This is a strange and beautiful book, a loving paean to a dead boy-poet from another poet, Stefan George (1868–1933), published in 1907. The “Maximin” of the title was Maximilian Kronberger (1888–1904) who was around 14 when he met George; the older man was 34 at the time. George was apparently smitten by the boy, and devastated when he died from meningitis two years later. Maximin: ein Gedenkbuch (A Memorial Book) is the result, a collection of mournful poems, beautifully designed and illustrated by Melchior Lechter in that rectilinear Art Nouveau style which the artist made his own. The memory of the dead Maximin became for George a quasi-religious obsession which makes Maximin the bible of the homosocial cult that George subsequently encouraged.
What’s most surprising about all this behaviour is that it did nothing at all to harm his reputation, even among the Nazis who later revered his poetry. George was a contemporary of Oscar Wilde but the pair were poles apart in character, George’s chilly, high-minded aestheticism preserving him from the brickbats aimed at Wilde and others. Nonetheless, the inherent camp that results from the combination of such a remote attitude combined with flagrant boy-worship secured for George a place alongside Wilde in Philip Core’s essential Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984):
Strangely enough his overtly (if classically) homosexual verses, his preference for beautiful youth, and his severe black-clad dignity, all became immensely popular in the land of brüderschaft (brothers’ love). The camp Classicism of his ‘academy’ of the spirit, in surroundings of neo-Classical kitsch, hit just the right middle ground between Edwardian sentimentality and Hitlerian Imperialism.