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West Country Poets


This popular and voluminous writer, was born at Exeter, January 28, 1834; he was the eldest son of Edward BARING-GOULD, Esq., of Lew Trenchard, J.P. and D.L., and of Sophia Charlotte his wife, daughter of Admiral Francis Godolphin BOND, R.N.  He was educated at Clare College, CAmbridge, taking the degree of B.A. in 1857, that of M.A. in 1860.  He was appointed perpetual curate of Dalton, near Thirsk, Yorkshire, in 1867, on the presentation of Viscount Downe, and Rector of East Mersea, Essex, in 1871, on the nomination of the Crown.  In 1881, he became Rector of Lew Trenchard, Devon, on his own nomination, he having succeeded to the family estates in 1872, and thus become patron of the living.  He was appointed J.P. for the county of Devon in 1882.  Lew Trenchard has been in the possession of the GOULD family since 1626; before that they were seat at Combe and Pridhamslee in Staverton since 1518, and before that at Seaborough in Somersetshire, from 1220 to 1545, when the last male of the elder branch was murdered, whilst hawking, by a neighbour.  Of Mr. Baring-Gould's literary works it is difficult to speak, they have been so many and various.  As a theological writer he has gained great repute his 'Lives of the Saints' has become a standard work of reference.  In historical and archaeological matters he is a great authority, and he is quite as much at home in modern fiction as in the more solid branches of literature.  Amongst his novels, mention must be made of 'Mehalah,' 'John Herring,' 'Red Spider,' 'Richard Cable,' 'Eve,' 'The Gaverocks,' 'Court Royal,' 'The Pennycomquicks,' and others, most of which have a local colouring.  His characters are generally very original, particularly his heroines, and his situations, without being unnatural, are, as a rule highly dramatic and effective.  Mr. Baring-Gould has published by few poems; these are chiefly contained in a volume entitled 'The Silver Store, Collected from Mediaeval and Jewish Mines,' and was dedicated to the Viscountess Downe, published in 1868.

From the preface to this work we quote a few sentences as explaining the style and scope of the compositions contained therein.  He fist tells us that the majority of the legends and anecdotes in the volume have been drawn from ancient writers who are rarely studied, and from the Talmud and other kindred sources.  'No apology,' he says, 'is offered for introducing them  to the public.  It is not in the power of many to toil through ponderous tomes, written in languages with which they are not familiar; and it is proper for those who have facility and leisure for this study to employ what they have acquired fro the public good.  It has afforded the writer no little pleasure to bring, like Goldner, roses of gold out of the gloomy, tangled overgrowth of mediaeval fancy and superstition, in the hopes that the drudgery and routine of nineteenth-century life may not have dulled the keenness of public perception of the beautiful and pure and true.'  It may be added that the book contains some exceedingly humorous pieces, chiefly derived from mediaeval writers.  Mr. Baring-Gould's stirring processional hymn, 'Onward, Christian Soldiers,' is so well known that it is unnecessary to quote it here.  He has written many other hymns and religious pieces, and has also collected and published 'Songs of the West, Traditional Ballads and Songs of the West of England,' a most remarkable and valuable compilation.  We append the following specimens of both the serious and the lighter veins of Mr. Baring-Gould's muse.


[Thorkell-Mani, the President, son of Thorstein, was a heathen living a good life, as far as his light went.  In death-sickness he had himself brought out into the sunshine, and committed himself into the hands of the God who made the sun.  He had also lived a clean life better than many a Christian who knew better.'  - Landnama Bok, i.c.9.

I am dying, O my children! come around my bed.
My feet are cold as ashes, heavy is my head;
You see me powerless lying - I, who was of old
The scourge of evil-doers, Thorkell, stout and bold.
I cannot mount my war-horse, now I cannot wield
My great blue sword there hanging, rusting by my shield.
Sons, look at these white fingers, quivering and weak,
Without the power a slender sammet thread to break.
My sons!  I have been asking whither I shall go,
When this old body withers.  Sons! I do not know.
There is a tale of Odin, sitting in Valhall,
Who to a banquet summons those in strife who fall,
To drink and to be drunken, then to rise and fight,
To wound and to be wounded, be smitten and to smite.
But when a man is drawing to the close of life
He years for something other than eternal strife;
And it is slender comfort, when he craveth peace,
To hear of war and bloodshed that shall never cease.
But He the sun who fashioned in the skies above,
And who the moon suspended, surely must be love;
Now therefore, O my children, do this thing I ask,
Transport me through the doorway in the sun to bask.
Upon that bright globe gliding through the deep blue sky
Gazing - thus, and only thus, in comfort can I die.
For chambered here in darkness on my doubts I brood,
But in the mellow sunlight I feel that God is good.
A God to mortals tender, the very Fount of light -
Not Odin, whose whole glory is to booze and fight.
What prospect opens to me when gathered to the dust?
I feel I the Creator of the sun may trust.
He lays the lamp of beauty in a western bed
And every morn it liveth, rising from the dead;
And if the sun, a creature, can arouse the grain
That, like a corpse entombed, long time in earth hath lain,
Then surely the Creator - wherefore be afraid? -
Will care for man, the noblest creature He hath made.
Away with Thorr and Odin! To Him who made the sun
I yield the life He gave me, which now seemeth done.
Then through the doorway bear me, lads, that I may die
With sunlight falling round me, my face towards the sky.


A youth caught up an aged pilgrim on the way
Of life , and to him said: 'My father, tell me, pray,
Where Paradise may lie, that I may thither speed.'
The old man halted, and thus answered him: 'Indeed,
The road I know full well, my son; look on before -
Yonder is Paradise, and yonder is the door.'
Thereat, off sped the youth with bounding step to fly
Towards the portal.

    But loud after him did cry
The old man: 'Not so; Paradise must entered be
On crutches, and with gouty feet, as done by me.'


As I went past the 'Dragon' bar,
I heard the barmaid, Susan Farr,
  Behind the taproom sighing;
'Ah, me! I lead a weary life
In midst of drunkenness and strife,
  All laughing, flirting, lying.
This is no place for me; I pine
  Midst pewter pot and flagon;
I should do better, I should shine
As maid beneath the "Angel" sign,
  Instead of the "Green Dragon".'

Well!  I suppose that every day,
The world all over, people say,
  As long as ages wag on
'We are not in our proper sphere
Wherein our virtues would appear;
  Here all we do is fag on.
Now, were we left to choose our line,
We'd serve beneath the "Angel" sign.
  And give up the "Green Dragon."'

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright, W.H.K., (1896) West-Country Poets:  Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock pp.26-28.

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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