Charles Kingsley

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Charles Kingsley

Born June 12, 1819
Holne, Devon
Died January 23, 1875
Eversley, Hampshire
Spouse Frances Grenfell

Rev. Charles Kingsley (1819–75), English writer, Anglican clergyman and social reformer, is best known for his writings for children. He took a leading role in phasing out the more brutal forms of child labor, notoriously the use of small boys as chimney-sweeps, which he portrayed in The Water-Babies, (1862) a story that can be read as a simple adventure, or as a Christian allegory.

Early Life and Beliefs

He was born in Devon, the son of a curate the Rev. Charles Kingsley, Sr., and his wife Mary. He went to school in London and matriculated in 1838 at Magdelene College Cambridge University. He met Frances (Fanny) Grenfell, with whom he fell almost immediately in love on 6 July 1839. In February 1842, Kingsley left Cambridge to read for Holy Orders; in July of that year he became curate of Eversley Church in Hampshire. In January 1844, he and Fanny were married; in May he became rector of Eversley Church, and during the summer began corresponding with Frederick Denison Maurice, who became his mentor.

By the 1840s he had become vitally interested in the struggle for social reform. He became a Christian Socialist, however decrying many of the more extreme policies and actions of those such as the Chartists whose movement sparked riots in 1848.

In 1848, along with Maurice, J. M. Ludlow and others he founded the Christian Socialist movement. Kingsley wrote many articles to support this movement and two novels, Alton Locke in 1850, about the plight of an urban worker and Yeast in 1851, about the ills of the rural poor. It has been said that Kingsley was "more Christian than Socialist".

He explained that "Christian socialism," meant cooperative enterprise and morality in social action. He published Politics for the People and The Christian Socialist. Kingsley became the ardent and often controversial spokesman for the movement, and called on the upper classes to take part in the needed reforms. His series in The Christian Socialist on 'Bible Politics' aimed to show that democracy is an idea from the Bible and is in the cause of God.

Kingsley liked to visit Yorkshire and was a friend of Bradford education reformer, W.E Forster. [1]

Literary career

Kingsley became a best-selling author with his novel Westward Ho! in 1856 and his publishers offered him the then-huge advance of £2,000 to write another.

The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby, was originally a story he told to his four-year-old son, Grenville Arthur. It first appeared in serial form in Macmillan's Magazine before being published as a book in 1963. It is a story of a boy named Tom who is employed as a chimney-sweep, runs away and plunges into an aquatic world. The book is by no means a straightforward one. It has been described as fantasy or science fiction, and also as a comment on the evolutionary theories of his friend Charles Darwin whose On the Origin of Species he had read and approved of on its publication in 1859. The year after The Water Babies was published, the UK Parliament began the process that led to the 1864 Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act, which outlawed using children for this form of work.[2]

Kingsley's writing is prolific and varied; ranging from his famous books for children (The Water Babies, The Heroes, Hereward the Wake and Westward Ho!), dramatic novels and/or historical novels (e.g. Hypatia) poems and ballads, English history, natural history and volumes of sermons many of which are described in The Oxford Companion to English Literature as “remarkable for their style, their interesting subjects and the broad spirit of humanity they display". Kingsley shared many of the interest of his friend Darwin, and wrote Glaucus in 1855, a book on the natural history of rock pools.

Kingsley's novel Westward Ho! was not as one might think named after the town on the West coast of England, but the town was named after the book. It is the only place name in England which contains an exclamation mark. The building of the town led to the construction of the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway. A hotel in Westward Ho! was named for him and it was opened by him.

The Water-Babies was adapted into a film in 1978 and has also been adapted for the theater.[3]

Later career

Kingsley was made chaplain to Queen Victoria in 1859 and later a canon of Westminster Abbey. During the 1860s he was professor of Modern History at Cambridge. In the 1860s, Kingsley's opposition to Roman Catholicism got him into a public controversy with John Henry Newman. In 1874 he published Health and Education and made an exhausting six-month tour of the United States. On January 23, 1875, he died.

Kingsley's place as a classic author is assured and adds to his lustre as a social reformer. Most, if not all, his major works are still in print today. [4][5]


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