The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 11
Although it may be impossible, immediately after the removal from the midst of us of a man of genius, to determine with certainty the permanent position which he will hold, or even to measure the extent and depth of his influence on the generation through which he has lived, it sometimes happens, especially if the character has been one of great openness and simplicity, that its essential qualities are more easily recognised at such a time than at any other. We awaken all at once to a sense of what we have lost; and a clear instinct leads us to fasten on the highest and most distinctive characteristics of the life whose circle has just been completed.
There, dear readers. Ex pede Herculem; I cannot tire myself or you with any wiredrawn soul dissections. I have tried to hint to you two opposite sorts of men. The one trying to be good with all his might and main, according to certain approved methods and rules, which he has got by heart; and, like a weak oarsman, feeling and fingering his spiritual muscles over all day, to see if they are growing. The other, not even knowing whether he is good or not, but just doing the right thing without thinking about it, as simply as a little child, because the Spirit of God is with him. If you cannot see the great gulf fixed between the two, I trust that you will discover it some day.1
We have here that 'breath of open air' which places his ideal in such sharp contrast with the trained, directed 'product' of the schools to which he was most opposed; that natural freshness which formed his own life, and which makes us feel, on opening any one of his books, as if we had passed from crowded streets or close, overshadowed lanes, to some wide-stretching heath, fresh with the page 394 breezes and alive with all the lights and shadows of an open sky.
'For me, my friend' (says the Abbot Pambo), 'it is the day, and not the night, which brings revelations.'
'Because by day I can see to read that book which is written, like the Law given on Sinai, upon tables of stone, by the finger of God Himself. . . . My book is the whole creation, lying open before me, wherein I can read, whensoever I please, the word of God.'
'Dost thou not undervalue learning, my friend?'
'I am old among monks, and have seen much of their ways; and among them my simplicity seems to have seen this: many a man wearing himself with study, and tormenting his soul as to whether he believed rightly this doctrine and that, while he knew not with Solomon that in much learning there is much sorrow, and that while he was puzzling at the letter of God's message the spirit of it was going fast and faster out of him.'
'And how didst thou know that of such a man?'
'By seeing him become a more and more learned theologian, and more and more zealous for the letter of orthodoxy, and yet less and less loving and merciful, less and less full of trust in God, and of hopeful thoughts for himself and for his brethren, till he seemed to have darkened his whole soul with disputations, which breed only strife, and to have forgotten utterly the message which is written in that book, wherewith the blessed Antony was content.'
'Of what message dost thou speak?'
'Look,' said the old Abbot, stretching his hand toward the Eastern desert, 'and judge, like a wise man, for thyself.'
As he spoke a long arrow of level light flashed down the gorge from crag to crag, awakening every crack and slab to vividness and life. The great crimson sun rose swiftly through the dim night-mist of the desert, and as he poured his glory down the glen, the haze rose in threads and plumes, and vanished, leaving the stream to sparkle round the rocks, like the living, twinkling eye of the whole scene. Swallows flashed by hundreds out of the cliffs, and began their air-dance for the day; the jerboa hopped stealthily homeward on his stilts from his stolen meal in the monastery garden; the brown sand-lizards underneath the stones opened one eyelid each, and having satisfied themselves that it was day, dragged their bloated bodies and whip-like tails out into the most burning patch of gravel which they could find, and nestling together as a further protection against cold, fell fast asleep again; the buzzard, who considered himself lord of the valley, awoke with a long, querulous bark, and rising aloft in two or three vast rings, to stretch himself after his night's sleep, hung motionless, watching every lark which chirruped on the cliffs; while from the far-off Nile below the awakening croak of pelicans, the clang of geese, the whistle of the godwit and curlew, came ringing up the windings of the glen; and last Of all the voices of the monks rose, chanting a morning hymn to some wild Eastern air; and a new day had begun in Scetis. . . .
'W hat does that teach thee, Aufugus, my friend?'
Aufugus was silent.
'To mo it teaches this : that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. That in His presence is life, and fulness of joy for evermore. That He is the giver, who delights in His own bounty; the lover whose mercy is over all His works—and why not over thee too, O thou of little faith? Look at those thousand birds—and without our Father not one of them shall fall to the ground : and art thou not of more value than many sparrows, thou for whom God sent His Son to die? . . . Ah, my friend, we must look out and around to see what God is like. It is when we persist in turning our eyes inward, and prying curiously over our own imperfections, that we learn to make a God after our own image, and fancy that our own darkness and hardness of heart are the patterns of His light and love.'2
Here the same note is struck as in the passage already quoted from Westward Ho! but under different circumstances. The 'muscular Christianity' of which Amyas Leigh page 395 has been regarded as the great exemplar is here modified by the gentlest influences of nature. But 'muscular Christianity,' as has been truly said by a writer under whose initials it is not difficult to recognise one of those best qualified to judge, only expressed one phase of Canon Kingsley's idea, which 'consisted in a high appreciation of the perfection to which manhood might be brought. His great aim was certainly to excel physically as well as mentally; but morally also, as well as either mentally or physically.'3
There are those (he continues) who say, and there have been of late those who have written books to show, that, provided a young man is sufficiently brave, frank, and gallant, he is more or less absolved from the common duties of morality and self-restraint.
That physical prowess is a substitute for virtue is certainly no new doctrine. It is the doctrine of every red man on the American prairies, of every African chief who ornaments his huts with human skulls. It was the doctrine of our heathen forefathers when they came hither, slaying, plundering, burning, tossing babes on their spear-points. But I am sorry that it should be the doctrine of anyone calling himself a gentleman, much more a Christian.
It is certainly not the doctrine of the Catechism, which bids us renounce the flesh, and live, by the help of God's Spirit, a new life of duty to God and to our neighbour.
It is certainly not the doctrine of the New Testament . . . neither, though the Old Testament may seem to put more value on physical powers than does the New Testament, is it the doctrine of the Old Testament, as I purpose to show you from the life and history of David.
Nothing, nothing can be a substitute for purity and virtue. Man will always try to find substitutes for it. He will try to find a substitute in superstition, in forms and ceremonies, in voluntary humility and worship of angels, in using vain repetitions and fancying that he will be heard for his much speaking: he will try to find a substitute in intellect, and the worship of intellect, and art, and poetry; or he will try to find it, as in the present case, in the worship of his own animal powers, which God meant to be his servants and not his masters. But let no man lay that flattering unction to his soul. The first and last business of every human being, whatever his station, party, creed, capacities, tastes, duties, is morality.
. . . Believe it, young men, believe it. Better would it be for any one of you to be the stupidest and the ugliest of mortals, to be the most diseased and abject of cripples, the most silly, nervous, incapable personage who ever was a laughing-stock for the boys upon the streets, if only you lived, according to your powers, the life of the Spirit of God, than to be as perfectly gifted, as exquisitely organised, in body and mind, as David himself, and not to live the life of the Spirit of God, the life of goodness, which is the only life fit for a human being wearing the human flesh and soul which Christ took upon Him on earth, and wears for ever in heaven, a man indeed in the midst of the throne of God.4
The heroes of his best romances are such as he has here described. But while setting forth his own ideal, he was ever ready to recognise what was good in systems most opposed to his own. Witness his pictures of the 'Hermits' of the Egyptian desert.
It was this which perhaps most strongly individualised him. Neither the ideal which he painted—attractive because it is really the picture of the truest and best Englishmen—nor the animated, impassioned strain in which it was upheld in novel, in poem, and in sermon, would have given Canon Kingsley the great hold which he had on all who came within his influence, and especially on the young, but for that rarest of all gifts—certainly rarest in the extent to which it was manifested in him—the sympathy which seemed to breathe from him, and which knit himself and his hearers—the great assemblage which hung on his words, or the chance companion in a country walk—for a time, at any rate, in the closest bonds. It has been often said that a very short personal acquaintance sometimes does more to sweep away the bitter feeling engendered by controversy, and especially religious controversy, than any amount of moral determination; but in the company of Charles Kingsley all points of difference seemed to sink away utterly out of sight, whilst those on which he was sure of the sympathies of all good men gathered new force and pertinence, and you left him refreshed and strengthened, as by a touch of the true 'earth-mother.' His was a wide range of interests, and it sufficed that his companion should have but the slightest hold on the especial subject which was uppermost, so long as he really cared for it, to ensure him as complete attention and respect as if he had been the most learned of professors or the profoundest theologian. It was this sympathy which led him to be tolerant of all men, and to find points of common interest where none, to ordinary sight, might seem possible. He had his own ideal, but was anything but narrow-minded in his judgment of others.
Charles Kingsley, the eldest child of his parents, was born on the 21st of June, 1819, at Holne, on the southern border of Dartmoor. His father, whose Christian name was also Charles, had just been ordained on the curacy, the vicar being non-resident. The family of Kingsley is one of old standing and good position in Cheshire, and became distinguished during the Civil War, when some of its members served under Cromwell, and afterwards in Monk's famous regiment, the germ of the 'Coldstreams.' Old family traditions had, beyond all doubt, their share in forming the character of Charles Kingsley; and to the Puritan bias of his ancestors we are perhaps indebted for the defence of that party—in some respects very uncongenial to him—which occurs in more than one of his books, and nowhere more remark, ably than in his most vivid picture of Zeal-for-the-truth Thoresby, riding after Naseby fight, wounded and wearied, 'along Thoresby dyke, in the quiet autumn eve, home to the house of his forefathers.'5 His birth in and his later connection with Devonshire influenced him far more deeply. The vicarage at Holne, in which he was born, has been almost entirely rebuilt, but the site is the same; and although poets are not always accommodated with the most suitable of birthplaces, there is in this case the happiest accordance between the career and sym- page 397 pathies of the future writer and the country on which he first opened his eyes. Holne is a small, half-moorland parish, still of the most primitive cast, lying, as is implied in the name, which signifies a deep cleft or 'hollow,' partly in and partly along the ridges of a wooded ravine, steep and narrow, through which the Dart, here in the upper part of its course, winds and dashes along its rocky channel—'occurrensque sibi venturas aspicit undas.' On one side the granite church-tower rises, and the vicarage lies nestled among birchand oak coppice, on the very edge of the steep; on the other a range of tors, soaring high above the rugged, broken river-bank, is projected against the sky with a peaked and mountainous outline. It is true that the father of Charles Kingsley did not remain at Holne for so much as a year after the birth of his son; but his birth here connects him—and he always felt the connection—with that old valley of the Dart—the most famous as the most picturesque of Devonshire rivers—in which lay the homes and the haunts of so many of those heroes and adventurers—the Raleighs, the Gilberts, the Hawkinses, and the Davises—who were to him, in their simple faith and daring, the very ideals of Englishmen; and where, about the same time with himself, was born, in the parsonage of Dartington, the latest historian of their great century. Raleigh he describes himself, 'while yet a daring boy, fishing in the grey trout-brooks, or going up with his father to the Dartmoor hills, to hunt the deer with hound and horn amid the wooded gorges of Holne .... and looking down from thence upon the far blue southern sea, wondering when he shall sail thereon, to fight the Spaniard, and discover, like Columbus, some fairy-land of gold and gems.'6
From Holne the elder Kingsley removed with his family to Clifton in Nottinghamshire, of which parish he became rector in 1820 or 1821, holding at the same time the rectory of Barnack in Northamptonshire. The parsonage at Barnack had been part of the priory, and was haunted by a spirit called 'Buttoncap,' whom Charles often heard walking up and down his room, but bore the visitation bravely, child as he was, until he found out that the ghosts were all rats, and never believed in them afterwards. Mr. Kingsley, however, could not root himself at either Clifton or Barnack. The health of his children suffered; perhaps, too, the great rick-burnings and riots, frequent in that part of England (those were the days of 'Swing') may have troubled him; at any rate in 1829 he returned to Devonshire, where he stayed for a short time at Ilfracombe, and then took lodgings at Clovelly. He had been there only a month or two, when the rector died, and he was himself appointed to the living—one of no very great value; but Mr. Kingsley had been charmed by the strange beauty of the place, and by the independent, old-fashioned character of the people.
One is accustomed to connect with the [unclear: ncion] of the sea bare cliffs, breezy downs, stnted shrubs struggling for existence; and instead of them behold a forest wall, 50 feet high, of almost semi-tropic luxurince. At one turn, a deep glen, with its se of green woods, filled up at the mouth will the bright azure sheet of ocean. Then some long stretch of the road would be baked on one side with crumbling rocks, fesooned with heath and golden hawkwed . . . . and beds of white bramble-blosom alive with butterflies; while above my head .... the delicate cool canopy of oaland birch leaves shrouded me so close, the I could have fancied myself miles inlnd, buried in some glen unknown to anywind of heaven, but that everywhere, between green sprays and grey stems, glemed that same boundless ocean blue, seeming from the height at which I was to [unclear: count] into the very sky. And then, as the road wound round some point, one's eye could fall down, down through the abys of perpendicular wood, tree beyond [unclear: treeclinging] to and clothing the cliff. . . . And then to see how the midday sun-beans leapt past one down the abyss, thrwing out here a grey stem by one pois of burnished silver, there a hazel brach by a single leaf of glowing, golden [unclear: gred], shooting long bright arrows down, down through the dim, hot, hazy atmosphere of the wood, till it rested at last upon the dappled beach of pink and grey pebbles, and the dappled surge which wandered up and down among them, and broke up into richer intricacy with its chequer-work of woodland shadows, the restless not of snowy foam.7
During the greater part of this period Charles Kingsley was educated at home, under his father's eye. In 1836 his father left Clovelly to become vicar of Chelsea, a change not for the better, so far as his sons were concerned; and the rector of Eversley often declared that his experience of life at Chelsea had given him an infinite distaste for work in such suburban parishes. The hospital with its relics and the reaches of the Thames were but indifferent substitutes for the hanging woods and the sea, or even for the open downs and the 'Loe Pool' of Helston, to the grammar school of which place, then under the mastership of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge, Charles Kingsley had been sent a short time before his family left Clovelly. His love for natural history in all its branches, and especially for botany and geology—the last by no means in those days the attractive science that it has since become—had shown itself long before; and there were naturalists at Bideford who had formed collections, to which he obtained access, and which he described as having taught him much when, but a few years since, he presided at a meeting of the Devonshire Association in that quaint old town, and addressed his audience with a 'sigh of relief' at finding 'still unabolished the Torridge, and Hubba-stone, and Tapely, and Instow, and the Bar, and the Burrows, and the beloved old Braunton marshes and sandhills.' A friend who remembers Charles Kingsley as a schoolboy of sixteen says that there was page 399 then something 'indescribably interesting' about him; that 'one could not help recognising in him a hard and ambitious student and an ardent lover of nature . . . with such a quickness of perception and such (even then) acquirements as clearly indicated the success of his future life.' The boy was 'father of the man.' Whilst gathering land shells, and digging fossils from the chalk pits about Thetford, where he occasionally visited his maternal uncle, Mr. Crookenden of Rushford, he translated a remarkable sermon of Krummacher's, 'on the beheading of John the Baptist,' which in its pictorial style and its earnestness suggests, however faintly, the character of his own discourses. This translation was made before he was sixteen; and the printed sermon went through at least seven editions, one of the last of which is at present lying before us.
The single eye, the daughter of the light; Well pleased to recognise in lowliest shade Some glimmer of its parent beam, and made By daily draughts of brightness inly bright;
The taste severe, yet graceful, trained aright
In classic depth and clearness, and repaid By thanks and honour from the wise and staid,
By pleasant skill to blame, and yet delight, And high communion with the eloquent throng
Of those who purified our speech and song—All these are yours. The same examples lure
You in each woodland, me on breezy moor, With kindred aim the same sweet path along,
To knit in loving knowledge rich and poor.
There was an ancient sage philosopher
Who had read Alexander Ross over—
The March breeze is chilly, but I can be always warm, if I like, in my winter garden. I turn my horse's head to the red wall of fir stems, and leap over the furze-grown bank into my cathedral .... where are endless vistas of smooth red, green-veined shafts holding up the warm, dark roof, lessening away into endless gloom—paved with rich brown fir-needle. . . . There is not a breath of air within, but the breeze sighs over the roof above in a soft whisper. I shut my eyes and listen. Surely that is the murmur of the summer sea upon the summer sands in Devon far away. I hear the innumerable wavelets spend themselves gently upon the shore, and die away to rise again. . . . The breeze is gone awhile, and I am in perfect silence—a silence which may be heard. Not a sound, and not a moving object; absolutely none. The absence of animal life is solemn, startling. That ringdove, who was cooing half a mile away, has hushed his moan; that flock of long-tailed titmice, which were twinging and pecking about the fir-cones a few minutes since, are gone; and now there is not even a gnat to quiver in the slant sun-rays. Did a spider run over these dead leaves, I almost fancy I could hear his footfall. ... I seem alone in a dead world. A dead world : and yet so full of life, if I had eyes to see! Above my head every fir-needle is breathing—breathing for ever, and currents unnumbered circulate in every bough, quickened by some undiscovered miracle; around mo every fir-stem is distilling strange juices, which no laboratory of man can make; and where my dull eye sees only death, the eye of God sees boundless life and motion, health and use.8
The clod of these parts delights in the chase, like any bare-legged Paddy, and casts away flail and fork wildly to run, shout, assist, and interfere in all possible ways out of pure love. The descendant of many generations of broom-squires and deer-stealers, the instinct of sport is strong within him still, though no more of the king's deer are to be shot in the winter turnip-fields, or worse, caught by an apple-baited hook hung from an orchard bough. He now limits his aspirations to hares and pheasants, and too probably, once in his life, 'hits the keeper into the river,' and reconsiders himself for a while over a crank in Winchester gaol. Well, he has his faults, and I have mine. But he is a thorough good fellow nevertheless; quite as good as I: civil, contented, industrious, and often very handsome; and a far shrewder fellow too, owing to his dash of wild forest blood—gipsy, highwayman, and what not—than his bullet-headed and flaxen-polled cousin, the pure South Saxon of the chalk downs. Dark-haired he is, ruddy, and tall of bone; swaggering in his youth; but when he grows old, a thorough gentleman, reserved, stately, and courteous as a prince. Sixteen years have I lived with him, hail fellow well met, and never yet had a rude word or action from him.9
The commons, and the green roads, some of them of great antiquity, that pass through the fir-woods, are the favourite haunts of a great gipsy tribe, and it is rarely that the smoke from one of their encampments is not to be seen curling upwards against the forest back-ground. The rector's power of attracting to himself men of all ranks and classes was strongly shown in the devotion borne to him by this 'race of the wandering foot.' Mr. Borrow had hardly more influence with them. They sought him in all their troubles. They came to his church to be married, and they would be buried in no other churchyard. Some of them mingled with the crowd at his funeral, and mingled too their tears with those of his parishioners. He will long be remembered among them; and if a second Borrow should arise, two or three centuries hence, to collect their traditions, he will doubtless find among them sundry records of the tall, springy-stepped 'Giorgio,' in the grey knickerbockers, whose wise counsels were so gladly welcomed by their forefathers. This dark grey dress was his ordinary wear at Eversley. 'I am glad,' he said, after he became Canon of Chester, 'that they have not made me a dean; then I suppose I must have put myself into less comfortable leggings.'
His intense love for this country, and his delight in his own people, came of course by degrees; and it is not, perhaps, very surprising to find him confessing that in the first heat of youth 'this little patch of moor, in which I have struck roots as firm as the wild fir trees do, looked at moments rather like a prison than a palace; that my foolish young heart would sigh, "Oh that I had wings," to swoop away over land and sea in a rampant and self-glorifying fashion, on which I now look back as altogether unwholesome and undesirable.' The period in which he first settled at Eversley was one of great excitement and disturbance, religious and political. 'Young England' was displaying its white waistcoats, and was attempting, in somewhat dilettante fashion, though with honest and true intention, to check the 'feud of rich and poor' that seemed to be the great question of the day. The Lives of the Saints were issuing from the Oxford press, and the religious discussions that had been stirring page 402 the University were fast approaching a crisis. Such questions came home to him under the shadow of his fir trees, and in his quiet lanes. It was impossible but that he should long to take his part in the struggle, and it was under the influences of all that was passing and had passed at Littlemore and at Oxford that he wrote his Saint's Tragedy, the first, and by no means the least important, of his works. It was published, with a preface by Professor Maurice, in 1848; and in it he strikes that sharp note of opposition to the ascetic and monastic tendencies of the High Church party (if by that name it should be called), as well as to all 'direction' and sacerdotal rule, which never ceased to echo through all that he wrote and all that he taught. His Elizabeth of Hungary is a true saint. Had it been otherwise, there could have been no 'tragedy.' She and all her compeers will be so recognised, he says, 'in proportion as they are felt to be real men and women.' He has followed throughout the contemporary biography by Dietrich of Appold; so has Montalembert in his Saint Elizabeth, and a comparison of the drama and the history will show what different pictures may be drawn from the same materials. Something of Goethe studies and of the music of Faust may be traced in the Saint's Tragedy, to which perhaps full justice has never been done.
The dramatic power and life-like painting which were to find full scope in the novels are already conspicuous in the Tragedy. The hesitation and the mingled feeling of Conrad, the stern director of the saint, in whom the author found 'a noble nature, warped and blinded by its unnatural exclusions from those family ties through which we first discern or describe God and our relations to Him,' are finely indicated.
In the Saint's Tragedy Charles Kingsley addressed himself to the religious question of the time. He had already shown himself active and zealous in the cause of what he believed to be the oppressed classes of society by associating himself with Mr. Maurice, Mr. Hughes, and some others, who for the better carrying out of their views, had established a magazine called Politics for the People, and a weekly newspaper under the name of the Leader. They also set up the 'College' in Red Lion Square, with the especial object of promoting the education of adults. Alton Locke was written at this time; and remains a striking picture of the mental condition of a 'poet and tailor'—a sensitive and meditative youth of the working class, such an one as was likely to become the leader of a Chartist movement. Yeast, which was first published in the pages of this Magazine, but which, owing to the sudden failure of the author's health, was never completed, belongs to this same period of 'Sturm und Drang;' and, insisting as it does on the iniquities of game-preserving squires and on the comparative helplessness and innocence of poachers, draws much of its inspiration from what he saw passing under his own eyes at Eversley. There is, as he would afterwards have been one of the first to allow, something of a one-sided feeling in both these books; and probably in all his labours at this time on behalf of the working men, and in all his passionate pleading for them, he was too eager and too impassioned to see the full bearing of the great questions he was stirring. Yet both Alton Locke and Yeast unquestionably did good, crude as the latter seems now to be, and un-finished as it remains. Some of the greatest evils pointed out in Alton Locke have been abolished, and the indignant tone of both books was in great measure justified. The true teaching of both was the page 403 same as their author maintained to the end.
Over-work and over-excitement produced at last their natural result, and the rector of Eversley was compelled to give up for a time all writing and all labour in his parish. He returned to the scenes which his early life bad most endeared to him; and whilst passing some time at Bideford he revisited all that wild coast as far westward as Morwenstow, filling his mind with scenery and associations which were soon to bear fruit in the most widely known of his novels. The first of these which appeared, however (for Alton Locke and Yeast were but 'lesser lights'), was not Westward Ho! it was Hypatia (published in 1853); and this also was given to the world in the pages of this Magazine. Hypatia was followed, at due intervals, by Westward Ho! (1855) and Two Years Ago (1857); and the three works thus produced are those by which Charles Kingsley will be best remembered. They have carried his name and his reputation into every land where English is spoken, and to every country where sound literature and high purpose are honoured and recognised. It is hardly necessary to say much about books so well known. The merits, and perhaps the defects, of all three are much the same. In all there is a powerful reality, and a pictorial power almost unequalled. His Goths in Hypatia—whether such warriors ever existed or not—are as alive for us as his Eversley 'clods' or his Clovelly fishermen. Devonshire men know well that in Amyas Leigh and his companions he has but called into vivid reality the floating traditions which had come down from the 'golden age' of the west country; and in his bands all the struggle of that mighty time becomes once more present to us, and is a concern of our own. In Two Years Ago, which for some reasons may perhaps be considered the best of the three stories, we are landed in our own days; but Tom Thurnall is hardly more of a living, breathing man than Sir Richard Grenvile or Cyril of Alexandria. He himself looked upon Grace Harvey, the Cornish schoolmistress whose simple, undoubting faith and self-denial converts at last the self-reliant and unbelieving Tom Thurnall, as the highest and best of all his creations; and studied as she may have been from the life, she is surrounded by an atmosphere of the same true saintliness and womanly purity as he had thrown round his Elizabeth of Hungary. He never preaches, but he never forgets the lessons most needed for the time; and the healthiest spirit of duty, of courage, and—last, not least—of submission runs through all his novels. The last chapters of Westward Ho!—which we should like to quote at length—fully justify all that has been said. He never wrote anything finer. The beauty and the truth of the description have never been exceeded, and he is here, it must be remembered, on his own ground, putting at last into words what had been haunting his imagination from his schoolboy days.
It is hardly too much to say that in Westward Ho! Charles Kingsley has done in a measure for North Devon what Sir Walter Scott has done for the Scottish Lowlands. His pictures and his characters have be-come inseparably connected with all that country; and the pilgrim who now wanders along the lovely coast, and looks towards Lundy, will surely remember Amyas Leigh.
Hereward, the last of his novels, which did not appear until some time after its author had been appointed, in 1860, to the chair of Modern History at Cambridge, is hardly one of the pleasantest. It is a rude, savage picture, and we turn with satisfaction from the con- page 404 stant fighting and 'swashing blows' to the descriptions of the fen land, studied with the close, observant eye of a naturalist. His Cambridge appointment, welcome as it was in one sense, was not altogether congenial to him; and, indeed, he felt, as others did on seeing his name as that of the new Professor, that such historical teaching as the position demanded was not really his calling, and that, with whatever vividness he might succeed in restoring the faded colours of the past, the true historian, like the poet, must be led toward his task by an overpowering, natural impulse, and have trained himself for it from his earliest days. His was far more truly the temperament of the poet; and had he given himself entirely to the 'mystery' of verse-making, he might not impossibly have attained a rank among the 'makers' oven more considerable than that which he has made his own as a writer of romance and of prose poetry. As a lyric poet he claims recognition in virtue of 'The Sands of Dee,' 'Airly Beacon,' 'The Three Fishers,' and other picturesque and touching pieces.
He held the professorship, how-ever, until 1869, and then resigned it, with no small feeling of relief, for a stall in the cathedral of Chester, which again was exchanged but a year or two later for one in Westminster Abbey. All his advancement was due to the admiration and respect with which those in the very highest places of the land had been early led to regard him, and which he retained to the last. And wherever he was placed—at Cambridge, at Chester, or at Westminster—his personal teaching, and his zeal in all good works, made themselves felt in a way that will not soon be forgotten. It is difficult to overestimate the effect of his companionship, and of his teaching from the pulpit, on the young men of Cambridge. Whatever may be thought of his fitness for the historical chair, there can be no doubt that his connection with the University at that period was of no small service to the 'generation' or two of undergraduates over whom his influence extended.
Throughout all this time, in the intervals between the appearance of the novels, a long succession of lesser writings, the varied subjects of which show over how wide a range his sympathies extended, was given to the world; some of them, including those delightful essays afterwards collected in his Miscellanies, which have already been quoted, and which are pages from his own life—the 'Winter Garden,' the 'Chalk, stream Studies,' and the 'North Devon Idylls'—in this Magazine. Alexandria and her Schools was the result of the reading he had gone through for Hypatia. Glaucus shows him in another light; and here he gives us his lofty ideal of the 'perfect naturalist'—'strong in body, able to haul a dredge, climb a rock, turn a boulder, walk all day, uncertain where he shall eat or rest;' a rider, a good shot, a skilful fisherman; 'and for his moral character, he must be gentle and courteous .... brave, enterprising, and patient, of a reverent turn of mind;' and possessed of such a combination of noble qualities as can fall to the lot of but few.
If I am asked why the poor profess God's Gospel and practise the Devil's works, and why, in this very parish now, there are women who, while they are drunkards, swearers, and adulteresses, will run anywhere to hear a sermon, and like nothing better, saving sin, than high-flown religious books—if I am asked, I say, why the old English honesty, which used to be our glory and our strength, has decayed so much of late years, and a hideous and shameful hypocrisy has taken the place of it, I can only answer by pointing to the good old Church Catechism, and what it says about our duty to God and to our neighbour, and declaring boldly, It is because you have forgotten that; because you have despised that; because you have fancied that it was beneath you to keep God's plain human commandments. You have been wanting to 'save your souls,' while you did not care whether your souls were saved alive, or whether they were dead and rotten and damned within you; you have dreamed that you could be what you called 'spiritual' while you were the slaves of sin; you have dreamed that you could become what you call 'saints' while you were not yet even decent men and women.
In strange contrast with the ragged out line, and with the wild devastation of the rainy season, is the richness of the verdure which clothes the islands, up to their highest peaks, in what seems a coat of green fur; but, when looked at through the glasses, page 406 proves to be, in most cases, gigantic timber. Not a rock is seen. If there be a cliff hero and there, it is as green as an English lawn. Steep slopes are grey with groo-groo palms, or yellow with unknown flowering trees. High against the sky-line tiny knots and lumps are found to be gigantic trees. Each glen has buried its streamlet a hundred feet in vegetation, above which, here and there, the grey stem and dark crown of some palmiste towers up like the mast of some great admiral. The eye and the fancy strain vainly into the green abysses, and wander up and down over the wealth of depths and heights, compared with which European parks and woodlands are but paltry scrub and shaugh. No books are needed to tell that. The eye discovers it for itself, even before it has learnt to judge of the great size of the vegetation, from the endless variety of form and colour. For the islands, though intensely green, are not of one, but of every conceivable green, or rather of hues ranging from pale yellow through all greens into cobalt blue; and as the wind stirs the leaves, and sweeps the lights and shadows over hill and glen, all is ever-changing, iridescent, like a peacock's neck; till the whole island, from peak to shore, seems some glorious jewel—an emerald, with tints of sapphire and topaz, hanging between blue sea and white surf below and blue sky and white cloud above.10
This was the last of his important works. Other books followed—Town Geology, Madam How and Lady Why, lectures and addresses on all kinds of subjects, geological, social, and sanitary—all interesting and all marked by the same bright, earnest spirit which had inspired his earliest writing, just as fearless and just as plain-spoken. Again he visited America; but this time to make acquaintance with scenery of a very different character from that which he had described in At Last. His only son had just married and settled in that country, following the example of certain of his Puritan ancestors, who, after the Restoration, found their way to New England, where their descendants are still flourishing. On this occasion Canon Kingsley crossed the Rocky Mountains, and from exposure to storm and rough weather laid, it is thought, the foundation for the pulmonary illness which attacked him on his return to England, and which, after some weeks of suffering, ended as we know, on the 23rd of January.
For many reasons a resting-place might have been claimed for his body under the great arches of Westminster Abbey; but it is far more fitting that it should lie, as it does, in his own quiet churchyard, where cloud-shadow and sunshine rest on his grave, and where each breeze from the hill-side brings with it the murmur of his own fir-woods.
Richard John King.
1 Westward Ho! ch. iii.
2 Hypatia, ch. xi.
3 A. H., in Macmillan's Magazine for February 1875.
4 University Sermons, I.
5 The passage occurs in an article on Plays and Puritans, contributed to the North British Review (Miscellanies, vol. ii.)
6 Sir Walter Raleigh and his Time (Miscellanies, vol. i.)
7 North Devon (Miscellanies, vol. ii.)
8 My Winter Garden (Miscellanies, vol. i.) was first published in Fraser's Magazine for January 1858.
9 My Winter Garden.
10 At Last, vol. i. ch. 2.