John Keble, two years older than his friend Dr. Arnold of Rugby, three years older than Thomas Carlyle, and nine years older than John Henry Newman, was born in 1792, at Fairford in Gloucestershire. He was born in his father’s parsonage, and educated at home by his father till he went to college. His father then entered him at his own college at Oxford, Corpus Christi. Thoroughly trained, Keble obtained high reputation at his University for character and scholarship, and became a Fellow of Oriel. After some years he gave up work in the University, though he could not divest himself of a large influence there for good, returned home to his old father, who required help in his ministry, and undertook for his the duty of two little curacies. The father lived on to the age of ninety. John Keble’s love for God and his devotion to the Church had often been expressed in verse. On days which the Church specially celebrated, he had from time to time written short poems to utter from the heart his own devout sense of their spiritual use and meaning. As the number of these poems increased, the desire rose to follow in like manner the while course of the Christian Year as it was marked for the people by the sequence of church services, which had been arranged to bring in due order before the minds of Christian worshippers all the foundations of their faith, and all the elements of a religious life. A book of poems, breathing faith and worship at all points, and in all attitudes of heavenward contemplation, within the circle of the Christian Year, would, he hoped, restore in many minds to many a benumbed form life and energy.
In 1825, while the poems of the Christian Year were gradually being shaped into a single work, a brother became able to relieve John Keble in that pious care for which his father had drawn him away from a great University career, and he then went to a curacy at Hursley, four or five miles from Winchester.
In 1827—when its author’s age was thirty-five—“The Christian Year” was published. Like George Herbert, whose equal he was in piety though not in power, Keble was joined to the Church in fullest sympathy with all its ordinances, and desired to quicken worship by putting into each part of the ritual a life that might pass into and raise the life of man. The spirit of true religion, with a power beyond that of any earthly feuds and controversies, binds together those in whom it really lives. Setting aside all smaller questions of the relative value of different earthly means to the attainment of a life hidden with Christ in God, Christians of all forms who are one in spirit have found help from “John Keble’s Christian Year, and think of its guileless author with kindly affection. Within five-and-twenty years of its publication, a hundred thousand copies had been sold. The book is still diffused so widely, in editions of all forms, that it may yet go on, until the circle of the years shall be no more, living and making live.