Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

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But though he faced his adversaries bravely, it must not be inferred that he did not feel the attacks and misrepresentations very keenly. In many respects, though housed in a strong and vigorous body, his spirit was an exceedingly tender and sensitive one. I have often thought that at this time his very sensitiveness drove him to say things more broadly and incisively, because he was speaking as it were somewhat against the grain, and knew that the line he was taking would be misunderstood, and would displease and alarm those with whom he had most sympathy. For he was by nature and education an aristocrat in the best sense of the word, believed that a landed aristocracy was a blessing to the country, and that no country would gain the highest liberty without such a class, holding its own position firmly, but in sympathy with the people. He liked their habits and ways, and keenly enjoyed their society. Again, he was full of reverence for science and scientific men, and specially for political economy and economists, and desired eagerly to stand well with them. And it was a most bitter trial to him to find himself not only in sharp antagonism with traders and employers of labour, which he looked for, but with these classes also.

On the other hand many of the views and habits of those with whom he found himself associated were very distasteful to him. In a new social movement, such as that of association as it took shape in 1849-50, there is certain to be great attraction for restless and eccentric persons, and in point of fact many such joined it. The beard movement was then in its infancy, and any man except a dragoon who wore hair on his face was regarded as a dangerous character, with whom it was compromising to be seen in any public place—a person in sympathy with sansculottes, and who would dispense with trousers but for his fear of the police. Now whenever Kingsley attended a meeting of the promoters of association in London, he was sure to find himself in the midst of bearded men, vegetarians, and other eccentric persons, and the contact was very grievous to him. "As if we shall not be abused enough," he used to say, "for what we must say and do without being saddled with mischievous nonsense of this kind." To less sensitive men the effect of eccentricity upon him was almost comic, as when on one occasion he was quite upset and silenced by the appearance of a bearded member of Council at an important deputation in a straw hat and blue plush gloves. He did not recover from the depression produced by those gloves for days. Many of the workmen, too, who were most prominent in the Associations were almost as little to his mind—windy inflated kind of persons, with a lot of fine phrases in their mouths which they did not know the meaning of.

But in spite of all that was distasteful to him in some of its surroundings, the co-operative movement (as it is now called) entirely approved itself to his conscience and judgment, and mastered him so that he was ready to risk whatever had to be risked in fighting its battle. Often in those days, seeing how loath Charles Kingsley was to take in hand, much of the work which Parson Lot had to do, and how fearlessly and thoroughly he did it after all, one was reminded of the old Jewish prophets, such as Amos the herdsman of Tekoa—"I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son, but I was an herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: and the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and said unto me, Go prophesy unto my people Israel."

The following short extracts from his correspondence with Mr. Ludlow, as to the conduct of the "Christian Socialist," and his own contributions to it, may perhaps serve to show how his mind was working at this time:—

Sept., 1850.—"I cannot abide the notion of Branch Churches or Free (sect) Churches, and unless my whole train of thought alters, I will resist the temptation as coming from the devil. Where I am I am doing God's work, and when the Church is ripe for more, the Head of the Church will put the means our way. You seem to fancy that we may have a Deus quidam Deceptor over us after all. If I did I'd go and blow my dirty brains out and be rid of the whole thing at once. I would indeed. If God, when people ask Him to teach and guide them, does not; if when they confess themselves rogues and fools to Him, and beg Him to make them honest and wise, He does not, but darkens them, and deludes them into bogs and pitfalls, is he a Father? You fall back into Judaism, friend."

Dec., 1850.—"Jeremiah is my favourite book now. It has taught me more than tongue can tell. But I am much disheartened, and am minded to speak no more words in this name (Parson Lot); and yet all these bullyings teach one, correct one, warn one—show one that God is not leaving one to go one's own way. 'Christ reigns,' quoth Luther."