They call me the inimitable and the incomparable, and the sprightly and the whimsical...I wonder if I am,"" so Max Beerbohm penciled under one of his self-caricatures. Among the most brilliant figures during the London '90's and the Edwardian era, when being brilliant seems to have been as natural as breathing, he knew everyone: Wilde, Shaw, James, Sargent, Whistler, Housman (""He was,"" said Max, ""like an absconding cashier. We certainly wished he would abscond- sitting silent and then saying only 'there is a bit of a nip in the air, don't you think'""), Churchill, Swinburne, Lord Curzon (""Britannia's butler,"" said Max). Still the life was in a sense ""uneventful""; thus we're largely given a series of verbal snapshots of successive phases covering the long expanse (1872-1956), relying in part (and happily so) on Max's own words. It's a big book and bound to be definitive (Lord Cecil being Max's personal choice as biographer), charmingly arranged with obvious care, a mite slow but written in a style of discreet scrutiny, decoratively tinged perhaps with ironic affection. Max's half-brother was the celebrated Herbert Beerbohm Tree: flamboyant Constance Collier was one of his loves; he married a somewhat mousy, middling actress, Florence Kahn, with whom he left the fashionable world for sunny Rapallo: there he wrote Zuleika Dobson, some of his best parodies, and continued the irreverent cartoons. During the '30's he became a BBC personality, and was knighted. Perpetually amused and amusing, passionately dispassionate, Max is the ""masked"" wit par excellence, the delightful puzzle of this splendidly done portrait. There should be no real interference from Behrman's earlier (1960) Portrait of Max.