shaken & stirred

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the ephemeral, or eternal, enoch soames

One of the very bestest bestest (as small children would say) qualities of the Internet is how it preserves things.

Things like Teller's (of Penn and Teller) marvelous essay, "A Memory of the Nineteen-Nineties," from the Atlantic Monthly way back in 1997 about Max Beerbohm and his phantom Enoch Soames and whether or not he made it to the Round Reading Room of the British Museum at the appointed hour or not.

(I actually have it on pretty good authority that the piece was originally meant to be published in a Certain New York Magazine, but was held and held and then the editor wasn't editor anymore and it was given back and the Atlantic snapped it up. So, consider that gossip, though I can't quite remember where I heard it so I've fuzzied the details enough for plausible deniability. Just that it was a Good Source.)

Anyway, this was brought up by Terry's recent purchase of a Beerbohm sketch at auction. (Drool.) He has a post that links to the sketch and contains a number of fascinating details about Beerbohm, which you should go read. There's even a link to the story "Enoch Soames" there, which will make Teller's piece much richer, if you go read it first.

I'm going to excerpt the bit that talks about Beerbohm's invention Soames, though, because I can't resist.

Max himself was fascinated by the unpredictable workings of posterity. He wrote a short story called "Enoch Soames" (it’s in Seven Men, and you can also read it on line here) whose title character, an ungifted author of the Naughty Nineties, longed desperately to know whether and how he would be remembered a hundred years hence. Accordingly, poor Enoch sold his soul to the Devil in return for a day trip to the British Museum in 1997, where he could satisfy his curiosity. Alas, he found only one reference to "Soames, Enoch," in a book that described him as—horror of horrors—an imaginary character in a story by Max Beerbohm! Despairing, he returned to the present and promptly vanished, presumably to fulfill his end of the bargain.

I pulled Seven Men off my shelf the other day and reread "Enoch Soames," asking myself as I did whether Douglass Debevoise, Lysandros Caftanzoglu, Lewis P. Renateau, or any of the other forgotten folk whose names figure in A Catalogue of the Caricatures of Max Beerbohm had also read it. Perhaps they did. Perhaps they chuckled at Enoch’s pitiful presumption and the completeness with which he received his demonic comeuppance, little knowing that posterity would treat them with similar callousness.

I'd dig up a few more Beerbohm details, but it's past my bedtime. So, enjoy these happy few.

worm: "When the Man Comes Around," Johnny Cash

check out: "Horses Blow Up Dog City and Other Stories," a new Small Beer chapbook by one Richard Butner

namecheck: Richard "Friend of The Math" Butner


  • At 12:04 PM , Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

    Gwenda, thanks for posting Teller's essay. I've read a few things by him now, and am delighted at his writing style, mostly because he never speaks during his and Penn's act.


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