Baring-Gould, Sabine


b Exeter, Devon 1834, d Lew Trenchard, nr Tavistock, Devon 1924. Clare Coll Cambridge (BA, MA 1856); he taught briefly at the choir school of St Barnabas Pimlico, London, and then as Headmaster of Hurstpierpoint Coll in W Sussex until his ordination (CofE) in 1864. He became Curate of Horbury nr Wakefield, W Yorks, for 2 years, with responsibility for the mission district of Horbury Bridge; incumbencies at Dalton (nr Thirsk, N Yorks) and E Mersea (Essex) followed, but his most notable parish ministry began in 1872. On the death of his father in that year he succeeded to the title and property of Lew Trenchard (now one word) in Devon and in a 3-centuries-old tradition became its Squire and Rector, and later a JP; in his time the parish never contained as many as 300 adults.

While there he published many volumes of verse and prose including historical, biographical, devotional and fictional works, some in a colourfully entertaining style; he would write continuously while standing for long periods (like Toplady before him, not far distant but not much understood) at his high study desk. These included a lavishly-produced The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, 15 vols of Lives of the Saints, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, 2 vols of folk-songs and one of carols, followed by two books of reminiscences. By 1896 at least 22 of his novels were advertised in Messrs Methuen’s list, many with colourful titles and most into 2nd or subsequent edns. He was one of the earliest folk-song collectors, and his view of carols was permanently changed as he was teaching a smoothed-out Victorian text to Yorkshire mill-girls c1865; they burst out with ‘Nay! We know one a great deal better nor yond!’ and proceeded to teach him the authentic version. But Christmas, he believed, was celebrated better in warm and colourful churches than in cold and dark streets.

Baring-Gould was a ‘high’ Anglican, keen to distinguish the orthodox Catholic faith from Romanism and popery. Church Songs was published in 1884, co-edited like some of his other books with H F Sheppard. SBG’s hymns could be either stirring and gentle, with a special appeal to children of his generation as with the once highly popular Now the day is over. Indeed, just as W W How provides us with both nos.429 and 585, so Baring-Gould has given us 575 and Sing lullaby. And the former of these (like Cowper’s 256 and Monsell’s 883) is frequently quoted in all kinds of secular literature and popular journalism alike. Like some other notable Victorians (Wm Morris, Anthony Trollope etc), Baring-Gould also made the journey to Iceland, where realism generally overcame romance. He died at home 4 weeks short of his 90th birthday, and while he seems in many ways a larger-than-lifesize survivor from a different age, his hymns are still being sung; CH and GH both feature two, while 4 are included in the N American Hymnal 1982 and the Irish Church Hymnal of 2005. In translation they are in use in E African Swahili books and elsewhere worldwide. In 1957 William Purcell published Onward, Christian Soldiers: a life of SB-G, Parson, Squire, Novelist, Antiquary, 1834-1924. This included a handsome frontispiece illustration, and a perceptive introduction by John Betjeman who called him ‘a born story-teller’ of ‘uncompromising amateurishness’. Nos.575, 588.

Hymns and songs by Baring-Gould, Sabine

Number Hymn Name
575 Onward! Christian Soldiers
588 Singing songs of expectation