Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/Canon Kingsley
The Reverend Charles Kingsley, M.A., rector of Eversley, canon of Chester, one of her Majesty's chaplains, tutor to the Prince of Wales, and Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge, was born on the 12th of June 1819 at Holme Vicarage, on the borders of Dartmoor. He became at fourteen a pupil of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge—son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge—and afterwards was a student at King's College, London. He then entered at Magdalen College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar and prizeman whilst in statu pupillari, and concluded his undergraduate career with a good degree—first class in classics, and second class in mathematics.
Mr. Kingsley entered the Church; and his first cure was the rectory he now holds; for a year and a half after his entering upon his curacy the living became vacant, and the patron, Sir John Cope, presented it to the curate, who has ever since been rector of Eversley.
Charles Kingsley's name, however, was to be known and honoured, far away from his little Hampshire parish, as the writer of works of fiction which are strikingly original, pure in their moral teaching, honest and noble in their purpose, and have placed their author high in the ranks of writers of imaginative literature.
The list of Mr. Kingsley's works includes 'Westward Ho! or the Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh,' now in a sixth edition; a splendid story, photographing for the reader the grand scenery of the newly found continent of America, and exhibiting the adventurous and noble spirit of the age in which the scenes of Sir Amyas Leigh's adventures are laid.
'Two Years Ago,' and the author's latest book, 'At Last: a Christmas in the West Indies,' contain likewise much of that word-painting, applied to the description of natural scenery, in which Charles Kingsley is a master.'Hypatia; or New Foes with an Old Face,' is a most interesting story
of an early state of society, in which the author has completely thrown himself back into the period he has written about, with such a power of artistic reality as to make his characters live again.
'Yeast: a Problem,' and 'Alton Locke,' are books that deal with social problems arising out of a high state of civilisation; and although now much in 'Alton Locke' belongs to a bygone generation, such characters as the Young Tailor-Poet and Old Sandy Mackaye will always charm and interest those who make their acquaintance. 'Water Babies' and 'The Heroes' are two books of fairy tales for children. Considering their object, they are admirable productions, and very much more acceptable to a child than such books as 'Lewis Carroll's' tales.
'Hereward the Wake, Last of the English,' is a story of the time of the Norman Conquest; a period of history with which the author is perfectly acquainted: it was the subject of some of his lectures at Cambridge, where he was the more popular of the two popular professors Mr. Fawcett, M.P. for Brighton, was the other. His manner of delivering his addresses on history, from the high chair in the old cellar called the Arts School, was very piquant. He is reported to have summed up a great event in English history thus: 'Gentlemen, believe me, if Edward the Confessor had only had the common decency to get married, there would have been no Norman Conquest in England.' We will not vouch for the verbal accuracy of the sentence, but the learned professor said something to the same effect. The undergraduates used to cheer him, and strangers in Cambridge always went to hear him lecture. He was never dry, often he was eloquent; but he had an odd way of ending his bursts with a sentence something like that given above.
He was popular in the University; at his own college he was beloved. When he was the only Don to go in to the high table, and a few minutes late, and, according to custom, the undergraduates were waiting for a Don to say grace before they could begin, contemplating with impatience the cooling dishes, the Professor of History, who knows the British nature well, would instruct the butler to 'Tell those poor boys not to wait for me: let them begin their dinner.'
It is curious to note that the critics were very severe with Kingsley and F. D. Maurice about the same time and for the same reasons under the disguise of Christian Socialism they would level everything into nothingness, if they could. They have triumphed, and their names are honoured above those of most men of their generation. No writers of our time have done more for truth and manliness, or sown seed more likely to bear fruit in its season. It was in 1859 that Charles Kingsley was appointed to his Cambridge professorship, and we owe at least two of his best works to his study of what, at that University, is called 'Modern History.'