Monday, June 11, 2007

"The Incomparable Max"

To Bernard Shaw*
12 April 1898
48 Upper Berkeley Square, W.
My Dear G. B. S.,

I was very much pleased, as you may imagine, to receive your letter and the great compliment it implied. But your decision to retire from dramatic criticism rather depresses me--and I hope that you will reconsider it. You may be tired of the job, but "stale" you certainly are not--you are a weekly marvel of freshness and agility--and you certainly don't repeat yourself, though I am sure you would bear repetition.

Whether I could succeed you, I am by no means certain. There would be several difficulties. My mind is not very fertile, and any success I may have had is due to my own shrewdness in not doing much. I am afraid I might come an early and a nasty cropper off the hebdomadal tightrope. Also, I have no enthusiasm for the theatre--in fact I don't care a damn about the theatre. This would handicap me for decent criticism. Also, I have a big brother at Her Majesty's, and he would be rather compromised by my position, and I by his. Also I am an amiable person, and might be unable to speak ill of any bad actors, except those whom I have never met. And I have met so many, so many!

However, the position of dramatic critic to the Saturday is a dignified position--and regular emolument must be very nice. And I will wait and see what Frank Harris says--and whether you remain adamant.
The most obvious difficulty for me would be in following you. You have done so much in dramatic criticism, and I should be always tripping up in your large and deep footprints.
Meanwhile I am sincerely yours
*Shaw (1856-1950) had been dramatic critic of the Saturday Review since 1895. He was now preparing to retire and in his final article on 21 May 1898 he wrote: "The younger generation is knocking at the door; and as I open it there steps sprightly in the incomparable Max", whose first dramatic criticism appeared on 28 May 1898. Frank Harris had bought the paper in 1894, and had enlisted many leading writers as contributors.
--from Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892-1956 edited by Rupert Hart-Davis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988) p. 13.