Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kitto, John

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KITTO, JOHN (1804–1854), author of the ‘Pictorial Bible,’ son of John Kitto, a Cornish stonemason, and Elizabeth Picken, was born at Plymouth on 4 Dec. 1804. He was a sickly lad, caring for nothing but books. Between his eighth and eleventh years he was at four different Plymouth schools, and had no other schooling. In 1814 he was taken by his father to assist him at his trade. On 13 Feb. 1817, while carrying slates up a high ladder he fell a distance of thirty-five feet, and was thenceforth stone-deaf. Being now unfit for work, he was left to spend his time as he pleased, and devoted himself to reading, selling scraps of old iron, and painting children's pictures and shop-labels to procure pence to buy books. On 15 Nov. 1819 he was sent to the workhouse, where he was set to learn shoemaking. In November 1821 he was apprenticed to a Plymouth shoemaker named Bowden, who treated him badly, and in May 1822 he was taken back into the workhouse. In July 1823 some gentlemen became interested in his case, made provision for his support, and obtained permission for him to read in the public library. In 1824 Mr. A. N. Groves, an Exeter dentist, took him as a pupil, giving him board, lodging, and a small salary. Shortly after he came under deep religious impressions, and in July 1825 went, at the suggestion of Mr. Groves, to the Missionary College at Islington, to be trained for employment by the Church Missionary Society as a printer at one of their foreign presses. In June 1827 he was sent by the society to Malta; but his predilections for literary work seem to have prevented his giving his whole attention to his duties, the committee became dissatisfied, and in January 1829 he returned to England. In June of that year he became a member of a private mission-party organised by Mr. Groves, and in company with him and others sailed for Persia; an interesting account of the journey appears in his ‘Journals.’ The party reached Bagdad in December, and Kitto, besides acting as tutor to Mr. Groves's children, opened an Armenian school. A terrible visitation of the plague destroyed fifty thousand of the inhabitants of Bagdad in little more than a month, and carried off five out of thirteen inmates of Mr. Groves's house. An inundation and a siege by Ali Pasha of Aleppo followed; the schools were broken up, and in September 1832 Kitto left Bagdad. On reaching England, after a journey of nine months, he obtained an introduction to some gentlemen connected with the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and was engaged to write for the ‘Penny Magazine,’ in which the ‘Deaf Traveller’ and other papers of his appeared. He also at this time contributed to the ‘Companion to the Almanack,’ the ‘Companion to the Newspaper,’ the ‘Printing Machine,’ and Knight's ‘Cyclopædia.’

At the suggestion of Charles Knight [q. v.] he began in 1834 a series of narratives illustrative of the life of the blind and deaf and dumb, which were afterwards collected and published under the title ‘The Lost Senses’ (London, 1845); and in 1835 a ‘Biblical Commentary,’ which resulted in ‘The Pictorial Bible.’ This was originally published anonymously in monthly parts. It was completed in May 1838, and received by the public with great favour (3 vols. imperial 8vo, and 4 vols. 4to, London, 1835–8). The notes were afterwards published separately under the title ‘The Illustrated Commentary’ (5 vols. post 8vo, London), 1840. He next agreed with Knight to write a ‘Pictorial History of Palestine and the Holy Land, including a complete History of the Jews,’ which he completed after nearly three years of hard work (London, 1840). ‘The Christian Traveller’ was then projected, a work intended to give some account of the various missionary establishments for the propagation of Christianity in heathen lands; but the affairs of his publisher became embarrassed, and only three parts of it appeared (London, 1841). Kitto now suffered much hardship. He had to sell his house at Islington, and remove to Woking. He transferred his services to Messrs. A. & C. Black, Edinburgh, for whom he wrote a school ‘History of Palestine’ (Edinburgh, 1843). He also now commenced the ‘Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature,’ on which he was at work till 1845 (2 vols. Edinburgh, 1845). In 1844, though a layman, he received the degree of D.D. from the university of Giessen, and in 1845 was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. In 1848 he commenced the ‘Journal of Sacred Literature’ (London, 1848–1853), which he continued to edit until 1853, when he handed it over to the care of Dr. H. Burgess. Pecuniary difficulties continued to press upon him. The ‘Journal of Sacred Literature’ did not pay the cost of printing, and he was obliged to leave Woking for a cheaper house at Camden Town. In 1849 he commenced the preparation of the ‘Daily Bible Illustrations’ for Messrs. Oliphant of Edinburgh, to be published in quarterly parts. Vol. i. appeared in the December of that year, and the concluding volume in January 1854. A civil list pension of 100l. per annum was conferred on him in 1850 in recognition of his ‘useful and meritorious literary works.’ His health, never robust, began seriously to fail in 1851. In August 1854 he proceeded to Germany to try the effect of mineral waters, but on 25 Nov. 1854 died at Cannstadt, where he had settled. His remains were buried in the cemetery there, a tombstone being erected over them by Mr. Oliphant, his publisher.

Kitto married, on 21 Sept. 1833, Miss Fenwick. She and seven of his children survived him. In addition to the works mentioned above, he was the author of the following: 1. ‘Essays and Letters, with a Short Memoir of the Author,’ Plymouth, 1825. 2. ‘Uncle Oliver's Travels in Persia,’ 2 vols. London, 1838. 3. ‘Thoughts among Flowers,’ London, 1843. 4. ‘Gallery of Scripture Engravings, Historical and Landscape, with Descriptions, Historical, Geographical, and Critical,’ London, 1841–3. 5. ‘The Pictorial Sunday Book,’ London, 1845. A portion of this was published separately, under the title ‘The Pictorial History of our Saviour.’ 6. ‘Ancient and Modern Jerusalem.’ 7. ‘The Court and People of Persia.’ 8. ‘The Tartar Tribes,’ London, 1846–9. 9. ‘The Tabernacle and its Furniture,’ London, 1849. 10. ‘Scripture Lands,’ London, 1850, 8vo. 11. ‘The Land of Promise,’ London, 1850, 8vo. 12. ‘Eastern Habitations,’ London, 1852, 8vo. 13. ‘Sunday Reading for Christian Families,’ London, 1853, 8vo.

[The Lost Senses; Memoirs by J. E. Ryland, M.A., Edinburgh, 1856.]

T. H.