“Pleasure is a word of dubious import… to be able therefore to furnish pleasure that is harmless, pleasure pure and unalloyed, is as great a power as man can possess.”—Samuel Johnson
This Christmas season I am laughing my head off with the “Incomparable Max”… Beerbohm, that is. The impish satirist and caricaturist was acquainted with – and parodied – some of my favorite writers, and just about everyone else of his age. Speaking of which, I recommend his uproarious spoof of the uproarious Belloc that appears in A Christmas Garland, alongside apocryphal writings of Conrad, James, Kipling, Hardy and Shaw. As Beerbohm once said to Belloc, “you are like a great Bellocking Ram, like a Roman river full of baskets and dead cats…” Just as fun are his cartoons. Unfortunately I cannot reproduce them here, but imagine, if you will, this exchange between the “younger” and “older” H.G. Wells (from Beerbohm’s Literary Caricatures):
YOUNG SELF: “Did you ever manage to articulate the bones of that microglamaphoid lizard?”
OLD SELF: “I’m not sure. But I’ve articulated the whole past of mankind on this planet – and the whole future too. I don’t think you know very much about the past, do you? It’s all perfectly beastly, believe me. But the future’s going to be all perfectly splendid. . . after a bit. And I must say I find the present very jolly.”
Beerbohm really didn’t have much time for Wells. That may be because Wells was a pompous humbug who didn’t have much time for Christmas, or the innocent mirth that Beerbohm delighted in. In “Some Damnable Errors About Christmas” Beerbohm offers a good natured spoof of his friend G. K. Chesterton:
That it is human to err is admitted by even the most positive of our thinkers. Here we have the great difference between latter-day thought and the thought of the past. If Euclid were alive to-day (and I dare say he is) he would not say, “The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal to one another.” He would say, “To me (a very frail and fallible being, remember) it does somehow seem that these two angles have a mysterious and awful equality to one another.” The dislike of schoolboys for Euclid is unreasonable in many ways; but fundamentally it is entirely reasonable.