Max Beerbohm once claimed that there were fifteen hundred readers in England and another thousand in America who knew what he was about. Small enough numbers, one would have thought, but he claimed them with a faint air of boastfulness. When S. N. Behrman first visited Max Beerbohm at his home in Rapallo in the early 1950s, Beerbohm showed him a publisher’s statement from the firm of Alfred A. Knopf, which had recently reissued a book of his essays. On the right-hand side of the statement was an unbroken column of zeros. “There’s a publisher’s statement!” he announced (“carolled” is the word Behrman uses). As a frequent sojourner in used-book shops, I can testify that Behrman’s own book, A Portrait of Max, handsomely printed and lavishly illustrated though it is, and charmingly written into the bargain, is an almost inevitable inmate upon the dusty shelves in...


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