Keble, John

Keble, John " the sweetest and most Christian poet of modern days," was born in Fairford, in Gloucestershire, April 25,1792. His father was fellow of Corpus Christi College, and for fifty years vicar of Coln, St. Alwins, and lived until his ninetieth year. His mother was the daughter of a clergyman. Thus on both sides he came of a pastoral stock; and it is worthy of note that his only surviving brother, Thomas, like himself became a clergyman (rector of Bisley), that that brother's son also took orders, and that Mr. Keble himself, like his father, married a clergyman's daughter. Young Keble was prepared for college by his father, and entered the University of Oxford, and there greatly distinguished himself by a remarkable display of talent and application. When only eighteen, full four years below the customary age for graduating, John Keble won the highest intellectual rank the university can bestow that of a "double-first classman," his name appearing in the first class of classics as well as in the first class of mathematics. This distinction had never been achieved up to that time except in the case of Robert Peel. April 20, 1811, wanting a few days of the completion of his nineteenth year, he was elected probationer fellow of Oriel, and took his place at the high table, and in the senior common room of that celebrated college. Whately entered it with him, and these two were the duumviri to whom all paid an almost obsequious deference. In 1812 he won the prizes for both the bachelors' essays -the English on Translation from Dead Languages, the Latin a comparison of Xenophon and Julius Caesar as Military Chroniclers. In the annals of Corpus twice only has such a triumph been won, one instance that of young Keble, and the other no less a man than Henry Hart Milman, the late celebrated dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. At the unprecedented age of twenty-two-indeed, some months short of it-he was appointed by the University of Oxford one of its public examiners. Thus did Keble attain a success which we believe has never been equalled for its precocious ability. In 1815 he was ordained deacon, the following year priest, and soon after left the university, and never again-permanently resided there. He became his father's curate; and lived with him in that capacity nearly twenty years. He turned aside from the numerous paths of ambition which were open to him, and gave himself to parochial work as the employment of his life. In 1835 Keble's father died. He was now offered and accepted the vicarage of Hursley, and married. His parish was obscure, thirty miles from Oxford. There was not, it is said, a single cultivated family in his charge, so that his labors were altogether among the humbler and poorer classes, but under his indefatigable ministrations it became one of the model parishes of England. It is, however, as the poet of the "Christian Year" and the " Lyra Innocentium" that Keble will be most widely and permanently known. The former was published in 1827. It is probable that most of the poem was written at Fairford. Its success was certainly most remarkable. More than one hundred editions have been sold. Of course Keble might have realized a fortune from the sale of this extraordinary book; but in this, as in everything else, he showed his disinterestedness. When, in 1835, Keble came to Hursley, he found a church not at all to his mind. It is described as a plain and anything but beautiful building of flint and rubble. He at once determined to have a new one built, and, in order to care out his project, he employed the profits of the many editions of The Christian Year; and when the building was finished, his friends, in token of their regard for him, filled all the windows with stained glass. On Friday, the 6th of April, 1866, he was buried in the church-yard of Hursley, where he had officiated a minister for nearly thirty years. It was on the day before Good Friday, viz. on the 29th of March, that he died. On the eve of a great Christian observance, he, the singer of Christian observances, passed away to his rest. The character of Keble's poetry may be surmised from his life and opinions; it is gentle, sweet, devotional, and highly cultivated; it translates religious sentiment out of the ancient and exclusively Hebrew dialect into the language of modern feeling. A deep tone of home affection runs through all his poems. The highest culture of which man is capable, and the most refined thought in him, had not weakened, but only made natural affection more pure and. intense. Never, perhaps, except in the case of George Herbert, has a character of such rare and saintly beauty concurred with a poetic gift and power of poetic expression of the highest order. John Keble is noted also as the leader of the original band of Oxford scholars and divines who began the so-called "Puseyite" movement in the English Church. He contributed to the famous Tracts for the Times (1834-1836), and it is to Keble's influence over Newman that the latter ascribes his conversion to Romanism, dating it from July 14,1833. when Keble preached his sermon on National Apostasy. He was also one of the editors of the Bibliotheca Patrum Ecclesice Catholicae (begun in 1838). His works are, On Translation from the Dead Languages (an Oxford Prize Essay, 1812; Oxf. 1812): — The Christian Year: thoughts in verse for the Sundays and holy-days throughout the year (1827, 2 vols.; 36th ed. 1852, 8vo): — The Child's Christian Year (4th edit. 1841, 18mo):Primitive Tradition recognised in Holy Scripture; a Sermon (on 2Ti 1:14; 2Ti 4th ed., with a Postscript and Catena Patrum [No. 3 of the Tracts of the Times], 1839, 18mo; originally published [in 1837] as No. 78 of the [Oxford] Tracts for the Times): — The Psalter, or Psalm s of David, in English Verse (1839, sm. 8vo; 3d edit. 1840, 18mo): — Selections from Richard Hooker (1839, 18mo; 2d edit. 1848, 18mo): — an edition of Hooker's Works: Praelectiones Academicae Oxonii Habitae (1832-41, 2 vols. 8vo; 1844-1846, 2 vols. 8vo):- Lyra Innocentium: Thoughts on Verse, on Children, their Ways and their Privileges (1846. sm. 8vo, Anon.): — Sermons Academical and Occasional (1847, 8vo; 2d edit. 1848, 8vo): — A very few plain Thoughts on the proposed Addition of Dissenters to the University of Oxford (written from his position as High- Church polemic, 1854). See Coleridge, Memoirs of the Rev. J. Keble (1869, 2 vols. 8vo); Sharp, Memoir (in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy); Allibone, Dict. of Authors, s.v.; Church Review, Oct. 1866, art. i; Amer. Ch. Review, April, 1870, art. i. (E. de P.)

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