Book review. Never Completely Submerged … Baring-Gould

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Author(s): Le Messurier. Brian; Year published: 2010; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 428–429
Topic(s): Baring-Gould; Location(s): Lewtrenchard

Ron Wawman (comp.), Never Completely Submerged: The Story of the Squarson of Lewtrenchard as revealed in The Diary of Sabine Baring-Gould (Grosvenor House Publishing, Guildford, 2009), 315 pages, illustrated. Softback. ISBN 9781907211034. £9.99.

Bill Bryson, on p. 19 of his recent 536-page tome about everyday things, At Home, mentions the country parsons, and includes Sabine Baring-Gould as an example of the versatile industrious clerics who were so common in nineteenth-century England. Bryson simply lists Baring-Gould’s hymn-writing and fiction-authorship attributions, but his diverse qualities extended far beyond these abilities. He also wrote numerous travel books, The Lives of the Saints in sixteen volumes, five biographies, the libretto of an opera, unclassified general books; and collected folk songs and sermons. All this in addition to his routine clerical duties and being father to fifteen children. And it is impossible to omit mention of his innumerable contributions in these Transactions or of his Presidential Address to the Devonshire Association annual meeting at Ashburton in 1896.

One is beginning to get a feel of the man’s life. He lived from 1834 to 1924 and has had four biographies written about him, but it was only with the publication of the fourth, in 2002, that it became generally known that he had, for nigh on twenty years, kept a detailed diary. The book was there all the time, in Box 5203 in the Devon Record Office, and it is only now, with the book presently under review, that we get an idea of its contents.

Ron Wawman has performed a most detailed and valuable service. He gives three pages on the problems of transcription quoting examples of Baring-Gould’s handwriting, and gives a lengthy overview of the subject matter which included several trips to the continent. Another of Baring-Gould’s interests was the restoration of old buildings, and where examples are mentioned in the diary his small sketches are reproduced. The diary is also filled with anecdotes and family information as well as accounts of literary activities and finances, but it is the incidental social history which creeps in throughout the book which is of the greatest fascination. On the other hand, one wonders if it was really necessary to provide six different indexes – of all the people mentioned, all the clergy, and of the various place names. Likewise Wawman provides ten maps, eight of which trace Baring-Gould’s overseas travels, but two of which locate the places mentioned in Devon and Cornwall, and lastly the immediate area of Lewtrenchard, his home parish in west Devon.

The author has gone into enormous detail, and it is the sort of book that will satisfy the most pedantic scholar. Altogether, this is a very worthwhile publication, reasonably priced, and full of surprises. I cannot recommend it enough. And the book’s title? It comes from a diary entry of 1 April 1881 which reads: ‘I feel very much like a buoy. Every wave goes over me, and yet I am never completely submerged. ’

Brian Le Messurier
(First published in Transactions 2010)