Max Beerbohm Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sir Henry Maximilian Beerbohm (BIHR-bohm) was the youngest child of his father’s second marriage. Julius E. E. Beerbohm’s first wife bore three sons and a daughter; of these children, the most widely known was the celebrated actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. With his second wife, who was the sister of his first wife, Beerbohm had four daughters and a son, Max. Max Beerbohm attended Charterhouse School from 1885 to 1890, when he enrolled at Merton College, Oxford; he left there in 1894 without taking a degree.

During his undergraduate days at Oxford, Beerbohm seems to have avoided most lectures and all athletics and to have been interested mainly in his position as a young man about campus. He made his initial appearances as writer and caricaturist during this time. His first published caricatures appeared in three issues of the Strand Magazine in 1892, and in 1894 he contributed to the first volume of The Yellow Book. In 1895, he accompanied Beerbohm Tree to America as a secretary. After he returned to London, his first published book appeared in 1896 under the title The Works of Max Beerbohm, which included a bibliography of his writings supplied by his publisher, John Lane. The same year also saw publication of his first book of drawings, Caricatures of Twenty-five Gentlemen. In 1898, George Bernard Shaw retired as drama critic of the Saturday Review and appointed Beerbohm to succeed him, introducing him in phrases that were subsequently often quoted: “The younger generation is knocking at the door; and as I open it there steps spritely in the incomparable Max. . . .” Beerbohm conducted the drama criticisms until his own retirement in 1910.

Beerbohm devoted his time to his drawings (which were shown at the Leicester Galleries and later issued in book form), essays, stories, and criticisms. He put together a number of collections of essays, beginning with The Happy Hypocrite in 1897 and simultaneously published books of his caricatures. Rossetti and His Circle is often considered his best work in that genre. His reputation as a writer and caricaturist thus developed in tandem as the two complementary sides of his highly individualized personality. In 1910, Beerbohm married the talented actress Florence Kahn, who came from Memphis, Tennessee, and had achieved great success in productions of Henrik Ibsen’s plays. After the marriage, the Beerbohms retired to the Villino Chiaro near Rapallo, Italy, where they made their home until their deaths. In 1939, Beerbohm was knighted by George VI. After Beerbohm’s wife died in Italy in 1951, he married Elizabeth Jungman, his secretary-companion and a family friend, in a secret ceremony only a month before his own death on May 20, 1956.

When Beerbohm was making his first appearances in the early 1890’s, Oscar Wilde announced...

(The entire section is 680 words.)