Research for this essay was funded by a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, and the author would like to thank the Foundation for their generous support, as well as the Friends of Princeton University Library for their award of a Fellowship, which enabled him to study Princeton's important collection of Kingsley material.
An Illiberal Descent: Natural and National History in the Work of Charles Kingsley
Article first published online: 15 APR 2011
© 2011 The Author. History© 2011 The Historical Association and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Volume 96, Issue 322, pages 167–187, April 2011
How to Cite
CONLIN, J. (2011), An Illiberal Descent: Natural and National History in the Work of Charles Kingsley. History, 96: 167–187. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-229X.2011.00513.x
- Issue published online: 15 APR 2011
- Article first published online: 15 APR 2011
The Victorian novelist, historian and cleric Charles Kingsley (1819–75) was a polymath who took a close interest in natural history. A friend and correspondent of T. H. Huxley and many other leading British and American biologists, Kingsley applied concepts familiar from evolutionary biology in his historical novels and lectures. Rather than being a straightforward case of dressing literary works in language made fashionable and exciting by the boom of post-Darwinian speculation on evolution, Kingsley sought to construct a Natural Theology for the Victorian age, one in which natural and national history merged completely. This encouraged him to present the history of Britain as the history of a divinely favoured Teutonic race, one with a mission to subdue the world. Less favoured races were doomed to assimilation into this race or to complete annihilation. Such racialist thinking was, this essay suggests, not unusual in Victorian historical writing. Accounts of Victorian historiography structured around the professionalization of a new discipline of history may have caused us to overlook ‘amateurs’ such as Kingsley, despite the fact that their historical works remained popular well into the twentieth century.