S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 February 6, 1960: 45-88

The hero of J. D. Salinger's novel "The Catcher in the Rye" judges authors by the simple test of whether he has an impulse, after reading something, to call the author up. It seems to me that all my life I have felt like calling up Max Beerbohm. I first made Max's acquaintance, one might say, in the Public Library on Elm Street, in Worcester, Massachusetts, when I was a boy, and I later deepened it in the Widener Library, at Harvard, so that long before the Maximilian Society was organized by his devotees on his seventieth birthday, in London, I was already a Maximilian. When, as a young man making my first visit to Italy, I looked out the window of my compartment on the Paris-Rome Express and caught a flashing sight of the station sign "RAPALLO" (the Paris-Rome Express does not stop in Rapallo unless you arrange it beforehand), I felt a quick affinity for the place because I knew that Max Beerbohm lived there. I felt like getting off, but the train was going much too fast. On subsequent trips to Rome, I always looked for the flicker of that evocative station sign. That I would one day actually get off at Rapallo for a prearranged meeting with its renowned inhabitant never remotely occurred to me. But life is seething with improbabilities, and so, in the summer of 1952, it came about.

Sir Henry Maximilian Beerbohm, probably because from the beginning he signed his caricatures "Max," was known everywhere by that brief, familiar name, but this does not mean that he was hail-fellow-well-met. Many years ago, I learned from old friends of his that with age he had become more and more reclusive. I didn't know his telephone number, but even if I had known it, and used it, there would have been no likelihood that he would run to answer the phone. He tolerated the instrument, but he didn't coddle it. Moreover, he habitually didn't answer letters. Sir William Rothenstein, one of Max's closest friends, told in his "Men and Memories" how he used to address his letters to Max, so little did he hope for an answer: "Sir Max Beerbohm, The Caves of Silence, Rapallo." Once, one of Max's friends, reproaching him for the intervals in his correspondence, said, "No wonder people think you are dead, Max. No one ever hears from you." "I am not dead, am I?" inquired Max, always on the qui vive for interesting information. This bit of dialogue did nothing to change Max's ways. As long as he could be alive, he was rather pleased to be thought dead. I assumed that Max enjoyed his reputation of exaggerated mortality because it kept visitors away; I was reconciled to the austerity of "respecting Max's privacy," as his friends put it, and to whizzing through Rapallo for the rest of my life. Then, one day, although I had not called Max up, or even written to him, I heard from him. He had liked something I had written, and wrote me a warm letter about it. This letter led to an exchange of letters between us, and to Max's inviting me to visit him. On my next trip to Italy, my railway ticket read, "Paris-Rapallo." It was the first of many visits, and the beginning of a friendship. The first time I called on Max was on the eve of his eightieth birthday, four years before he died. It is uncommon, I believe, to make a new friend at eighty. In fact, even though I was twenty years younger than Max, I was not on the lookout for new friendships myself. Yet somehow the conditions, if not the chronology, were right for a new friendship. During these last years, Max was frail and tended to isolate himself. "I am what the writers of obituary notices call 'an interesting link with the past,'" he had said on one of several B.B.C. broadcasts he made when he was in London during the Second World War. But he had an immense and lively interest in the present, and especially the present in America. And to Max I seemed to arrive bearing reports of the American present. He couldn't hear enough about the New York theatre and the personalities and styles of contemporary American writers and artists. He even wanted to hear about the fantasies of Senate investigations; he confessed to a "macabre" interest in Senator McCarthy. Max was, of course, one of the most amusing talkers who ever lived; he was also, to use one of his own words, one of the most amusable listeners. To my delight, I found that I was able to amuse him. The atmosphere generated by mutual amusability was one that enabled Max to talk freely about everything and everybody; it made conversation easy. Because I would like to set his side of our conversation down, to record it as fully as possible, I shall on occasion quote myself, and for doing that I hope I'll be forgiven. I had the good fortune, late in my own life and later in Max's, to filch this clear friendship from the welter of improvisation and uncontrolled circumstance that engulfs us, and now I wish to recall some of the hours we spent together.

In London, in the summer of 1934, I bought from Sir William Rothenstein a charming pastel he had done of Max at the Villino Chiaro, Max's home in Rapallo. This pastel has hung in my various workrooms ever since. It shows Max, a diaphanous slight figure, leaning over the parapet of the flagged terrace of the Villino and contemplating the Mediterranean. Great vases of mimosa are set in the corners of the terrace; behind Max is the door to the blue-walled study in which he finished writing "Zuleika Dobson" and "Seven Men" and in which he drew innumerable caricatures. I remembered Rothenstein's saying, "Max presumably goes to the terrace to work, but usually he does what I show him doing—just contemplates." The drawing has been, through the years, a comfort, a delicious justification for doing nothing. Strenuous writers with a big output might find it enervating; for me it has been a palliative. It was clever of Rothenstein to make Max's figure diaphanous; that was a way of conveying the impression of incorporeality one always got from Max. I have often reflected as I looked at the relaxed figure leaning over the parapet that Max must occasionally have straightened up, crossed the terrace, and immured himself in that workroom. He must have sat at a desk and exhaled some writing. But the mere possibility of such exertion seems remote in Rothenstein's drawing. It is a study in contemplative—even sensuous—immobility. It conveys the spirit of a man who knows how precious the passing moment is, containing, as it does, an expanse of sea and sun, of mountains in a blue haze, of villas purring at the water's edge—who cherishes too intensely this evanescence, this miracle of sight and sound, to replace it with the vulgar self-assertion of work.

In June of 1952, sitting in my compartment on what I now thought of as the Paris-Rapallo Express, staring out at the calm, innocently blue sea that had drowned Shelley, speeding by the summer resorts that line the coast—the rainbow-colored houses, the almond, lemon, and orange trees—some lines of verse that I had learned in German class at the Classical High School in Worcester came droning through my mind:

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blüh'n,
Im dunkeln Laub die Goldorangen glüh'n,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht.
Kennst du es wohl, kennst du es wohl?
Dahin! dahin möcht' ich mit dir,
O mein Geliebter, zieh'n,
Dahin! dahin mit dir, o mein Geliebter, zieh'n.

We had been made to sing this in Schumann's setting. The teacher told us of the "Drang" toward Italy, with its sun and colors, that had been irresistible to northern Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Had Max also obeyed that Drang when he quit London for this ineffable shore? Suddenly remembering that those lines were by Goethe, I opened my travelling bookcase, took out Max's book of essays "And Even Now," and read again the slyest, perhaps, of all his pieces, and surely one of the most Maxian—"Quiz Imperfectum," which he wrote in 1918. Reading it now, I wondered how my nice teacher in Worcester, who dilated so expansively and minutely on Goethe's greatness, would have responded to Max's insinuation that, however great Goethe was, he was also a bit of a bore. I shuddered.

Max starts by sighing for a museum of unfinished masterpieces:

Mr. Pickwick and the Ancient Mariner are valued friends of ours, but they do not preoccupy us Like Edwin Drood or Kubla Khan. Had that revolving chair at Gad's Hill become empty but a few weeks later than it actually did, or had Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the act of setting down his dream about the Eastern potentate not been interrupted by "a person on business from Porlock" and so lost the thread of the thing for ever, from two what delightful glades for roaming in would our fancy be excluded! The very globe we live on is a far more fascinating sphere than it can have been when men supposed that men like themselves would be on it to the end of time It is only since we heard what Darwin had to say, only since we have had to accept as improvisible what lies far ahead, that the Book of Life has taken so strong a hold on us and "once taken up, cannot" as the reviewers say, "readily be laid down." The work doesn't strike us as a masterpiece yet, certainly; but who knows that it isn't—that it won't be, judged as a whole?

Among the uncompleted masterpieces Max wants in his museum—where "the public shall throng to steep itself in the splendour of possibilities"—are Penelope's web, the "half-done marvel of the Night and Morning" of Michelangelo, the original designs for the Tower of Babel, the draft made by Mr. Asquith for a reformed House of Lords, and the notes jotted down by the sometime German Emperor for a proclamation from Versailles to the citizens of Paris. He thirsts for the score of an early unfinished Beethoven symphony and for the manuscript of Racine's fragmentary "Iphigénie." The unfinished score is his favorite Beethoven symphony, in preference to the completed nine, and his longing for the partial canvas of Whistler's "Miss Connie Gilchrist" would he unbearable were it not for the existence of an incomplete masterpiece that makes him forget any others. This is an unfinished portrait of Goethe by a painter named Wilhelm Tischbein, who was Goethe's cicerone when the latter made his famous and highly documented tour of Italy. Max dotes on Tischbein. He dotes on him particularly in relation to Goethe. Where life throws the lion and the mouse together, Max's heart is invariably captured by the mouse, and in this case Tischbein is the mouse. Max takes you into his confidence about Tischbein:

Wilhelm Tischbein is hardly a name to conjure with, though in his day, as a practitioner in the "historical" style, and as a rapturous resident in Rome, Tischbein did great things; big things, at any rate. He did crowds of heroes in helmets looked down at by gods on clouds; he did centaurs leaping ravines; Sabine women; sieges of Troy. And he did this portrait of Goethe. At least he began it. Why didn't he finish it? That is a problem as to which one can but hazard guesses, reading between the lines of Goethe's letters. The great point is that it never was finished. . . . Goethe has more than once been described as "the perfect man." He was assuredly a personage on the great scale, in the grand manner, gloriously balanced, rounded. . . . Endearing though failure always is, we grudge no man a moderately successful career, and glory itself we will wink at if it befall some thoroughly good fellow. . . . Of Goethe we are shy for such reasons as that he was never injudicious, never lazy, always in his best form—and always in love with some lady or another just so much as was good for the development of his soul and his art, but never more than that by a tittle. . . . Yet, in the course of that pageant, his career, there did happen just one humiliation—one thing that needed to be hushed up. There Tischbein's defalcation was; a chip in the marble, a flaw in the crystal, just one thread loose in the great grand tapestry.

Max, reading between the lines of Goethe's letters, goes on to develop the theory that what happened between Tischbein and Goethe was a comedy, which began with Tischbein's proposal that Goethe pose for a heroic portrait sitting on a fallen obelisk while draped in a white mantle, and ended with Tischbein's abandoning Goethe, the obelisk, and the portrait in order to pursue the young and pretty Emma Hart. Miss Hart then lived in Naples and managed the household of the English Ambassador, Sir William Hamilton. She also managed to be more attractive to Tischbein than Goethe was. Tischbein began to play a tantalizing game with Goethe, which is exactly what Miss Hart was doing with Tischbein. At one point, Tischbein returned to Rome to go on with Goethe's portrait. Goethe, happy, resumed his seat on the obelisk. He was very comfortable on it when Tischbein skipped out on him again to go back to Naples and to Miss Hart. The incident knocked Goethe out. It knocks Max out also:

Incredible! We stare aghast, as in the presence of some great dignitary from behind whom, by a ribald hand, a chair is withdrawn when he is in the act of sitting down. Tischbein had, as it were, withdrawn the obelisk.

I sat, with the book in my lap, watching the flying Zitronen blüh'n. Thinking of Goethe, Tischbein, Beerbohm, and posterity, I began to feel faintly apprehensive. Was I intruding on Max's privacy? Was I an intruder from posterity? As the phrase "intruder from posterity" occurred in my mind, quotation marks formed around it. Where had I read it? It tantalized me, but only for a moment. I picked up "And Even Now" again, and turned to the essay "No. 2. The Pines," where I quickly found it. That's what Max felt himself to be when, in 1899, he made his first visit to Swinburne, in Putney. Max's description of his own tribulation before ringing Swinburne's doorbell rather bucked me up. He had sent a little book of his to a friend of Swinburne's, and had got an invitation to come to lunch. When Max received the invitation, he felt as if he had been asked to meet Catullus.

On the day appointed "I came as one whose feet half linger." It is but a few steps from the railway-station in Putney High Street to No. 2. The Pines. I had expected a greater distance to the sanctuary—a walk in which to compose my mind and prepare myself for initiation. I laid my hand irresolutely against the gate of the bleak trim front-garden, I withdrew my hand, I went away. Out here were all the aspects of common modern life. In there was Swinburne. A butcher-boy went by, whistling. He was not going to see Swinburne. He could afford to whistle. I pursued my dilatory course up the slope of Putney, but at length it occurred to me that unpunctuality would after all be an imperfect expression of reverence, and I retraced my footsteps.

No. 2—prosaic inscription! But as that front-door closed behind me I had the instant sense of having slipped away from the harsh light of the ordinary and contemporary into the dimness of an odd, august past. Here, in this dark hall, the past was the present. Here loomed vivid and vital on the walls those women of Rossetti whom I had known but as shades. Familiar to me in small reproductions by photogravure, here they themselves were, life-sized, "with curled-up lips and amorous hair" done in the original warm crayon, all of them intently looking down on me while I took off my overcoat—all wondering who was this intruder from posterity.

The train slowed down at Rapallo just as Max was taking off his overcoat in Swinburne's front hall. It was a considerable relief to realize that Max had been as edgy when about to meet Swinburne as I was when about to meet Max. Intruder or not, I got off the train and asked a taximan to drive me to the Excelsior Hotel.

At the Excelsior, I quickly tried to establish myself with Signor Turco, the concierge. I had travelled enough in Europe to know how important it is to get on the right side of the concierge. Signor Turco is an impressive figure. Tall and solid, yet agile, he has the easy authority of a man who knows he is master of all the intricacies of his trade. Turco, I found out later, is the president of the Italian Society of the Golden Keys. The Golden Key is the conciergish symbol. Turco lives on his presidential eminence comfortably and with humor; I eventually got to calling him Il Presidente. As a short cut to ingratiation, I let him know casually that I was in Rapallo to see Max Beerbohm. Turco has an expressive face, with lively dark eyes, but it expressed nothing when I made this portentous announcement. It developed that he had never heard of Max. This ignorance seemed to me astonishing, considering that Max had moved to Rapallo in 1910 and had, except when he returned to England during the wars, been living there ever since. The year before, I had travelled by car from Venice to the French Riviera to visit Somerset Maugham. When the French customs man at the frontier asked my destination and the purpose of my visit, and I told him, he at once gestured to a colleague who was examining my luggage to close the bags. That was that! I reflected on the curious paradox that although Max had been well known in the Elm Street Public Library in Worcester in 1910, he was not known by the concierge of the leading hotel in his adopted town in 1952. If Max had transplanted himself to Rapallo to achieve privacy, he had certainly achieved it.

My room had a balcony, and I stepped out to look at the town, the bay, and the surrounding mountains. I saw the same view that Max was staring at in Rothenstein's pastel in my workroom in New York. I took out Max's letter and read it again. It was written in pencil, in the calligraphy with which I had long been familiar, from the legends that accompany his caricatures. This letter and the ones I received from him subsequently take a curious and invariable form; the paragraphs balloon outward on the left-hand side, the first line short, the second a little longer, and the widest line at dead center; then the lines begin to draw in again, so that the left side of each paragraph makes a perfect crescent. The letter was written, on the stationery of the Villino Chiaro, from a Catholic hospice that took paying guests and that he was temporarily living in, on Montallegro, outside Rapallo, and it concluded as follows:

I am in weak health, and the air down in Rapallo has been stifling, and I am therefore on this higher and more salubrious level—which is reachable by motorcar or (in 6 minutes or so) by a funicular railway. I am looked after with very great care and kindness by Miss Elizabeth Jungmann, of whom you will have heard. I am already better for having come from the above address to the far abover one where I am now.

Will you please telephone to her saying when you could come to luncheon or to dinner?

I telephoned to Montallegro and asked for Miss Jungmann, who had been Max's secretary since Max's wife, Florence, died, the year before. She was most gracious, and said that Max would be very happy if I could come to lunch the next day. She gave me instructions on how to get there, and we exchanged forward-looking courtesies. In Paris, on the day I left, I had had lunch with an old friend of mine from Hollywood, a cultivated film scenarist and humorist. When I told him where I was going, he asked me to convey his thanks to Max, because he, Max, had paid for my friend's education, in Philadelphia. I inquired how this long-range philanthropy had come about, and he told me. There was a rich Philadelphia bibliophile who was very eager to obtain the original manuscript of "Zuleika Dobson." Knowing that my friend, then a college student, was more literate than he was, and wishing to give the young man a business opportunity, the collector asked him to become the intermediary between himself and Max. My friend wrote to Max to ask whether this manuscript was for sale and how much. Max wrote a polite letter—decorated with a few pencil drawings—telling him that he had no idea what to ask and suggesting that his London publisher might know. The patron bought this letter on the spot. My friend saw a new way of life looming; he kept writing to Max and getting short but decorated replies. He did not take up Max's suggestion about writing to his London publisher, because he feared that this might terminate the negotiations. The bibliophile never got the manuscript of "Zuleika," but he did acquire all of Max's adorned letters, and my friend was able to complete his education. I wondered whether Max might enjoy hearing the story.

Turco arranged for a taxi-driver named Charlie to be assigned to me during my stay in Rapallo, knowing that I spoke scarcely a word of Italian and that Charlie did speak a kind of English. Charlie, a chunky little man with bright-red cheeks, had once worked in Pittsburgh and now had two married daughters living in the Bronx. The trip by car to the hospice is breathtakingly perilous. Montallegro seemed to me, as we were climbing it, to be the highest mountain in the world. We made it through a terrific thunderstorm that shut out everything but the very edges of the abysses we skirted; they seemed bottomless, and the mountain itself topless. We finally got there, however, and on time. The hospice—a modest two-story stucco house fronted by a yard—looked forlorn. I made my way across the yard, choosing the lesser puddles, and pushed the door open. In the lobby were some busy nuns and some cooped-up children of guests. I made my presence known. At the same moment, a tall woman came up and introduced herself as Miss Jungmann. She apologized for the weather. She was stricken that the view she had intended to show me of the valley below, which, she assured me, was "like a valley in the Bible," should have been made invisible by the awful torrent. I told her that I could easily dispense with it, that the view I had come for was of Max. At this, as if in reward for my having said something that pleased her, she offered me a Cinzano and led me to a sofa beneath one of the streaming windows. "Darling Max," she said. "He hasn't been at all well. He'll be down in a few minutes. He is so looking forward to seeing you. We hardly ever sec anyone these days, you know."

The Cinzanos arrived, and as we sipped them I got a chance to observe Miss Jungmann. In her middle fifties, she was not only tall but very strong-looking, with clearly defined features, fine blue-gray eyes, and thick brown hair slightly touched with gray. Miss Jungmann told me that, without Max's knowledge, she was making certain changes in the interior of the Villino for his convenience, and she wished these changes to be completed before she brought him back. "Max hates changes," she said. "Any changes. But I know that he will be more comfortable after he gets used to them, and then he will forget that they are changes. Poor Max, he doesn't know anything about practical matters at all; he's never so much as had a lira in his hand. Nor does he speak Italian. I had a job in the Foreign Office in London, but I gave it up in a minute—there was never any question in my mind—when I felt that Max needed me. It is wonderful to be able to do things for him."

I said I could understand that.

"The trouble is, you see, that the heat in Rapallo in the summer is unbearable, and in the winter it is so cold. The heating in the Villino is inadequate. I have thought of putting in a new heating system, but that would be so very expensive. We can't afford it."

I suggested electric heaters.

"I've thought of that," said Miss Jungmann, "but the current is too weak. The town doesn't do much about supplying current."

We seemed to have reached an impasse on the heating problem in Rapallo in the winter.

Miss Jungmann said, "Max told me how distressed he was that you should be coming on such a day as this. And he is worried about the lunch, because"—her voice dropped, so that no passing nun would hear—"the food here isn't very good."

I said that the lunch didn't matter at all, that I would be perfectly content just to listen to Max.

"Max," Miss Jungmann responded quickly, "says that he doesn't like listeners who never talk and talkers who never listen."

This came out with such precision that I knew it was a direct quote. My heart sank. I had been prepared just to listen. Miss Jungmann's remark had the effect of a red flag, waved warningly on the very edge of the declivity of boredom down which, at any cost, I must not let Max slide.

I gradually discovered Miss Jungmann's story. She had been for many years the secretary of the German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann. Hauptmann lived en prince; he had three homes—one in Germany, one on an island in the Baltic, and one, rented, in Rapallo. "Hauptmann loved Rapallo," Miss Jungmann said. "Rothenstein, on a visit here, introduced Max to Hauptmann. That is how I met Max. We used to have such good times. But then the war came and it all ended. I got a job with the British Foreign Office."

I remarked on how lucky it was for Max that he had her to look after him, and inquired how it had come about.

Miss Jungmann laughed. "Oh, Max! I always adored him when Hauptmann was alive. Hauptmann adored him, too. Max used to call me Diana. . . ." Her voice trailed off for a moment, in memories of the happy past. "Well, you know, Florence became very ill. She was ill for a long time. Everybody said, 'What will become of Max when Florence dies?' I made up my mind. I dropped everything. I came to the Villino. There Max was, sitting before the little fireplace in the Villino—you'll see it when you visit us there. I said to Max, 'Max, if anything happens, you have only to call me and, wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I'll come the moment I hear from you—the moment.' He said, 'Oh, Elizabeth, that's awfully nice of you, it's most tremendously kind of you.' Then I went back to London. When Florence was dying, and the time came for me to return to the Villino, I found Max sitting where I had left him sitting. There were tears in his eyes. Three hours later, Florence died. I have never left Max since that day.”

Miss Jungmann jumped up. "But here he is. Darling Max!"

I stood up also. Walking down the stairs, slowly, was a frail, elegant little figure. One hand slid along the balustrade; the other carried a cane. It was hot and close in the room—a bit steamy from the downpour and one felt like taking one's jacket off, but Max was dressed à quatre épingles, in the style of 1910. He wore a double-breasted suit of gray flannel with a primrose sheen, and a low-cut vest that had wide, soft lapels. On his head was a stiff straw hat set at a rakish angle. His costume suggested that he was going for a promenade on a fashionable boulevard in Nice; it defied the facts of his present environment—an isolated house on a mountaintop in a driving rain. Also, he was wearing neat, well-fitting patent-leather pumps and white socks, and these contradicted any ambulatory ambitions his suit may have had. Miss Jungmann and I walked to the foot of the stairs, waiting for him. Since Max, concentrated on his descent, did not look at us until he reached the floor, I was able to observe him. He looked as I had imagined he would look; his looks were just right for him. There was no frailty in his face. His skin was pinkish and clear; it did not have at all the parchmenty look that the skins of old men often have, as if held in place by a fixative. His mustache was white and trim, his forehead serene. But what struck me was his eyes. I knew those eyes. I had seen those eyes. Where? Whose? Then I remembered. Some years before, 1 had seen a colored photograph of Max as a child of six or seven—Max Minimus. I had been struck, in the photograph, also, by the eyes—blue, candid, inquiring, slightly protuberant, innocent. They were the same eyes; it was the same look.

Max smiled at me when he reached the bottom step. We exchanged greetings. Max's voice also was what I had expected—beautifully modulated, soft yet edged, and with a vibration of exquisite courtesy. His diction was lapidary. He made one aware of how beautiful spoken English can sound. Max put his hat and cane on a chair, and we went into the dining room, a bleak refectory. Miss Jungmann talked about the weather; Max suggested that perhaps there was nothing to be said about it that wasn't readily observable. A waitress came up and consulted Miss Jungmann about the order, in Italian, which Miss Jungmann spoke perfectly. Max, with an experienced look at me, said that this ceremony occurred twice daily—at lunch and at dinner—and that while there was an illusion of choice, actually there was very little choice. "The food, I am afraid, is inevitable," he said.

Remembering Miss Jungmann's briefing—that Max liked listeners who talked—I jumped in. Before I left New York, having found Max's books unobtainable except in libraries, I discussed with a friend the possibility of getting all of Max's works together in a Modern Library Giant. I now told Max about this project. I explained to him that there were Giant Faulkners, Giant Hemingways, and so on.

"How would you like to be a Giant, Sir Max?" I asked.

"I should have to get an entirely new wardrobe," he said regretfully, with the air of a man who already had all the clothes he wanted. "Many people have tried to make a success of me," he added, by way of apology for having doused a well-meant effort. "It cannot be done. Lord Northcliffe was one of those who tried. He failed."

I inquired about the details of this, and learned that Lord Northcliffe had believed in Max, and had sent him to Italy, in 1906, to write pieces for the Daily Mail, and that Max had gone and done them, and Northcliffe had printed them, but they were no good. Max hadn't liked them and, of the ten he wrote, had printed only parts of two of them in a book. But at least he had discovered Italy, and had determined on that visit to come one day and live there.

The talk veered to writing and publishing and making a living by writing. I decided to tell him the story of my friend the scenarist. Max became very animated. "Would you like to see a publisher's statement?" he asked, and turned to Miss Jungmann. "Elizabeth! Do get that publisher's statement that came from Knopf."

Miss Jungmann rose and left the table.

"Mr. Knopf has had the intrepidity to reissue a book of my essays called 'Yet Again,' " Max said.

I said that I had just been reading his later book of essays, "And Even Now," on the train. I ventured into a story about Goethe that had been told me by Franz Werfel. The greatest of the German annotators of Goethe had annotated a new edition of Goethe's autobiography. After Goethe's confession "With her, for the first time in my life, I really fell in love!," the scholarly editor had put an asterisk that drew you to an authoritative footnote: "Here Goethe was in error." Max chuckled. Whenever he chuckled, his narrow shoulders shook with mirth. He took time off to laugh; he devoted himself to it. And his eyes held you while he laughed.

"Thackeray, you know, said that an audience he had with Goethe was like a visit to the dentist," Max said. "'If Goethe is a god,' he said, 'I'm sure I'd rather go to the other place.'"

Miss Jungmann returned with the publisher's statement. Obviously, Max couldn't wait to show it to me. "There's a publisher's statement!" he carolled as he handed it to me. His soft but penetrating voice conveyed the jubilance of an author whose book has just been accepted by the Book-of-the-Month Club. Prepared for astronomical figures, I stared at the statement. On the right-hand side was an unbroken column of zeros. "Not one copy!" crowed Max in triumph. "NOT ONE!" It was an understandable paean from a man who cherishes privacy.

As Giantism didn't appeal to Max, I tried another tack. I spoke to him about an undertaking in which a friend of mine, Wolcott Gibbs, had been for some time passionately engaged the preparation of a stage version of Max's novel about Oxford, "Zuleika Dobson." As Max knew, I said, Gibbs was a devotee of his writing, and was also, as Max himself had been, a well-known drama critic. With all the kindness in the world, Max was bearish about this undertaking, too. He was aware of it, he said, but he was not optimistic about it. He felt, he said, a bond of sympathy with a fellow drama critic, and he asked me to advise Gibbs that the attempt to dramatize "Zuleika" was bound to be a failure. "One of my books, 'The Happy Hypocrite,' I dramatized," he said "It was produced by Mrs. Patrick Campbell, as a curtain-raiser. My friend William Archer turned traitor"—Max smiled at me—"and condemned it in the London World. He condemned it in two columns; the critique was longer than the poor piece itself, don't you know. To amuse him, and to avenge my ruffled feelings, I did a caricature of him, which I sent him." I was familiar with this caricature. It is called "Breaking a Butterfly," and shows Archer, a blindfolded entomologist, pushing a wheel and aimlessly waving a butterfly net to capture a butterfly that has flown far behind him. The legend reads, "My dear W.A. Breaking a butterfly on a wheel is all very well, but you must 'first catch your' butterfly! Yours ever, Max."

"Well, as a curtain-raiser 'The Happy Hypocrite' did fairly well," Max went on, "but years later Ivor Novello, satiated with success, determined to play Lord George Hell, the hero-villain of 'The Happy Hypocrite.' Clemence Dane made a full evening's version of it. Novello received great praise, but he had to be content with that. The financial report of Novello's earnings"—Max leaned forward, somewhat excited, as if financial statements were the medium in which he flourished—"read something like this: '1928, profit, thirty-five thousand pounds: 1930, fifty thousand pounds; 1934, sixty-five thousand pounds.'" He paused to let this formidable figure sink in. "And then—'The Happy Hypocrite.' The unfamiliar spectre—loss. Forty-three pounds eleven shillings"—his voice dropped to an awed and reverential whisper—"and tuppence." Max leaned back, elated at having worked up to this superb climax.

After lunch, Max and Miss Jungmann and I sat in the rather bleak lobby of the hospice. I referred to a letter Max had written to Bohun Lynch, who subsequently included it in a biography he wrote called "Max Beerbohm in Perspective." Probably no subject has ever written more discouragingly to a prospective biographer. The letter is dated Villino Chiaro, Rapallo, June 18, 1921, and begins:


The sky is very blue here this morning, as indeed it usually is, and your letter came like a bolt from it. After I had read the first 2 or 3 lines I instinctively sat down, somewhat blasted. I then read the whole letter manfully. And now I take up my pen. But I don't (it is a sign of the condition to which you've reduced me) know what to do with it. I don't quite know what to write. You are a much younger man than I am, and I think you might have waited for my demise—instead of merely hastening it. Had you said you thought of writing a little book about me, I should have said simply "Don't!" But as you give me to understand that you intend to write a little book about me and have already been excogitating it, what shall I say? I know, at any rate, what I shan't say. I shan't say "Do!"

I shan't offer you the slightest assistance—except of the purely negative and cautionary kind that now occurs to me. I won't supply you with any photograph of myself at any age, nor with any scrap of corrected MS. . nor with any caricature of myself for a frontispiece (you yourself have done several brilliant caricatures of me, and I commend these to your notice), nor with any of the things you seem to think might be of interest. You must forage around for yourself. I won't even try to prevent you from using anything you may find. I eschew all responsibility whatsoever. I disclaim the horrid privilege of seeing proof-sheets. I won't read a single word till your book is published. Even if modesty didn't prevent me, worldly wisdom would. I remember several books about men who, not yet dead, had blandly aided and abetted the author; and I remember what awful asses those men seemed to me thereby to have made of themselves. Two of them were rather great men. They could afford to make awful asses of themselves. I, who am 100 miles away from being great, cannot afford such luxuries. My gifts are small. I've used them very well and discreetly, never straining them; and the result is that I've made a charming little reputation. But that reputation is a frail plant. Don't over-attend to it, gardener Lynch! Don't drench and deluge it! The contents of a quite small watering-can will be quite enough. This I take to be superfluous counsel. I find much reassurance and comfort in your phrase, "a little book." Oh, keep it little!—in due proportion to its theme. Avoid such phrases as "It was at or about this time that the young Beerbohm" etc. My life (though to me it has been, and is, extremely interesting) is without a single point of general interest. Address yourself to my writings and drawings. And surtout pas de zèle, even here! Be judicial. Make those reservations without which praise carries no weight. Don't, by dithyrambs, hasten the reaction of critics against me. . . .

I suppose that it was because I wanted to get Max talking about Shaw that I adverted particularly to a later passage in this letter, in which he referred to the slogan that Shaw had attached to him and that tagged him all his life—"the incomparable Max." When, in 1898, Shaw gave up his job as drama critic of the Saturday Review, in London, he was asked by the deputy editor John F. Runciman to endorse the appointment of Max as his successor. In his valedictory article, Shaw wrote, "The younger generation is knocking at the door; and as I open it there steps spritely in the incomparable Max." I told Max that recently an American humorist had written of him as "the comparable Max." He was delighted. "Just what I told Lynch to do," he said. "To compare me."

The passage reads:

Years ago, G.B.S., in a light-hearted moment, called me "the incomparable." Note that I am not incomparable. Compare me. Compare me as essayist (for instance) with other essayists. Point out how much less human I am than Lamb, how much less intellectual than Hazlitt, and what an ignoramus beside Belloc; and how Chesterton's high spirits and abundance shame me; how unbalanced G. S. Street must think me, and how coarse too; and how much lighter E. V. Lucas' touch is than mine; and so on, and so forth. Apply the comparative method to me also as caricaturist. . . .

I was not inclined to do any of the things Max had asked Lynch to do, but I did venture to remind him that at least one of his standards of comparison was completely unknown except for the place he had among the writers Max parodies in his book "A Christmas Garland!" G. S. Street, I suggested, had the kind of immortality achieved by the imaginary Enoch Soames (one of the title characters in Max's "Seven Men"), who was to be discovered by readers in the British Museum at the end of the twentieth century under the card-catalogue entry "Beerbohm, Max." I then referred to another letter of Max's, which I had seen in a Festschrift volume on Shaw's ninetieth birthday. It was written to Stephen Winsten, the editor of the book, and reveals a distinct ambivalence in Max's feeling for his old friend and laudator:


I like your idea very much. "I suppose that the world itself could not contain all the books" that have been written about G.B.S., and I think it is high time that a book should be written to him. I wish I could be among the writers of it. But I think that no great man at the moment of his reaching the age of ninety should be offered anything but praise. And very fond though I am of G.B.S. and immensely kind though he has always been to me, my admiration for his genius has during fifty years and more been marred for me by dissent from almost any view that he holds about anything. I remember that in an interview published in Frank Harris's "Candid Friend" G.B.S., having commented on the adverse criticisms by his old friends Archer and [Arthur Bingham] Walkley, said, "And Max's blessings are all of them thinly disguised curses." I remember also a published confession of my own that I was always distracted between two emotions about him, (1) a wish that he had never been born, (2) a hope that he would never die. The first of those two wishes I retract. To the second one I warmly adhere. Certainly he will live forever in the consciousness of future ages. If in one of those ages I happen to be reincarnate I shall write a reasoned estimate of some aspect of him and of his work. But now I merely send him my love.

Yours sincerely,

I asked Max whether it was true, as someone had remarked, that although Shaw hadn't an enemy in the world, none of his friends liked him.

"Well, he had a powerful brain, don't you know, but he was a cold man," Max said. "It's true I never had anything but kindness from him. Though I had written, in the Saturday, several sharply critical articles about him, it was Shaw who, in the absence of Frank Harris—Harris was on holiday, or whatever, in Athens—approved Runciman's slipping me in, rather, to the post of drama critic. Shaw was not vindictive. There was no element of vindictiveness in him. This is an admirable quality. In his case, it may have emanated, don't you know, from his absolute conviction—a conviction so manifest that it did not require assertion—that there was no one living who was worthy of his animosity. He was—" Max paused on the brink of an epithet, then decided to take the plunge. "He was a coarse man. I remember his inviting me to lunch in his flat at Adelphi Terrace to meet Mark Twain. Barrie was there, three or four others. At the end of a very agreeable lunch, Shaw jumped up, said he had an appointment with his dentist, and rushed off, leaving us alone with his guest. It was somewhat embarrassing, don't you know. Might he not have told us in advance that he had an engagement, so that we should be prepared? In his plays, I really enjoy only his stage directions; the dialogue is vortical and, I find, fatiguing. It is like being harangued; it is like being a member of one of those crowds he used to exhort on street corners. He uses the English language like a truncheon. It is an instrument of attack, don't you know. No light and shade, no poetry. His best work, I think, appears in his books of drama and music criticism and his stage directions. When I was living with my mother and sisters in London—I had just come down from Oxford—Shaw made an immense journey by bicycle to see me, because he had heard that I had done some caricatures. He came to be caricatured. I had indeed done some caricatures, I was beginning to achieve a little reputation as a caricaturist, but I hadn't really, at that time, done anything very good, you know. Still, Shaw would rather have had a presentment by anybody, no matter how incompetent, no matter how malicious, than no presentment at all. One day, I visited Mme. Tussaud's, in preparation for an essay I was writing on that gruesome establishment. To my astonishment, I was confronted by the waxen effigy of G.B.S. A few days later, I dined with him and twitted him about it. He rather flushed with embarrassment, don't you know, but he said that Mme. Tussaud had wished to add him to her chamber of horrors and that he felt that it would be snobbish to refuse. Considering that it was the proudest day of his life, I think his account of it was rather touching, don't you? Shaw was not, in those early days, very attractive—dead white, and his face was pitted by some disease. The back of his neck was especially bleak—very long, untenanted, dead white. His hair was like seaweed. In those days, you were lucky not to see G.B.S. from the back. But in later years, with that wonderful white beard, he became very handsome and impressive-looking. In a day when everybody carried a walking stick, I used to see him, in Hampstead, strolling without a walking stick, just to be conspicuous. Instead, he was eternally accompanied by female Fabians in jibbahs and amber beads. They were always cinctured with great ropes of amber beads. When he died, he stipulated that his ashes be sprinkled among the roses in the garden at Ayot." Max leaned forward, in distress. "Imagine! Among the roses!" It took Max a moment to get over this affront to the roses, and then he went on, as if in explanation, "G.B.S. had no sense of beauty. That is why he couldn't appreciate Henry Irving. One night at dinner at Sir Philip Sassoon's, I found myself sitting next to Mrs. Shaw. G.B.S. was a safe distance down the table, don't you know, and I ventured to say this to her. After spraying G.B.S. with every variety of praise, I murmured, 'But you know, Charlotte, G.B.S. has no aesthetic sense. He is not an artist.' She leapt at this! She said that she was always telling G.B.S. that. She said that what he really was was a reformer."

Miss Jungmann was alert to Max's distress. "Shall we show our visitor the Henderson?" she suggested, clearly feeling that this would be a restorative. She was right.

Max chuckled. He looked at me tentatively. "If you think it might amuse him—?"

I expressed an instant desire to see the Henderson. Miss Jungmann left us to fetch it.

Max leaned forward again, reanimated, as gleeful as if he had another perfect publisher's statement to show me. "I did it for William Archer. I thought it might amuse him. I believe that, off and on, I worked on it for a year, don't you know. And then, when Archer came to stay with me just before he left for America to produce his play 'The Green Goddess,' I gave it to him as a going-away present. I never thought I should see it again, but Archer was such a considerate man; when he died, he stipulated in his will that it should he returned to me. Did you know that Archer, who always wished to demonstrate that, though a drama critic, he could write a play, had one night of triumph when he felt that he had achieved a beautiful play? He told me this himself. One night, between sleeping and waking, it seemed to him that he had evolved a perfect plot, saw the whole thing from beginning to end. He saw that it only remained to write it—like that!" Max snapped his fingers. "Then he fell into a blissful sleep. When he wakened, he went over the whole plot again in his mind. He had a disillusioning, a frightful revelation. What he had dreamt was 'A Doll's House.' But some time later he had a luckier dream. He dreamt 'The Green Goddess,' and that was a great success, you know. It made things easy for Archer for the rest of his life, and his friends were all delighted. He made a great deal of dreams; I believe he was writing a book about them when he died. He was a great follower of Freud. . . ." Max passed his hand over his forehead, as if in bewilderment at the eccentricity of a beloved friend who had indulged in a pastime in which he himself couldn't see the fun. "But here is Elizabeth with the book. I do hope it won't bore you. It amused Archer, and it was so agreeable to amuse him—he was so responsive, don't you know."

Max rose and we went to a long table in the back of the lobby to examine the book. It was an early edition of Professor Archibald Henderson's worshipful "George Bernard Shaw, His Life and Works." On the first page, over the title, in Max's own tiny handwriting, is written, "For W.A. with affectionate regards from Max, Rapallo, June 1920." Below the title, in a forged and entirely different handwriting, large and splashy, is an additional dedication: "And from me too—Archibald Henderson [a great extrovert curlicue in ink], North Carolina." The book has more than twenty-five full-page illustrations. Following some random impulse, this later Henderson—the one Max creates in the dedication—has redrawn every illustration in the book, often adding color, and has written elaborate notes on the reincarnations. The redrawings transmute the subjects violently—not only Shaw but Granville Barker, Sidney Webb, William Archer, William Morris, and even a London street crowd that Shaw is addressing—from the sobersides they were in the original edition into a motley of somewhat macabre grotesques, and they have had an extraordinary effect on the later Henderson's prose style also. Facing page 116, for example, is a full-page photograph of Shaw as the Socialist, and the change in the Socialist's appearance is startling, even diabolical. He coruscates with lurid color: his teeth are incandescent; his green billycock hat sports a feather; below his chin are a vast dotted ascot, a pear-shaped pearl; and his eyes gleam like Dracula's. No wonder the later Henderson abandoned sober academic prose for another style altogether, in a note surrounding the photograph:


When Shaw rummaged out this coloured photograph and handed it over to me, I suggested that it should not be reproduced in the book. Shaw was adamant. He insisted that nothing in his career should not be known. Let it be frankly said then that there came a time when again Shaw's Puritanism was latent. In the Spring of '91 Eleanor Marx had given to him, as a token of esteem, a green billicock hat which had belonged to her father in his bourgeois days. "It went," says Shaw, "to my head." He feverishly applied himself to the task of dressing "up to" it. Having succeeded in doing this, he offered himself as a candidate for admission to the Marlborough House Set, but, owing to the influence of Baron Hirsch (who could not, or would not, forget that the hat had belonged to Karl Marx), he was rejected. In deep bitterness of spirit he fell back on the Tivoli Bar, where he perceptibly coarsened. This was a very sad time for all Shaw's friends. In vain did the Sidney Webbs tempt him with the most exquisitely cooked statistics. Vainly did John Burns square up to him and threaten to break every bone in his body. To no purpose did that sterling fellow, J. M. Robertson, offer to take him along on an Atheistical Mission Tour among the Fiji Islanders. Shaw adhered to the T.B. (as he affectionately called it): at length, on the advice of Wm. Morris, recourse was had to that expert in salvage, Theodore Watts [-Dunton]. Where others had failed, this remarkable man succeeded. Shaw, without knowing just how it happened, awoke one morning to find himself an inmate of The Pines, Putney. He says that he was kept there for several months, but his friends assure me that he was there only for several days. Whatever the period of his detention, he went back into the world a wiser and a water-drinking man. But the strange contrariety of his nature had not been wholly in abeyance even at The Pines. It was there that he contracted that prejudice against the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists which gave such lasting pungency to his articles in The Saturday, Review. A. H.

Max laughed when I told him that I found the later Henderson more readable than the earlier one, that, indeed, I had not at all suspected Henderson of having in him a vein so tangential and a literary visage so deadpan—an Americanism that I had to explain to Max. Miss Jungmann, too, laughed as she turned the pages, and Max and I bent over the book.

A caricature of Shaw by Max is reproduced in the Henderson book. Max's caption reads, "Magnetic, he has the power to infect almost everyone with the delight that he takes in himself." The caricature shows Shaw in slippers standing with his legs crossed. In the margin, the later Henderson devotes himself to an archeological comment on Max's caricature:


A certain license is allowed to comic draughtsmen. But they must be careful not to overstep it. Shaw readily yielded to my request that I should, to prevent Posterity from a grave error, take a plaster-cast of each of his feet. I did so. It was a labour of love. Models were made, at Shaw's own suggestion and expense, in bronze, and have a place of honour in the museum of the University of North Carolina, but are so small that visitors often overlook them. Shaw's feet are the envy of all Chinese ladies. One can hardly call them feet. They are tootsica. A. H.

Considering that the photograph of Shaw at the age of twenty-three, taken in Dublin in 1879, now makes him look distinctly foppish—he has carefully frizzled hair, a monocle, a stickpin, and a boutonniere, and a cigarette dangles below his curled mustache—the later Professor Henderson had, perforce, to explain this unwonted dandyism. He writes:

This photograph, like the one that faces page 18, was taken by the afterwards-notorious Richard Pigott. Shaw—let it be frankly confessed—had got into a bad, a "fast" set, and was in the habit of drinking, smoking, and dressing, to excess. "I wanted," he writes to me, "to be the best-dressed man in Dublin, and I was." Pigott himself, though no longer a young man, was a member of Shaw's set—and indeed, by reason of his seniority, a leader of it. "He played Falstaff," says G.B.S., "to my Hal." For a time it seemed likely that the young Shaw would himself become a forger, but the latent strain of Puritanism in him suddenly asserted itself. He gave up tobacco, he signed the pledge, he sold his wardrobe, he shook the dust of Pigott's studio from his shoes; at one bound he ceased to be the Alcibiades of the Liffey.

The printers of the Henderson biography put under each illustration, in heavy type, the number of the page the illustration faces. Around the photograph of Shaw's rather ungainly country house, at Ayot St. Lawrence, the Professor muses, in afterthought:

Shaw never ceases to surprise you. He is what the French call imprévoyable. With him you must always "expect the unexpected." The ordinary successful man chooses a country house facing South. Shaw chose one [Facing p. 418].

But it was not only about Shaw that Professor Henderson had afterthoughts, doubtless inspired, in many cases, by the new aspect of the illustrations. Confronted by a photograph of Sidney Webb with a string hanging from each lens of his glasses, the later Henderson makes an appropriate comment:

"Webb," writes Shaw, "is the most generous of geniuses. 'Shaw,' he has often said to me, 'when your Quintessence of Ibsenism shall have become the Bible of the whole internationalised human race, I shall be remembered only as the inventor of the double-stringed pince-nez.'"

On one of the illustrations, the later Professor Henderson made no comment, although Shaw is here transformed into a kind of Horatio Bottomley demagogue. The illustration is captioned "The Cart and Trumpet" and shows Shaw addressing a street crowd, which reaches as far as the eye can see. The printed sub-caption explains, "Shaw addressing the dockyard men outside dockyard gate on behalf of Alderman Sanders. G.B.S. is annoyed with the interruptor, but is ready with an instant retort." But if the later Professor Henderson was not moved to comment, Max, as the three of us leaned over it, was. He ran his hand over the glossy surface of the crowd—workmen in caps, looking content or sullen or merely vacuous. The questions he asked seemed to be addressed to himself, rather than to Miss Jungmann or me. "What has become of all of them?" he said. "What are they doing now? What are they thinking? Are they better off? Do they remember what G.B.S. said to them? Has it clarified their minds? Are they kinder, more thoughtful, more civilized, happier?" He peered at me. "What do you think? Is it a happier time?" He paused a moment to weigh it. "G.B.S. himself, you know, was disappointed with the final effect of Fabianism on the Fabians."

Miss Jungmann spared me from having to answer a difficult question. "Max," she said, "you have missed your nap. You have overdone. You must go up and rest."

Max and I followed Miss Jungmann toward the front of the lobby. "Do you know," Miss Jungmann said to me as we were walking out, "that a representative of one of your great illustrated magazines was good enough to come here to see Max just a little while ago? A most charming man. He wished to pay quite a handsome sum to have this book photographed and reproduced in his weekly."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Oh, quite a staggering sum," she said. "But Max wouldn't have it!"

I said that it was a pity Max hadn't allowed it, since it was a unique volume. I said that the new Henderson was a kind of comic masterpiece, and that it was too bad more people couldn't see it.

"I did it to amuse Archer, don't you know . . ." said Max, with the implication that you couldn't amuse Archer and at the same time make money out of what had amused him, And then he added, "I shall probably leave it to the Ashmolean."

We had reached the front of the lobby. Max was inclined to linger, to talk, but Miss Jungmann admonished again. "You mustn't overtire yourself, Max," she said.

The afternoon was indeed advanced. It was after four. Miss Jungmann turned to me. "I'll just go upstairs and make Max comfortable."

Max gave me his hand and smiled; he said he had enjoyed my visit and hoped that it could be repeated. He picked up his straw hat and his cane, put on his hat at the Maxian angle, and started upstairs. Miss Jungmann accompanied him, carrying the Ashmolean legacy. I watched him—an air of elegance clung about his tilted narrow shoulders, about the slightly stooped back in its snug Edwardian jacket—as he made his way slowly up the stairs, following the balustrade, as he had when he came down, with his free hand. When he reached the landing, he paused a moment and then began the promenade to his room.

(This is the first of a series of articles.)

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