Henry Kingsley - Stories from the Graves

Henry Kingsley, writer and younger brother of novelist Charles Kingsley (author of the Water Babies), is often described as the black sheep of the Kingsley family. Despite showing signs of brilliance in his early works, the majority of the twenty novels he published were either panned or simply ignored. Known as a spendthrift who drank heavily, Henry’s story is both sad and complex – as he lived in the shadow of his more successful offspring.

By Claire Cooper

Henry Kingsley was born on 2nd January 1830 at Barnack in the Northamptonshire countryside. He was the fifth son and youngest child of Reverend Charles and Mary (Lucas) Kingsley. Soon after Henry’s birth, the family moved to Clovelly, Devonshire, and when he was six years old his father became the rector at St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea. (Both Devonshire and Chelsea later figured prominently in Henry’s novels.) However, much of Henry’s childhood was spent in London - perusing his father’s well-stocked library and local bookstalls.

Henry’s formal education began in 1844 at King’s College School, and years later he moved to Worcester College, Oxford. It is said that his time at Oxford was marked by an almost total disregard for his studies and a clear commitment to ‘folly and fun’. However, his taste for pleasure and athletic prowess made him popular among his peers - he once won a wager with friend Sir Edwin Arnold by running a mile, rowing a mile and trotting a mile within fifteen minutes.

Henry’s behaviour, which included smoking and drinking, often verged on overindulgence, and he and Arnold also formed a short-lived secret society, called the Fez Club, which was based on misogyny (hatred of women) and a commitment to celibacy. 

The full story is printed in the January 2017 issue of Cuckfield Life magazine...