“AMERICA NEEDED A COUPLE OF BAD BOYS IN LETTERS”: VERY SCARCE SIGNED LIMITED FIRST EDITION OF HELIOGABALUS, SIGNED BY H.L. MENCKEN AND GEORGE JEAN NATHAN, ONE OF ONLY 60 COPIES
MENCKEN, H.L. and NATHAN, George Jean. Heliogabalus. A Buffoonery in Three Acts. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920. Octavo, original half ivory vellum, top edge gilt.
Signed limited first edition, number 24 of only 60 copies, a blistering tongue-in-cheek farce set in ancient Rome, from a story by renowned journalist H.L. Mencken and leading drama critic George Jean Nathan, largely authored by Mencken, together signed by Mencken and Nathan.
Journalist Mencken and drama critic Nathan shared a searing wit matched by a keen sense of literary talent. At Mencken's death, shortly before his own, Nathan "commented about their early reputation as disturbers of the literary peace by saying, 'America needed a couple of bad boys in letters then." In one of the age's most influential literary partnerships, they co-edited Smart Set, co-founded American Mercury and "fostered much new talent—writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser… and James Joyce" (New York Times). Their regard for drama and disdain for its pretenders underlies Mencken's recollection of a day when "Nathan and I were sitting in his apartment at the Royalton, in 44th Street, New York, and fell into a discussion of playwriting. We came to the conclusion that writing a play was a much smaller job than writing a book, and decided to write one to prove it… Heliogabalus was planned, and six weeks later it was finished… I ceased to respect dramatists from that time" (Mencken on Mencken, 117). Mencken's accomplishments include his magnum opus, American Language, which prompted Edmund Wilson to call him "without question, since Poe, our greatest practicing literary journalist" (New Yorker). One of 60 copies (50 for sale); as issued without dust jacket. Schrader A21.I.a.
A fine signed copy.