Nov. 1906, pp. 197-201
BENJAMIN DE CASSERES
ILLUSTRATED WITH CARICATURES BY MAX BEERBOHM
While the field of caricature has always interested and amused, within the past few years it has shown a steady growth in importance in politics, in literature, and even in war it has exerted a large force in moulding public opinion. Perhaps the best known caricaturist of his day is Max Beerbohm, who is a force to reckon with. Some of his most famous caricatures accompany Mr. De Casseres’ appreciation of his work which follows.—Editor.
CARICATURE is comic realism. It is the art that portrays the vanity of mankind by thrusting him skeletonized under our noses. The humor of the death-head, the irony of cross-bones, the melancholic smile that flits over the universalized mind when it beholds, without the slightest trace of emotional bias, the gestures and attitudes of men and women pursuing, in all seriousness, the phantasms of earth—something of these things is found to persist in the impression the work of the great caricaturist leaves on one when all the lesser impressions have fallen away.
There are two kinds of realism—the realism of the eye and the realism of the mind, one being founded on mere sensuous perception, the other founded on intellectual perception. Sensuous perception will report what is seen; intellectual perception—legitimate realism in art and literature—will report not only what is seen, but how it is seen. Romanticism neither reports what is seen nor perceived, but only what is dreamed. Its perceptions are flushed by emotion; it is the distortion of  the true into the beautiful; whereas the caricaturist of our common humanity never distorts; he unveils. His war is with obtuse romanticism. He cuts away the suitings and trappings of the human form as remorselessly as the surgeon cuts away the flesh in an operation. He lays bare to the bone.
Caricature is elemental and intellectual. The first drawings of children are broad caricatures of the objects they perceive. They see in lines, and know with the infallibility of all intuitional processes that the external universe is an impression, an idea—and it is this they put on paper. The genius of the child apprehends the truth, which becomes misty and vague and finally disappears as the prison walls of the earthly environment press closer and closer upon the brain, and the child, grown in years, mistakes its habitual sense-impressions for reality. At this point the impressionist lapses into the mere copyist—the elemental and simple are drowned in the complex. Thus a born caricaturist, to remain a caricaturist all his life, must detach himself from his environment. My intellect versus this outside world; my native perception, ether-clear, standing impregnable against the waves that beat against it from those eternal illusions; that must always be his formula. He may know nothing of lines, of the principles of drawing. Sem, the great French caricaturist, does not trouble himself to put hands or feet on his figures—or he may be a complete master of technique—in either case he will be a caricaturist of the first rank if he has the native gift of intellectual detachment; otherwise he will always remain a mediocrity. It is a gift, and all children have it.
 When we look at an object steadily, then close our eyes and fix the mind at length upon that object, the outer, mere transitory aspects of the object fall away; gradually—according to the power of concentration—the eternal aspect of the face or human form comes forth, at first faintly, then more and more clearly, like the slowly developed features in a negative creep through the acids on a photographer’s plate. The portrait painter uses only what can be seen, but the caricaturist sees what can’t be seen, what you do not want him to see, what you think is shut up and secreted from the world’s gaze.
It is by this deft distortion—or rather accentuation—of mere fact that the caricaturist wakes the fact imbedded in the fact—shows us the nameless vice that etched those vile lines around the mouth, the sculduggery that put those furrows in the forehead; in a single line he will fling your soul into your eye, bring each hair to judgment, because each hair has character. All this not, forsooth, to make you amoral being, but to make you a ridiculous one. He loves the human race for the mistakes it has made. He is a sneering seer, a prankish Mephisto, with just a  touch of Hamlet’s malady. If he is sometimes fantastic and grotesque in his work, it is because life seems to him fantastic and grotesque—it will seem so to anyone who stands high enough up the mental rungs and looks down.
Man is a congery of attitudes—he is all gesture and line, and in each gesture and line there slumbers in embryo personality. All character is but the attitude of something to something else—a relation facing a relation. Caricature eliminates the decorative and in a single line drives straight at the centre of yourself. Beneath these lines, caged within these seemingly simple strokes, there is thrust at us not alone the portrait of the transient individual, but the ageless attributes of man—his shamble, his fawning, his vanity, his ludicrous self-sufficiency. There is here the photograph of his tendencies, Time’s silhouette of Time’s own work.
Of the well-known caricaturists in the world to-day, there are four whose works express the varying mental attitudes assumed by the workers in linear epigrams—Max Beerbohm, the comedian; Capiello, the geometrician; Sem, the senuist, and Fornaro, the philosopher. Beerbohm sees in man a Grotesque Shape; Cappiello sees in man a Puppet; Sem sees in man a Satyr; Fornaro sees in man an Idea manifesting itself transitorily as a concrete apparition. Sen and Beerbohm sprawl, while Cappiello and Fornaro are reserved, geometrical, exact.
As will be seen from the specimens of Max Beerbohm’s work which accompany this article, the view of mankind he takes is the comic view, with just enough of the grotesque to give his caricatures an air of uproariousness without becoming vulgar. He catches the things that “stick out” in his subjects, the feature or attitude that assails at first sight, the disproportions that nail the attention on the instant. He seeks out the incongruous, even the ridiculous, and strikes you full in the face with the way he emphasizes it.
Conceding his artistic premises—granting his æsthetic right to startle—his technique is faultless. He sprawls studiously and renders the absurd with painful seriousness. There is virility in each line, character in each dot, a guffaw in the blank spaces between the lines.
Seriously, though, is it caricature, or the caricature of caricature? Does Max Beerbohm whack mankind or is he laughing at his own art?