Keble, John (DNB00)
|←Keats, Richard Goodwin||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
KEBLE, JOHN (1792–1866), divine and poet, was born at Fairford, Gloucestershire, on 25 April 1792. His father, also John Keble, was vicar of Coln St. Aldwins, a neighbouring village, but resided at Fairford in a house of his own. His mother, Sarah, was daughter of John Maule, incumbent of Ringwood, Hampshire. Their family consisted of two sons and three daughters, John being the second child and eldest son. John and his younger brother Thomas [q. v.] were educated solely by their father, who taught them so well that they both obtained scholarships at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, a college of which he himself had been scholar and fellow. John Keble was elected in December 1806. The undergraduates and bachelor scholars of Corpus lived on the most familiar terms, and many of the friendships formed by Keble at college were lifelong; Sir John Taylor Coleridge [q. v.], his future biographer, Charles Dyson, George Cornish, and Thomas Arnold were his chief associates. In 1811 Keble won double first-class honours, and was elected to a fellowship at Oriel, where he was brought into contact with a set of men who gave the intellectual tone to the university. Copleston was provost, Davison a leading tutor, and Whately was elected fellow at the same time as Keble. In 1812 Keble won the university prizes for the English and the Latin essays. He resided at Oxford, taking private pupils, and in 1813 was appointed public examiner in the classical school. In 1816 he was examiner for responsions, and in 1818 he became college tutor at Oriel. In 1821 he was again appointed public examiner, and held that office until 1823, when he resigned his tutorship; and on the death of his mother in May 1823 he left Oxford and resided with his father and two surviving sisters at Fairford.
On Trinity Sunday 1815 Keble had been ordained deacon, and in 1816 priest, by the Bishop of Oxford (Dr. Jackson). His first clerical work was the sole charge of two small contiguous parishes, East Leach and Burthorpe, Gloucestershire. After leaving Oxford he undertook in addition the curacy of Southrop. The entire population of the three parishes did not exceed one thousand, and the income derived from them was only 100l. There was a good house at Southrop, and there, without receiving any remuneration except a moderate contribution towards the household expenses, Keble sometimes had pupils, among whom were Robert Wilberforce, Hurrell Froude, Isaac Williams, and Sir George Prevost. In 1824 the archdeaconry of Barbadoes was offered to him by Bishop Coleridge, but he declined this, the only offer of a dignity that he ever received, on account of his father's weak state of health. In 1825 he accepted the curacy of Hursley, near Winchester, of which parish Archdeacon Heathcote was vicar; but in the next year his younger sister, Mary Anne, died, and as his elder sister, Elizabeth, was an invalid, he felt it his duty to return to Fairford, and to supply his father's place at Coln.
In 1827 the provostship of Oriel fell vacant owing to the promotion of Dr. Copleston, and Keble's friends were anxious that he should succeed to the post; but the majority of the fellows, including Pusey and Newman (though Newman distinctly said that he could never vote against Keble), were inclined to favour his competitor, Edward Hawkins (1789–1882) [q. v.], so he quietly withdrew from the contest. The death of Archdeacon Heathcote left the vicarage of Hursley vacant in 1829, and it was offered to Keble, but he declined it on the ground that he would not quit his father. In 1830 he was nominated one of the Oxford examiners for the India House examinations for the civil service, and held that office for two years. In 1831 the Bishop of Exeter (Dr. Phillpotts), considering Keble ‘the most eminently good man in the church,’ offered him the valuable living of Paignton, Devonshire, which, as in the case of the other offers, he rejected, on account of his father's health. In the same year he was elected without opposition professor of poetry at Oxford, and held the post till 1841. In 1835 his father died, and in the same year he married Charlotte Clarke, the younger sister of the wife of his brother Thomas. He had known her from childhood, and her father was also fellow of Corpus. The living of Hursley again fell vacant in 1836; it was once more offered to Keble by the patron, Sir William Heathcote; he at length accepted it, and was instituted 9 March 1836. For the next thirty years Hursley was his home, and the record of his outer life is simply that of an exemplary parish priest. Daily services, confirmation classes, village schools, church building or restoration, parochial visiting, correspondence, which continually increased as he became more and more valued as a spiritual adviser, formed the regular occupation of his life. In his retirement he took a deep interest in the affairs of the world outside Hursley, both ecclesiastical and civil. He was a tory of the old school, a cavalier, and a lover of the memory of Charles I; but he adhered to the last—that is, until the Oxford election of 1865—to Mr. Gladstone, on account of his churchmanship.
The death in 1860 of his sole surviving sister, Elizabeth, who divided her time between Bisley (the home of her brother Thomas) and Hursley, closely followed that of one of his oldest and dearest friends, Charles Dyson. At the same time the evident breaking-up of his wife's health tended to shatter him, and he had an attack of paralysis in 1864. Mrs. Keble's health rendered it necessary for them to seek a warmer climate in winter. Torquay, Penzance, and finally Bournemouth were their resorts. All the changes were on Mrs. Keble's account, but she survived her husband. He died, after only a week's illness, at Bournemouth, on 29 March 1866. He was buried in Hursley churchyard, close to the grave of his sister Elizabeth; and six weeks later the remains of Mrs. Keble were laid by his side.
A memorial bust by Mr. Thomas Woolner, R.A., has been placed in the baptistery in Westminster Abbey. But Keble's chief monument is at Oxford. On 12 May 1866 it was resolved at a meeting at Lambeth Palace to raise in his memory a fund with which to build a college at Oxford to give at a moderate cost an education in strict fidelity to the Church of England. The erection of Keble College, which was opened in 1869, was the result. Mr. George Richmond, R.A., painted Keble's portrait in 1863. This picture belonged to the artist, but a replica by Mr. Richmond, dated 1876, is at Keble College.
It seems strange that this shy, homely, unambitious man, living so retired a life, should yet have been the prime factor in the great religious movement of his time. Newman emphatically asserts in his ‘Apologia’ that Keble was the ‘true and primary author’ of the Oxford movement. The explanation must be sought in his character and writings. Keble was from first to last a consistent churchman. The principles which he imbibed from his father at Fairford guided him all through his life. His opinions were not radically changed, though they may have been developed. This gave a calmness and confidence to his teaching which were especially impressive in a time of restless change. In his sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ he says that, ‘as a true churchman, he is calmly, soberly, demonstrably sure that sooner or later his will be the winning side, that the victory will be complete, universal, eternal.’ He was, indeed, by no means satisfied with the state of the church of England as it was, but he gladly recognised signs of improvement, and his tone becomes much more hopeful in his later writings. He never dreamed of seeking relief in the Roman communion, and was almost as much grieved by Newman's conversion as by his wife's dangerous illness at the same time. Some of the Oriel ‘Noetics’ took this fixity for narrowness. But though failing to sympathise with any who wavered in their allegiance to the church, he took broad views of life within the church's limits. With his pupils at Southrop he lived as a boy among boys. He disapproved of the austerity of William Law, whom he otherwise admired, and thought that even the ‘Imitation of Christ’ required to be read with caution. He was attracted by the freshness and breadth of Scott, and even by the robustness of Warburton. The tenacity with which he clung to Butler's dictum that ‘probability, not demonstration, is the very guide of life,’ was characteristic of his masculine mind.
Keble's attractive personality was reflected in his writings. As early as 1819 he had begun to write the hymns which afterwards appeared in ‘The Christian Year.’ In 1823 he had shown them privately to his friends; among others to Thomas Arnold, who declares that ‘nothing equal to them exists in our language’ (Stanley, Life, chap. ii.) By the spring of 1825 he had been almost persuaded by his friends to publish them, though he desired rather to work upon them till his death and leave them for posthumous publication. ‘The Christian Year’ was, however, published anonymously in two volumes in 1827. His father's desire to see it in print before he died partly gave the impulse. No one, and least of all Keble himself, anticipated its great success. Before his death it had passed through ninety-five editions, and by the next year the number had reached 109. The editions contained three thousand and even five thousand copies; nor is there yet any sign of the decline of its popularity. Keble said that he aimed at bringing men's thoughts and feelings into more entire unison with the prayer-book. The suggestiveness of the book, the writer's intimate knowledge of the Bible and power of presenting its most poetic incidents, the accuracy of its descriptions of natural scenery, the sweetness of its melody, the happiness of its general diction and particular expressions, its exquisite taste, its scholarly tone, its beautiful spirit of unaffected piety, were all appreciated. Its defects were also recognised from the first. Its ruggedness of metre and awkwardness of construction in some parts were so marked that the poet Wordsworth (Dr. Pusey tells us) ‘proposed to the author that they should go over the work together with a view to correcting the English.’ Its obscurity was also complained of. But it was favourably received even by those who did not share its author's views. Perhaps the ablest criticism that has appeared was that by the presbyterian Professor Shairp, in the ‘North British Review.’
Keble's next work was a new edition of Hooker. Having spent five years upon the task, and having received help from his brother, Thomas Keble, and his friend Dyson, he published Hooker's ‘Works’ at Oxford in 1836. It is still the standard edition, and was revised by Deans Church and Paget in 1888. In 1838 Keble, in conjunction with Newman and Pusey, began to work at the well-known series entitled ‘The Library of the Fathers.’ The lion's share of the work seems to have fallen on Charles Marriott [q. v.]; Keble translated Irenæus, and revised some other translations. He was also, of course, much occupied with ‘The Tracts for the Times,’ seven of which—viz. Nos. iv. xiii. lii. liv. lvii. lx. and lxxxix.—were from his pen. Of these the most remarkable is No. lxxxix., ‘On the Mysticism attributed to the Early Fathers,’ which has been republished in a separate volume. Keble also gave assistance to other writers of the tracts; and when the storm broke out against No. xc. in 1841 he claimed his share of the responsibility on the ground that he had seen and approved of it before its publication. He wrote and printed a letter addressed to Sir J. T. Coleridge explaining his position; it was not published at the time, but was privately circulated. In 1865, under the title of ‘Catholic Subscription to the xxxix Articles, considered in reference to Tract xc.,’ it was reprinted with the new edition of ‘Tract xc.,’ containing Dr. Pusey's ‘Historical Preface.’ Keble also helped Newman in editing the ‘Remains’ of Richard Hurrell Froude [q. v.], a work which, as Newman says, perhaps more than any other caused disturbance in the Anglican world. In 1839 appeared ‘The Psalter, or Psalms of David in English Verse, by a Member of the University of Oxford, adapted for the most part to Tunes in common use.’ Keble tells us in the preface that he feared ‘that the thing attempted is, strictly speaking, impossible.’ Pusey revised the book, which has never been popular, but is useful as a commentary from its faithfulness to the original.
In 1841 he published the lectures which he had delivered during his ten years' tenure of the poetry professorship, under the title, ‘De Poeticæ Vi Medicâ; Prælectiones Oxonii habitæ annis mdcccxxxii-xli,’ dedicating them ‘viro vere philosopho, Gulielmo Wordsworth,’ whom he calls ‘divinæ veritatis antistes.’ In these lectures he works out his favourite theory of primary and secondary poets. It is, as Mr. Gladstone termed it, ‘a refined work,’ but being written in a dead language, its circulation was, of course, very limited. In 1844 he wrote a forcible pamphlet in defence of William George Ward, whom it was proposed to deprive of his degrees on account of the ‘Ideal Church.’ His act was the more generous as he was not acquainted with Ward. The profits of ‘The Christian Year’ had been devoted to the restoration of Hursley Church. More money was required for the same purpose, and in 1846 he published another volume of hymns, which he had written to solace himself in ‘the desolating anxiety of the last two or three years,’ during which Newman's secession had taken place. The title was ‘Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, their Ways, and their Privileges.’ Thoroughly realising the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, he saw in a newly baptised infant an image of purity such as no other being on earth could present. The rarity of this view and the stronger insistence upon the doctrines of the Tracts helped to make the book less popular than its predecessor, although Sir John Coleridge and Dean Stanley recognised a higher strain of poetry in it.
In 1847 appeared the only complete volume of Keble's sermons published during his lifetime. It was entitled ‘Sermons Academical and Occasional,’ and was mainly intended, as the preface indicates, to prevent churchmen from following the example of Newman; and the characteristic argument was that it was the safer course for men to remain in the church of their baptism. This volume contains the famous assize sermon on ‘National Apostasy,’ preached at Oxford in 1833, which Newman ‘always considered the start of the Oxford Movement.’ It is at once singularly plain, and thoroughly brave and outspoken. Keble also contributed frequently to the ‘British Magazine,’ edited by the Rev. Hugh James Rose. Among other things he wrote a series of articles on church reform, signed ‘K.,’ and some sonnets. He also published some ‘Pastoral Tracts on the Gorham Question’ (‘A Call to Speak Out,’ ‘Trial of Doctrine’) in 1850. The Divorce Bill of 1857 drew from Keble a pamphlet entitled ‘An Argument against Repealing the Laws which treat the Nuptial Bond as Indissoluble,’ and this was followed by a longer ‘Sequel’ in the same year. In 1857 he also published the treatise ‘On Eucharistical Adoration,’ called forth by the decision of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Denison case. He had long been occupied with the book, over which he took far more time and trouble than over anything else that he published. About 1846 the project of editing the ‘Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology’ was formed. Keble undertook to edit Bishop Wilson's works and to write a life of the author. ‘The Life of Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man,’ was not published until 1863, after sixteen years of engrossing labour, and two visits to the Isle of Man. It filled two volumes, and ‘served as an introduction to the complete collection of the bishop's works, which filled six other volumes’ in the ‘Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.’ The great attraction of the subject to Keble was the Manx discipline, on which he dwells in rather excessive detail. The only other work published by Keble himself, apart from separate tracts and sermons, was ‘A Litany of Our Lord's Warnings, 1864,’ which was called forth by those who denied the doctrine of eternal punishment.
But there were many posthumous publications. In 1867 appeared a volume entitled ‘Sermons Occasional and Parochial.’ This was edited by his brother, and contains his first two sermons, and a sermon of every year of his ministry, probably selected in order to show how little his opinions changed. ‘Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service’ appeared in 1868; from 1875 to 1880 eleven volumes of ‘Sermons for the Christian Year,’ under the superintendence of Dr. Pusey; and in 1880 a volume of ‘Outlines of Instructions or Meditations for the Church Seasons,’ edited, with a preface, by the Rev. R. F. Wilson, to whom, with Keble's brother Thomas, all his sermons were entrusted with a view to selection for publication. In 1869 appeared a volume of ‘Miscellaneous Poems,’ with a preface signed ‘G. M., Chester,’ George Moberly, Keble's intimate friend and neighbour, at that time canon of Chester. These include his ode as poetry professor on the occasion of the installation of the Duke of Wellington as chancellor of the university; forty-five hymns contributed to the ‘Lyra Apostolica’ under the signature ‘γ,’ which first appeared in the ‘British Magazine;’ several contributed to the ‘Salisbury Hymnal,’ and four to ‘The Child's Christian Year.’ In 1870 was published a singularly interesting volume, ‘Letters of Spiritual Counsel and Guidance,’ edited by his first curate and lifelong friend, the Rev. R. F. Wilson. In 1877 appeared ‘Occasional Papers and Reviews,’ with a preface by Dr. Pusey, including a striking letter on Keble by Cardinal Newman. The reviews include the once famous review (eighty pages) of Lockhart's ‘Life of Scott,’ which illustrates the share which Sir Walter had in preparing the way for the Oxford movement (Brit. Critic, 1838). In 1869 an article from the ‘British Critic’ of October 1839 was republished under the title of ‘The State in its Relations with the Church,’ with a preface by Canon Liddon. In 1877 was also published ‘Studia Sacra,’ with a preface by ‘J. P. N.’ (Canon Norris). These included fragments of a commentary on St. John's Gospel, only reaching the 15th verse of the first chapter, which Dr. Pusey had persuaded him to undertake in 1863, and a specimen of a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans which he had been asked in 1833 to contribute for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.[Keble's Works; Coleridge's Memoir of John Keble; the Rev. John Frewen Moor's Memoir of J. Keble; Cardinal Newman's Apologia pro Vitâ Suâ; Professor Shairp's Essay on the author of the Christian Year; Isaac Williams's Autobiography, edited by Sir George Prevost, 1892; Musings over the Christian Year, &c., by C. M. Yonge; Birthplace, Home, &c., of the author of the Christian Year, with Photographs by W. Savage and Memoir and Notes by J. F. Moor; private information from Sir George Prevost, Sir Charles Anderson, and Canon P. Young, and unpublished manuscripts of the Rev. Isaac Williams.]