Charles Kingsley (June 12, 1819 – January 23, 1875) was an English novelist, particularly associated with the West Country and North East Hampshire.
Kingsley was born in Holne (Devon), the son of a vicar. His brother, Henry Kingsley, also became a novelist. He spent his childhood in Clovelly, Devon and was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, before choosing to pursue a ministry in the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire, and in 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge.
Kingsley's interest in history spilled over into his writings, which include The Heroes (1856), a children's book about Greek mythology, and several historical novels, of which the best known are Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake (1865), and Westward Ho! (1855).
Kingsley's concern for social reform is illustrated in his great classic, The Water-Babies (1863), a kind of fairytale about a boy chimney-sweep, which retained its popularity well into the 20th century. Furthermore in The Water-Babies he developed in this literary form something of a purgatory, which runs counter to his "Anti-Roman" theology.
In 1872 Kingsley accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 19th President.
Kingsley also wrote poetry and political articles, as well as several volumes of sermons. His argument, in print, with the Venerable John Henry Newman, accusing him of untruthfulness and deceit, prompted the latter to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
Kingsley was influenced by Frederick Denison Maurice, and was close to many Victorian thinkers and writers, e.g. George MacDonald.
Kingsley died in 1875 and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Eversley.
As a novelist his chief power lay in his descriptive faculties. The descriptions of South American scenery in Westward Ho!, of the Egyptian desert in Hypatia, of the North Devon scenery in Two Years Ago, are brilliant; and the American scenery is even more vividly and more truthfully described when he had seen it only by the eye of his imagination than in his work At Last, which was written after he had visited the tropics. His sympathy with children taught him how to secure their interests. His version of the old Greek stories entitled The Heroes, and Water-babies and Madam How and Lady Why, in which he deals with popular natural history, take high rank among books for children.
In person Charles Kingsley was tall and spare, sinewy rather than powerful, and of a restless excitable temperament. His complexion was swarthy, his hair dark, and his eye bright and piercing. His temper was hot, kept under rigid control; his disposition tender, gentle and loving, with flashing scorn and indignation against all that was ignoble and impure; he was a good husband, father and friend. One of his daughters, Mary St Leger Kingsley (Mrs Harrison), became well known as a novelist under the pseudonym of "Lucas Malet."
Kingsley's life was written by his widow in 1877, entitled Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life, and presents a very touching and beautiful picture of her husband, but perhaps hardly does justice to his humour, his wit, his overflowing vitality and boyish fun.
John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua shows the distress that Kingsley's invective could induce.
Kingsley's humour has escaped many; perhaps it can be found in another of his historical romances, named after its heroine, Hypatia, in which the arch neo-Platonist of end-of-empire Alexandria converts to Christianity at the moment of her obscene murder.
Charles Kingsley's novel Westward Ho! led to the founding of a town by the same name and even inspired the construction of a a railway, the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway. Few authors can have had such a significant effect upon the area about which they eulogised. A hotel in Westward Ho! was named for him and it was also opened by him.