The Beast and the Monk

Charles Kingsley achieved worldwide fame with his children’s fable “The Water-Babies”, first published in 1863. However, as a man he possessed multiple interests and passions, often contradictory, belying any simplistic view of him as a village parson and writer. During his tenure, the rectory at Eversley became the epicentre of many of the burning issues of the day.

( Below, the sleave notes from the biography of Charles Kingsley by Susan Chitty, published 1974, Hodder and Stoughton)

By the time Charles Kingsley died in January 1875, he had become one of the most prominent men in his age, deeply involved in the religious, scientific and social conflicts that exercised the minds of his contemporaries. He achieved distinction, or, in some cases, notoriety, in many fields.

The Water-Babies, illustration by Warwick Goble

As a churchman he rose to become chaplain to Queen Victoria and a canon of Westminster. As a theologian he entered the lists with Newman who wrote his Apologia to confound him. As a Christian Socialist he founded three periodicals, headed many distinguished committees and inspired the phrase ‘muscular Christianity’. As a scientist he rose to become a Fellow of the Geological Society and a friend of Darwin and Lyell.

As a historian he held the post of Regius Professor at Cambridge for nine years.
Yet it was for his books, rather than any of these achievements, that he was best known, and a century after his death The Water-Babies is one of the select handful of children’s classics from the last century which is still available in over half a dozen editions.