Pat Robertson's views on the role of Satan in Haitian history have been reverberating around cyberspace. There's a particularly interesting post by Ta-Nehisi Coates on the question of whether good deeds can excuse evil words (short answer: No): in his support, Coates enlists Christopher Hitchens, seen on video explaining his refusal to pretend to mourn the Rev. Jerry Falwell. (Scholars of loon may wish to scan this 2001 footage of Falwell and Robertson agreeing that the USA brought September 11th on itself, on account of all that sodomising and abortion and not supporting Israel enough - you can't knock Robertson for inconsistency.)
The comments after the Coates post, debating the rights and wrongs of speaking ill of the dead, point towards an extraordinary piece of post-mortem invective, H. L. Mencken's obituary of William Jennings Bryan, best remembered now as an opponent of Darwinism - just before he died, in 1925, he made a fool of himself at the Scopes trial. Here's Mencken's assessment:
Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.
Possibly Mencken went too far. Before his evangelising days Bryan had been secretary of state, three times Democratic presidential candidate, and a champion of liberal, democratic ideals - he led campaigns against big banks and America's new-minted imperial ambitions; and a century on, was he wrong?
I always associate his name with Vachel Lindsay's poem, recalling the effect of Bryan's 1896 presidential campaign on a young idealist:
Prairie avenger, mountain lion,
Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,
Gigantic troubadour, speaking like a siege gun,
Smashing Plymouth Rock with his boulders from the West