Mr. Keble has been fortunate in his biographer. There have been since his death various attempts to appreciate a character manifestly of such depth and interest, yet about which outsiders could find so little to say. Professor Shairp, of St. Andrews, two or three years ago gave a charming little sketch, full of heart and insight, and full too of noble modesty and reverence, which deserves to be rescued from the danger of being forgotten into which sketches are apt to fall, both on account of its direct subject, and also for the contemporary evidence which it contains of the impressions made on a perfectly impartial and intelligent observer by the early events of the Oxford movement. The brilliant Dean of Westminster, in Macmillan’s Magazine, has attempted, with his usual grace and kindliness, to do justice to Keble’s character, and has shown how hard he found the task. The paper on Keble forms a pendant to a recent paper on Dean Milman. The two papers show conspicuously the measure and range of Dr. Stanley’s power; what he can comprehend and appreciate in religious earnestness and height, and what he cannot; in what shapes, as in Dean Milman, he can thoroughly sympathise with it and grasp it, and where its phenomena, as in Mr. Keble, simply perplex and baffle him, and carry him out of his depth.
Sir John Coleridge knew Keble probably as long and as intimately as any one; and on the whole, he had the most entire sympathy with his friend’s spirit, even where he disagreed with his opinions. He thoroughly understood and valued the real and living unity of a character which mostly revealed itself to the outer world by what seemed jerks and discordant traits. From early youth, through manhood to old age, he had watched and tested and loved that varied play and harmony of soul and mind, which was sometimes tender, sometimes stern, sometimes playful, sometimes eager; abounding with flashes of real genius, and yet always inclining by instinctive preference to things homely and humble; but which was always sound and unselfish and thorough, endeavouring to subject itself to the truth and will of God. To Sir John Coleridge all this was before him habitually as a whole; he could take it in, not by putting piece by piece together, but because he saw it. And besides being an old and affectionate and intelligent friend, he was also a discriminating one. In his circumstances he was as opposite to Keble as any one could be; he was a lawyer and man of the world, whose busy life at Westminster had little in common with the studies or pursuits of the divine and the country parson.