25 April 1792–29 March 1866
THE REV. JOHN KEBLE, the well-known author of The Christian Year, was the second child and elder son of the Rev. John Keble, Vicar (1782–1834) of Coln St. Aldwyn's, Gloucestershire, England, where he resided on his own estate, and where the son was born, April 25, 1792. Having been thoroughly prepared under his father’s instruction, the boy entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on a Scholarship, 1806, and graduated (double first class), B.A., 1810, and M.A., 1813. He was chosen, April, 1811, Probation Fellow of Oriel College. In 1812, he took the Chancellor’s prize for an English Essay, on “Translation from the Dead Languages”; also, the prize for a Latin Essay, on “A Comparison of Xenophon and Julius Caesar as Military Historians” of their own campaigns. He was appointed, in 1814, Examining Master for three years.
He was ordained, by the Bishop of Oxford, a deacon, Trinity Sunday, 1815, and priest, Trinity Sunday, 1816. At his first ordination he entered on the Curacy of East Leach and Burthorpe, two hamlets near Fairford. At the end of three years he accepted (1818) a Tutorship in Oriel College, and continued there five years; when, his mother having died, he returned to his Curacy that had been temporarily served by his brother, Thomas, and to which the hamlet of Southrop was now annexed. The newly-appointed Bishop of Barbados, William Hart Coleridge, offered him, in 1824, an Archdeaconship, with a salary of £2,000, but family reasons constrained him to decline the offer. The following year, at the instance of Sir William Heathcote, one of his pupils, he was appointed the Curate of Hursley, near Winchester, Hampshire. The sudden death of a dearly-beloved sister, in September, 1826, brought him back to Fairford, and he became his father’s Curate.
For many years, he had been at work on The Christian Year. Some of the lyrics had obtained circulation, in manuscript, among his personal friends. The work had been subjected to the criticisms of the Rev. Drs. Whately and Arnold, among others, and had undergone frequent revision and polishing. He, at first, intended to continue this process through life; but, at the urgent solicitations of friends, he arranged the hymns in the order of the Festivals and Fasts, or Holy Seasons, of the Church, and published the book anonymously, in 1827, with the title, The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holydays throughout the Year.
To the liturgy-loving people of the Church of England, the work was a benison of peculiar value. It met with a rapid sale. Edition after edition followed in quick succession. It became a household book of sacred verse, and took its place by the side of The Book of Common Prayer. Editions were multiplied also in America. In the line of sacred lyrics from the pen of a single author, it has been the greatest success of the century. Keble lived to revise for the press the ninety-sixth British edition. It is still among the most saleable books of the kind—having never been superseded.
His election as Professor of Poetry in Oxford University followed in 1831, as a matter of course. By appointment of the Vice-Chancellor, he delivered, July 14, 1833, the Summer Assize Sermon, which was published with the title, “National Apostasy.” It was a vigorous protest against the Suppression of the Irish Sees. “I have ever considered and kept the day,” says John Henry Newman, “as the start of the religious Movement of 1833.” Newman regarded Keble as “the true and primary author of that Movement afterwards called Tractarian.” Early in the autumn of 1833, he held frequent conferences, at Oriel College, with Newman, Froude, and Percival, in respect to measures for reviving the ecclesiastical spirit of the Church. An Association was formed, an Address issued, and the publication of a series of cheap and popular Tracts—afterwards widely known as “Tracts for the Times”—undertaken. Of these Tracts, Keble wrote Nos. 4, 13, 40, 52, 54, 57, 60, 89. To the new “Movement,” he gave, as an originator and leader, the whole weight of his character and influence.
On the death of his father, January 24, 1835, he succeeded to the Vicarage; and, October 10, at Bisley, near Fairford, he married Charlotte, the youngest daughter of the Rev. George Clarke, deceased, the sister of his brother’s wife. This living was exchanged, March, 1836, for the Vicarage of Hursley, Hampshire, to which he was presented by Sir William Heathcote. His Visitation Sermon, the next autumn, in the Cathedral at Winchester, excited a great commotion among the clergy present. Many of them regarded him as “almost a Papist.” The sermon was published with the title, “Primitive Tradition recognized in Holy Scripture.” A reply was issued by the Rev. Dr. William Wilson, and the positions of the Sermon were successfully as well as elaborately controverted by the Rev. William Goode, in his “Divine Rule of Faith and Practice.” The same year, Keble published a new edition of Hooker’s works, with a labored “Preface,” in favor of the controverted doctrines and usages. At the close of the year, the Lyra Apostolica was reprinted from the British Magazine, Keble having been one of the seven contributors. The following year (1838), he united with Drs. Newman and Pusey in editing the Library of the Fathers.
His next important production was The Psalter, or Psalms of David; in English Verse,—a new version, on which he had been at work, for years, with the hope of supplanting both “The Old” and “The New Versions.” It proved a complete failure. His Professorship terminated in 1841; and, three years later, he published his Praelectiones Academicae, in two volumes. His Lyra Innocentium followed in 1846; Sermons, Academical and Occasional, in 1847; A Very Few Plain Thoughts on the proposed addition of Dissenters to the University of Oxford, in 1854; two pamphlets on the Eucharist, in 1857 and 1858; and The Life of Thomas Wilson, D.D., Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man in 1863. He contributed, in early life, an admirable article on “Sacred Poetry,” to the 32d volume of the London Quarterly Review.
He yielded at length to disease, being smitten with paralysis, November 30, 1864. He survived until March 29, 1866, when he died at Bournemouth, in his seventy-fourth year. Mrs. Keble, who had been a great sufferer from her youth, followed him to the world of spirits, on the 11th of the next May.
by Edwin Hatfield
The Poets of the Church (1884)
Collections of Hymns:
Note: American editions not included here.
The Christian Year
1st ed., vol. 1 (1827): PDF
1st ed., vol. 2 (1827): PDF
2nd ed. (1827): PDF
3rd ed. (1828): PDF
16th ed. (1837): PDF
32nd ed. (1848): PDF
40th ed. (1852): PDF
47th ed. (1856): PDF
54th ed. (1858): PDF
57th ed. (1858): PDF
58th ed. (1859): PDF
74th ed. (1863): PDF
90th ed. (1866): PDF
97th ed. (1866): PDF
98th ed. (1866): PDF
The British Magazine (1834)
The Psalter or Psalms of David in English Verse
The Child’s Christian Year (ed. F.M. Yonge)
Salisbury Hymn-Book (ed. Earl Nelson, 1857): PDF
Lays of the Sanctuary and Other Poems (ed. G. Stevenson de M. Rutherford, 1859): PDF
Miscellaneous Poems (1869)
Life & Works:
J.C. Shairp, John Keble: An Essay on the Author of The Christian Year (Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas, 1866): PDF
William Savage & John Frewen Moor, The Birth-Place, Home, Churches, and Other Places Connected with the Author of The Christian Year, Illustrated, 2nd ed. (London: James Parker & Co., 1867): PDF
Edwin Hatfield, “John Keble,” Poets of the Church (NY, 1884), pp. 357-361: HathiTrust
John Julian & J.H. Overton, “John Keble,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892), pp. 610-613, 921: Google Books
Walter Lock, John Keble: A Biography (NY: Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., 1893): PDF
Correspondence of John Henry Newman with John Keble and Others, 1839-1845 (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1917): PDF
John R. Griffin, John Keble, Saint of Anglicanism (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987).
Rodney Stenning Edgecombe, Two Poets of the Oxford Movement: John Keble and John Henry Newman (London: Associated University Press, 1996): Amazon
Kirstie Blair, ed. John Keble in Context (London: Anthem Press, 2004): Amazon