Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568
Charles Kingsley was the son of an Anglican clergyman. Two of his siblings, George Henry and Henry, became well-known authors in Victorian England, but Charles attained the greatest fame. After an unimpressive record at school he entered King’s College in London when he was seventeen. Matriculation at King’s College was...
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Charles Kingsley was the son of an Anglican clergyman. Two of his siblings, George Henry and Henry, became well-known authors in Victorian England, but Charles attained the greatest fame. After an unimpressive record at school he entered King’s College in London when he was seventeen. Matriculation at King’s College was probably for the convenience of the family, for Charles’s father had become rector of a church in London. After two years, however, Charles Kingsley left to finish his education at Cambridge University. While there he met and fell in love with Fanny Grenfell, but her family was opposed to the match because Kingsley had already made for himself a reputation as a rather wild and radical young man who followed Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, and Frederick Denison Maurice in his thinking.
After graduating from Cambridge, Kingsley was ordained as an Anglican clergyman and sent as a curate to Eversley, Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forest. In 1844 he succeeded to the living at Eversley as rector and married Fanny Grenfell. In addition to his work as a clergyman he began to write, and in 1842 he started a biography of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, which eventually became the poetic drama The Saint’s Tragedy. During the early years of his marriage Kingsley augmented his slender income by teaching and lecturing. In 1848, however, the year when Kingsley’s first book was published, the young clergyman began to take an active interest in Christian Socialism, and he wrote a number of papers and pamphlets in support of the movement. His first two novels, Yeast and Alton Locke, reflect his interest and enthusiasm for reform. Part of the first novel appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in 1848, but it was discontinued because it was mistakenly perceived to be advocating revolution. Kingsley’s idea of reform was actually based on the hope of awakening of the higher classes to their responsibilities for the masses. The period between 1848 and 1851 was in many ways a difficult one for Kingsley. In 1848, within months of entering on an appointment as professor of English literature at Queen’s College, London, his poor health forced him to resign.
By 1851 Kingsley’s health had improved, and he had also solved many of his problems and misunderstandings about reform. Hypatia, his next novel, presented a vivid picture of Alexandria in the fourth century; the work reflected his continuing interest in the connections between Christianity and Platonism, which is also documented in the lectures on Alexandrian philosophy that he gave at Edinburgh University in 1854. When his wife became ill in 1853 and had to leave Eversley, Kingsley, who accompanied her on the enforced vacation, wrote his novel of romantic adventure Westward Ho! To entertain his younger children he wrote The Water-Babies, which became a popular children’s book. Kingsley’s controversy with John Henry Newman in 1864 led to the latter’s famous Apologia pro vita sua.
As the years passed, the opposition to Kingsley in conservative circles disappeared. In 1859 he was appointed to the honorary post of one of the chaplains in ordinary to Queen Victoria. In 1860 he was appointed professor of modern history at Cambridge. During the early 1870’s Kingsley was honored with several church appointments, but ill health kept him from arduous duties. He and his wife toured Canada and the United States in 1874 on the occasion of a visit to their son in the United States.