Sabine Baring-Gould, a Intriguing Part of the Literary Patrimony

January 2, 1924, was the death day of the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, a well-known literary figure of his day, and interesting to us on several counts. As Lord of the Manor of Lew Trenchard, Devonshire (which his family had held since 1626), he presented himself with the living of the parish church of St. Peter in that village on the edge of Dartmoor. Baring-Gould thus became that uniquely English thing, a “Squarson.” He wrote a huge amount on many topics – folk-lore, history, religion – but is best-known, to-day, perhaps, for his hymns (most notably “Onward Christian Soldiers”). Baring-Gould was High Church – even Anglo-Catholic to a degree – but his was very much an anti-Roman stance, similar to that of Percy Dearmer. This led him into then-famed controversy with the VERY Papalist Rev. Frederick George Lee, over the reception into the Catholic Church on his deathbed of popular Cornish cleric and writer, the Rev.  Robert Stephen Hawker. The competing Hawker biographies of the two and their correspondence sheds a great deal of light on the early manifestations of a split which has dogged Anglo-Catholicism since its origins – and never more than now, with the Ordinariates and “Affirming Catholicism” standing as the two poles between which Anglo-Catholics ultimately must choose. For Hawker and most especially Lee, the Ordinariates would undoubtedly be precisely what they wished for; one cannot be so certain as to how Baring-Gould and Dearmer would have viewed “Affirming Catholicism!” In any case, Baring-Gould’s accomplishments and talent are undeniable – and he retains admirers to-day.  Although very difficult with his sons, one of his grandsons, William S. Baring-Gould, achieved continuing fame as an authority on Sherlock Holmes.

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