A FEW LAST WORDS ON CHARLES KLNGSLEY.
N°"life " has yet been published of Charles Kingsley, and there is, we suppose, little chance now that one ever will be issued. We rather regret this, for though Charles Kingsley will be remembered chiefly by his works and not by his deeds, still he was the centre of a group whose memory will last many years, and the life, though not the soul, of a movement which has greatly influenced* the progress of the country. His life was at least as eventful as Sydney Smith's, he must have left behind him many unpublished letters, and his talk, 'though it lacked the racy humourousness of the monologues which the Canon of St. Paul's used to pour out, had in it much of that power of making others cheerful and energetic which is the characteristic of his books. It is vain, however, to regret, even if we are in the right in regret- ting, the absence of such a work, and we must content ourselves with the prefatory memoir which Mr. T. Hughes has prefixed to a new edition of "Alton Locke." It is devoted almost entirely to what may be called the political life of Canon Kingsley, the period from 1848 during which he became conspicuous as an advocate of the " Charter and something more," of the Christian Socialism which was- at that time such a bugbear to society, and its main interest in our eyes is the new proof it affords of the accuracy of the view we published last year of the Canon's intellectual character. There never was a man who was less of a " Red," as all men on the Continent and most Englishmen understand that epithet, who had less wish to confis- cate property, or upset the Church, or even disturb the English order of society. At the very time when he was hottest, when he was supposed to be preaching Socialism, and arguing for the levelling of all ranks, and for elevating gamekeepers and tailors into regenerators of society, and was in consequence denounced in the newspapers as a firebrand and " cut " by his own class as a rene- gade, he was, what he remained to the end of his life, essentially an English squire, given to fishing and field-sports, proud and even vain of his prowess as a hunter, full of admiration for courage, energy, beauty, and all the physical side of humanity, and firmly convinced not only that there must be government, but that there must be " gentry," if England was to be a happy land. As Mr. Hughes says,—" He was by nature and education an aristocrat in the best sense of the word, believed that a landed aristocracy was a blessing to the country, and that no country would gain the highest liberty without such a class, holding its own position firmly, but in sympathy with the people. He liked their habits and ways, and keenly enjoyed their society ;" or as. Kingsley himself says :—" A true democracy, such as you and I should wish to see, is impossible without a Church and Queen, and, as I believe, without a gentry. On the conduct of statesmen it will depend whether we are gradually and har- moniously to develop England on her ancient foundations, or whether we are to have fresh paralytic governments succeeding each other in doing nothing, while the workmen and the Man- chester School fight out the real questions of the day in ignorance and fury, till the culbute generale' comes, and gentlemen of ancient family, like your humble servant, betake themselves to Canada, to escape, not the Amalgamated Engineers, but their masters,' and the slop-working savages whom their masters' system has created, and will by that time have multiplied ten- fold." 'There is the very spirit not only of a squire in that, but of a particular kind of Tory squire—the Sir Harry Inglis or Sir Tatton Sykes kind—which likes the people well enough, and wishes them well, but has at heart a grudge against and suspicion of the capitalist whose " plant " is not the land. Mr. Kingsley had even deep in him the squire's dislike of the unusual or unconventional, the feeling that a human being with a respectable character had no business to be outré or singular in outward ways and appearance. Nothing can be more characteristic of his permanent state of feeling or more delightfully comic than this account of his aversion to beards and oddities in dress :—" In a new social movement, such as that of association as it took shape in 1849-50, there is certain to be great attraction for restless and eccentric persons, and in point of fact many such joined it. The Beard movement was then in its infancy, and any man except a dragoon who wore hair on his face was regarded as a dangerous character, with whom it was compromising to be seen in any public plaee,—a person in sym- pathy with sans-culottes, and who would dispense with trousers but for his fear of the police. Now, whenever Kingsley attended a meeting of the promoters of association in London, he was sure to find himself in the midst of bearded men, vegetarians, and other eccentric persons, and the contact was very grievous to him. ' As
if we shall not be abused enough,' he used to say, ' for what we must say and do, without being saddled with mischievous nonsense of this kind.' To less sensitive men the effect of eccentricity upon him was almost comic, as when on one occasion he was quite upset and silenced by the appearance of a bearded member of Council at an important deputation in a straw-hat and blue-plush gloves. He did not recover from the depression produced by those gloves for days."
Charles Kingsley, who seemed to his readers sometimes so wilfully defiant of other men's opinion, had even a doubt whether separate- ness, even when quite honest, was quite right, and in a remarkable letter to his friend, Mr. J. M. Ludlow, who believed in separateness and individualism to a rather inconvenient extent, pleads that a man who listens only for the voice of God within him is very apt to forget the voice of God without him, and losing his sympathy with men, to lose also his tenderness for men, until he makes his own conscience the standard for God, and his own character the standard for men—that most widely-diffused of all blunderings—and ultimately becomes an undeveloped Inquisitor.
He should not, he says, teach his children to believe the watch- word, "Never mind what people say." " On the contrary, I shall teach them that there are plenty of good people in the world ; that public opinion has pretty surely an under-current of the water of life, below all its froth and garbage ; and that in a Christian country like this, where, with all faults, a man (sooner or later) has fair-play and a fair hearing, the esteem of good men, and the blessings of the poor, will be a pretty sure sign that they have the blessing of God also ; and I shall tell them, when they grow older, that ere they feel called on to become martyrs, in defending the light within them against all the world, they must first have taken care most patiently, and with all self-distrust and humility, to make full use of the light which is around them, and has been here for ages before them, and would be here still, though they had never been born or thought of." If that is not the governing thought of the best kind of Tory squire, though expressed in literary language, we entirely fail to understand the species. Where Kingsley differed from most of them was not in reverence for the conven- tional—he had too much of it—but in a passionate humani- tarianism, a hatred of dishonour to human beings, which he gratified, not by an effort to throw down anybody—unless, indeed, he was a strict game-preserver, a character for whom Kingsley had no more respect than Cooper's Natty Bumppo would have had, being hunter to the heart of him—but to raise in the lowly the passion of self-respect. That, expressed in a hundred forms, sometimes with rushing eloquence, sometimes with Biblical fire, sometimes in " high-falutin'," windy epigrams about God, the Devil, and Man, was the secret of Charles Kingsley's method. He did not believe in the gospel of getting on. He did not believe in equality one jot. We doubt whether he believed strongly in civilisation, as understood in England, at all, whether the sympathy in his blood was not with an earlier, ruder, and less conscious life ; but what he did believe in was self-respect, the right and duty of the lowest to be, in his function, king of himself, free, self- assured, and daring. Snip was to be a man by the consent of all, his own consent coming first, and then snip on manfully.
He hated drunkenness, not as teetotallers seem to do, because it causes crime or wastefulness, but because it interferes with self-respect ; and he worshipped courage and self-will even in -some brutal manifestations of those qualities, mainly, we believe, because he thought—indeed, Sandy Mackaye, whom he calls, in a letter to Mr. Hughes, the real hero of "Alton Locke," is made to say so—that while those qualities remain, the capacity of self- respect does not die out. He was right in his method, particu- larly when he regarded it from the religious side of his mind—and he had a deeply religious side to his mind, had even his trace of superstition—but he pushed it somewhat far, till he doubted whether ambition was moral, and forgot how difficult self-respect is made by excessive differences of caste, tastes, and culture. His self-respecting ploughman is quite possible, but a self-respecting night-soil man is perhaps not so easy. Anyhow, this was his panacea, described sometimes in the oddest way; it is the secret of "Alton Locke," of his cult of the flesh—he holding that self -respect can never be perfect while man holds his body to be evil—and we think, of his abhorrence of creeds which, like Calvin- ism and Romanism, are based on self-contempt, on a conviction of the hopelessness of man without external, granted, super- natural help. He was as far from a Leveller as it is possible for man to be, and latterly became, as he avows, an optimist of a rather too contented school. In 1856, he said to his friend :- " The long and short of it is, I am becoming an optimist. All men, worth anything, old men especially, have strong fits of optimism—even Carlyle has—because they can't help hoping, and sometimes feeling, that the world is going right, and will go right, not your way, or my way, but its own way. Yes ; we've all tried our Holloway's Pills, Tom, to cure all the ills of all the world— and we've all found out, I hope, by this time that the tough old world has more in its inside than any Holloway's Pills will clear out."
We noticed incidentally last year Kingsley's deficiency of humour. There is but one humourist in all his books, old Sandy Mackaye, the bookseller in " Alton Locke," and the fun of the " Water-babies " is rather gently satirical than truly humorous. It is necessary, however, in order to justify this remark, to draw a distinction. Kingsley lacked the keen perception of the incon- gruous which Sydney Smith possessed, and which is the founda- tion of humour, as distinguished alike from wit and from satire, and there is in this memoir a letter (page lvi) which displays this peculiarity in what is to us a painful way ; but he had in him that possibility of humour which is always in any man who has the power, without strain on himself, of perfect abandon, of letting his mind act for itself, and twizzle the kaleidoscope without control from the will. When really con- tent, he used to do this in conversation, and sometimes in his letters, and there is a metrical note in this memoir which is a perfect specimen. We would extract it, but that we want to quote nearly entire the best thing in the little monograph, and as far as we can remember, the only genuinely humorous copy of verses of any length the Canon ever wrote :—
"Come away with me, Tom, Term and talk is done; My poor lads are reaping, Busy every one.
Curates mind the parish, Sweepers mind the Court, We'll away to Snowdon For our ten days' sport, Fish the August evening Till the eve is past, Whoop like boys at pounders Fairly played and grassed.
When they cease to dimple, Lunge, and swerve, and leap, Then up over Siabod Choose our nest, and sleep.
Up a thousand feet, Tom, Round the lion's head, Find soft stones to leeward And make up our bed.
Eat our bread and bacon, Smoke the pipe of peace, And ere we be drowsy, Give our boots a grease.
Homer's heroes did so, Why not such as we ?
What are sheets and servants?
Pray for wives and children Safe in slumber curled, Then to chat till midnight O'er this babbling world.
Of the workmen's college, Of the price of grain, Of the tree of knowledge, Of the chance of rain ; If Sir A. goes Homeward, If Miss B. sings true, If the fleet comes homeward,
If the mare will do,— Anything and everything,—
Up there in the sky Angels understand us,
And no saints' are by.
Down, and bathe at day-dawn, Tramp from lake to lake, Washing brain and heart clean Every step we take.
Leave to Robert Browning Beggars, fleas, and vines; Leave to mournful Raskin Popish Apennines, Dirty stones of Venice And his Gas-lamps Seven ; We've the stones of Snowdon And the lamps of heaven. Where's the mighty credit In admiring Alps ?
Any goose sees 'glory' In their snowy scalps.' Leave such signs and wonders For the dullard brain, As aesthetic brandy, Opium, and cayenne; Give me Bramshill Common (St. John's harriers by), Or the Vale of Windsor, England's golden eye. Show me life and progress, Beauty, health and man ; Houses fair, trim gardens, Tarn where'er I can.
. ..... . Tho' we earn our bread, Tom, By the dirty pen, What we can we will be, Honest Englishmen.
Do the work that's nearest, Though it's dull at whiles; Helping, when we meet them, Lame dogs over stiles; See in every hedge-row Marks of angels' feet, Epics in each pebble Underneath our feet; Once-a-year, like schoolboys, Robin-Hooding go,
Leaving fops and fogies A thousand feet below."