William Gladstone was Baring-Gould's patron for several years and it was he that offered Baring-Gould the crown living of East Mersea in Essex where he spent ten years of his life.


 

Baring-Gould and Gladstone

On a recent visit to the British Library to discover more about the collection of ballads that Sabine Baring-Gould donated to them I took the opportunity to look at the library's small collection of his letters. Among these are three that add a little to our knowledge about his relationship with W. E. Gladstone. It is well documented that Baring-Gould owed his translocation from Dalton to East Mersea to Gladstone, who had been impressed by his book The Origin and Development of Religious Belief. This was Gladstone's first term as prime minister and he had the gift of this crown living. Clearly Baring-Gould kept in touch with Gladstone afterwards, though their correspondence was probably limited.

The first letter, written on March 15th 1873 (less than two years after arriving in Mersea) is the most revealing. Baring-Gould writes:

"I venture to ask if you would take me into consideration when you dispose of the vacant canonry at Westminster. I ask because my literary work necessitates my being near the libraries, as many of the books I am obliged to consult are not producable by me.
I have not been idle since you so kindly presented me to this living, for in the two years I have written ten volumes.

Talmudic Legends of the Old Testament Characters, 2 vols.

Lives of the Saints, 4 vols. Published and 6 written out of 13 that will complete the series

One Hundred Sermon Sketches for Extempore Preachers

Village Conferences on the Creed, (in the press).

Besides editing a quarterly review of Ecclesiastical Art "The Sacristy".

My 'Lives of the Saints' will occupy me two or three years more and will be, I really think, a useful contribution to Ecclesiastical history and biography. In addition I have been collecting for two other works I have in view, a History of the Hussite wars in Bohemia and a History of Anabaptism.

I have now to make at times a journey to London merely to verify a quotation and this takes up time and is expensive; I am twelve miles from a railway and with high tides cut off from the mainland occasionally.

I can promise that preferment will not make me idle, for I only seek it to enable me to get more among books and use my pen more nimbly"

On the reverse of the letter is an exchange of messages between Gladstone and his secretary which confirm that his name was put forward for the canonry, though we know, of course, that he was not successful. Gladstone also agrees that Baring-Gould should be thanked for his gift of the two volumes of Legendary Lives of Old Testament Characters and offered him £50 to buy books. I think we can assume that Sabine would have accepted this offer.

The second letter was written on 23rd September 1876 and shows us clearly the depth of Baring-Gould's feelings about the Government's support for an ally who has committed barbarous acts against civilian 'insurgents'. In this case the Prime Minister was Disraeli and the atrocity took place in Bulgaria where the Turks massacred an estimated 12,000 villagers. Disraeli's policy was to protect the Turks and the British fleet was placed to deter the Russians from intervening. When the news of the atrocity was first reported Disraeli made a speech which, like so many heard more recently, dismissed the events in a very light-hearted manner. This enraged Gladstone who was then in semi-retirement after his first premiership and set him off on a crusade that was to become the platform for his second term of office two years later. 

Gladstone wrote a pamphlet on Bulgarian Horrors and the Questions of the East, which attacked Disraeli's government. Baring-Gould was also incensed and, having seen the pamphlet, wrote to Gladstone on 23rd Sept 1876

"Excuse a line to express the depth of gratitude I feel for your letter, pamphlet and speech on the Eastern Question. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and after Lord Beaconsfield's outrage at Aylesbury I cannot contain myself from expressing my feelings.

I enclose some lines on the question somewhat too stinging for publication but true"

The second sentence is a paraphrase of Luke 6:45 and the attached verses clearly demonstrate the depth of Baring-Gould's feelings 

                     The Turk and the Tory

By Allah the Turk with his blade and brand
Is ruthlessly thinning a people down
Red rapine and murder race hand in hand
Through hamlet and village and town
And the fleet of old England is keeping the ring
That the Turk unmolested may have his fling

Wild women are leaping and shriek in flame
Their babes beheaded and spiked by score
Weak maidens are outraged and dead in shame
The ravening Turk is yelling for more
And the premier of England has laughter and jeers
For woman's dishonour and widow's tears

The Heart of the Turk is turned to stone
The life of the harmless is sifted chaff
The rust of their gold must have gnawed at the bone
When human misery wakens a laugh
And quivering zeal to re-rivet the chain
On the victim who's writhing in wrath and pain

The blood that has dripped from the wild beast's maw
On the scutcheon of England has left a smear
The red-spattered tiger is dubbed bashaw
The laughing hyena is crowned a peer
But the blood of our brothers cries out to God
For the Turk a gallows. The Tory a rod

O lion of Britain awake, arise!
With bristling mane and a wrathful roar
Bid liberty dawn on those Eastern skies
And tyranny trample and blight no more
To the bats and the owls with the Tory and Turk
The lying excuse and the fiendish work

This powerful set of verses also appears in Plymouth Notebook 2 (the fair copy of SB-G's own verse) with slightly 'improved' lyrics.  There is a note attached to it which reads "After the Bulgarian atrocities D'Israeli in the House had the indecency to make them the subject of a joke. The English fleet was used to watch against Russian interference". There is another poem on the topic in the Plymouth notebook entitled 'The Tory Warcry'. Both poems were pasted into Sabine's diary in 1890 with the note "have found the following copies of verses, made at the time of the Bulgarian atrocity excitement. They have been lying in an old box or drawer for years".

The final letter, written on the 21st May 1877 is included in a volume of correspondence related to dinner invitations in which Baring-Gould replies:

I am much obliged to you for so kindly asking me to call on you next month but unfortunately I shall not be in England in June, as I go abroad next Monday, but if you will allow me, on my return in July, I will do myself the honour of accepting your kind invitation

Gladstone was to return to office in the following year and there is no record of a subsequent invitation.

 

 

 

 

Martin Graebe
18th May 2004