Friday, February 22, 2008

Of Bats, Sherlock Holmes, Pygmalion and Werewolves: The Rev Sabine Baring-Gould

From Wikipedia:
The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (28 January 18342 January 1924) was an English hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist and eclectic scholar. His bibliography lists more than 500 separate publications. His family home, Lewtrenchard Manor near Okehampton, Devon, has been preserved as he rebuilt it and is now a hotel. He is remembered particularly 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. He also translated the carol "Gabriel's Message" from Basque to English.

Baring-Gould wrote many novels (including Mehalah), a collection of ghost stories, a 16-volume The 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. H. P. Lovecraft called it "that curious body of medieval lore which the late Mr. Baring-Gould so effectively assembled in book form."

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 km²), 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.

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.

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