1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Keble

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 220 (May 1866) 747-49.



March 29. At Bournemouth, after a short illness, aged 73, the Rev. John Keble, M.A., vicar of Hursley, Hants.

The deceased (who came maternally of a Scottish Jacobite family) was a Son of the Rev. John Keble, some time Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, for fifty-two years vicar of Coln St. Aldwyn's, Gloucestershire, who died on the 24th Jan., 1835 (see G. M., March, 1835, p. 330), by Sarah, daughter of the Rev. John Maule, vicar of Ringwood, Hants. He was born at Fairford, Gloucestershire, on the 25th April, 1792; and, having received his early education under his parental roof, proceeded to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where, before he had completed his fifteenth year, he was a successful candidate for a Scholarship, and where he graduated B.A., in first-class honours, both in Classics and Mathematics, in Easter Term, 1810 (being at that time only just 18). He was soon afterwards elected to a fellowship at Oriel College, where he was the contemporary and friend of Dr. Arnold, as he had been at his former college; and where he took his degree of M.A., May 20, 1813.

In the Oxford University Calendar for 1814, he is entered as Fellow of Oriel College, and M.A. Among his colleagues were Copleston (afterwards Provost of the College and Bishop of Llandaff), senior Fellow; the Rev. John Davison (author of works on Prophecy, Baptismal Regeneration, &c.), Bursar and Tutor; the Rev. James Endell Tyler, M.A., afterwards Rector of St. Giles's-in-the-Fields; the Rev. Richard Whately, M.A., afterwards Archbishop of Dublin; and Edward Hawkins, B.A., the present Provost. Among the commoners of the College at the time were R. D. Hampden (now Bishop of Hereford); Thomas Parry (now Bishop of Barbados); and Samuel Rickards, the late rector of Stowlangtoft, Suffolk.

Mr. Keble, in 1813, gained the Chancellor's prizes for an English essay on Translations from the Dead Languages, and for a Latin essay on A Comparison of Xenophon and Julius Caesar. He was ordained Deacon by Dr. William Jackson, Bishop of Oxford, on Trinity Sunday, 1815, and Priest in the following year. He had already become one of the tutors of Oriel College, and he acted as Public Examiner in the University in 1814-16; and again 1821-3. About this latter date he ceased to reside, and retired to his father's living at Fairford, where he had a few pupils, and whence he made frequent visits to Oxford. He also filled successively the curacies of East Leach and Burthorpe, and afterwards of Southrop. These parishes are extremely small and contiguous to each other, near also to Fairford, whence he might count on the assistance of his father. He was pretty regularly during the vacations residing at Fairford, and during term time he rode from Oxford, on alternate Saturdays, for the duty of the Sunday.

"The period of his life which he passed in Oxford in the discharge of these University and college duties," says Sir J. T. Coleridge, in an able memoir of the deceased which appeared in the Guardian, "was a very happy one: it was also one of great intellectual activity. He lived on the best of terms with many of the ablest of the Oxford residents, and he was fond of the Oxford society. As Tutor he contracted friendships with several of his pupils. Very frequently three or four of them would follow him to Fairford during the vacations to read with him; and it must not be passed over, even in this short narrative, that he thus formed his life-long friendship with Sir William Heathcote, and ultimately became the incumbent of the living of Hursley, which will for all time to come be associated with his name."

In the autumn of 1825, Mr. Keble accepted the curacy of Hursley, which, however, he held but for a short time; for, owing to the alarming illness, and subsequent death, of his younger sister, he withdrew from Hampshire, and resumed his residence with his father and only surviving sister at Fairford, where he remained until 1835.

In 1827 was commenced the publication of The Christian Year, "than which," says the Times, "no book of modern times has come nearer to what we may call a Divine work." The greater part had already existed for some time in albums, written under great variety of circumstances. Some of the poems were the work of a day — a few hours. It was only when half, or more than half, the year had been written, that Keble would listen to those who wanted the whole year, and in print.

The work appeared anonymously, and it has probably exercised more influence on English religious thought than any volume of poems for very many generations. Its motto was "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength" and its object was to promote "a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion," and to show "the soothing tendency of the Prayer-book." It has been said that the expenses of the publication of The Christian Year were defrayed by Mr. Keble's intimate friend, Sir John Coleridge; but, if so, it is certain that the wonderful popularity of The Christian Year enabled the venerable author not only, long ago, to repay the money thus advanced, but to rebuild the parish church of Hursley at a very great cost. As to the value of The Christian Year, it would be impertinent to speak, it has not only gained a very wide circulation in this country, but its popularity in America is unbounded.

Concurrently with the preparation of The Christian Year for publication, and for some long time after, Keble was engaged in his edition of Hooker. "This," says Sir J. T. Coleridge, "was a most important work, which he embarked in with great interest, and executed with conscientious industry. It is now the standard edition. His preface is an elaborate work, and throws clear light on the serious question of the authenticity of the sixth and eighth books. Hooker had been a great favourite with Keble from his youth, as a man and a writer."

In 1828, a year after the publication of The Christian Year, Dr. Copleston became Bishop of Llandaff, and the Provostship was vacant. Mr. Keble was the senior of those who had any pretensions to succeed, and he did not reserve his wish to succeed. As a reason why Keble did not succeed to the Provostship of Oriel, the Times affirms that he did not understand the management of young men. We have, however, reason to doubt the accuracy of this statement; whatever the real grounds may have been, Dr. Hawkins (the present Provost) was the choice of the majority.

After the passing of the Reform Bill, in 1832, Mr. Keble formed one of the four eminent members of the University of Oxford who met together to devise a remedy for the evils which were sapping the very foundations of the Church. The object of these friends was to enunciate in simple language the true views of Church government, the apostolical commission of the clergy, the value of ordinances, the testimony of antiquity to Church principles. The first of the now famous Tracts for the Times appeared in 1833. Although these tracts, many of which created a prodigious sensation, were published anonymously, there is no great secret as to Mr. Keble's authorship of Tracts 4, 13, 40, 52, and 89; and it may be said that the movement which they originated has for more than thirty years leavened the whole English Church.

From 1831 (when he succeeded Dean Milman without any opposition) to 1842, Mr. Keble was Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and his lectures attracted crowds of students. These lectures, from being in Latin, are, it is feared, little known; and a discussion as to the advisability of translating them into English took place some time since between Judge Coleridge and Mr. Keble, which, curiously enough, it appears, was renewed not many weeks before his death.

On Sunday, July 14, 1833, Mr. Keble preached an assize sermon at St. Mary's, on the national apostacy, which he declared then to have set in, and which he invited the Church to follow him in treating as Samuel had done Saul and the children of Israel.

"That sermon," says the Times, was the epoch, if not the turning point, of Keble's life. It explains not only why he joined the Oxford movement, and became one of the mighty men in its foremost rank; but also, and still more, the special part he has taken in it. His line ever since has been one continued protest against secular indifference and civil assumptions; though it is only fair to add, that this protest has been rather of a passive than an active character."

The year 1835 was an eventful one in the life of Mr. Keble. At the very commencement of it — namely, on the 24th of January — his venerable father, who for some weeks had been confined to his bed, retaining the full use of his faculties, was taken to his rest; and before the conclusion of the year he became the husband of Miss Clarke, the second daughter of his father's old college friend and brother fellow of Corpus, the rector of Meysey Hampton, a neighbouring parish of Fairford. In this year, also, he was presented by Sir William Heathcote, Bart., to the vicarage of Hursley, with Otterbourne (an annexed rectory), and Ampfield (an outlying hamlet), near Winchester. The living was worth nominally 400 a year; but in Mr. Keble's incumbency Otterbourne church was rebuilt, and a new church erected at Ampfield. A chapel was also provided for Pitt, another distant hamlet of the parish.

In 1838, he wrote in the British Critic an article on the Life and Writings of Sir Walter Scott, which has largely helped to give that poet a longer lease of his original popularity. Amongst the other writings of Mr. Keble, we may enumerate De Poetica Vi Medica, Praelectiones Academiae Oxonii Habitae, 2 vols., published in 1844; a pamphlet On the Admission of Dissenters to Oxford (1854); and one against Profane Dealing with Holy Matrimony, published in 1847. Mr. Keble was also the author of the Lyra Innocentium, 1846, and (with Newman, Froude, and some others) of the Lyra Apostolica — his poems in this latter work being distinguished by the Greek letter [gamma]. His greatest work was undoubtedly The Christian Year. "No one, I believe," writes his friend, Sir John Coleridge, "who was any way concerned in it, and certainly not he himself, had realised at the time its importance: we all thought it would probably succeed, sooner or later; and we felt sure that in proportion to its circulation it would do good, and be a delight and comfort to those who should read and study it. It is not much to the discredit of our sagacity that we did not contemplate what followed. I do not speak of editions — nearly, if not quite, ninety in less than forty years — with a circulation still in full vigour. Circumstances for some years made me a sort of steward of it, and I know that the editions were unusually large, 3000 copies being a very usual number. I do not speak of this, but of the manner of its reception and use; it has not been a book for the library read through once, restored to its shelf, and occasionally referred to for a quotation — but "a book for each individual, found in every room, companion in travel, comfort in sickness, again and again read, taken into the mind and heart, soothing, sustaining, teaching, purifying, exalting." The last edition of the "Christian Year" is the 92nd; and no less than six have been issued within the last six months.

The reverend gentleman married, on the 10th October, 1835, Charlotte, younger daughter of the late Rev. G. Clarke, rector of Meysey Hampton, Gloucestershire, who still survives, and whose elder sister married the poet's younger brother, the vicar of Bisley, Gloucestershire. He was buried in Hursley churchyard on the 6th April, in the presence of large numbers of distinguished members of the University of Oxford and others, who had made a journey to Hursley to do honour to his memory.