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on February 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
One of the great mysteries and oversights of history is why an adequate modern biography of John Keble remains unwritten. It seems a tragedy to me (since I studied Keble for 3 years for my Ph.D. in Religious Studies) that the best biography of Keble is still the first one, written in 1869 by J.T. Coleridge, 3 years after Keble's death. The most recent biography of Keble is Georgina Battiscombe's "John Keble: A Study in Limitations" (1963). But what kind of biographer subtitles the biography of her subject: "A Study in Limitations"?! That all men have limitations is self-evident. The irony is that the nearly unanimous consensus of Keble's peers and contemporaries was that he was a modern-day saint. It is astounding that the most recent biography of a man of Keble's stature is now almost 50 years old. What's even more baffling and disappointing is that no one has bothered to edit Keble's letters.

Lock's biography was originally printed in 1893 and was the second biography of Keble to be published. It's a shorter work than Coleridge's (238 pages in the original edition compared to Coleridge's 568) and therefore less thorough. On the other hand, as the warden of Keble College, Lock had access to much of Keble's unpublished correspondence and was able to speak with personal friends of Keble. His work is therefore original, even though it's not as close to the source as Coleridge's.

While Lock's biography is not as complete as Coleridge's, his is still a good and useful biography of Keble. Lock frames Keble's life in terms of the major events of his life (whereas Coleridge offers a more continuous and undifferentiated biography). These key events include:

"Preparation for the Work of Life", 1792-1832
"The Professor of Poetry"
"The Christian Year"
"The Struggle, 1833-1841"
"The Struggle, 1841-1845"
"Lyra Innocentium"
"Recovery", 1846-1860
"The End", 1860-1866
"The Preacher"
"The Spiritual Adviser"
"Characteristics and Influence"

Lock clearly defines his topics concerning Keble's life, and his organization makes his biography a good one for getting an overall feel for the life and ministry of Keble. He is especially helpful in clearly presenting Keble's loving and remarkable ministry as a priest, spiritual advisor, and pastor. He also pays special attention to Keble's greatest legacy, his 1827 volume of poetry titled "The Christian Year," which had an incredible influence on the Church of England in the 19th century. One of Lock's appendices lists the poems of "The Christian Year" and the dates of their composition, which is especially helpful to students of "The Christian Year."

Overall, Lock's is a good biography of a major and compelling 19th century figure, and I'm grateful that it has now been republished.
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