Max Beerbohm, British (1872 - 1956)

Born in London, England, the younger half-brother of actor and producer Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, he was educated at Charterhouse School and Merton College, Oxford, where he was Secretary of the Myrmidon Club. At Oxford he became part of the Oscar Wilde set, although George Bernard Shaw declared that Beerbohm was incomparable to anyone else. At this early age, he was also in much demand as a guest at the great dinner parties of Mayfair, where he was considered by many to be the greatest wit in town. His early brilliance faded all too soon, and by thirty-five he was viewed as a prematurely dull, heavy, middle-aged man.

It was at school that he began writing. His "Defence of Cosmetics" appeared in the first edition of the The Yellow Book, Aubrey Beardsley being art editor at the time. Beerbohm toured the United States while a young man as a press agent for his brother's theatrical company.

His first book, The Works of Max Beerbohm, was published in 1896. Having been interviewed by George Bernard Shaw himself, in 1898 he followed Shaw as drama critic for the Saturday Review, on whose staff he remained until 1910. From 1935 onwards, he was an occasional if popular radio broadcaster, talking on cars and carriages and music halls for the BBC. His wit is shown often enough in his caricatures but his letters contain a carefully blended humour—a gentle admonishing of the excesses of the day—whilst remaining firmly tongue in cheek. His lifelong friend Reginald Turner, who was also an aesthete and a somewhat witty companion, saved many of Max's letters.

Beerbohm's best known works include A Christmas Garland (1912), a parody of literary styles, Seven Men (1919), which includes "Enoch Soames", the tale of a poet who makes a deal with the Devil to find out how posterity will remember him, and Zuleika Dobson (1911), his only novel. Other works include The Happy Hypocrite (1897).

Beerbohm married the actress Florence Kahn in 1910. He was knighted in 1939. He died in Rapallo, Italy aged 83, shortly after marrying his former secretary, Elisabeth Jungmann. His ashes were interred in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, London.

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