Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kinglake, Alexander William
KINGLAKE, ALEXANDER WILLIAM (1809–1891), historian of the Crimean war, born 5 Aug. 1809, was the eldest son of William Kinglake, banker and solicitor, of Taunton, Somerset, by Mary, daughter of Thomas Woodforde, esq., of Taunton. He had two brothers, Robert Arthur and John Hamilton. The Kinglake family is said to have been of Scottish origin, the original name being Kinloch, and to have come to England in the reign of James I, and settled in Somerset. It there acquired the estate of Saltmoor, which descended to the historian.
Kinglake says of his mother: ‘The most humble and pious of women was yet so proud a mother that she could teach her first-born son no Watts's hymns, no collects for the day; she could teach him in earliest childhood no less than this—to find a home in his saddle and to love old Homer and all that Homer sang’ (Eōthen, chap. iv.) The Homer, he adds, was Pope's. He retained his skill in horsemanship, and though he did not gain the usual scholastic honours, he certainly acquired a classical refinement of taste. He was educated at Eton under Keate, of whom he has left a most characteristic portrait (ib. ch. xviii.), and in 1828 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. He was the college contemporary and friend of Thackeray and Lord Tennyson. He became B.A. in 1832, and M.A. in 1836. He entered Lincoln's Inn on 14 April 1832, and was called to the bar on 5 May 1837. He had about 1835 made the Eastern tour described afterwards in ‘Eōthen, or Traces of Travel brought home from the East.’ The Methley of that book was Lord Pollington. Mysseri, his dragoman, was an hotel-keeper at Constantinople during the Crimean war. The book, as the preface informs us, was the result of a third attempt after he had twice failed to satisfy himself, and did not appear until 1844. It showed Kinglake to be a master of a most refined style and subtle humour, although he thinks it necessary to apologise for the possible failure of his attempts to subdue the ‘almost boisterous tone’ of the original writing. He has endeavoured, he adds, and he thinks successfully, to exclude from it ‘all valuable matter derived from the works of others.’ In truth, though the book was rather absurdly compared with the ordinary records of travel, it is more akin to Sterne's ‘Sentimental Journey,’ and is a delightful record of personal impressions rather than outward facts.
Although a barrister, and obtaining some little employment as a conveyancer, Kinglake cared little for his profession. He had always been interested in military history, and in 1845 he went to Algiers and accompanied the flying column of St. Arnaud, whom he afterwards described from personal knowledge (Invasion of the Crimea, vol. ii. ch. i.) In 1854 he followed the English expedition to the Crimea, and was present at the battle of the Alma (20 Sept. 1854). A fall from his pony on the morning of the day introduced him to Lord Raglan, who happened to be near, and he dined with Raglan in the evening. He stayed with the army until the opening of the siege. In 1856 Lady Raglan asked him to undertake the history of the campaign, and communicated to him all the papers in her possession. Kinglake undertook the task, and executed it with extraordinary care. He made the most elaborate inquiry into every incident of the war, carefully compared all the available evidence, and spared no labour in polishing the style of his narrative. The first two volumes of the ‘Invasion of the Crimea’ appeared in 1863, the third and fourth in 1868, the fifth in 1875, the sixth in 1880, and the seventh and eighth in 1887. The scale upon which he worked was probably excessive, and, as the interest in the war declined, readers had less patience with the full description of minute incidents. His strong prejudices, especially his moral indignation against Napoleon III and his loyalty to his friend Lord Raglan, gave a party tone to the narrative, for which allowance must be made. Military experts have found fault with some of the judgments of an amateur in war, though admitting his skill in dealing even with technical details. His friend Abraham Hayward defended him in ‘Mr. Kinglake and the Quarterlys,’ 1863. The literary ability in any case is remarkable; the spirit of the writing is never quenched by the masses of diplomatic and military information; the occasional portraits of remarkable men are admirably incisive; the style is invariably polished to the last degree, and the narrative as lucid as it is animated. Kinglake in 1857 was elected in the liberal interest for Bridgewater. He held his seat until 1868, in which year he was unseated upon petition and the borough disfranchised. Kinglake himself, however, was entirely incapable of the slightest complicity in the corruption which was disclosed, and was only too innocent to suspect its existence. A weak voice and feeble delivery prevented him commanding the attention of the house. He took a part, however, in defending all those whom he held to be victims of oppression. He moved the first amendment to the Conspiracy Bill in 1858, and in 1860 vigorously denounced the annexation of Savoy and Nice.
During many years Kinglake was fully occupied by his history. He lived in Hyde Park Place, and was a member of the Travellers' and the Athenæum Clubs. He constantly dined at the Athenæum, in company with his friends, Abraham Hayward [q. v.], Thomas Chenery [q. v.], and Sir Henry Bunbury. A singularly gentle and attractive manner covered without concealing the generosity of sentiment and chivalrous sense of honour which prompted his eloquent denunciations of wrong-doing. He suffered at the last from cancer of the tongue, and bore with admirable patience sufferings happily not very long protracted. He died on 2 Jan. 1891. He requested his executor, Dr. J. H. Kinglake, to ‘prevent the publication of any writings of his that might be found,’ and destroy all such papers as were not necessary to be preserved.
Kinglake is said to have contributed to the ‘Owl,’ with which his friend Laurence Oliphant was connected; and he wrote an article upon Mme. de Lafayette in ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ for September 1872. He wrote two articles in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ one upon the ‘Rights of Women’ (December 1844), the other ‘The Mediterranean a French Lake’ (March 1845). His only other works are mentioned above.
[Times, 3 Jan. 1891; Blackwood's Magazine for February 1891.]