August 04, 2016

The Incomparable Max

Out pretty recently, a collection of Beerbohm's essays, edited by Phillip Lopate, entitled The Prince of Minor Writers.

A few excerpts:

  • On Goethe - “[He] has more than once been described as ‘the perfect man.’... But a man whose career was glorious without intermission, decade after decade, does sorely try our patience...  [H]e was never injudicious, never lazy, always in the best form— and always in love with some lady or another just so much as was good for the development of his soul and his art, but never more than that by a tittle.”
  • More on Goethe - “Men of genius are not quick judges of character. Deep thinking and high imagining blunt that trivial instinct by which you and I size people up. Had you and I been at Goethe’s elbow when, in the October of 1786, he entered Rome and was received by the excited Tischbein, no doubt we should have whispered in his ear, ‘Beware of that man! He will one day fail you.’”
  • On the crowd - “A public crowd, because of a lack of broad impersonal humanity in me, rather insulates than absorbs me. Amidst the guffaws of a thousand strangers I become unnaturally grave.”
  • On the 1880s - “To give an accurate and exhaustive account of that period would need a far less brilliant pen than mine.”
  • On setting things on fire - “Nothing is easier than to be an incendiary. All you want is a box of matches and a sense of beauty.”
  • On being a weekend guest - “For fifteen mortal hours or so... I have been making myself agreeable, saying the right thing, asking the apt question, exhibiting the proper shade of mild or acute surprise, smiling the appropriate smile or laughing just so long and just so loud as the occasion seemed to demand.... It is a dog’s life.”
One quibble:  I am more in Updike camp that says Beerbohm, while not prolific, was one of the finest writers.  He deserves as much attention as we can give him.



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