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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sabine Baring-Gould (1834–1924)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE REV. Sabine Baring-Gould was born in Exeter, England, in 1834. The addition of Gould to the name of Baring came in the time of his great-grandfather, a brother of Sir Francis Baring, who married an only daughter and heiress of W. D. Gould of Devonshire. Much of the early life of Baring-Gould was passed in Germany and France, and at Clare College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1854, taking orders ten years later, and in 1881 becoming rector of Lew Trenchard, Devonshire, where he holds estates and privileges belonging to his family.  1
  He has worked in many fields, and in all with so much acceptance that a list of his books would be the best exposition of the range of his untiring pen. To a gift of ready words and ready illustration, whether he concerns himself with diversities of early Christian belief, the course of country-dances in England, or the growth of mediæval legends, he adds the grace of telling a tale and drawing a character. He has published nearly a hundred volumes, not one of them unreadable. But no one man may write with equal pen of German history, of comparative mythology and philology, of theological dissertations, and of the pleasures of English rural life, while he adds to these a long list of novels.  2
  His secret of popularity lies not in his treatment, which is neither critical nor scientific, but rather in a clever, easy, diffuse, jovial, amusing way of saying clearly what at the moment comes to him to say. His books have a certain raciness and spirit that recall the English squire of tradition. They rarely smell of the lamp. Now and then appears a strain of sturdy scholarship, leading the reader to wonder what his author might have accomplished had he not enjoyed the comfortable ease of a country justice of the peace, and a rector with large landed estates, to whom his poorer neighbors appear a sort of dancing puppets.  3
  Between 1857 and 1870, Baring-Gould had published nine volumes, the best known of these being ‘Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.’ From 1870 to 1890 his name appeared as author on the title-page of forty-three books: sermons, lectures, essays, archæological treatises, memoirs, curiosities of literature, histories, and fiction; sixteen novels, tales, and romances being included. From 1890 to 1896 he published seventeen more novels, and many of his books have passed through several editions. His most successful novels are ‘Mehalah; a Tale of the Salt Marshes,’ ‘In the Roar of the Sea,’ ‘Red Spider,’ ‘Richard Cable,’ and ‘Noémi; a Story of Rock-Dwellers.’  4
  In an essay upon his fiction, Mr. J. M. Barrie writes in The Contemporary Review (February, 1890):—
          “Of our eight or ten living novelists who are popular by merit, few have greater ability than Mr. Baring-Gould. His characters are bold and forcible figures, his wit is as ready as his figures of speech are apt. He has a powerful imagination, and is quaintly fanciful. When he describes a storm, we can see his trees breaking in the gale. So enormous and accurate is his general information that there is no trade or profession with which he does not seem familiar. So far as scientific knowledge is concerned, he is obviously better equipped than any contemporary writer of fiction. Yet one rises from his books with a feeling of repulsion, or at least with the glad conviction that his ignoble views of life are as untrue as the characters who illustrate them. Here is a melancholy case of a novelist, not only clever but sincere, undone by want of sympathy…. The author’s want of sympathy prevents ‘Mehalah’s’ rising to the highest art; for though we shudder at the end, there the effect of the story stops. It illustrates the futility of battling with fate, but the theme is not allowable to writers with the modern notion of a Supreme Power…. But ‘Mehalah’ is still one of the most powerful romances of recent years.”
  5
 
 
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