Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 13 April 1915
A CUCKFIELD WORTHY
MONSIGNORE R. H. BENSON’S FAVOURITE NOVELIST.
AN ALMOST FORGOTTEN GRAVE.
There are strange happenings in connection with life and death to-day. Some are explainable; others are enigmas which have never yet been puzzled out. For instance, why should it be that men who on the whole are worth more than a dozen ordinary folk in modern life should be taken from us when they are at their best? We do not know. Neither is there any clear reason why we should. Whether the fault lies with men or not, we are still faced by the fact.
Two of the finest minds we have known in recent years were housed in the bodies of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson and the Rev. C. Silvester Horne. They were men of widely differing aims and emotions, with quite dissimilar influences and atmospheres, but they were akin in two particulars. First - and let county pride be stifled quickly, before it bursts its bubble:—They both had connections with Sussex. The mother of the one, Mrs. Benson, lives at Horsted Keynes; Silvester Horne was born at Cuckfield.
Secondly—and this is far more important - they both poured out their energy' in a veritable torrent, till the sources were drained and the life ceased almost abruptly. They were both absorbed in spiritual labours, and their good works came forth in perpetual liveliness. It was as though life was a Niagara, with an intensity and a volume in its flow, a natural thunder in its fall, and a spraying and a splashing which were cooling and inspiring to those on whom it fell. But it was a Niagara with limited springs to supply it.
It was in his brother's memoirs of Hugh Benson that one was reminded of another Cuckfield celebrity. It happened in this wise. Sir William Robertson Nicoll, in a charming review of the book, wrote thus:— "He was never very much of a reader, except for a specific purpose. He read the books that came in his way, but he had no tactical knowledge of English literature. There were many English classics which he never looked into, and he made no attempt to follow modern development. I should have welcomed a fuller account of Hugh Benson's reading.
In an address which I heard, and which was published in the newspapers, he said that he found Scott quite impossible. He simply could not read him. He contrived with difficulty to appreciate Dickens and Thackeray. But he said very frankly and boldly that his favourite writers were Henry Kingsley and R. L. Stevenson. I thought of this the other day when I stood by Henry Kingsley's grave in Cuckfield Churchyard. A little wooden cross marks it, but we were told that no one had visited it for many years. It was in Cuckfield that Henry Kingsley passed through his last agonising illness. Though it is nearly forty years since he died, there are some in the little town who remember his presence."
After reading this the present writer went on a similar pilgrimage, and found that little wooden cross. The way to it lies down the path east of Cuckfield Church as far as the grave of the Rev. T. A. Maberly, turning then to the right, the novelist's grave being about half-way along to the southern side, It is in quiet spot. One can stand there and look across the Weald and see the curves of the Downland meet the cloudy, misty blue of God's great sky.
The grave is a double one, and Henry Kingsley lies buried in the space nearest to the path. There is a surrounding curb which appeared as white marble once, and which has suffered so much from the raids of the weather, the lichen and the grass that it is now a patchwork of grey and green and brown, with here and there some white. At the head there is a stained brown gabled cross of wood, showing signs of decay at the top.
On looking closely the inscription is still decipherable. The letters are cut down into the wood, and painted in dark red. "In Thy presence is the fulness of joy" are the words on the gable, and on the arms of the cross is inscribed "Henry Kingsley, entered into rest on the Vigil of the Ascension, May 24th, 1876 aged 46 years. R.I.P " So he, too, like the priest who loved his books in later years, departed in his prime. The mound is sunken and irregular, and the grass rough and lumpy, whilst in odd corners are daffodils, but without any flowers.
Kingsley lived at Attrees, that picturesque old house next to the Queen's Hall. Canon Cooper's "History of Cuckfield" tells us that it was the residence of John Attree, who was Churchwarden of Cuckfield in 1680, and who married Anne, daughter of John Warden, of Butler's Green, in 1681.
Henry Kingsley was the youngest of a brilliant trio of brothers, sons of a Rector of Chelsea. Charles Kingsley, undoubtedly the most famous, was the eldest, and he combined many gifts. "Westward Ho!” and "Hypatia" have long survived their writer, who was poet, Canon of Westminster, Vicar of Eversley, and many timings besides. The second brother, George, was a Doctor of Medicine, a gifted talker, and, in someone else's words, "a man who might have done something." Henry was born in 1830, was educated at King's College, London, and entered Worcester College, Oxford, in 1850. Three years later he went to Australia, and in the goldfields there he stayed for another three years.
This was a time of inspiration, as no one can doubt who has read the graphic and attractive vignettes of Australian scenery which are introduced into some of his novels. A reviewer some twenty years co, writing in a publication which has since gone the way of many literary ventures, said "Henry Kingsley was born to wear the purple of romance. . . Where will anyone who is ordinary and sane find better comradeship? Scarcely outside the novels of Walter Scott." Note here that Hugh Benson could not endure Scott.
At the same time the Pail Mall Gazette said that "To renew your acquaintance with Henry Kingsley is for Henry Kingsley to stand forth victorious all along the line. His work, in truth, is as moving and entertaining now as it was moving and entertaining thirty odd years ago." He published "The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn " in 1859, and " Ravenshoe" in 1861. Three years later he became Editor of The Edinburgh Daily Review, and later he acted as correspondent for that paper in that trumped-up war between France and Prussia which was the distant prelude to the present discord in European harmony. He was at Sedan in 1870. Doubtless he would be astonished were he to return and take stock of modern journalism; he would have a contrast in method and resources!
Henry Kingsley, who was once termed a "despotic and satisfying romancer," was by no means the least considerable of those whose names that figure in the Valhalla Chelsea letters. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Clement Shorter, Kingsley's “The Hillyars and the Burtons" is "the prose epic of that fascinating suburb, Chelsea." Chelsea Old Church, wherein his father ministered for many years, is a marvellous storehouse of memories, and Kingsley showed a master hand in dealing with its romance. His English style was easy and unaffected, quite interesting to follow, likewise the events he described. Between these were sandwiched layers of useful information, neat and crisp, and not set down after the manner of Ballantyne.
One of the older inhabitants of Cuckfield told the writer the other day that he remembered seeing Mr. Kingsley walking about the streets, often reading. Mrs. Kingsley, who was also held in high esteem, continued to live at Cuckfield for a few years after the death of her husband. She took a great interest in the erection to the Church Mission Room at Brook Street in 1879, and our informant said that he and another chorister, since deceased, went down to the opening service and on returning were entertained to supper at Attrees. Mrs. Kingsley afterwards removed to Folkestone.