Maurice Baring was born in Mayfair, London, the fifth son of Edward Charles Baring, from 1885 Baron Revelstoke, a partner in the Baring Brothers bank and a director of the Bank of England. Maurice was initially taught at home by an English tutor and a French governess Cherie, from whom he learnt to speak good French at an early age. He later attended a preparatory school near Ascot and went on from there to Eton where he won the coveted Prince Consort Prize for French.
He was forced to leave Eton for financial reasons after his father’s circumstances were greatly reduced by the partial collapse of the bank due to over-investing in South American stock in what was known as The Great Panic. He was packed off to Hanover to study German for a year and on his return he entered Trinity College, Cambridge but left after a year without a degree.
He had set his sights on a diplomatic career and gained joined the Civil Service in 1898 after three attempts to pass their entrance examination - mathematics had always been his bete noire. He served as an attache in Paris, Rome and Copenhagen. He resigned in 1904 to become a journalist and reported on the Russo-Japanese War for the London Morning Post. Following assignments in St Petersburg and Constantinople he resigned to join The Times in 1912 where he was their special correspondent in the Balkans. He had already started to write poetry, publishing The Black Prince and Other Poems in 1903 and Sonnets and Short Poems in 1906.
On the outbreak of the First World War he joined the staff of the Royal Flying Corps, receiving the OBE at the end of the war for his efforts. Later he was made an honorary wing commander. After the war he enjoyed a period as a dramatist and then began to write novels, publishing thirteen between 1921 and 1937. He also published two further volumes of poetry, Poems 1914-1919 and Collected Poems in 1937. During the last fifteen years of his life he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and was obliged to leave his home in Rottingdean and move to Beaufort Castle near Inverness where he lived as a guest of Lord Lovat, Simon Fraser.He died there in 1945, aged 71, unmarried.
Maurice Baring was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, poetry, letters and essays. He also wrote a biography of Sarah Bernhardt whom he had met in Paris and an autobiography, The Puppet Show of Memory (1922). He was a talented linguist and a distinguished Russian scholar and translator, who edited The Oxford Book of Russian Verse. His novels, such as Cat’s Cradle and Daphne Adeane, have remained his most popular works but he wrote many fine poems, such as Diffugere Nives, In Memoriam AH, a tribute to Auberon Herbert, Captain Lord Lucas, a pilot killed in 1916, and a sonnet in memory of the brave warrior, Julian Grenfell, killed in 1915. He was a great friend of Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton and in 1909 converted to Catholicism, largely due to their influence. He is remembered in verse in Belloc’s Cautionary Tales:
Like many of the upper class
He liked the sound of broken glass
A line I stole with subtle daring
From Wing Commander Maurice Baring.