My gifts are small,” Max Beerbohm wrote a prospective biographer in 1921 from his home at Villino Chiaro in Rapallo. “I’ve used them very well and discreetly, never straining them; and the result is that I’ve made a charming little reputation. But that reputation is a frail plant.” Beerbohm is cherished by his admirers for his wit, common sense, the elegance of his prose, and the way he shunned high ambition in favor of more modest goals. As one generation succeeds another in the pursuit of folly, Max’s observations on the times he lived through are both cheering and heartening. They may even give us some perspective on the follies of our own age.

Readers of The New Criterion will want to look at both John Gross’s 1994 piece, “A prodigy of parody,” which...


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