9.2.2 Charles Kingsley
As a boy Charles Kingsley became fascinated by freshwater biology whilst living on the edge of the East Anglian fenland. Later in life he was part of a social network of scientists and environmental reformers centred on the Bunbury family of Great Barton.
When he was 12 years old, he experienced violent social unrest first-hand in the Bristol riots of 1831, and until his death in 1875, was deeply involved with the social and environmental ferment of industrial development. One way or another, between the 30's and the 70's, he became associated with all major political and social reform movements of the age of steam. Kingsley's life coincided with the first historical period when primary evidence for future historians accumulated at an unprecedented rate. He moved within, and between, the circles of Royalty, the aristocracy, the church, business, and science. We can enter this world of technological change and social ferment through his novels, sermons and letters, and cross-reference to contemporary evidence about the lives of his friends and enemies. We can 'view' Kingsley from the writings of others, and study the events, and 'visit' the places and social movements which moulded his thoughts about families and the environment.
Charles Kingsley was a crusader for environmental health reform, with a deep knowledge of what we now call the ecological principles which create and maintain local biodiversity. In the following poem Kingsley attempts to equate the interdependence of living things in ecosystems with a Christian ethic of self-sacrifice. He imagined that the 'crowning glory of bio-geology', when fully worked out, might, after all, only be 'the lesson of Christmas-tide- of the infinite self-sacrifice of God for man'.
The oak, ennobled by the shipwright's axe-
The soil, which yields its marrow to the flower-
The flower, which feeds a thousand velvet worms
Born only to be prey to every bird-
All spend themselves on others: and shall man,
Whose two-fold being is the mystic knot
Which couples earth with heaven, doubly bound,
His being both worm and angel, to that service
By which both worms and angels hold their life,
Shall he, whose every breath is debt on debt,
Refuse, forsooth, to be what God has made him ?
Only someone who had actually felt the touch of earthworms could have written this.
Kingsley particularly promoted the use of religious imagery based on nature to carry notional messages to communicate his concept of God.
On his return from a holiday in the tropics to his Chester deanery, Kingsley married his recent experience of walking the forest floor with spiritual readings of stone pillars and vaults as follows.
"Now, it befell me that, fresh from the Tropic forests, and with their forms hanging always, as it were, in the background of my eye, I was impressed more and more vividly the longer I looked, with the likeness of those forest forms to the forms of our own Cathedral of Chester. The grand and graceful Chapter-house transformed itself into one of those green bowers, which, once seen, and never to be seen again, make one at once richer and poorer for the rest of life. The fans of groining sprang from the short columns, just as do the feathered boughs of the far more beautiful Maximiliana palm, and just of the same size and shape: and met overhead, as I have seen them meet, in aisles longer by far than our cathedral nave. The free upright shafts, which give such strength, and yet such lightness, to the mullions of each window, pierced upward through those curving lines, as do the stems of young trees through the fronds of palm; and, like them, carried the eye and the fancy up into the infinite, and took off a sense of oppression and captivity which the weight of the roof might have produced. In the nave, in the choir the same vision of the Tropic forest haunted me. The fluted columns not only resembled, but seemed copied from the fluted stems beneath which I had ridden in the primeval woods; their bases, their capitals, seemed copied from the bulgings at the collar of the root, and at the spring of the boughs, produced by a check of the redundant sap; and were garlanded often enough like the capitals of the columns, with delicate tracery of parasite leaves and flowers; the mouldings of the arches seemed copied from the parallel bundles of the curving bamboo shoots; and even the fatter roof of the nave and transepts had its antitype in that highest level of the forest aisles, where the trees, having climbed at last to the lightfood which they seek, care no longer to grow upward, but spread out in huge limbs, almost horizontal, reminding the eye of the four-centred arch which marks the period of Perpendicular Gothic".
"He is the God of nature, as well as the God of grace. For ever He looks down on all things which He has made: and behold, they are very good. And, therefore, we dare offer to Him, in our churches, the most perfect works of naturalistic art, and shape them into copies of whatever beauty He has shown us, in man or woman, in cave or mountain peak, in tree or flower, even in bird or butterfly.
But Himself ?-Who can see Him ? Except the humble and the contrite heart, to whom He reveals Himself as a Spirit to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and not in bread, nor wood, nor stone, nor gold, nor quintessential diamond".
Apart from offering a personalised view of an important period, which witnessed the dawn of mass production and a greatly increased pace of world development, Kingsley's writings ring-true today because he was a social reformer who viewed society as a system driven by interacting processes which integrate community and production.  He was a polymath with a wide ranging grasp of the connections between scientific discovery, industrial development, social well-being, and environmental well-being.