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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By John Keble (1792–1866)

THE ‘CHRISTIAN YEAR,’ a small volume of religious poems, appeared in 1827. The verses had all the scholarly simplicity resulting from classical study, and critics quickly recognized their artistic workmanship. But the immediate and astonishing popularity of the work was due to its personal character. “It was the most soothing, tranquillizing, subduing work of the day,” said Newman: “if poems can be found to enliven in dejection and to comfort in anxiety, to cool the over-sanguine, to refresh the weary, and to awe the worldly, to instill resignation into the impatient and calmness into the fearful and agitated, they are these.” Many men and women found solace in these voicings of their own religious life.

The author, John Keble, was not ambitious of literary fame. He had written his poems from time to time as he felt the need of self-expression, and it was only after long persuasion from his friends that he consented to make them public.

There is something of the mellow brightness of a summer Sunday about his life and work. “Dear John Keble,” as his associates called him, was a most ardent churchman. With a rare patience and sympathy for repentant sinners he combined an implacable condemnation of wrong-doing, which won him respect as well as love. Throughout the religious storm which, emanating from Oxford, shook all England,—which forced John Henry Newman unwillingly away from his friends and his church,—Keble was a stanch support to more vacillating spirits. His sermon upon apostasy preached in 1833 stirred up people’s consciences, and may be said to have initiated the Tractarian movement. He himself wrote several of the more important ‘Tracts for the Times.’

His entire life was passed in intimate connection with the church. He was born at Fairford, Gloucestershire, in 1792, but was very young when his father became vicar of Coln-St.-Aldwynd. The elder Keble was a sweet-natured man and a fine classical student, who took charge himself of his son’s early education; and so successfully that at fifteen John Keble was admitted to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. From that time the University became very dear to him; and later he exercised an important influence over a long succession of undergraduates. He was appointed a Fellow of Oriel College in 1811, and was a tutor in Oxford for several years. Then he returned to his country home, and led a serene yet earnest life with his family while serving as his father’s curate. The great success of ‘The Christian Year’ resulted in his appointment as professor of poetry at Oxford in 1833,—a congenial position, which he filled most capably. Soon after his father’s death in 1835, he married and became vicar of Hursley near Winchester, where he lived until his death in 1866.

He was not a prolific writer, and his occasional poems were carefully and frequently remodeled. In 1846 he published a second volume, called ‘Lyra Innocentium’; but although graceful and pleasing, it was less cordially received than ‘The Christian Year.’