Sabine Baring Gould

Sabine Baring Gould books and biography


Sabine Baring-Gould

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The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (28 January 1834 – 2 January 1924) was an English Victorian hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar. His bibliography lists over 500 separate publications. His family home near Okehampton, Devon, Lewtrenchard Manor, has been successfully preserved as he rebuilt it and is today a hotel. He is particularly remembered as a writer of hymns, the best-known being Onward, Christian Soldiers and Now the Day Is Over, and the desk at which he wrote these hymns is still preserved at the hotel.

His education at The King's School, Warwick lasted just a few months in 1846--he caught whooping-cough and was ordered to go abroad for the sake of his health.


Folk songs

He regarded as his principal achievement the collection of folk songs that he made with the help of the ordinary people of Devon and Cornwall. His first book of songs, Songs of the West (1889–91), was the first collection published for the mass market.

Baring-Gould produced a second collection called A Garland of Country Songs. For a second edition of Songs of the West (1905), he collaborated with the collector Cecil Sharp. They also produced English Folk Songs for Schools in 1907. This collection of 53 songs was adopted for the UK schools curriculum for the next 60 years.

Though he had to modify the words of some songs which were too rude for Victorian ears, he left his original manuscripts for future students of folk song. His work preserved many beautiful pieces of music and their lyrics which otherwise might have been lost.

The folk-song manuscripts from Baring-Gould's personal library and from public libraries have been published as a microfiche edition available for study in the main Devon Libraries and other places. Thirty boxes of unpublished manuscript material on other topics (the Killerton manuscripts) are kept in the Devon Record Office in Exeter. The folksong manuscripts, including the notebooks used in the field, given to Plymouth Public Library were deposited with the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office in 2006.

Cecil Sharp dedicated his English Folk Song—Some Conclusions to Baring-Gould.


Baring-Gould wrote many novels, a collection of ghost stories, a 16-volume Lives of the Saints, and the biography of the eccentric poet-vicar of Morwenstow, Robert Stephen Hawker. His folkloric studies resulted in The Book of Were-Wolves (1865), one of the most frequently cited studies of lycanthropy. Half-way through, the topic changes to crimes only vaguely connected to werewolves, including grave desecration and cannibalism.

One of his most enduringly popular works was Curious Myths of the Middle Ages , first published in two parts in 1866 and 1868, and republished in many other editions since then. "Each of the book's twenty-four chapters deals with a particular medieval superstition and its variants and antecedents," writes critic Steven J. Mariconda.[1] H. P. Lovecraft called it "that curious body of medieval lore which the late Mr. Baring-Gould so effectively assembled in book form."[2]

Personal life

Stories of his own eccentricity have been exaggerated. He did once, while teaching at Hurstpierpoint, have his pet bat on his shoulder, and it is also said that, at one children's party, he called out to a young child: "And whose little girl are you?" Bursting into tears, the girl sobbed: "I'm yours, Daddy."

His obituary in Warwick School's magazine The Portcullis of March 1924 states that not only did he "inherit the family estates of Lew Trenchard, which comprised 3,000 acres (12 km˛), and presented himself to the rectory of that place in 1880", but also that he had married a mill girl of 16, and "had her educated" for two years. When he was 34, Baring-Gould, a curate in Horbury, Yorkshire at the time, had met Grace Taylor, an illiterate, 16-year-old mill worker, and had married her in 1868. The marriage lasted for 48 years, and the couple had 15 children. This extraordinary liaison helped inspire George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and, subsequently, the musical My Fair Lady[citation needed].

One grandson, William Stuart Baring-Gould, was a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar who wrote a fictional biography of the great detective—in which, to make up for the lack of information about Holmes's early life, he based his account on the childhood of Sabine Baring-Gould. Sabine himself makes an appearance in Laurie R. King's Sherlock Holmes novel The Moor.


Warwick School: A History (2004) by G N Frykman and E J Hadley ISBN 0-946093-46-9


  1. ^ Steven J. Mariconda, "Baring-Gould and the Ghouls: The Influence of Curious Myths of the Middle Ages on 'The Rats in the Walls'", The Horror of It All, p. 42.
  2. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 352; cited in Mariconda, p. 42.

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