Maurice Baring Presents Xantippe

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 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, where Baring’s characteristic magnanimity

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  • Thank you Robert for a delightful essay. I enjoyed it very much, Baring’s humor and word play with the characters is hilarious. His tributes in the epigraphs resonate from his chivalrous heart. Not only General Castelnau, and Major B.K. (my initials too) but Father Sebastian, the saint!

    Ah, yes, the naggin voluble Xantippe. And poor wasted Socrates, who just preferred figs that night to goat meat. No chance for him to “accentuate the positive” here. “I just said, . . . I just said, that’s all.” “I didn’t say I didn’t like your cooking.” Baring is so clever, he makes drama. What a great writer! The philosopher comes home, fearful at what may soon happen to him, hoping to have some consolation, encouragement, from the ‘better half” and he gets “[you] and that clique of young men who do nothing but admire each other.” And “the pathos grows”. What’s this a “new fad” no meat? My friends are saying you are wearing “dirty clothes on purpose” staining them yourself. Then the dagger “I see you are going to sulk.” “It’s a pity your audience isn’t here, they would enjoy it [the goat’s meat, too?] And in the end, after his hints are not understood, that he may not be coming back home, he opens up and gets whacked “This is what comes [you atheist] of not eating meat like a decent citizen.”

    I love the quip [was this from one of your students?] He died “of an overdose of wedlock”.

    Chivalry is not dead. Nor courtesy, if measured in quality of the few rather than quantity. May we be both, — like de Castelnau, like Belloc, like Baring: “A cheval, Messieurs!”