Parody is a delicate art, but it has a way of falling into the hands of coarse practitioners. Think, for example, of the ghastly burlesque of The Waste Land perpetrated in the 1950s by the Cambridge don who wrote under the pen-name of “Myra Buttle.” How can anyone have taken pleasure in such stuff (except on the principle that any stick to beat the dog would do)? It is enough to make you despair of the genre as a whole. But then think instead of Henry Reed’s brilliant parody of Four Quartets, Chard Whitlow (much admired by Eliot himself, incidentally), and a sense of balance is restored. There are happy exceptions—parodies that are worthy of their subjects, that yield as much or more on a third or fourth reading as they do on a first; and the happiest of all are the seventeen sketches that make up A Christmas Garland.

Beerbohm’s book had its origins in 1896, when he was twenty-four....


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