A cartoon by Max Beerbohm
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Mary Augusta Ward and Matthew Arnold
The vicious verbal caricatures of Ward's beliefs and writings by Edwardians and Modernists are largely responsible for Ward's obscurity today. Not coincidentally, Ward was also the target of visual caricature. In fact, one of the better known images of Ward is a Max Beerbohm cartoon showing a small, pinafored "Miss Mary Augusta" lecturing her uncle Matthew Arnold: "Why, Uncle Matthew, oh why will not you be always wholly serious?" In "The Spirit of Caricature," Beerbohm contends that "Caricature implies no moral judgment on its subject," that a caricaturist targets equally the man he reverences and the man he despises (98), concentrating only on physical traits. It would follow, apparently, that Beerbohm, in his representation of "Miss Mary Augusta," intends no slight. But we should keep in mind that Beerbohm's main subject is the elder Arnold and his concern with "high seriousness" in his famous essay "The Study of Poetry"; Ward is slighted, if only (ironically) by not being the caricature's subject. More to the point, however, the niece was not a seven-year-old girl in 1904, when the caricature was produced, but a 53-year-old woman. Indeed when Ward's husband commissioned "The Study of Poetry" as an introduction to his multi-volume anthology, The English Poets, Mary Ward was a married woman, approaching thirty (Beerbohm, nearly twenty years younger than Ward, would have been about nine at that time). Therefore, in the caricature Ward's nose is the only recognizable physical trait that could possibly represent Ward as Beerbohm had seen her. It is with these facts in mind that we should read Beerbohm's statement that "The most perfect caricature . . . accurately exaggerates, to the highest point, the peculiarities of a human being, at his most characteristic moment . . . " (102). Now, Ward was frequently (and falsely) accused of lacking a sense of humor, for as Talia Schaffer has pointed out, "humor was a peculiarly female requirement; nobody accused Hardy of lacking it." Still, one would be hard-pressed to reconcile the idea that this caricature represents a "characteristic moment" with the idea that the caricature implies no judgment.