Maurice Baring’s Multi-Faceted 1912 Travelogue: Round the World in Any Number of Days

Dr. Robert Hickson

9 September 2020

Saint Peter Claver, S.J. (d. 1654)

Epigraphs

“Shortly afterwards [on 21 June 1912], he started on his tour round the world [until October of 1912], the result of which was what seems to me one of the most enchanting, also one of the most unusual travel-books ever written: Round the World in Any Number of Days.” (Dame Ethel Smyth, Maurice Baring (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1938), page 42—my bold emphasis added.)

***

“In October of the same year (1912) The Times sent him to the Balkans, where war had broken out. I think this persistence of newspaper editors in using Baring as War Correspondent is impressive and creditable to both parties….One may conclude it was not only on account of his vivid narrative style, but also because of his enterprise and reliability, that he was once more sent to the seat of war by the foremost English Journal.” (Dame Ethel Smyth, Maurice Baring (1938), pages 42-43—my bold emphasis added.)

***

“And I, for one, in any case, felt that come what might, I had had my dream. I had had a glimpse of Eden, a peep into the earthly paradise.” (Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1926), page 97—my emphasis added.)

***

It should be of worth to us yet today to see some of the nourishing perceptiveness and insights of Maurice Baring in his 1912 travel writings less than two years before the outbreak of World War I. Although Baring’s vivid and varied record of his five-month trip was first published in the United States in 1914, we shall now refer to, and often to quote, only from a later publisher’s unified and final 1926 English edition, which is still entitled: Round the World in Any Number of Days.1

From June to October 1912, Maurice Baring (1874-1945) first sailed east from England to Naples, Italy, on to India and Ceylon, then on to Australia and New Zealand, and briefly (but very movingly) through Roratonga and Papeete, Tahiti (mindful also of the beautiful Marquesas Archipelago) and onward to San Francisco, and then winding up by train coming down the Hudson River Coast into New York City (and Long Island), from which he sailed back to England, in order to begin his mission to the Balkans as a trusted War Correspondent.

After this brief introduction and partial summary, let us first consider how Baring concretely presents a fresh mango as it was recommended to him in Ceylon so as to alleviate the “damp heat that saps your very being” (38):

It is when you are dressed for dinner and you come down into the large high dining-room, full of electric fans, that you realize that it is impossible to be cool. It is an absorbing, annihilating damp heat that saps your very being.

The first thing to do is to eat a mango. Will it be as good as you are told it is? Yes, it is better. At first you think it is just an ordinary apricot and then you think it is a banana; no, fresher; a peach, a strawberry, and then a delicious, sharp, fresh, aromatic after-taste comes, slightly tinged with turpentine, but not bitter. Then you get all the tastes at once, and you know that the mango is like nothing else but its own incomparable self.

It has all these different tastes at once, simultaneously. In this it resembles the beatific vision as told of by St. Thomas Aquinas. The point of the beatific vision, says St. Thomas, is its infinite variety. (38—italics in the original)

Baring then immediately elaborates upon his unusual analogy of Beatitude’s “infinite variety” with the concurrent variety of tastes accessible to one who is savouring a fresh mango:

So that those who enjoy it [i.e., the vision of beatitude] have at the same time the feeling that they are looking at a perfect landscape, hearing the sweetest of music, bathing it a cold stream on a hot day, reaching the top of a mountain, galloping on grass on a horse that isn’t running away, floating over tree-tops, reading very good verse, eating toasted cheese, drinking a really good cocktail [or wine!]—and any other nice thing you can think of, all at once. The point, therefore, of the taste of the mango is its infinite variety. It was probably mangoes which grew in Eden on the Tree of Knowledge, only I expect they had a different kind of skin then, and were without that cumbersome and obstinate kernel which makes them so difficult to eat. (38-39—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Such a perceptive and extended passage on beatitude and a mango fruit is a representative instance of Baring’s multi-faceted and unusual pre-World War I travelogue. And there is more to come.

For example, Maurice Baring—the Russian scholar and linguist—then freshly mentions the reliable reports or realities of “ghosts at sea” and he modestly says:

But I have spoiled that story. I have merely told the bare facts; what you want is the whole thing: the dialogue, the details; the technical terms. Ghosts at sea are more frightening than ghosts on shore, but I think the worst of all ghosts are river ghosts or, for instance, the ghosts that haunt the rivers of Russia. They have green, watery eyes, hair made of weeds, and they laugh at you when they see you and then you go mad. This naiad ghost is called Russalka. I have never seen one or any other ghost either, but I have once in the company of a friend [Hilaire Belloc] heard a ghost sing. (47—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Baring at once adds a footnote to this passage in the 1926 edition, where he now more revealingly says: “Now that the age of reticence has gone his name [my friend] can be mentioned. It was H. Belloc.” (47—my emphasis added)

Throughout his Round the World, Maurice Baring mentions and quotes his friend Hilaire Belloc, as well as G.K. Chesterton, and even Dr. Samuel Johnson, the noted, often witty, Lexicographer. For example, Baring says:

So that one wonders [at times] how it happens that any one goes to sea [and thereby also then has “the possibility of drowning”!]; and one is inclined almost to agree with Dr. Johnson’s opinions on the subject.

“A ship,” he said, “is worse than a gaol [jail]. There is in a gaol better air, better company, better conveniences of every kind, and a ship has the additional disadvantage of being in danger [as in drowning!]. When men come to like a sea-life they are not fit to live on land.”

“Then,” said [James] Boswell, “it would be cruel in a father to breed his son to the see.”

It would be cruel,” said Johnson, “in a father who thinks as I do. Men go to sea before they know the unhappiness of that way of life; and when they come to know it, they cannot escape from it, because it is then too late to choose another profession, as, indeed, is generally the case with men when they have once engaged in any particular way of life.” (52—my emphasis added)

In view of these wholehearted and differentiated words, Baring soon again quotes Dr. Johnson who also sincerely said: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier or not having been at sea.” (58)

Maurice Baring also shows his sincere admiration of the poet and scholar, Andrew Lang (59-61).

We thus propose to give only a selection of Baring’s thoughts. First of all, Baring gives us the context for his subsequent personal words about the Scottish poet, scholar, and translator, Andrew Lang himself, who had just died in July of 1912 (having been born in Scotland in 1844):

And yet it happens that many writers [like Belloc and Baring themselves!] write books on different subjects. Andrew Lang, for instance; at Fremantle [a port-city on the west coast of Australia] we heard the sad news of his death. Personally I knew him slightly and he had shown me much kindness. Also we had corresponded about a ghost story. I have literally fed on his books since I was fifteen. When a boy awakens to a love of literature and his enthusiasm for a number of authors is kindled to a white-hot pitch, he wishes to see that enthusiasm confirmed and justified in the writings of older men, and he turns to the critics. The critics pull his favourite poets to pieces, and sniff, and cavil, and patronize, and analyze, and damn with faint praise, and dissect, and blame, and make reservations, and deal out niggard approval. Nothing is so trying to the young as the jaded palate of elder critics. But in Andrew Lang’s criticism (so lightly and beautifully put, so unpedantic and so easy) the boy will find the enthusiasm he expects. (59—my emphasis added)

Baring then remembers other examples of Lang’s admirable qualities:

In a letter to me Andrew Lang once said he appreciated all the poets from Homer to Robert Bridges, with the exception of Byron. I’m sorry he didn’t like Byron. But I didn’t like Byron as a boy, and it was as a boy that Andrew Lang what I most needed, praise of my favourites—Shelley, Keats, William Morris, Dumas; of all the poets I had just discovered and the romantics in whom I was revelling, and of French verse into the bargain.

As a boy, when I began to read the critics, I found that they despised French verse, and I wondered. But Andrew Lang was my solace. He understood. He knew the language….You must be used to the sound of French to appreciate French verse….

Andrew Lang is an author who spent the large capital of his wit, his learning, his wide sympathies, royally and generously without stint; he was a master of English prose, and some of the best pages he ever wrote were flung into leaders in the Daily News….He had a fine and rare appreciation of the world’s good verse; he could write ghost stories, fairy tales, doggerel; he was a supreme dialectician, an amusing parodist, a prince of letter-writers, as well as a poet;—perhaps he was of all things a poet. The following translation [by Andrew Lang] of Rufinus’ lines to Rhodocleia, sending her a wreath, is a good example of his verse. He has turned an exquisite Greek poem into an exquisite English poem: [then the full poetic translation is actually provided on page 61]….

Practically I saw nothing of Australia, but I suppose there is no harm in writing these notes—the mere rough impressions of a fugitive traveller. (59-61—my bold emphasis added)

Such is Maurice Baring’s sincere forthrightness and his modesty.

In September of 1912, Baring was in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and we hear about someone he memorably met:

One of the most interesting people I have met here is a French lady of the highest culture and education, Soeur Marie Joseph, who is at the head of a Home of Compassion for derelict children. She went out to the Crimean War [1853-1856] under Florence Nightingale and looked after the wounded on the battlefield that knew nothings of anaesthetics. She told me that sometimes the doctors, after a day of surgical operations, would be drunk with the fumes of the blood. The wounded had to be tied down to be operated on, and sometimes, where this was not practicable, people had to sit on them.

Soeur Marie Joseph is very fond of New Zealand. She came out, attracted by what she heard of the [native] Maoris, and she knew the Maoris with an intimate thoroughness. She has a great admiration for them; and she gave me many instances of their chivalry and nobility of character….This morning at one of the Catholic churches here the priest preached a most interesting sermon….I have had a glimpse of New Zealand, such as no books and no pictures could give me, and I have consequently enriched my store of experience and extended the frontiers of my outlook. (85-86—my emphasis added)

In mid-September 1912, Baring arrived first in Roratonga en route to Tahiti, and noticed, among other distinctive qualities, that the Tonga natives spoke with special tones:

Their voices are in harmony with the liquid musical quality of their language, which consists of soft open vowels. It is, I suppose, the most melodious of all human languages….

I bathed in the sea, and then…I went on board once more. From Roratonga it only takes two days to get to the island of Tahiti [in French Polynesia], and the steamer anchored at Papeete [the capitol of French Polynesia] on Friday, September 20 [1912].

Roratonga gives you a kind of foretaste of the whole charm and beauty of the South Seas. It is the appetizer, …not the whole meal. Tahiti is the whole thing; the real thing, the thing that one has dreamt about all one’s life; the thing which made Stevenson [Robert Louis Stevenson] leave Europe for ever. All tellers of fairy tales, and all poets from Homer downwards, have always imagined the existence of certain Fortunate islands [“the Happy Isles”] which were so full of magic and charm that they turned man from his duty and from his tasks, labour, or occupation in which he was engaged, and held him a willing captive, who would not sell his captivity for all the prizes of the busy world. (90-91—my emphasis added)

After Baring’s further presentations of Tahiti’s allurements (or perilous temptations?), he says:

I cannot imagine anything more ideal than to possess a schooner fitted with a small motor in case of calm, and to cruise [under sail] about the waters between Tahiti and the Marquesas [the archipelago], which, one is told, are the most beautiful of all….They are things to be seen; they are places to be seen and lived in; not to be written about. The pen can give no idea of their charm….Loath as I was to go, at the end of twenty-four hours I felt it was a good thing that I was going, otherwise I should have been tempted to remain there for the rest of my life….

We left Tahiti in the afternoon, when the greater part of the population came down to the wharf to see us off. We left feeling like Ulysses [Odysseus] when he was driven by force (or by Penelope’s letters) from the island of Calypso. And I, for one, in any case, felt that come what might, I had had my dream. I had had a glimpse of Eden, a peep into the earthly paradise. (95-97—my emphasis added)

Before leaving these varied and inviting samples of Maurice Baring’s 1912 travelogue, I propose to present one scene from his brief time in San Francisco:

The next night I left San Francisco for Chicago. Before leaving San Francisco, I had a dinner at a restaurant called the “New Franks” [run by “a Dalmatian” with “a French cook or cooks”]. It is a small restaurant, and it provides the best food I have ever eaten anywhere….I was not hungry the night I went to the New Franks. I was not inclined to eat, but the sheer excellence of the cooking there excited my greed, and bade my appetite rise from the dead….And I had never tasted anything so good in my life [not even a mango!]….

The trouble about small restaurants, when they are excellent, is, that they become well known, and are then so largely patronized that they become large and ultimately bad.

Once I was walking in Normandy with a friend [perhaps Hilaire Belloc?], and we stopped in a very small town to have luncheon at an hotel. We asked if there was any wine. Yes, there was some wine, some Burgundy, some Beaune. We tried a bottle, and it surprised us. Surprise is, in fact, a mild word to describe the sharpness of our ecstasy.

“Is not this wine very good?” we asked of the host.

“Yes, sirs,” he answered, “it is very good. It is very old, but there is not much of it left.”

Now, my friend was a journalist, who writes about French towns and French wines in the English Press.

Whatever happens,” I said to him, “if you write about this town and about this wine, which I know you will do, you must not divulge the name of the town.”

He agreed. He wrote an article about the town, he grew lyric over the wine, and looted all the poets of the world from Homer downwards for epithets and comparisons fit for it. He did not mention the name of the place.

The year after he returned to the same place and ordered a bottle of the Burgundy. There was no more left. Some English gentlemen, the host told him, had come on purpose from England to finish it.

Now, I am sure some very intelligent man, and a man who was passionately fond of good wine, read the article and guessed, from the description, the whereabouts of the little French town and the precious liquid.

The moral of this is: “Don’t tell secrets in the newspapers; don’t even tell half a secret.”

The evening I left San Francisco I had a small adventure. I asked a man the way to some street. He told me the way, and then, catching hold of my arm, he said, “You will stand me a drink.”….Then he said, “I’m a bum….I’m a booze-fighter.” He added with engaging frankness that he was half drunk: an under-statement. (114-118—my emphasis added)

Such is the richness and variety of Maurice Baring’s writing, even his travel writing on the eve of the coming and soon spreading War.

God’s good foison” – “God’s good abundance”—is what the Catholic poet, John Dryden (d. 1700), once generously said of the earlier Catholic poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400).

Such an abundance also characterizes the writing and the heart of Maurice Baring, who, three years before his 1912 voyage, became a Roman Catholic. It was on 1 February 1909 that he was received into the Church, on the Vigil of Candlemas.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1 See, first of all, Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company—The Riverside Press Cambridge, October 1914), 248 pages. The final 1926 edition, with longer dedications added, is published, as follows: Maurice Baring, Round the World in Any Number of Days (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1926 ), pages v-xv, and 1-140. Illustrations are by Basil Blackwood; and Dedications are now to his close friend, Dame Ether Smyth, Doctor (and Composer) of Music; and to his valorous Companion in World War I, Major Bowman, D.S.O., M.C. Henceforth, all references to and quotations of Baring’s text will be to the 1926 edition, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. We shall now accent a representative selection of Baring’s insights.

Maurice Baring, One of God’s Gentlemen, Presents Xantippe: The Wife of Socrates

(Author’s Note: This 2017 essay on Maurice Baring is intended to be a fitting sequel to the recently posted essay on Max Beerbohm’s Parody of some of Maurice Baring’s subtle writings. This essay shows the deep character of Maurice Baring himself, as well as presents an instance of his gifted writing on certain personalities from the Classical Ancient World of Greece.)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                      9 June 2017

Feast of Mary Mother of Fair Grace

Saint Columba (Saint Columbkille) (d. 597)

Maurice Baring, One of God’s Gentlemen, Presents Xantippe:

The Wife of Socrates

Epigraphs

“On the eve of Candlemas 1909, I was received into the Catholic Church by Father Sebastian Bowden at the Brompton Oratory [in London and on 1 February]: the only action in my life which I am quite certain I have never regretted. Father Sebastian began life as an officer in the Scots Guards. He had served as A.D.C. [Aide-de-Camp] under the same chief and at the same time as my uncle, Lord Cromer. He lived all the rest of his life at the Oratory and died in 1920. He was fond even in old age of riding about London on a cob [his small horse of sturdy build]. His face was stamped with the victory of character over all other elements. He was a sensible Conservative, a patriot, a prime example of an English gentleman in mind and appearance; a prince of courtesy, and a saint; and I regard my acquaintance with him and the friendship and sympathy he gave me as the greatest privilege bestowed on me by Providence.” (Maurice Baring, The Puppet Show of Memory, (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1922), pp. 395-396—my emphasis added)

***

“That night [17 May 1915]…there was a rumour that B.K. [Major Basil Barrington-Kennett] had been killed. The next day the rumour was confirmed.

If ever a man deserved a soldier’s death, to die leading his men and the men of his own regiment into battle, it was B.K. But of all the bitter losses one had to bear throughout the war, it was, with one exception [i.e., his cherished long-time friend, Auberon “Bron” Herbert, Captain Lord Lucas, d. 3 November 1916 at age 40; and to whom, in 1909, Baring had dedicated his parodic Dead Letters (1911)], this particular loss I felt most, minded most, resented most, and found most difficult to accept.

He [“B.K.”] was not an old friend of mine. I had never seen him before the war. But he was bound up with every moment of my life during the first months of the war, and I had got to know him intimately and to admire him more than others and to delight in his company more than in that of others….But when this particular piece of news [about his death] came I felt the taste of the war turn bitter indeed, and apart from any personal feelings, one rebelled against the waste which had deprived, first the Flying Corps and then the Army, of the services of so noble a character. He was the most completely unselfish man I have ever met: a compound of loyalty and generosity and a gay and keen interest in everything life has to offer.

Not long ago I heard a little boy of eight years old asked if he knew what the word gentleman meant. He said, ‘Yes, of course.’ On being pressed for a definition he said: ‘A gentleman is a man who loves God very much and has beautiful manners.’ This definition exactly fitted B.K.” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., HQ.–1914-1918 (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1920), pp. 92-93—my emphasis added)

***

“He [General Éduard de Castelnau, 1851-1944] seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours [circa 1914-1918], to be [himself] a native of the age of chivalry, of that time [in the 13th Century] when Louis IX, who is known as Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He had the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony, the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du cœur [that deep and sincere politeness of heart], that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen.” (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., HQ.—1914-1918, p. 273—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

This short essay proposes to consider, not only the above-mentioned Major B.K. and General de Castelnau, but also Maurice Baring himself, as “one of God’s gentlemen,” as one whose own generous and chivalrous character is marked by a sincere, deep, and guileless politesse de cœur, even as he presents to us now the volubly scolding (sometimes shrewish) wife of Socrates, Xantippe. Under her eloquent reproaches Socrates himself is shown to be a man of a few words, maybe for a good reason, inasmuch as he expectantly approaches the end of his earthly life, which is already forebodingly endangered—though seemingly unnoticed by his discouraged and hot-tempered wife. (In 399 B.C., five years after the humiliating defeat and capitulation of Athens in the devastating Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) in which he had earlier been a combatant, Socrates himself, after his trial, was to die.)

Baring first published this charming character portrayal of Xantippe and her husband in 1911, three years before the Great War of 1914-1918 was to break out, and only some two years after he had become a Catholic. The Xantippe portrayal was then again later published in his book’s set of 23 short literary presentations, entitled Diminutive Dramas,1 where Baring’s characteristic magnanimity recurrently showed itself. And he expressed it often with “a play of kindly irony” and a warmly sustained, flowing “ripple of humour”—as we may soon come to see, especially if we were–with only two reciters– to read with a fittingly swift pace the entire short play aloud. (Recently, and in the presence of our two young children at home, my German wife herself expressively read the lines and convincingly played Xantippe —with me as the taciturn, somewhat intimidated Socrates in the background as a foil—and she thereby heartily evoked the joy and smiles of the astounded children!)

Now we should present Baring’s own description of the Scene at the opening of the Play:

“A room in SOCRATES’ house. XANTIPPE is seated at a table [in Athens], on which an unappetizing meal, consisting of figs, parsley, and some hashed goat’s meat, is spread.” (177)

We should remember the goat’s meat is, purportedly, one of Socrates’ favorite dishes, at least in Xantippe’s estimation. As Socrates (S) enters his home, Xantippe (X) has the first comment (177):

X: “You’re twenty [sic] minutes late.”

S: “I’m sorry, I was kept—”

X: “Wasting your time as usual, I suppose, and bothering people with questions who have something better to do than to listen to you. You can’t think what a mistake it is by going on like that. You can’t think how much people dislike it. If people enjoyed it, or admired it, I could understand the waste of time—but they don’t. It only makes them angry. Everybody’s saying so.”

S: “Who’s everybody?

X: “There you are with your questions again. Please don’t try to catch me out with those kind of tricks. I’m not a philosopher. I’m not a sophist. I know I’m not clever—I’m only a woman. But I do know the difference between right and wrong and black and white, and I don’t think it’s very kind of you, or very generous either, to be always pointing out my ignorance, and perpetually making me the butt of your sarcasm.”

S: “But I never said a word.”

X: “Oh, please, don’t try to wriggle out of it. We all know you’re very good at that. I do hate that shuffling so. It’s so cowardly. I do like a man you can trust—and depend on—who when he says Yes means Yes, and when he says No means No.”

S: “I’m sorry I spoke.”

X: “I suppose that’s what you call irony. I’ve no doubt it’s very clever, but I’m afraid it’s wasted on me. I should keep those remarks for the market-place and the gymnasia and the workshops. I’ve no doubt they’d be highly appreciated there by that clique of young men who do nothing but admire each other. I’m afraid I’m old-fashioned. I was brought up to think that a man should treat his wife with decent civility, and try, even if he did think her stupid, not to be always showing it.” (177-178—my emphasis added)

Baring’s tonal words show Xantippe to be a more sympathetic figure than we might have originally thought to be so.

In reply to Xantippe’s last set of words, Socrates can only say: “Have I by a word or hint ever suggested that you were stupid?” The pathos now grows.

X: “Oh, of course not—never. However, we won’t discuss that. We will change the subject, if you don’t mind.”

S: “But really—”

X: (ignoring the interruption). Please give me your plate. I will help you to the goat.”

S: “None for me, thank you, to-day”

X: “Why not? I suppose it’s not good enough. I’m afraid I can’t provide the food you get at your grand friends’ houses, but I do think it’s rather cruel of you to sneer at my poor humble efforts.” (178—my emphasis added)

Socrates goes on to reveal only the fact that he is not very hungry: “I’ve really got no appetite for meat to-day. I’ll have some figs, if you don’t mind.” (179) And Xantippe immediately responds:

X: “I suppose that’s the new fad, not to eat meat. I assure you people talk quite enough about you as it is without your making yourself more peculiar. Only yesterday Chrysilla was talking about your clothes. She asked if you made them dirty on purpose. She said the spots on the back couldn’t have got there by accident. Every one notices it—every one says the same thing. Of course they think it’s my fault. No doubt it’s very amusing for people who don’t mind attracting attention and who like being notorious: but it is rather hard on me. And when I hear people saying ‘Poor Socrates! it is a shame that his wife looks after him so badly and doesn’t even mend his sandals‘–I admit I do feel rather hurt. However, that would never enter into your head. A philosopher hasn’t time to think of other people. I suppose unselfishness doesn’t form part of a sophist’s training, does it?

[SOCRATES says nothing, but eats first one fig and then another.]

X: “I think you might at least answer when spoken to. I am far from expecting you to treat me with consideration or respect; but I do expect ordinary civility.”

[SOCRATES goes on eating figs in silence.]

X: “Oh, I see, you’re going to sulk. First you browbeat, then you’re satirical. Then you sneer at the food, and then you sulk.” (179—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

Baring’s presentation now moves on to the specific discussion of food, but only after Socrates shows no larger response to his wife’s more capacious comments. The only reply Socrates chooses to make to her is somewhat impersonal, as well as brief: “I never said a word against the food.” (180—my emphasis added) Nor does Socrates ever thank her for being a good cook who tries to please him!

We may now imagine the different emphases and tones of voice that might be fittingly expressed by the actors in this continuing and somewhat one-sidedly animated dialogue, if this deftly written little domestic drama were also to be performed on stage. Xantippe now resumes (with a touch of irony) her own more loquacious and more differentiated response to her terse husband:

X: “You never said a word against the food. You only kept me waiting nearly half an hour for dinner—not that that was anything new—I’m sure I ought to be used to that by now—and you only refused to look at the dish which I had taken pains to cook with my own hands for you.”

S: “All I said was I wasn’t hungry—that I had no appetite for meat.”

X: “You’ve eaten all the figs. You’ve got quite an appetite for those.”

S: “That’s different.”

X: “Oh, that’s different, is it? One can be hungry enough to eat all the fruit there is in the house, which I was especially keeping for this evening, but not hungry enough to touch a piece of meat. I suppose that’s algebra.”

S: “You know I very rarely eat meat.”

X: “Really? I hadn’t noticed it. I always hear of your eating meat in other people’s houses; but my poor cooking is not good enough for you. I’m sorry, but I can’t afford those spicy messy dishes. If I had a husband who had a real profession, and worked, and did something useful to earn his living and support his house and home, it would be different; only I think the least you could do is not to sneer at one when one is only trying to do one’s best.” (180—my emphasis added)

To this cascade of words and spousal reproaches Socrates only says: “I very rarely eat meat anywhere now.” Perceiving this rarity of meat to be a nutritional deficiency in her husband, Xantippe finds new grounds for her sharp solicitousness:

X: “That’s why you’re looking so ill. All the doctors say it’s a mistake. Some people can do without meat. They don’t need it—but a man who works with his brain like you ought to eat nourishing food. You ought to force yourself to eat meat, even if you don’t feel inclined to.”

S: “I thought you said just now that I did nothing.”

X: “There you are, cross-examining me like a lawyer, and tripping me up. I’ve no doubt it’s very amusing for a professional philosopher to catch out a poor ignorant woman like me. It’s a pity your audience isn’t here. They would enjoy it. However, I’m afraid I’m not impressed. You can twist my words into anything you like. You can prove I meant black when I said white, but you know perfectly well what I mean. You know as well as I do that your eccentricity has made you thoroughly unpopular. And what I say is, it’s just these little things that matter. Now put all that nonsense away and have some goat.”

S: “No, thank you. I really can’t.”

X: “It’s excellent goat, and there’s some garlic in the sauce. I hate garlic, and it’s there on purpose for you—

S: “Oh!”….

X: “I suppose you had dinner before you came here [i.e. came home], or you’re going to have dinner somewhere else presently.”

S: “I haven’t touched food since I left the house.”

X: “Then it’s quite ridiculous your not eating [even if it were, perhaps, on the threshold of death?]. Let me give you some goat at once.”

S: “I couldn’t, really. Besides, I must go in a minute.” (180-182—my emphasis added)

As we approach the end of Maurice Baring’s diminutive dramatic depiction, we must also consider now the implicit presence of dramatic irony and pathos. For, without Xantippe’s adequate knowledge, Socrates may actually be preparing to leave home in order to face his stern Athenian accusers and, perhaps, never to come home again. Let us therefore consider some of Baring’s sudden hints, or subtle clues.

S: “…Besides, I must go in a minute.”

X: “There! I knew it! You’re going out to dinner.”

S: “You’re mistaken, Xantippe.”

X: “You’d far better tell me the truth at once. I’m quite certain to find it out sooner or later. You can’t think how foolish it is to tell lies and then to be found out afterwards. You can’t think how much a woman despises a man for that—you couldn’t do anything more foolish.”

S: “I promise you by all the gods that I’m not going to dine elsewhere. [A true fact; but what of import are you not telling your wife?!]

X: “I suppose you don’t expect me to fall into that trap! Swearing by all the gods, when every one in Athens knows you are a professed atheist—when you do nothing but mock the gods from morning to nightand, what’s far worse, make other people mock them too; when I scarcely like to have a slave [a possible informant or spy!] in the house because of your impiety—and your blasphemy.” (182—my emphasis added)

Maurice Baring, in this last passage, deftly has Xantippe herself make many of the same charges that are later made by Socrates’ own three accusers, who then successfully condemn him to death.

Moreover, immediately after Xantippe’s grave and bulging charges against her husband, Socrates, in an understated way, merely says to her: “I really think you are rather unfair, Xantippe. You will be sorry for this some day.” (182—my emphasis added)

X: “Then may I ask where you are going?”

S: “I’ve got an important engagement.”

X: “And with whom?”

S: “I would rather not say, for your sake.”

X: “That’s very clever and ingenious to put it on me. But I’m tired of being bullied. Even a worm will turn, and I demand to be treated just for once like a human being, and with the minimum of courtesy and frankness. I don’t ask for your confidence [trust], I know that would be useless. But I do ask to be treated with a grain of straightforwardness and honesty. I insist upon it. I have borne your sneers, your sarcasm, and your sulkiness, your irritability, your withering silence, quite long enough. I will not put up with it any longer.” (182-183—my emphasis added)

After this scorching and humiliating indictment of Socrates’ character and the very conduct of his domestic life with her (without even mentioning their three sons), Socrates decides to open up to her a little:

S: “Very well. Since you will have it, I have been impeached by Lycon, Meletus, and Anytus [Socrates’ three primary Athenian accusers] on some ridiculous [sic] charge, the result of which, however, may be extremely serious—in fact it may be a matter of life and death—and I am obliged to appear before them at once.”

X: “Oh dear, oh dear! I always said so. I knew it would come to this! This is what comes of not eating meat like a decent citizen!” [Xantippe bursts into tears.] —Curtain.—The End (183—my emphasis added)

Socrates was then to face his stern accusers at the public trial in 399 B.C., and he defended himself at some length, but in a not very conciliatory way. He was thus finally condemned to death, and, after thirty days, he drank the hemlock.

After now knowing of, and even having read large portions of, this charming diminutive drama by Maurice Baring, we might also come especially to appreciate and savor a magnificent student “blooper” on an academic test concerning Socrates: “Socrates died of an overdose of wedlock.”

Maurice Baring would have cherished this “blooper,” and I like to think that he might even have composed it himself when he was an antic young student. For, even then, he was known for his magnanimous parodies. He also had a keen sense of pathos (as in the case of Xantippe), and it is to be especially seen in his ennobling elegiac verses and in most of his later heart-searching novels.

CODA

Since Maurice Baring especially admired (and desired to imitate) the moral character and chivalrous standards of the French General Éduard de Castelnau (1851-1944), I propose to end this essay with Baring’s own slightly expanded presentation of that great and deeply admired man, part of which has already been revealed in our Epigraphs above, at the beginning of this essay; but it is worthy of our now repeating Baring’s memorable articulation of those inspiring interwoven qualities:

May 26, 1918….Headquarters, 8th Brigade [in France]….

We [General Trenchard and I] saw General de Castlenau [sic–Castelnau] too, who is charming….Our unique and undefined position [in France] depended, as far as practical results were concerned, entirely on the goodwill of the French. Luckily this goodwill was given to us in an overflowing measure by General de Castelnau, the commander of the Group of Armies of the East. He and the General [Trenchard, for whom Major Baring was the beloved and trusted Aide-de-Camp] understood each other at once after their first conversation.

General de Castelnau’s name and exploits need no comment [at least not in 1918 Europe]. They will be written, and are already written in gold, in the history of France, and in the Gesta Dei per Francos [the Epic High Deeds of God as Enacted by and through the Franks], as the victor of the Grand Couronné and the restorer of the situation at Verdun. But it is perhaps permissible to say a word or two about his personality.

He seemed to belong to a nobler epoch than ours, to be a native of the age of chivalry, of that time when Louis IX [of France], who is known as Saint Louis, dispensed justice under a spreading oak-tree. He has the easy familiarity, the slight play of kindly irony [like Baring with his depiction of Xantippe and Socrates!], the little ripple of humour, the keen glance, the foresight and forethought, that politesse du cœur, that complete remoteness from what is common, mean, base, self-seeking, which are the foundation and substance of God’s gentlemen. His white hair, his keen eyes, his features, which looked as if they had been cut by a master-hand out of a fine block of granite, radiated goodness and courage and cheerfulness, a salt-like sense, and a twinkling humour. And his smile went straight to your heart, and made you feel at home, comfortable, easy and happy. When one had luncheon with him and the orderly said luncheon was ready he used to say:

“A cheval, Messieurs [To Horse, Gentlemen!],

and throughout his conversation there was always a rippling current of good-humoured, delicate and keen chaff [reminding one of Maurice Baring’s “Xantippe and Socrates”]. To hear him talk was like reading, was to breathe the atmosphere in which classic French was born, racy, natural, idiomatic, and utterly free from anything shoddy, artificial or pretentious. He was the salt of the earth, and one felt that if [Edmund] Burke had met him he would have torn up his dirge of the death of the Age of Chivalry [to be found in Burke’s classic 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France], for there [in May of 1918] it [the chivalry] was alive and enjoying life and making others enjoy it. (Maurice Baring, R.F.C., H.Q.—1914-1918 (1920), pages 272-274—my emphasis added)

Is it not desirable that we too try to hold ourselves to the chivalrous standards of General de Castelnau?

May we too–like the generous and magnanimous Maurice Baring himself in his own discerningly compassionate (and comic) depiction of Xantippe (and her laconic husband)—show ourselves to be “one of God’s gentlemen.” Fittingly, we should thus recall how “a little boy of eight years old” himself memorably defined a gentleman: “A gentleman is a man who loves God very much and has beautiful manners.”

Recognizing that courtesy itself is a form of charity, Baring’s beloved friend Hilaire Belloc even wrote in one of his short poems entitled “Courtesy” that “the Grace of God is in Courtesy.”

Maurice Baring’s own deep politesse du cœur was so admirably able to encounter and depict with chivalrous compassion—and with “a ripple of good humour”—the challenges of those increasingly isolated and poignantly elegiac characters: voluble Xantippe and her tersely Philosophizing Husband.

–FINIS–

© 2017 Robert D. Hickson

1Maurice Baring, Diminutive Dramas (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1925), 183 pages. The last of the twenty-three dramatic sketches is entitled “Xantippe and Socrates” (Chapter XXIII, pp. 177-183). Although the book was originally published in late December 1910-early January 1911, it was published again in 1919, and then once again in 1925, by W. Heinemann, as part of “The Works of MAURICE BARING: Collected Uniform Edition.” All further references will be to that 1925 edition of Diminutive Dramas, and the pages quoted will be placed in parentheses above in the main text. In this context, Baring’s Dead Letters—a charming 1910 set of parodies—should also be savored, especially two of them: “From the Mycenae Papers” and “Lady Macbeth’s Trouble.” Maurice Baring, Dead Letters (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company 1925), pp.1-7 and 95-99. See too Paul Horgan, Maurice Baring Restored: Selections from His Work (1970).

Max Beerbohm’s Charming 1950 Parody on Maurice Baring: “All Roads—” As a Christmas Garland Woven for His Gifted Friend

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                             14 August 2020

The Vigil of the Assumption of Mary

Saint Eusebius (d. 357)

Saint Maximilian Kolbe (d. 1941)

Epigraphs

“Publisher’s 1950 Note: A Christmas Garland was, when it was first published [in 1912], acclaimed by many writers as the best book of prose parodies in the English language. We venture to think that it still holds this pride of place. A parody on a certain M**R*C* B*R*NG [Maurice Baring] is now included.” (London: William Heinemann, 1950)

***

“Despite the last sentence in the foregoing [Rapallo, 1912] note, I did, in recent years, write one other parody, ‘All Roads–‘. It amused and pleased my old friend, the brilliant, the greatly gifted Maurice Baring. Had he not liked it [Baring was to die on 14 December 1945], I would not include it in this later [1950] edition.” (Max Beerbohm’s own 1949 Rapallo Postscript to the 1950 Heinemann London edition—my emphasis added.)

***

Maurice Baring [d. 1945] had already variously presented his own subtle and multiple talents in writing charming parodies, and it may be seen even in his set of what he called “diminutive dramas.” One may see it, for example, in the deft ironic domestic discourse between an earnest, sometimes shrewish, wife and her meditative, ironical philosopher husband, such as Socrates. That little drama is to be found (and to be read aloud and likely further cherished) in the drama of “Xantippe and Socrates” which is still to be highly recommended to everyone. One may see its subtle presentation in the final chapter of a larger collection in Baring’s 1925 versatile book, entitled Diminutive Dramas (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1925—in Chapter XXIII, on pages 177-183, will be found that timely and timeless little gem, “Xantippe and Socrates.”)

***

As a literary gift to his friend Maurice Baring, Max Beerbohm decided to tell a tale about a young man in the British diplomatic service in Rome who, with the help of a haunting young woman he never spoke to, overcame his longstanding displeasure with Christmas. He was then never to see her again.

Here is how Beerbohm’s narrator, partly aware of Baring’s earlier biography, begins his tale:

Michael Forster reached Rome in the first week of December and drove straight to the Embassy. Every one there was very kind to him. It was rather like being a new boy at a public school and not being bullied. All the same, he could not help wishing himself back at Copenhagen, or at Berne, where he had felt life-sized. Rome dwarfed him. She seemed to say to him, “If you want monuments, look around you! You will know that though you are twenty-five years old you are nobody—and never will be anybody though you live to be a hundred.” But at any rate he was not dreading the advent of Christmas.

Year after year, he had dreaded it ever since his childhood.1

Beerbohm’s hyphenated title, “All Roads–”, may well evoke the saying that “All Roads Lead to Rome”—and maybe also implicitly to the Catholic Faith. However, Beerbohm is more enigmatic when, right under the parody’s title is a chapter heading, namely “Chapter V.” as if there are earlier parts of the prose parody, as well as later ones, too. But let us pass on now to some other and more vivid matters.

After describing an ambiguous (partly unhistorical) set of incidents with Michael’s specially cherished German governess, “Fräulein Schultz” (57, 58), “and though he forgot all about her soon after she went to be a governess somewhere else, he never lost his dislike of Christmas.” (58—my emphasis added)

Nonetheless, “he was glad to be transferred to Rome” (58), but it was:

Not that he had yet felt any definite wavering in regard to the Church in which he had been baptised and confirmed. He was still a Protestant. But he had long since ceased to protest day in, day out, and the prospect of seeing a Christmas passed over lightly was one of the things that cheered him on his journey south….and it was a blow to him when one day Sainson, the Second Secretary, said, “Of course, the Chief will be giving the usual beano [noisy, festive] dinner on Christmas night.” (58—my emphasis added)

“Michael, at this news,” realized that he lacked a born and “real vocation for diplomacy, but he did manage to think out a plausible excuse, and on Christmas night, after he had dressed, he slipped out and dined in an obscure little restaurant in the Via Golfango.” (58—italics in the original)

A new character now comes into the tale, “a friend of his family,” the one who had recommended to him the little restaurant and he will now introduce him to a remarkable woman in her seventies:

When he [Michael] was half-through his meal [Pierre] Frénard himself came in and joined him at his table. Later, while they sat over their coffee, Frénard said he thought of going on to Mme. Yakovlev’s [still on that Christmas night].

Michael asked, “Who is Mme. Yakovlev?”

Frénard laughed and said, “Oh, she’s one of those women who know everybody. Fancy anyone not knowing her. You had better come with me. This is one of her Soirs. She has two a week….”

“Tell me about her,”said Michael.

“There’s not much to tell,” answered Frénard….“Her father was very poor, an Irish landowner, living mostly at home in a tumble-down castle, but sometimes travelling. From one of his journeys he brought back a bride—a young Turkish lady, a niece of Mustapha Pasha. There was one child of the marriage, a daughter; she was christened Clara. Both parents died when she [Clara] was twelve years old. She was then brought up by an aunt in Scotland. The aunt had been a devout Catholic, but there was some kink in her, and she was now a Presbyterian. The girl was not at all happy with her. She ran away when she was sixteen [four years later] and became a postulant in an Ursuline Convent near Glasgow. But she found she had no real vocation.” (59-60—my emphasis added)

After the narrator presents a wide range and variety of her mixed international life (60), we are then told that “Sergius Yakovlev, her third husband, was a trusted adviser of [Tsar] Alexander the Third….She and he [Sergius] are said to have been quite happy while he lived. Anyhow, she never married again. She settled in Rome….She was seventy-three last June. She knows a great deal but seldom says very much. What she says has point.” (60—my emphasis added)

Later at Mme. Yakovlev’s salone, “Michael was piloted by Frénard to Mme. Yakovlev and presented to her. Somehow he had expected her to be tall, but she was quite short.” (61) She asked him a question about a certain “Septimus Forster whom she had known in Algiers” (61), but:

Before he could think of an answer, he had to make way for another fresh arrival. He felt that he had not made a good impression. But afterwards Frénard told him that Mme. Yakovlev had liked him very much. (61-62)

Michael was now suddenly to glimpse the haunting young woman who was to influence him so greatly:

In one of the groups [of “fresh arrivals”] nearest to him he saw a young woman whose face was familiar to him, though he was sure he had never seen her before, and though she was unlike any one he had ever seen….She seemed utterly remote from the group she stood in….How was she here? How could she be? That she was a musician, and an exquisite one, Michael was sure. Her eyes and her hands proclaimed that. (62)

As part of Beerbohm’s deft artfulness, our minds are then presented with a contrasting human form, the robust Jorton himself, another family relation and indeed another “fresh arrival”:

While Michael gazed and wondered, the vast bulk of Professor Jorton suddenly interposed itself between him and the unknown [young woman], and he was affectionately hailed in the booming voice of the famous Alpine climber and Egyptologist, who was an old friend of the [Michael Forster] family and one of his Godfathers. That Jorton should be here was natural enough, for in spite of all his peaks and papyri he was the most social of men, and no capital city was complete without him. Michael felt sure he could learn from Jorton something about the identity of the young woman. (62-63—my emphasis added)

Now we are to hear a part of Professor Jorton’s biographical report on young Eleanor d’Urutsia:

“I don’t wonder that you’re struck by her. Eleanor d’Urutsias don’t grow on every bush….She married out of the schoolroom, as it were. She was only sixteen when young Fernand d’Urutsia came over to London….He was quite poor, and so was she, but they were ideally happy. He died on the first anniversary of their wedding, at Qualva, a fishing-village near Biarritz. It was feared that she would lose her reason. But she is ‘of the stuff that can affront despair.’ She withdrew into solitude for three years—no one knows where. Probably in some conventual [religious] institution, for she became passionately dévote when she was received into the Roman communion. She is now twenty years old….She is very musical. She used to sing charmingly. She plays her own accompaniments. I hope she will sing to-night. Shall I present you to her?

Ah, not to-night,” said Michael. “Not here in this crush.” (63—my emphasis added)

But Michael Forster could not keep his eyes off her, and he began to have some affectionate illusions: “With his eyes fixed on her again, he knew in his heart that somehow, mysteriously, not yet, but not a long while hence, his life would be linked with hers.” (64—my emphasis added)

How will Max Beerbohm now deftly, and even elegiacally, present the three concluding paragraphs of his tale, while keeping in mind the large corpus of Maurice Baring’s prose and verse?

After speaking with some of the new arrivals, Michael became more at ease as he spoke to an international set of expressive visitors:

Then he was aware that something was happening. There was movement in the group around Mme. [Eleanor] d’Urutsia, and a murmur of excitement throughout the room, and then a deep hush, as she passed slowly to the pianoforte.

Michael had known that if she sang it would be unlike any singing that he had heard. But he had not known how utterly unlike it would be. The song itself [touching upon the Nativity] was one he had often heard, and had not cared for—Weber’s setting of Bérenger’s “Noel.” She transported it into some sphere of unconjectured beauty in which one could only hold one’s breath, and marvel as best one might. (64—my emphasis added)

The last paragraph of the nuanced prose parody is well worth our repeated savoring and our poignant ironical reflections which distil some of Maurice Baring’s own deeply elegiac themes and also his noble perceptions of human sorrows:

The [musical] notes came and went without melancholy as one knows it, without gaity as one could recognise it, but with an ethereal mingling of both these moods. And they seemed to come not from in the room. One seemed to hear them wafted from a great distance, across the waters of a great lake. This made Michael all the more certain in his heart that his future was indissolubly one with the future of Eleanor d’Urutsia. As it happened, he never saw her again. But she had entirely conquered his dislike of Christmas. He was destined to love it ever after. (65—my emphasis added)

CODA

In his own 1935 novel Darby and Joan, Maurice Baring has memorably said, first through the words of a Catholic priest, that “the acceptance of sorrow is the secret of life.” (Our Lady must have deeply known that intimate wisdom– also at that first Christmas.)

Let us consider what Maurice Baring himself wrote in 1935, in Darby and Joan:2

“One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world.”

“I didn’t think about it in that way. I don’t think I rebelled against it, because I thought my father was happier dead and at peace, than alive and in pain; but I was just stunned. Apart from that, I have not experienced real sorrow; only disappointment and disillusion.”

“A priest once said to me, ‘When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.’”

For our sake now at the end of Max Beerbohm’s warm, often comic, partly exaggerated parody of a friend’s writing and literary style, we may now appreciate, a little, what comes from Maurice Baring’s own sincere heart and its depth.

Such are also the graceful and subtly allusive developments in Max Beerbohm’s interwoven 1950 Christmas Garland, especially his artful parody, “All Roads–” by M**R*CE B*R*NG.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Max Beerhohm, “All Roads–”, one of eighteen portraits in A Christmas Garland (London: William Heinemann, 1950), page 57—my emphasis added. Henceforth, all references will be to this text of “All Roads–” and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay and commentary. Moreover, G.K. Chesterton has a parodic portrait entitled “Some Damnable Errors about Christmas” starting on page 47; and Hilaire Belloc is also parodied by Beerbohm in a portrait merely entitled “On Christmas”–by “H*l**r* B*ll*c starting on page 147. Baring, Belloc, and Chesterton are together once again!

2Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan (London: William Heinemann, 1935), page 178—italics are in the original.

Maurice Baring’s “Xantippe and Socrates” (1925) with Miguel Cervantes’ Teresa and Sancho Panza in Don Quixote (1615): Shedding Comic Light on Married Couples

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                           14 January 2020

Saint Hilary of Poitiers (d. 368)

Epigraphs

Turgenev,” said [the Russian teacher] Yakovlev [when addressing Christopher Trevenen, himself the restless protagonist], says that man is either a Hamlet or a Don Quixote. You are a Don Quixote, only you have none of the Spaniard’s kindness and humility. If you are a Don Quixote you should be chivalrous.”

“Don Quixote, fortunately for him, was mad.”

He was very sane too.”

“You mean that I am neither mad nor sane?”

“Neither mad nor sane enough.”

“I will try and improve,” said Christopher, and he laughed.

(Maurice Baring, The Coat Without Seam (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929), page 225—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

***

“I declare,” cried Sancho, “you [wife Teresa Panza] must have some devil in that body of yours. God bless us, woman, what a power of things you have strung together, one after the other, without head or tail!….Listen, dolt and nincompoop (I’m right to call you this, seeing that you don’t grip my meaning and you go tearing away from good fortune)….why won’t you agree and fall in with what I wish?”

“Do you know why, husband?” answered Teresa….“All give the poor man a hasty glance, but they keep their eyes glued on the rich man, and if the rich man was once poor, then you will hear the sneering and the gossiping and the continued spite of the backbiters in the streets, swarming as thick as bees.”

“Look here, Teresa,” said Sancho, “and pay heed to what I’m going to tell you, for maybe you never heard it all your life. And remember that I’m not airing my own opinion, but those of the reverend father who preached it in this village last Lent and who said, if I remember correctly….” (The remarks of Sancho are another reason for the translator’s former statement that this chapter [chapter five of Part II] is apocryphal, for they are beyond the mental capacity of our honest Sancho.) “Hence it happens, ….rest assured, Teresa, that no one will remember what he was [namely, such a poor man now up from “his low estate”], and all will respect him [as a rich man now] for what he is—that is to say, all except the envious [persons], from whom no prosperous fortune is safe.”

I can’t make head or tail of you, husband,” answered Teresa. “Do what you will, and don’t break my head with your orating and speechifying. And if you have revolved [sic] to do what you say–”

Resolved you should say, woman,” said Sancho, “not revolved.”

“Don’t start argufying with me, husband, “ said Teresa. “I speak as God pleases, and I’m content to call a spade a spade….”

“Then we both agree that our daughter [Sancha, or Marisancha or just Marica and Sanchica, as affectionate variants (559, 563)] is to be a countess,” said Sancho.

“The day I see her [our daughter] as a countess,” replied Teresa, “I’ll feel that I’m burying her; but once again I say, do as you please, for such is the burden we women receive at birth, to be obedient to our husbands no matter how doltish they may be.”

And with this she [Teresa] began to weep in real earnest as though she already saw Sanchica dead and buried. Sancho consoled her by saying that since he [as Governor] would have to make her a countess, he would postpone doing it as long as he could. So ended their conversation, and Sancho went back to see Don Quixote and make arrangements for their departure [on their third sally and joint adventure!].” (Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote of La Mancha—Walter Starkie translation (New York: A Signet Classic—New American Library, 1957 and 1964), pages 561-563—Part II, Chapter V—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

Some time ago now, but I can now reliably remember where I first saw it, Maurice Baring, the graciously cultured author and close friend of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton, had one of his educated Russian characters say—it is to be found in Baring’s profound novel The Coat Without Seam (1929)—that a man has a basic disposition toward one of two types: either toward a brooding and vacillating Hamlet or toward a spontaneous and generous and very forgiving Don Quixote.

While recently reading Don Quixote aloud to my wife and our two young and eager children—especially some comic parts about Sancho Panza and his wife Teresa Panza “orating” and “argufying” together—I thought especially of one of Maurice Baring’s own subtly nuanced 1925 Diminutive Dramas, entitled “Xantippe and Socrates.”1 Thus, I thought to present both of these short literary attainments as an enhancement for our own still desirably larger spirit of comic festivity. To counterpoint the artful Miguel Cervantes and the artful Maurice Baring might still give us sparkling delight as well as some wise instruction. (From the first and extended Epigraph above, we may already savor Cervantes’ comic tones and characters, and promised adventurous substance.)

Maurice Baring himself was “a Don Quixote” who, as is fitting, was also “chivalrous” as well as a man of recurrent and manifest “kindness and humility.” He knew many languages and literatures—to include Greek and Latin and Russian—and he could deftly convey poignancy and elegiac tones of language and wounded life in his poetry and in his varied prose, as we shall soon see in his dramatic presentation of “Xantippe and Socrates” in which Socrates himself speaks very few words, while Xantippe shows, though often somewhat shrewish, how just lonely and uncertain she is. (Moreover, in this conversation, there is no mention of their children in Baring’s domestic piece and parody, though scholars speak of their two or three children who helped Xantippe after the death of Socrates, when he took his own life instead of going into a severe exile.)

Although Baring’s “diminutive drama” presents to a reader the few scenes and settings that could—and should—be acted out on stage, even by a resourceful wedded couple, we shall now try to accent the sequence and the actual words of Xantippe herself in her swift and voluble vividness. For example, after setting the scene and entrance of Socrates into a room in his home, here is how the play commences:

(Xantippe—henceforth, for convenience, presented as “X”). You’re twenty minutes late.

(Socrates—henceforth presented as “S”). I’m sorry, I was kept–

X. Wasting your time as usual, I suppose, and bothering people with questions who have got something better to do than to listen to you. You can’t think what a mistake you make by going on like that. You can’t think how much people dislike it. If people enjoyed it, or admired it, I could understand the waste of time—but they don’t. It only makes them angry. Everybody’s saying so.

S. Who’s everybody?

X. There you are with your questions again. Please don’t try to catch me out with those kind of tricks. I’m not a philosopher. I’m not a sophist. I know I’m not clever—I’m only a woman. But I do know the difference between right and wrong and black and white, and I don’t think it’s very kind of you, or very generous either, to be always pointing out my ignorance, and perpetually making me the butt of your sarcasm.

S. But I never said a word.

X. Oh, please, don’t try to wiggle out of it. We all know you’re very good at that. I do hate that shuffling so. It’s so cowardly. I do like a man one can trust—and depend on—who when he says Yes means Yes, and when he says No means No.

S. I’m sorry I spoke.

X. I suppose that’s what’s called irony. (177-178)

Before we resume this exchange between husband and wife, it will be good to learn of Baring’s description of the Scene and its implicit atmosphere for their conversation:

A room in Socrates’ house. Xantippe is seated at a table, on which an unappetising meal, consisting of figs, parsley, and some hashed goat’s meat, is spread. (177)

After Xantippe says “I suppose that’s what’s called irony,” she resumes her diatribe:

I’ve no doubt it’s very clever, but I’m afraid it’s wasted on me. I should keep those remarks for the market-place and gymnasia and the workshops. I’ve no doubt they’d be highly appreciated there by that clique of young men who do nothing but admire each other. I’m afraid I’m old-fashioned. I was brought up to think a man should treat his wife with decent civility, and try, even if he did think her stupid, not to be always showing it.

S. Have I by a word or hint ever suggested that you were stupid?

X. Oh, of course not—never. However, we won’t discuss that. We will change the subject, if you don’t mind.

S. But really–

X. (ignoring the interruption) Please give me your plate. I will help you to the goat.

S. None for me, thank you, today.

X. Why not? I suppose it’s not good. I’m afraid I can’t provide the food you get at your grand friends’ houses, but I do think it’s rather cruel of you to sneer at my poor humble efforts. (178)

Then begins a long exchange about food, to include figs, but not meat! “I suppose that’s a new fad, not to eat meat,” Xantippe says promptly (179), and then she adds:

I assure you people talk quite enough about you as it is without your making yourself more peculiar. Only yesterday Chrysilla was talking about your clothes. She asked if you made them dirty on purpose. She said the spots on the back couldn’t have got there by accident. Every one notices it—every one says the same thing. Of course, they think it is my fault. No doubt it’s very amusing for people who don’t mind attracting attention and who like being notorious; but it is rather hard on me. And when I hear people saying “Poor Socrates! It is such a shame that his wife looks after him so badly and doesn’t even mend his sandals”—I admit I do feel rather hurt. However, that would never enter into your head. A philosopher hasn’t the time to think of other people. I suppose unselfishness doesn’t form part of a sophist’s training, does it?

[SOCRATES says nothing, but eats first one fig and then another.]

X. I think you might at least answer when you’re spoken to. I am far from expecting you to treat me with consideration or respect; but I do expect ordinary civility.

[SOCRATES goes on eating figs in silence.]

X. Oh, you’re going to sulk. First you browbeat, then you’re satirical. Then you sneer at the food, and then you sulk. (179—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

For the next two pages—180-181—there again the wife and husband have a lively exchange about food. The entire two pages, I believe, ought also be closely read to appreciate the nuanced modulations of tones, as well as its being a preparation for a more serious matter: Socrates’ punitive condemnation by some of the powerful Athenian oligarchs.

At the end of their exchanges about nourishing food and special garlic and roasted goat, Xantippe says: “Then it’s quite ridiculous your not eating. Let me give you some goat at once.” (182)

Socrates then replies and has another surprise: “I couldn’t really. Besides I must go in a minute.”

X. There! I knew it! You’re going out to dinner.

S. You are mistaken, Xantippe.

X. You’d far better tell me the truth at once. I’m quite certain to find it out sooner or later. You can’t think how foolish it is to tell lies and then to be found out afterwards. You can’t think how much a woman despises a man for that—you couldn’t do anything more foolish.

S. I promise you by all the gods that I’m not going to dine elsewhere.

X. I suppose you don’t expect me to fall into that trap! Swearing by all the gods, when every one in Athens knows you are a professional atheist—when you do nothing but mock the gods from morning till night—and what’s far worse, make other people mock them too; when I scarcely like to have a slave in the house because of your impiety—and your blasphemy.

S. I really think you are rather unfair, Xantippe. You will be sorry for this some day. (180—my emphasis added)

As we realize more and more how little Xantippe understood her husband’s principles and eccentricities, we are allowed to see their effectively farewell conversation, which Maurice Baring conveys to us poignantly, drop by drop—except, perhaps, for Xantippe’s trifling and bathetic final sentence about food:

X. Then may I ask where you are going?

S. I’ve got an important engagement.

X. And with whom?

S. I would rather not say, for your sake.

X. That’s very clever and ingenious to put it on me. But I’m tired of being bullied. Even a worm will turn, and I demand to be treated just for once like a human being, and with the minimum of courtesy and frankness. I don’t ask for your confidence, I know that would be useless. But I do ask to be treated with a grain of straightforwardness and honesty. I insist upon it. I have borne your sneers, your sarcasm, and your sulkiness, your irritability, your withering silence, quite long enough. I will not put up with it any longer.

Socrates. Very well, Since you will have it, I have been impeached by Lycon, Meletus, and Anytus on some ridiculous charge, the result of which, however, may be extremely serious–in fact it may be a matter of life or death—and I am obliged to appear before them at once.

Xantippe. Oh dear, oh dear! I always said so, I knew it would come to this! [THEN also cometh her final trifling and bathos:] That is what comes of not eating meat like a decent citizen!

[XANTIPPE bursts into tears.]

CURTAIN

(182-183—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

The further comic and elegiac counterpoint of Miguel Cervantes and Maurice Baring will indeed teach us many nourishing things of wisdom, by way of their differentiated artfulness and tones of irony.

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Maurice Baring, Diminutive Dramas ( London: William Heinemann LTD., 1925). “Xantippe and Socrates,” the last chapter of the book, is to be found on pages 177-183 (Chapter XXIII). All future references to this text will be to the William Heinemann edition and they will be placed in parentheses in the main body of this short essay above.