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1931: Biography removes 'dark clouds' over Henry Kingsley's reputation

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 25 August 1931



With the object of clearing Henry Kingsley's name from clouds that in the minds of some have overhung his memory, Mr S. M. Ellis has written the first detailed account of the career and achievements of the author of ‘Geoffrey Hamlyn’, ‘Ravenshoe’ and a great many other novels. After exhaustive research in many directions, and from information supplied by Mr Kingsley's niece and friends, Mr Ellis has been able to present all the essential biographical facts. With the recent revival of interest in the life and work of Kingsley, together with a full acknowledgement of his gifts as


and master of nervous, picturesque prose, there appears to have arisen an impression that some dark and mysterious circumstances clouded both his university career and the last years of his brief life, whereas it has been hinted that alcohol precipitated Kingsley's downfall. Mr Ellis admits that perhaps excessive smoking was a predisposing cause, in as much as this habit can do used to his terrible death from cancer of the tongue and throat. Mr Ellis assigns the main reason for the supposition that there was something dark and desirable to conceal in the life of Henry Kingsley to the fact that he is entirely ignored and unmentioned in the biography of his famous brother. Charles. But Mr Ellis cannot see that the biography, Charles Kingsley's wife, had any cause to believe she had need to obliterate the record of a black sheep of the family, although she disliked Henry and his wife. Mr Ellis deals exhaustively with Henry’s youth, his sojourn at Oxford, his emigration to Australia, his return to Eversley, his married life at Walgrave and his experience as war correspondent in the Sudan. Finally, the darkening days of the last few years are described, and we are told how Henry, a dying man, came, with his wife,


In 1874. “There are several persons still living”, Mr Ellis declares, “who remember Henry Kingsley in Cuckfield, and they all agree in saying that there was not the slightest truth in the allegation that he was addicted to drinking or in the totally unfounded statement that he and his wife were socially ostracised in the village”.

Attrees (now Kingsleys) in circa 1870

Kingsley died on May 24, 1876, and he was buried in the churchyard at Cuckfield, not obscurely as some have imagined, but with the attendance of a large number of friends and villagers. The second half of the volume is devoted to the letters of Kingsley, including his descriptions of the Franco-Prussian war. The volume presents a vast amount of research work, construction and deduction on the part of Mr Ellis, who presents to us this tragic literary figure in a different light from that in which many have seen him.

Mr Ellis submits with every justification that no cloud darkens Kingsley's memory save the transitory and excusable one of financial difficulties, and that in the literary firmament his name shines high, sparkling and clear. The admirable illustrations include reproductions of actress, Cuckfield, and of Kingsley's grave in the churchyard. “Henry Kingsley, 1830–1876” is published by Mrs Grant Richards, 8 Regent Street, London, S.W.1, at 12 shillings and 6p.

Henry Kingsley circa 1870

It is interesting to note that Mr Stuart M. Ellis is a first cousin of Mr H. E. Stuart of Purcells, Cuckfield and has been interested in Cuckfield for many years past.


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