[A] The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn. By Henry Kingsley. New Edition, with a Memoir by Clement Shorter. London: Ward, Lock & Bowden.
ALEXANDER WILLIAM KINGLAKE
January 10, 1891. His Life.
Alexander William Kinglake was born in 1812, the son of a country gentleman—Mr. W. Kinglake, of Wilton House, Taunton—and received a country gentleman’s education at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. From college he went to Lincoln’s Inn, and in 1837 was called to the Chancery Bar, where he practised with fair but not eminent success. In 1844 he published Eothen, and having startled the town, quietly resumed his legal work and seemed willing to forget the achievement. Ten years later he accompanied his friend, Lord Raglan, to the Crimea. He retired from the Bar in 1856, and entered Parliament next year as member for Bridgwater. Re-elected in 1868, he was unseated on petition in 1869, and thenceforward gave himself up to the work of his life. He had consented, after Lord Raglan’s death, to write a history of the Invasion of the Crimea. The two first volumes appeared in 1863; the last was published but two years before he succumbed, in the first days of 1891, to a slow incurable disease. In all, the task had occupied thirty years. Long before these years ran out, the world had learnt to regard the Crimean struggle in something like its true perspective; but over Kinglake’s mind it continued to loom in all its original proportions. To adapt a phrase of M. Jules Lemaitre’s, “le monde a change en trente ans: lui ne bouge; il ne leve plus de dessus son papier a copie sa face congestionne.” And yet Kinglake was no cloistered scribe. Before his last illness he dined out frequently, and was placed by many among the first half-a-dozen talkers in London. His conversation, though delicate and finished, brimmed full of interest in life and affairs: but let him enter his study, and its walls became a hedge. Without, the world was moving: within, it was always 1854, until by slow toiling it turned into 1855.
His style is hard, elaborate, polished to brilliance. Its difficult labor recalls Thucydides. In effect it charms at first by its accuracy and vividness: but with continuous perusal it begins to weigh upon the reader, who feels the strain, the unsparing effort that this glittering fabric must have cost the builder, and at length ceases to sympathize with the story and begins to sympathize with the author. Kinglake started by disclaiming “composition.” “My narrative,” he says, in the famous preface to Eothen, “conveys not those impressions which ought to have been produced upon any well-constituted mind, but those which were really and truly received, at the time of his rambles, by a headstrong and not very amiable traveller.... As I have felt, so I have written.”