Today marks the birthday of Charles Kingsley (1819–1875,) English writer and Anglican priest. Kingsley wrote numerous historical novels, including Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake (1865) and Westward Ho (1855).
Kingsley is best remembered for his extremely popular children’s book The Water-Babies (1863,) written to teach unconditional love, redemption, and other Christian values. The Water-Babies is an allegorical fairytale of a 10-year-old, chimney-sweeping orphan named Tom. While clearing soot one day, Tom falls through a chimney into the room of a rich young girl named Ellie. Mistaken for a thief, Tom is chased out of town. Overwhelmed by exhaustion, he submits to thirst, tumbles into a stream, falls fast asleep, and drowns. Fairies turn him into a peculiar creature called a “water-baby.” In his new life, Tom meets various fairies, aquatic creatures, and other water-babies. He also encounters the vicious Mrs. Bedonbyasyoudid (a reference to Revelation 16:6 in the New Testament) and the motherly Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby (a reference to the Golden Rule.) When he reaches the Other-End-of-Nowhere, he helps his vicious former master Mr. Grimes find repentance.
The Water-Babies was extremely popular when it was published, and it helped rally support for the 1840 Chimney Sweepers’ Regulation Act, which prohibited the use of child labor to climb into and clean chimneys.
However, The Water-Babies lost its popularity over time because of its insults against the Irish, Catholics, Jews, Americans, and the poor, even if Kingsley’s writing merely reflected many of the common prejudices of his time.
Inspirational Quotations by Charles Kingsley
Stick to the old truths and the old paths, and learn their divineness by sick beds, and in everyday work, and do not darken your mind with intellectual puzzles, which may breed disbelief, but can never breed vital religion or practical usefulness.
Thank God every morning when you get up that you have something to do which must be done, whether you like it or not.
If I am ever obscure in my expressions, do not fancy that therefore I am deep. If I were really deep, all the world would understand, though they might not appreciate. The perfectly popular style is the perfectly scientific one. To me an obscurity is a reason for suspecting a fallacy.
If you wish to be miserable, think about yourself; about what you want, what you like, what respect people ought to pay you, what people think of you; and then to you nothing will be pure. You will spoil everything you touch; you will make sin and misery for yourself out of everything God sends you; you will be as wretched as you choose.
What’s the use of doing a kindness, if you do it a day too late.
Do today’s duty, fight today’s temptation; do not weaken and distract yourself by looking forward to things you cannot see, and could not understand if you saw them.
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
Do noble things, do not dream them all day long.
Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle never know.
The men whom I have seen succeed best in life always have been cheerful and hopeful men; who went about their business with a smile on their faces; and took the changes and chances of this mortal life like men; facing rough and smooth alike as it came.
What I want is, not to possess religion, but to have a religion that shall possess me.
Feelings are like chemicals; the more you analyze them the worse they smell.
“Young and Old”—A Poem by Charles Kingsley
Here’s a poem from Chapter II of Kingsley’s The Water-Babies. This poignant poem contrasts youth and old age. The first stanza promotes a productive youth. The second stanza hints at aging natural imagery and wishes that you be alongside the one that you cherished in your youth.
When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.
When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young.