Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sir Henry Maximilian ('Max') Beerbohm

Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) was a sophisticated critic with both pen and drawing pencil. He was undoubtedly the most fascinating ambidextrous artist of his time. Bernard Shaw, writing in 1898, famously called him “the incomparable Max”. An urbane but rapier-sharp humour, a mocking elegance, mischievous wordplay, pricks that do not seriously wound, “inimitable” quips, in-jokes, and rapid one-liners, ranging from the flippant to the merely gratifying, from the amusing to the positively charming, from the anecdotal and ironic to the satiric and sarcastic, are among the characteristics of his style of writing. He was an unconventional wit of the highest order, who was at his best with parody, burlesque, irony, satire, sarcasm, and pastiche. Perhaps the best thumbnail sketch of Max’s dual genius is his old friend Siegfried Sassoon’s “Tribute to Sir Max Beerbohm”, broadcast by the BBC three months after his death: “For behind that studied elegance, that insistence on scrupulous refinement of utterance, was the toughest of professional experts - the brilliant and formidable dramatic critic, the sprightly but uncompromising caricaturist, the superfine story-teller, and the cumulatively accomplished essayist, who was also an unassuming but percipent moralist”. -J. G. Riewald

Max Beerbohm's interpretation of Frank Harris' famous assertion that he was not a homosexual, but 'if Shakespeare asked me ...'