Guavas the Tinner, Sabine Baring-Gould
Guavas the Tinner, Sabine Baring-Gould#
Hot on the heels of the controversy of early 1896, antiquarian, folk tale and folk song collector Sabine Baring-Gould published the first installment of his tale Guavas the Tinner in The Queen, dated Saturday, July 4th, 1896, p31. Further installments appeared in the following issues, and the book was then published as a standalone work, Guavas the Tinner, in Spring, 1897.
One of the first reviews provides a summary of the book:
Review, St. James’s Gazette
St James’s Gazette - Wednesday 17 March 1897, p5
MR. BARING GOULDS LATEST
Mr. Baring-Gould has again made good use of his passionate love of exploring old traditions and unearthing from historic spots the secrets of their past ; and in burrowing among the old tin-workings of Dartmoor, as he frequently burrows among the old folk-songs of the West, he has on this occasion found material for a somewhat wild and fantastic tale which he is pleased to place in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, though probably the tale would gain in probability by being put back least a century or so. Guavas the Tinner is a Cornish miner who, working among Dartmoor folk with better skill and luck than the natives, incurs the envy of all, and still more the hatred of Dickon Rawle, a mean fellow whose rival is for the affections of Isolt, the daughter of the Bailiff of the Stannaries. This lady is of the ravenhaired, wild, and wicked order ; and being herself in love with Guavas and fearing that his affections have strayed to a little moorland maiden called Lemonday (the names are all quaint enough), connives at her hero being nailed by the hand to a post for a breach pf the stannary laws in order that she may release him under oath of perpetual constancy to her. But human hearts are not chained in this way, and a series of cleverly wrought incidents bind Guavas to the purer love of the moorland maid. It will be guessed that excitement and incident are not wanting before the successful ending of the tale is reached when say that, besides the transfixion of Guavas on Dartmoor, there is fearfully realistic right between a man and a wolf, the burying alive of the hero in a disused mine, the shooting of the wicked Isolt with a silver bullet by the bungling Dickon Rawle, and the disappearance of this inefficient villain in a bog. The narrative is interspersed with those charming little touches of folk-lore which come so trippingly to the pen of the writer ; among others may be mentioned a very curious wake and pretty monkish legend about Joseph of Arimathea’s connection with the West of England tin trade. The invocation to Joseph used at the smelting of the tin, and quoted as prevalent in Devonshire in Elizabethan times, is, oddly enough, used to this day at a factory in London where tin is the metal employed. This piece of knowledge, accidentally acquired, we venture to present to Mr. Baring-Gould in return for a few hours’ pleasant reading. Guavas the Tinner. By S. Baring-Gould. With Illustrations Frank Dadd (Methuen and Co.)
Further reviews appeared in other periodicals over the following weeks.
Notice, Black & White
Black & White - Saturday 20 March 1897, p21
OF recent essays in fiction indubitably the most striking is S. BARING GOULD’S Guavas the Tinner (Methuen). The story, rich in detail of quaint customs now obsolete, is set among the tin-mines of Dartmoor during Elizabeth’s reign. Writ in Mr. BARIING GOULD’S bold, telling manner, it is full of vivid actuality, and presents that keenness of method — giving no word that has not direct bearing on the theme — which characterises the work of this able writer.
Review, The Globe
Globe - Wednesday 24 March 1897, p6
ROMANCE AND HISTORY.
“Guavas the Tinner.” The tin-workers of Dartmoor in the Elizabethan age have supplied Mr. Baring-Gould with the material for a romance in his later manner, and he has made of it a very neat and effective piece of work within its somewhat narrow bounds. The peculiar customs and laws observed (or not observed) by these craftsmen were of a kind to lend imaginative writer useful aid, should he desire to add individuality and local colour to his purely fictitious elements. Thus, both by the insertion of footnotes and by copious explanations in the text, Mr. Baring-Gould’s new novel, Guavas the Tinner (Methuen and Co.) has something of historic dignity sustain its surface of romance. The subject is quite unhackneyed, and therefore welcome; while it is treated in a fresh and interesting fashion, with poetic fancy and dramatic skilL So much, however, we always expect from Mr. Baring-Gould. We have in time past had from him, in addition, subtle method of characterisation which is, unfortunately absent from his present book. Guavas, the hero, and his pair of loves, are pleasantly drawn, but quite elementary in conception; no personality of the story has any depth or any qualities likely to make a lasting impression. They are companionable for the moment, as are all Mr. Baring-Gould’s heroes and heroines, but they will be quickly forgotten. On the other hand, there are spirit and a verisimilitude about the plan and execution of the story which make it, as whole, one to be remembered.
Review, Westminster Gazette
Westminster Gazette - Friday 16 April 1897, p3
“GUAVAS THE TINNER.”
Mr. Baring-Gould’s latest story is a romance of Dartmoor in the days of Oueen Elizabeth, and it has all the freshness, the colour, and the picturesque originality which give distinction to his tales. It is a rather sombre story, for it opens with a scene on a dark moorland on a bitter night, which discloses a man( pinioned to a cross by a knife stuck through his hand, while a wolf, scenting blood, prowls round him and threatens to spring at his throat. It is also a strictly historical story, for Mr. Baring-Gould, whose information is unbounded, has gathered together elaborate details as to the mining customs of the age and country of which he writes, and has not spared his frivolous readers in retailing them. We miss the whimsical humour which he sometimes permits to carry him away. We miss the lighter touches which the novel-reader loves. But when every criticism is exhausted, the power and charm of his new book survive, and in its force and its impressiveness it remains a characteristic product of a writer who is never commonplace. The story of Guavas is a very simple one. He is a Cornish miner driven from his claim by the jealous rivalry of his Dartmoor colleagues, and torn between the stormy passion which nearly brings him to the feet of Isolt, the bailiff’s dark and handsome daughter, and the gentler, deeper love which ultimately binds him to Lemonday Ford, a sweetheart of a less alarming and exacting type. We are a little inclined to think that Mr. Baring-Gould, in making Lemonday the winner, has sacrificed the interest of what might have been a finely tragic tale. But there is no doubt that Guavas would have led a less happy life with Isolt, and that he deserved tranquillity after all the adventures he went through. The book is throughout exceedingly original, full of vivid scenes, full of striking people, and full of that local colour which its author can always paint in with a master hand. Whatever criticisms we may suggest, we cannot fail to recognise its merits, and to admire the versatility and vigour in which its writer never fails.
Bye-gones, July 21st, 1897, p155
THE SIN-EATER (Sept. 2, 1896, May 12, 1897).— There is a long description of this old custom, as conducted in Devonshire, in S. Baring Gould’s new novel, Guavas the Tinner. It is too long to transcribe into this column, but in that case a stranger was got hold of who had to eat a bit of saffron cake which lay on the dead man’s breast and to drink from a bowl of spirits passed across the coffin. When he had done, all present raised a cry and threw at him sticks, cinders, and whatever they could lay hold of, and hustled him on all sides, and thrust him out of doors with the cry, “He has taken on him the sins o’ the dead, Cast’m out.” Will any of the readers of this column refer me to the literature of this subject? D.M.R.
Guavas the Tinner, Extracts#
The story begins with a description of a man, illuminated by moonlight, semi-crucified, being observed by a wolf, (p4):
But who was this man crucified to a post in mid moor, and wherefore did he thus suffer ?
The man was Eldad Guavas, a tinner, and he suffered by sentence of the Bargmaster of the Stannaries, because he had found gold and had appropriated it; whereas gold was due to the Crown.
His crime is explained at p5-6:
In the reign of Edward I., in 1288, a series of Stannary Laws were promulgated. Over the Duchy a bailiff, or Bargmaster, was appointed, and every miner was allowed two “meeres” of land in which to work. Each meere consisted of ninety-six square feet. But along with this portion went another meere, which belonged to the Crown, and of all the ore raised a thirteenth portion was due to the King. A miner who left his claim unworked for three weeks lost his right to it. One who was convicted of theft of ore from a neighbour’s claim was mulcted in money. If he was again convicted he underwent a heavier sentence, but for a third he was condemned to have his hand affixed to a post at his workings by a knife thrust through the palm, and he was to be left thus affixed to die of hunger, unless he chose to tear himself loose ; but this could be done only by cutting through the tendons of his hand, and rendering it for ever useless.
The King claimed one-thirteenth of all tin raised, and demanded the whole of the gold that was found along with the tin, and, as the crime of stealing from the Crown was three times as grave as stealing from an ordinary miner, such a crime could only be expiated by fastening the hand by means of a knife to the post, with the consequence of death or mutilation.
MORE TO COME…