A Christmas Garland II. P.C.X.36

(notes by John Radcliffe)

The Author

Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) was a caricaturist, essayist,and satirist.  He was of the liberal persuasion and much cherished by the playwright George Barnard Shaw, who called him ‘the incomparable Max’, and by  the influential philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.  He was esteemed in London as a dandy and a wit. He published his only novel in 1911. Zuleika Dobson, an Oxford Love Story.

In his biography of Kipling (Macmillan 1955) Charles Carrington writes (p. 341):

 Max was, as a rule, gentle, except when he touched upon one topic. He hated Rudyard Kipling. He set himself to destroy Kipling’s reputation and, later, to assure the world that it had been destroyed, with no small degree of success among the literary coteries, but with no visible effect upon Kipling’s ever­ growing fame and influence in wider circles. At least nine caricatures, two critical articles, and a fierociously malevolent parody of Kipling’s style have been recorded as the work of Max Beerbohm, and while he discharged these arrows, Kipling, for thirty years, remained entirely unmoved by them..

Beerbohm’s caricatures of Kipling represented him as diminutive and noisy, a capering rather hysterical figure, devoted to the cause of Empire, much derided by liberals of the day. The cartoon at the head of these notes was captioned:

‘Mr Rudyard Kipling takes a bloomin’ day aht, on the blasted ‘eath along with Britannia, ‘is gurl.’

The poem

This comes from the second part of a sketch called A Christmas Carnival published by Heinemann in October 1912, a  story of a moonlight encounter at Christmas time with a policeman, attempting to arrest a clambering figure who might or might not have been Father Christmas.

It is instructive to compare the piece with  Kipling’s “Brugglesmith” (1891), which also involves a night-time encounter with a policeman in a London street, and which Beerbohm perhaps had in mind when writing this sketch.  It is not hard to see how his hatred of Kipling must have been animated not only by hostility to his politics and resentment at his Nobel Prize and honorary degrees, but by the professional jealousy of a much less talented writer.