The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm

The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm



The Pequod Review:

Much of Max Beerbohm's humor has aged poorly, but this collection of 50 essays assembled by Philip Lopate has enough mischievous wit to make them an enjoyable read. One of the highlights is "An Infamous Brigade," Beerbohm's satirical tribute to burning buildings:

Not many nights ago, as I was hastening through the frost, I saw a strange clamor in the "Is it Tithonus, I wondered, "shamed forth, at length, by his Lady's taunts?" The glamour grew. I thought Aurora had followed her Lord, and was beseeching him to return. But a cabman, whom I consulted, told me it was not Tithonus, nor Aurora, but only some wharf burning by the river. I let him drive me there. Through a rattle of dark alleys sped we, through brawls and squalor. Under the red glory of flames that were reduplicated in sky and water, we rested. Than the roaring of those great flames had I yet heard, than their red glory seen, nothing lovelier.

Yet, under my very eyes, there was an organized attempt to spoil this fair thing. Persons in absurd helmets ran about pouring cascades of cold water on the flames. These, my cabman told me, were firemen. I jumped out and, catching one of them by the arm, bade him sharply desist from his vandalism. I told him that I had driven miles to see this fire, that great crowds of Londoners, poor people with few joys, were there to see it also, and I asked him who was he that he should dare to disappoint us. Without answering my arguments, he warned me that I must not interfere with him "in the discharge of his duty." The silly crowd would not uphold me, and I fell back, surreptitiously slitting his water-hose with a penknife. But what could I avail? The cascades around me were ceaseless, innumerable. Every moment dashed up fresh firemen, imprecant on cars, behind wild horses. In less than an hour, all was over. The flames had been surrounded, driven back and stricken, at length, as they lay, cowering and desperate, in their last embers. But, as they died, there leapt from my hearts core a great residuary flame of indignation. It is still burning.


Not forgetting that before the next dawn breaks your house may be wet ashes and you its unwilling survivor, try now, reader, to take an altruist view. For the fire-brigade is most hateful, not because it invades the sanctity of our home-life, but because it takes constantly from so many citizens their enjoyment of fair things. I know that the firebrigade is strong. It will die hard. Years hence, it may still be flourishing. But, meanwhile, one should not be idle. I am forming an Artists Corps whose aim will be to harass the members of the fire-brigade on all occasions. I am maturing an elaborate system of false alarms, and I shall train my recruits to waylay the enemy in their onrush, seize the bridles of their horses, cut their reins. We, too, shall hold ourselves in readiness to start off at five minutes' notice, but there will be no furious driving, no terrorizing of harmless traffic. We shall go about our work in a quite, gentlemanly manner: servants, not tyrants, of the public. Though at first, necessarily, our organization will be small, we shall extend it gradually, I hope. We shall, in time, despise mere guerilla warfare and take our stand upon the very field of battle. Each one of us will trail a sinuous hose. It will not be filled with water. It will be filled with oil.