Today is the birthday (1792) of John Keble, an Anglican churchman and poet, one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement. Generally speaking, I find the Anglican church unpalatable, and High Anglicanism even worse. I think of them as Catholic Lite at best. In those respects, Keble and the Oxford Movement do not interest me. I got more than my bellyful of Anglican theology as an undergraduate at Oxford. Enough for a lifetime and more. But Keble’s devotion to a simple Christian life, sans the ritual, I find laudable.
Keble was born on 25th April 1792 in Fairford in Gloucestershire, where his father, John Keble, was Vicar of Coln St. Aldwyns. He and his brother Thomas were educated at home by their father until each went to Oxford. In 1806 John won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. There, he performed brilliantly, and in 1810 he received a Double First in Latin and Mathematics. In 1811, he won both the English and Latin Essay University Prizes and became a Fellow of Oriel College. He was for some years a tutor and examiner for the University. While still at Oxford, he took Holy Orders in 1816, and became first a curate to his father, and later curate of St Michael and St Martin’s Church, Eastleach Martin, in Gloucestershire, while still tutoring at Oxford. On the death of his mother in 1823, he left Oxford and returned to live with his father and two surviving sisters in Fairford.
In 1828, he was elected Provost of Oriel College. Meanwhile, he had been writing The Christian Year, a book of poems for the Sundays and feast days of the church year. It appeared in 1827 and was effective in spreading Keble’s devotional and theological views. It was intended as an aid to meditation and devotion following the services of the Prayer Book. Though at first printed anonymously, its authorship soon became known, with Keble in 1831 appointed to the Chair of Poetry at Oxford, which he held until 1841. By the time that the copyright expired in 1873, over 375,000 copies had been sold in Britain and 158 editions had been published. Despite its widespread appeal among the Victorian readers, the popularity of Keble’s The Christian Year faded in the 20th century despite the familiarity of certain well-known hymns. I find the poems and hymns to be tiresomely Victorian, and Anglican to boot. Here’s the first stanza from Keble’s poem for Maundy Thursday, which is today this year:
O Holy mountain of my God,
How do thy towers in ruin lie,
How art thou riven and strewn abroad,
Under the rude and wasteful sky!”
’Twas thus upon his fasting-day
The “Man of Loves” was fain to pray,
His lattice open toward his darling west,
Mourning the ruined home he still must love the best.
At Oxford, Keble met John Coleridge who introduced him to the writings not only of his uncle, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but also of Wordsworth. He dedicated his Praelectiones to and greatly admired Wordsworth, who once offered to go over The Christian Year with a view to correcting the English. John Coleridge also introduced Keble to Robert Southey, whom he found to be “a noble and delightful character.” The three all influenced Keble’s poetic vision.
In 1833, his famous Assize Sermon on “National Apostasy” gave the first impulse to the Oxford Movement, also known as the Tractarian movement. It marked the opening of a term of the civil and criminal courts and is officially addressed to the judges and officers of the court, exhorting them to deal justly. Keble contributed seven pieces for Tracts for the Times, a series of short papers dealing with faith and practice. Along with his colleagues, including John Henry Newman and Edward Pusey, he became a leading light in the movement but did not follow Newman into the Catholic Church. In 1835, his father died, and Keble and his sister retired from Fairford to Coln. In the same year, he married and the vicarage of Hursley, becoming vacant, was offered to him, and he accepted. In 1836, he settled in Hursley and remained for the rest of his life as a parish priest at All Saints Church.
In 1857, he wrote one of his more important works, his treatise on Eucharistical Adoration, written in support of George Denison, who had been attacked for his views on the Eucharist. In 1830, he published his edition of Hooker’s Works. In 1838, he began to edit, in conjunction with Pusey and Newman, the Library of the Fathers. A volume of Academical and Occasional Sermons appeared in 1847. Other works were a Life of Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man. After his death, Letters of Spiritual Counsel and 12 volumes of Parish Sermons were published.
Keble died in Bournemouth on 29 March 1866 at the Hermitage Hotel, after visiting the area to try and recover from a long-term illness as he believed the sea air had therapeutic qualities. He is buried in All Saints’ churchyard, Hursley.
Keble has been described thus:
He was absolutely without ambition, with no care for the possession of power or influence, hating show and excitement, and distrustful of his own abilities. Though shy and awkward with strangers, he was happy and at ease among his friends, and their love and sympathy drew out all his droll playfulness of wit and manner. A quiet country clergyman, with a very moderate income, who sedulously avoided public distinctions, and held tenaciously to an unpopular School all his life.
Keble’s brand of Anglicanism is a trifle too Victorian for me and I have struggled to find memorable quotes. This is the best I could muster.
When you find yourself overpowered, as it were, by melancholy, the best way is to go out and do something.
Peace is the first thing the angels sang.
Once you make up your mind never to stand waiting and hesitating when your conscience tells you what you ought to do, and you have got the key to every blessing that a sinner can reasonably hope for.
Keble College, Oxford University, was established in 1870 as a monument to John Keble and to the Oxford Movement. Consequently, the College traditionally placed a considerable emphasis on theological teaching, although this is less the case now. We used to call it the Fairisle College because the Victorian brickwork seemed like a fairisle knitting pattern. Victorian architectural sensibilities were not much in vogue in the 1970s. The college chapel does, however, contain the original of William Holman Hunt’s famous painting The Light of the World, which is hung in a side chapel. One of my first adventures as a Fresher was to go to see the painting.
The image represents Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” This provides a convenient segue to a recipe because you will notice that Jesus does not say that he will come in and preach, but he will come in and “sup.” For Jesus, eating together was the key to unity. Amen to that.
When I was a boy there were not many traditional English cheeses available. The main ones were Cheddar, Cheshire, Wensleydale, Red Leicester, Stilton, and Double Gloucester. Generic Cheddar was the norm, made in numerous factories according to a variety of recipes. The others were harder to come by. Double Gloucester is made in the region near where Keble was born, using the milk from the once almost extinct Gloucester cattle and its distinctive color came from a local wildflower known as Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum). Double Gloucester is a hard cheese that melts well and has a distinctive sharp tang. This soufflé recipe uses Double Gloucester to give a rich taste.
Cheese and Asparagus Soufflé
75 ml/2½ fl oz double cream
3 asparagus spears, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
salt and freshly ground black pepper
100 gm/3½ oz Double Gloucester cheese, grated
3 eggs, separated
butter, for greasing
flour, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F
Place the double cream in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the chopped asparagus spears and chives, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the grated cheese and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
Add two of the egg yolks to the mixture and beat well (the third egg yolk can be used in another dish).
Place the egg whites in a stand mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture.
Grease a small ovenproof pan with butter, dust with plain flour and shake out the excess. Spoon the soufflé mixture into the pan, then transfer to the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown.
Serve immediately in the pan or turned out on to a plate.