Finding your Barings
Posted by jojoal
Lambay Island off the Irish coast is barely 15 miles from the centre of Dublin as the seagull flies, but it could be in another world. It’s home to tens of thousands of seabirds, a large number of seals, herds of deer and cattle, and most extraordinary of all, around 100 wallabies. Human beings though are mostly conspicuous by their absence, and the island is a wonderful haven for wildlife.
Despite this, the grandeur of the natural environment is almost matched by the grandeur of the built environment, with the main buildings having been designed by Edwin Lutyens, and the gardens by Gertrude Jekyll. Even relatively humble farm buildings show the evidence of Lutyens’ characteristic style and the overall effect of the design is little short of magnificent.
Lutyens’ involvement was commissioned by Cecil and Maude Baring, of the Barings banking family, who bought the island in 1904. It is still owned by a family trust set up by the Baring family. I had a rare opportunity to visit Lambay just before Easter, and it was quite an experience. Nothing quite prepares you for tramping across wild moorland and suddenly disturbing a wallaby, which springs out of the undergrowth and bounds away. Compared to that surprise, an unexpected connection to a largely forgotten author may seem trivial, but it was still another small delight of the visit.
Maurice Baring was in his day a popular and prolific author, writing around 50 books including poetry, novels, letters, short stories and non-fiction of various types. He was a friend of both G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and the three of them were often associated as Catholic writers, although he is nowadays less remembered than either of the other two. His privileged upbringing as part of the Baring family is reflected in his work and may even be part of the reason it has fallen out of fashion.
Several of his novels and short stories were published in continental editions by Tauchnitz, starting in 1925 with ‘Half a minute’s silence’. His eighth Tauchnitz Edition – ‘Friday’s business’ – was published in 1933, but early in 1934 he seems, like many other authors (including Belloc), to have defected to Albatross. They published an earlier novel ‘C’ that Tauchnitz had apparently overlooked, and followed it up later in the year by publishing Baring’s biography of Sarah Bernhardt, who had been a personal friend.
By then the effective takeover of Tauchnitz by Albatross was near, with the two series being run in parallel under joint editorial control from around 1935 onwards. There was to be one final publication by Baring – the novel ‘Darby and Joan’, and it appeared in the Tauchnitz series in 1936. The basis for deciding which novels / authors appeared under which imprint has been much discussed, and it’s unclear why Baring may have been categorised as a Tauchnitz author rather than an Albatross one, but it may simply have been the comparison of eight previous works in Tauchnitz against two in Albatross.
Maurice Baring was the younger brother of Cecil Baring of Lambay Island. I assume he must have visited the island, possibly many times – maybe he even disturbed a few wallabies.