Charles Kingsley

The English author and clergyman Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) became the ideal of "Muscular Christianity" through his books and active, many-faceted life.

The son of a country parson, Charles Kingsley was born on June 12, 1819. After attending several schools he entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1838. He was more sportsman than scholar. Shortly after graduation in 1842, he was ordained an Anglican priest. In 1842 he became rector of Eversley, the parish he served until his death in 1875. In 1844 he married.

Kingsley was a tall, thin, excitable man with a stammer. His enthusiasms pulled him in many directions, just as they drew famous people, including royalty, to him. In 1848, with Frederick Denison Maurice and J. M. Ludlow, he founded Christian Socialism. To support the movement he wrote many articles over the signature "Parson Lot" and two novels, Alton Locke (1850), about the plight of the urban worker, and Yeast (1851), about the ills of the rural poor. However, Kingsley's opinions were far more Christian than socialist. Certainly he never wanted to upset the established social order.

Turning to history, Kingsley wrote two historical novels, Hypatia (1853) and Westward Ho! (1855). He grew interested in biology and wrote Glaucus (1855), a nonfictional description of the wonders of the shore. These books as well as his Christian Socialism fit the term "Muscular Christianity," but Kingsley was a poet too. In Andromeda (1858) he wrote the "very best English hexameters ever produced," according to George Saintsbury. However, perhaps his best-loved book was The Water-Babies (1863), a children's story in which he combined his interests in natural science and religion.

In 1859 Kingsley was appointed chaplain to Queen Victoria, and in 1860 he became regius professor of modern history at Cambridge. A man of so varied activities was hardly a scholar, but Kingsley's lectures, more about men than politics or economics, were popular. In 1861 he tutored the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in history.

From the first Kingsley had been anti-Roman Catholic. In 1864 he entered into a controversy with John Henry Newman, about whether Newman taught that truth was no virtue among Roman Catholic priests. The controversy led to an exchange of pamphlets, a public apology by Kingsley for misrepresenting Newman, and Newman's great autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua.

In 1869 Kingsley resigned his professorship of history and was appointed canon of Chester; in 1873 he became canon of Westminster. He died on Jan. 23, 1875.

Further Reading on Charles Kingsley

Mrs. Kingsley, Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of His Life (1877), is a one-sided biography. Another study is Una Pope-Hennessy, Canon Charles Kingsley (1948). A good introduction to his life and work is Robert Bernard Martin, The Dust of Combat (1960).

Additional Biography Sources

Chitty, Susan, Lady, The beast and the monk: a life of Charles Kingsley, New York: Mason/Charter, 1975, 1974.

Colloms, Brenda, Charles Kingsley: the lion of Eversley, London: Constable; New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975.