Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

[+] | [-] | reset
 

And the counsels of Parson Lot had undoubtedly great weight in giving an aggressive tone both to the paper and the society. But if he was largely responsible for the fighting temper of the early movement, he, at any rate, never shirked his share of the fighting. His name was the butt at which all shafts were aimed. As Lot "seemed like one that mocked to his sons-in-law," so seemed the Parson to the most opposite sections of the British nation. As a friend wrote of him at the time, he "had at any rate escaped the curse of the false prophets, 'Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.'" Many of the attacks and criticisms were no doubt aimed not so much at him personally as at the body of men with whom, and for whom, he was working; but as he was (except Mr. Maurice) the only one whose name was known, he got the lion's share of all the abuse. The storm broke on him from all points of the compass at once. An old friend and fellow-contributor to "Politics for the People," led the Conservative attack, accusing him of unsettling the minds of the poor, making them discontented, &c. Some of the foremost Chartists wrote virulently against him for "attempting to justify the God of the Old Testament," who, they maintained, was unjust and cruel, and, at any rate, not the God "of the people." The political economists fell on him for his anti-Malthusian belief, that the undeveloped fertility of the earth need not be overtaken by population within any time which it concerned us to think about. The quarterlies joined in the attack on his economic heresies. The "Daily News" opened a cross fire on him from the common-sense Liberal battery, denouncing the "revolutionary nonsense, which is termed Christian Socialisms"; and, after some balancing, the "Guardian," representing in the press the side of the Church to which he leant, turned upon him in a very cruel article on the republication of "Yeast" (originally written for "Fraser's Magazine"), and accused him of teaching heresy in doctrine, and in morals "that a certain amount of youthful profligacy does no real permanent harm to the character, perhaps strengthens it for a useful and religious life."

In this one instance Parson Lot fairly lost his temper, and answered, "as was answered to the Jesuit of old—mentiris impudentissime." With the rest he seemed to enjoy the conflict and "kept the ring," like a candidate for the wrestling championship in his own county of Devon against all comers, one down another come on.

The fact is, that Charles Kingsley was born a fighting man, and believed in bold attack. "No human power ever beat back a resolute forlorn hope," he used to say; "to be got rid of, they must be blown back with grape and canister," because the attacking party have all the universe behind them, the defence only that small part which is shut up in their walls. And he felt most strongly at this time that hard fighting was needed. "It is a pity" he writes to Mr. Ludlow, "that telling people what's right, won't make them do it; but not a new fact, though that ass the world has quite forgotten it; and assures you that dear sweet 'incompris' mankind only wants to be told the way to the millennium to walk willingly into it—which is a lie. If you want to get mankind, if not to heaven, at least out of hell, kick them out." And again, a little later on, in urging the policy which the "Christian Socialist" should still follow—

1851.—"It seems to me that in such a time as this the only way to fight against the devil is to attack him. He has got it too much his own way to meddle with us if we don't meddle with him. But the very devil has feelings, and if you prick him will roar…whereby you, at all events, gain the not-every-day-of-the-week-to-be-attained benefit of finding out where he is. Unless, indeed, as I suspect, the old rascal plays ventriloquist (as big grasshoppers do when you chase them), and puts you on a wrong scent, by crying 'Fire!' out of saints' windows. Still, the odds are if you prick lustily enough, you make him roar unawares."

The memorials of his many controversies lie about in the periodicals of that time, and any one who cares to hunt them up will be well repaid, and struck with the vigour of the defence, and still more with the complete change in public opinion, which has brought the England of to-day clean round to the side of Parson Lot. The most complete perhaps of his fugitive pieces of this kind is the pamphlet, "Who are the friends of Order?" published by J. W. Parker and Son, in answer to a very fair and moderate article in "Fraser's Mazagine." The Parson there points out how he and his friends were "cursed by demagogues as aristocrats, and by tories as democrats, when in reality they were neither." And urges that the very fact of the Continent being overrun with Communist fanatics is the best argument for preaching association here.