The last civilized man on earth.
The incomparable Max Beerbohm, English satirist, poet, historian, and artist, was born on August 24, 1872, in London. He was half-brother to Herbert Beerbohm Tree, an actor and owner of Her Majesty's Theatre (and, coincidentally, Shaw's first Henry Higgins). He attended university at Merton College, Oxford, where he immediately began his career by publishing a series of vicious caricatures of the Dons, followed by the pamphlet "A Defense of Cosmetics" (later published under the title "The Perversion of Rouge". By 1894, he had finished an essay on the history of the year 1880, and was continuing work on King George the Fourth.
Accompanied by his half-brother, he sailed to America in 1895, with the stated purpose of establishing a monarchy there; he seems to have failed, and returned a few months later.
The rest of his life was devoted to attacking in print everything that was serious and bloated in literature (joining men like Noel Coward). His two chief works are Zuleika Dobson, published in 1911, and Seven Men, published in 1919. The first describes the strange adventures of the beautiful title character:
Paris saw her and was prostrate. Boldini did a portrait of her. Jules Bloch wrote a song about her; and this, for a
whole month, was howled up and down the cobbled alleys of Montmartre. And all the little dandies were mad for "la Zuleika." The jewellers of the Rue de la Paix soon had nothing left to put in their windows - everything had been bought for "la Zuleika." For a whole month, baccarat was not played at the Jockey Club--every member had succumbed to a nobler passion. For a whole month, the whole demi-monde was forgotten for one English virgin. Never, even in Paris, had a woman triumphed so. When the day came for her departure, the city wore such an air of sullen mourning as it had not worn since the Prussians marched to its Elysee.
Zuleika was aimed directly at the popular stories of Oscar Wilde. The second contains seven portraits; the first, Enoch Soames, talks about Max's meeting with an author he had criticised. The author complains that he would sell his soul to know what people said of him a hundred years from now; sure enough, the devil, who happens to be dining nearby, grants him his wish. Enoch Soames travels forward in time, only to find that he's become only a footnote in a collection of Beerbohm's work.
Few of these works were written maliciously; good parody almost never is. Beerbohm reserved most of his disgust for Rudyard Kipling, attacking him for his crude poetry, revolting advocacy of imperialism, and pompous style. Beerbohm make an attempt at the Kipling method:
Then it's collar 'im tight
In the name of the Lawd!
'Ustle 'im, shake 'im till 'e's sick!
Wot, 'e would, would 'e? Well,
Then yer've got ter give 'im 'Ell,
An' it's trunch, trunch, truncheon does the trick!
In 1910, Kipling wrote a heavy-handed verse obituary for Edward VII, ending:
Who in the Realm to-day has choice of the easy road or the hard to tread?
And, much concerned for his own estate, would sell his soul to remain in the sun?
Let him depart nor look on Our Dead.
Our King asks nothing of any man more than Our King himself has done.
Beerbohm immediately wrote another ending:
Wisely and well was it said of him, 'Hang it all, he's a
Mixture of Jesus, Apollo, Goliath and Julius Caesar!
Always he plans as an ever Do-Right-man, never an Err-man
And never a drop of the blood in his beautiful body was German.
'God save him' we said when he lived but the words now sound odd,
For we know that in Heaven above at this moment he's saving God.
It would be unfair to say that Beerbohm hated Kipling; rather more accurate to say that Beerbohm hated everything Kipling wrote, said, did, and stood for.
In 1910, Beerbohm married the American actress Florence Kahn, and they moved to Rapallo, Italy, leaving again only briefly during both world wars. After his wife's death in 1951, he lived with his secretary, Elizabeth Jungmann, whom he married just a few weeks before his death on May 20, 1956.