Alexander William Kinglake (1809-1891) was the second child and eldest son of William Kinglake, banker and solicitor of Taunton, and his wife Mary Woodforde. He was born on 5 August 1809, educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge (BA, 1832; MA, 1836), and was called to the Bar in 1837. In 1844 his book Eothen, a light-hearted account of a journey in the Levant, was published and was an immediate success.
Kinglake's interest in military affairs led him to visit Algeria in 1845 to witness the French campaigns, and to follow the British army to the Crimea in 1854. After Lord Raglan's death in 1856, Lady Raglan asked Kinglake to write a history of the war, and the task occupied him for much of the rest of his life. The first two volumes of The invasion of the Crimea were published in 1863, and the eighth and last volume in 1887.
In 1857 Kinglake was elected Member of Parliament for Bridgewater, in the Liberal interest, and served until 1868, when he was unseated and the borough disfranchised after an enquiry into electoral malpractice.
Kinglake led a comfortable bachelor life in London, and enjoyed the friendship of many of the leading literary and political figures of the day, including William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Tennyson, and Lord John Russell. In particular he was on terms of mutual admiration with a number of literary ladies: Caroline Norton, Lucie Duff Gordon, Margaret Oliphant, Mary Singleton ('Violet Fane'), and Janet Ross. In the late 1880s he developed cancer of the throat and he died on 2 January 1891.
The collection sheds light on the Kinglakes's family life, including the lavish amounts spent by William Kinglake on his children's education, and the support he gave his eldest son through his earliest and unsuccessful years as a barrister. They also show A.W. Kinglake developing a taste for the best society and its attendant expense (letters 1/38, 81 and 96)
Kinglake's love of travel is seen in letters written on journeys in Wales, 1833 (1/76-9); France, 1834 (1/81-2); North Africa and Spain, 1839 (1/103); Switzerland, 1843 (1/108); as well as his Eastern Tour of 1834-1835 (1/85-6). There are two leaves of a journal describing a visit to Algiers in 1845 to follow the French military campaigns (4/1-3), and to the Crimea in 1854 (5/1-2). The material on the Crimean War (section 5) includes additionally a series of letters, 1854-1856, from W.G. Romaine, who was attached to the British Headquarters staff as Judge Advocate.
The papers include some drafts of material intended for Eothen but not in the end included, principally a description of a visit to the Island of Scio (3/1-5). There are also articles by Kinglake produced for the Quarterly Review in response to the success of Eothen, and an article on the relations between Europe and the Turkish Empire (3/36) which was intended as a review of his friend Eliot Warburton's book The Crescent and the Cross, but which was never used.
Kinglake's interest in politics, particularly in foreign affairs, is represented by letters written to him as an M.P. (section 6), which give a few details of his participation in debates in the House of Commons, and include letters from Henry Drummond Wolff in 1863 (6/29-33) on the problems of transferring the administration of the Ionian Islands from Britain to Greece.
The final section of correspondence (7) contains letters to Kinglake from a wide variety of his friends, notably William Makepeace Thackeray, Caroline Norton, Lucie Duff Gordon, and her daughter Janet Ross.
When Kinglake knew he was dying he seems to have destroyed most of his papers, and he instructed his executor, his brother Hamilton Kinglake, to destroy all papers that were not necessary to be preserved. The remaining papers consist of items presumably kept by Kinglake for reasons of friendship or because they cast a favourable light on him and his writings. In addition, Hamilton Kinglake, who lived in the family home in Taunton, evidently inherited early family letters from his parents. The papers descended to Hamilton's granddaughter, Miss Beata Harford. Miss Harford presented them to the Library in 1963.