Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

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My first meeting with him was in the autumn of 1848, at the house of Mr. Maurice, who had lately been appointed Reader of Lincolns Inn. No parochial work is attached to that post, so Mr. Maurice had undertaken the charge of a small district in the parish in which he lived, and had set a number of young men, chiefly students of the Inns of Court who had been attracted by his teaching, to work in it. Once a week, on Monday evenings, they used to meet at his house for tea, when their own work was reported upon and talked over. Suggestions were made and plans considered; and afterwards a chapter of the Bible was read and discussed. Friends and old pupils of Mr. Maurice's, residing in the country, or in distant parts of London, were in the habit of coming occasionally to these meetings, amongst whom was Charles Kingsley. He had been recently appointed Rector of Eversley, and was already well known as the author of The Saint's Tragedy, his first work, which contained the germ of much that he did afterwards.

His poem, and the high regard and admiration which Mr. Maurice had for him, made him a notable figure in that small society, and his presence was always eagerly looked for. What impressed me most about him when we first met was, his affectionate deference to Mr. Maurice, and the vigour and incisiveness of everything he said and did. He had the power of cutting out what he meant in a few clear words, beyond any one I have ever met. The next thing that struck one was the ease with which he could turn from playfulness, or even broad humour, to the deepest earnest. At first I think this startled most persons, until they came to find out the real deep nature of the man; and that his broadest humour had its root in a faith which realized, with extraordinary vividness, the fact that God's Spirit is actively abroad in the world, and that Christ is in every man, and made him hold fast, even in his saddest moments,—and sad moments were not infrequent with him,—the assurance that, in spite of all appearances, the world was going right, and would go right somehow, "Not your way, or my way, but God's way." The contrast of his humility and audacity, of his distrust in himself and confidence in himself, was one of those puzzles which meet us daily in this world of paradox. But both qualities gave him a peculiar power for the work he had to do at that time, with which the name of Parson Lot is associated.

It was at one of these gatherings, towards the end of 1847 or early in 1848, when Kingsley found himself in a minority of one, that he said jokingly, he felt much as Lot must have felt in the Cities of the Plain, when he seemed as one that mocked to his sons-in-law. The name Parson Lot was then and there suggested, and adopted by him, as a familiar nom de plume, He used it from 1848 up to 1856; at first constantly, latterly much more rarely. But the name was chiefly made famous by his writings in "Politics for the People," the "Christian Socialist," and the "Journal of Association," three periodicals which covered the years from '48 to '52; by "Alton Locke"; and by tracts and pamphlets, of which the best known, "Cheap Clothes and Nasty," is now republished.

In order to understand and judge the sayings and writings of Parson Lot fairly, it is necessary to recall the condition of the England of that day. Through the winter of 1847-8, amidst wide-spread distress, the cloud of discontent, of which Chartism was the most violent symptom, had been growing darker and more menacing, while Ireland was only held down by main force. The breaking-out of the revolution on the Continent in February increased the danger. In March there were riots in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and other large towns. On April 7th, "the Crown and Government Security Bill," commonly called "the Gagging Act," was introduced by the Government, the first reading carried by 265 to 24, and the second a few days later by 452 to 35. On the 10th of April the Government had to fill London with troops, and put the Duke of Wellington in command, who barricaded the bridges and Downing Street, garrisoned the Bank and other public buildings, and closed the Horse Guards.

When the momentary crisis had passed, the old soldier declared in the House of Lords that "no great society had ever suffered as London had during the preceding days," while the Home Secretary telegraphed to all the chief magistrates of the kingdom the joyful news that the peace had been kept in London. In April, the Lord Chancellor, in introducing the Crown and Government Security Bill in the House of Lords, referred to the fact that "meetings were daily held, not only in London, but in most of the manufacturing towns, the avowed object of which was to array the people against the constituted authority of these realms." For months afterwards the Chartist movement, though plainly subsiding, kept the Government in constant anxiety; and again in June, the Bank, the Mint, the Custom House, and other public offices were filled with troops, and the Houses of Parliament were not only garrisoned but provisioned as if for a siege.