Julius Beerbohm

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Julius Beerbohm in a painting by Anders Zorn

Julius Beerbohm (1854 – April 1906) was a Victorian travel-writer, engineer and explorer.

He was the son of Julius Ewald Edward Beerbohm (1811–1892),[1] of Dutch, Lithuanian, and German origin, who had come to England in about 1830 and set up as a prosperous corn merchant.[1] He married an Englishwoman, Constantia Draper, and the couple had four children. Julius Beerbohm's older brother was the renowned actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree; his sister was author Constance Beerbohm. A younger half-brother was the caricaturist and parodist Max Beerbohm.[1] His half-sister Agnes Mary Beerbohm (1865–1949), who became Mrs Ralph Neville in 1884, was a friend of the artist Walter Sickert and modelled for him in his 1906 painting Fancy Dress.[2] His nieces were Viola, Felicity and Iris Tree.

Travels in Patagonia[edit]

A European engineer, Beerbohm travelled to Patagonia in 1877 as part of a group sent to survey the land between Port Desire and Santa Cruz. His 1881 book Wanderings in Patagonia; or, Life among the Ostrich Hunters is the account of the time he spent there. In the book he vividly describes the natural history and geography of the country which he labelled 'the last of nature's works'.[3]

Beerbohm travelled across deserts and through jungles with the native Indians, the people Ferdinand Magellan had come upon in 1520 when he discovered the country.[3][4] Beerbohm details a trek through this notoriously hostile terrain and overcomes snowstorms and mutiny, survives a flood and encounters "ostrich" hunters, puma, and swans. A rank amateur, Beerbohm had no previous knowledge of the land, its flora and fauna. Fortunately, for the most part of the journey he travelled with several old hands at ostrich hunting: the memorable Isidro, the Frenchman Guillaume, and the Austrian Maximo.[3]

Most memorable are the several chapters in which the group is stuck on the north side of the Rio Gallegos which was experiencing a severe flood. The group split up, with Beerbohm and Guillaume venturing a dangerous crossing, which almost drowned Beerbohm. When they finally arrived in Sandy Point, the local prison, along with its military guard, mutinied, got drunk, and took over the town, killing many of its citizens.[3]

Beerbohm's Patagonia sketches provided the basis for the illustrations for Lady Florence Dixie's Across Patagonia (1881).[5]

Character[edit]

In a volume of reminiscences collected on the death of Herbert Beerbohm Tree by Max Beerbohm, Herbert's widow Helen Maud Tree recalled Julius:

"It was in the autumn of 1882 that I first met Julius, (Herbert's younger brother (Max, their half-brother was then a little boy of ten). Julius was a brilliant creature, exquisite and elusive: a poet and a dreamer. His poetry was of the soul: his dreams, alas! were of the earth. He was a potential millionaire, and from time to time, one would have said, an actual one. But, over and over again, some bright El Dorado would fade before his vision. Fortunes came quickly, and as quickly were engulfed in new and glittering enterprises. Throughout his eager, hunted life triumph and disaster followed one another in quick succession; but I never saw him – even when misfortunes were huddling on his back – otherwise than calm, perfectly accoutred and equipped, fastidious, fantastic, fascinating and debonair. When I first knew him he was either engaged to that graceful and gracious being, Mrs Younghusband, or they were just married. He brought her, Evelyn, to see us at Old Burlington Street. She had (has to this day) great beauty, charm and distinction, a lovely way of speaking, lovely manners, and a gentle and rare disposition.

After their marriage, they lived in great splendour at Almond's Hotel, and I remember dinner parties where not the decoration but the tablecloth itself was fashioned of Parma violets, and where food and wine were of the nature of a Sybarite's feast. After such Lucullus' feasts, we would sometimes repair to our rooms, where Julius would make me sing "Crépuscule," and where he would also sing, read us his poems or tell us stories of his travels. His was an enchanting personality, and Herbert's pride and joy in him were immense. In their stern and cruel school-days Herbert had been the stronger of the two, the most able to endure; therefore his had been the task to temper hardships to his little brother; and who would accomplish this task so tenderly or with such love and understanding as Herbert? Both brothers, while remembering with delight the beauty of the Thuringian land in spring and summer, recalled with shuddering dislike the iron system of their German school."[6]

Beerbohm spent much of his time travelling around Europe losing all his money at casino after casino. Every now and then he would try to recoup his lost money by thinking up some fantastic project, such as an idea to dredge the River Nile to attempt to find the lost jewels of the Pharaohs, or setting up a luxury hotel at Marienbad. This latter was a short-lived venture for after paying the deposit on the hotel Beerbohm left Germany and totally forgot about the entire enterprise until reminded of it by his creditors. Living as he did, he soon lost all of his money and much of his wife's also, and could only continue to live to the standard to which he had become accustomed by borrowing from others. Although facing financial ruin, he continued to keep cabs waiting for him all day at his door, and to attend supper parties where he would entertain the company by reciting one of his poems.[7] He wrote the words to a song, Blue-Eyes, Berceuse, which was set to music by Lord Duppin.[8] He had his linen sent from his London home to Paris to be washed.[6][9]

As he lay dying in April 1906, "exhausted by a life of adventure and failure"[10] Julius Beerbohm managed to maintain the strict standards of his dandyism. His brother Herbert Beerbohm Tree came to see him dressed in a reddish-brown suit that offended Julius's taste. "Ginger!" he said disgustedly, and turned his face to the wall.[10]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Google Books listing Max Beerbohm: a Biography, by David Cecil – Houghton Mifflin, 1965
  2. ^ Google Books Listing Baron, Wendy 'Sickert: Paintings and Drawings' Published by Yale University Press (206) pg 315 ISBN 0-300-11129-0
  3. ^ a b c d Internet Archive Listing Beerbohm, Julius 'Wanderings in Patagonia, or, Life among the Ostrich Hunters' Chatto & Windus, London (1881)
  4. ^ Internet Archive Listing The life of Ferdinand Magellan, and the first circumnavigation of the globe by Francis Henry Hill Guillemard
  5. ^ Dixie, Lady Florence 'Across Patagonia' with Illustrations from Sketches by Julius Beerbohm Published by R. Worthington, New York (1881)
  6. ^ a b Beerbohm, Max (Reprint, 2008). pp. 10–11
  7. ^ David Cecil, Max: a biography Constable, London (1964) pg 10
  8. ^ Bright-Eyes, Berceuse Words by J Beerbohn, Music by Lord Duppin, Chappell & Co, New Bond Street, London
  9. ^ Johnson, Paul 'Languid in life, quick on the draw' – Paul Johnson on Max Beerbohm: A Kind of a Life The Independent 13 October 2002
  10. ^ a b David Cecil, Max: a biography Constable, London (1964) pg 254

References[edit]

  • Beerbohm, Max. Herbert Beerbohm Tree – Some Memories of Him and of His Art Collected by Max Beerbohm. 

External links[edit]