This essay appears in the author's Modern Leaders. Numbers in brackets indicate page breaks in the print edition and thus allow users of VW to cite or locate the original page numbers. Scanning, basic HTML conversion, and proofreading were carried out by George P. Landow, who added links to materials in VW, added the subtitles, and changed titles of books from McCarthy's quotation marks to text with emphasis.
WONDER how many of the rising generation in America or in England have read Alton Locke? Many years have passed since I read or even saw it. I do not care to read it any more, for I fear that it would not now sustain the effect of the impression it once produced on me, and I do not desire to destroy or even to weaken that impression. I know the book is not a great work of art. I know that three-fourths of its value consists in its blind and earnest feeling; that the story is heavily constructed, that many of the details are extravagant exaggerations, and that the author after all was not in the least a democrat or a believer in human equality. I have not forgotten that even then, when he braved respectable public opinion by taking a tailor for his hero, he took good care that the tailor should have genteel relations. Still I retain the impression which the book once produced, and I do not care to have it disturbed. Therefore I do not read or criticise Alton Locke any more; I remember it only as it struck me long ago — as a generous protest against the brutal indifference, literary and political, which left the London artisan so long to toil and suffer and sicken, to run into debt, to drink and fight and pine and die, in the darkness. Is it necessary — perhaps it is — to explain to some of my readers the story of Alton Locke? It is the story of a young London tailor-boy who has instincts and aspirations far above his class; who yearns to be a poet and a patriot; who loves and struggles in vain; who is supposed to sum up in his own weakly body all the best emotions, the vainest pin ings, the wildest wishes, the most righteous protests of his fellows; who pins with the Chartist movement for lack of a better way to the great end, and sees its failure, and himself utterly broken down goes out to America to seek a new life there, and only beholds the shore of the promised land to die. Here at least was a grand idea. Here was the motive of a prose epic that ought to have been more thrilling to modern ears than the song of Tasso. The effect of the work at the time was strengthened by the fact that the author was a clergyman of the Church of England, who was believed to be a man of aristocratic family and connections. The book was undoubtedly a great success in its day. The strong idea which was in the heart of it carried it along. The Rev. Charles Kingsley became suddenly famous.
[Alton Locke and Kingsley's Chartist Democratic Phase]
Alton Locke was published more than twenty years ago. Then Charles Kingsley was to most boys in Great Britain who read books at all a sort of living embodiment of chivalry, liberty, and a revolt against the established order of baseness and class-oppression in so many spheres of our society. The author of Alton Locke about the same time delivered a sermon in the country church where he officiated, so full of warm and passionate protest against the wrongs done to the poor by existing systems, that his spiritual chief, the rector or dean or some other dignitary, arose in the church itself — morally and physically arose, as Mrs. Gamp did — and denounced the preacher. Need it be said that the report of so unusual and extraordinary a scene as this excited our youthful enthusiasm into a perfect flame for the minister of the State Church who had braved the public censure of his superior in the cause of human right? For a long time Charles Kingsley was our chosen hero — I am speaking now of young men with the youthful spirit of revolt in them, with dreams of republics [211/212] and ideas about the equality of man. If I were to be asked to describe Charles Kingsley now, having regard to the tendency of his writings and his public attitude, how should I speak of him? First, as about the most perverse and wrong-headed supporter of every political abuse, the most dogmatic champion of every wrong cause in domestic and foreign politics, that even a State Church has for many years produced. I hardly remember, in my practical observation of politics, a great public question but Charles Kingsley was at the wrong side of it. The vulgar glorification of mere strength and power, such a disgraceful characteristic of modern public opinion, never had a louder-tongued votary than he. The apostle of liberty and equality, us he seemed to me in my early days, has of late only shown himself to my mind as the champion of slave-systems of oppression and the iron reign of mere force. Is this a paradox? Has the man undergone a wonderful change of opinions? It is not a paradox, and I think Charles Kingsley has not changed his views. Perhaps a short sketch of the man and his work may reconcile these seeming antagonisms and make the reality coherent and clear.
[Kingsley's appearance and character]
I was present at a meeting not long since where Mr. Kingsley was one of the principal speakers. The meeting was held in London, the audience was a peculiarly Cockney audience, and Charles Kingsley is personally little known to the public of the metropolis. Therefore when he began to speak there was quite a little thrill of wonder and something like incredulity through the listening benches. Could that, people near me asked, really be Charles Kingsley, the novelist, the poet, the scholar, the aristocrat, the gentleman, the pulpit-orator, the "soldier-priest," the apostle of muscular Christianity? Yes, that was indeed he. Rather tall, very angular, surprisingly awkward, with thin, staggering legs, a hatchet face adorned with scraggy gray whiskers, a faculty for falling into the most ungainly attitudes, and making the most hideous contortions of visage and frame; with a rough provincial accent and an uncouth way of speaking, which would be set down for absurd caricature on the boards of a comic theatre; such was the appearance which the author of Glaucus and Hypatia presented to his startled audience. Since Brougham's time nothing so ungainly, odd, and ludicrous had been displayed upon an English platform. Needless to say, Charles Kingsley has not the eloquence of Brougham. But he has a robust and energetic plain-speaking which soon struck home to the heart of the meeting. He conquered his audience. Those who at first could hardly keep from laughing; those who, not knowing the speaker, wondered whether he was not mad or in liquor; those who heartily disliked his general principles and his public attitude, were alike won over, long before he had finished, by his bluff and blunt earnestness and his transparent sincerity. The subject was one which concerned the social suffering of the poor. Mr. Kingsley approached it broadly and boldly, talking with a grand disregard for logic and political economy, sometimes startling the more squeamish of his audience by the Biblical frankness of his descriptions and his language, but, I think, convincing every one that he was sound at heart, and explaining unconsciously to many how it happened that one endowed with sympathies so humane and liberal should so often have distinguished himself as the champion of the stupidest systems and the harshest oppressions. Anybody could see that the strong impelling force of the speaker's character was an emotional one; that sympathy and not reason, feeling rather than logic, instinct rather than observation, would govern his utterances. There are men in whom, no matter how robust and masculine their personal character, a disproportionate amount of the feminine element seems to have [212/213] somehow found a place. These men will usually see things not as they really are, but as they are reflected through some personal prejudice or emotion. They will generally spring to conclusions, obey sudden impulses and instincts, ignore evidence and be very "thorough" and sweeping in all their judgments. When they are right they are — like the young lady in the song — very, very good; but like her, too, when they happen to be wrong they are "horrid." Of these men the author of Alton Locke is a remarkable illustration. It seems odd to describe the expounder of the creed of Muscular Christianity as one endowed with too much of the feminine element. But for all his vigor of speech and his rough voice, Mr. Charles Kingsley is as surely feminine in his way of reasoning, his likes and dislikes, his impulses and his prejudices, as Harriet Martineau is masculine in her intellect and George Sand in her emotions.
Mr. Charles Kingsley is a man of ancient English family, very proud of his descent, and full of the conviction so ostentatiously paraded by many Englishmen, that good blood carries with it a warrant for bravery, justice, and truth. The Kingsleys are a Cheshire family; I believe they date from before the Conquest — it does not much matter. I shall not apply to them John Bright's epigram about families which came over with William the Conqueror and never did anything else; for the Kingsleys seem to have been always an active race. They took an energetic part in the civil war during Charles the First's time, and stood by the Parliament. I am told that the family have still in their possession a commission to raise a troop of horse, given to a Kingsley and signed by Oliver Cromwell. One of the family emigrated to the New World with the Pilgrim Fathers, and I believe the Kingsley line still flourishes there like a bay-tree. Irrepressible energy, so far as I know, seems to have always been a characteristic of the household. Charles Kingsley was born near Dartmouth, in Devonshire; every one who has read his books must know how he revels in descriptions of the lovely scenery of Devon. He was for a while a pupil of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge, son of the poet, and he finally studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Mr. Kingsley was originally intended for the legal profession, but he changed his mind and went into the church. He was first curate and soon after rector of the Hampshire parish of Eversley, the name of which has since been so constantly kept in association with his own. I may mention that Mr. Kingsley married one of a trio of sisters — the Misses Grenfell — a second of whom was afterwards married to Mr. Froude, and is since dead, while the third became the wife of one of the foremost English journalists. Passing away from these merely personal facts, barely worth a brief note, we shall find that Kingsley's real existence, if I may use such a phrase, began and developed under the guidance of a remarkable man and under the inspiration of a strange movement. The man to whose leadership and teaching Mr. Kingsley owed so much was the Rev. Frederick Denison Maurice, who died in the first week of last April.
[The Influence of Frederick Denison Maurice]
It would not be easy to explain to an American reader the meaning and the extent of the influence which this eminent man exercised over a large field of English society. The life of Mr. Maurice contains nothing worthy of note as to facts and dates; but its spirit infused new soul and sense into a whole generation. He was not a great speaker or a great thinker; he was not a bold reformer; he had not a very subtle intellect; I doubt whether his writings will be much read in coming time. He was simply a great character, a grand influence. He sent a new life into the languid and decaying frame of the State Church of England. He quickened it with a fresh sense of duty. His hope and purpose were to bring that church into affectionate and living [213/214] brotherhood with modern thought, work, and society. An early friend and companion of John Sterling (the two friends married two sisters), Maurice had all the sweetness and purity of Carlyle's hero, with a far greater intellectual strength. Mr. Maurice set himself to make the English Church a practical influence in modern thought and society. He did not believe in a religion sitting apart on the cold Olympian heights of dogmatic theology, and looking down with dignified disdain upon the common life and the vulgar toils of humanity. He held that a church, if it is good for anything, ought to be able to meet fair and square the challenge of the skeptic and the infidel, and that it ought to concern itself about all that concerns men and women. One of the fruits of his long and valuable labor is the Workingmen's College in Red Lion Square, London, an institution of which he became the principal and to which he devoted much of his time and attention. Only a few weeks before his death he presided at one of the public meetings of this his favorite institution. He was the parent of the scheme of "Christian socialism," which sprang into existence more than twenty years ago and is bearing fruit still — a scheme to set on foot cooperative associations among working men on sound and progressive principles; to help the working men by advances of capital, in order that they might thus be enabled to help themselves. One of Mr. Maurice's earliest and most ardent pupils was Charles Kingsley; another was Thomas Hughes. In helping Mr. Maurice to carry out these schemes Kingsley was brought into frequent intercourse with some of the London Chartists, and especially with the working tailors, who have nearly all a strong radical tendency. Kingsley's impulsive sympathies took fire, and flamed out with the novel Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet.
That extraordinary Chartist movement, so long in preparation and so suddenly extinguished, how completely a thing of the past it seems to have become! Only twenty-four years have passed since its collapse. Men under forty can recall, as if it were yesterday, all its incidents and its principal figures. People in the United States know that my friend Henry Vincent is still only in his prime; he was one of its earnest and foremost leaders. But it seems as old and dead as a peasant-war of the Middle Ages. It was a strange jumble of politics and social complaints. It was partly the blind, passionate protest of working men who knew that they had no right to starve and suffer in a prosperous country, but who hardly knew where the real grievance lay. It was partly the protest of untaught and eager intelligence against the brutal apathy of government which would do nothing for national education. Its political demands were very modest. Some of them have since been quietly carried into law; some of them have been quietly dismissed into the realm of anachronisms. Chartism was indeed rather a wild cry, a passionate yearning of lonely men for combination, than any definite political enterprise. One looks back now with a positive wonder upon the savage stupidity of the ruling classes which so nearly converted it into a rebellion. Of course it was in some instances seized hold of by selfish and scheming politicians, who played with it for their own purposes. Of course it had its evil counsellors, its false friends, its cowards, and its traitors. But on the whole there was a noble spirit of manly honesty pervading the movement, which to my mind fills it with a romantic interest and ought to secure for it an honorable memory. It found leaders in many cases outside its own classes. There was, for example, "Tom Duncombe," a sort of Alcibiades of English Radicalism; a brilliant talker in Parliament, a gay man of fashion, steeped deep in reckless debt and sparkling dissipation; hand and glove with the fast young noblemen of the West End gambling [214/215] houses, and the ardent Chartist working men of Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. There was Feargus O'Connor — huge, bolstering, fearless — a burlesque Mirabeau with red hair; a splendid mob-speaker, who could fight his way by sheer strength of muscle and list through a hostile crowd; vain of his half-mythical descent from Irish kings, even when he delighted in being hail fellow well met with tailors and hod-carriers; revelling in the fiercest struggles of politics and the wildest freaks of prolonged debauchery. O'Connor tried to crowd half a dozen lives into one, and the natural result was that he prematurely broke down. For a long time before his death he was a mere lunatic. A strange fact was that as his manners were always eccentric and boisterous, he had become an actual madman for months before those around him were fully aware of the change. In the House of Commons the freaks of the poor lunatic were for a long time supposed to be only more marked eccentricities, or, as some thought, insolent affectations of eccentricity. He would rise while Lord Palmerston was addressing the House, walk up to the great minister, and give him a tremendous slap on the back. One night he actually assaulted a member of the House, and the Speaker ordered his arrest. Feargus sauntered coolly out into the lobbies. The sergeant-at-arms was bidden to go forth and arrest the offender. Lord Charles Russell (brother of Earl Russell), then and now sergeant-at-arms, is a thin, little, feeble man. I have been told by some who witnessed it that the scene in the lobbies became highly amusing. Lord Charles went with reluctant steps about his awful task. At this time everybody was beginning to suspect that O'Connor was really a madman. Anyhow, he was a giant, and at his sanest moments perfectly reckless. Now it is not a pleasant task for a weak and little man to be sent to arrest even a sane giant; but only think of laying hands on a giant who appears to be out of his senses! The dignity of his office, however, had to be upheld, and Lord Charles trotted quietly after his huge quarry. He cast imploring looks at member after member, but it was none of their business to interfere, and they had no inclination ro volunteer. Some of them indeed were deeply engrossed in speculations as to what would happen if Feargus were suddenly to turn round. Would the sergeant-at-arms put his dignity in his pocket and actually run? Or, if he stood his ground, what would be the result? Happily, however, just as Feargus and his unwilling pursuer readied Westminster Hall, the eager eye of Lord Charles Russell descried a little knot of policemen; he hailed them; they came up, and the sergeant-at-arms did his duty and the capture was effected. I can well remember seeing O'Connor, somewhere about this time, sauntering through Covent Garden market, with rolling, restless gait; his hair, that once was fiery red, all snowy white; his eye gleaming with the peculiar, quick, shallow, ever-changing glitter of madness. The poor fellow rambled from fruit-stall to fruit-stall, talking all the while to himself, sometimes taking up a fruit as if he meant to buy it, and then putting it down with a vacant laugh and walking on. It was a pitiable spectacle. His light of reason soon flickered out altogether, and death came to his relief.
I must not omit to mention, when speaking of the Chartist leaders, the brave, disinterested, and highly-gifted Ernest Jones, who sacrificed such bright worldly prospects for the cause of the People's Charter. Long after the Charter and its agitation were dead, Jones emerged into public life again, still comparatively a young man, and he seemed about to enter on a career both brilliant and valuable. An immature and unexpected death interposed.
However, I have wandered away from the subject of my paper. Charles Kingsley came to know the principal working men among the Chartists, and [215/216] his impulsive nature was greatly influenced by their words and their lives. Most of their leaders drawn from other classes, O'Connor especially, he distrusted and disliked. But the rank and file of the movement, the working men, the sufferers, the "proletaires"s they would be called nowadays, attracted his kindly heart. Chartism had fallen. It collapsed suddenly in 1848; died amid Homeric laughter of the public. It fell mainly because it had come to occupy a false position altogether. Partly by ignorance, partly by the selfish folly of some of its leaders, and partly by the severity of the government measures, the movement had been driven into a dilemma which it never originally contemplated. It must either go into open rebellion or surrender. It was jammed up like MacMahon at Sedan. Chartism had no real wish to rebel, although of course the flame of the recent revolution in Paris had glared over it and made it wild; and it had no means of carrying on a revolt for a single day. So it could only surrender; and the surrender took place under conditions which make it seem utterly ridiculous. Kingsley was seized with the idea of crystallizing all this into a romance. He had as a further stimulant and guide the work which Henry Mayhew was then publishing, London Labor and the London Poor, a serial which by its painful and startling revelations was working a profound impression on England. Mayhew's narratives were often inaccurate, for he could not conduct the whole enterprise himself, and had sometimes to call in the aid of careless and untrustworthy associates, who occasionally found it easier to throw off a bit of sentimental or sensational romance than to pursue a patient inquiry. But the general effect of the publication was healthful and practical, and it became the parent of nearly all the efforts that followed to lay bare and ameliorate the condition of the London poor. There can be no doubt that it had a great influence on the impressionable mind of Charles Kingsley. He wrote Alton Locke, and the book became a great success. The Tailor and Poet was the hero of the hour. Blackwood at once christened Alton Locke "Young Remnants;" but Young Remnants survived the joke. The novel is full of nonsense and extravagance; and with all its sympathy for tailors, it has a great deal of Kingsley's characteristic affection for rank and birth. But it had a really great idea at its heart, and struck out one or two new characters — especially that of the old Scotch bookseller — and it made its mark. The peculiarity, however, to which I wish now especially to direct attention is its utter absence of practical thinking-power. Nowhere can you find any proof that the author is able to think about anything. An idea strikes him; he seizes it, and, to use Hawthorne's expression, "wields it like a flail." Then he throws it down and takes up something else, to employ it in the same wild and incoherent fashion. This is Kingsley all out, and always. He is not content with developing his one only gift of any literary value — the capacity to paint big, striking pictures with a strong glare or glow on them. He firmly believes himself a profound philosopher and social reformer, and he will insist on obtruding before the world on all occasions his absolute incapacity for any manner of reasoning on any subject whatsoever. Wild with intellectual egotism, and blind to all teaching from without, Kingsley rushes at great and difficult subjects head downwards like a bull. Thus he tackled Chartism, and society, and competition, and political economy, and what not, in his Alton Locke; and thus he has gone on ever since and will to the end of his chapter, always singling out for the display of his powers the very subjects whereof he knows least, and is by the whole constitution of his intellect and temperament least qualified to judge. [216/217]
[Westward Ho!, Muscular Christianity, and Kingsley's growing racist imperialism
I am writing now rather about Kingsley himself than about his books, with which the readers of The Galaxy [where this essay first appeared. GPL] are of course well acquainted. I therefore pass over the many books he produced between Alton Locke and Westward Ho! —and I dwell upon the latter only because it illustrates the great idea which got hold of the author after the little fever about Chartism had passed away. I suppose Westward Ho! may be regarded as the first appearance of the school of Muscular Christianity [emphasis added]. Mr. Kingsley started for our benefit the huge British hero who could do anything in the way of fighting and walking, and propagated the doctrines of the English Church. To read the Bible and to kill the Spaniards was the whole duty of the ideal Briton of Elizabeth's time, according to this authority. The notion was a success. In a moment our literature became flooded with pious athletes who knocked their enemies down with texts from the Scriptures and left-handers from the shoulder. All these heroes were of necessity "gentlemen." One of the principal articles of the new gospel according to Kingsley was that truth, valor, muscle, and theological fervor were only possessed in their fulness by the scions of good old English county families. Other nations seldom had such qualities at all; never had them to perfection; and even favored Britain only saw them properly illustrated in country gentlemen of long descent. Of course this sort of thing, which was for the moment a sincere idea with Kingsley, became a mere affectation among his followers and admirers. The fighting-person pattern of hero was for a while as great a bore as the rough and ugly hero after Jane Eyre's "Rochester," or the colossal and corrupt guardsman whom [George A. Lawrence's] Guy Livingstone sent abroad on the world. Certainly Kingsley's hero was a better style of man than Guy Livingstone's, for at the worst he was only an egotistical savage, and not a profligate. But I think he did a good deal of harm in his day. He helped to encourage and inflate that feeling of national self-conceit which makes people such nuisances to their neighbors, and hr fostered l!i;it odious reverence for mere force and power which Carlyle had already made fashionable. Kingsley himself appears to have become "possessed" by his own idea as if by some unmanageable spirit. It banished all his chartism and democracy and liberalism, and the rest of it. Under its influence Kingsley out-Carlyled Carlyle in the worship of strong despotisms and force of any kind. He went out of his way to excuse slavery in the Southern States. He became the fervent panegyrist of Governor Eyre of Jamaica. When. two sides were possible to any question of human politics, he was sure to take the wrong one. Nothing for long years, I think, has been more repulsive, and in its way more mischievous, than the cant about "strength" which Kingsley did so much to diffuse and to glorify.
Meanwhile his irrepressible energy was always driving him into new fields of work. It never allowed him time to think. The moment any sort of idea struck him, lie rushed at it and crushed it into the shape of a book or an essay. He wrote historical novels, philosophical novels, and theological novels. He wrote poetry — yards of poetry — volumes of poetry. There really is a great deal of the spirit of poetry in him, and he has done better things with the hexameter verse than better poets have done. There was for a long time a fervid school of followers who swore by him, and would have it that he was to be the great English poet of the century. He published essays, tracts, lectures, and sermons without number. He seems to have made up his mind to publish in book form somehow everything that he had spoken or written anywhere. He inundated the leading newspapers with letters on this, that, and the other subject. He was appointed professor of modern history at the University of Cam- [217/218] Cambridge on the death of Sir James Stephen, and he launched at once into a series of lectures, which were almost immediately published in book form. Why he published them it was hard for even vanity itself to explain, because with characteristic bluntness he began his course with the acknowledgment that he really knew nothing in particular about the subjects whereon he had undertaken to instruct the University and the world. He made up in courage, however, for anything he may have lacked in knowledge. He went bravely in for an onslaught on the positive theory of history — on Comte, Mill, Buckle, Darwin, and everybody else. He made it perfectly clear very soon that he did not know even what these authors profess to teach. He flatly denied that there is any such thing as an inexorable law in nature. He proved that even the supposed law of gravitition is not by any means the rigid and universal sort of thing that Newton and such-like persons have supposed. How, it may be asked, did he prove this? In the following words: "If I choose to catch a stone, I can hold it in my hands; it has not fallen to the ground, and will not till I let it. So much for the inevitable action of the laws of gravity." This way of dealing with the question may seem to many readers nothing better than downright buffoonery. But Kingsley was as grave as a church and as earnest as an owl. He fully believed that he was refuting the pedants who believe in the inevitable action of the law of gravitation, when he talked of holding a stone in his hand. That an impulsive, illogical man should on the spur of the moment talk this kind of nonsense, even from a professor's chair, is not perhaps wonderful; but it does seem a little surprising that he should see it in print, revise it, and publish it, without ever becoming aware of its absurdity.
[Kingsley's ill-fated attack on Newman]
In the same headlong spirit Mr. Kingsley rushed into his famous controversy with Dr. John Henry Newman. I have already, when writing of Dr. Newman, alluded to this controversy, which for a time excited the greatest interest and indeed the greatest amusement: in England. I only refer to it now as an illustration of the surprising hotheadedness and lack of thinking power which characterize the author of Alton Locke. Dr. Newman preached a sermon on "Wisdom and Innocence." Mr. Kingsley went out of his way to discourse and comment on this sermon, and publicly declared that its doctrine was an exhortation to disregard truth. "Dr. Newman informs us that truth need not and on the whole ought not to be a virtue for its own sake." Of course this was as grave a charge as could possibly be made against a great religious teacher. It was doubly odious and offensive to Dr. Newman because it was the revival of an old and familiar charge against the church he had lately entered. It was made by Kingsley in an off-hand, careless sort of way, is if it were something acknowledged and indisputable — as if some one were to say, "Ho race Greeley informs us that a protective tariff is often useful," or "Henry Ward Beecher is in favor of early rising." Newman wrote with a bold civility to ask in what passage of his writings any such doctrine was to be found. Of course nothing of the kind was to be found. If it were possible to conceive of any divine in our days holding such a doctrine, we may be perfectly certain that he would never put it into print. Newman was known to all the world as the purest and most austere devotee of what he believed to be the truth. He had sacrificed the most brilliant career in the Church of England for his convictions, and, strange to say, had yet retained the admiration and the affection of those whose religious fellowship he had renounced. Kingsley had but one course in fairness and common sense open to him. He ought to have frankly apologized. He ought to have owned that be had spoken without thinking; that he had blurted out the words without observing the gravity of [218/219] the charge they contained; and that he was sorry for it. But he did not do this. He published a letter, in which he said that Dr. Newman having denied that his doctrine bore the meaning Mr. Kingsley had put upon it, he (Kingsley) could only express his regret at having mistaken him. This was nearly us bad as the first charge. It distinctly conveyed the idea that but for Dr. Newman's subsequent explanation and denial, certain words of his might fairly have been understood to bear the odious meaning ascribed to them. Dr. Newman returned to the charge, still with a chill urbanity which I cannot help thinking Kingsley mistook for weakness or fear. He pointed out that he had never denied anything, that there was nothing for him to deny, that Mr. Kingsley had charged him with teaching a certain odious doctrine, and he therefore asked Mr. Kingsley to point to the passage containing the doctrine, or frankly own that there was no such passage in existence. Kingsley thereupon took the worst, the most unfair, and as it proved the most foolish course a man could possibly have pursued. He went to work to fasten on Newman by a constructive argument, drawn from the general tendency of his teaching, a belief in the doctrine of which he was unable to find any specific statement. Then opened out that controversy, which was quite an event in its time, and sot everybody talking. Newman's was an intellect which must be described as the peer of Stuart Mill's or Herbert Spencer's. He was a perfect master of polemical science. He could write, when he thought fit, with a vitriolic keenness of sarcasm. When he had allowed Kingsley to entangle himself sufficiently, Newman fairly opened fire, and the rest of the debate was like a duel between some blundering, wrong-headed cudgel-player from a village green, and some accomplished professor of the science of the rapier from Paris or Vienna. Not the least amusing thing about the controversy was the manner in which it put Kingsley into open antagonism with his own teaching. He endeavored gratuitously and absurdly to convict Dr. Newman of a disregard for the truth, because Newman believed in the miracles of the saints. For, he argued, a man of Newman's intellect could not believe in such things if he inquired into them. But he did not inquire into them; he taught that they were not to be questioned but accepted as orthodox. Thereby he showed that tie preferred orthodoxy to truth — "truth, the capital virtue, the virtue of virtues, without which all others are rotten." Now, that sounds very well, and we all agree in what Kingsley says of the truth. But Kingsley had not long before been assailing Bishop Colenso for his infidelity. Kingsley declared himself shocked at the publication of a work like Dr. Colenso's, which claimed and exercised a license of inquiry that seemed to him "anything but reverent." He distinctly laid it down that the liberty of religious criticism must be "reverent," and "within the limits of orthodoxy!" Now, I am not challenging Mr. Kingsley's doctrine as to the limit of religious inquiry. That forms no part of my purpose. But it is perfectly obvious that if to limit inquiry within the bounds of orthodoxy shows a disregard for truth in John Henry Newman, the same practice must be evidence of a similar disregard in Charles Kingsley. Of course Kingsley never thought of this — never thought about the matter at all. He disliked Colenso's teaching on the one hand and Newman's on the other. He said the first thing that came into his mind against each in turn, and never heeded the fact that the reproach he employed in the former case was utterly inconsistent with that which he uttered in the other. I do not believe, however, that the controversy did Kingsley any harm. Nobody ever expected consistency or rational argument from him. People were amused, and laughed, and perhaps wondered why Dr. Newman should have taken any [219/220] trouble in the matter at all. But Kingsley remained in popular estimation just the same as before — blundering, hot-headed, boisterous, but full of brilliant imagination, and thoroughly sound at heart.
Thus Charles Kingsley is always at work. Lately he has been describing some of the scenery of the West Indies, and proclaiming the virtues of Australian potted meats. He has thrown his whole soul into the Australian meat question. The papers have run over with letters from him intended to prove to the world how good and cheap it is to eat the mutton and beef brought in tin cans from Australia. I believe Mr. Kingsley acknowledges that all his energy and eloquence have been unequal to the task of persuading his servants to eat the excellent food which he is himself willing to have at his table. He has also been lecturing on temperance, and delivering a philippic against Darwin. He has also written a paper condemning and deprecating the modern critical spirit. There is one rule, he insists, "by which we should judge all human opinions, endeavors, characters." That is, "Are they trying to lessen the sum of human misery, of human ignorance? Are they trying, however clumsily, to cure physical suffering, weakness, deformity, disease, and to make human bodies what God would have them ? . . . If so, let us judge them no further. Let them pass out of the pale of our criticism. Let their creed seem to us defective, their opinions fantastic, their means irrational. God must judge of that, not we. They are trying to do good; then they are children of the light." This is not, perhaps, the spirit in which Kingsley himself criticised Newman or Colenso. But if we judge him according to the principle which he recommends, he would assuredly take high rank; for I never heard any one question his sincerity and his honest purpose to do good. Of course he is often terribly provoking. His feminine and almost hysterical impulsiveness, and his antiquated, feudal devotion to rank, are difficult to bear always without strong language. His utter absence of sympathy with political emancipation is a lamentable weakness. His self-conceit and egotism often make him a ludicrous object. Still, he has an honest heart, and he tries to do the work of a man; and he is one of those who would, if they could, make the English State Church still a living, an active, and an all-pervading influence. As a preacher and a pastor he often reminds me of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Of course she is far below Mr. Beecher in all oratorical gifts as well as in political enlightenment; but he has the same prefervid and illogical nature, the same vigorous, self-sufficient temperament, the same tendency to "slop over," the same generous energy in any cause that seems to him good.
It will be inferred that I do not rate Mr. Kingsley very highly as an author, He can describe glowing scenery admirably, and he can vigorously ring the changes on his one or two ideas — the muscular Englishman, the glory of the Elizabethan discoverers, and so on. He is a scholar, and he has written verses which sometimes one is on the point of mistaking for poetry, so much of the poet's feelings have they about them. He can do a great many things very cleverly. He belongs to a clever family. His brother, Henry Kingsley, is a spirited and dashing novelist, whom the critics sneer at a good deal, but whose books always command a large circulation, and have made a distinctive mark. Perhaps if Charles Kingsley had done less he might have done better. Human capacity is limited. It is not given to mortal to be a great preacher, a great philosopher, a great scholar, a great poet, a great historian, a great novelist, an indefatigable country parson, and a successful man in fashionable society. Mr. Kingsley seems never to have quite made up his mind for which of these callings to go in especially, and being with all his versatility not at all [220/221] many-aided, but strictly one-sided, and almost one-ideaed, the result of course has been that, touching success at many points, he has absolutely mastered it at none. His place in letters has been settled this long time. Since Westward Ho! at the latest, he has never added half a cubit to his stature. The "Chartist Parson" has, on the other hand, been growing more and more aristocratic, illiberal, and even servile in politics. His discourse on the recovery of the Prince of Wales was the very hyperbole of the most old-fashioned loyalty — a discourse worthy of Filmer, and utterly out of place in the present century. Muscular Christianity has shrunk and withered long since. The professorship of modern history was a failure, and has been given up. Darwin is flourishing, and I am not certain about the success of Australian beef. All this acknowledged, however, it must still be owned that, failing in this, that, and the other attempt, and never probably achieving any real and enduring success, Charles Kingsley has been an influence and a name of mark in the Victorian age. I cannot, indeed, well imagine that age without him, although his presence is sometimes only associated with it as that of Malvolio with the court of the fair lady in Twelfth Night. Men of far greater intellect have made their presence less strongly felt, and imprinted their image much less clearly on the minds of their contemporaries. He is an example of how much may be done by energetic temper, fearless faith in self, an absence of all sense of the ridiculous, a passionate sympathy, and a wealth of half-poetic descriptive power. If ever we have a woman's parliament in England, Charles Kingsley ought to be its chaplain; for I know of no clever man whose mind and temper more aptly illustrate the illogical impulsiveness, the rapid emotional changes, the generous, often wrong-headed vehemence, the copious now of fervid words, the vivid freshness of description without analysis, and the various other peculiarities which, justly or unjustly, the world has generally agreed to regard as the special characteristics of woman.
McCarthy, Justin. Modern Leaders: Beings a Series of Biographical Sketches. N. Y.: Sheldon & Company. 1872.
Last modified 3 July 2007