Monday, 24 August 2015


On a grim day of siling rain and livid skies, it's cheering to note that at least it's Max Beerbohm's birthday - 143 today. Somehow it's always cheering to think of Max - and of how many writers or artists can one say that? He seems to have been - at least in his prime - one of those endlessly likeable people who, in a quiet unshowy manner, make their surroundings and the people around them that bit brighter. This, certainly, is the personality that shines through his writings. The few who disliked him were just the sort of people you'd want to be disliked by: Ezra Pound caricatured him in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley -

'The sky-like limpid eyes,
The circular infant's face,
The stiffness from spats to collar
Never relaxing into grace;

The heavy memories of Horeb, Sinai and the forty years,
Showed only when the daylight fell
Level across the face
Of Brennbaum "The Impeccable".' 

And Malcolm Muggeridge, who cordially loathed Beerbohm, also identified him as Jewish - and homosexual to boot. Max, to his regret, was not Jewish ('That my talent is rather like Jewish talent I admit readily... But, being in fact a Gentile, I am, in a small way, rather remarkable, and wish to remain so'), and his sexuality remains terra incognita, though his long marriage to the American actress Florence Kahn seems to have been happy enough, despite (or because of?) their sharply contrasting temperaments. What's more, he married again shortly before his death at the age of 83.
 As a young boy, Max attended a day school run by a Mr Wilkinson, who, Beerbohm later said, 'gave me my love of Latin and thereby enabled me to write English'. Indeed. If Latin were still taught routinely in schools, the standard of written English would surely be a good deal higher.


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