Charles Kingsley,  Darwin’s friend and correspondent


2014-01-27 Kingsley

Charles Kingsley (12 June 1819-23 January 1875) was an Anglican Churchman, university professor, historian and novelist. He was famous for his historical novels and sermons in which he preached what came to be known as Christian Socialism. He was appointed a chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1859. He wrote appreciatively to Darwin, on previewing The Origin of Species, that a Deity who created “primal forms capable of self development” was “a loftier thought” than one who had created each kind separately:

Eversley Rectory, | Winchfield.
Dear Sir

I have to thank you for the unexpected honour of your book. That the Naturalist whom, of all naturalists living, I most wish to know & to learn from, should have sent a sciolist like me his book, encourages me at least to observe more carefully, & think more slowly.

I am so poorly (in brain) that I fear I cannot read your book just now as I ought. All I have seen of it awes me; both with the heap of facts, & the prestige of your name, & also with the clear intuition, that if you be right, I must give up much that I have believed & written.

In that I care little. ‘Let God be true, & every man a liar’. Let us know what is, & as old Socrates has it—follow up the villainous shifty fox of an argument, into whatsoever unexpected bogs & brakes he may lead us, if we do but run into him at last.

From two common superstitions, at least, I shall be free, while judging of your book. 1) I have long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals & plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species. 2). I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made. I question whether the former be not the loftier thought.

Be it as it may, I shall prize your book, both for itself, & as a proof that you are aware of the existence of such a person as | Your faithful servant

| C Kingsley Eversley | Novr 18/59

Charles Darwin included therefore in the second edition of Origin:

A celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”

In the lecture “The Natural Theology of the Future” in 1871, Kingsley said:

“We were taught–some of us at least–by Holy Scripture, to believe that the whole history of the universe was made up of special Providences. If, then, that should be true which Mr. Darwin writes: “It may be metaphorically said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up that which is good, silently and incessantly working whenever and wherever opportunity offers at the improvement of every organic being”–if that, I say, were proven to be true, ought God’s care and God’s providence to seem less or more magnificent in our eyes? Of old it was said by Him without whom nothing is made: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Shall we quarrel with Science if she should show how those words are true? What, in one word, should we have to say but this?–We knew of old that God was so wise that He could make all things; but behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that He can make all things make themselves.

On a sidenote: My first  knowledge of Charles Kingsley came through his thought on Darwin’s theory. It took me quite as a surprise to learn that he is the same guy who had not only very anti-Catholic sentiments, but also phrased them loud and clearly. And more: He accused John Henry Newman – who had become Catholic in October 1845 – on deceit and untruthfulness in such a harsh manner that Newman decided to write his “Apologia pro vita sua”. – What shall I say?  We Catholics owe Charles Kinsley one of the most-read biographies of Catholic Saints (okay, John Henry Newman is not yet canonized). In Kingsley’s words: “We were taught–some of us at least–by Holy Scripture, to believe that the whole history of the universe was made up of special Providences.” – And the history of man.

Written: Berta M Moritz

—  Letter from Charles Kingsley to Charles Darwin on 18 November 1859
—  Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, (New York, NY: Modern Library, 1977), 367.
—  Charles Kingsley, The Natural Theology of the Future, Read at Sion College, 10 Jan 1871

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