virulence of a religious faith. Out of his confidence come the innumberable saws, axioms and geflügelte Wrote in the national arsenal, ranging from the “It won’t hurt none