John Keble 1792-1866
English poet, priest, critic, essayist, and biographer.
Keble was a principal advocate of the Tractarian, or Oxford, Movement in England of the 1830s—the leaders of which argued that the Anglican Church was one of three valid branches of the Catholic Church, the other two being the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. As a poet, Keble is regarded for The Christian Year (1827), a collection of Victorian devotional verse which proposes that God is revealed analogically through nature. The work is counted among the most popular poetic collections in English of the nineteenth century. A noted clergyman, Keble produced a number of sermons on politico-religious themes, and also wrote critical essays and literary theory, a biography, and several more collections of religious poetry, including Lyra Innocentium (1846). While a decline in esteem for Keble's verse has occurred since his death, he is generally regarded as an influential figure of nineteenth-century Anglicanism and an important devotional poet.
Keble was born near Fairford in Gloustershire, England. His father John Keble, Sr. was the vicar of Coln St. Aldwyn's, and had graduated from Corpus Christi, Oxford, a school both John and his younger brother Thomas attended. Following his distinguished years at Oxford, which brought him in contact with many of the leading intellectual figures of the England of his day, Keble was ordained a deacon in 1815, and a priest the following year. He embarked on the career of a clergyman by serving as a curate in Gloustershire, and later, following his mother's death in 1823, in Southrop. By this time Keble had begun to write the poems of The Christian Year. In 1825, Keble moved to Hampshire after accepting a position at Hursley. His first departure from Hursley was swift; in response to the death of his youngest sister he returned to Fairford, eventually taking his father's place as vicar of Coln St. Aldwyn. A year after his father had died in 1835, Keble renewed his vicarship at Hursley, where he would reside for the remainder of his life. In addition to his priestly vocation, Keble continued writing poetry and prose until his death on 29 March 1866 in Bournemouth.
The Christian Year, which features numerous structural parallels to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, contains a verse for every Sunday and holy day of the year, and offers a Wordsworthian view of nature as a revelation of God. In National Apostasy Considered in a Sermon (1833), Keble reviled the British government for its encroachment on the decision-making power of the Church of England, specifically in regard to the distribution of bishoprics in Ireland. Primitive Tradition Recognized in Holy Scripture (1836) illustrates the essential conservatism of Keble's religious thought. Though somewhat labored and verbose, Keble's eight-volume biography of a seventeenth-century Anglican bishop, The Life and Work of the Right Reverend Father in God, Thomas Wilson, nevertheless exhibits Keble's devoutness and dedication to detail in ecclesiastical matters. Among the eight pieces Keble contributed to Tracts for the Times, a collection of essays elucidating the views associated with the Oxford Movement, “On the Mysticism Attributed to the Early Church Fathers” (1841) reveals the Tractarian notion of Analogy—the belief that God is revealed in the Bible and in nature analogically. Keble's critical work is exemplified in his 1844 De Poeticae vi Medica: Praelectiones Academicae (Lectures on Poetry). In this work, Keble lays out his aesthetic theory, which hinges on a religious interpretation of poetry as a spiritual catharsis necessary to calm the soul.
While Keble's works of prose and priestly sermons brought him early notoriety, his first nationwide recognition came with the publication of his poetry, notably the verses of The Christian Year, which became enormously popular. Later esteem came with Keble's involvement in the Oxford Movement, anticipated by the poems of this collection and by his sermons. As Keble's contemporary and fellow Tractarian John Henry Newman claimed, the Tractarian Movement was inaugurated with the delivery of Keble's 1833 Assize Sermon, a piece later published as National Apostasy Considered in a Sermon. Modern critics have since frequently compared his sermons to those of Newman, whose ideas and expression are thought to compliment Keble's own. Overall, commentators generally perceive Keble's lasting contribution in terms of his prose writings on Tractarian aesthetics and influence as a seminal member of the Oxford Movement. He is additionally regarded for the devotional verse of The Christian Year—a work principally viewed as an enduring statement of Victorian piety.
On Translation from Dead Languages: A Prize Essay (essay) 1812
The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year. 2 vols. (poetry) 1827
National Apostasy Considered in a Sermon (speech) 1833
*Tracts for the Times by Members of the University of Oxford. 6 vols. (essays) 1833-1841
Ode for the Encaenia at Oxford [published anonymously] (poetry) 1834
Lyra Apostolica [by Keble and others; published anonymously] (poetry) 1836
Primitive Tradition Recognized in Holy Scripture: A Sermon (speech) 1836
The Psalter, or Psalms of David in English Verse; by a Member of the University of Oxford [published anonymously] (poetry) 1839
The Case of Catholic Subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles Considered (essay) 1841
De Poeticae vi Medica: Praelectiones Academicae [Lectures on Poetry 1832-1841] (poetry) 1844
Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts in Verse on Christian Children, Their Ways, and Their Privileges [published anonymously] (poetry) 1846
Sermons, Academical and Occasional (speeches) 1847
On Eucharistical Adoration (speech) 1857
The Life of the Right Reverend Father in God, Thomas Wilson. 8 vols....
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SOURCE: A Memoir of the Rev. John Keble, M. A., Late Vicar of Hursley, James Parker and Co., 1869, 620 p.
[In the following excerpt, Coleridge recounts the early publication history of Keble's The Christian Year.]
Keble returned to a home sadly changed by the death of his sister. I do not think that in the course of his life he sustained any loss which he felt more acutely; beyond the privation to himself in the death of a sister so loved, a companion at once so bright and lively, so sensible and good, he could not but be affected by the blow to his father, and even more his invalide and suffering sister, now left alone. Dyson, who visited at Fairford more often than I did, and knew Mary Anne more familiarly, wrote to me at the time, and I transcribe a part of his letter, as in a few words he does her so much more justice than I have been able to do in many:—
Oh, Coleridge, what a sad blow to her family, the loss of Mary Anne Keble; poor I must not call her after the common usage, since she has so infinitely the advantage of all left behind. John Keble sent me word of her loss soon after it happened, and gave, as far as could be given so early after the blow, a comfortable account of his father and sister; and to be sure, if the truest piety, and most practical submission can give any comfort under such a loss, they will have it, and I dare to say, will perhaps at...
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SOURCE: “Keble,” in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy, Hurd and Houghton, 1872, pp. 204–68.
[In the following essay, Shairp provides a summary of Keble's participation in the Oxford Movement and a critical analysis of The Christian Year.]
The closing chapter of Lockhart's “Life of Scott” begins with these words: “We read in Solomon, ‘The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy;’ and a wise poet of our own time thus beautifully expands the saying—
“‘Why should we faint and fear to live alone, Since all alone, so Heaven has willed, we die, Nor even the tenderest heart, and next our own, Knows half the reasons why we smile or sigh?’”
On glancing to the footnote to see who the wise poet of our own time might be, the reader saw, for the first time might be, the reader saw, for the first time perhaps, the name of Keble and “The Christian Year.” To many, in Scotland at least, this was the earliest announcement of the existence of the poet, and the work which has immortalized him. If some friend soon afterwards happened to bring from England a copy of “The Christian Year,” and make a present of it, the young reader could not but be struck by a lyric here and there, which opened a new vein, and struck a note of meditative feeling, not exactly like anything he had heard before. But the...
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SOURCE: “Praelectiones Academicae. 1844,” in English Poetic Theory 1825-1865, Princeton University Press, 1950, pp. 46-65.
[In the following essay, Warren studies Keble's poetic theory as explicated in his Praelectiones Academicae.Warren observes that for Keble the basic function of poetry is as a psychological and spiritual catharsis.]
As Professor of Poetry at Oxford over a period of ten years from 1831 to 1841, John Keble, priest, poet, and Tractarian, delivered a remarkable series of Latin lectures on the nature of poetry and the poetic practice of the major Greek and Roman poets. Collected and printed in 1844 under the general heading, Praelectiones Academicae Oxonii Habitae, Annis mdcccxxxii … mdcccxli, with the subtitle, De Poeticae Vi Medica, the lectures were praised at the time by Newman and others of Keble's Oxford friends; George Saintsbury in 1904 noticed them briefly but appreciatively—had literary criticism been more than a pastime with Keble, “he would, I think, twenty years before Arnold, have given us the results of a more thorough scholarship, a reading certainly not less wide, a taste nearly as delicate and catholic, a broader theory, and a much greater freedom from mere crochet and caprice”;1 and in 1912 the lectures were made available in English in a translation by Edward Kershaw Francis.2
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SOURCE: “Keble and Wordsworth,” in John Keble: Priest, Professor and Poet, Croom Helm, 1976, pp. 73-89.
[In the following essay, Martin probes William Wordsworth's impact on Keble's poetry.]
Keble had been introduced to Wordsworth's poetry, when he was a young undergraduate at Corpus Cristi College, Oxford. Keble was there in 1806; and in 1809, John Taylor Coleridge, later a prominent High Court judge arrived there. He was the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's brother James, and he took to Corpus with him copies of The Lyrical Ballads and Wordsworth's Poems in Two Volumes. Apart from John Coleridge, it does not seem probable that any of the Corpus undergraduates had known Wordsworth's poetry before going up to the University. Later, John Coleridge, who was to become the first biographer of John Keble, wrote that the influence of Wordsworth's poetry undoubtedly played upon Arnold, one of the Corpus group, bringing out in him his great, lofty and imaginative ideas. No doubt it was Wordsworth's inspiration that drove him, when the headmaster of Rugby School, to take reading parties of senior boys to the Lake District, in order to seek spiritual refreshment away from the industrial towns during the vacations.
Keble became a great admirer of Wordsworth as his poetry clearly shows. It is interesting that Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Sketches were published in 1822. He...
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SOURCE: “The Sacramental Imagination,” in Nature and the Victorian Imagination, edited by U. C. Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson, University of California Press, 1977, pp. 370-90.
[In the following essay, Tennyson discusses the influence of Keble's The Christian Year and Lectures on Poetry in Victorian England.]
Every season Nature converts me from some unloving heresy, and will make a Catholic of me at last.
Coleridge Anima Poetae
Even before the Victorian period was properly under way, poets of a religious cast of mind had abandoned an unqualified belief in the kind of pantheism of Nature that characterized Wordsworth's youthful Nature poetry. Not the least of such poets was Wordsworth himself, who introduced his Ecclesiastical Sonnets (1822) by describing himself as one who had formerly sung of “mountain-quiet and boon nature's grace,” and now who was about to “seek upon the heights of Time the source / Of A holy river, on whose banks are found / Sweet pastoral flowers.”1
The sweet pastoral flowers of the Ecclesiastical sonnets are perhaps not their most outstanding feature, but there are certainly frequent Nature images and Nature references in these poems that trace the course of Christianity in Britain from the beginnings to “present times,” along with a...
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SOURCE: “Tractarian Aesthetics: Analogy and Reserve in Keble and Newman,” in The Victorian Newsletter, No. 55, Spring, 1979, pp. 8-10.
[In the following essay, Tennyson summarizes Tractarian aesthetics and its emphasis on “the religious character of poetry” as exemplified in Keble's verse.]
Among the many aspects of the Oxford or Tractarian Movement that have captured the attention of subsequent students of the subject the matter of aesthetics has until recently been one of the least thoroughly explored. To be sure, theology, politics, social events, ecclesiastical developments, and even personal experience all played their part in the emergence and course of what the participants thought of as a campaign to redeem the Church of England. Recently, however, there has emerged an awareness that an approach through aesthetics casts a good deal of light on the deepest nature of Tractarianism, not in opposition to any of the previously cited aspects but rather complementary to them, especially to the most important of all—Tractarian theology. I propose today to summarize the findings on Tractarian aesthetics,1 and then to do what has still hitherto been very little done—to apply a few of the important aspects of Tractarian aesthetics to some of the literary works written in the spirit of that aesthetic position to see what kind of practical critical insights flow from the recently won...
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SOURCE: “Keble and The Christian Year,” in Victorian Devotional Poetry: The Tractarian Mode, Harvard University Press, 1981, pp. 72-113.
[In the following essay, Tennyson evaluates the structure and poetic style of The Christian Year, a work he regards as a “practical application of Tractarian poetics.”]
Now through her round of holy thought The Church our annual steps has brought
—The Christian Year, “Sunday Next before Advent”
Keble's modern biographer, Georgina Battiscombe, uttering a general sentiment, has observed that The Christian Year has become for twentieth-century readers the obstacle rather than the avenue to an understanding of Keble.1 One could add that The Christian Year has become for twentieth-century readers the obstacle to an understanding of The Christian Year. Few volumes of poetry so influential in their own day can have fallen into such obscurity and even disrepute in aftertimes as the volume that helped launch the Oxford Movement and profoundly colored a large body of poetry for more than two generations. Today it exists only in the spectral half-life of footnotes, along with Marmontel's Mémoires and Senancour's Obermann, except that too frequently the footnotes identifying The Christian Year are in error.2 Recent scholarship has gone some way toward...
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SOURCE: “John Keble and the Victorian Churching of Romanticism,” in An Infinite Complexity: Essays in Romanticism, edited by J. R. Watson, Edinburgh University Press, 1983, pp. 226-239.
[In the following essay, Gilley considers Keble's place as the leading poet of the Victorian High Church revival.]
Among the more attractive figures from the English past are the clergy scholars and poets who have served and loved the Church of England. Richard Hooker, chased by his wife from his books to mind the sheep; George Herbert and Robert Herrick; John Ray, with scientific eye discerning the glory of God in all creation; Gilbert White of Selborne, whose parish was universe enough. On a still humbler level, but evocative of the tradition, are the annals of Cole and Kilvert and Woodforde who have left remarkable diaries. A secure place in this gallery of English worthies is held by John Keble, Victorian Vicar of the parish of Hursley near Winchester. His ministry was peaceful, dedicated and devout, the qualities which reappear in his poetry; and to his contemporaries, he was a worthy successor to Hooker and Herbert as well as the very model of the rural parish priest, the pastor and shepherd of his people. For pious Anglicans, his name still evokes that romantic ecclesiastical Arcadia and heaven on earth recalled by another Victorian High Churchman in a letter from Rome: ‘the hill-side, and the Spring...
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SOURCE: “Keble and Newman: Tractarian Aesthetics and the Romantic Tradition,” in Victorian Studies, Vol. 30, No. 4, Summer, 1987, pp. 475-94.
[In the following essay, Goodwin interprets Keble's aesthetic theory in relation to the Romantic Tradition, arguing that Keble's poetry is ignored by that tradition. Goodwin goes on to enumerate areas of divergence in the aesthetics of Keble and of his Tractarian contemporary John Henry Newman.]
John Henry Newman was the theologian of the Tractarian Movement, but John Keble was its poet. Any inquiry into the thinking of the Tractarians on poetry and literature may end with Newman, but it should begin with Keble. Keble's greatest contribution to the Oxford movement and to English literature was The Christian Year. This book of devotional verse, first published in 1827, went through ninety-five editions during Keble's lifetime, and “at the end of the year following his death, the number had arisen to a hundred-and-nine.”1 The volume appealed not only to those sympathetic with the Anglo-Catholic movement, but also to a broader spectrum of Victorian readers who agreed with Newman's remark that “if poems can be found to enliven in dejection, and to comfort in anxiety, to cool the over-sanguine, and to refresh the weary, to awe the worldly, and to instill resignation into the impatient, and calmness into the fearful and agitated, they are...
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SOURCE: “The Christian Year,” in John Keble, Saint of Anglicanism, Mercer University Press, 1987, pp. 57-76.
[In the following essay, Griffin provides a thematic analysis of The Christian Year, explaining the purpose behind Keble's collection of religious poetry.]
The Christian Year was first published anonymously in 1827. A complete edition was published the following year when Keble added a series of poems in honor of certain state “feast days.” Most of his friends knew that Keble was the author of the book. Newman remarked briefly, “Keble's hymns are just out … they seem quite excellent.”1 As I have earlier remarked, sales of the volume came to be one of the great success stories of the nineteenth century. The Christian Year was certainly important to the reader of poetry in the Victorian age.2 Yet no one wrote about Keble's poetry during his lifetime. It was only with the edition of 1866 (the year of his death) and later that reviewers began to discuss the significance of Keble's volume.
At the time of writing and publishing his first volume, Keble was not yet what might be called an Anglo-Catholic, and it is therefore questionable whether the work can be regarded as a “Tractarian” text. Throughout the poetry we find references to “principles” of religion that the Oxford Movement later opposed. Yet there is a...
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Battiscombe, Georgina. John Keble: A Study in Limitations. London: Constable and Co., 1963, 395 p.
Critical biography of Keble that explores his influence on the Oxford Movement and Anglicanism.
Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. “Keble's Christian Year Surveyed.” In Two Poets of the Oxford Movement: John Keble and John Henry Newman, pp. 35-167. Cranbury, N. J.: Associated University Presses, 1996.
Extensive stylistic analysis of The Christian Year, in which Edgecombe minimizes Keble's poetic debt to William Wordsworth.
Griffin, John. “John Keble and The Quarterly Review.” In Review of English Studies XXIX, No. 116 (November 1978): 452-56.
Discusses a neglected review essay of Keble's “as a masterpiece of early Wordsworthian criticism” and considers Keble's early liberalism.
Hale, John K. “‘Hail! Gladdening Light’: A Note on John Keble's Verse Translations.” Victorian Poetry 24, No. 1 (Spring 1986): 92-95.
Probes Keble's changes to the Christian Hymn “Hail! Gladdening Light” in his translation from the original Greek.
Martin, B. W. “Wordsworth, Faber, and Keble: Commentary on a Triangular Relationship.” In Review of English Studies XXVI,...
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