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SRFN: Miscellany:
Sabine Baring-Gould: Essay on English Folk-Music

Frontispiece: photograph of the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould Frontispiece

Pages i - vi

Pages vii - ix

Pages x - xi

Pages xii - xiv


John Helmore

Robert Hard

Jonas Coaker's cottage

The Oxenham Arms, South Zeal

The Old Smuggler

The Old Fiddler

Frank Kidson

H. Fleetwood Sheppard

English Minstrelsie: volume VII: title page
[spacer] The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould was born in Exeter in 1834. His early education was erratic, but he managed to get through a degree at Cambridge. He took holy orders, and after time as incumbent in a Northern industrial parish, where he met his wife, he inherited the living at Lew Trenchard, where his family were the major landowners. For the rest of his life he combined the rôles of squire and parson there. He was a very prolific writer (and relied on the income to subsidise the family estate and a large number of children); in 1888 he began a mission to collect the folk songs of Devon and Cornwall before the old people who were believed to be their principal carriers should all be dead. He was to become one of the pioneers of the folk song revival.

Conservative in some respects, he was radical in others. His wife was a mill-girl when he met her, and their marriage was very much in defiance of the social conventions of the day; though he did arrange elocution lessons for her (there is a rumour that George Bernard Shaw, who knew the Baring-Goulds, used this as the germ for his play Pygmalion). He was also not a little eccentric: when teaching at Hurstpierpoint, he used regularly to appear for lessons with a pet bat on his shoulder.

Extensive information about Baring-Gould, his life and times, and his song collections can be seen at Martin Graebe's  Sabine Baring-Gould and the folk songs of South-West England, and at  The Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society. See also Roly Brown's articles at Musical Traditions:
Revisiting Baring-Gould. 1: The Sources
Revisiting Baring-Gould. 2: Collecting

His most successful novel, Mehalah: a Story of the Salt Marshes (1880) is available in an html transcription at

Two further novels can be seen, again as html, at the
Literary Heritage website:
Bladys of the Stewponey
The Frobishers

He also wrote on a great many other subjects, including folklore. There is an html transcription of The Book of Were-Wolves at, with original pagination retained; other formats are at Project Gutenberg.

Recently, a large number of facsimile texts in various formats have become available at the Internet Archive:
Baring-Gould at the Internet Archive

The Essay on English Folk-music appeared in volume VII of English Minstrelsie: a National Monument of English Song, collated and edited by Baring-Gould with arrangements in staff and tonic sol-fa notation by H. Fleetwood Sheppard, F. W. Bussell, and W. H. Hopkinson, and published by T. C. & E. C. Jack, Edinburgh, c.1895. It was unusual for a collection of its time in that it included songs noted from oral tradition alongside the usual "National" songs from Shakespeare, D'Urfey, Dibdin and others.

The essay consists chiefly of anecdotes from the editor's song-collecting experiences, and it is these which are of particular interest. We present it here as an historical document: attitudes and opinions have changed a great deal in the century since it was written, and the reader who is relatively new to the subject should bear this in mind.

We have retained the original pagination and approximate page layouts. The eventual intention is to add further information on the songs and people referred to; but for now the essay is presented on its own.

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