S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 February 27, 1960: 43-99

I had a standing joke with Turco, the concierge of the Hotel Excelsior, in Rapallo. The joke originated during an earlier visit to Rapallo, in the spring of 1953. I had asked Turco to summon Charlie, the English-speaking driver who that spring was driving me each day to call on Max Beerbohm, at the Villino Chiaro, on the Via Aurelia. I invariably appeared in the lobby on time, but Charlie was not as punctual. Turco would reassure me. "Partito," he would say, "ma non arrivato." Charlie had left the garage that employed him, but he had not yet arrived; he was, in other words, en route. I had told this to Max, and he had been amused by it; he said it applied to so many of his contemporaries—in fact, to almost everybody. Now, on a cold, rainy January day in 1954, I stood again in the lobby waiting for Charlie to take me to the Villino, and I took the words of explanation out of Turco's mouth; we sang them in unison. They were, indeed, the only Italian words I knew, but I had full command over them. Charlie arrived and drove me to the Villino. We compared notes. He wanted to know whether I had received his Christmas card, and I wanted to know whether he had received mine. He was full of intimate information about our Ambassadress, Mrs. Luce, and he asked me for whatever news (and it was marginal) I had of Pittsburgh, where he had once lived.

I had sought domestic advice before I left New York, and bore presents for Max and his secretary, Miss Elizabeth Jungmann. Shielding the packages under my overcoat from the rain, I rang the doorbell of the Villino. I looked at the tree that leaned backward—like Swinburne, Max had observed the last time we were together. Denuded, and lashed by the rain, it seemed to have abdicated altogether. A young girl I hadn't seen before opened the door for me. She bobbed and nodded, and babbled in Italian. In the lunette at the far end of the entrance hall, Miss Siddal, between Rossetti and Swinburne, had still not made up her mind. With an air of incredulity, she was still staring, as she had been doing for all the years since Max had painted her, at Swinburne. I went into the little library. Max's grandparents were there, in their oval frames, and looked as handsome and well adjusted as ever in their eighteenth-century clothes. Carlyle was still striding dyspeptically along the Chelsea Embankment.

Miss Jungmann came in and greeted me affectionately. I handed her my presents. "Oh," she said. "I won't open mine till Max comes in. He'll he in in a minute. He didn't have a very good night. He had nightmares. He suffers terribly from nightmares. I think all creative people are subject to nightmares. Gerhart Hauptmann, when I was his secretary, used to have nightmares. He remembered them in detail and used to tell me them, but Max never remembers the details—only a vague sense of terror. Perhaps he does remember them but wants to spare me. But it's cold in here! Come in and warm yourself by the fire."

I walked through the little library and into the equally small living room, where a fire was burning in the tiny grate. The Regency mirror noted my arrival; the bronze girl with the averted head was on the mantel; in the photographs flanking it the two girls in white were still confiding romantic secrets to one another, and the little pug-nosed girl was laughing at the Abbé's joke. Max came in. He was wearing a blue skullcap. Miss Jungmann displayed the two presents. Max was so ravished by the wrappings of the packages that I urged Miss Jungmann not to open them, to avoid an anticlimax. Max chuckled and encouraged Miss Jungmann to risk it. But first he took the packages and ran a hand over the glossy surfaces. "How beautiful!" he exclaimed. "Scarlet and silver!" But there was a residue of enthusiasm for the contents, too: a heavy sweater for Max, and a woollen stole for Miss Jungmann. Miss Jungmann made Max try the sweater on at once for size. "I'll try it on for size," said Max, "but"—he smiled at me—"if you don't mind, I'll keep it on for warmth."

Max, when it was agreed that the sweater fitted, settled himself in his old Merton chair. Miss Jungmann hovered over him solicitously. "Those dreadful nightmares of yours, Max! Was this one awful?"

"Have you noticed," said Max, "there is never any third act in a nightmare? They bring you to a climax of terror and then leave you there. They are the work of poor dramatists."

I asked whether he could remember them after they were done with him.

"My nightmares are almost always abstract, don't you know—not personal. The only personal ones are those connected with my childhood."

Miss Jungmann, aware that I knew of Max's aversion to psychiatry, chimed in, "Maybe a psychiatrist could help cure you of those awful things?"

Max laughed. He turned to me. "What would they do to me?" he inquired. "I adored my father and mother and I adored my brothers and sisters. What kind of complex would they find me the victim of? Oedipus and what else?" He reflected a moment. "They were a tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, weren't they?"

Miss Jungmann, explaining to me that the new servant was inexperienced, went out to manage tea.

Max had had a fan letter, from an American schoolboy, that had amused him greatly. He reached out to a little table beside his chair and picked up the letter and gave it to me. It was from Andover. The boy's English teacher, Dudley Fitts, had read aloud to the class Max's obituary essay on Ibsen from a collection of his drama criticism, "Around Theatres," as a stimulus to discussion at the next session. The boy, who was evidently thorough, had read up on both Max and Ibsen in the Andover library, and had found Max's first-person parody of Edmund Gosse, called "A Recollection," in his book of parodies "A Christmas Garland." In this piece, Max, pretending to be Gosse, a dedicated bringer-together of people who ought to meet each other, describes how, in Venice, he took Ibsen round to have Christmas dinner with Robert Browning, with disturbing results. The boy, taking Max's use of the first person literally, had written asking Max, as an old pal of Ibsen's, to give him some inside information. "In 1878, when I imagined this dinner to take place," said Max apologetically, "I was only six years old. How can I tell this young man"—he tapped the letter—"that I was scarcely so precocious?"

In "A Christmas Garland," which is strung on a thread of fantasy concerning the effect of Christmas on seventeen famous authors, and which starts off with Max's parody of Henry James, "The Mote in the Middle Distance," which is perhaps the most famous of his parodies, Max, as the alleged Gosse, relates that he called on Robert Browning, who was spending the Christmas season in Venice. That same evening, he had an inconceivable stroke of luck. He ran into Ibsen in the Café Florian. As a student of Scandinavian literature who had taken the trouble to master Norwegian, he had, of course, been in correspondence with Ibsen, and had been received by him sometime earlier, in Rome. Max's Gosse picked up with Ibsen where he had left off, and there followed a halcyon period for the young scholar; he spent his afternoons with Browning, his evenings with Ibsen. He was in seventh heaven. There was one ever-to-be-cherished evening when Ibsen unbent so far as to read to the young student—in Norwegian, of course—one of his plays:

He was staying at the Hotel Danieli, an edifice famous for having been, rather more than forty years previously, the socket in which the flame of an historic grande passion had finally sunk and guttered out with no inconsiderable accompaniment of smoke and odour. It was there, in an upper room, that I now made acquaintance with a couple very different from George Sand and Alfred de Musset, though destined to become hardly less famous than they. I refer to Torvald and Nora Helmer. My host read to me with the utmost vivacity, standing in the middle of the apartment; and I remember that in the scene where Nora Helmer dances the tarantella her creator instinctively executed a few illustrative steps.

In an overflow of joy at the spectacle of Ibsen dancing the tarantella, and in constant transit between the two colossi, the young scholar became obsessed with a missionary zeal to bring his two idols together. This ambition he whispered to Browning. Browning had never heard of Ibsen, but so expansive was his nature that he fell in with the plan at once: "Capital! Bring him round with you at one o'clock tomorrow for turkey and plum pudding!" The young middleman ran right back to Ibsen with this invitation. Ibsen had never heard of Browning, either. "It was one of the strengths of his strange, crustacean genius," says the narrator, in a hushed aside, "that he never had heard of anybody." But the middleman prevailed on Ibsen to accept Browning's invitation, and on Christmas Day Browning sent his gondola to fetch Ibsen and his palpitating guide. It was understandable that the youth should be nervous, and he tried to give Ibsen some hint of Browning's scope, translating meticulously into Norwegian Browning's slogan "God's in his heaven—all's right with the world." When Ibsen and the young man arrived in Browning's salon, their host was thumping out a toccata on the piano. Browning swatted Ibsen heartily on each shoulder, wished him "the Merriest of Merry Christmases," and led his two guests in to dinner. There, things went less well. Ibsen sized Browning up at once as a lightweight; he dropped him even before he had taken him up. At dinner, the student of Norwegian struggled manfully to translate Ibsen's tenebrous remarks from Norwegian into English; he went on interpreting like mad, slanting his translations to alleviate abrasion, panting after the receding mirage of rapport. The debacle occurred over a nice question of interpretation:

The world of scholarship was at that time agitated by the recent discovery of what might or might not prove to be a fragment of Sappho. Browning proclaimed his unshakable belief in the authenticity of these verses. To my surprise, Ibsen, whom I had been unprepared to regard as a classical scholar, said positively that they had not been written by Sappho. Browning challenged him to give a reason. A literal translation of the reply would have been "Because no woman ever was capable of writing a fragment of good poetry." Imagination reels at the effect this would have had on the recipient of "Sonnets from the Portuguese." The agonized interpreter, throwing honour to the winds, babbled some wholly fallacious version of the words. Again the situation had been saved. . . .

I was fain to thank heaven when, immediately after the termination of the meal, Ibsen rose, bowed to his host, and bade me express his thanks for the entertainment. Out on the Grand Canal, in the gondola . . . [he asked me] whether Herr Browning had ever married. Receiving an emphatically affirmative reply, he inquired whether Fru Browning had been happy. Loth though I was to cast a blight on his interest in the matter, I conveyed to him with all possible directness the impression that Elizabeth Barrett had assuredly been one of those wives who do not dance tarantellas nor slam front-doors. He did not, to the best of my recollection, make further mention of Browning, either then or afterwards. Browning himself, however, thanked me warmly, next day, for having introduced my friend to him. "A capital fellow!" he exclaimed, and then, for a moment, seemed as though he were about to qualify this estimate, but ended by merely repeating "A capital fellow!"

I told Max that Dudley Fitts had once written me that one of his students at Andover had made the flat statement in a paper that Pontius Pilate was one of the twelve Apostles. Max was amused by this, but saddened, too. It led him into some reflections on the passing of Latin in the schools and the unfortunate effect this was having on the precise use of English. "Gladstone used to quote whole strings of Latin hexameters, mostly from the 'Aeneid,' in his parliamentary speeches, and the House understood him," Max said. "Already one discerns a debasement of English, and other debasements will follow that. With the blunting of precision in language, don't you know, come muddiness in political policy, in morality, and in conduct." Max went on to deplore the modernizations in translations of the Bible and the classics, which, according to him, were vulgarizations. He had been reading such a translation of Cicero's letters. "The translator," Max told me, "seems to be saying to the reader, 'Look here, this fellow Cicero is just like you and me.'" Max gave me a consoling look to cushion the blow. "He isn't!" he said firmly.

I then asked Max about Ibsen's obituary, which he had written for the Saturday Review. At the mention of this, his eyes darkened with an anxious look; his brow furrowed; he leaned forward tensely in the Merton chair. His strong, beautifully shaped, square forefinger tapped the Andover letter uneasily, in memory of an importunity that had been put upon him by the editor of the Saturday half a century before. "Do you know, I remember that evening so well. It was May, 1906. I had done my piece for that week, and was settled down cozily with a book in my rooms, on the top floor of my mother's house. I was luxuriating in the prospect of an evening in which I didn't have to go to the theatre. Then I was called to the telephone—an experience I have never much cared for. It was the editor. He announced that Ibsen had just died and that he wished me to write an obituary article. It quite spoiled my evening, you know! I am not a"—his hand waved into space—"a dash-off writer. Writing is difficult for me, and over my weekly articles I agonized. They cost me anxiety and pain. The copy was always due on Thursday, and do you know that even on my holidays, away from England, when Thursday came around I was always conscious of this vague feeling of inanition, don't you know, of impatience—the sort of feeling a clock may have when it has not been wound up. And then, when I was revelling in the fact that my weekly piece was done, then came this telephone call—"

I could see that Max was hearing again, after half a century, the knell-like sound of the telephone. I did my best to reassure him.

"Well, Max," I said, "you really don't have to worry about it now. The piece is in, and a well-known teacher at Andover likes it well enough to recommend it to his pupils, so it must have been pretty good and you needn't worry!"

Max relaxed a bit. He smiled, giving me his quick, innocent look of gratitude for the relief of tension. Then he began to tell about it. He had sat down at home and written the piece in longhand. That was the first draft, and he gave it to the waiting copyreader. (He spoke with affectionate remembrance of the copyreaders of the Saturday. They were charming and distinguished men, he said—scholars and writers manqué. They knew Latin and Greek, so when he used a tag from either language, he could be certain that it would come out all right.) Ibsen had been dying for a very long time; the stages of his disease had been minutely reported in the European press. In the obituary essay, Max wonders how the papers will keep coming out without the sustenance of Ibsen's interminable moribundity. But it had happened at last, and when it happened, Max took it robustly. "Are we downhearted?" he asks in the obituary essay, and has the spunk to answer "No." The obituary is interesting, because it reveals something characteristic of Max; he felt about Ibsen the way he felt about Shaw, except that Shaw was funny and Ibsen wasn't. Even though he recognized that both were great writers, what they were as human beings mattered to Max—was, indeed, essential, in his view. In his obituary, he quotes a letter that Ibsen wrote to the Danish critic George Brandes. "Friends," confides Ibsen chattily, "are a costly luxury, and when one invests one's capital in a mission in life, one cannot afford to have friends. The expensiveness of friendship does not lie in what one does for one's friends, but in what one, out of regard for them, leaves undone. This means the crushing of many an intellectual germ." Max comments on this avarice for intellectual germs:

Ibsen had no lack of friends, so far as his genius attracted to him many men who were anxious to help him. And he used these men, unstintingly, when he had need of them. That volume of his correspondence, published not long ago, reveals him as an unabashed applicant for favours. Nor is this by any means to his discredit. The world was against him. He was poor, and a cast-away. He had to fight hard in order that he might fulfill the genius that was in him. It was well that he had no false delicacy in appealing to any one who could be of use to him. But, throughout that correspondence, one misses in him the sense of gratitude. One misses in him the capacity for friendship. Not one "intellectual germ" would he sacrifice on that altar. He was, indeed, a perfect type of the artist. There is something impressive, something magnificent and noble, in the spectacle of his absorption in himself—the impregnability of that rock on which his art was founded. But, as we know, other men, not less great than Ibsen, have managed to be human. Some "intellectual germs" may thereby have perished. If so, they are to be mourned duly. And yet, could we wish them preserved at the price that Ibsen paid for them? Innate in us is the desire to love those whom we venerate. To this desire, Ibsen, the very venerable, does not pander.

Max doesn't think it is sentimental to accuse Ibsen of this limitation. He compares him to Swift. He says, "Swift's strength lay in his intellect, and in his natural gift for literature; and a gigantic strength it was. But his harshness was not symptomatic of strength. It was symptomatic of a certain radical defect in himself. He was a Titan, not an Olympian. So was Ibsen . . . he was an ardent and tender lover of ideas, but mankind he simply could not abide. Indeed, I fancy he cared less for ideas as ideas than as a scourge for his fellow-creatures." Max goes on to dissect the "purpose" of Ibsen's plays. Max doesn't think that this much written-about "purpose" was to reform evil at all. "Primarily he was an artist, pure and simple, actuated by the artist's joy in reproduction of human character as it appeared to his keen, unwandering eyes. But he had a joy within a joy; joy in the havoc he wrought." Ibsen hated peace, and he didn't care a snap of his fingers for liberty. Max quotes another of Ibsen's letters to Brandes, written after the proclamation of the Italian Republic:

Rome was the one sanctuary in Europe, the one place that enjoyed true liberty—freedom from the political tyranny of liberty . . . the delicious longing for liberty—that is now a thing of the past. I for one am bound to confess that the only thing about liberty that I love is the fight for it; I care nothing about the possession of it.

"At any rate," Max adds, in a sly postscript to Ibsen's letter, "he cared nothing about other people's possession of it."

I asked Max, who had told me something about how he had happened to get his job as drama critic for the Saturday Review, to tell me more.

"As you know, it was a kind of accident," he said. "I just slithered into it. Frank Harris, who owned the paper, was away in Athens when Shaw gave up the post; the suggestion came to me from J. F. Runciman, the deputy editor." Max wondered to Runciman how Shaw would feel about it, and Runciman said that Shaw approved; it didn't occur, evidently, either to Max or to Runciman to ask themselves whether Harris, who was, after all, the editor, might approve. But four years earlier, when Harris first took over the Saturday, he had invited Max to write for the paper—anything he liked—and Max had done just that, so both he and Runciman assumed that it would be all right. Max undertook the job without getting even his own approval. He refused to give himself a reference; his first contribution was a considered essay, "Why I Ought Not to Have Become a Dramatic Critic," in which, without any conviction whatever, he hazards the opinion that there are probably "many callings more uncomfortable and dispiriting than that of dramatic critic," continuing, "To be a porter on the Underground Railway must, I have often thought, be very terrible. Whenever I feel myself sinking under the stress of my labours, I shall say to myself, `I am not a porter on the Underground Railway.'" Bucked up by this negative solace, he prepared to go to the Savoy to review "The Beauty Stone," a musical comedy by Arthur Pinero, Comyns Carr, and Arthur Sullivan. This was in May, 1898. He was twenty-five when he took the job, and thirty-seven when he gave it up, in April, 1910.

Frank Harris seems to have been the perennial type of the genius-charlatan, who appears meteorically, soars to the top, gets everybody excited, seizes the general imagination to such a degree that for a time nobody else is talked about, and then proceeds to disintegrate with a completeness that leaves, at best, only the merest possibility of a shadow comeback. The reason, Max told me, is egomania. "When you believe yourself omnipotent, it is hard, don't you know, to reconcile yourself to mere potency. Like all deeply arrogant men, Harris possessed little or no sense of reality. His subsequent career proves it." Harris arrived in London, after wanderings in America and Europe, in 1882, at the age of twenty-six. He was little and ugly. Within five years of his arrival, he had, according to his latest and most comprehensive biographer, Vincent Brome, got to the absolute top in the London literary world, had married a rich woman older than himself, had a house in Park Lane, and entertained the best people. He had been editor of the Evening News, he was now editor of the Fortnightly Review, and he was soon to be the owner-editor of the forty-year-old Saturday Review. He shook that paper up, got H. G. Wells and Shaw and Max and Cunninghame Graham to write for it, and was—such men always are—the talk of the town. He became known as the Voice. According to Max, he had "a marvellous speaking voice—like the organ at Westminster Abbey, with infallible footwork." He was also the Mustache. Brome tells how, in Berlin, Harris saw Bismarck riding by in a carriage. He envied Bismarck; that was the kind of power he would like, and intended, to have. He trained his mustache in imitation of Bismarck's ("It was a tremendous affair," said Max, recalling Harris's mustache with admiration), and for a time he achieved the power, too.

Max always took Harris with what he called "a stalactite of salt." But women didn't. "Women like men to be confident, and Frank did not lack confidence," Max said. This was certainly a Maxian understatement about a man who thought nothing of letting his voice boom out formal lectures on the subject "Shakespeare, Shaw, and Frank Harris." Shaw, Max remembered, liked Harris and, when Harris was on his uppers, sent him an account of his love life, to help him finish his biography of Shaw.

Max was interested in my account of Gabriel Pascal, the film producer, whom Shaw also liked—who was, indeed, the confidant and friend and entertainer of his old age. Max was amused to hear that Pascal had once admitted to me, "When I was nineteen, I was already a genius!" Max's narrow shoulders shook; such examples of precocity delighted him.

I asked Max whether he had ever known Harris to tell the truth.

"Sometimes, don't you know—when his invention flagged," Max said.

After Harris got to the top, says Vincent Brome in his biography, "there was no holding him." There never is any holding them. These shattering careerists seem to follow a single pattern. Once they've reached, by spasms of will, the place where they want to be, some driving instinct inexorably impels them to destroy the pedestals their effrontery and egotism have erected, and to plummet to the gutter. It is as if they were driven by some nostalgie de la boue. During the First World War, when Harris was in New York, editing Pearson' s Magazine, after he had found it expedient to leave London, his magnetism was still strong enough to attract crowds to his lectures. Harris took it out on London for having put him in jail for contempt of court in 1914 by becoming a German propagandist in the First World War. At this, his friends, Arnold Bennett and Max among them, wrote him off. But always and everywhere, whatever he did and whatever his age, women abounded, caught up in the wake of his confidence. After the war, Harris went back to Europe, settling down in Nice, and there he wrote the bulk of the four volumes of his pornographic autobiography, "My Life and Loves." Actually, it is a funny hook, of that peculiar variety that can be achieved only by people who write about themselves with what Max called "a sublimity of earnestness" his euphemism for a total lack of humor. In it Harris tells, indiscriminately but with a nice feeling for juxtaposition, about his many love affairs and his adventures in the world of diplomacy and letters. At the end of one chapter, Harris describes a sexual episode the way an expert gymnast might describe an intricate maneuver in calisthenics. And then, suddenly, you are confronted with the heading of the next chapter: "How I Met Gladstone."

During the years that Max worked for Harris on the Saturday, he found him admirable as an editor; everybody agrees that Harris really was a great editor. It was after Harris sold the Saturday, in 1899, that a little problem arose between Max and Harris. Harris was then editing Modern Society, one of the series of fly-by-night tattle sheets that he tried to galvanize into profit by the sheer power of his voice and mustache. Blackmail was a source of revenue that could not he recorded in the books, if there were any books. Brome tells substantially the same story Max told me. The novelist and playwright Enid Bagnold worked for Harris on this paper. Miss Bagnold has written about what that was like:

We had a great schwärmerei for Frank which would come like measles and go as completely. . . . He was an extraordinary man. He had an appetite for great things and could transmit the sense of them. He was more like an actor than a man of heart. He could simulate everything. While he felt admiration he acted it and while he acted it he felt it, and "greatness" being his big part he hunted the centuries for it, spotting it in literature, poetry, passion, and acting.

While Harris was editing Modern Society, he was arrested for contempt of court and sent to jail. Miss Bagnold, desperate to get material for the next issue during the enforced absence of her chief, appealed to Shaw and Max for contributions. Shaw sent a nice letter refusing, but Max responded magnificently with a cartoon he gave Miss Bagnold "on the solemn promise" that it should never be used either as a cover or as a poster. The cartoon, captioned "The Best Talker in London—with one of his best listeners," is still in Miss Bagnold's possession; it shows Harris seated at one side of a table, expounding great ideas with large gestures. On the table is a bottle of wine. In the other chair, Max is sitting bolt upright, listening. He is listening hard but, you feel, with a certain reserve. Under the drawing Max wrote, "For my old friend Frank Harris this scribble in record of a scene which, happily for me, has been so frequent in the past twenty years." Miss Bagnold took the drawing to Harris, in Brixton Gaol. Harris was not pleased—either with Max for having made his stipulation or with Miss Bagnold for having submitted to it—but he promised that the restriction would be faithfully observed. Needless to say, it was not. According to Brome, "Within twenty-four hours the young girl who represented the 'Advertising Department' of Modern Society visited the prison and received instructions to 'go it strong on publicity' with Beerbohm's drawing, 'and damnation take these fancy promises.'" After fifty years, Max's gratitude to Miss Bagnold for her share in circumventing the betrayal by the advertising department was still acute. "It was Miss Bagnold," he said, "who spared me from seeing that cartoon on every hoarding in London." This is Brume's account of how she did it:

Presently she drove furiously in a cab to his [Max's] house, rang the doorbell and sent up an urgent message via the maid. Still not dressed, the gracious figure with the porcelain forehead came down "in a wonderful dressing-gown," and listened, his "two very blue eyes . . . serious with anger." Seeing how genuinely distressed she was, he dressed quickly and hurried out beside her, carrying a beautiful cane with a loop at the handle. They drove back to the office, examined the posters, dragged the roll into a cab and hurried round to the printers. There, with some difficulty, they managed to commandeer the block. Twenty minutes later, they walked down the Savoy steps to the river, threw plate and posters wholesale into the black water, watched the block disappear and saw the posters unroll and begin to submerge.

Max was grateful to Miss Bagnold, but Miss Bagnold has every reason to be grateful to Max, because Max, just by his way of listening to the Best Talker, cured her of her measles. She recently wrote:

I lunched at the Savoy with Frank Harris and Max Beerbohm and his first wife very shortly after they were married. And I have never forgotten Max's peculiar method of listening. His blue eyes wide with wonder, his forehead pink with admiration, but somehow, simultaneously, playing a ray of mockery—so light that it fell unnoticed on the Talker. I, who was all eyes and mouth open, learnt a lesson from that. It was the onset of my cure.

Some time ago, in the London Sunday Times, I read the announcement of a book, by Sandy Wilson, to he called "Who's Who for Beginners," which was to consist of a series of spoofs of young contemporary writers possessed of millennial and cosmic vision, those writers whose vaticinations embrace the future of the universe—dark, of course—and who offer prescriptions for lighting it. One of the young men, Mr. Reg Glupton, is nineteen years old and refers to himself as "a mixture of the three 'K's—Kierkegaard, Kafka, and Krafft-Ebing." It sounded promising, and I thought I should like to buy the book when it came out, but an item in Mr. Glupton's entry really warmed my heart. This was that Glupton, while finishing his new book, "The Whip and the Butterfly," was also contributing a series of articles to the Onlooker called "World Disintegration—And After." This warmed my heart because I knew immediately that Mr. Wilson was a reader of Max. When readers of Max meet—even when they don't meet—they experience a thrill of recognition. Mr. Wilson, I knew at once, had read and admired one of the juiciest of Max's pieces, his biographical study of T. Fenning Dodworth. Prophecy on the cosmic scale was T. Fenning Dodworth's stock in trade.

As we sat before the fire, I asked Max who had been the model for T. Fenning Dodworth, and he waved a hand and said vaguely, "Oh, a Parliamentary figure of the time. I took quite a bit of trouble, don't you know, in the composing of his name, and I was pleased with the result: the bold 'T.,' like the statement of a portentous theme; the ominous and brooding vestibule of the Fenning; and then the broad, capacious good earth of the Dodworth." Max tells you that T. Fenning Dodworth was a great wit and gives you examples of that wit, although he admits that, personally, he is not convulsed by them. He tells you that Dodworth, "quite apart from his wit, seems to me one of the most remarkable, the strongest and, in a way, most successful men of our time." And yet when he comes to analyze his hero's career, it emerges unblemished by the vulgar stigmata of success. He tried the bar, but he had to give it up, because, says Max simply, "he got so few briefs." He stood seven times for Parliament, and, Max says, "he escaped, every time, the evils of election. (And his good angel stood not less close to him on the three occasions when he offered himself as candidate for the London County Council.) Voters, like jurors, would not rise to him. At length it was borne in even on the leaders of his party that they must after all be content to rely on his pen rather than on his tongue."

Max remembers having been molded, when he was a schoolboy, by Dodworth's reasoned and weighty pronouncements in the political weeklies: "The Franchise Bill—And After;" "The Home Rule Peril—And After." "Both seemed to me splendid," Max says warmly, "partly perhaps because of their titles. Dodworth was, I believe, the first publicist to use that magical affix, that somehow statesmanlike, mysterious, intriguing formula, '—And After.'" But later he grew more critical: "Dodworth as a political thinker seemed to me lacking in generosity, lacking even (despite his invariable '—And After') in foresight."

Dodworth took over the editorship of a newspaper, contributing to it his article—"substantially the same," Max explains, "as every article he had ever written; but, like some masterpiece of music, it never palled." The newspaper folded. In the war, the Minister of Information naturally summoned Dodworth, who came through at once with a pamphlet that was translated into thirty-seven languages and fifty-eight foreign dialects, and not read in any of them. Max follows the rest of T. Fenning's career breathlessly, through the peace that followed the war, and the resumption of his top hat—for during the war he had "worn a thing of soft black felt, which I took to be a symbol of pessimism"—and he is with him on Dodworth's visits to the House of Commons. Max took such delight in his witticisms that Dodworth promised him a copy of his next book, "A Short Shrift for Sinn Fein—And After." Dodworth wrote a play, produced by Sir George Alexander, which Max attended, he says, in his professional capacity. He reports on that momentous opening:

All the leaders of both parties in both Houses were present on the first night, and many of them (rashly, so weak were they with laughter) were present also on the second, third and fourth nights, and would probably have been present on other nights, too; but (such was the absenteeism of the vulgar) there were no other nights.

Dodworth was undaunted. At a dinner given him by the Playgoers' Club, he taunted Max and the other critics with their failure "to arrest the decay of dramatic art by elevating the taste of the public." Dodworth returned to his true field, article writing; "The Assault on the Constitution—And After;" "The Betrayal—And After;" "The End of All Things—And After." Max read them all, generously recognizing, in spite of a dislike of the author that he could not control, that Dodworth was at his best in all of them. Max takes Dodworth to his apogee—a public dinner at which the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, proposed his health. The Prime Minister, when he was "a bare-legged, wild-eyed, dreamy little lad on the Welsh mountains," had, like Max, been nurtured on the prophetic writings of the guest of honor.

Max writes on the assumption that T. Fenning Dodworth is the most successful man he has ever known. Why? Because of his indurated conceit, the enviable congenital astigmatism that enabled him to see the world as an arena in which the puny contestants failed pitifully to measure up to an ideal visible only to him, Dodworth, and by him, uniquely, so easily attainable. He had fought all the battles and won them in the trophied caverns of his own self-esteem, and, says Max, taking on the role of prophet himself for once, "he will die game, and his last words will be '—And After?' and will be spoken pungently."

I told Max that I had been looking at Fenning the night before, in my hotel room, and that I had noticed, as I had not when I first read it, that the last "And After," which Max predicted would be uttered by Dodworth when he was dying, had a question mark after it.

"Ah, yes," said Max. "It's the first time Dodworth wasn't sure!" 

"He died a failure, then," I said.

Max smiled. As an artist, he liked to get his effects simply. And I could see that he was pleased that his cataclysmic question mark had got over—a punctuation mark that conveyed the swift transition from certitude to agnosticism (a true deathbed conversion), and from success to failure.

It was warm before the fire, but it was cold everywhere else in the room. Miss Jungmann came in with the smallest hot-water bottle I have ever seen and with a normal-sized one. She put the normal-sized one on Max's lap—tucking it in under the rug over his knees—and the small one behind his neck.

"Have you ever noticed," asked Max, "that all hot-water bottles look like Henry the Eighth?" He made the resemblance clearer by taking out the larger hot-water bottle, picking up a pencil, and sketching on it the lineaments of the King—eyes, nose, mustache, and chin—and the resemblance became indeed remarkable. "Holbein in rubber!" Max said, smiling.

"Our sunny Italian Riviera," said Miss Jungmann, "is not so sunny today. Max's room is so cold. I don't know what to do about it." She mentioned to Max that I had once suggested an electric heater, and she repeated to him what she had told me, that the current provided by the electric company was not strong enough. "Tea will be ready in a minute," she said.

I asked Max to tell me about the station hotels in which he used to stay on his visits to London. I had read Logan Pearsall Smith on the subject. Smith once wrote that Max would often, on his visits to London, after he had made the rounds of all the friends who were eager to see him, say formal farewells to them as if he were going back to Italy and make straightaway for the Great Western Royal Hotel at Paddington. Max would, Smith wrote, "remain there unknown to all for weeks and sometimes months. He found the monstrous horror of its 1860 decoration (a horror that must be seen to be believed) and the awful insipidity of its cornstarch and custard cooking very congenial to his mid-Victorian tastes. He could hardly tear himself away from it."

"Yes, people used to wonder that I stayed in station hotels," Max said. "They thought it quaint, I imagine. I stayed in them because they were so comfortable. I adored them. The early Victorians were great craftsmen, and they made the furniture you find in the station hotels. Those great chests of drawers! The drawers don't stick, as they are likely to do in modern work; they come running out, like puppies when you whistle for them, and run back at a touch, as if you had thrown them a ball." He smiled at me. "I have been faithful to the Charing Cross Hotel in my fashion, but I confess to a long infidelity with the Paddington station hotel—the Great Western, you know. I believe I have stayed there longer than any man since it was built, and it was built at about the time the first railroads were laid down. And then the rooms! I am not a tall man, but in the modern hotels, with their tawdry simplicity, the doors and ceilings are so low. The public rooms are as big as the Albert Hall, but they want to cram as many bipeds as possible into as many stories as possible, while the station hotels—ah!—they give a man headroom, even a tall man. And you look out of the window and see the columns of smoke pressed down under the station roof and escaping as well as it can, and you see the travellers emerging from the trains and walking toward the hotel, as to an inn, for a night's lodging after their journeys. There is a faint thunder always, a reverberation from the trains, catching all that movement, all that going about. I like these Vulcan sounds. And in the lobbies—the people who are sitting there are only there for the night, don't you know, and in all that transitoriness, by virtue of the fact that you are not travelling, you are not running about, well, you get a sense of immobility, of staying put, of tranquillity. Oh, yes, I loved dearly to stay at the station hotels."

Max remembered with affection and exactitude the maître d'hôtel at the Charing Cross Hotel. "He was tall and somewhat gangling, and he wore a frock coat with no silk facings on the lapels. He used to glide in and out among the tables, noiselessly and with great adroitness." Max's hand glided in and out among the tables. "My wife, Florence, wherever she was, used to come back to the hotel to have lunch with me. One day she couldn't come, but I neglected to cancel our usual reservation; it was a small table for two, in any case, and I lunched there alone. The maître d'hôtel saw me and glided through to me. I said that I would be alone this day. He made an incomparable gesture"—Max imitated the gesture with both hands, palms upturned—"a gesture of consoling me, don't you know, a gesture of tolerant understanding between one man of the world and another, a gesture connoting heaven knows what, but counselling patience and tolerance in the face of such lapses among womankind."

Even in Paris, Max ferreted out a station hotel and stayed in it. He tells about the delights of these sojourns in an essay he calls "Fenestralia." The view from the windows of the hotel in the Gare du Nord, he says, affords him a rapture he can't get anywhere else in Paris—not from sightseeing, not from walking, not from dining out:

I looked forth early on my first morning, and saw a torrent of innumerable young backs, flooding across the square beneath and along the straight wide Rue Lafayette beyond. The fullness and swiftness of it made me gasp—and kept me gasping, while in the station behind me, incessantly, for more than an hour and a half, trainload after trainload of young men and women from the banlieue was disgorged into the capital. The maidens outnumbered the youths by about three or four to one, it seemed to me; and yet they were one maiden, so identically alike were they in their cloche hats and knee-deep skirts and flesh-coloured stockings, and in virtue of that erectly tripping gait which Paris teaches while London inculcates an unsteady slouch. One maiden, yet hundreds and thousands of maidens, each with a soul of her own, and a home of her own, and earning her own wages. Bewildering! Having seen that sight, I needed no other.

Max is, in any case, partial to windows. He enlarges on the allurement of girls, scenes, people seen through windows:

I have set eyes on many great men, in my time, and have had the privilege of being acquainted with some of them (not of knowing them well, understanding them well, for to do that there must be some sort of greatness in oneself). And of all the great men whom I have merely seen the one who impressed me most was Degas. Some forty years ago I was passing, with a friend, through the Place Pigalle; and he, pointing up his stick to a very tall building, pointing up to an open window au cinquième—or was it sixième?—said, "There's Degas." And there, in the distance, were the head and shoulders of a grey-bearded man in a red beret, leaning across the sill. There Degas was, and behind him, in there, was his studio; and behind him, there in his old age, was his lifework; and with unaging eyes he was, I felt sure, taking notes of "values" and what not of the populous scene down below, regretting perhaps (for he had never cast his net wide) the absence of any ballet-dancers, or jockeys, or laundry-girls, or women sponging themselves in hip-baths; but deeply, but passionately observing. There he was, is, and will always be for me, framed.

Max's favorite girls have what he calls "the charm of windowhood"—the cottage girl at a small lattice window drawn by Rossetti, Mrs. Patrick Campbell windowed in "Mélisande." Gladstone and Disraeli, he says, were at their most effective when they spoke through windows. The best sketch he has ever seen of Goethe was drawn by Wilhelm Tischbein while the great man was leaning out of a window of a Roman inn and looking down into the street below. "It is a graceful, a forceful, and a noble back that we see there in that bedroom," writes Max.

Miss Jungmann brought in tea and left again, and while we were sipping it, I returned to T. Fenning Dodworth and to Max's fondness for writing about failures—Enoch Soames, Savonarola Brown, Romeo Coates, and many others.

"I find failure endearing, don't you?" he said. "Touching. And obsessive failure, from the point of view of the non-obsessed, can be so funny that you forget that it is touching." He reached out and took up his own copy of "Zuleika Dobson," which was published in 1911. The volume was much decorated by him. Among the publisher's notices printed on the inside of the jacket was a list of books and their authors. Max had drawn a little figure of himself standing below this list. He is reaching up to the list with a teacher's pointer and saying, "Perhaps you prefer one of these?" Max stared at the list. "Do you know one of them?" he asked.

I had to admit that none of the names, none of the titles, meant a thing in the world to me.

"And yet," he said, "these authors agonized over their works. There came a bright day when it was announced to them that their books would be published. There came a day when they were published. And now here we sit—it's not so very long ago, is it?—and you don't know any of them, and I myself, their contemporary, can scarcely remember them."

I asked Max about a literary device to which he was addicted, that of having his fictional characters constantly involved with actual, historical ones: T. Fenning Dodworth with Lloyd George and other statesmen and personalities of the time; Enoch Soames with Sir William Rothenstein; Maltby (of Maltby and Braxton) in a Sunday-morning encounter with Arthur Balfour; the playwright Savonarola Brown appointing him, Max, as his literary executor. In "The Happy Hypocrite," an early-nineteenth-century allegory of good and evil, Max uses footnotes, as if he were writing a historical work, that refer to comments on his scapegrace hero, Lord George Hell, by known contemporaries: Banastre Tarleton, in an apocryphal work of his, "Contemporary Bucks," and Lord Coleraine, in his "Correspondence"—both prominent Regency figures. Max said, "The fantasist takes his imaginings seriously, you know." When you wrote a fantasy, Max believed, between the improbable premise and the still more improbable conclusion you must be inexorably logical and realistic. He pursued this method with "Enoch Soames" and "The Happy Hypocrite," pegging them to actuality with his contemporary references. On the inside back cover of his own copy of "Zuleika Dobson" he pasted a page out of Bradshaw (the English railway timetable), giving the hours of departure from Liverpool Street Station of trains to Cambridge. Around the departing hours he drew little circles, presumably designed to make things easier for other Zuleikas who have completed their dread work in Oxford to get on with more of the same in Cambridge.

I went on to refer to the fact that in "Poor Romeo!," the story of an early-nineteenth-century gentleman of means, Robert Coates, who is known as Romeo Coates because of his misguided ambition to play Romeo, Max has embedded in the pathetic account references to actual memoirists of the time. Here Max had me; here the references turned out to be genuine. There really was a Romeo Coates, and he did play Romeo, but the character is such a natural for Max that he might as well have invented him. Romeo was right up Max's street—a man obsessed with the wish to do something that he was simply unable to do. "The lust for the footlights' glare," Max says, "grew lurid in his mothish eye," and then he settles down to describe Romeo's début:

The night came. Fashion, Virtue, and Intellect thronged the house. Nothing could have been more cordial than the temper of the Gallery. All were eager to applaud the new Romeo. Presently, when the varlets of Verona had brawled, there stepped into the square—what?—a mountebank, a monstrosity. Hurrah died upon every lip. The house was thunderstruck. . . . Those lines that were not drowned in laughter Mr. Coates spoke in the most foolish and extravagant manner. He cut little capers at odd moments. He laid his hand on his heart and bowed, now to this, now to that part of the house, always with a grin. . . . The performance, so obviously grotesque, was just the kind of thing to please the gods. The limp of Hephaestus could not have called laughter so unquenchable from their lips. It is no trifle to set Englishmen laughing, but once you have done it, you can hardly stop them. Act after act of the beautiful love-play was performed without one sign of satiety from the seers of it. The laughter rather swelled in volume. Romeo died in so ludicrous a way that a cry of "encore" arose and the death was actually twice repeated. At the fall of the curtain there was prolonged applause. Mr. Coates came forward, and the good-humored public pelted him with fragments of the benches.

Informed by Max of Romeo's actuality, I later looked him up. Max says, at the end of his essay, that he wishes he had known Romeo, and I share his wish. He was very rich and lived, says the English Dictionary of National Biography, in extraordinary style: "His carriage, drawn by white horses, was in shape like a kettledrum, and across the bar of his curricle was a large brazen cock, with his motto, 'Whilst I live I'll crow.'" He eventually played in London, and his appearance there created such a sensation that a farce written about him, in which a popular comedian of the time, Charles Mathews, played Coates, had quite a success. Romeo found himself, therefore, not only acting but being acted. He returned to Bath, the scene of his first triumph, and played again. But the fickle audience got tired of laughing at him and began to hiss him. He died in a street accident after going to the theatre, crushed between a hansom and a private carriage. Max says of him, in summary, "As his speeches before the curtain and his letters to the papers show, he took himself quite seriously. Only the insane take themselves quite seriously."

Max professed to be flattered at my thinking that he had invented Romeo. I said it was natural, considering that he had invented Enoch Soames and Savonarola Brown. Probably those who haven't read anything else of Max's—except, perhaps, "Zuleika Dobson"—know these two sad histories. They are both masterpieces. Max's special method is beautifully exemplified in "Enoch Soames." He begins:

When a book about the literature of the eighteen-nineties was given by Mr. Holbrook Jackson to the world, I looked eagerly in the index for SOAMES, ENOCH. I had feared he would not be there. He was not there.

Holbrook Jackson's book "The Eighteen Nineties" has a chapter on Max—with the inevitable title "The Incomparable Max"—and is dedicated to him. The book is a roster of everyone who figured in the literary and art worlds of the nineties. Max, saddened by the omission of Enoch from Jackson's book, goes on to describe the "bolt from the blue" that flashed down on Oxford in the summer of 1893: the arrival of Will Rothenstein, It is a straight history of the beginning of his friendship with Rothenstein. He tells how Rothenstein introduced him to Aubrey Beardsley, to Chelsea, to the Bodley Head, to Walter Sickert, and to that den of iniquity the Café Royal. Max goes on to describe that "haunt of intellect and daring," the famous domino room:

There, on that October evening—there, in that exuberant vista of gilding and crimson velvet set amidst all those opposing mirrors and upholding caryatids, with fumes of tobacco ever rising to the painted and pagan ceiling, and with the hum of presumably cynical conversation broken into so sharply now and again by the clatter of dominoes shuffled on marble tables, I drew a deep breath, and "This indeed," said I to myself, "is life!"

Max is having dinner there with Rothenstein when a shambling fellow walks by and lingers, obviously wanting to meet Rothenstein. "He had a thin vague beard—or rather, he had a chin on which a large number of hairs weakly curled and clustered to cover its retreat." This is Enoch Soames, a poet, who has just published a little volume called "Negations." Enoch wants to be painted by Rothenstein, but Rothenstein snubs him. However, the fact that he has published a book and has been to Paris impresses Max. "If Rothenstein had not been there," Max says, "I should have revered Soames." Soames is at work on another book. Max asks what the title will be, and Soames says it will have no title, for he trusts to the content to enchant the public.

Rothenstein objected that absence of title might be bad for the sale of a book. "If," he urged, "I went into a bookseller's and said simply 'Have you got?' or 'Have you a copy of?' how would they know what I wanted?"

When Rothenstein refuses to draw him—it was Enoch's idea that the drawing of himself by Rothenstein should serve as a frontispiece for his book—Max is pained.

"Why were you so determined not to draw him?" I asked.

"Draw him? Him? How can one draw a man who doesn't exist?"

"He is dim," I admitted. But my mot juste fell flat. Rothenstein repeated that Soames was nonexistent.

But Max, in spite of Rothenstein's skepticism, makes you believe in Soames' reality. He makes you believe so strongly in Soames' aspiration to be a famous poet that you are cheering for him to come through. Max keeps seeing Soames. He finds out that he is a Catholic Diabolist. Max reads his second book when it comes out—unadorned by a frontispiece by Rothenstein. It has a title after all—"Fungoids." He quotes several of the poems. One of them rather puzzles him:


Thou art, who hast not been!
Pale tunes irresolute
And traceries of old sounds
Blown from a rotted flute
Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust,
Nor not strange forms and epicene
Lie bleeding in the dust.
Being wounded with wounds.

For this it is
That in thy counterpart
Of age-long mockeries
Thou hest not been nor art!

The poem worries Max. He writes:

There seemed to me a certain inconsistency as between the first and last lines of this. I tried, with bent brows, to resolve the discord. But I did not take my failure as wholly incompatible with a meaning in Soames' mind. Might it not rather indicate the depth of his meaning? As for the craftsmanship, "rouged with rust" seemed to me a fine stroke, and "nor not" instead of "and" had a curious felicity.

How can you not believe in the reality of a writer who is subjected to so fine an analysis by another writer? The story of a man thirsting for immortality is carried out to the end in ruthless fantasy. No other Catholic Diabolist had ever to take such punishment. And Max punishes not only Enoch but another contemporary, Bernard Shaw. After Soames has made his deal with the Devil and been allowed to look himself up in the reading room of the British Museum in 1997—only to find himself referred to as the subject of a satirical essay by Max Beerbohm, and no mention whatever of "Negations" or "Fungoids"—Enoch reports to Max on his astonishing experience. Everybody in the Museum, he says, was dressed as Shaw was—in Jaeger. Names had disappeared; everyone was numbered. And the report in which Enoch read about himself, by the Holbrook Jackson of 1997, T. K. Nupton, was written in phonetic spelling, for which Shaw was even then agitating and to which eventually he was to leave the fortune that he didn't, at that moment, have. This is what poor Soames had to struggle through:

Fr egzarmpl. a riter ov th time, naimd Max Beerbohm, hoo woz stil alive in th twentieth senchri, rote a stauri in wich e pautraid an immajnari karrakter kauld "Enoch Soames"—a thurd-rait poit hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus. . . .

By this time, Max has made you feel so sorry for Enoch that it is really impossible to read further what T. K. Nupton will say about him, even aside from the pain of having to read the sterilized English.

Writing did not, Max told me, come easily to him. He suffered over it. "Writing was always painful," he told Inc. "Whereas drawing I love—it comes easily to me, or did. My hand wanted to draw. Many years ago, I found that my caricatures were becoming likenesses. I seemed to have mislaid my gift for dispraise. Pity crept in. So I gave up caricaturing, except privately." He constantly rewrote, because he could not bear to go on when he felt that what he had already written fell short of his own standard of perfection. "The only things I ever wrote with joy—easily—were '"Savonarola" Brown' and the meeting between Ibsen and Browning in 'The Christmas Garland,'" he told me. "You see, Brown was such a bad writer that I was under no strain. It was easy to write better than Brown." 

As passionately as Enoch Soames wanted to be a poet, Savonarola Brown wanted to be a playwright. Unlike Romeo Coates, who could indulge his obsession to act, because he was rich, Savonarola was poor and had to rely, like most playwrights, on the market place. Max writes that he knew him first when he was at school; his real name was Ladbroke, his unimaginative parents having christened him for the crescent on which they lived. Ladbroke dropped out of school, and Max didn't see him for a great many years, though he was occasionally tortured by the memory of the ragging to which he and his schoolmates had subjected poor Ladbroke on account of his unfortunate Christian name. Max became drama critic for the Saturday Review, and asked for second-night seats instead of first-night ones. He found the audiences at second nights less showy and more earnest. It was in this way that he ran into Brown again, because Brown was a confirmed second-nighter.

In an entr'acte meeting, Brown confided to Max that he was thinking of writing a play about Savonarola. "He had thought of writing a tragedy about Sardanapalus; but the volume of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' in which he was going to look up the main facts about Sardanapalus happened to open at Savonarola." Brown was rather like that woman in Kaufman and Hart's "You Can't Take It with You" who became a writer because a typewriter had been delivered to her house by mistake. For nine years, Brown kept working on the play, and during those nine years Max kept seeking him out on second nights to get progress reports. In this way, Max saw him through four acts. But there was one to come, the final act, and this Max couldn't seem to get out of him. Max was impatient because Brown had refused to let him see the play until it was finished. One night, Max met him and found him rather glum. He had decided he must kill Savonarola in the last act, and he had by that time conceived such an affection for his protagonist that he hated to do it. As they were walking away from the theatre, Max remonstrated with him:

"But in a tragedy," I insisted, "the catastrophe must be led up to, step by step. My dear Brown, the end of the hero must be logical and rational."

"I don't see that," he said, as we crossed Piccadilly Circus. "In actual life it isn't so. What is there to prevent a motor-omnibus from knocking me over and killing me at this moment?"

At that moment, by what has always seemed to me the strangest of coincidences, and just the sort of thing that playwrights ought to avoid, a motor-omnibus knocked Brown over and killed him.

He had, as I afterwards learned, made a will in which he appointed me his literary executor. Thus passed into my hands the unfinished play by whose name he had become known to so many people.

And this is how Max is able to present the four completed acts of "Savonarola" to the reader. The four acts are written in Shakespearean blank verse, some of which just misses being good. The hero Savonarola is supported by a distinguished cast: Dante, St. Francis of Assisi, Lucrezia Borgia, Lorenzo de Medici, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo. Even Pippa, in a stage direction, passes. The drama critic Wolcott Gibbs once told me that after he read this uncompleted tragedy all Shakespearean productions seemed faintly funny to him.

Max knows that the one thing in the world poor Brown wanted was a production. He offers the play to one manager after another:

All have seen great merits in the work; and if I added together all the various merits thus seen I should have no doubt that "Savonarola" was the best play never produced.

Since the managers all say they can't produce an unfinished play, Max feels it his duty, as Brown's literary executor, to supply a fifth act. He writes the scenario of one, which seems to fit magically into Brown's own vein. But it doesn't satisfy Max. Brown had endlessly reiterated to him what he had heard—and what one still hears—from other playwrights; namely, that they don't write the play, it is the characters who write the play. The characters have such reality, so much vitality, that they take over, they dictate, they tell the author what to do. Max decides to wait for dictation from Brown's characters:

I saw that Brown was, in comparison with me, a master. Thinking I might possibly fare better in his method of work than in my own, I threw the skeleton into a cupboard, sat down, and waited to see what Savonarola and those others would do.

They did absolutely nothing. I sat watching them, pen in hand, ready to record their slightest movement. Not a little finger did they raise. Yet I knew they must be alive. Brown had always told me they were quite independent of him. Absurd to suppose that by the accident of his own death they had ceased to breathe. . . . Now and then, overcome with weariness, I dozed at my desk, and whenever I woke I felt that these rigid creatures had been doing all sorts of wonderful things while my eyes were shut. I felt that they disliked me.

In the end, Max throws in the sponge. He announces a competition, open to everyone who wants to try his hand at finishing the play. As a reward, he offers the winner a seat for the second night.

Another failure Max took a deep interest in was an actual, though anonymous, clergyman. From the immense realm of Boswelliana, Max picked out a single sentence, a single puny question put one day by a poor clergyman to Dr. Johnson, and fixed it, in his essay called "A Clergyman," as an eternal symbol of quenched human aspiration. The essay starts:

Fragmentary, pale, momentary; almost nothing; glimpsed and gone; as it were, a faint human hand thrust up, never to reappear, from beneath the rolling waters of Time, he forever haunts my memory and solicits my weak imagination. Nothing is told of him but that once, abruptly, he asked a question, and received an answer.

The two-line drama was played on the afternoon of April 7, 1778, in Mrs. Thrale's house. Johnson was feeling fine; he'd had a ride in a coach, which for him was "the sum of human felicity," and there was a good dinner in prospect, another sum. How the poor little curate got there Max doesn't know; Max thinks that perhaps he was attached to the neighboring church. He should have been content just to be there, but one can forgive him for wanting more, for wanting fame, for wishing to make a debut, however modest, on the great stage of Johnson's attention. Johnson was being asked by Boswell for his opinion of the styles of the various famous preachers of the time, whose deliveries were analyzed in the eighteenth century much as we nowadays compare Olivier with Gielgud, or Lunt with Guinness. Max describes the electrifying fantasy of success that went through the little vicar's mind as he sat there listening to Johnson:

He sits on the edge of a chair in the background. He has colourless eyes, fixed earnestly, and a face almost as pale as the clerical bands beneath his somewhat receding chin. His forehead is high and narrow, his hair mouse-coloured. His hands are clasped tight before him, the knuckles standing out sharply. This constriction does not mean that he is steeling himself to speak. He has no positive intention of speaking. Very much, nevertheless, is he wishing in the back of his mind that he could say something—something whereat the great Doctor would turn on him and say, after a pause for thought, "Why yes, Sir. That is most justly observed" or "Sir, this has never occurred to me. I thank you"—thereby fixing the observer forever high in the esteem of all.

What did happen is almost too cruel:

"We have no sermons addressed to the passions, that are good for anything; if you mean that kind of eloquence [Johnson says, according to Boswell].

"A CLERGYMAN, whose name I do not recollect: Were not Dodd's sermons addressed to the passions?

"JOHNSON: They were nothing, Sir, be they addressed to what they may."

Max continues:

The suddenness of it! Bang!—and the rabbit that had popped from its burrow was no more. . . . In Johnson's massive and magnetic presence only some very remarkable man, such as Mr. Burke, was sharply distinguishable from the rest. Others might, if they had something in them, stand out slightly. This unfortunate clergyman may have had something in him, but I judge that he lacked the gift of seeming as if he had.

That was it. The clergyman was annihilated. He had had no gift of selling himself, and Max's sympathy always went to the great unsold.

Max never pretended to be as interested in success as he was in failure. In fact, it was impossible for him to pretend to feel anything he didn't feel. He could not pretend to admire what he didn't admire, or understand what he didn't understand. He has an essay, "On Speaking French," that describes an awful experience which, perhaps, cured him forever of pretending:

To listen and from time to time murmur "c'est vrai" may seem safe enough; yet there is danger even here. I wish I could forget a certain luncheon in the course of which Mme. Chose (that brilliant woman) leaned suddenly across the table to me, and, with great animation, amidst a general hush, launched at me a particularly swift flight of winged words. With pensively narrowed eyes, I uttered my formula when she ceased. This formula she repeated, in a tone even more pensive than mine. "Mais je ne le connais pas," she then loudly exclaimed. "Je ne connais pas même le nom. Dites-moi de ce jeune homme." She had, as it presently turned out, been asking me which of the younger French novelists was most highly thought of by English critics; so that her surprise at never having heard of the gifted young Sévré was natural enough.

At a time when Yeats was fairly generally revered, Max admitted that he was bothered by the poet's preoccupation with the occult. In a sketch on Yeats, written in 1914, he says that he felt always "rather uncomfortable [with Yeats], as though I had submitted myself to a mesmerist who somehow didn't mesmerize me." Often, he says, Yeats engendered "a mood in a vacuum." When Max first met Yeats, the latter was full of the cult of Diabolism, to the Catholic branch of which Soames was committed. Later, it was spiritualism. In this same essay, Max uttered the blasphemy that the poetry of Tom Moore conveyed more of Ireland to him' than Yeats's did. Max was not ashamed to tell me that Freud, too, was beyond his range. There were already some distinguished visitors in the realm of his admitted incomprehension. In an essay called "Laughter," he had written:

M. Bergson, in his well-known essay on this theme, says . . . well, he says many things; but none of these, though I have just read them, do I dearly remember, nor am I sure that in the act of reading I understood any of them. That is the worst of these fashionable philosophers—or rather, the worst of me. Somehow I never manage to read them till they are just going out of fashion, and even then I don't seem able to cope with them. About twelve years ago, when every one suddenly talked to me about Pragmatism and William James, I found myself moved by a dull but irresistible impulse to try Schopenhauer, of whom, years before that, I had heard that he was the easiest reading in the world, and the most exciting and amusing. I wrestled with Schopenhauer for a day or so, in vain. Time passed; M. Bergson appeared "and for his hour was lord of the ascendant;" I tardily tackled William James. I bore in mind, as I approached him, the testimonials that had been lavished on him by all my friends. Alas, I was insensible to his thrillingness. His gaiety did not make me gay. His crystal clarity confused me dreadfully. I could make nothing of William James. And now, in the fullness of time, I have been floored by M. Bergson.

Max was floored also by some of T. S. Eliot and the "obscure" school of poetry in general. He referred to it as "the woozie-poozie school." He was enchanted by Eliot personally. "He is very modest and most impressive in appearance," he told me, "with the look of a great man, don't you know, but as for some of his poetry I can neither read nor understand it." Max liked various of the Georgian poets—Siegfried Sassoon especially. Of Robert Graves he said to me, as if confiding a personal and probably—considering the trend—an unbelievable idiosyncrasy, "My joy in him is not diminished because he is intelligible." Max preferred Wordsworth 's sonnets to those of Shakespeare. He said that often he had no idea what Shakespeare's sonnets meant, and he felt that many of their passionate admirers had very little idea what they meant, either. Max didn't take any more kindly to some contemporary art. Certain of its manifestations seemed to him departures from sanity. Sir Edward Marsh once wrote to Max on behalf of the Contemporary Art Society "to find out whether there is any chance that you would fall in with a strong desire they have formed (prepare yourself for a shock) to commission Graham Sutherland to paint your portrait—I expect you have heard of his portraits of Willie Maugham and Max Beaverbrook, both of which seem to me masterpieces. . . . I understand that in Continental opinion he now ranks with Henry Moore, who for the first time has put English sculpture on the map of Europe. —Besides which he is a most charming fellow." Max was later to express himself to me about Sutherland's portrait of Maugham. Max said, "Maugham looks in it as if he had died of torture." Having no wish to die that way, Max wrote to Marsh refusing the honor. "My dear Eddie, I, with my pencil, have been in my time a ruthless monstrifier of men," he wrote. "And the bully is, proverbially, always a coward. . . . 'Henry Moore,' you say, 'has put English sculpture on the map of Europe!' This being so, the younger Pitt would not now say 'Roll up that map!' It has been squashed down flat for ever."

But what floored Max more than anything else was the Freudian vocabulary that he kept increasingly hearing and reading. The psychoanalytic argot his younger visitors so glibly dispensed seemed to imply a mastery over the secrets of the mind and the riddles of motive; these people, he thought, were persuaded that vocabulary was an adequate substitute for understanding. "They are so spendthrift, don't you know, with complexes," Max said. "They fling them about." As Max and I were finishing our tea, the conversation got back to psychiatry, and from there we went on to Freudian jargon. "Just the other day," he said, "I was reading a biography of Kipling. Kipling liked to have high hedges around his country house, at Rottingdean. The biographer made a great thing of that. He traced it back to Kipling's fight with Balestier in Vermont; he interpreted the hedge in the light of that, and came to a bursting conclusion that Kipling had a privacy complex. Well, what fastidious man doesn't? I had to put the book down. I could read no more of it. And then, in a biography of Tennyson, I read an extraordinary interpretation of his elegiac poem on his friend Hallam—I forbear to tell you of that! And what do you think of this psychoanalytic interpretation of Henry James's 'The Turn of the Screw'—that the whole thing was a fantasy in the mind of the governess to alleviate some psychic disturbance in her, that it was the projection of some morbid complex within herself? Nonsense! Henry James was simply trying to write a powerful mystery story, that's all."

Miss Jungmann came in. She suggested that Max had been up long enough. "And besides," she said, "I have been invited to dinner! Unless"—she turned to me—"you have changed your mind."

I said I hadn't.

"Do you mind," I asked Max, "if I take Miss Jungmann out to dinner?"

Max reached out his hand to me. He smiled. "Not at all," he said. "I have a giving-away complex!"

(This is the fourth of a series of seven articles.)

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