EDWARD King came of a clerical family, for his grandfather, Walker King, had been Bishop of Rochester--he died two years before Edward was born--and his father was Walker King, Canon and Archdeacon of Rochester, and Rector of Stone in Kent. Archdeacon King had married, in 1823, Anne Heberden, daughter of William Heberden, M.D. There were ten children of the marriage, Edward being the third child and second son.
He was born in London on December 29, 1829, privately baptized on January 4, 1830, and afterwards received into the Church at Stone. Edward's mother, Mrs. King, was an exceedingly attractive and beautiful character, so that the home life at Stone left an indelible impression on his mind. "Our English homes may be said to be the Castles of England, and family religion the Keep of the Castle," he wrote in later life.
The younger brothers and sisters were kept somewhat rigidly to the schoolroom and nursery, but with his sister Anne it was different; she was an invalid for twelve years, and Edward sometimes used to spend the whole night by her bedside. He learnt Italian in order that he might share her love of Dante; from her he derived his interest in botany; and in his constant attendance on her he developed that tactful, sympathetic, and unfussy manner in visiting invalids which always marked his ministry. He was even in his boyhood considered, it is said, "the good one of the family." "We were never so happy," writes one of his sisters, "as when we were all together, owing greatly, I think, to the love and sympathy our parents had for us all." Being rather delicate as a boy he was not sent to any school, but was taught daily by the Curate of Stone, the Rev. John Day, who subsequently became Vicar of Ellesmere in Shropshire. Hither Edward King accompanied him, and used to help in the choir and to conduct a Bible Class for men.
In February, 1848, Edward went up to Oxford, and was entered at Oriel College, where his elder brother Walker was already an undergraduate. Here he came under the influence of the Rev. Charles Marriott, Fellow and Tutor of the college, who was closely identified with the Tractarian Movement, being an intimate friend and disciple of Dr. Pusey. In later life King used not infrequently to speak of Charles Marriott, and always in the highest terms, as one whose "noble life was a living commentary on the Four Gospels;" adding--"If I have any good in me I owe it to Charles Marriott."
King took little part in the athletic side of university life; he was fond of riding and an excellent horseman, but it appears his chief recreation was walking, and, in a lesser degree, boating.
He was held in the highest respect by all his contemporaries. He was strict in his life, observing the fasts of the Church by absenting himself from the college hall on those days, and being extremely regular in his attendance at chapel. This latter habit was the occasion of a remark made to King by Hawkins, the somewhat severe Provost of Oriel. At one of the reviews of work held at the end of each term, called "Collections," the Provost noticed Edward King's record of attendance at the college chapel, and, looking at him, said, "I observe, Mr. King, that you have not missed a single chapel during the term. I must warn you, Mr. King, that even a regular attendance at chapel may degenerate into formalism."
There is another story told of King's life at Oxford (which may or may not be accurate), viz. that he once went to a "wine" in the college, but when one of the company began to sing a bad song, King immediately left the room, and, it is said, never went to a "wine" again.
His health as a young man, and indeed until he reached middle life, was never very good, so that he did not read for Honours, but took an ordinary degree in 1851. The following year he went on a tour to the Holy Land.
On the first page of the diary which he kept during this tour there is the following entry:--
"Lyons, Hotel de 1'Univers, February 6th, 8 p.m.--The feelings with which one leaves one's home to wander on the continent for any length of time cannot be understood but by those who have experienced them, and by those they will never be forgotten."
Opposite to this entry the following touching remarks have been entered in his own handwriting:--
"Quite true, February 3, 1897, i.e. after having been preserved with such exceeding mercy and goodness for forty-five years, how thankful and trustful one ought to be! "
"Yes, this is true more and more, now I am seventy; February 3, 1900. Deo gratias."
And finally, just a month before his death, he writes, now in a very shaky hand:--
"Yes, again, this is true more and more, now I am eighty. February 3, 1910. Verily His mercy endureth for ever. Deo gratias."
These entries show what a profound impression this tour to the Holy Land made upon him; and in his old age, writing to a friend who was contemplating a similar pilgrimage, he says: "It is fifty-five years since I was in the Holy Land, and my visit is still a source of comfort and pleasure to me."
In speaking in later life of this tour he used sometimes to say that when he reached the sacred places he felt that one great impression made upon his mind was that "our Blessed LORD is not here now as He once was. He has been here, He has trod on this earth, His human eyes have looked on all this; but He Himself is now to be sought for in the spiritual world. He is still 'very Man and very God' but 'He is not here, He is risen.'"
From this diary it appears that the party landed at Beyrout, and went on horseback down the coast past Tyre and Sidon and Acre into Palestine itself. Jerusalem was visited, and a stay of some days was made there, with excursions to the Jordan and the Dead Sea.
The return journey was made through the Holy Land by way of the plain of Esdraelon to Nazareth and Galilee, and eventually the travellers reached Damascus, where the journal suddenly breaks off. King returned to England in June, having been away from home for some five months.
The diary is for the most part an observant and intelligent chronicle of the tour, but there is little in it that calls for special comment. Two extracts, however, may be permitted. The first is his entry on crossing the Channel from Folkestone to Boulogne---
"Feb. 4, 1852.--We went on board the boat at 8.45 a.m. It was raining and blowing. There were fifteen horses on board, which, as we expected, added greatly to the rolling of the boat; and soon my vain hopes in the powers of saffron--which, according to Mr. Day's advice, I had procured in a bag--began to vanish. At first I stood and talked loud and quick, but soon sat down on a camp-stool and underwent all the horrors of anticipation for about an hour, when the stern reality was no longer to be denied, and I suffered most miserably."
The other, dated March 26th, when he and his party were riding down the coast of Syria. He is describing some untoward experiences which they suffered while encamping in a small village in the plain of Acre, and he notes:--
"This was one of those useful days for the exercise of patience only to be found in travelling."
On his return to England, King acted for a short time, during 1853, as tutor to Lord Lothian's brothers; and on Trinity Sunday in the following year he was ordained deacon at Cuddesdon by Bishop Wilberforce, and priest in 1855. His first and only curacy was at Wheatley, a village five miles from Oxford, and a mile and a half from Cuddesdon. The vicar was the Rev. Edward Elton, to whom King had been recommended by the bishop as "a gentleman and a Christian."
Wheatley, like many another village, was a rough place in those days, and it was in \ dealing with boys and lads in this parish that King first manifested those very remarkable powers of influence over men and lads which were such a marked feature of his later ministry. He interested them in botany, he superintended a night school in the winter months. This kind of work was thoroughly congenial to him, and to the end of his life his love for village life in general, and for Wheatley in particular, never left him. He used to go for long walks, and take immense interest in teaching the children about flowers and plants and birds.
One who was a boy at Wheatley at this time, and who only passed away recently, remembered him coming into the school-room, and asking the master whether he might take Charles------out for a walk: "He took me up to his room," he wrote, "and gave me some plums before we went out." This boy, under King's guidance, became first a pupil-teacher, then a student at Culham, and finally a schoolmaster. He had a complete set of letters from King, the first of which was dated 1857, and the last 1909, without the omission of a single year. The first eighteen of the bishop's published Spiritual Letters were addressed to this almost life-long friend. This unremitting correspondence illustrates King's care not to drop people, a habit against which he often used to warn young men in later life. The following quotations are made to illustrate his continued recollection of and love for Wheatley.
From Cuddesdon, in 1871, he writes:--" I have been obliged, these last few years, to spend the best part of my time in reading; but if I should be free from the college I should go on in a parish just as we used to at Wheatley. That was a simple, unworldly, affectionate life, and that is what we want. I do not think people are simple enough in their religious relations. I wish we could be more open and united in the use of the churches as houses of prayer and praise. . . . "The simple carter lads require to be surrounded with a constant flame of love to save them from the hardness which their life with the animals and rough men brings on them. Our dear country poor--I feel more suited to them than others--require to be helped one by one; they are very ignorant, have very little time, work very hard, and often with poor food; they require a great deal of loving, watchful sympathy." From Lincoln, in 1895, he writes:--" It seems only yesterday that you used to come down to my room with dear G. and J., and we used to sit and talk together. I don't know that I have ever been happier. I ought to be very thankful for all God's goodness to me. I did not think that I should live so long. I think our way of looking at things was the right one, we saw where true happiness was to be found. I long to promote the same kind of spirit in our country parishes. The Lincolnshire people are very nice, strong-headed, deep-hearted people; my happiest time is when I am confirming in the country parishes; that I enjoy immensely.
"Thank you so much for your prayers, I am sure it is that which has kept me on; I should have broken down long ago, but for that. I must stop now; I forget we are not sitting over the fire at Wheatley. It was very nice, wasn't it? I hope you are able to keep the same spirit of simplicity and love round about you."
The last letter to this old and valued Wheatley friend has a pathos of its own. It is dated September 8, 1909, exactly six months before he died, when he was in his eightieth year:--
"I am very sorry that I have been so long thanking you for your last letter. I find it very difficult now to do more than attend to important letters of business. I look back to the life at Wheatley with the greatest pleasure; there was a real bond of disinterested love between us all. People now are trying to make themselves happy without religion, but it is a hollow, heartless kind of happiness not worthy of the name. I believe the love of God must stand first, and then, in God, we can love one another. People want to have social security and comfort, but without religion, without the Church. We must hold fast to the old way of the love of God, and the love of one another as taught us in the Bible and the Prayer Book, and we want the Church for the sake of the ministry of the Word and Sacraments, by which God teaches us and gives us His grace. God bless you, dear Charlie, and guide you on to the end, which is really the great beginning. Remember me in your prayers, as I do you every day. God bless you, and all like you."
Village life was always a great attraction to him. He loved the simple people and their ways.
"I never could write to you, as if you was a gentleman," wrote a village lad to him in his early days, showing how absolutely a gentleman King was.
Canon Crowfoot, one of his great friends at Lincoln in later life, sets out in the following words how great a help King's early life had been in preparing him for what was to come:--
"He possessed great advantages from the experiences of his home life as a boy. He had lived as a young man in the country, though not in the County of Lincoln. He knew the ground which he was treading; he knew the life of the cottager; no squire, or farmer, or groom, or carter knew all the points of a horse better than the bishop. When his knees had gripped the saddle, all the nature of the horse had passed into him; he had performed feats of horsemanship which only the best and boldest of riders are able to achieve. The rod and the gun had been constantly in his hand when he lived as a lad in his father's home; he knew the hackles and wing-feathers which go to make the most tempting flies for trout and dace and grayling, and he always tied them himself.
"His first and only curacy had been at Wheatley; but he had learnt there all the ins-and-outs of a cottager's life. No one could describe washing-day, and how the soapsuds fly from the tub, with a Pre-Raphaelite distinctness as the bishop could. He won at once the attention and ever-abiding respect of the good wives who preside over that tub. And so, when some church after restoration was reopened, or some window or pulpit was to be dedicated, and the church was crowded with the neighbouring gentry and farmers from the countryside, as well as with the labourers of the parish itself, the bishop would begin his sermon with some simple incident drawn from their own life--'If I were about to cut a hedge'--and, having caught their attention, he would then lead them on to higher things, and send them away with hearts full of the higher service to which they were called, and of the heavenly home which was being prepared for them." [See Lincoln Diocesan Magazine, April, 1910.]