A notable figure in the history of St. Mary's is the 19th century preacher, author, naturalist and social reformer: Charles Kingsley. He was Rector of Eversley for 31 years and founded the village school, which has recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.
It was Charles Kingsley who 'put Eversley on the map': by inviting notable people of his day to the Church and to the Rectory, by preaching sermons in which he pulled no punches on social and religious issues, by writing numerous books and pamphlets, and by his deep interest in natural history. He was by nature an inquisitive man and a ‘searcher for the truth’, not just in religious matters but all the many subjects in which he was interested. He made his mark is so many fields he can justifiably called “a man of many parts”.
As a young boy
Kingsley was born on 12th June, 1819 in the village of Holne, Devon, where his father was curate. Soon after his birth the family moved to Nottinghamshire and then to Barnack, near Peterborough, on his father’s appointment as Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Peterborough.
His parents proved to be ideal role models for a bright child. His father was a keen sportsman and much interested in natural history and the arts. His mother, who had been born in the West Indies, was a lover of poetry and literature, as well as being attracted to the new scientific developments of the 19th century.
The young Charles grew into a gifted but rather delicate and sensitive child. He gave his first 'sermon' from a little pulpit in the nursery when he was only four years old, and was writing poetry before he was five. His sporting and natural history interests were developed whilst at Barnack. He often went on horseback with his father when he was out shooting, and spent many hours watching birds and catching butterflies in the Fens.
Return to Devon
In 1830, Kingsley's father returned to Devon to become Rector of Clovelly. This provided new experiences for the young Kingsley. The seashore, with its flora and fauna, rock pools, shells and geological specimens excited him. The people he met, particularly the fishermen and their families, gave him new and lasting insights into the lives of ordinary folk.
Charles attended a preparatory school at Clifton before being sent to Helston School. Here he was commended for his studies, especially Latin, and his interest in natural history and related subjects was encouraged. He was a studious, hard-working boy but was not universally popular. He was shy, and afflicted by a stammer which gave him problems throughout his life. Although he did not excel in team games he often demonstrated courage in individual pursuits.
In 1836, his father moved again to a living in Chelsea. This was a bitter blow to Charles, now 17 years old, as it meant leaving his beloved Devon. He found city life a mixture of middle-class superficiality and, in the poorer areas, abject poverty and deprivation. He was bored by the former and distressed by the latter. He enrolled as a day student at King's College and devoted his days to reading voraciously all manner of books from poetry to religious tracts, and studying the Bible.
In autumn 1838, he left King's and went up to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he gained a scholarship.
In contrast to his time at school, he proved to be popular at Cambridge and made many friends;
"Whatever he engaged in, he threw his whole energy into; he read hard at times, but enjoyed sports
of all kinds, fishing, shooting, riding, and cards" one of his friends wrote.
Whilst at Cambridge, Kingsley was filled with religious doubts and had little faith in the clergy with
whom he came in contact:
"From very insufficient and ambiguous grounds in the Bible, they seem
unjustifiably to have built up a huge superstructure, whose details they have filled in according to
their own fancies or, alas, too often according to their own interest . . . . . ," he wrote in 1840.
But, during 1841, after much thought and further reading, he decided to make the Church his profession
instead of the law, which had been his earlier inclination.
"I feel as if, once in the Church, I could
cling so much closer to God," he said in one of his letters.
Kingsley obtained a first-class honours degree in classics in 1842 and achieved a very high standard in mathematics. After a physically exhausting and mentally draining time at Cambridge, he now prepared himself for a new life in the Church.
While studying for Holy Orders he was offered the curacy of Eversley, Hampshire. In July 1842 he was ordained deacon and very soon afterwards his long association with Eversley began.
The following synopsis of Charles Kingsley's multi-talented life was prepared by Canon Graham Fuller (Rector of Eversley, 1990 to 1996) and Mrs. Rachel Fuller. It is reproduced with their permission.
Rector & Family Man
Charles Kingsley had spent 15 months as curate of Eversley during 1842-3. He returned in May 1844 at the age of 25 to become Rector, following his marriage to Frances Grenfell (Fanny) in January of that year. Here he was to remain until his death in 1875. Charles and Fanny were eager to make a home and to devote themselves to the needs of the parish. In his practical concern for the well-being of his parishioners and his readiness to share their experiences Kingsley soon won the hearts of Eversley folk.
Many visitors came to the Rectory, (now a private house); the needy seeking help, others attracted by his enthusiasm for the natural world, for scientific enquiry and for art and literature. Kingsley took pupils to supplement his income. Among these, John Martineau remained a life-long friend and was buried at Kingsley's feet.
The profound mutual affection between Charles and Fanny is expressed in the Latin inscription on his tombstone. Their children - Rose, Maurice, Mary and Grenville - grew up under the sympathetic care of both parents in a home where curiosity was encouraged and where learning became a voyage of discovery.
Kingsley was deeply influenced by the theologian Frederick Denison Maurice whose book The Kingdom of Christ, published in 1838, offered a new vision of the place of the Church in society. Together with Maurice, Thomas Hughes, John Malcolm Ludlow and Charles Mansfield, he became a leading member of the Christian Socialist Movement which led to the formation of Working Men's Colleges and Trade Unions. Under the pseudonym of 'Parson Lot' he contributed to Politics for the People and The Christian Socialist, two periodicals which the Movement published.
Believing passionately in the need to improve the lives of ordinary people, Kingsley encouraged the co-operative principle and promoted educational and sanitary reform. In particular, he helped to make known the horrors of an insanitary area in Bermondsey - Jacob's Island. The provision of pure drinking water and the proper management of sewage became an important goal for Kingsley and his fellow campaigners.
The church in which Kingsley conducted services was a mainly 18th-century building, its interior dominated by a lofty three-decker pulpit. Such pulpits served to emphasise the central place of the sermon in 18th and 19th century worship.
By 1853 Kingsley's preaching "was becoming a great power". He had a strong aversion to the impersonal and formal style of preaching adopted by so many clergymen of the day. Instead he would address the congregation with directness and intensity, making a deep impression on parishioners, army officers and university students alike.
In 1859, following an invitation to preach before Queen Victoria, he was appointed one of her Chaplains, an honour he valued greatly. In 1873 his power as a preacher was recognised in his appointment as a Canon of Westminster.
Teacher & Tutor
In 1860, to everyone's surprise - including his own - Kingsley was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. His inaugural lecture "The Limits of Exact Science as applied to History" was followed by a series concerned with the rise and fall of the Goths, subsequently published as 'TheRoman and the Teuton'. Undergraduates flocked to hear Kingsley lecture, but he was not held in high esteem by his fellow academics.
The statue of Kingsley at Bideford in Devon (right) depicts him in academic robes. His gifts as a teacher in making learning accessible were recognised in his appointment as Tutor to the Prince of Wales. His concern for education is also remembered in Eversley, where the village school which he founded in 1853 is named after him (Charles Kingsley's School )
Kingsley's intense love of landscape and his restless energy both found expression in sporting pursuits. He revelled especially in fishing and hunting and his writings abound in descriptions of these sports. For him they were more than pastimes; the skills of angler and horseman, and the urge to range the countryside on foot were an essential part of his God-given make-up.
Unlike many Victorian clergymen, he did not discourage his parishioners from playing cricket on Sunday afternoons, believing that in wholesome exercise the joy of creation could be discovered.
Throughout his life, Kingsley suffered bouts of acute depression. These were relieved by going on extended visits to Devon, North Wales and Ireland where he was able to give free rein to his sporting impulses.
In 1852 the Kingsley family spent some time at Torquay to recover from the ill-effects of living in the damp Rectory at Eversley. Charles threw himself into prospecting on the foreshore, the cliffs, and in caves for specimens of marine life. He saw the natural world as the handiwork of God, and was to welcome Darwin's theory of evolution with an enthusiasm which was rare among clergymen of the time.
The fruit of the Devon sea-coast explorations was a series of articles in the North British Review, subsequently published as 'Glaucus: or Wonders of the Sea Shore' illustrated himself.
Later, in 1872, when he was a Canon of Chester, Kingsley gave a number of lectures. In these, later published as 'Town Geology', he argues that all creation is divine, and science, a God-given activity.
Storyteller & Writer
As a novelist and poet Charles Kingsley attracted a wide following in his lifetime. His first novel Yeast was published anonymously in 1848. Sir John Cope (Kingsley's patron and owner of Bramshill) appears here as Squire Lavington - an oppressive landowner. Alton Locke (1850), the story of a poor tailor, featured the impoverished conditions of working men. The aim of Hypatia (1852), set in 5th century Alexandria was to "set forth Christianity as the only real Democratic Creed." Westward Ho! (1858), Kingsley's response to the Crimean war, was intended to re-kindle England's fighting spirit. The Heroes (1856) was a re-telling of the Greek myths for his three eldest children. For his youngest child, Grenville, he wrote The Water Babies in 1862. It is for this strange but enduring work that Kingsley is best remembered. His last full-length novel, Hereward the Wake (1865), is an evocation of the legendary folk hero of the 11th century East Anglian fens.
Kingsley's pen was seldom still; he wrote poetry and a large number of shorter prose pieces. Some of these were polemical, e.g. an article in Macmillan's Magazine in 1863 critical of John Henry Newman. Newman, a convert to Roman Catholicism, responded by writing his Apologia pro Vita Sua.
Kingsley's verse drama about St. Elizabeth of Hungary is illustrated in the central panel of the memorial window in the sanctuary of Eversley church. His best-known poems, however, are The Sands of Dee, Ode to the North East Wind and The Three Fishers.
Travel was a constant source of exhilaration for Kingsley. At the end of 1869, his appointment as a Canon of Chester gave him the means to realise a lifelong ambition to visit the West Indies, and particularly Barbados, where his mother had grown up as a child. He embarked on this voyage with his daughter Rose, and later wrote of his impressions in At Last.
In 1874 Kingsley undertook a lecture tour of North America, again with Rose as companion. His health deteriorated during this trip and he caught a chill from which he never recovered. On his return to England he sank further and died on 23rd January 1875.
After his death, Rose found a fir cone which they had collected from a giant Sequoia tree in the western United States. She grew two saplings from the seeds of this cone and planted one in the churchyard; today it is some 150ft [50m] high), and the other on the Mount (the hill opposite the Rectory).
We reproduce below one of Charles Kingsley's sermons. It is on the subject of 'Temptation' and was given in 1872 - both in St. Mary's Church, Eversley, and at Chester Cathedral, where Kingsley had been made a Canon.
Although the style of writing may seem dated to many 21st century readers (it was written over 130 years ago), we should imagine it being delivered with verve and passion by a good orator and a committed Christian. Kingsley was able to hold the attention of his audiences and it is unlikely that many in the congregation would have fallen asleep!
Kingsley suggests that pride is a major temptation among religious men. He doubtless had in mind the many different religious factions which were a feature of 19th century Great Britain. Kingsley liked to 'tell it straight' and had a very acute sense of right, wrong, goodness and faith. This comes across in his sermons which, perhaps more than any other written commentary, give a potent insight into the man.
And when the tempter came to Him, he said ‘If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
Let me say a few words to-day about a solemn subject, namely, Temptation. I do not mean the temptations of the flesh – the temptations which all men have to yield to the low animal nature in them, and behave like brutes. I mean those deeper and more terrible temptations, which our Lord conquered in that great struggle with evil which is commonly called His temptation in the wilderness. These were temptations of an evil spirit – the temptations which entice some men, at least, to behave like devils.
Now these temptations specially beset religious men – men who are, or fancy themselves, superior to their fellowmen, more favoured by God, and with nobler powers, and grander work to do, than the common average of mankind. But specially, I say, they beset those who are, or fancy themselves, the children of God. And, therefore, I humbly suppose our Lord had to endure and to conquer these very temptations because He was not merely a child of God, but the Son of God – the perfect Man, made in the perfect likeness of His Father. He had to endure these temptations, and to conquer them, that He might be able to succour us when we are tempted, seeing that He was tempted in like manner as we are, yet without sin.
Now it has been said, and, I think, well said, that what proves our Lord’s three temptations to have been very subtle and dangerous and terrible, is this – that we cannot see at first sight that they were temptations at all. The first two do not look to us to be wrong. If our Lord could make stones into bread to satisfy His hunger, why should He not do so? If he could prove to the Jews that He was the Son of God, their divine King and Saviour, by casting Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and being miraculously supported in the air by angels – if He could do that, why should He not do it? And, lastly, the third temptation looks at first sight so preposterous that it seems silly of the evil spirit to have hinted at it. To ask any man of piety, much less the Son God Himself, to fall down and worship the devil, seems perfectly absurd – a request not to be listened to for a moment, but put aside with contempt.
Well, my friends, the very danger of these spiritual temptations is that they do not look like temptations. They do not look ugly, absurd, wrong; they look pleasant, reasonable, right.
The devil, says the apostle, transforms himself at times into an angel of light. If so, then he is certainly far more dangerous than if he came as an angel of darkness and horror. If you met some venomous snake, with loathsome spots upon his scales, his eyes full of rage and cunning, his head raised to strike at you, hissing and showing his fangs, there would be no temptation to have to do with him. You would know that you had to deal with an evil beast, and must either kill him or escape from him at once. But if, again, you met, as you may meet in the tropics, a lovely little coral snake, braided with red and white, its mouth so small that it seems impossible that it can bite, and so gentle that children may take it up and play with it, then you might be tempted, as many a poor child has been ere now, to admire it, fondle it, wreathe it round the neck for a necklace, or round the arm for a bracelet, till the play goes one step too far, the snake loses its temper, gives one tiny scratch upon the lip or finger, and that scratch is certain death. That would be a temptation indeed; one all the more dangerous because there is, I am told, another sort of coral snake perfectly harmless, which is so exactly like the deadly one, that no child, and few grown people, can know them apart.
Even so it is with our worst temptations. They look sometimes so exactly like what is good and noble and useful and religious, that we mistake the evil for the good, and play with it until it stings us, and we find out too late that the wages of sin are death. Thus, religious people, just because they are religious, are apt to be specially tempted to mistake evil for good, and to do something specially wrong, when they think they are doing something specially right, and so give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme; till, as a hard and experienced man of the world once said: “Whenever I hear a man talking of his conscience, I know that he is going to do something particularly foolish; whenever I hear of a man talking of his duty, I know that he is going to do something particularly cruel.”
Do I say this to frighten you away from being religious? God forbid. Better to be religious and to fear and love God, though you were tempted by all the devils out of the pit, than to be irreligious and a mere animal, and be tempted only by your own carnal nature, as the animals are. Better to be tempted, like the hermits of old, and even to fall and rise again, singing, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy, when I fall I shall arise;” than to live the life of the flesh, “like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains.” It is the price a man must pay for hungering and thirsting after righteousness, for longing to be a child of God in spirit and in truth. “The devil,” says a wise man of old, “does not tempt bad men, because he has got them already; he tempts good men because he has not got them, and wants to get them.”
But how shall we know these temptations? God knows, my friends, better than I; and I trust that He will teach you to know, according to what each of you needs to know. But as far as my small experience goes, the root of them all is pride and self-conceit. Whatsoever thoughts or feeling tempt us to pride and self-conceit are of the devil, not of God. The devil is specially the spirit of pride; and, therefore, whatever tempts you to fancy yourself something different from your fellowmen, superior to your fellowmen, safer than them, more favoured by God than them, that is a temptation of the spirit of pride. Whatever tempts you to think that you can do without God’s help and God’s providence; whatever tempts you to do anything extraordinary, and show yourself off, that you may make a figure in the world; and above all, whatever tempts you to antinomianism, that is to fancy that God will overlook sins in you which He will not overlook in other men – all these are temptations from the spirit of pride. They are temptations like our Lord’s temptations. These temptations came on our Lord more terribly than they ever can on you and me, just because He was the Son of Man, the perfect Man, and, therefore, had more real reason for being proud (if such a thing could be) than any man, or than all men put together. But He conquered the temptations because He was perfect man, led by the Spirit of God; and, therefore, He knew that the only way to be a perfect man was not to be proud, however powerful, wise, and glorious He might be; but to submit Himself humbly and utterly, as every man should do, to the will of His Father in Heaven, from whom alone his greatness came.
Now the spirit of pride cannot understand the beauty of humility, and the spirit of self-will cannot understand the beauty of obedience; and, therefore, it is reasonable to suppose the devil could not understand our Lord. If He be the Son of God, so might Satan argue, He has all the more reason to be proud; and, therefore, it is all the more easy to tempt Him into showing His pride, into proving Himself a conceited, self-willed, rebellious being – in one word , an evil spirit.
And therefore (as you will see at first sight) the first two temptations were clearly meant to tempt our Lord to pride; for would they not tempt you and me to pride? If we could feed ourselves by making bread of stones, would not that make us proud enough? So proud, I fear, that we should soon fancy that we could do without God and His providence, and were masters of nature and all her secrets. If you and I could make the whole city worship and obey us, by casting ourselves off this cathedral unhurt, would not that make us proud enough? So proud, I fear, that we should end in committing some great folly, or great crime in our conceit and vainglory.
Now, whether our Lord could or could not have done these wonderful deeds, one thing is plain – that He would not do them; and, therefore, we may presume that He ought not to have done them. It seems as if He did not wish to be a wonderful man; but only a perfectly good man, and he would do nothing to help Himself but what any other man could do. He answered the evil spirit simply out of Scripture, as any other pious man might have done. When He was bidden to make the stones into bread, He answers not as the Eternal Son of God, but simply as a man. “It is written:” – it is the belief of Moses and the old prophets of my people that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God: - as much as to say, ‘if I am to be delivered out of this need, God will deliver me by some means or other, just as He delivers other men out of their needs.’ When He was bidden ‘cast Himself from the temple, and so save Himself’ – probably from sorrow, poverty, persecution, and the death on the cross – He answers out of Scripture as any other Jew would have done. “It is written again, Thou shall not tempt the Lord thy God.” He says nothing – this is most important – of His being the eternal Son of God. He keeps that in the background. There the fact was; but He veiled the glory of His godhead, that He might assert the rights of His manhood, and show that mere man, by the help of the Spirit of God, could obey God, and keep His commandments.
I say these last words with all diffidence and humility, and trusting that the Lord will pardon any mistake which I may make about His Divine Words. I only say them because wiser men than I have often taken the same view already. Of course there is more, far more, in this wonderful saying than we can understand. But this I think is plain -–that our Lord determined to behave as any and every other man ought to have done in his place; in order to show all God’s children the example of perfect humility and perfect obedience to God.
But again, the devil asked our Lord to fall down and worship him. Now how could that be a temptation to pride? Surely that was asking our Lord to do anything but a proud action, rather the most humiliating and the most base of all actions. My friends, it seems to me that if our Lord had fallen down and worshipped the evil spirit, He would have given way to the spirit of pride utterly and boundlessly: and I will tell you why.
The devil wanted our Lord to do evil that good might come. It would have been a blessing, that all the kingdoms of the world the glory of man should be our Lord’s – the very blessing for this poor earth which He came to buy, and which He bought with His own precious blood. And here the devil offered Him the very prize for which He came down on earth, without struggle or difficulty, if He would but do, for one moment, one wrong thing. What temptation that would be to our Lord as God, I dare not say. But that to our Lord as Man, it must have been the most terrible of all temptations, I can well believe: because history shows us, and alas! Our own experience in modern times shows us, persons yielding to that temptation perpetually; pious people, benevolent people, people who long to spread the Bible, to convert sinners, to found charities, to amend laws, to set the world right in some way or other, and who fancy that therefore, in carrying out their fine projects, they have a right to do evil that good may come.
This is a very painful subject; all the more painful just now, because I sometimes think it is the special sin of this country and this generation, and that God will bring on us some heavy punishment for it. But all who know the world in its various phases, and especially what are called the religious world, and the philanthropic world, and the political world, know too well that men, not otherwise bad men, will do things and say things to carry out some favourite project or movement, or to support some party, religious or other, which they would (I hope) be ashamed to say and do for their own private gain. Now what is this, but worshipping the evil spirit, in order to get power over this world, that they may (as they fancy) amend it? And what is this but self-conceit – ruinous, I had almost said, blasphemous? These people think themselves so certainly in the right, and their plans so absolutely necessary to the good of the world, that God has given them a special licence to do what they like in carrying them out; that He will excuse them falsehoods and meannesses, even tyranny and violences which He will excuse in no one else.
Now is this not self-conceit? What would you think of a servant who disobeyed you, cheated you, and yet said to himself: ‘No matter, my master dare not turn me off: I am so useful that he cannot do without me.’ Even so in all ages, and now as much as, or more than ever, have men said ‘We are so necessary to God and God’s cause that He cannot do without us; and therefore though He hates sin in everyone else, He will excuse sin in us, as long as we are about His business.
Therefore, my dear friends, whenever we are tempted to do or say anything rash, or vain, or mean, because we are children of God; whenever we are inclined to be puffed up with spiritual pride, and to fancy that we may take liberties which other men must not take, because we are the children of God; let us remember the words of the text, and answer the tempter, when he says: ‘If thou be the Son of God, do this and that, as our Lord answered him – “If I be the Child of God, what then? This – that I must behave as if God were my Father. I must trust my God utterly, and I must obey Him utterly. I must do no rash or vain thing to tempt God, even though it looks as if I should have a great success, and do much good thereby. I must do no mean or base thing, nor give way for a moment to the wicked ways of this wicked world, even though again it looks as if I should have a great success, and do much good thereby. In one word, I must worship my Father in heaven, and Him only must I serve. If He wants me, He will use me. If He does not want me, He will use some one else. Who am I, that God cannot govern the world without my help? My business is to refrain my soul, and keep it low, even as a weaned child, and not to meddle with matters too high for me. My business is to do the little, simple, everyday duties which lie nearest me, and be faithful in a few things; and then, if Christ will, he may make me some day ruler over many things, and I shall enter into the joy of my Lord, which is the joy of doing good to my fellow men. But I shall never enter into that by thrusting myself into Christ's way, with grand schemes and hasty projects, as if I knew better than He how to make His kingdom come. If I do, my pride will have a fall. Because I would not be faithful over a few things, I shall be tempted to be unfaithful over many things; and instead of entering into the joy of my Lord, I shall be in danger of the awful judgement pronounced on those who do evil that good may come, who shall say in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?' And then will He protest unto them - 'I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.'
Oh, my friends, in all your projects for good, as in all other matters which come before you in your mortal life, keep innocence and take heed to the thing that is right. For that, and that alone, shall bring a man peace at the last.
To which, may God in His mercy bring us all. Amen.
(From 'All Saints' Day and Other Sermons' published by Macmillan and Co., 1890)