S. N. Behrman
The New Yorker
 March 19, 1960: 50-112

In June of 1955, I visited Max Beerbohm in Rapallo for the last time. He was by then nearly eighty-three, and it was perhaps natural that on one of the afternoons when we sat talking together in the tiny living room of the Villino Chiaro—he in the chair his father had given him for his room in Merton College, at Oxford—he should bring up his series of caricatures called "The Young Self and the Old Self," and that afterward we should discuss them again and again. This series—one of the most striking and Maxian of Max's achievements as a caricaturist—shows his subjects simultaneously in youth and in age, the Young Self confronting the Old Self. They are like little novels, done in a single drawing and a line or two of dialogue—Max's convex mirror miniaturizing a lifetime. By collapsing time altogether, by wiping out the inconvenient gap between the present and the past, by bringing the Young Self and the Old onto the stage at the same moment and letting them exchange a few words, he was able to dramatize the passage of time and catch the essence of a man's character.

The Old Self of Arnold Bennett, in white tie, oozing affluence, immense of girth, toothy, a figure of dishevelled elegance, befobbed and wearing a pleated shirt, his pudgy hands clutching his white waistcoat, and his face bearing an expression of not entirely convinced complacency, is addressing his Young Self, a scrawny, stubborn yokel from Staffordshire:

OLD SELF: All gone according to plan, you see.
OUNG SELF: My plan, you know.

The young Stanley Baldwin looks at his pipe-smoking elder self, who has one of those consciously "strong" faces with not much behind them, and is astonished that so much could have been accomplished by so little:

Prime Minister? You? Good Lord!!

The young George Moore, rubbery, amorphous, stands obeisantly, silk hat in hand, before the old George, more rubbery still but sitting. This dialogue ensues between them:

YOUNG SELF: And have there been any painters since Manet?
LD SELF: None.
OUNG SELF: Have there been any composers since Wagner?
LD SELF: None.
OUNG SELF: Any novelists since Balzac?

The Old Self of Sir William Rothenstein is so offended by the materialization of the Young Self, bumptious and cravatted and ugly (the two selves are actually very much alike), that, in front of a bevy of his students at the Royal Academy, he thunderously orders the unwelcome apparition to disappear:

Take off your hat, Sid—and leave the room!

The young Joseph Conrad bursts out in Polish—a gibberish invented by Max, but it certainly looks like Polish—and the old Conrad, splendid and goateed and monocled, replies to his Young Self's harangue:

Mais oui, mon enfant—and what's more, I was a Master Mariner! And I've written some books, too . . . but you are hardly old enough to understand them.

The Young Self of H. G. Wells, a calmly impassioned zoologist, asks the Old Self of H. G. a purely scientific question:

Did you ever manage to articulate the bones of that microglamaphoid lizard?

But the Old Self has soared into the empyrean; he rather brushes his Young Self off:

I'm not sure. But I've articulated the whole past of mankind on this planet—and the whole future, too. I don't think you know very much about the past, do you? It's all perfectly beastly, believe me. But the future's going to be all perfectly splendid . . . after a bit. And I must say I find the present very jolly.

In a drawing Max captioned "A Momentary Vision That Once Befell Young Millais," the ardent, idealistic young artist is appalled by what he is to become—a country squire, well fed, successful, very "county," in shooting clothes, with a Sherlock Holmes cap. Max's awareness of the penalties exacted by success is acute. In one of his many caricatures of, or involving, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he shows Lord Leighton, the president of the Royal Academy and the most successful painter of his time—a man who was himself eroded by the knowledge that he had made an easy compromise—haranguing Rossetti, urging him smoothly to do the right thing, get in the swim, join the swirling traffic of the drawing rooms where commissions are bred. Of Rossetti, habitually recumbent, you see only his slippered feet, and these seem not to be listening. Of Leighton, you feel that his harangue is mechanical, that he has turned it on, it is his "line," and, for all his look of success, you sense the wish that he himself, as his Young Self, had not listened to it. Max, in his own volume of "Zuleika Dobson," drew an impromptu caricature of an Old Self that never existed—Byron at sixty, plump, spectacled, with muttonchop whiskers, respectable. He looks as if he were president of the Birmingham board of trade and were about to take the chair at a weekly meeting. The drawing is called "But for Missolonghi." Elsewhere, Max speculated about what would have happened to Byron if he had lived on; he would, Max said, have spent his time "writing very long and able letters to the Times on the Corn Laws, and much exacerbated by Queen Victoria's refusal to sanction his appointment to a post in Lord John Russell's government."

As a youth, Arthur Balfour was persistently valetudinary. In the Young and Old series, Max shows the interminable elongation that was the young Balfour swooning, on the longest chaise longue in history. The dying swan looks up—it is, you feel, his last mortal effort—at the old Balfour, in flannels, with open-necked shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, and carrying a tennis racket. He just barely addresses him:

YOUNG SELF (faintly): Who are you? You look rather like Uncle Salisbury, shaved. And what is that curious thing you're holding? And won't you catch cold, with so little on? But don't answer: I don't really care. And don't let me talk: I don't fancy I've long to live; and I want to devote the time to thinking—not that I suppose my thoughts to be of much value, but—oh, do, please, go away.

In reality, Balfour's Old Self refused to go away; he went on and on. The historian Oscar Browning, in his memoirs, remembers Balfour's telling him, when the future Prime Minister was twenty-two years old, that "the doctors had assured him that he could not possibly live to the age of thirty, a fact of which I have now and again reminded him during his career." With time, according to Max, the prolonged valetudinarianism became transformed into a passion for longevity. Having arranged for his funeral in his twenties, he postponed it long enough to become an aggressive Chief Secretary for Ireland. Stimulated by this unexpected show of strength, he became Prime Minister. As his friends, acquaintances, and colleagues died, he clocked them offthe milestones of his own survival. To Max, he was unbeguiling but fascinating, and Max never stopped drawing him. When he didn't formally draw him, he doodled him; the early manuscript of "Zuleika Dobson" is dappled with him. There is a remarkable difference in the physical appearance of the two drafts of "Zuleika Dobson"—the first, unfinished, written in London in 1898, and the second completed in Rapallo in 1911. Both drafts are owned by Mr. Robert H. Taylor, of Yonkers, who also owns the greatest collection of Trollope in the world. Max would have felt very cozy in the society of the Trollopes; there is surely no one in the world he would rather have had Zuleika marry than Anthony Trollope. The early manuscript is scraggly, written in random columns and riddled with doodles—of Balfour, Disraeli, Reginald Turner, Henry James, Oscar Wild; Henry Irving, Lord Ribblesdale, Edward VII. Winston Churchill's perky nose keeps jutting inquisitively into the various scenes. The London manuscript is written in pencil, the Rapallo one in ink. There are no doodles in the Rapallo manuscript, but there are tremendous erasures, which Max made with a paintbrush; the pages present a fascinating and often decorative spectacle, covered with great solid promontories of black ink, with islets, peninsulas, and sometimes continents. In the earlier manuscript, however, you may watch the struggle between Max's dual careers. Often the graphic seems to gain the upper hand; several times, Max seems to have forgotten that he was writing a novel, and whole pages are devoted to drawings, some of them sketches for caricatures that later became famous. When le mot juste proved elusive, he doodled Balfour.

Max never did a drawing of his own Young Self and Old Self, but if he had done one, it might have resembled to some extent the drawing of Arnold Bennett. The Old Self might again have said, "All gone according to plan, you see," and the Young Self might have answered, "My plan, you know." In 1895, Max, then twenty-three, and in Chicago as his brother Herbert Beerbohm Tree's press agent, wrote the essay he eventually called "Diminuendo," in which he said farewell to literature. It was here he set down his vision of the life he was to lead, and to a large extent he did lead it. He would retire, he said, to the country and contemplate existence:

I shall look forth from my window, the laburnum and the mountain-ash becoming mere silhouettes in the foreground of my vision. I shall look forth and, in my remoteness, appreciate the distant pageant of the world. Humanity will range itself in the columns of my morning paper. No pulse of life will escape me. . . . Tragedy, comedy, chivalry, philosophy will be mine. I shall listen to their music perpetually and their colors will dance before my eyes. . . . I shall have friends. . . . And I, who crave no knighthood, shall write no more.

"I shall have friends," Max promised himself, and the promise was fulfilled. Max had friends, and his friends loved him. For forty-five years, they came in a stream to visit him in Rapallo. When they weren't visiting, they wrote to him. Even when, as he grew older, he didn't always keep up his end of the correspondence, they still wrote to him. When he went to London on visits from Rapallo, staying at the station hotels he so admired, his friends gobbled him up. Max inspired a peculiar devotion in people; his presence—his very existence—was a delight. It was not only that he was witty and that his speech was exquisite but also that he had, in social intercourse, no axe to grind. In 1922, Sir William Rothenstein, speaking, in his "Men and Memories," of Max's talent for friendship, wrote:

Indeed Max, of later years, especially, shrinks from offending people; the once pitiless satirist has become the most human and understanding of men. I know so many with wandering eyes, who feel their time wasted with any but important persons. Max, who charms everyone, finds most people charming. And how quickly he discovers the essence of each personality.

Max's friends were aware of his habit of saying, in the voice of one asking for tutelage, "Tell me" to anybody he was talking to, as if only you in all the world could divulge the secret. He was leisured, he was in no hurry to express himself, he wanted to listen. The fact that there was not in him any trace of the impulse for self-aggrandizement made him eager to elicit the essential quality of his interlocutors. He could tell you, all right, and he did, but, equally, he wished to he told. To have dinner with Max, wrote Edith Wharton, "was like suddenly growing wings." Elizabeth Russell, the novelist and the author of "Elizabeth and Her German Garden," lived for a brief period in Portofino. Her biographer Leslie De Charms, to show what her talks with Max meant to Countess Russell, quotes from her diary:

December 31 Florence-Rapallo. Tea at Max Beerbohm's on way. . . . I was blissfully happy at hearing such delicious talk after the Cannes acidities. . . . They begged us to go again after supper, when the Granville-Barkers will be there and an Italian pair, but we don't want to spoil the perfect memory. A delightful finish to the year.

In Rapallo, Max was scarcely ever not anticipating some visitor—Arnold Bennett, Compton Mackenzie, Somerset Maugham, Constance Collier, Desmond MacCarthy, Osbert Sitwell, Reginald Turner, S. C. Roberts (the Master of Pembroke), the Hamish Hamiltons, the Selwyn Jepsons, the Christopher Sykeses, Gordon Craig, Ada Leverson, Siegfried Sassoon. His sisters and his nieces, the daughters of Herbert Tree, and their children came. One of those children was Ivan Moffat, the son of his favorite niece, Iris Tree. Ivan Moffat, a film writer, and his mother were both old friends of mine, and every time I visited Max he would ask whether I had seen them. From time to time, I could give him news of them. I once teased Max by saying Ivan had told me that his Great-Uncle Max had given him a bad moment on one of his family visits in London. "In fact, Max," I said, "I am not sure you didn't, out of your goodness of heart, induce to— use a word you're not fond of—a trauma in Ivan."

Max stroked his mustache tranquilly. "Really!" he said. "And how did I do that?"

I repeated for him Ivan's anecdote. Max's visits, were, of course, a great event in the Tree family. On this occasion, various grandnieces and grandnephews were assembled for Max's inspection. There were David, Dennys, Virginia, and Ivan, who was then fourteen. "The others were all older and taller and more renowned than I was," Moffat recalled. "Their accomplishments were paraded for Max, in athletics and in scholarship." Ivan kept his gaze fixed on the little figure at the head of the table, and saw Max's clear blue eyes reflecting wonderment at so much erudition, so many prowesses. Ivan became terribly self-conscious about his own anonymity in such a welter of celebrity. There was a bowl of English walnuts on the table, and to assuage his nervousness and self-consciousness he began cracking these walnuts and eating them without intermission. A nervous hunger assailed him, a compulsion to swallow. Nut followed nut. "The crepitation was tremendous," Moffat continued. "I knew what a racket it was making, but I just couldn't stop. The babble went on, important and clever, and as every moment passed and I still hadn't made any contribution to it, I knew, with a sort of panic, that I could not and that I would not. Max took everything in, including my self-consciousness and my desperation. As the virtues and greatnesses of the others were paraded, Max, in turn, courteously saluted them. Suddenly there was a silence, and in that silence the nuts cracked like a fusillade. Max turned his mild glance on me; I became the center of attention, because everyone's eyes followed Max's. 'And you, Ivan—tell me—what about you?' Max said. 'Are you a Great Nuttist?'"

Another of Max's promises to himself was fulfilled. "I shall look forth," Max promised at the age of twenty-three, in Chicago, "and, in my remoteness, appreciate the distant pageant of the world." He certainly did, and, sitting in his niche in Rapallo, he recorded that pageant in caricatures that cover, in their penetration and diversity, much of the vast range of human character. Even the vanished politicians and other celebrities one has never heard of still stand out arrestingly as individual human beings—personalities. You want to know about them; you want to know them. In 1954, the eminent American critic Edmund Wilson paid a visit to Max at the Villino. As he and I sat in the Excelsior Hotel afterward, he told me that he had just seen Andre Malraux in Paris, and that in the cases of both men—a startling juxtaposition, it seemed to me—he had been much impressed by their self-confidence and strength of character. "He's quite sure of himself," Wilson said of Max. "He knows the value of what he has done, both as a writer and as an artist. He doesn't give a damn about having all his caricatures collected and published, as I suggested to him they ought to be. He doesn't even know where many of them are. He knows very well that somebody else will have to worry about all that someday." In connection with a mural that Max had painted in his bedroom, Wilson was struck by the fact that he had brought to Rapallo with him all of his favorite characters: Balfour, of course, and G. K. Chesterton, George Moore, and so on. "It is a kind of Divine Comedy that he has been working at all his life," Wilson said. "The celebrated men he has been caricaturing have come to play significant roles. There is a whole hierarchy of values: people like Joseph Conrad and Henry James, whom he both admires and likes; people like Bernard Shaw, whom he admires but doesn't like; people like some of the politicians—Lloyd George, for example—whom he neither admires nor likes." He said that he thought Max was the greatest caricaturist of the kind—that is, portrayer of personalities—in the history of art.

For a time, Max was concerned lest his separation from the "au-courantism" of London affect the veracity of his caricatures. He needn't have worried. Although Max lived the last forty-five years of his life in the remoteness of Rapallo, in spirit he lived in London, and he kept drawing and redrawing the important London figures. I have never met anyone more stubbornly English than Max. When he bitterly satirized England during the Boer War, it was because, as he has said, "on se moque de ce qu'on aime." The changes in London, its wanton deterioration, which he mourned in his moving B.B.C. broadcast "London Revisited," were for him personal bereavements. The more he lived away from England, the more he became infatuated with her. England as an idea seemed to him unique in the world, and he was proud of her. In all the years Max lived in Italy, he never drew a caricature of an Italian. He was eternally drawing Balfour, Disraeli, Byron, George Moore, King Edward VII. He couldn't even write about a foreign country. He could write only about England. During the two world wars, he couldn't bear to be out of England, and he lived there through both of them. For a time during the Second World War, he lived in the country house of his friends the Sydney Schiffs, at Abinger. While he was there, he contributed some pieces to a local paper, the Abinger Chronicle, circulation three hundred, and he worked at them as carefully as if the Abinger Chronicle had had a circulation of a million.

Certain reproaches about not living up to the Chicago contract might have been levelled by the Young Max at the Old Max. As the Young Max didn't level them, I did. On my final visit to Rapallo, I pointed out to Max that he had not stuck to his promise not to achieve a knighthood, having received one in 1939. Max met the charge with good humor; he had done his best to prevent it, he said, since he had not spared the Royal Family when he was in the mood to lampoon it. He had not, I went on inexorably, stuck to his promise not to do any more writing. Here, too, Max defended himself, saying he had done pretty well, considering the importunities that were put upon him by magazine editors and publishers. A London publisher once invited Max to allow a famous essay of his to be included in an "Omnibus of Contemporary English Literature." "I do not care to be omnibussed." he wrote the publisher. The publisher then pointed out to him that as the anthology was to be edited by and have a preface by W. Somerset Maugham, it would probably bring him to the attention of three or four hundred thousand readers. That settled that. The prospect of such a crowd frightened Max. "There are only fifteen hundred readers in England and one thousand in America who understand what I am about," he wrote back. For the fifteen hundred readers in England and the thousand in America, Max went to enormous pains to make his meaning clear. He did everything for readers except get them.

I stubbed my own toe hard, once, against the bulwark of Max's fastidiousness. The National Broadcasting Company had begun a series of filmed television broadcasts, under the title "Wisdom," by distinguished old men and women. The N.B.C. people wanted Max badly. They had sent their Italian representative, Miss Gioia Marconi, and an American representative, Mr. Davidson Taylor, to the Villino to sound him out, but he had proved not resonant. An N.B.C. man who happened to be a friend of mine asked me if I would try to persuade Max. Knowing that Max needed money and that the network was willing to pay him three thousand dollars, I agreed. I thereupon wrote him a letter. I paraded the great names that N.B.C. had already signed— Bertrand Russell, Arnold Toynbee, Robert Frost, Pablo Casals—and urged Max to queue up to enter the geriatric pantheon. "Now, dear Max," I wrote, "I hate to introduce a vulgar note, but they will pay three thousand dollars. They want to send their representative, who is a very nice man, to see you. . . . And, you know, they tell me you won't have to leave your niche, they'll do it all while you're sitting in the niche. It seems to me this is a lot of money to get for not leaving your room, as I've seen you not leave it so often for nothing." The letter went, airmail. I waited. N.B.C. waited. Max's reply came very promptly. In his beautiful, crescent-paragraphed handwriting, he wrote, in pencil, as follows:

I look forward to seeing your friend and communing with him, but I am, alas, quite incorrigibly opposed to any idea of being televised. Mr. Davidson Taylor was here recently and wished me to revoke the unwillingness I had expressed last year to Miss Marconi even after she had shown me on the wall the immensely mobile features of Bertrand Russell amplifying the artful modulations of his voice.

This was a shocker. I had been so confident. But when I showed my friend Max's letter, he was not too badly let down. "I am going there anyway," he said. "You can't do these things by letter." His confidence restored mine. Later, I heard an account of what happened in Rapallo.

Max received the N.B.C. emissary cordially. The television man was admitted to the niche. He was smooth and ingratiating. "You see, Sir Max," he said, "it will be very simple. Our people will come and arrange everything. You will sit, if you like, as you are sitting now. You will simply say, 'My dear friends, I am very happy to be here addressing you.'"

"Do you wish me," asked Max courteously, "to start with a lie?"

It had been a near thing, but Max won out. With that remark, the flood of affluence that had threatened to inundate him was dammed forever.

When I saw Max again, he apologized for having snuffed out my effort, and went on to explain why he had done it. "I could not but dash their hopes," he said. "Had I been televised, it would have been impossible for the viewers to concentrate on what I was saving. They would have concentrated on me. How fortunate, how very fortunate, that Goethe or Browning—whoever you like—was not televised in his old age. Now we can have our idea of them, our imagination of them, but had they been televised— No, television is not literature, it is actuality." I asked Max why, when he had been so adamant in his refusal to be filmed for American television, he had been willing to do a number of B.B.C. radio broadcasts during the Second World War. He replied that in written prose the sound was always important to him, that he laid great emphasis on the acoustics of prose, and that in radio broadcasting it was paramount. The human voice had always fascinated him. Even his caricatures, he said, had been influenced by the voices of his subjects; Balfour, for example, had a shrill, high-pitched, unmelodious voice, and its vibration was always in his mind when he caricatured him.

It is odd that one of the least popular writers in the world should have become, next to Winston Churchill, the most popular broadcaster in England during the most critical moment of its history. Max may have had few readers, but he had millions of listeners. Of his B.B.C. broadcasts, Rebecca West has written, "I felt, when I was listening to them, that I was listening to the voice of the last civilized man on earth," adding, "Max's broadcasts justify the entire invention of broadcasting." In January of 1942, while London was blacked out, and a vast number of its inhabitants were sleeping in the subways and in shelters, and the fires lit by incendiary bombs furnished the only illumination, Max treated his listeners to the broadcast called "Music Halls of My Youth." In a letter to Sir Sydney Cockerell, the poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote of this broadcast, "Max's talk I listened to with delight. For me it was and will be the only B.B.C. half-hour worth remembering in 1942. No words can express what I feel about it. I laughed aloud—but there were tears in my eyes too."

It must have been a curious instinct of self-interest that had caused me, in Rome in 1954, to send Max a little phonograph, along with some recordings of his favorite composer, Puccini, for now, one afternoon in June of 1955, sitting in Max's niche, I was able to hear all his broadcasts, which had been recorded on special discs and sent to him by the B.B.C. Max and his secretary, Miss Elizabeth Jungmann, enjoyed the phonograph almost as much as I did. It constituted a singular contemporary, mechanical intrusion into the niche, which had theretofore been dominated by the bronze girl with the averted head and by the pair of photographs on the mantelshelf—the two girls in white whispering romantic secrets to one another under great beeches in the park of an English country house on a summer night, and the little girl laughing at the Abbé's joke. It was installed beside the Merton chair. It played Puccini and Max. On this phonograph I now listened to Max's music-hall broadcast. He delivered this one when it was well past his own bedtime. He assumes, he says, that most of his contemporaries are, as he should be, already asleep, and that those of his listeners who are up and doing will "know little of the subject on which I am going to dilate with senile garrulity." After talking about Dan Leno, Little Tich, Albert Chevalier, George Robey, Marie Lloyd, and others, Max ends with a few words to his listeners on how he had come to squander his youth drinking in the words and music of these vanished ghosts:

Perhaps you will blame me for having spent so much of my time in Music Halls, so frivolously, when I should have been sticking to my books, burning the midnight oil and compassing the larger latitude. But I am impenitent. I am inclined to think, indeed I have always thought, that a young man who desires to know all that in all ages and in all lands has been thought by the best minds, and wishes to make a synthesis of all those thoughts for the future benefit of mankind, is laying up for himself a very miserable old age.

Good night, childrenn . . . everywhere.

Max's whispered voice dwindled away at the end. The broadcast was thrilling and funny and moving; I understood perfectly why Sassoon had written about it as he had, Max had a tremendous mastery of the dynamics of his own voice. He set his own threshold in decibels, rationing them shrewdly. His normal speaking voice was soft, small, infinitely courteous, and musical. By talking twice as loud, he gave the effect of shouting. Alan Dent, the London drama and film critic, has written a description of Max's delivery on the air, in the album note for the phonograph record of one of Max's B.B.C. broadcasts—"London Revisited." The Maximilian Society of London was Mr. Dent's idea. It was founded on Max's seventieth birthday, with seventy admirers of Max as members, including William Nicholson, Sir Edwin Lutyens, William Rothenstein, Philip Guedalla, Robert Lynd, and Desmond MacCarthy. The idea was to add a member on each of Max's birthdays. Mr. Dent, animated by Max's constant reference to himself in his broadcasts as a Cockney, writes:

It is like him to refer to his Cockney or low-London accent, even though his diction is so precise that be gives "perambulator" five clear vowels, and bestows upon such a word as "initiation"—which the vulgar, both rich and poor, slur into something like "inishation"—its full consonantal complement. It is like him to reveal that this same sedulous care in speaking the English language can turn a word like "poetry" into a poem. 

One Sunday night in 1942, Max did a broadcast on "Advertisements," and now Miss Jungmann put the record of that one on the phonograph. In it, Max says he wishes that he were not incurably ironic in his manner of expressing himself; he wishes that, for once, he could be straightforward. But perhaps, he reflects, it's as well that he can't, for on the subject of advertising "my language might be overstrong for Sunday evening." Max doesn't mind want ads. To "these spontaneous cries from the heart" he is sympathetic. What he can't abide are the "you do want, and woe betide if you don't get" ones. He remembers the want ads of his youth. He read them, when he was a child, with fascination. He cherishes one that he read in the Church Times: "Medical Man in Cheltenham can accommodate one female resident patient. Epileptic Churchwoman preferred." But though he loved it, he has become, in retrospect, suspicious even of that. Perhaps it was the thin edge of the wedge:

Somewhat later, a wonderful soap swam into my ken. Sir John Millais had painted a great picture of a little boy with golden curls and a green velveteen suit, and upturned eyes, blowing bubbles; and this picture bad been acquired by the vendor of the soap and widely reproduced on the soap's behalf. My elders, in those prehistoric days, wondered that Sir John should have authorised this use of his great gifts. And they were shocked, too, that the beautiful young Mrs. Langtry had for the soap's sake allowed engravings of a photograph of herself to be sown broadcast in the Press, with the admonition "For look you, she is fair as a lily!" Mrs. Weldon, the famous litigant, had gone even further. Her portrait was subscribed by her, "I am forty-seven, but my complexion is seventeen." I wonder what my elders would think of those perfectly well-brought-up and non-litigious young ladies of rank and fashion who nowadays let their photographs be reproduced in favour of some unguent used by them and ecstatically praised by them, with an accompanying diagram of their features and a laudatory description of each feature by the unguentarian?

An American driving along English roads is particularly struck by the merciful fewness of road signs. But Max, without benefit of the American standard, is irked by what has happened in England:

And now for a matter which agitates me far more than the effect that advertisements have on newspapers. Though newspapers without advertisements could not nowadays survive, I see no reason for believing that without this support the streets and squares of our cities, and the roads and hills and valleys of our countryside, would presently disappear. On the contrary, they are by way of disappearing already behind the insistences on what we ought to purchase, Beautiful architecture and beautiful scenery are things far more important to the soul of man than even the best newspaper.

Max, in spite of all his protests, is himself not free from the itch to advertise. He wishes he were rich, so that he could place an ad. He is even more ambitious. He wants to start a whole advertising campaign:

Meanwhile, if I were endowed with wealth, I should start a great advertising campaign in all the principal newspapers. The advertisements would consist of one short sentence, printed in huge block letters—a sentence that I once beard spoken by a husband to a wife: "My dear, nothing in this world is worth buying."

As Max and I sat by the phonograph in the niche, Miss Jungmann kept bringing in more discs. Max tried to  restrain her, on the ground that he did not wish to bore me, but Miss Jungmann and I prevailed. He accepted our interest as a compliment. "The best compliment I have ever received," he said, "was from the headwaiter at Berners Hotel, where I was staying, after a B.B.C. broadcast. He came up to me and said, 'I congratulate you on your broadcast, sir. May I sy, you speak such mervlus English!'"

We now listened to Max on George Moore. Max met George Moore at Nevill Holt, the country home of Lady Cunard. "There was something about Moore," Lady Cunard said later, "that evoked a fish, a large, distinguished carp." Moore was a natural for Max. Max immediately made a caricature of him, showing him in the drawing room at Nevill Holt—the first of the many caricatures Max did of Moore. His broadcast on Moore he had written in 1913, as a sketch for his unfinished autobiographical novel "The Mirror of the Past." It contains, besides much else, a description of Moore's face:

His Parisianism, grafted upon an imperishable brogue, gave to his utterance a very curious charm. Aided by his face and his gesture, this charm was irresistible. I say his "gesture" advisedly; for he had but one. The finger-tips of his vague, small, inert, white hand continually approached his mouth and, rising thence, described an arc in the air—a sort of invisible suspension-bridge for the passage of his i-de-a to us. His face, too, while he talked, had but one expression—a faintly-illumined blank. Usually, when even the most phlegmatic of men is talking, you shall detect changes of expression. In Moore you never could. Usually the features of the most vivacious man's face retain the form that Nature assigned to them. But in Moore's face, immutable though the expression was, by some physical miracle the features were perpetually remoulding themselves. It was not merely that the chin receded and progressed, nor merely that the oval cheeks went rippling in capricious hollows and knolls: the contours of nose and brow, they too, had their vicissitudes. You think I exaggerate? Well, I myself, with Moore there before me, did sometimes doubt the evidence of my own eyes. It was possible that my eyes had been deceived. But the point then is that no face save Moore's ever deceived them in just this way.

I looked up at the small convex mirror on the wall—the mirror, of "The Mirror of the Past," which had hung in his nursery when Max was a child and had been with him ever since. I said that it was a keen observer.

Max chuckled. He began to talk about Moore. Moore had no learning at all, Max said; for him everything was a sudden discovery, and Oscar Wilde had once complained to Max that "George Moore is always conducting his education in public." Max quoted Samuel Johnson on talkers—those who talk from a tank and those who talk from a stream. Irishmen, Max said, talk from a stream, Anglo-Saxons from a tank. Moore talked from a stream, and marvellously when he was in midstream, but he allowed himself to be diverted into backwaters that were sometimes muddy. Once he had got stuck in an inlet, he could not extricate himself. The thing in his conversation that Max liked best was his descriptions of scenery; Moore had an extraordinary feeling for natural scenery and an extraordinary gift for describing it. It irritated Max that invariably, when Moore was describing some field or wood or stream, he would bring into it a lady—met accidentally or by assignation—who swooned over him. In the years when Max was a drama critic, he developed a neat device for getting Moore onto the subject of scenery. Moore was a playwright, and he would ask Max what play he had been reviewing. Artfully, Max would say, "Well, the play wasn't anything at all, but, really, never in my life have I seen such wonderful scenery." This would ignite Moore, in a damp way: "Ah, the scenery was wonderful, was it?" And off he would go, to Max's joy, on scenery—"perhaps some lovely vista in Ireland, don't you know, or in France, and it would be delightful. But after a time, inevitably, the shepherdesses would come in. Never was a man so importuned by imaginary women! I have never met a shepherdess. Have you? But Moore was always running into them—rather, they kept running into him. Evidently, they revived their craft just to conquer Moore. He was modest; they were not conquests by him, they were victories over him. In the same limp voice and Frenchified brogue, he would go on about it. He would have satisfied the democratic ideal, don't you know; he wasn't snobbish—barmaids, duchesses, waitresses, ladies of easy virtue, who forgot commerce, apparently, when they met him, and, in his idyllic moods, to which I often incited him, shepherdesses."

Miss Jungmann brought in tea. Knowing that I was particularly interested in all those broadcasts that had been written thirty years before for "The Mirror of the Past," she put on a record of one about H. B. Irving, the son of the great Henry. It turned out that H. B. Irving was the Oxford undergraduate who influenced Max more than anyone else there. Max describes the tremendous impact the young Irving had on Oxford. Max and I listened to a record of the broadcast. Irving, Max says, had the "bent strut" of his father. He had a way of clapping you on the shoulder and saying "Ha!" at you that was stupefying. Max describes an undergraduate scene, a Sunday breakfast in one Bancroft's rooms:

As he [Irving] crossed the threshold, he said in a deep voice, "Ha!" He clapped a hand on Bancroft's shoulder, rather in the manner of a very eminent detective arresting a very unimportant thief. Then, with that hand still on that shoulder, he distributed nods and "Ha!"s among the company—the company of "supers." His gaze alighted on me.

"This," said Bancroft (with the pride of a "super" who has a line to speak) "is Mr. Beerbohm of Merton."

"Ha?" He had a way of looking at one trough his pince-nez, less intimidating only than a way he had of looking at one over his pince-nez. "Ha!" he repeated. And then "A brother of Beerbohm Tree, aren't you?"

"A half brother," I said faintly.


It was as though he had said "That may or may not be an extenuating circumstance, I will consider it."

Max doesn't remember much that Irving said during the breakfast, but he does remember that what Irving said "had at the moment the effect of a Standard Work condensed by him for the occasion." For the rest of that memorable Sunday, Max went around saying lightly to everyone he met, "I met Young Irving at breakfast this morning." There came a moment when Young Irving actually invited Max to lunch the next day. "I quaked," Max recalls, "as at the service of a writ, and was gratified as by a royal command." That lunch changed the whole course of Max's life. His brother Herbert had encouraged him to go in either for diplomacy or for the Bar. Max, who knew that he had to go in for something, had rather decided on the Bar. To his horror, when he came to lunch he found himself alone with Young Irving. He was in panic. To bolster his morale, he remembered a report that one of his masters at Charterhouse had written about him. "'Has natural abilities of a rare order'—this phrase from a form-master's report came floating into my brain. Why should I not impress myself on Irving today as a man with abilities of a rare order?" But he couldn't. The pince-nez did him in. The "Ha"s did him in. "I felt," says Max, "I had no abilities of any order. That form-master had been a fool." After lunch, there came a critical moment, a moment that Max had felt from the beginning would come—a question he dreaded.

"And what," he [Irving] asked, "are you going to do in after-life?"

"Well," I said—and the poor monosyllable came out as a polysyllabic bleat, "we-e-e-e-ell," after which the other poor words came out in three separate gasps sped by a weak smile—"as a matter of fact I'm—I'm thinking of—being called to the Bar."

And these words, at the very moment of utterance, became untrue. I had, up to that moment, vaguely destined myself for the Bar. But in expressing to Irving this ambition, I saw the full absurdity of it and for good and all dropped it before he had time to say (as he did with more than his usual gravity say) "Ha!"

Miss Jungmann next put on "Nat Goodwin—and Another." Again, it had originally been written as a sketch for "The Mirror of the Past." The other was Hall Caine. Max tells how, in the eighteen-nineties, he had arrived at Jackwood, his brother Herbert's country home, very late on a Saturday night. He was confronted by an appalling sight: Hall Caine's hat was standing on an oaken chest. Max felt terror at the imminence of confronting its owner. Herbert was doing a play of Caine's, and the two of them were upstairs in Herbert's study, conferring. Max had never met Hall Caine, but this had not prevented him from drawing widely publicized caricatures of him:

I knew the hat. I had often caricatured it—it and its wearer. I knew them both well by sight. . . . With all the ribaldry of youth, I had persecuted Hall Caine. And here be was, under this roof. Here was his hat. . . . [One caricature] showed Hall Caine, with frenzied eyes and hair, bearing a sandwich-board on which his name was inscribed in lavish capitals. It had been reproduced on a small scale in one of the English papers. . . . He went to lecture in America, and, into whatsoever city he entered, always that presentment stared him in the face. It cropped up, with nerve-shattering iteration, in every local paper, often magnified to the scale of a full page.

Hall Caine was born, in 1853, with a great asset for success in life—the total absence of a sense of humor. This enabled him to turn out, with complete sincerity and in the conviction of greatness, a series of novels and plays, which had tremendous popularity. He wrote "The Deemster," "The Christian," and "The Eternal City," the last of which Herbert Beerbohm Tree put on at His Majesty's. It was "The Eternal City" that Caine and Herbert were discussing upstairs while, below, Max was being pulverized by the author's hat. Seldom has a writer launched himself on a fabulously successful career by the simple device of writing a fan letter, but that is what Caine did. He wrote such a letter, when he was working in an architect's office in Liverpool, to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti answered; how could you not answer a letter full of such appreciation and detailing the efforts made by the writer to popularize his correspondent in Liverpool? One thing led to another, and the first thing Rossetti knew, Caine was staying with him, in his dishevelled house at 16 Cheyne Walk.

After we had listened to the Caine record, Max talked a bit about what is a perennial literary phenomenon—the vast discrepancy between writers who attain popular success and are anathema to the cognoscenti and those who are approved by the cognoscenti and have no public at all. In his youth, Max said, the great popular successes were Marie Corelli, Ouida, Mrs. Humphry Ward, and Hall Caine. At the parties he used to go to, he said, you could get a laugh just by saying "Hall Caine."

Max then went on to discuss other members of the Rossetti Circle, It was characteristic of Max that in speaking of the Rossetti Circle he should tell me he admired Dante Gabriel's sensible brother William Michael and, of the ladies—that is, the models employed by the Pre-Raphaelites—preferred the healthy Fanny Cornforth to the doomed Elizabeth Siddal. It must have been hard work for the Pre-Raphaelites to be constantly ethereal, and Miss Cornforth was bosomy and earthy. She afforded the Pre-Raphaelites a nice change from Pre-Raphaelitism; she was Rubensy. In the mid-thirties, Max had received from Sydney Cockerell several photographs of the Rossetti brothers, Swinburne, and Miss Cornforth. Cockerell had at that time just bought three drawings of Max's for the Fitzwilliam Museum, which he directed, and Max wrote, in acknowledgment of both benefactions:


It is a grand thing to be represented in the Fitzwilliam; and I am so glad that this honour is to befall me, and glad that I have been deemed worthy of it by you. . . .

Meanwhile I return, with very many thanks for the joy they have given me, those wondrous little photographs. Miss Cornforth is incredible. Credo accordingly—and indeed am but confirmed in a belief I already had—that she must have been just like that and almost like what (reading between the lines of D.G.R.'s presentments of her) I had made of her in one of those cartoons of which you were speaking in such kind terms the other day. William Michael is decidedly the most distinguished in aspect of the figures in that group of four. You and I were arguing, in Nicholson's studio, that William Michael had been underrated because he happened to be the one (superficially) dull man in a bevy of brilliant ones. Perhaps a time will come when he will he overrated, as having been the one sane man among lunatics!—for there was, wasn't there? a silver thread of lunacy in the rich golden fabric of 16 Cheyne Walk.

In a drawing of Hall Caine in "Rossetti and His Circle," Max represents the time when Caine was living with Rossetti. Theodore Watts-Dunton, the chronic caretaker of genius, is admonishing Caine, who is truculent. They are in the studio at 16 Cheyne Walk, Caine red-headed, red-mustached, red-goateed, and with a fanatical gleam in his eye—the gleam of a man who knows that he carries greatness in each hand, in the shape of two manuscripts of his own, which he is determined to read to Rossetti. He is, plainly, not going to take the advice that Watts-Dunton is offering him. Frederick Shields, a painter friend of Rossetti's, is standing near Watts-Dunton, backing him up. In the background, lying-sitting on a sofa, is Rossetti, corpulent, brooding, hearing the argument that concerns him but not listening. The caricature is called "Quis Custodiet Ipsum Custodem?" and Max's caption reads:

THEODORE WATTS [-DUNTON]: Mr. Caine, a word with you! Shields and I have been talking matters over, and we are agreed that tonight and henceforth you must not and shall not read any more of your literary efforts to our friend. They are too—what shall I say?—too luridly arresting, and are the allies of insomnia.

In another caricature in "Rossetti and His Circle," Max shows Rossetti embarked on an exciting project for a set of murals in the Oxford Union—"The Quest for the Holy Grail." Rossetti, in brown smock and trousers, has one foot on a ladder, on his way to put the finishing touch on a symbolic Miss Siddal, who, with outstretched arms, is ready, presumably, to receive the find. Benjamin Jowett, a little man in a flat hat, is standing at the foot of the ladder. Max's caption is:


"And what were they going to do with the Grail when they found it, Mr. Rossetti?"

It was in the winter of 1917 that Max, re-creating a vanished milieu that he had never known first-hand, drew the caricatures for "Rossetti and His Circle," while staying in a rented cottage at Far Oakridge, in Gloucestershire, near the home of William Rothenstein. The Beerbohms took their meals with the Rothensteins. To Rothenstein, who worshipped Giotto, Max once sent a sketch he had made of the Rothenstein family. He apologizes for what his sketch may make various members of the family suffer. "But," he goes on to say, "there is in the whole design a sense of a family, I think—something spiritually real, though not up to the mark of our old friend Giotto—(I say our old friend, because I regard any friend of yours as a friend of mine)." Sir William describes in his memoirs how Max, wearing gloves and with a cane over one arm, used to walk over the snow carrying the Rossetti drawings carefully protected in a portfolio. "No wonder Max was nervous of leaving his Rossetti caricatures in an empty cottage," he writes, "for they are now regarded as classics. What a remarkable reconstruction of a period! So intuitively truthful, that one of William Michael's daughters wrote that no person living within their circle had given so accurate a picture of its physical and spiritual composition. Max, with his air of delicate sprightliness, is the profoundest critic of men I have known."

As Max saw things, the silver thread of lunacy that wound through 16 Cheyne Walk also wound through the lives of many of his friends and acquaintances. From the Rossetti Circle, we went on to talk about D. H. Lawrence. Max leaned forward a bit in his chair. "Oh, Lawrence," he said. "Poor D. H. Lawrence!" The adjective was not uttered in condescension but in true sympathy for the afflicted. "Poor D. H. Lawrence. He never realized, don't you know—he never suspected that to be stark, staring mad is somewhat of a handicap to a writer."

I told Max that I had been tremendously moved by "Sons and Lovers" when I first read it, and that I had tried two later novels, which I couldn't read.

"Oh, of course," Max said. "'Sons and Lovers'! Although his prose style was slovenly, he was a man of unquestionable genius. But then he became afflicted with Messiahdom, don't you know. Now, what equipment had poor D. H. Lawrence for Messiahdom? He was, in so many ways, a foolish man. He was not fastidious in his friendships. Anyone who took him for a great man he would welcome. He did not stop to question, don't you know, what other qualifications a person had. Anyone who would commune with him on Destiny"—Max capitalized the word with his voice—"he would welcome. As a result, he was always involved with quite inferior people. He was one of those unfortunate men who think that merely because they have done something, it is at once first-rate. Simply because they have done it. He had a glowing gift for nature, a real feeling for nature, and in this he was at his best. But through his landscapes cantered hallucinations."

About the other Lawrence, T. E., the Arabian one, Max said he couldn't talk much, because in that Lawrence the mixture of genius and insanity was too heady for him to do more than sample it. Lawrence had translated the "Odyssey" and then denounced it, as "pastiche and face powder." "He confused the 'Odyssey,' you know, with his translation of it," Max said to me. About Lawrence's translation of the "Odyssey," Max once wrote Rothenstein:

What a strange thing, to be a super-eminent genius and hero, as Lawrence was, plus such streaks of sheer silliness. . . . I have read various extracts from that translation—read them with gasps. And I would rather not have been that translator than have driven the Turks out of Arabia.

Tracing the silver thread led Max to Ezra Pound. Pound had lived for a time in Rapallo, and Max used to sec him. He laughed in recollection of one of those meetings. "Ezra idolized his parents, you know, and they idolized him," Max said. "They thought the sun rose and set in him. They came from Idaho. He brought them here, and very nice, simple, unaffected people they were, too. Anyway, one afternoon we were all sitting down there on the terrace of one of the cafés"—Max waved a hand toward downtown Rapallo and the sea front "and Ezra was talking away. Very entertaining! He was fond of making extravagant statements to amuse his friends, which, of course, he didn't expect them to take seriously. He was in one of those moods. His parents were staring at him, rapt, while he made these utterances. Ezra said, 'The greatest master of French literature was Louis the Eighteenth.' Ezra's father, who was sitting next to me, nudged me and beamed at me. 'That kid,' he said, `knows everything!'"

I told Max that I had been shown an anti-Semitic poem written by Pound against him. In it the spelling of Max's name was distorted. Max was interested, and not at all surprised. "I am not Jewish," he said. "I cannot claim that. But then, you know, he is crazy. He greatly admired Mussolini. All that Fascist business! He did have one trait, though, that I didn't much care for." Evidently, Max expected crazy people, outside of their craziness, to live up to some code of gentlemanliness. "He would start out to rave about some friend, and you thought you were in for a paean of praise. And then the qualifications would creep in. And then you realized that he had begun with the paean in order to conclude with the denigration. The treacle of admiration, don't you know, was always strongly tinctured with the vinegar of envy."

Max distinguished between people he considered all-out cranks and lunatics and those who were simply idiosyncratic. In his introduction to "Rossetti and His Circle," he wrote:

Byron, Disraeli, and Rossetti—these seem to me the three most interesting men that England had in the nineteenth century. England had plenty of greater men, Shelley, for example, was a far finer poet than Byron. But he was not in himself interesting: he was just a crystal-clear crank. To be interesting, a man must be complex and elusive.

On this ground, Max found neither Pound nor Lawrence interesting. Two complex men Max greatly admired as writers and liked as friends were G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. "They had blind spots," he said, "but outside of that they were delightful men. Such enormous gusto, you know, such gaiety, and feeling for life." Max was merely amused by people who had blind spots. Sometimes, when he mentioned a blind spot in conversation, he would tap his forehead to indicate it. Max conveyed the idea that Chesterton and Belloc were men whose minds were vast and hospitable houses, with little dark closets in the attic into which—there were so many other rooms, gay and sunny—you didn't have to go. Robert Speaight, in a biography of Belloc, quotes Max as saying to his hero, "When you really get talking, Hilary, you're like a great Bellocking ram, or like a Roman river full of baskets and dead cats." Speaight also repeats a dry observation of Max's when he was told that Belloc had been to a cricket match: "I suppose he would have said that the only good wicketkeeper in the history of the game was a Frenchman and a Roman Catholic." Max told me he felt that Belloc was, on occasion, a victim of monomania. "He had the conviction that there was only a single lane to Heaven," Max said. "It suited him, for example, to believe that Dreyfus was guilty. Ergo"—Max tapped his forehead—"Dreyfus was guilty." 

Somerset Maugham, in a series of articles on ten great novelists he wrote some years ago for the London Sunday Times, made the flat statement that Balzac was the only one of them to whom he would without hesitation ascribe genius. Commenting on this, Max told me that he thought it was absurd to single out Balzac. "Tolstoy and Dostoevski had great genius," he said, "and Dickens had it, too, in spite of his dreadful faults." Nevertheless, except for Turgenev and, at times, Tolstoy, Max had serious doubts about the Russian novelists. He felt that too much of what they wrote was also touched by lunacy. He knew that Dostoevski was terrifying, and even majestic, but then so was Mont Blanc, and Max wouldn't have liked to live on Mont Blanc. In 1913, Max wrote an essay, "Kolniyatsch," in which he lampooned the vogue for the Russian novelists among the British intelligentsia. Kolniyatsch (the word is a Russification of Colney Hatch, which was once London's most famous lunatic asylum) is a Russian writer—a composite of Dostoevski and Gorki.  Kolniyatsch, says Max, developed slowly: "It was not before his eighteenth birthday that he murdered his grandmother and was sent to that asylum in which he wrote the poems and plays belonging to what we now call his earlier manner." Was Kolniyatsch an optimist or a pessimist? Max analyzes:

By more than one critic he has been called a pessimist, and it is true that a part of his achievement may be gauged by the lengths to which be carried pessimism—railing and raging, not, in the manner of his tame forerunners, merely at things in general, or at women, or at himself, but lavishing an equally fierce scorn and hatred on children, on trees and flowers and the moon, and indeed on everything that the sentimentalists have endeavoured to force into favour. On the other hand, his burning faith in a personal Devil, his frank delight in earthquakes and pestilences, and his belief that every one but himself will be brought back to life in time to be frozen to death in the next glacial epoch, seem rather to stamp him as an optimist.

Max's great enthusiasms in literature were for Jane Austen, Trollope, Turgenev, George Meredith, Charles Lamb, Henry James, E. M. Forster. He adored Meredith's early manner—"The Adventures of Harry Richmond" particularly—and Henry James's later. "The Golden Bowl" and "The Wings of the Dove" were, Max thought, James's greatest achievements. These writers had no chalets on Mont Blanc, but they took him into realms where he did want to live. Max was on especially good terms with Trollope. "He reminds us," said Max, "that sanity need not be Philistine." Max told me he thought "The Warden" a perfect novel, and the cello-playing Mr. Harding was one of his favorite musicians, especially when he was playing a cello he didn't have with him. The literature of epilepsy, of cosmic soul-searching, of uncontrollable violence simply had no appeal for him. About the Elizabethans he felt something of what he felt about the Russians. In a Rede Lecture he gave at Cambridge, in which he paid tribute to Lytton Strachey, the only reservation he made was about Strachey's "Elizabeth and Essex." He said that it was a "brave" thing for Strachey to have tried but that, at best, it was only "guesswork." To Max, that far-off world, where murders, sudden decapitations, rushings off to the Tower were part of the climate, as natural as April showers, was incomprehensible and unseizable, and he felt that it must have been so to Strachey also, who was a master of style, and hence of form. He said, "A very robustious, slapdash writer might convince me that he was in close touch with the souls of those beings whose actions and motives are to me as mysterious as those of wild animals in an impenetrable jungle. You rightly infer that I am not a Sixteenth Century man. And I make so bold as to say 'Neither was Lytton Strachey.'"

Max shied away from lunacy not only in its violent forms but also in its milder forms, one of these being utopianism. "Good sense about trivialities is better than nonsense about things that matter," he once said. He had a horror of utopians, a suspicion of "big" ideas. Some of Shaw's writings bored him, because they were impressments into what he called "the strait jacket of panacea." The effort to force men into this strait jacket had caused untold misery and suffering to the human race, he thought. Rothenstein once said of Max that he was always amiable except when his sense of sanity was outraged. For Max, even to take oneself entirely seriously was a form of insanity. Listening to Max on the subject, I came to see that what for him constituted sanity was a recognition of one's own limitations. He had—without ever formulating it—a Theory of Limits. Max countered Browning's "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" with the statement that many of his friends had gone to hell in just that way. Max liked the attainable, the tangible, the comprehensible, the small in scale.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Max said that it had made life "epical," but he indicated a distaste for the epical. He wanted life to be livable rather than epical. When he was a boy, he hero-worshipped statesmen—he later recalled those days of veneration in a broadcast, "A Small Boy Seeing Giants"—but he gradually came to be suspicious of "giganticity." Napoleon, as an example of overwhelming giganticity, repelled him. Caricatures that Max drew, as a young man, of the great aristocratic politicians of his day were so vivid that he was discharged from two magazines he worked for, the Bystander and the Sketch, because of objections from the advertisers. He cared just as little for "giganticity" when it doffed its silk hat and assumed the cloth cap of Labour. Labour resented his delineations more than the aristocrats did. The latter went hunting, but Labour, without this resource, stewed in grievance. Max was on neither side; he punctured the vanities of the aristocrats, and he didn't see why he should spare those of the Labourites.

In 1921, he dedicated to Britannia his book of caricatures called "A Survey," addressing her formally:

Madame, I venture to dedicate this volume to you because you have always been kind to me, and because I cannot think why you have always been so kind to me.

In the dedication, Max is aware that his career as a satirist must have occasionally irritated his lady. He does not defend himself but tries to explain:

In my youth, and indeed until quite recent years, the Court was a very dominant factor in your life. A satirist, instinctively, goes for what is very strong: the weaker things he derides with less gusto, or not at all. But you, Madame, have a great respect for strength, and it is the weaker things that are aptest to tickle your sense of humour. I myself have a respect for strength, but also I am inclined, in my fallen nature, to look for the weak points that all strength has, and to point them rudely out I used to laugh at the Court and at the persons around it; and this distressed you rather. I never laughed with you at Labour. Labour didn't seem to me quite important enough yet. But Labour is very important now, very strong indeed; as you have found. And I gathered, this year, from a certain mild downward curve of your lips when I laid out for you in the yellow sands those of my new drawings which referred to Labour, that you thought me guilty of not the very best taste in failing to bow my knee to your new Baal.

Perhaps I ought to exclude these few drawings from a book dedicated to you. Do I compromise you by their inclusion? I hope not. I think not. You have but to say to Labour, "O honoured and darling and terrifying Sir, I know you're perfect Don't blame me for some drawings done by an utterly absurd man who lives ever so far away in a country shaped like a jack-boot." But if such words avail not, and you deem it expedient to reject the dedication, then reject it, dear Britannia: I shall not be thereby the less affectionately your old servant,


Max's aversion to giganticity ran through his views on everything—not only on the aristocrats and labor but on dictators, intellectual as well as military (he shrank especially from totalitarians of the intellect), on skyscrapers, on cities. The London that Max loved was not the big city but, rather, what he called the "congeries of villages." He wrote about Bloomsbury, Chelsea, and Bayswater as if they were different countries, each with its own flavor and idiosyncrasy, producing different races of people. Bloomsbury he deplored; the pedestrians there didn't seem to have confidence in themselves. Chelsea he loved, because it had a river, always a freshener, and Bayswater because it had Kensington Gardens. He felt that cities, like egos, became unmanageable when they got too big. They were no longer on the human scale; you couldn't live in or with them. His aversion extended even to motorcars that, in a temporal form of bigness, went too fast. At the end of a B.B.C. broadcast he called "Speed," which he and Miss Jungmann and I listened to that afternoon in 1955, he offered consolation to those whom he had just berated for exceeding the speed limit:

But here is a heartening fact for you. We are all of us travelling at a tremendous rate, and we shall always continue to do so. We shall not, it is true, be able to get rid of our speed-limit. But it is a very liberal one. Eleven hundred and ten miles a minute is not a limit to be grumbled at. Our planet is not truly progressing, of course: it is back at its starting-point every year. But it never for an instant pauses in its passage through space. Nor will it do so even when, some billions of years hence, it shall have become too cold for us human beings to exist upon its surface. It will still be proceeding at its present pace: eleven hundred and ten miles a minute.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is indeed a beautiful and a consoling thought—a thought for you to sleep on, to dream of. Sleep well. Dream beautifully. In fact—Good night.

Max's attitude toward bigness was essential to his own view of himself as an artist. He had a severely topiary intelligence; he knew where he could go and where he couldn't go, what he could do and what he couldn't do. "I am not creative in a big way," he said to me that day. "I haven't any powerful invention; I used up all I had. What I really am is an essayist." In an admiring essay on Whistler's prose style, he wrote, "An exquisite talent like Whistler's, whether in painting or in writing, is always at its best on a small scale. On a large scale it strays and is distressed. . . . For no man who can finely grasp a big theme can play exquisitely round a little one." Max ungrudgingly acknowledged the greatness of the wild geniuses who brought up the big guns; at the same time, he felt no obligation to like all that they wrote, and no regret that he was not one of them. Discussing the fact that Lytton Strachey was not one of them, either, he wrote, "Very exquisite literary artists seldom are men of genius. Genius tends to be careless of its strength. Genius is, by the nature of it, always in rather a hurry. Genius can't be bothered about perfection." Max did bother.

That June, on the next-to-last day I spent with Max, as we sat in our traditional spot in the niche, he talked about his old college, Merton. Once more it was teatime, and once more Miss Jungmann brought us tea. Max told me he thought that of all the novels written about Oxford the best was Compton Mackenzie's "Sinister Street." "There is no book on Oxford like it," he said. "It gives you actual Oxford experience. What Mackenzie has miraculously done is to make you feel what each term was like; it was different in each term. Mackenzie notes the separate color of each term. It evokes for me, more powerfully than anything else that has been written about Oxford, my own years at Merton. It is the epitome of a lifetime, you know—one's history as an undergraduate. It is a life span, from youth in your first year to old age in your last. When you begin, you look up to the upperclassmen; they are your heroes. By the time you're an upperclassman yourself, those heroes are gone, you see yourself inroaded by a horde of younger men, you feel your own youth gone, your time past; you have become a survivor into a time you do not know. Merton was one of the smaller colleges and, with two exceptions, the oldest. It was the most intimate." Max looked at me almost with an air of apology. "I still, you know, spend much time in Merton."

He spent a good deal of time, too, I learned, with his mother and his sisters in Upper Berkeley Street. From Merton, the talk went to those early days in London, and his eyes brightened in recollection. "Let me tell you about a phrase that was current in our family," he said. "My mother, you know, was very amusing and very amusable. When she and my father were separated, they used to write each other long letters, which they tried to make as delightful as they could. Such letters are not written nowadays. It was traditional for my friends to come to Sunday lunch when we lived in Upper Berkeley Street. My friends adored my mother and sisters. My sister Dora was dreamy and abstracted. She became a nun when she was nineteen years old. But my sisters Constance and Agnes were very gay. I still see my mother presiding at those lunches. She was small, you know, and had alert eyes; she always wore a black silk dress and a lace cap—very dignified—but what my friends knew was that she had a volatile humor, and they used to be very gay, those lunches, animated by my mother. Well, we had a catch phrase in the family that had a protean use, for praise or for the reverse—'It's a first-class thing.' It came from Johnston Forbes-Robertson. He was somewhere, in some drawing room, and he noticed a mezzotint of some eighteenth-century admiral that hung on the wall. He reflected how dreary it was. Mrs. Patrick Campbell sailed in. Her eye went at once to the admiral. She began rhapsodizing about him; she became aerated about that admiral—to the delight of the host, of course, who was a bigwig and hadn't realized he had such a masterpiece on his wall. Mrs. Campbell couldn't say enough about the mezzotint—it made the room, it transported you. When she had done, she swept down on Johnston. 'Don't you agree?' she demanded. Johnston was determined to puncture the tire of Mrs. Campbell's ecstasy. 'Yes,' he said calmly, 'it's a first-class thing.' We never stopped using it. When I was drama critic on the Saturday and came back to Upper Berkeley Street after a play and my mother asked me about it, that phrase would save me more ample criticism. It was a wonderful short cut for settling so many questions. My sister Constance came home one day and summoned my mother and me; she was quivering to tell us what had happened. She knew in advance it was the kind of thing my mother would adore. Well, Constance had been walking along the street and met Willie Wilde—Oscar's brother. In one hand he was carrying a huge leg of mutton by the narrow part; with his free hand he swept off his hat and bent over double in a grand, ceremonial bow. There was something so grotesquely funny in the way she did it, conveying both the mutton and the bow. We decided it was a first-class thing.

"Willie Wilde, in one of those rare intervals when he was in funds, took my sister Dora to lunch. Willie was in one of his euphoric moods." Max, who loved to imitate the grandiose, slid into an affectation of grandiosity. "'Dora,' Willie said, 'I feel most imperial this morning, rampantly imperial. I like the feeling of getting up in the morning and thinking, Well, I've got Egypt, I've got Ceylon, I've got Singapore, I've got large areas in Africa. . . . '" Max brought his hands to the little tea table in front of him in a climactic gesture that was almost devotional; his voice dropped to an awesome whisper. "'And now, dear Dora, you are the first to know—I've got India!' In something of a flurry, Dora reported the whole thing to Constance. Constance comforted her. 'Well, my dear, don't worry. Willie hasn't really got India, you know.'"

I had lent Max a book about Mrs. Frank Leslie, the widow of an American nineteenth-century newspaper tycoon. Mrs. Leslie had married Willie Wilde, and for this reason I thought the biography might interest Max. He had the book on the tea table next to his chair. He picked up the book and a pencil and, on the inside of the back cover, rapidly sketched Oscar and Willie for me. These are probably the last drawings Max ever did, though he did not regard them as drawings. "Scratches," he called them, and yet they are quite remarkable, too. You see that the two men are brothers, all right: Willie, flabby and amiable, hoping for the best, and doomed; Oscar, grinning in Hades, ghastly, and doomed. After giving me the now illustrated book, as a kind of thanks for lending it to him, Max went on talking about Willie Wilde, who, I found, interested him more than Oscar did. Even when it came to failures, he preferred the small ones to those on the heroic scale. There in the niche, he brought back to life a scene in a restaurant between him and Willie.

"I made an engagement with Willie to have a drink in a little restaurant we used to like to go to," Max said. "The waiter, who was an old friend of ours, was called Bismarck. He did not resemble the other Bismarck in any way; his name just happened to be Bismarck. Well, we were sitting there talking about literature and life when, abruptly, Willie revealed that his mind was not really on aesthetics. 'Beerbohm,' he said, 'I'd like you to lend me ten shillings.' I said that I would. Exhilarated by a sudden feeling of affluence, Willie decided to order something, and whistled for Bismarck. He didn't mean anything by it. It was just that he had been put off balance—he was childish, you know—by the prospect of unearned increment; it was pure high spirits. But Bismarck was affronted. He turned angrily on Willie. 'Don't you whistle for me,' he said. 'I am not a dog. My name is Bismarck.' You know, I will never forget it. Everything went out of Willie. He began to stammer out apologies to the waiter. 'But, my dear fellow,' he kept mumbling, 'my dear fellow . . . I didn't mean . . . I meant nothing. . . .' It was awful, you know—that sudden capitulation. In that moment, I believe, he really saw, and perhaps for the first time, the dingy failure of his life; even behind the bulwark of that ten shillings,  he saw himself facing tragedy and defeat, he saw that there was nothing ahead for him, that he would never recover, that he would never find a clearing in the shambles he had made for himself. He saw the end, and I saw it, too. It was very painful."

Max told me some more about Willie. "He was, as I said, childish. I mean childish in the sense that a child is happily free of any thought of the future and seizes upon what is immediately before him and desirable. It is curious how often one encounters the phenomenon among grown men. Willie had been working for the Telegraph, but after going to America to marry Mrs. Leslie, and then being divorced and returning to England, the Telegraph no longer wanted him. He began doing drama criticism for unimportant papers and writing general articles in which he would mention trades-people and get perquisites; I daresay that's how he got the leg of mutton he was carrying when he met my sister in the street. He came to know a delightful lady, a widow with two children, who was greatly interested in him. She was very well off, and we thought we should no longer have to worry about Willie. Willie had really a wonderful way with children. He used to go up to the nursery and play with these two children, and they couldn't wait for his visits, because his affection for them was genuine and they felt it. He used to impersonate a bear. He was enormous, you know, but he would get down on his hands and knees, and he made a really wonderful bear. He was a tame bear, and the children rode him. One day he came—it was just before Christmas—and said, 'Now I am a burglar come to rob you, and you must catch me and tame me just as you did when I was a bear.' There was a bank affixed to the wall in which the children, all year, had collected pennies, and from time to time their elders had dropped into it coins of larger denomination—even sovereigns. It was not to be opened till Christmas. The burglar advanced on the bank. The children, in a state of great excitement, were about to catch him and denounce him. And then, suddenly, obeying some imperious impulse of childhood, Willie ripped the bank off the wall and ran out of the room and out of the house, and was never seen there again."

Miss Jungmann had told me that between my last visit to Rapallo and this one two old friends had come to call on Max at the Villino—Somerset Maugham and Max's onetime fiancée Constance Collier. I asked Max what he and Maugham had talked about.

"Oh, old times," Max said. "Maugham and I recalled a couple we knew—the Davises. Mr. Davis was a questionable character from the City, who took pride in his vulgarity. Still, the Davises were art collectors and patrons, and very hospitable, and Maugham and I used to enjoy their hospitality. They were very kind, for instance, to Charles Conder. He was an exquisite artist, Conder. He used to go in, you know, for glades, with princesses and fairies appearing at intervals. People would flock to the Davises'. They were always giving fancy-dress balls. For one of them I engaged a costume at the costumier's; I went as a cardinal—a rather second-rate cardinal. When I arrived, I found Mr. Davis on the steps of a throne, dressed as Queen Elizabeth. He used to take these costume parties very seriously. He would put on his costumes the night before so as to get used to them; he had probably been Queen Elizabeth all night. Also on the steps, just below Mr. Davis, there was a really magnificent cardinal. I was fascinated by what I saw. The cardinal on the steps was, I knew, a business rival of Mr. Davis's. Mr. Davis had been hounding him, and now, as Queen, he had him by the throat. The cardinal had come to plead; the Queen forced him to the wall and told him that the only resolution of his dilemma was to commit suicide. Mr. Davis had worked the whole thing out. He had suggested to his rival to come as a cardinal; he wanted to have his revenge in style. When the magnificent cardinal passed me on his way out, his face was ashen. He was a lost man. And, do you know, he did commit suicide. I told Maugham it was a story after his own style; I wondered he had never used it."

A Mr. and Mrs. Steevens emerged from the shades. "When Maugham and I were young, we were both hard up, you know," Max said, "and we used to go every Tuesday night to dinner at the house of a delightful couple named Steevens. Mr. Steevens was quite a different cup of tea from Mr. Davis. He was a first-rate classical scholar and became a prominent journalist; he was really a remarkable man. At the end, he was working for Lord Northcliffe, who sent him to South Africa at the time of the Boer War. Mrs. Steevens was an American, and owned a fortune. She devoted herself to general and private philanthropies—especially on Tuesday nights. It was a great comfort in those days to know that on Tuesday night you could count on a really good dinner. Mrs. Steevens would invite Maugham, G. S. Street, Reggie Turner, and myself. Maugham and I recalled those Tuesday nights. Among Mrs. Steevens' public philanthropies was an orphanage she supported; when her charges grew up and went out into the world from the orphanage, she used to employ various of them on her household staff. She had a very well-run house, don't you know, but I remember that it used to be somewhat disconcerting to hear her say to the butler, for example, 'Dearest, will you bring in the cocktails?' or 'Darling, will you give Mr. Beerbohm one of those nice little cakes?' Of course, she had known all her staff from their infancies. Still, it used rather to startle us. When Maugham was here, he and I laughed over it."

"And what about Constance Collier, Max?" I asked. "Elizabeth tells me that just a few months before she died she sat in this very chair and had tea with you."

"We talked mostly of our days in Dieppe, when the future was becomingly veiled, don't you know, and when youth seemed a natural state, the only imaginable state," Max said. "Dieppe was a simple fishing village then, and very cheap. Constance used to come there with her mother. It was there that Constance and I became engaged. It was also in Dieppe that I finally decided to be a writer. Maupassant and Meredith were my heroes. Meredith I could not hope to emulate, but Maupassant, since he was so cunningly simple, deceived me into thinking that I could emulate him. I have described it all in an essay."

The essay is called "A Relic." Max describes how, rummaging about in an old trunk, he came upon the fragments of a fan. The moment he came upon these fragments, he heard himself murmuring a sentence: "Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle." He goes on to recall an incident of his youth. Max was nineteen. He was sitting at a table of the café on the terrace of the casino in Dieppe, drinking a glass of bock, when he beheld a startling scene. A woman of about thirty rushed by him, pursued by a short, fat man of about fifty-five. "Écoute, Angélique," gasped the perspiring bourgeois. "Écoute je te supplie." But Angélique wouldn't. She rushed through the swinging doors, the suppliant following. The waiter picked up the remnants of a fan Angélique had broken in her anger. Max, after he had paid for his bock, followed them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Next day, he waited for them, but they did not appear. He never saw them again. Nevertheless, the vision of their faces, Angélique's "positively dull with rage," made an inescapable impression on him. He tried to reconstruct their story in his imagination, and this reconstruction, he fancied, would make a conte, like a conte of Maupassant's. He decided to call it "The Fan"—very Maupassantish. Maupassant would have needed no more; why should he need more? He felt very cynical and worldly, and, after all, Maupassant was so simple; Maupassant was just an observer, like him. Of course, Maupassant was much older than Max and had observed more, but Max had the advantage of having picked up all of Maupassant's observations in Maupassant. Day after day, Max sat at the table of the terrace café, with a bock and the fan fragments before him, and at last he wrote the first sentence of the first story by the English Maupassant: "Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle." Max liked these words; he liked them so much that he decided they would end his story, too. He began to feel sorry for Maupassant. Could Maupassant brook a rival? He had the "chose vue," just as Maupassant so often had; the problem was to get the "chose à figurer." He went to the café every night, he kept fingering the fragments of the fan, but, he is forced to confess, "the plum did not ripen." He had the provocative beginning ("Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle"), he had the mournful ending ("Down below, the sea rustled to and fro over the shingle"); what he couldn't get was the intervening material. Max could never finish that story, but he did finish the essay he wrote about not finishing it: "The chord this relic strikes in me is not one of curiosity as to that old quarrel, but (if you will forgive me) one of tenderness for my first effort to write, and for my first hopes of excellence."

I told Max that I knew the essay, and that it was lucky he hadn't finished "The Fan," because it would have deprived us of "A Relic."

Max smiled. Then he said, "Please find Elizabeth and ask her to give you the little snapshots of Dieppe."

When I brought in the snapshots, Max took them and we looked at them together. He concentrated on one in particular. "There it is," he said. "The very terrace, the very café—not the very bock—and Constance and myself sitting there. Walter Sickert, I believe, took this snapshot." Constance is wearing a beribboned, flowered, floppy straw hat and a light summer dress. A parasol is slung over her shoulder. Max is wearing a white flannel suit, with a flower in the buttonhole; his straw hat is in front of him on the table, and his hand is resting on the head of his walking stick. Somehow he endows the plein-air costume with an aura of urban elegance.

I remarked on how lovely Constance looked.

"Doesn't she? Doesn't she?" Max said. "She was beautiful, you know, and with everything before her. My brother Herbert had great plans for her; Coquelin adored her and gave her acting lessons. And I— well, I was on the verge of supplanting Maupassant."

During her recent visit, Max said, Constance had reminded him of a "wicked joke" he had played on her in Dieppe. "Wicked," Max repeated, full of unashamed guilt.

I inquired, of course, about this lapse.

"Well, you know, there used to be visiting theatrical companies who came there from Paris and played," he said. "It was a holiday for the actors, too. I took Constance to a matinée of one of these performances—a comedy. Now, Constance didn't know a word of French. The audience started to laugh, and as Constance hadn't the faintest idea of what was going on and as I imagined she felt stupid at not seeing anything to laugh at, I began to improvise the play for her. I converted it into a drama, so there would be nothing to laugh at. My drama was so heartbreaking, you know, that Constance began to cry. But the audience kept laughing, and this laughter seemed callous and incomprehensible to Constance. She asked me what the others were laughing at. I explained to her that this was a provincial audience, very crude and insensitive to pathos. By the time the curtain fell, Constance was so emotionnée that I confessed what I had done. It took some time before she forgave me, but the other day we laughed over it."

I asked Max whether Constance had mentioned the man she finally did marry, the actor Julian L'Estrange.

"No, we didn't talk about anything, really, that happened after Dieppe," Max said. "We remembered all the people who used to come to Dieppe: Aubrey Beardsley and his sister; the painter Pissarro—he was an old man then; Reggie Turner, who went there before we did; Charlie Chaine; Will Rothenstein; my brother Julius. We remembered the English church where Constance and I decided to be married and where we weren't. We remembered them all—and it was delightful to remember them. We talked about Titine."

"Who was Titine?" I asked.

"She was Mme. Lefèvre and ran the hotel Chez Lefèvre, where we all lived in those days," Max said. "Sicken was very taken with her. Titine was the soul of Chez Lefèvre. She was enchanting, Titine. We did everything through Titine. We all shamelessly curried favor with her. The food was wonderful. When I was in favor, Titine would see to it that I got something special. I would crow over Sickert. Since Sickert would share the dish, I was not slow to point out the advantage to him of having me for a friend."

I asked Max whether he had shown Constance the snapshots.

"Oh, yes," he said. "She was very shortsighted, you know. She held them close to her eyes. 'Is that us, Max?' she said. 'Are they really us?' "

Miss Jungmann came into the room to pick up the tea things, and Max and I, half in Dieppe, half in Rapallo, said good night.

The following day, a friend of mine, Mr. Stanley Marcus, of Dallas, Texas, who is a lover and collector of books, arrived in Portofino, and called me to ask if he might meet Max. Mr. Marcus had with him a sheaf of assorted, non-consecutive pages of a printing of Max's story "The Happy Hypocrite" by the eminent typographer Bruce Rogers. Rogers had done these as sample pages for a fine edition, had been unable to find a publisher, and had done no more. Mr. Marcus hoped that Max would write his name in this curiosity. Max said that he would be delighted to receive Mr. Marcus, and that he knew and admired the work of Bruce Rogers. As it happened, I was at that time called away from Rapallo for several days, but the visit took place and, Miss Jungmann later reported, went off handsomely. Max asked Mr. Marcus to leave the Bruce Rogers with him, because he wished to make certain emendations in it.

Max's careful labor on these random pages was the last literary task that he ever undertook. The task he set himself was to make the sense carry over from one page to the next as if he had originally written them that way, and it required great ingenuity. For example, one page ended, "And in the middle of this vain galaxy hung the pre-" The next page, since it was far away, gave you no idea of what it was that hung in the middle of the vain galaxy. At the bottom of the first of these pages, Max added, in his strong and beautiful handwriting, "sent writer's eviscerated book." One page ended, "Presently he heard a footstep in the hall beyond, and a pair of" The next page began, "soon forgot him." Max caused these disparities to coalesce: "Presently he heard a footstep in the hall beyond, and a pair of boots appeared with nobody in them, and at sight of them he uttered a piercing scream. But he soon forgot them—and they, it appears, soon forgot him."

Max was to work for weeks on this. When it was finished, he was to send it to Mr. Marcus, in Texas, with the following inscription:


Here is the book that you left with me. I have dared to amend, here and there, what seemed to me a lack of continuity in the narration.

Yours very sincerely,
Rapallo, 1955

When, long before Max's self-imposed task was completed, I came back to Rapallo, it turned out to be for only one day. I found that I had to leave immediately for New York. That afternoon, I went to the Villino to bid Max goodbye. Miss Jungmann, without saying much, took me to the terrace. We stood in the middle of it.

"Look," said Miss Jungmann, pointing to the open door of Max's blue-walled study.

I looked. Max, completely unaware of us, was bent over his worktable, writing. He was wearing glasses; he looked very tiny. He was using pen and ink, and the pen kept dipping into the inkpot. He was supplying Bruce Rogers' sample pages of "The Happy Hypocrite" with a continuity. He was working with the avidity and the concentration of a writer slaving to meet a deadline at the end of which glitters a pot of gold. Again, and for the last time, he was working to amuse one reader.

"I hate to disturb him," I said.

"Oh, no," said Miss Jungmann. "He knows you are going. He's waiting for you. Go in. I'll wait for you downstairs."

I walked into the study. Max finished the sentence he was working on, and looked up. He showed me what he had done to the Rogers pages. I told him that I thought it was ingenious as well as funny, and he was pleased at having solved a technical problem of a kind that had not theretofore been presented to him. We walked out onto the terrace and took up our familiar post at the parapet, and looked for a moment or two at the tree that leaned backward like Swinburne. For once, a silence fell between us. I became conscious—and, I feel sure, so did he—that this might be a long farewell. To quench this feeling, to stave it off, I began asking him about "The Happy Hypocrite."

"The Happy Hypocrite" is a fantasy, set in the time of the Regency, about a dissolute nobleman, Lord George Hell, who falls in love with a stage performer of great beauty and innocence named Jenny Mere. Jenny won't have anything to do with Lord George; his reputation, not unearned, is truly dreadful, and his personal appearance, which reflects his dissoluteness, is also dreadful. Lord George suddenly sees himself in the light of Jenny's aversion and shares it. He goes to a famous mask-maker and commissions from him a saintly and beautiful mask, which is fitted to him so cunningly that none of his friends know him. Miss Mere herself doesn't recognize him. Wearing his mask, he proposes to her, and she accepts him. Lord George gives away his money, his houses, and all his other possessions, and lives with Jenny in the country, idyllically happy. At the end, a former mistress exposes him to Jenny. The mask is removed, and—lo and behold!—Lord George's face has been transformed into what the mask was; he is saintly, and he is beautiful.

I said to Max that Jenny Mere seemed to me like one of the two girls in white in his cherished photograph, and like the little girl laughing up at the Abbé, only without freckles.

Max looked pleased. He stared out across the Gulf of Genoa, still and blue. "I have always been interested in masks, you know," he said. "So was Yeats. I once began to collaborate with Aubrey Beardsley on a book about masks. We never finished it."

"It would be easy," I said, "if just by buying a mask of goodness, a mask of beauty, you could achieve them both."

"But, oh, you have to live up to the mask, you know," said Max. "Lord George lived up to the mask. His love for Jenny made it possible for him to do it."

I remembered, not with total irrelevance, a caricature of Max's on good and evil. It is called "Things in General." It shows "The Principle of Evil," a satanic figure in a kirtle, doing a Devil's dance around the personification of "The Principle of Good," a matronly woman, with plaited braids, who is obese from being habitually sedentary. In fact, she is plain slobby. The legend reads:

THE PRINCIPLE OF GOOD: How is it that you always seem to get the best of it?

THE PRINCIPLE OF EVIL: Because I'm active, my dear.

I mentioned this caricature to Max. He stroked his mustache. He was staring across the gulf as if it were eternity. "Well," he said, "Lord George Hell found a way of making The Principle of Good active, I suppose. Of course, we're all caught up in a chaos of evil impulses. There are many Lord Georges. In fact, there are more Lord Georges than there are masks."

Another silence fell between us. I knew I had to leave. I hated to leave. Max went on, "Do you know my favorite line of Henry James?"

I could see that he was not really expecting an answer from me—that he was communing with himself.

"It is 'Be generous and delicate and pursue the prize.'" Max's eyes were still fixed on the sun-dotted sea. "He didn't always live up to it, of course. Who can? But in his work he did live up to it. It was his mask." There was a pause. Max looked at me and smiled. "If you live up to a good manner long enough, don't you know, perhaps it will become first nature to you, instead of second, or third."

Miss Jungmann called from the foot of the stone steps. Charlie, the local driver, had arrived and was waiting with my taxi.

I shook hands with Max. I told him that I was planning to be in France for the winter, and that it would be a happy day for me when next I crossed the threshold of the Villano.

"I wish you everything you could wish for yourself," said Max.

We stood in silence for a moment. Max looked across the gulf. He turned to me again, with a little smile and a little gesture toward the horizon. "The same old sea," he said.

It was not until April of 1956 that I was able to sail for France, and from there I planned to go immediately to Rapallo. The letters I had been receiving from Miss Jungmann were alternately depressed and cheerful, depending on Max's spirits and how he seemed in strength on a particular day. In the last letter I received from her before I sailed, she asked me to bring a special kind of vitamin pill, which was unobtainable in Rapallo. I stocked up on these pills. Just after I checked into my hotel in Paris, on the seventeenth of April, I put in a call to Miss Jungmann. There was no answer at the Villino. Several hours later, she returned my call. Max had been taken to a hospital in Rapallo. He had not been sleeping, and his heart was weak; he had consented to go. She asked me if I had the vitamin pills. I told her to tell Max that I had enough to make it possible for him to enter the Olympic Games. She asked me please to come, and I said that of course I would. She did not seem unduly depressed; she felt that Max had a good chance to pull out of it.

I left the next morning, by car. From the road, I called Miss Jungmann at the hospital. She said Max was delighted that I was coming, and had laughed at the idea of entering the Olympic Games. In the evening of the next day, as I was having dinner at the Grand-Hôtel du Cap, in Antibes, I was called to the telephone. Miss Jungmann said that Max had not had a good night, that he was scarcely eating anything, that he was suffering. I told her I was leaving in the morning by car and would arrive at the hospital in the early evening.

Next evening, I was there, in Rapallo and at the hospital. Miss Jungmann had a small room next to Max's, on an upper floor. Max was asleep. She felt that I probably shouldn't see him that evening, even if he woke up; she was afraid that the excitement might be harmful. The next evening might he better, she said. As things turned out, I was never to see Max again. That first evening, she told me everything that had happened. The week before, Dr. Rau, Max's doctor from London, in whom she and Max both had great faith, had come for a few days. He had wanted to take Max to London, but Max had refused to go. "I do not wish to go back to London as an invalid," he had said. Dr. Rau had then suggested taking him to a hospital in Rome, but Max had not consented to go there, either. The Rapallo hospital, Miss Jungmann told me, was understaffed and underequipped. Max suffered acutely. He suffered from bedsores, and she knew—Dr. Rau had told her—that modern hospitals have a kind of electrified bedding that, by making a ripple of tiny undulations, somehow prevents bedsores. Miss Jungmann had been on practically twenty-four-hour duty since they had arrived at the Rapallo hospital. Max did not have a private nurse; it was impossible to get one. She was the private nurse.

Everything came out of her in geysers of speech. There was the terrible problem of getting Max to eat anything.. When she had prepared his tray that day and put it before him, he had made a little sound of distaste. She had reproached him for his attitude toward the food. "It's not exactly the sound that lions make when they are confronted with food, is it?" he had admitted. He had made an effort to eat, but it hadn't come to much. The bedclothes bothered him. His covering, Miss Jungmann assured me, was very thin, like gossamer, but he was conscious of great protuberances; he couldn't find a comfortable way to lie. The sound of the spoon on the glass when she brought his medicines grated on him. Miss Jungmann put gauze on the spoon to muffle this sound. There was a green label on the hospital glassware, and this irritated him. "An ugly green, isn't it?" he said. After that, Miss Jungmann turned the utensils so that he couldn't see the green label. "And yet, you know," she said, "with all his suffering, only the other day I came in at about sunset and he called my attention to a beautiful lavender shadow cast by the cupboard, and be wouldn't let me put the light on, to give that shadow a slightly longer life."

Every once in a while, Miss Jungmann would go out into the hall and peer into Max's room, She would return and tell me he was sleeping, and then continue her story of these awful weeks. She reproached herself for having gone to Milan nearly two months before, to see a performance of Max's own dramatic version of "The Happy Hypocrite." It was her first evening out in two years. The local doctor had been there that day and had said that it was all right for her to go, since there was a maid in the house who could call him, if necessary. Miss Jungmann went. She did not find out until the next day that Max had had some sort of attack and that the maid had had to summon the doctor again. When she returned from Milan, Max said nothing about this second visit of the doctor. He reached out his hand to her and said, very casually, "Oh, you're back, are you?" There had been some puppets before "The Happy Hypocrite" went on, and when Miss Jungmann told Max this, he sat up in bed. His eyes lit up at the mention of the puppets, and he began to talk about the singular enchantment of puppets, and recalled a puppet show he had seen in Venice when he was young, and described the effect of it at great length. "He remembered the puppets in 'Don Quixote' and asked me to bring him the book," Miss Jungmann said. "He read me the passage—how Don Quixote is so carried away by the puppet show, it is so real to him, that he jumps on the stage and slashes the poor puppets to pieces. When he came to Sancho's protests—'What do you mean, Sir? These are no real Moors that you cut and hack so, but poor harmless puppets made of pasteboard'—he let the book fall on his lap."

Miss Jungmann complained about the difficulty of reaching the busy local doctor. She had long since—and this I knew—urged Max to consult another doctor, one from Santa Margherita. But Max wouldn't. He felt that it might offend the local doctor. Sometimes the local doctor came when he was sent for; sometimes he couldn't come. "He blows in and out of harbor," Max said of him. Miss Jungmann asked me to call Dr. Rau, in London, and ask him if he wouldn't come again. I said I would. Then Miss Jungmann thought better of it and suggested that I wait until morning, because the good sleep Max was having might make him feel stronger the next day. Miss Jungmann had been standing; I asked her to sit down and to try to rest for a few minutes. "Once, the doctor came," she said—and I was happy to see her smile, almost. "Max had taken to reading Swinburne, the 'Poems and Ballads.' The doctor, you know, has almost no English and Max less Italian. Max was reading aloud to me from 'The Garden of Proserpine': 'That even the weariest river/Winds somewhere safe to sea.'" Miss Jungmann stopped for a moment, as if to catch her breath, and got up, went into the hall, and returned. "The doctor came, and Max read those lines to him, and the doctor, who didn't know what Max was talking about, said, through me, as interpreter, 'What I want to know is how you are feeling, Sir Max,' and Max, with his eyes far away, recited another verse."

A nurse came in and said that Max was stirring. I embraced Miss Jungmann and left, telling her that I would call her in the morning.

The next morning, Miss Jungmann asked me over the telephone if I could get Charlie to pick her up at the hospital and drive her to the Villino, because she had to fetch some things. She was somewhat calmer; Max had had a good night. The reason she had been in a state the night before, she said, was that Max had said to her, before he fell asleep, "I do not see how I can possibly live through this night." But he had; the doctor had given him a sedative, and he had slept peacefully. She had told Max that I was there, and he had been pleased. She said nothing more about calling Dr. Rau. It was to Dr. Rau that Max said, the last time the doctor saw him, "I have watched my mother die, I have watched my sister die, but this is different."

I had said that I would come along with Charlie, and on the way to the Villino Miss Jungmann told me some of the troubles she had had since Max entered the hospital; it was as if by dwelling on these little things she found relief from the contemplation of the appalling, unfaceable fact that was facing her. Later, we sat in the living room of the Villino. I sat in my usual place, beside the Merton chair. The niche was as it had always been. The bronze girl with the averted head, the two girls in white, the little girl and the Abbé were on the mantelshelf. Miss Jungmann had packed in a small valise what she had come to get. I asked her whether she would mind if I sent Charlie back to the hospital with her, because I wanted to sit in Max's study for a few minutes. Then I would come on to the hospital, and, if she could manage it, I would take her to lunch. She readily consented to my staying behind, but she did not feel that she could go out to lunch.

"Do you know what was worrying Max before he left for the hospital?" Miss Jungmann said. "You wouldn't believe what was worrying him!"

I asked what it was.

"Well," she said, "you know, he had a letter from your friend Mr. Marcus, to thank him for what he had done with the Bruce Rogers. You remember?"

I said I remembered perfectly.

Miss Jungmann went on, "Well, it was such a nice letter. It couldn't have been nicer. Mr. Marcus was so appreciative of what Max had done. And still it worried Max."

I asked why.

"Because," she replied, "he said he couldn't tell from your friend's letter whether he had realized that what Max had done was funny. He didn't say that it had made him laugh."

I assured Miss Jungmann that Mr. Marcus probably had laughed but, since Max was, perhaps as much as any writer in the world, the personification of the comic spirit, had thought it infra dig to say so.

Miss Jungmann felt better. "I'll tell Max," she said. "He'll be so relieved."

She was on the point of leaving the room when she hesitated, returned, and sat down beside me. She took my hand in hers and pledged me to secrecy about what she was going to say. She then told me her news. She had been married to Max some days before, in the hospital room. She was Lady Beerbohm.

I said it was wonderful.

"It is wonderful," she said, her eyes brimming with tears.

I asked her how it had come about.

"Oh, you mean the proposal?" she said. "Well, darling Max, out of a clear sky— He was lying there, and looked so serene, and I heard him say, 'What would you think of the idea of our getting married?' I was startled, but when I recovered I said that I adored him more than anyone else in the world and that I thought it would be a good idea. And Max said, 'I am so delighted you think it is a good idea.'"

There was a moment's silence. "I must return to Max," she said, and went out. The new Lady Beerbohm was to survive Max by less than three years.

I went out and walked up the stairs to the terrace. It was flooded with sunlight. There I remembered a line of Max's: "The past is a work of art, free of irrelevancies and loose ends." I crossed the terrace and went into Max's blue study, where I sat for a few minutes. It was cool there. I walked around the bookshelves. Max's sense of fun had been so exuberant that, with convincing draftsmanship, he had applied it even to his bookcase. I was again tempted to take out "The Poetical Works of Thomas Henry Huxley" and "The Complete Works of Arnold Bennett," both slim volumes—as slim, in fact, and as immovable, as the wooden partitions of which they consisted. I picked a book at random—a real book—from the shelf. It was a presentation copy of Henry James's "The Aspern Papers." Max had drawn James on the title page; the drawing showed him doubled up in a state of acute physical discomfort, and Max's neatly written legend below explained why: "Mr. Henry James in the act of parturiating a sentence."

I walked out of the study and crossed the terrace to the parapet. Charlie had returned; his taxi was standing against the wall of the Villino. I looked across the road; the Swinburne tree was leaning far backward, and beyond it stretched the same old sea.

Three weeks later, on the twentieth of May, Max died. That day, the Old Self could safely have taken off the mask of the character that the Young Self had created—the character of Max Beerbohm. The discrepancy between the man and the mask was always slighter in Max than in most people, and by that time the two had become indistinguishable. Under the Maxian mask was, ultimately, Max.

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

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