Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

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Preface

To the UNDERGRADUATES of CAMBRIDGE.

I have addressed this preface to the young gentlemen of the University, first, because it is my duty to teach such of them as will hear me, Modern History; and I know no more important part of Modern History than the condition and the opinions of our own fellow-countrymen, some of which are set forth in this book.

Next, I have addressed them now, because I know that many of them, at various times, have taken umbrage at certain scenes of Cambridge life drawn in this book. I do not blame them for having done so. On the contrary, I have so far acknowledged the justice of their censure, that while I have altered hardly one other word in this book, I have re-written all that relates to Cambridge life.

Those sketches were drawn from my own recollections of 1838-1842. Whether they were overdrawn is a question between me and men of my own standing.

But the book was published in 1849; and I am assured by men in whom I have the most thorough confidence, that my sketches had by then at least become exaggerated and exceptional, and therefore, as a whole, untrue; that a process of purification was going on rapidly in the University; and that I must alter my words if I meant to give the working men a just picture of her.

Circumstances took the property and control of the book out of my hand, and I had no opportunity of reconsidering and of altering the passages. Those circumstances have ceased, and I take the first opportunity of altering all which my friends tell me should be altered.

But even if, as early as 1849, I had not been told that I must do so, I should have done so of my own accord, after the experiences of 1861. I have received at Cambridge a courtesy and kindness from my elders, a cordial welcome from my co-equals, and an earnest attention from the undergraduates with whom I have come in contact, which would bind me in honour to say nothing publicly against my University, even if I had aught to say. But I have nought. I see at Cambridge nothing which does not gain my respect for her present state and hope for her future. Increased sympathy between the old and young, increased intercourse between the teacher and the taught, increased freedom and charity of thought, and a steady purpose of internal self-reform and progress, seem to me already bearing good fruit, by making the young men regard their University with content and respect. And among the young men themselves, the sight of their increased earnestness and high-mindedness, increased sobriety and temperance, combined with a manliness not inferior to that of the stalwart lads of twenty years ago, has made me look upon my position among them as most noble, my work among them as most hopeful, and made me sure that no energy which I can employ in teaching them will ever have been thrown away.

Much of this improvement seems to me due to the late High-Church movement; much to the influence of Dr. Arnold; much to that of Mr. Maurice; much to the general increase of civilization throughout the country: but whatever be the causes of it, the fact is patent; and I take delight in thus expressing my consciousness of it.