The satirical tone of Max Beerbohm's “Diminuendo” begins with its title. Beerbohm wrote the piece at the age of 24; the tone of the piece, as well as the term diminuendo, a musical term denoting a gradual decrease in volume, imply that Beerbohm's life and career are winding down when both are just getting started. This beginning alters the reader to the joking manner of the piece.
In “Diminuendo”, Beerbohm uses the extensive travels of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, as an example of a hedonistic lifestyle. He depicts the Prince leading a life of material pleasure, contrasting it with an ascetic approach to living a life of "intellectual isolation" (Lii):
He has danced in every palace of every capital, played in every club. He has hunted elephants through the jungles of India, boar through the forests of Austria, pigs over the plains of Massachusetts . . . "Ennuyé?" I asked. Indeed he never is. How could he be when Pleasure hangs constantly upon his arm!
“Diminuendo” depicts the Prince (who was widely known as Bertie) leading a lifestyle of material pleasure and used as a contrast against an ascetic approach to living a life of "intellectual isolation" (Lii).
N. John Hall points out that Edward VII was actually Beerbohm's most popular subject. In the Hart-Davis catalogue of Beerbohm's caricatures, King Edward VII appears 72 times (second only to self-caricatures). Described the "Playboy Prince" by Stanley Weintraub, he became known for his life of excess. According to Hall, Edward VII was "vulgar: he had next to no book learning; he cared little for the arts...; his delights were the race course, the gambling table, food and drink, and notoriously, philandering" (Hall). Beerbohm's numerous uses of the Prince reveal harsh criticism and disgust.
However, Hall also remarks that, who Beerbohm had a "sense of fun . . . and genuine delight in anything touching the ridiculous," began drawing caricatures of Bertie as a school boy” (Hall). Some historians contend that the constraints set by Queen Victoria led Edward VII to lead the hedonistic life for which he became known. She didn't believe him fit for any responsibilities in his capacity as the Prince of Wales, and so Bertie had little else to do but lead his life of pleasure.
The general public did not receive Beerbohm's caricatures of Bertie kindly, because "such obscenities...[were] particularly rare," and audiences perceived the cartoons as an affront to the Royal Family and the empire" ("Foreign"). Some of his caricatures were on display at the Leicester Galleries in 1923, 13 years after Bertie's death, and even then, "caused a great deal of adverse criticism and a minimum of praise" ("Foreign"). Some of the more offensive caricatures depicted Bertie "as an old man marrying his landlady's daughter" and as a "fat-man wonder at a circus." In response to hostile criticism of this work, Beerbohm wrote to the Secretrary of the Galleries that "if the public is likely to read any shadow of seriousness into them, and accordingly regard them as unkind or disloyal, I think it will be well to avoid this misunderstanding by removing them." The sheer number of caricatures that Beerbohm drew of Bertie might make it appear as if he had some sort of personal vendetta against the Prince, but in this statement suggests he he saw no malice behind his jibes.
1. What is Beerbohm's tone in “Diminuendo”, when he alludes to the Prince of Wales?
2. Why might Beerbohm, as a 24-year-old, become preoccupied with the lifestyle of the Prince of Wales?
3. In addition to drawing many caricatures of himself, Beerbohm signed his works off only as "Max" and was often referred to only by this middle name. Could this be a sign of his laid-back nature?
"Foreign News: Naughty Max." Time 11 June 1923. Web.
Hall, N. John. "Edward VII." Max Beerbohm Caricatures. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1997. 171-73. Print.Moore, Lucy. "Edward VII: The First Constitutional Monarch." BBC - Homepage. Web. 25 Apr. 2010.
Last modified 27 April 2010