Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956)
From Literary Anecdotes About 20th Century Authors

HERE in the little sitting-room Max spread a green cloth on the table, laying his paint brushes out neatly beside the few tubes of paint that he used, strips of blotting paper and a pot of crystal-clear water. . . . Here, too, at this table he began Rossetti and his Circle, his series of Pre-Raphaelite drawings, wrote the story of Maltby and Braxton and the play Savonarola Brown, published in Seven Men. And the children laughed at the recollection of his emerging from the cottage, dressed with scrupulous care, with stick and gloves, to walk the 100 yards to the Nelson Inn to buy cigarettes; further than this he never ventured. During the winter he was content to stay indoors with all the windows carefully shut, and we remembered how, when with us, if he noticed an open window, he would stroll round the room, talking and smoking while he gradually approached the window and, as though absent-mindedly, carefully close it. Florence would go for walks with us but never far: Max must not be left alone in the cottage. One early spring day, walking with my wife, she heard a bird singing high up in the air. `What bird is that?' asked Florence, and when told it was a lark, `A lark! Max has never heard a lark!' and she hurried back. When she returned later with Max, in heavy overcoat, gloved and attentive, alas, the lark had finished his song!

Sir William Rothenstein, Since Fifty (1939), pp. 2-3.

WHEN Max Beerbohm gave the world its first account of that unfortunate poet of the eighteen-nineties, Enoch Soames, he remarked very truly that there is no mention of Soames in Holbrook Jackson's well-known book on the period. That alone would scarcely account for Max's seeming reluctance to take Enoch Soames quite seriously, but there were other disquieting circumstances that seemed to throw doubt on his very existence. It will be recalled that poor Soames was consumed by a longing for recognition, and that in his desperate eagerness to know what posterity would think of him he determined to sell his soul to the Devil in return for the chance of being projected into the Reading Room of the British Museum as it would be a hundred years hence. The bargain was struck, and Soames duly found himself in the Reading Room of the year 1997. There, as he had expected, he found his name in the Catalogue, but only on the slips recording the titles of the three slim volumes he had published in the eighteen-nineties. There was no mention of him in the Dictionary of National Biography, nor in any of the encyclopedias he consulted; but he was directed by an assistant to a work dated 1992, written in the phonetic spelling then apparently in use: `Inglish Littracher 1890-1900, bi T. K. Nupton'. There at last he found his name:

Fr egzarmpl, a riter ov th time, naimed Max Beerbohm, hoo wuz stil alive in th Twentieth senchri, rote a stauri in wich e pautraid an immajanari karrakter kauld `Enoch Soames'—a thurd-rait poit hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus an maix a bargin with th Devvll in auder ter no wot posterriti thinx ov him! It iz a sumwot labud sattire . . .

Faced with this sceptical pronouncement of T. K. Nupton (which Soames had copied out and brought back with him) Max was driven to wonder whether Soames were not really `an immajanari karraketer' after all—`a figment of my brain'. He need not have wondered. If his reading had lain more in the field of scholarship he might have found evidence that must have dispelled his doubts. In that standard work of reference published for the Modern Humanities Research Association, the annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, the name of Soames is among the authors listed for the year 1922, as the following entry will show:

2883. Soames, Enoch. Edward Shanks, `The Last Garland: To the Memory of Enoch Soames'. (London Mercury (Oct. 1922), vi. 602-606.)

True, it is only a single entry—far less than would have satisfied Soames himself—but it does at least supply the necessary confirmation of his existence.

See Modern Humanities Research Association, Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature (1922).

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