MR. MAX BEERBOHM'S CARICATURES.* ALL who saw Mr. Max Beerbohm's
last exhibition will be delighted to meet his caricatures again in this small octavo volume. We are not quite sure, however, whether we really like to see the drawings so greatly reduced in size. When it is a case of books for reading we are all for Dr. Johnson's dictum that the best size is that which a man can hold easily in his hand and carry to the fire. The old notion that poets should publish in quarto has long ago been condemned by the reading public. Pictures, however, are another matter, and they unquestionably lose by reduction.
We have very few original things in the present age, though plenty and to spare of excellent "re-pros," copies, half copies, and quarter copies. True originality is as rare and as precious as radium. Mr. Max Beerbohm has beyond doubt a grain or two of this radium and, like radium, his emanations of humour, verve, and originality do not seem to exhaust themselves. Almost any of the caricatures in this book will illustrate what we mean. There is no element of subordination to any earlier school of caricature, for example, in the picture of "Mr. Asquith in Office." The Prime Minister, cigar in mouth, sits secure in the centre of the picture, while around him in a delightful decorative frieze stand his enemies. In front are Sir Edward Carson with a blackthorn, and a suffragette, flat in the head and lean in the body, grasping her axe with nervous tension. Behind stands a Labour man with the red cap of liberty on his bead and a pickaxe on his shoulder; next him a soldier with more than a suspicion of the Prussian drill sergeant about him to represent the advocates of national service ; while on the extreme left is an attenuated aristocrat with a coronet on his head, a hunting crop in his hand, and chains and shackles on his ankles and wrists. In political thought it is of course impossible to be original, but here Mr. Max Beerbohm's satire is the next best thing. It is poignant and illuminating. It is sometimes will- o'-the-wispish and phosphorescent and sometimes sulphurous, but it is always to the point. What could go straighter home in this respect than the picture of the Kaiser leaning back in his armchair observing the Crown Prince ? The legend beneath runs, "Dawning of a horrid doubt as to the Divine Right." We cannot deal with all the plates worth noticing in this book, for to do so would mean a notice of every one of them, but we may remark upon the extraordinary power of
• Fifty Caricatures. By Max Beerbohm. London : William Heinemann. [6a. net.]
that entitled "Mr. Thomas Hardy composing a Lyric." Any- one who knows the Dorsetshire heaths and downs will realize the dexterity with which Mr. Max Beerbohm has got the spirit of what the literary jargon of the hour calls "the Hardy country" by a few apparently random touches. In truth, of course, nothing could be more anxiously calculated than the blasted tree, the goggle-eyed owl, and the moon. Mr. Hardy, in the picture, is clearly crooning forth anapaestic and dactylic verses, whose backs he has previously most carefully broken, just as poultbrers deliberately break the breast- bones of spring chickens. As a piece of pure decoration or pattern-making, nothing could be better than the picture of Colonel Seely in the reading-room of the Cavalry Club listening to old colonels and generals talking about the Territorials. He points in protest to the notice "Silence" on the mantelpiece. A proof of Mr. Max Beerbohm's extra- ordinary variety and charm is to be found in the plate entitled "Leaders of Cashmiote Society." Charming, indeed, are the ladies who implore the offices of the great portrait painter. They look like portraits by Watts or female characters in some of Millais's early drawings to illustrate mid-Victorian novels.
Long may Mr. Max Beerbohm continue to delight us with his craft, and long may be maintain that touch of aloofness from the real problems, political, social, and moral, which he now shows ! If he once were to take sides, even though it were the right side, his particular form of art must dwindle and dis- appear. His business is to turn the laugh against anyone and everyone who offers him the opportunity, irrespective of any merits, or what he may think to be the merits. He must only be deeply touched and in deadly earnest about one thing, and that is the detection of the hidden founts of laughter—the sense of smiles in mortal things. Above all, he must mingle beauty with caricature. He must charm while he disgusts, fascinate while he outrages. It is easy enough to make an ugly caricature. The crux is to make it beautiful and stimulating and exciting as well as repellent. This he certainly has accomplished in the present collection. Indeed, we are not sure that "A Loathsome Proposal " does not almost exceed in the matter of attractiveness.