Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 30.djvu/299

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


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