The Northern Way

The Roman and the Teuton


Page 1



Delivered Before

The University of Cambridge


Charles Kingsley, M.A.

New Edition, with Preface, By
Professor F. Max Müller

Macmillan and Co.

Never shall I forget the moment when for the last time I gazed upon the manly features of Charles Kingsley, features which Death had rendered calm, grand, sublime. The constant struggle that in life seemed to allow no rest to his expression, the spirit, like a caged lion, shaking the bars of his prison, the mind striving for utterance, the soul wearying over loving response,---all that was over. There remained only the satisfied expression of triumph and peace, as of a soldier who had fought a good fight, and who, while sinking into the stillness of the slumber of death, listens to the distant sounds of music and to the shouts of victory. One saw the ideal man, as Nature had meant him to be, and one felt that there is no greater sculptor than Death.

As one looked on that marble statue which only some weeks ago had so warmly pressed one's hand, his whole life flashed through one's thoughts. One remembered the young curate and the Saint's Tragedy; the chartist parson and Alton Locke; the happy poet and the Sands of Dee; the brilliant novel-writer and Hypatia and Westward-Ho; the Rector of Eversley and his Village Sermons; the beloved professor of Cambridge, the busy canon at Chester, the powerful preacher in Westminster Abbey. One thought of him by the Berkshire chalk-streams and on the Devonshire coast, watching the beauty and wisdom of Nature, reading her solemn lessons, chuckling too over her inimitable fun. One saw him in town-alleys, preaching the Gospel of godliness and cleanliness, while smoking his pipe with soldiers and navvies. One heard him in drawing-rooms, listened to with patient silence, till one of his vigorous or quaint speeches bounded forth, never to be forgotten. How children delighted in him! How young, wild men believed in him, and obeyed him too! How women were captivated by his chivalry, older men by his genuine humility and sympathy!

All that was now passing away---was gone. But as one looked on him for the last time on earth, one felt that greater than the curate, the poet, the professor, the canon, had been the man himself, with his warm heart, his honest purposes, his trust in his friends, his readiness to spend himself, his chivalry and humility, worthy of a better age.

Of all this the world knew little;---yet few men excited wider and stronger sympathies.

Who can forget that funeral on the 28th Jan., 1875, and the large sad throng that gathered round his grave? There was the representative of the Prince of Wales, and close by the gipsies of the Eversley common, who used to call him their Patrico-rai, their Priest-King. There was the old Squire of his village, and the labourers, young and old, to whom he had been a friend and a father. There were Governors of distant Colonies, officers, and sailors, the Bishop of his diocese, and the Dean of his abbey; there were the leading Nonconformists of the neighbourhood, and his own devoted curates, Peers and Members of the House of Commons, authors and publishers; and outside the church-yard, the horses and the hounds and the huntsman in pink, for though as good a clergyman as any, Charles Kingsley had been a good sportsman too, and had taken in his life many a fence as bravely as he took the last fence of all, without fear or trembling. All that he had loved, and all that had loved him was there, and few eyes were dry when he was laid in his own yellow gravel bed, the old trees which he had planted and cared for waving their branches to him for the last time, and the grey sunny sky looking down with calm pity on the deserted rectory, and on the short joys and the shorter sufferings of mortal men.

All went home feeling that life was poorer, and every one knew that he had lost a friend who had been, in some peculiar sense, his own. Charles Kingsley will be missed in England, in the English colonies, in America, where he spent his last happy year; aye, wherever Saxon speech and Saxon thought is understood. He will be mourned for, yearned for, in every place in which he passed some days of his busy life. As to myself, I feel as if another cable had snapped that tied me to this hospitable shore.

When an author or a poet dies, the better part of him, it is often said, is left in his works. So it is in many cases. But with Kingsley his life and his works were one. All he wrote was meant for the day when he wrote it. That was enough for him. He hardly gave himself time to think of fame and the future. Compared with a good work done, with a good word spoken, with a silent grasp of the hand from a young man he had saved from mischief, or with a 'Thank you, Sir,' from a poor woman to whom he had been a comfort, he would have despised what people call glory, like incense curling away in smoke. He was, in one sense of the word, a careless writer. He did his best at the time and for the time. He did it with a concentrated energy of will which broke through all difficulties. In his flights of imagination, in the light and fire of his language he had few equals, if any; but the perfection and classical finish which can be obtained by a sustained effort only, and by a patience which shrinks from no drudgery, these are wanting in most of his works.

However, fame, for which he cared so little, has come to him. His bust will stand in Westminster Abbey, in the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, by the side of his friend, Frederick Maurice; and in the Temple of Fame which will be consecrated to the period of Victoria and Albert, there will be a niche for Charles Kingsley, the author of Alton Locke and Hypatia.

Sooner or later a complete edition of his works will be wanted, though we may doubt whether he himself would have wished all his literary works to be preserved. From what I knew of him and his marvellous modesty, I should say decidedly not. I doubt more especially, whether he would have wished the present book, The Roman and the Teuton, to be handed down to posterity. None of his books was so severely criticised as this volume of Lectures, delivered before the University of Cambridge, and published in 1864. He himself did not republish it, and it seems impossible to speak in more depreciatory terms of his own historical studies than he does himself again and again in the course of his lectures. Yet these lectures, it should be remembered, were more largely attended than almost any other lectures at Cambridge. They produced a permanent impression on many a young mind. They are asked for again and again, and when the publishers wished for my advice as to the expediency of bringing out a new and cheaper edition, I could not hesitate as to what answer to give.

I am not so blinded by my friendship for Kingsley as to say that these lectures are throughout what academical lectures ought to be. I only wish some one would tell me what academical lectures at Oxford and Cambridge can be, as long as the present system of teaching and examining is maintained. It is easy to say what these lectures are not. They do not profess to contain the results of long continued original research. They are not based on a critical appreciation of the authorities which had to be consulted. They are not well arranged, systematic or complete. All this the suddenly elected professor of history at Cambridge would have been the first to grant. 'I am not here,' he says, 'to teach you history. I am here to teach you how to teach yourselves history.' I must say even more. It seems to me that these lectures were not always written in a perfectly impartial and judicial spirit, and that occasionally they are unjust to the historians who, from no other motive but a sincere regard for truth, thought it their duty to withhold their assent from many of the commonly received statements of mediaeval chroniclers.

But for all that, let us see what these Lectures are, and whether there is not room for them by the side of other works. First of all, according to the unanimous testimony of those who heard them delivered at Cambridge, they stirred up the interest of young men, and made them ask for books which Undergraduates had never asked for before at the University libraries. They made many people who read them afterwards, take a new interest in old and half-forgotten kings and battles, and they extorted even from unfriendly critics the admission that certain chapters, such as, for instance, 'The Monk as a Civiliser,' displayed in an unexpected way his power of appreciating the good points in characters, otherwise most antipathic to the apostle of Manly Christianity. They contain, in fact, the thoughts of a poet, a moralist, a politician, a theologian, and, before all, of a friend and counsellor of young men, while reading for them and with them one of the most awful periods in the history of mankind, the agonies of a dying Empire and the birth of new nationalities. History was but his text, his chief aim was that of the teacher and preacher, and as an eloquent interpreter of the purposes of history before an audience of young men to whom history is but too often a mere succession of events to be learnt by heart, and to be ready against periodical examinations, he achieved what he wished to achieve. Historians by profession would naturally be incensed at some portions of this book, but even they would probably admit by this time, that there are in it whole chapters full of excellence, telling passages, happy delineations, shrewd remarks, powerful outbreaks of real eloquence, which could not possibly be consigned to oblivion.

Nor would it have been possible to attempt to introduce any alterations, or to correct what may seem to be mistakes. The book is not meant as a text-book or as an authority, any more than Schiller's History of the Thirty Years' War; it should be read in future, as what it was meant to be from the first, Kingsley's thoughts on some of the moral problems presented by the conflict between the Roman and the Teuton. One cannot help wishing that, instead of lectures, Kingsley had given us another novel, like Hypatia, or a real historical tragedy, a Dietrich von Bern, embodying in living characters one of the fiercest struggles of humanity, the death of the Roman, the birth of the German world. Let me quote here what Bunsen said of Kingsley's dramatic power many years ago:

'I do not hesitate (he writes) to call these two works, the Saint's Tragedy and Hypatia, by far the most important and perfect of this genial writer. In these more particularly I find the justification of a hope which I beg to be allowed to express---that Kingsley might continue Shakspeare's historical plays. I have for several years made no secret of it, that Kingsley seems to me the genius of our century, called to place by the side of that sublime dramatic series from King John to Henry VIII, another series of equal rank, from Edward VI to the Landing of William of Orange. This is the only historical development of Europe which unites in itself all vital elements, and which we might look upon without overpowering pain. The tragedy of St. Elizabeth shows that Kingsley can grapple, not only with the novel, but with the more severe rules of dramatic art. And Hypatia proves, on the largest scale, that he can discover in the picture of the historical past, the truly human, the deep, the permanent, and that he knows how to represent it. How, with all this, he can hit the fresh tone of popular life, and draw humourous characters and complications with Shakspearian energy, is proved by all his works. And why should he not undertake this great task? There is a time when the true poet, the prophet of the present, must bid farewell to the questions of the day, which seem so great because they are so near, but are, in truth, but small and unpoetical. He must say to himself, "Let the dead bury their dead"----and the time has come that Kingsley should do so.'

A great deal has been written on mistakes which Kingsley was supposed to have made in these Lectures, but I doubt whether these criticisms were always perfectly judicial and fair. For instance, Kingsley's using the name of Dietrich, instead of Theodoric, was represented as the very gem of a blunder, and some critics went so far as to hint that he had taken Theodoric for a Greek word, as an adjective of Theodorus. This, of course, was only meant as a joke, for on page 120 Kingsley had said, in a note, that the name of Theodoric, Theuderic, Dietrich, signifies 'king of nations.' He therefore knew perfectly well that Theodoric was simply a Greek adaptation of the Gothic name Theode-reiks, theod meaning people, reiks, according to Grimm, princeps. (1) But even if he had called the king Theodorus, the mistake would not have been unpardonable, for he might have appealed to the authority of Gregory of Tours, who uses not only Theodoricus, but also Theodorus, as the same name.


1. Grimm, Grammatik, ii. p. 516. Back

Index  |  Next page