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An illiberal descent: natural and national history in the work of Charles Kingsley

By Jonathan Conlin

Abstract

The Victorian novelist, historian and cleric Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) 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 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 professionalisation 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

Topics: D1
Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.soton.ac.uk:180835
Provided by: e-Prints Soton

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