decorated initial 'S'age writers such as Carlyle and Ruskin often protest existing social, political, and economic systems, attacking their readers' morality and promising social demise if man does not reform his ills. In "The Pervasion of Rouge," Max Beerbohm takes a much different approach from the sage writer, informing the reader with his opening sentence: "Nay, but it is useless to protest."ĘBeerhohm makes his view of the sage clear in the very opening of this essay, indicating the idea that such ailments cannot be cured by the protests raised by these sages:

And what man or what number of men ever stayed that inexorable process by which the cities of this world grow, are very strong, fail, and grow again? Indeed, indeed, there is charm in every period, and only fools and flutterpates do not seek reverently for what is charming in their own day. No martyrdom, however fine, nor satire, however splendidly bitter, has changed by a little tittle the known tendency of things. It is the times that can perfect us, not we the times, and so let all of us wisely acquiesce. Like the little wired marionettes, let us acquiesce in the dance.

Beerbohm does not deny that problems exist, but rather admits that such issues in society cannot be cured by ranting in the way of the satirist. Furthermore, by centralizing his essay on the growing "love for cosmetics," a seemingly absurd subject matter, Beerbohm mocks the sage writer, who is in contrast, concerned with critical social issues. By focusing on the growing popularity of cosmetics, Beerbohm suggests an alternate solution to the ailments of society, one that does not function by providing a cure but rather by furnishing a mask. He recognizes that all men ultimately cannot be changed for the better and rather suggests, "the safest way by far is to create, by brush and pigments, artificial expression for every face."

In addition to parodying the wisdom speaker, Beerbohm seems to a certain extent, to make fun of the aesthetic critic who takes the beauty of objects quite seriously. For example, when compared to the writing of Walter Pater, Beerbohm's tone is much less formal and to the point.

In his Preface to The Renaissance, Pater states:

What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects. He will remember always that beauty exists in many forms. To him all periods, types, schools of taste, are in themselves equal. In all ages there have been some excellent workmen, and some excellent work done.

Beerbohm has much more bluntly conveyed the same message when stating, "Indeed, indeed, there is charm in every period, and only fools and flutterpates do not seek reverently for what is charming in their own day." As opposed to Pater's suggestion of observing art with, "a certain kind of temperament," Beerbohm simply states, "personal appearance is art's very basis." This frankness seems to somewhat disparage the thoughtful analysis of beauty provided by the aesthetic critic.

Questions

Who is it that Beerbohm is attacking in this piece. Is he merely providing a critique of the satirist? How can his enthusiasm for women's cosmetics be seen as a commentary on society at large?

In discussing the benefits of cosmetics, Beerbohm states: ". . . though Old England lose her martial and commercial supremacy, we patriots will have the satisfaction of knowing that she has been advanced at one bound to a place in the councils of aesthetic Europe." Is this mention of England's status at large meant to highlight the absurdity of the aesthetic critic's preoccupation with concepts of beauty? By juxtaposing matters of appearance with actual issues such as martial and commercial control, is Beerhohm suggesting the absurdity of aestheticism or doing just the opposite?


Victorian Web Overview Aesthetes & Decadents Max Beerbohm Leading Questions

Last modified: 17 October 2003