|1819.||Born at Holne on Dartmoor, June 12.|
|1830-6.||Father rector of Clovelly.|
|1832.||Grammar School at Helston, Cornwall.|
|1836.||Father rector of St. Luke’s, Chelsea. C. K. to King’s College, London.|
|1838-42.||Magdalene College, Cambridge.|
|1842.||Ordained at Farnham. Curate of Eversley.|
|1844.||Marriage to Fanny Grenfell. Friendship with F. D. Maurice.|
|1844.||Rector of Eversley.|
|1848.||Chartist riots. ‘Parson Lot’ pamphlets.|
|1850.||Alton Locke published.|
|1855.||Westward Ho! published.|
|1857.||Two Years Ago published.|
|1859.||Chaplain to the Queen.|
|1860.||Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.|
|1864.||Tour in the south of France.|
|1869.||Canon of Chester.|
|1870.||Tour to the West Indies.|
|1873.||Canon of Westminster.|
|1874.||Tour to California.|
|1875.||Death at Eversley, January 23.|
If Charles Kingsley had been born in Scandinavia a thousand years earlier, one more valiant Viking would have sailed westward from the deep fiords of his native home to risk his fortunes in a new world, one who by his courage, his foresight, and his leadership of men was well fitted to be captain of his bark. The lover of the open-air life, the searcher after knowledge, the fighter that he was, he would have been in his element, foremost in the fray, most eager in the quest. But it was given to him to live in quieter times, to graft on the old Norse stock the graces of modern culture and the virtues of a Christian; and in a peaceful parish of rural England he found full scope for his gifts. There he taught his own and succeeding generations how full and beneficent the life of a parish priest can be. Our villages and towns produced many notable types of rector in the nineteenth century, Keble, Hawker, Hook, Robertson, Dolling, and scores of others; but none touched life at more points, none became so truly national a figure as Charles Kingsley in his Eversley home.
His father was of an old squire family; like his son he was a clergyman, a naturalist, and a sportsman. His mother, a Miss Lucas, came from Barbados; and while she wrote poetry with feeling and skill, she had also a practical gift of management. His father’s calling involved several changes of residence. Those which had most influence on his son were his removal in 1824 to Barnack, on the edge of the fens, still untamed and full of wild life, and in 1830 to Clovelly in North Devon. More than thirty years later, when asked to fill up the usual questions in a lady’s album, he wrote that his favourite scenery was ‘wide flats and open sea’. He was precocious as a child and perpetrated poems and sermons at the age of four; but very early he developed a habit of observation and a healthy interest in things outside himself. Such a nature could not be indifferent to the beauty of Clovelly, to the coming and going of its fishermen, and to the romance and danger of their lives. The steep village-street nestling among the woods, the little harbour sheltered by the sandstone cliffs, the wide view over the blue water, won his lifelong affection.
His parents talked of sending him to Eton or Rugby, but in the end they decided to put him with Derwent Coleridge, the poet’s son, at the Grammar School of Helston. Here he had the scenery which he loved, and masters who developed his strong bent towards natural science; and here he laid the foundations of his knowledge of botany, which remained all his life his favourite recreation. He was an eager reader, but not a close student of books; fond of outdoor life, but not skilled in athletic games; capable of much effort and much endurance, but rather irregular in his spurts of energy. A more methodical training might have saved him some mistakes, but it might also have taken the edge off that fresh enthusiasm which made intercourse with him at all times seem like a breath of moorland air. Here he developed an independence of mind and a fearlessness of opinion which is rarely to be found in the atmosphere of a big public school.
At the age of seventeen, when his father was appointed to St. Luke’s, Chelsea, he left Helston and spent two years attending lectures at King’s College, London, and preparing for Cambridge. These were by no means among his happier years. He disliked London and he rebelled against the dullness of life in a vicarage overrun with district visitors and mothers’ meetings. His father, a strong evangelical, objected to various forms of public amusement, and Charles, though loyal and affectionate to his parents, fretted to find no outlet for his energies. He made a few friends and devoured many books, but his chief delight was to get away from town to old west-country haunts. Nor was his life at Cambridge entirely happy. His excitability was great: his self-control was not yet developed. Rowing did not exhaust his physical energy, which broke out from time to time in midnight fishing raids and walks from Cambridge to London. He wasted so much of his time that he nearly imperilled his chance of taking a good degree, and might perhaps count himself lucky when, thanks to a heroic effort at the eleventh hour, his excellent abilities won him a first class in classics. At this time he was terribly shaken by religious doubts. But in one of his vacations in 1839 he met Fanny Grenfell, his future wife, and soon he was on such a footing that he could open to her his inmost thoughts. It was she who helped him in his wavering decision to take Holy Orders; and, when he went down in 1842, he set himself to read seriously and thoroughly for Ordination. Early in 1844 he was admitted to deacon’s orders at Farnham.
His first office marked out his path through life. With a short interval between his holding the curacy and the rectory of Eversley,31 he had his home for thirty-three years at this Hampshire village so intimately connected with his name. Eversley lies on the borders of Berkshire and Hampshire, in the diocese of Winchester, near the famous house of Bramshill, on the edge of the sandy fir-covered waste which stretches across Surrey. To understand the charm of its rough commons and self-sown woods one must read Kingsley’s Prose Idylls, especially the sketch called ‘My Winter Garden’. There he served for a year as curate, living in bachelor quarters on the green, learning to love the place and its people: there, when Sir John Cope offered him the living in 1844, he returned a married man to live in the Rectory House beside the church, which may still be seen little altered to-day. A breakdown from overwork, an illness of his wife’s, a higher appointment in the Church, might be the cause of his passing a few weeks or even months away; but year in, year out, he gave of his very best to Eversley for thirty-three years, and to it he returned from his journeys with all the more ardour to resume his work among his own people. The church was dilapidated, the Rectory was badly drained, the parish had been neglected by an absentee rector. For long periods together Kingsley was too poor to afford a curate: when he had one, the luxury was paid for by extra labour in taking private pupils. He had disappointments and anxieties, but his courage never faltered. He concentrated his energies on steady progress in things material and moral, and whatever his hand found to do, he did it with his might.
The church and its services called for instant attention. The Holy Communion had been celebrated only three times a year; the other services were few and irregular; on Sundays the church was empty and the alehouse was full. The building was badly kept, the churchyard let out for grazing, the whole place destitute of reverence. What the service came to be under the new Rector we can read on the testimony of many visitors. The intensity of his devotion at all times, the inspiration which the great festivals of the Church particularly roused in him, changed all this rapidly. He did all he could to draw his parishioners to church; but he had no rigid Puritanical views about the Sabbath. A Staff-College officer, who frequently visited him on Sundays, tells us of ‘the genial, happy, unreserved intercourse of those Sunday afternoons spent at the Rectory, and how the villagers were free to play their cricket —“Paason he do’ant objec’— not ‘e — as loik as not, ‘e’ll come and look on”.’ All his life he supported the movement for opening museums to the public on Sundays, and this at a time when few of the clergy were bold enough to speak on his side. The Church was not his only organ for teaching. He started schools and informal classes. In winter he would sometimes give up his leisure to such work every evening of the week. The Rectory, for all its books and bottles, its fishing-rods and curious specimens, was not a mere refuge for his own work and his own hobbies, but a centre of light and warmth where all his parishioners might come and find a welcome. He was one of the first to start ‘Penny Readings’ in his parish, to lighten the monotony of winter evenings with music, poetry, stories, and lectures; and though his parish was so wide and scattered, he tried to rally support for a village reading-room, and kept it alive for some years.
His afternoons were regularly given to parish visiting, except when there were other definite calls upon his time. He soon came to know every man, woman, and child in his parish. His sympathies were so wide that he could make himself at home with every one, with none more so than the gipsies and poachers, who shared his intimate knowledge of the neighbouring heaths and of the practices, lawful and unlawful, by which they could be made to supply food. He would listen to their stories, sympathize with their troubles and speak frankly in return. There was no condescension. One of his pupils speaks of ‘the simple, delicate, deep respect for the poor’, which could be seen in his manner and his talk among the cottagers. He could be severe enough when severity was needed, as when he compelled a cruel farmer to kill ‘a miserable horse which was rotting alive in front of his house’; and he could deal no less drastically with hypocrisy. When a professional beggar fell on his knees at the Rectory gate and pretended to pray, he was at once ejected by the Rector with every mark of indignation and contumely. But the weak and suffering always made a special appeal to him. Though it was easy to vex and exasperate him, he could always put away his own troubles in presence of his own children or of any who needed his help. He had that intense power of sympathy which enabled him to understand and reach the heart.
From a letter to his greatest friend, Tom Hughes, written in 1851, we get a glimpse of a day in his life —‘a sorter kinder sample day’. He was up at five to see a dying man and stayed with him till eight. He then went out for air and exercise, fished all the morning and killed eight fish. He went back to his invalid at three. Later he spent three hours attending a meeting convoked by his Archdeacon about Sunday schools, and at 10.30 he was back in his study writing to his friends.
But though he himself calls this a ‘sample day’, it does no justice to one form of his activities. Most days in the year he would put away all thought of fishing, shut himself up in his study morning and evening, and devote himself to reading and writing. Great care was taken over his weekly sermons. Monday was, if possible, given to rest; but from Tuesday till Friday evening they took up the chief share of his thoughts. And then there were the books that he wrote, novels, pamphlets, history lectures, scientific essays, on which he largely depended to support his wife and family. Besides this he kept up an extensive correspondence with friends and acquaintances. Many wrote to consult him about political and religious questions; from many he was himself trying to draw information on the phenomena of the science which he was trying to study at the time. Among the latter were Geikie, Lyell, Wallace, and Darwin himself, giants among scientific men, to whom he wrote with genuine humility, even when his name was a household word throughout England. His books can sometimes be associated with visits to definite places which supplied him with material. It is not difficult to connect Westward Ho! with his winter at Bideford in 1854, and Two Years Ago with his Pen-y-gwryd fishing in 1856. Memories of Hereward the Wake go back to his early childhood in the Fens, of Alton Locke to his undergraduate days at Cambridge. But he had not the time for the laborious search after ‘local colour’ with which we are familiar to-day. The bulk of the work was done in his study at Eversley, executed rapidly, some of it too rapidly; but the subjects were those of which his mind was full, and the thoughts must have been pursued in many a quiet hour on the heathery commons or beside the streams of his own neighbourhood.
About his books, his own judgement agreed with that of his friends. ‘What you say about my “Ergon” being poetry is quite true. I could not write Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I can write poetry: . . . there is no denying it: I do feel a different being when I get into metre: I feel like an otter in the water instead of an otter ashore.’ The value of his novels is in their spirit rather than in their artistic form or truth; but it is foolish to disparage their worth, since they have exercised so marked an influence on the characters and lives of so many Englishmen, especially our soldiers and sailors, inspiring them to higher courage and more unselfish virtue. Perhaps the best example of his prose is the Prose Idylls, sketches of fen-land, trout streams, and moors, which combine his gifts so happily, his observation of natural objects, and the poetic imagination with which he transfuses these objects and brings them near to the heart of man. There were very few men who could draw such joy from familiar English landscapes, and could communicate it to others. The cult of sport, of science, and of beauty has here become one and has found its true high priest. In poetry his more ambitious efforts were The Saint’s Tragedy, a drama in blank verse on the story of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and Andromeda, a revival of the old Greek legend in the old hexameter measure. But what are most sure to live are his lyrics, ‘Airlie Beacon’, ‘The Three Fishers’, ‘The Sands of Dee’, with their simplicity and true note of song.
The combination of this poetic gift with a strong interest in science and a wide knowledge of it is most unusual; but there can be no mistaking the genuine feeling which Charles Kingsley had for the latter. It took one very practical form in his zeal for sanitation. In 1854 when the public, so irrational in its moments of excitement, was calling for a national fast-day on account of the spread of cholera, he heartily supported Lord Palmerston, who refused to grant it. He held it impious and wrong to attribute to a special visitation from God what was due to the blindness, laziness, and selfishness of our governing classes. His article in Fraser’s Magazine entitled ‘Who causes pestilence?’ roused much criticism: it said things that comfortable people did not like to hear, and said them frankly; it was far in advance of the public opinion of that time, but its truth no one would dispute to-day. And what his pen did for the nation, his example did for the parish. He drained unwholesome pools in his own garden, and he persuaded his neighbours to do the same. He taught them daily lessons about the value of fresh air and clean water: no details were too dull and wearisome in the cause. To many people his novels, like those of Dickens and Charles Reade, are spoilt by the advocacy of social reforms. The novel with a purpose was characteristic of the early Victorian Age, and both in Alton Locke and in Two Years Ago he makes little disguise of the zeal with which he preaches sanitary reform. Of the more attractive sciences, which he pursued with equal intensity, there is little room to speak. Botany was his first love and it remained first to the end. Zoology at times ran it close, and his letters from seaside places are full of the names of marine creatures which he stored in tanks and examined with his microscope. A dull day on the coast was inconceivable to him. Geology, too, thrilled him with its wonders, and was the subject of many letters.
Side by side with his hobby of natural history went his love of sport: it was impossible for him to separate the one from the other. Fishing was his chief delight; he pursued it with equal keenness in the chalk streams of Hampshire, in the salmon rivers of Ireland, in the desolate tarns on the Welsh mountains. In the visitors’ book of the inn at Pen-y-gwryd, Tom Hughes, Tom Taylor, and he left alternate quatrains of doggerel to celebrate their stay, written currente calamo, as the spirit prompted them. This is Charles Kingsley’s first quatrain:
I came to Pen-y-gwryd in frantic hopes of slaying
Grilse, salmon, three-pound red-fleshed trout and what else there’s no saying:
But bitter cold and lashing rain and black nor’-eastern skies, sir,
Drove me from fish to botany, a sadder man and wiser.
Each had his disappointment through the weather, which each expressed in verse; but it took more than bad weather to damp the spirits of three such ardent open-air enthusiasts. Hunting was another favourite sport, though he rarely indulged himself in this luxury, and only when he could do so without much expense. But whenever a friend gave him a mount, Kingsley was ready to follow the Berkshire hounds, and with his knowledge of the country he was able to hold his own with the best.
Let us try to imagine him then as he walked about the lanes and commons of Eversley in middle life, a spare upright figure, above the middle height, with alert step, informal but not slovenly in dress, with no white tie or special mark of his profession. His head was one to attract notice anywhere with the grand hawk-like nose, firm mouth, and flashing eye. The deep lines furrowed between the brows gave his face an almost stern expression which his cheery conversation soon belied. He might be carrying a fishing-rod or a bottle of medicine for a sick parishioner, or sometimes both: his faithful Dandie Dinmont would be in attendance and perhaps one of his children walking at his side. His walk would be swift and eager, with his eye wandering restlessly around to observe all that he passed: ‘it seemed as if no bird or beast or insect, scarcely a cloud in the sky, passed by him unnoticed, unwelcomed.’ So too with humanity — in breadth of sympathy he resembled ‘the Shirra’, who became known to every wayfarer between Teviot and Tweed. Gipsy boy, farm-hand, old grandmother, each would be sure of a greeting and a few words of talk when they met the Rector on his rounds. In society he might at times be too impetuous or insistent, when questions were stirred in which he was deeply interested. Tennyson tells us how he ‘walked hard up and down the study for hours, smoking furiously and affirming that tobacco was the only thing that kept his nerves quiet’. Green compares him to a restless animal, and Stopford Brooke speaks of his quick-rushing walk, his keen face like a sword, and his body thinned out to a lath, and complains that he ‘often screams when he ought to speak’. But this excitability was soothed by the country, and in his own parish he was at his best. He would never have been so beloved by his parishioners, if they had not found him willing to listen as well as to advise and to instruct.
His first venture into public life met with less general favour. The year 1848 saw many upheavals in Europe. On the Continent thrones tottered and fell, republics started up for a moment and faded away. In England it was the year of the Chartist riots, and political and social problems gave plenty of matter for thought. Monster meetings were held in London, which were not free from disorder. The wealthier classes and the Government were alarmed, troops were brought up to London and the Duke of Wellington put in command. Events seemed to point to outbreaks of violence and the starting of a class-war. Frederick Denison Maurice, whom above all men living Kingsley revered, was the leader of a group of men who were greatly stirred by the movement. They saw that more than political reform and political charters were needed; and, while full of sympathy for the working classes, they were not minded to say smooth things and prophesy Utopias in which they had no belief. Filled with the desire to help his fellow-men, indignant at abuses which he had seen with his own eyes, Kingsley came at once to their side. He went to London to see for himself, attended meetings, wrote pamphlets, and seemed to be promoting agitation. The tone in which he wrote can best be seen by a few words from the pamphlet addressed to the ‘Workmen of England’, which was posted up in London. ‘The Charter is not bad, if the men who use it are not bad. But will the Charter make you free? Will it free you from slavery to ten-pound bribes? Slavery to gin and beer? Slavery to every spouter who flatters your self-conceit and stirs up bitterness and headlong rage in you? That I guess is real slavery, to be a slave to one’s own stomach, one’s pocket, one’s own temper.’ This is hardly the tone of the agitator as known to us to-day. With his friends Kingsley brought out a periodical, Politics for the People, in which he wrote in the same tone. ‘My only quarrel with the Charter is that it does not go far enough in reform. . . . I think you have fallen into the same mistake as the rich of whom you complain, I mean the mistake of fancying that legislative reform is social reform, or that men’s hearts can be changed by Act of Parliament.’ He did not limit himself to denouncing such errors. He encouraged the working man to educate himself and to find rational pleasures in life, contributing papers on the National Gallery and bringing out the human interest of the pictures. ‘Parson Lot’, the nom de guerre which Kingsley adopted, became widely known for warm-hearted exhortations, for practical and sagacious counsels.
Two years later he published Alton Locke, describing the life of a young tailor whose mind and whose fortunes are profoundly influenced by the Chartist movement. From a literary point of view it is far from being his best work; and the critics agreed to belittle it at the time and to pass it over with apology at his death. But it received a warm welcome from others. While it roused the imagination of many young men and set them thinking, the veteran Carlyle could speak of ‘the snatches of excellent poetical description, occasional sunbursts of noble insight, everywhere a certain wild intensity which holds the reader fast as by a spell’.
Should any one ask why a rector of a country parish mixed himself up in London agitation, many answers could be given. His help was sought by Maurice, who worked among the London poor. Many of the questions at issue affected also the agricultural labourer. Only one who was giving his life to serve the poor could effectively expose the mistakes of their champions. The upper classes, squires and merchants and politicians, had shut their eyes and missed their chances. So when the ship is on fire, no one blames the chaplain or the ship’s doctor for lending a hand with the buckets.32
That his efforts in London met with success can be seen from many sources besides the popularity of Alton Locke. He wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Cheap Clothes and Nasty’, denouncing the sweaters’ shops and supporting the co-operative movement, which was beginning to arise out of the ashes of Chartism. Of this pamphlet a friend told him that he saw three copies on the table in the Guards’ Club, and that he heard that captains in the Guards were going to the co-operative shop in Castle Street and buying coats there. A success of a different kind and one more valued by Kingsley himself was the conversion of Thomas Cooper, the popular writer in Socialist magazines, who preached atheistical doctrines weekly to many thousand working men. Kingsley found him to be sincerely honest, spent infinite time in writing him friendly letters, discussing their differences of opinion, and some years later had the joy of inducing him to become an active preacher of the Gospel. But most of the well-to-do people, including the clergy, were prejudiced against Kingsley by his Radical views. On one occasion he had to face a painful scene in a London church, when the vicar who had invited him to preach rose after the sermon and formally protested against the views to which his congregation had been listening. Bishop Blomfield at first sided with the vicar; but in the end he did full justice to the sincerity and charity of Kingsley’s views and sanctioned his continuing to preach in the Diocese.
It was his literary successes which helped most to break down the prejudice existing against him in society. Hypatia, published in 1853, had a mixed reception; but Westward Ho! appearing two years later, was universally popular. His eloquence in the pulpit was becoming known to a wider circle, largely owing to officers who came over from Aldershot and Sandhurst to hear him; and early in 1859 he was asked to preach before the Queen and Prince Consort. His appointment as chaplain to the Queen followed before the year was out; and this made a great difference in his position and prospects. What he valued equally was the hearty friendship which he formed with the Prince Consort. They had the same tastes, the same interests, the same serious outlook on life. A year later came a still higher distinction when Kingsley was appointed Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. His history lectures, it is generally agreed, are not of permanent value as a contribution to the knowledge of the subject. With his parish work and other interests he had no time for profound study. But his eloquence and descriptive powers were such as to attract a large class of students, and many can still read with pleasure his lectures on The Roman and the Teuton, in which he was fired by the moral lessons involved in the decay of the Roman empire and the coming of the vigorous young northern races. Apart from his lectures he had made his mark in Cambridge by the friendly relations which he established with many of the undergraduates and the personal influence which he exercised. But he knew better than any one else his shortcomings as an historian, the preparation of his lectures gave him great anxiety and labour, and in 1869 he resigned the office.
The next honour which fell to him was a canonry at Chester, and in 1873, less than two years before his death, he exchanged it for a stall at Westminster. These historic cities with their old buildings and associations attracted him very strongly: preaching in the Abbey was even dangerously exciting to a man of his temperament. But while he gave his services generously during his months of office, as at Chester in founding a Natural History Society, he never deserted his old work and his old parish. Eversley continued to be his home, and during the greater part of each year to engross his thoughts.
Literature, science, and sport were, as we have seen, the three interests which absorbed his leisure hours. A fourth, partaking in some measure of all three, was travel, a hobby which the strenuous pursuit of duty rarely permitted him to indulge. Ill-health or a complete breakdown sometimes sent him away perforce, and it is to this that he chiefly owed his knowledge of other climes. He has left us some fascinating pictures of the south of France, the rocks of Biarritz, the terrace at Pau, the blue waters of the Mediterranean, and the golden arches of the Pont du Gard; but the voyages that thrilled him most were those that he took to America, when he sailed the Spanish main in the track of Drake and Raleigh and Richard Grenville. The first journey in 1870 was to the West Indies; the second and longer one took him to New York and Quebec, and across the continent to the Yosemite and San Francisco. This was in 1874, the last year of his life, and he was received everywhere with the utmost respect and goodwill. His name was now famous on both sides of the Atlantic, and the voice of opposition was stilled. The public had changed its attitude to him, but he himself was unchanged. He had the same readiness to gather up new knowledge, and to get into friendly touch with every kind of man, the same reluctance to talk about himself. Only the yearning towards the unseen was growing stronger. The poet Whittier, who met him at Boston, found him unwilling to talk about his own books or even about the new cities which he was visiting, but longing for counsel from his brother poet on the high themes of a future life and the final destiny of the human race.
While he was in California he was taken ill with pleurisy; and when he came back to England he had so serious a relapse in the autumn that he could hardly perform his duties at Westminster. He had never wished for long life, his strength was exhausted, the ardent soul had worn out its sheath. A dangerous illness of his wife’s, threatening to leave him solitary, hastened the end. For her sake he fought a while against the pneumonia which set in, but the effort was in vain, and on January 23, in his own room at Eversley, he met his death contented and serene. Twenty years before he had said, ‘God forgive me if I am wrong, but I look forward to it with an intense and reverent curiosity’.
These words of his sum up some of his most marked characteristics. Of his ‘curiosity’ there is no need to say more: all his life he was pursuing eager researches into rocks, flowers, animals, and his fellow-men. ‘Intensity’ has been picked out by many of his friends as the word which, more than any other, expresses the peculiar quality of his nature. This does not mean a weak excitability. His letters to J. S. Mill on the women-suffrage movement show that this hysterical element, which was often to be found in the women supporting it, was what most he feared. He himself defines it well —‘my blessed habit of intensity. I go at what I am about as if there was nothing else in the world for the time being.’ This quality, which many great men put into their work, Kingsley put both into his work and into his play-time. Critics will say that he paid for it: it is easy to quote the familiar line: ‘Neque semper arcum tendit Apollo.’ But Horace is not the poet to whom Charles Kingsley would go for counsel: he would only say that he got full value in both, and that he never regretted the bargain.
But it would be no less true to say that ‘Reverence’ is the key-note of his character. This fact was impressed on all who saw him take the services in his parish church, and it was an exaltation of reverence which uplifted his congregation and stamped itself on their memories. It is seen, too, in his political views. The Radical Parson, the upholder of Chartism, was in many ways a strong Tory. He had a great belief in the land-owning classes, and an admiration for what remained of the Feudal System. He believed that the old relation between squire and villagers, if each did his duty, worked far better than the modern pretence of Equality and Independence. Like Disraeli, like Ruskin, and like many other men of high imagination, he distrusted the Manchester School and the policy that in the labour market each class should be left to fend for itself. Radical as he was, he defended the House of Lords and the hereditary system. So, too, in Church questions, though he was an anti-Tractarian, he had a great reverence for the Athanasian Creed and in general was a High Churchman. He had none of the fads which we associate with the Radical party. Total abstinence he condemned as a rigid rule, though there was no man more severe in his attitude to drunkenness. He believed that God’s gifts were for man’s enjoyment, and he set his face against asceticism. He trained his own body to vigorous manhood and he had remarkable self-control; and he wished to help each man to do this for himself and not to be driven to it by what he considered a false system. Logically it may be easy to find contradictions in the views which he expressed at different times; but his life shows an essential unity in aim and practice.
It has been the fashion to label Charles Kingsley and his teaching with the nickname of ‘Muscular Christianity’, a name which he detested and disclaimed. It implied that he and his school were of the full-blooded robust order of men, who had no sympathy for weakness, and no message for those who could not follow the same strenuous course as themselves. As a fact Kingsley had his full share of bodily illnesses and suffered at all times from a highly-wrought nervous organization; when pain to others was involved, he was as tender and sympathetic as a woman. He was a born fighter, too reckless in attack, as we see in his famous dispute with Cardinal Newman about the honesty of the Tractarians. But he was not bitter or resentful. He owned himself that in this case he had met a better logician than himself: later he expressed his admiration for Newman’s poem, ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, and in his letters he praises the tone in which the Tractarians write —‘a solemn and gentle earnestness which is most beautiful and which I wish I may ever attain’. The point which Matthew Arnold singles out in estimating his character is the width of his sympathies. ‘I think’, he says, ‘he was the most generous man I have ever known, the most forward to praise what he thought good, the most willing to admire, the most incapable of being made ill-natured or even indifferent by having to support ill-natured attacks himself. Among men of letters I know nothing so rare as this.’ To the gibe about ‘Muscular Christianity’ Kingsley had his own answer. He said that with his tastes and gifts he had a special power of appealing to the wild rough natures which were more at home in the country than the town, who were too self-forgetful, and too heedless of the need for culture and for making use of their opportunities. Jacob, the man of intellect, had many spiritual guides, and the poor outcast, Esau, was too often overlooked. As he said, ‘The one idea of my life was to tell Esau that he has a birthright as well as Jacob’. When he was laid to his rest in Eversley churchyard, there were many mourners who represented the cultured classes of the day; but what gave its special character to the occasion was the presence of keepers and poachers, of gipsies, country rustics, and huntsmen, the Esaus of the Hampshire village, which was the fit resting-place for one who above all was the ideal of a parish priest.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05