Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Incomparable Max

I read far more non-fiction than fiction - I'm particularly fond of reading biographies, autobiographies, diaries and collections of letters. Not to say blogs. All this is partly because most of my reading is done in the bath at 1 am after an exhausting evening of marking and I keep nodding off, which makes it harder to follow a plot.

Anyway, I've recently finished the letters of Max Beerbohm, who was generally a much jollier person, I'd guess, than his photo above would suggest. And pursuing my recent policy of getting other people to write my blog posts for me, I thought I'd give you a flavour of his writing. This isn't exactly a letter; it's an inscription on his book of short stories, "Seven Men" (which I highly recommend, by the way). The Rev. C. Williamson had written to Max B. at his home in Italy to ask him to sign a copy of the book. And so he wrote on the first blank page:

Reverend Sir, I cannot help wondering what your Bishop would say if he knew that you had sent a man who has not the pleasure of knowing you a copy of a book by that man, "thanking him in anticipation" for signing it, wrapping it in brown paper, tying it with string, addressing it, taking it to the post office and posting it. I sign the book and send it back to you with such Christian charity as I can muster.

[And on the title page:]

To dear old C. Williamson - my companion in many a madcap escapade and my accomplice in more than one shady transaction, in the sad bad glad old days before he took Holy Orders.

[And on the next page:]

P.S. I remember hearing many years ago, that in the English countryside a tramp who was well-received at a house left at the gate-post of that house a cabalistic sign in chalk, whereby all subsequent tramps knew that this was a "good" house.

If you are in with collectors of a kind akin to your own, will you please warn them that any books they send me will be promptly chucked into the Mediterranean, where they can be dived for - or not, according to choice?

I like the fact that the Rev. C. kept the book - taking it, let's hope, in the spirit in which it was offered.


  1. Bravo Max! I would like to have seen the Rev's face when he read the inscription.

  2. Egads, that's bloody hilarious. I love people like that. Completely irreverent, and yet so worthy of regard.

  3. Hahaha - oh to be so bold! Thanks for the giggle today Isabelle!

  4. I must say, I do like his philosophy! Thanks Isabelle!

  5. I myself just finished reading the Letters and what a delightful experience it was.

    Plans are in motion to sue his estate because they should have done something about the one obvious disappointment involved - it ended.

    If you haven't read Behrman's Portrait of Max, please do so.

    Not only will you enjoy it, it will also arrest this distressing trend of your falling asleep in the tub, with all of your students' exams swirling down the drain (I pause to reconsider whether this is a liability or a benefit).

    And Max himself would have put me in front of a firing squad (firing blanks) for suggesting the following, but I do so to also pay homage to the review written by Fadiman.

    Go to Amazon Books, type in "Portrait of Max" S.N. Behrman, and read the review that I posted recently.

    There I go again beating my own drum during Mercury Retrograde.

    However, given that it is usually Mercury Rx that beats ME when it comes to town, which is all too often, I hope you will forgive.

    In case the posting system identifies me as Rufus T. Firefly (again), I am, as far as anyone can tell in this dim light of the dead of winter,

    Don Reed

  6. P.S.: I just realized that you're in the UK, given the time difference (your 5:02 am is our 12:02 am here, just outside New York City).

    This means that you would have to log on to the American Amazon system in order to proceed to the review.

    A carrier pigeon is on standby, ready to go if all else fails, with a copy of the review under his beak, neatly gift-wrapped.

    Don't let him snow you about his expense account - he gets carried away with these things, you know.

    Or as Max would say, "Don't you know..."