He was born in Devon, the son of a vicar, and educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge, before himself going in for the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire, and in 1860, he was appointed Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. His interest in history spilled over into his writings, which include The Heroes (1856), a children's book about Greek mythology, and several historical novels, of which the best known are Hypatia (1853), Hereward the Wake (1865), and Westward Ho! (1855). Kingsley's concern for social reform is illustrated in his great classic, The Water-Babies (1863), a kind of fairytale about a boy chimney-sweep, which retained its popularity well into the 20th century.
Kingsley also wrote poetry and political articles, as well as several volumes of sermons. His argument, in print, with John Henry Newman is said to have prompted the latter to produce his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Kingsley died in 1875, a widely respected figure.
As a novelist his chief power lay in his descriptive faculties. The descriptions of South American scenery in Westward Ho!, of the Egyptian desert in Hypatia, of the North Devon scenery in Two Years Ago, are among the most brilliant pieces of wordpainting in English prose-writing; and the American scenery is even more vividly and more truthfully described when he had seen it only by the eye of his imagination than in his work At Last, which was written after he had visited the tropics. His sympathy for children taught him how to secure their interests. His version of the old Greek stories entitled The Heroes, and Water-babies and Madam How and Lady Why, in which he deals with popular natural history, take high rank among books for children.
In person Charles Kingsley was tall and spare, sinewy rather than powerful, and of a restless excitable temperament. His complexion was swarthy, his hair dark, and his eye bright and piercing. His temper was hot, kept under rigid control; his disposition tender, gentle and loving, with flashing scorn and indignation against all that was ignoble and impure; he was a good husband, father and friend. One of his daughters, Mary St Leger Kingsley (Mrs Harrison), became well known as a novelist under the pseudonym of "Lucas Malet."
Kingsley's life was written by his widow in 1877, entitled Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life, and presents a very touching and beautiful picture of her husband, but perhaps hardly does justice to his humour, his wit, his overflowing vitality and boyish fun.
The following is a list of Kingsley's writings: