Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) ‘… was a priest of the Church of England, a university professor, historian and novelist. He is particularly associated with the West Country and northeast Hampshire. He was a friend and correspondent with Charles Darwin…’

Charles Kingsley wrote about homeopathy in his novel Two years ago: ‘… Elsley need not be blamed for pitying her; only for holding, with most of our poets, a vague notion that her woes were to be cured by a hair of the dog who bit her; viz., by homeopathic doses of that same “art” which has been all along her morbid and self- deceiving substitute for virtue and industry...’ NB: the ‘she’ in question is not a woman but a country, namely Italy. (Charles Kingsley, Two years ago, (Macmillan and co., 1857). Page 256.)

41 years later, Willis Alonzo Dewey praised Charles Kingsley’s vivid and accurate description of Cholera in the Medical Century: The National Journal of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery, Volume 6: ‘… Thus Charles Kingsley, in his “Two years ago,” gives an account of a cholera epidemic which is not surpassed in accuracy of description by any medical work…’ (Willis Alonzo DeweyMedical Century: The National Journal of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery, Volume 6, (1898). Page 224).

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Kingsley ‘… Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon, the first of two sons from the Reverend Charles Kingsley and his wife Mary Lucas Kingsley. His brother, Henry Kingsley, also became a novelist. He spent his childhood in Clovelly, Devon and Barnack Northamptonshire and was educated at Helston Grammar School before studying at King’s College London, and the University of Cambridge. Charles entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1838, and graduated in 1842. He chose to pursue a ministry in the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire. In 1859 he was appointed chaplain to Queen Victoria. In 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. In 1861 he became a private tutor to the Prince of Wales.

In 1869 Kingsley resigned his Cambridge professorship and, from 1870 to 1873, was a canon of Chester Cathedral. While in Chester he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art, which played an important part in the establishment of the Grosvenor Museum. In 1872 he accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 19th President. In 1873 he was made the canon of Westminster Abbey. Kingsley died in 1875 and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in Eversley.

Kingsley sat on the 1866 Edward Eyre Defence Committee along with Thomas CarlyleJohn RuskinCharles Dickens and Alfred Lord Tennyson, where he supported Jamaican Governor Edward Eyre‘s brutal suppression of the Morant Bay Rebellion against the Jamaica Committee.

One of his daughters, Mary St Leger Kingsley, became known as a novelist under the pseudonym of “Lucas Malet“.

Kingsley’s life was written by his widow in 1877, entitled Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life.

Kingsley also received letters from Thomas Henry Huxley in 1860 and later in 1863, discussing Huxley‘s early ideas on agnosticism. Kingsley’s interest in history is shown in several of his writings, including The Heroes (1856), a children’s book about Greek mythology, and several historical novels, of which the best known are Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake (1865) and Westward Ho! (1855). 

He was sympathetic to the idea of evolution and was one of the first to praise Charles Darwin‘s book On the Origin of Species. He had been sent an advance review copy and in his response of 18 November 1859 (four days before the book went on sale) stated that he had “long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species.”Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley’s closing remarks to the next edition of his book, stating that “A celebrated author and divine has written to me that ‘he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws’.” When a heated dispute lasting three years developed over human evolution, Kingsley gently satirised the debate as the Great Hippocampus Question.

Kingley’s concern for social reform is illustrated in his classic, The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863), a tale about a chimney sweep, which retained its popularity well into the 20th century. The story mentions the main protagonists in the scientific debate over human origins, rearranging his earlier satire as the “great hippopotamus test”. The book won a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1963.

As a novelist his chief power lay in his descriptive faculties. The descriptions of South American scenery in Westward Ho!, of the Egyptian desert in Hypatia, of the North Devon scenery in Two Years Ago, are brilliant; and the American scenery is even more vividly and more truthfully described when he had seen it only by the eye of his imagination than in his work At Last, which was written after he had visited the tropics. His sympathy with children taught him how to secure their interests. His version of the old Greek stories entitled The Heroes, andWater-babies and Madam How and Lady Why, in which he deals with popular natural history, take high rank among books for children. Kingsley was influenced by Frederick Denison Maurice, and was close to many Victorian thinkers and writers, including the Scottish writer George MacDonald.

Kingsley was highly critical of Roman Catholicism and his argument, in print, with John Henry Newman, accusing him of untruthfulness and deceit, prompted the latter to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Kingsley also wrote poetry and political articles, as well as several volumes of sermons.

Kingsley coined the term pteridomania in his 1855 book Glaucus, or the Wonders of the Shore.

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