stymied

Last week I couldn’t remember if it was Max Beerbohm who said that funny tautology about the relativism of taste. Also couldn’t remember the exact wording. Just now, stumbled upon it!

People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.

But now the internet is suggesting… that it’s also attributed to Abe Lincoln?  Aha. Oh. Uh….. well, here’s another letter to the New York Times that almost clears up the Lincoln v. Beerbohm debate……

In reviewing Paul West’s ”Life With Swan” (March 14), Roger Kimball ascribes to Abraham Lincoln this remark: ”People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” I have used this line with pleasure for years, but with credit to Sir Henry Maximilian Beerbohm, after reading S. N. Behrman’s ”Portrait of Max.”

Max was an essayist, caricaturist, Oxonian, classicist, drama critic, World War II BBC radio reader, labeled ”incomparable” by G. B. Shaw. He engineered literary hoaxes in Latin and Shakespeare while at Charterhouse and Oxford. According to Behrman, Hilary Cooke credited Lincoln with ”the world’s best book review” in one Cooke published in 1955 in The Listener.

The novelist Rose Macaulay wrote the next week to ask whether this did not actually come from a classical source; she knew the wording in Greek. Gilbert Murray, expert in classics, knew of none. She concluded that ”President Lincoln must be credited with this admirably incontrovertible remark, the hard core of reviewing.”

Behrman says that Lincoln was innocent, Beerbohm guilty. Max ”wrote a confessional letter to Miss Macaulay, cutting short all fascinating speculation.” He had invented it, both in Greek and in translation, as he was completing his one novel (”Zuleika Dobson”) in 1911. To me it sounds like Beerbohm rather than Lincoln.

Robert Scullin

Woodbridge, Conn.

(Also: Claire Nereim’s makin shirts!)

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