In "Diminuendo," Max Beerbohm's speaker intentionally writes in the manner of a sage, using certain methods to establish credibility, one of which is distancing himself from his audience in an overdramatic and overt way. He does this using a variety of techniques, first by criticizing a well-known author, Walter Pater.

Not even in those more decadent days of my childhood did I admire the man as a stylist...And I suppose it was when at length I saw him that I first knew him to be fallible.

He even goes so far as to state his separation blatantly.

When the tumult of my disillusion was past, my mind grew clearer. . . And so, while most of the freshmen were doing her honour with wine and song and wreaths of smoke, I stood aside, pondered.

Around me seethed swirls, eddies, torrents, violent cross-currents of human activity. What uproar! Surely I could have no part in modern life. Yet, yet for a while it was fascinating to watch the ways of its children.

At the end of the piece he separates completely from society,

And now that I have made my adieux to the Benign Mother, I need wait no longer. I have been casting my eye over the suburbs of London. I have taken a most pleasant little villa in ___ham, and here I shall make my home. Here there is no traffic, no harvest. Those of the inhabitants who do anything go away each morning and do it elsewhere. Here no vital forces unite. Nothing happens here. The days and the months will pass by me, bringing their sure recurrence of quiet events. In the spring-time I shall look out from my window and see the laburnum flowering in the little front garden. In summer cool syrups will come for me from the grocer's shop. Autumn will make the boughs of my mountain-ash scarlet, and, later, the asbestos in my grate will put forth its blossoms of flame. The infrequent cart of Buszard or Mudie will pass my window at all seasons. Nor will this be all. I shall have friends. Next door, there is a retired military man who has offered, in a most neighbourly way, to lend me his copy of the Times. On the other side of my house lives a charming family, who perhaps will call on me, now and again. I have seen them sally forth, at sundown, to catch the theatre-train; among them walked a young lady, the charm of whose figure was ill concealed by the neat waterproof that overspread her evening dress. Some day it may be . . . but I anticipate. These things will be but the cosy accompaniment of my days. For I shall contemplate the world.

I shall look forth from my window, the laburnum and the mountain-ash becoming mere silhouettes in the foreground of my vision. I shall look forth and, in my remoteness, appreciate the distant pageant of the world. Humanity will range itself in the column of my morning paper. No pulse of life will escape me.

Beerbohm's physical distance mirrors his philosophical distance which allows him to rise above his audience, taking a wiser and more general look at the world, and therefore creating credibility for his sage-writing.

Questions

1. Who is the speaker here? In "A Modest Proposal" Jonathan Swift creates a speaker entirely separate from himself. Beerbohm, on the other hand, speaks, at least supposedly, as himself. Is "Diminuendo" satire? And if so, why would Beerbohm choose to write as himself?

2. Beerbohm distances himself very distinctly and definitely from his audience, physically and philosophically. How does this differ from other wisdom speakers such as Johnson and Montaigne?

3. In several places, Beerbohm uses foreign languages such as French and Latin in his prose. How does this technique distinguish himself from his audience.

3. Why does Beerbohm mention the Spectator? What are some other ways he refers to past wisdom speakers?


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Last modified 6 April 2005