Charles Kingsley

Charles Kingsley (12 June 1819 – 23 January 1875) was a broad church priest of the Church of England, a university professor, social reformer, historian and novelist. He is particularly associated with Christian socialism, the working men's college, and forming labour cooperatives that failed but led to the working reforms of the progressive era. He was a friend and correspondent with Charles Darwin.[1] He was also the uncle of traveller and scientist Mary Kingsley.

Charles Kingsley
Born(1819-06-12)12 June 1819
Holne, Devon, England
Died23 January 1875(1875-01-23) (aged 55)
Eversley, Hampshire, England
OccupationClergyman, historian, novelist
Alma mater
Period19th century
GenreSocial Christianity
Literary movementChristian socialism
SpouseFrances Eliza Grenfell

Life and character

Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon, the elder of two sons of the Reverend Charles Kingsley and his wife Mary Lucas Kingsley. His brother Henry Kingsley and his sister Charlotte Chanter also became writers. He spent his childhood in Clovelly, Devon, where his father was Curate 1826–1832 and Rector 1832–1836,[2] and at Barnack, Northamptonshire and was educated at Bristol Grammar School and Helston Grammar School[3] before studying at King's College London, and the University of Cambridge. Charles entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1838, and graduated in 1842.[4] 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.[5][6] In 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge.[5][6] In 1861 he became a private tutor to the Prince of Wales.[5]

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.[7] In 1872 he accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 19th President.[8] In 1873 he was made a canon of Westminster Abbey.[5] Kingsley died in 1875 and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard, Eversley, Hampshire.

Kingsley sat on the 1866 Edward Eyre Defence Committee along with Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, John Tyndall, and Alfred 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 "Lucas Malet".[6] Kingsley's life, written by his widow in 1877, was entitled Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life.[6]

Kingsley received letters from Thomas Huxley in 1860 and later in 1863, discussing Huxley's early ideas on agnosticism.

Influences and works

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 welcome 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."[9] Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley's closing remarks to the next edition of his book, stating, "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.'"[10] When a heated dispute lasting three years developed over human evolution, Kingsley gently satirised the debate, known as the Great Hippocampus Question, as the "Great Hippopotamus Question".

Kingsley'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 boy 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.

Kingsley's chief asset as a novelist lay in his descriptive faculties: the descriptions of South American scenery in Westward Ho!, of the Egyptian desert in Hypatia, and of the North Devon scenery in Two Years Ago. American scenery is even more vividly and truthfully described when he had seen it only in his imagination than in his work At Last, written after he had visited the tropics. His sympathy with children taught him how to gain their interest. His version of the old Greek stories entitled The Heroes, and Water-babies and Madam How and Lady Why, in which he deals with popular natural history, take high rank among books for children.[6] 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.[11] Kingsley was accused of racism towards the Roman Catholic Irish poor[11] and wrote in a letter to his wife from Ireland in 1860, "I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country [Ireland]... to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."[12] 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.[13]

Racial views


Kingsley was a fervent Anglo-Saxonist,[14] and was considered an important proponent of the ideology, particularly in the 1840s.[15] He proposed that the English people were "essentially a Teutonic race, blood-kin to the Germans, Dutch, Scandinavians".[16] Kingsley suggested that there was a "strong Norse element in Teutonism and Anglo-Saxonism".

Mixing mythology and Christianity, he blended Protestantism of the day with the Old Norse religion, saying that the Church of England was "wonderfully and mysteriously fitted for the souls of a free Norse-Saxon race". He believed the ancestors of Anglo-Saxons, Norse and Germanic peoples had physically fought beside the god Odin, and that the British monarchy of his time was genetically descended from him.[17]

Disgust with the Irish

Kingsley held bigoted views of Irish people, and described them in rabid and virulent terms.[18][19] Visiting County Sligo, Ireland, he wrote a letter to his wife from Markree Castle in 1860: "I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country... to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."[20]


Charles Kingsley's novel Westward Ho! led to the founding of a village by the same name (the only place name in England with an exclamation mark) and inspired the construction of the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway. A hotel in Westward Ho! was named after and opened by him.

A hotel which was opened in 1897 in Bloomsbury, London, and named after Kingsley was founded by teetotallers, who admired Kingsley for his political views and his ideas on social reform. It still exists as The Kingsley by Thistle.[21]

In 1905 the composer Cyril Rootham wrote a musical setting of Kingsley's poem Andromeda. This was performed at the Bristol Music Festival in 1908. Like Kingsley, Rootham had been educated at Bristol Grammar School.

Published works

  • Yeast, a novel (1848)
  • Saint's Tragedy (1848), a drama
  • Alton Locke, a novel (1849)
  • Twenty-five Village Sermons (1849)
  • Cheap Clothes and Nasty (1850)
  • Phaeton, or Loose Thoughts for Loose Thinkers (1852)
  • Sermons on National Subjects (1st series, 1852)
  • Hypatia, a novel (1853)
  • Glaucus, or the Wonders of the Shore (1855)
  • Sermons on National Subjects (2nd series, 1854)
  • Alexandria and her Schools (1854)
  • Westward Ho!, a novel (1855)
  • Sermons for the Times (1855)
  • The Heroes, Greek fairy tales (1856)
  • Two Years Ago, a novel (1857)
  • Andromeda and other Poems (1858)
  • The Good News of God, sermons (1859)
  • Miscellanies (1859)
  • Limits of Exact Science applied to History (Inaugural lectures, 1860)
  • Town and Country Sermons (1861)
  • Sermons on the Pentateuch (1863)
  • The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863)
  • The Roman and the Teuton (1864)
  • David and other Sermons (1866)
  • Hereward the Wake: "Last of the English", a novel (London: Macmillan, 1866)
  • The Ancient Régime (Lectures at the Royal Institution, 1867)
  • Water of Life and other Sermons (1867)
  • The Hermits (1869)
  • Madam How and Lady Why (1869)
  • At Last: a Christmas in the West Indies (1871)
  • Town Geology (1872)
  • Discipline and other Sermons (1872)
  • Prose Idylls (1873)
  • Plays and Puritans (1873)
  • Health and Education (1874)
  • Westminster Sermons (1874)
  • Lectures delivered in America (1875)[6]



  1. Hale, Piers J. (2011). "Darwin's Other Bulldog: Charles Kingsley and the Popularisation of Evolution in Victorian England" (PDF). Science & Education. 21 (7): 977–1013. doi:10.1007/s11191-011-9414-8. ISSN 0926-7220. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016.
  2. William Griggs, A Guide to All Saints Church, Clovelly, first published 1980, Revised Version 2010, p. 7.
  3. Vance, Norman. "Kingsley, Charles (1819–1875)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15617.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. "Kingsley, Charles (KNGY838C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. Krueger, Christine L. (2014). Encyclopedia of British Writers, 19th and 20th Centuries. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4381-0870-4.
  6.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Kingsley, Charles". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 817.
  7. "Information Sheet: Charles Kingsley". Cheshire West and Chester. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2010.
  8. Presidents of the BMI, BMI, nd (c.2005)
  9. Darwin 1887, p. 287.
  10. Darwin 1860, p. 481.
  11. Donoghue, Denis (17 October 2013). "The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, by Charles Kingsley. The classic children's story is 150 years old". The Irish Times. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  12. Davis, Wes (11 March 2007). "When English Eyes Are Smiling". NYT. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  13. Boyd, Peter D. A. (1993). "Pteridomania – the Victorian passion for ferns".
  14. Frankel, Robert (2007). Observing America: The Commentary of British Visitors to the United States, 1890–1950 (Studies in American Thought and Culture). University of Wisconsin Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0299218805. By midcentury such other eminent figures as Thomas Arnold and Charles Kingsley were also exalting the Anglo-Saxon race. An essential feature of Anglo-Saxonism was the recognition of the race's Teutonic origins.
  15. Miller, Brook (2011). America and the British Imaginary in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Literature. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230103764.
  16. Longley, Edna (2001). Poetry and Posterity. Bloodaxe Books. ISBN 978-1852244354.
  17. Horsman, Reginald (1976). Origins of Racial Anglo-Saxonism in Great Britain before 1850 (Journal of the History of Ideas – Vol. 37, No. 3 ed.). University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 76.
  18. McCourt, John (2015). Writing the Frontier: Anthony Trollope between Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0198729600.
  19. McCourt, John (2015). Representing Race: Racisms, Ethnicity and the Media. SAGE Publishing. p. 3. ISBN 978-0761969129.
  20. Michie, Elsie B. (1976). "The Simianization of the Irish". Outside the Pale: Cultural Exclusion, Gender Difference, and the Victorian Woman Writer (Reading Women Writing). Cornell University Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0801480850.
  21. "The Kingsley". Retrieved 21 February 2019.


Further reading

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