Friday, October 26, 2007

Max's Fantastic Erudition

[Max Beerbohm to the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette]

30 May 1898
48 Upper Berkeley Street

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Dear Sir, I am sorry that serious men have been taking me seriously as a commentator on Shakespeare, and I hasten to admit that my theory of the heraldic metaphor was but an essay in fantastic erudition, or, as Mr Tyler rather crudely conjectures, "a practical joke". To Dr Furnivall I have already confessed, receiving a genial absolution.* To the others I apologise also. But have I really wasted anyone's time? The true scholar loves research for its own sake. The exhilaration is in the chase itself rather than in the "kill". That is a metaphor drawn from fox-hunting. It can be verified in the Badminton Library.

I am your obedient servant

*On condition that Max should subscribe ten shillings to the Esperance Girls' Rowing Club at Hammersmith in which Furnivall took "a very human interest" (Men and Memories, Vol. I, by William Rothenstein, 1931). There is a splendid photograph of Furnivall with a buxom eight in Caught in the Web of Words by K. M. Elizabeth Murray (1977). [R. Hart-Davis]

-from Letters of Max Beerbohm 1892-1956 edited by Rupert Hart-Davis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988) p. 15-16.

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