The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, March 1907

London Studies.

No. 2.—Mr. Beerbohm Tree.

HE is the very model of the actor (managerial):
He uses Shakespeare’s lines to form a sort of ground-material.
The bard, in fact, provides the major portion of the letter-press:
But the scenery’s his own idea. (‘Superb! Could not be better!’—Press.)
And no maiden at a matinée without a thrill can see
The strange exotic beauty of our only Beerbohm Tree.

Tree, Tree, Beautiful Tree,
What a wonderful actor you are!
You stand all the time,
In the light of the lime:
You’re a bright and particular star.
We’d come miles for a sight
Of that picturesque bend in your knee.
Our Waller—we love him,
But rank you above him,
Our one and our only Tree!

If I’m asked to tell the reasons of his well-earned popularity,
His acting’s always funny, while avoiding all vulgarity:
As Hamlet, when he had his conversation with the phantom, I’m
Not certain that he didn’t beat the leading lights of pantomime.
You will burst your waistcoat-buttons, though sewn tightly on they be,
If you chance to see the Hamlet of our only Beerbohm Tree.

Tree, Tree, Beautiful Tree,
May you go from success to success.
May the crowds block the streets,
When they’re fighting for seats:
May you never fall out with the Press.
Though your Antony might
Be diff’rent without vexing me,
Still, the actor who’s funny
Is the man for my money,
So I’ll stick to my Beerbohm Tree.



Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.


This is an elaboration of the classic joke about Tree’s Hamlet (first performed in 1889) that it was “funny without being vulgar.” Most often one sees this quotation attributed to W. S. Gilbert, and certainly Wodehouse uses the Gilbertian pattern of “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” in two stanzas of this piece. Nevertheless, it is not certain that Gilbert ever said it. It can be traced in print as far back as 1894 in R. S. Hichens’s The Green Carnation, but this book is full of witty quotes in the Oscar Wilde manner, and it is easy to believe that the jest was already in circulation then. Ernest Hart, writing after Tree’s death, attributed it to actor Charles Brookfield (New York Times, July 8, 1917). The obituary in the Manchester Guardian attributed it to Tree’s brother Max Beerbohm. Hesketh Pearson, in Gilbert and Sullivan, says that Shaw believed that Tree had said it about himself and attributed it to Gilbert. Other sources cite Oscar Wilde as the author, but without specific details.

Note by Neil Midkiff