“Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be.” That is the text of The Water Babies—and rarely was a sermon preached with greater skill and originality. For a sermon it is, though we prefer to consider this charming story as a fairy tale.

Almost two hundred years before, the storyteller of puritan England, John Bunyan, had preached his sermon to the men and women of his time. pilgrim’s Progress had appeared, telling of Christian’s pilgrimage to the Holy City.

In 1863, an English clergyman of forty-four wrote a story for his baby son, and this story— The Water Babies—gives the pilgrimage of an unlettered and outcast boy, in a “never-never-country” under the sea, to the realisation of the virtue of good conduct and useful living.

Charles Kingsley was born in a parsonage, spent most of his life in one, and died in his rectory at Eversley, Hampshire, in 1875. He was born in 1819 in Devonshire, and on gaining manhood and entering the Church, he went to Eversley, where practically all the rest of his busy life was spent.

In his youth he had lived in the Fen Country, and that this experience had stirred his imagination is seen in his book, Hereward the Wake, which tells of the exploits of the fenman who could outwit all foes.

Kingsley had also had the good fortune to reside when young in that most glorious spot on the North Devon coast, Clovelly. Here, in the village that tumbles headlong down to the sea, he had heard all day the sound of the water on which such men as Drake had won renown. The immortal story of the Spanish Main, Westward Ho! was natural consequence.

But though Kingsley was a good country parson, who worked with zeal and power among his flock, he was also a prodigious writer—and a preacher of public morality. Like Dickens he set himself, by means of novels, to draw attention to the evils of his time.

Thus we get Yeast and Alton Locke, where he showed his sympathy with the poor and with the workers in their agitation for representation in Parliament and fair dealings in their work.

Kingsley wrote many novels, and hosts of sermons and books on social problems. To young people, however, his work is known first through the adventures of Tom in The Water Babies, and later through those of Amyas Leigh in Westward Ho! In the latter book his descriptions are all the more wonderful when it is remembered that they were all from his imagination : he had not then been across the Atlantic.

In The Water Babies we are first reminded of Oliver Twist—as we see little Tom suffering the misfortunes that Oliver narrowly escaped—those of chimney sweeping. We see the land under the water and meet creatures reminding us of Barrie’s Peter Pan. The old Irishwoman in her many disguises proves the centre piece of the story—and when we see Grimes finally transfigured as the result of Tom’s perseverance, we feel the story has worked to a satisfactory climax. The reunion of Tom—who “wished to be clean,” and Ellie— his “ideal of cleanliness” —is a pretty piece of writing.

The countless wee denizens of the under-water world have all their attractions for us, and the periodic appearances of Mrs. Bedonebysasyoudid and her sister, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, are events to be awaited with keen anticipation.

Kingsley was never reckoned a deep scholar, nor were his political views always received with enthusiasm. He has left behind him, however, a lasting memorial in the stories he wrote to stir the imagination and fire the blood of young people. Of these stories, the fantasy of Tom, the chimney sweep’s boy, who became a Water Baby and became “fit to be a man, because he had done the thing he did not like,” is assured of readers so long as copies of the book are to be obtained.


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