In 1869 Kingsley resigned his professorship and from 1870 to 1873 he was a canon of Chester Cathedral. While in Chester he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art which played an important part in the establishment of the Grosvenor Museum. In 1872 he accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 19th President. Kingsley died in 1875 and was buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Eversley.
In person Charles Kingsley was tall and spare, sinewy rather than powerful, and of a restless excitable temperament. His complexion was swarthy, his hair dark, and his eye bright and piercing. His temper was hot, kept under rigid control; his disposition tender, gentle and loving, with flashing scorn and indignation against all that was ignoble and impure; he was a good husband, father and friend. One of his daughters, Mary St Leger Kingsley (Mrs Harrison), became well known as a novelist under the pseudonym of "Lucas Malet."
Kingsley's life was written by his widow in 1877, entitled Charles Kingsley, his Letters and Memories of his Life, and presents a very touching and beautiful picture of her husband, but perhaps hardly does justice to his humour, his wit, his overflowing vitality and boyish fun.
Charles also received letters from Thomas Huxley in 1860 and later in 1863, discussing Huxley's early ideas on Agnosticism.
His concern for social reform is illustrated in his great classic, The Water-Babies (1863), a kind of fairytale about a boy chimney-sweep, which retained its popularity well into the 20th century. Furthermore in The Water-Babies he developed in this literary form something of a purgatory, which runs counter to his "Anti-Roman" theology. The story also mentions the main protagonists in the scientific debate over Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, gently satirising their reactions.
He was sympathetic to the idea of evolution, and was one of the first to praise Darwin's book. He had been sent an advance review copy and in his response of 18 November 1859 (four days before the book went on sale) stated that he had "long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species.. Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley's closing remarks to the next edition of his book, stating that "A celebrated author and divine has written to me that 'he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws'."
Kingsley was influenced by Frederick Denison Maurice, and was close to many Victorian thinkers and writers, e.g. George MacDonald. Like many Victorians, his writings contain what today would be called racism, as when he wrote to his wife describing a visit to Ireland, "But I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault. I believe there are not only many of them than of old, but they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours." ''
As a novelist his chief power lay in his descriptive faculties. The descriptions of South American scenery in Westward Ho!, of the Egyptian desert in Hypatia, of the North Devon scenery in Two Years Ago, are brilliant; and the American scenery is even more vividly and more truthfully described when he had seen it only by the eye of his imagination than in his work At Last, which was written after he had visited the tropics. His sympathy with children taught him how to secure their interests. His version of the old Greek stories entitled The Heroes, and Water-babies and Madam How and Lady Why, in which he deals with popular natural history, take high rank among books for children.
Kingsley also wrote poetry and political articles, as well as several volumes of sermons. His argument, in print, with the Venerable John Henry Newman, accusing him of untruthfulness and deceit, prompted the latter to write his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. He also wrote a preface to the 1859 edition of Henry Brooke's book The Fool of Quality in which he defends their shared belief in universal salvation.
Kingsley's humour has escaped many; perhaps it can be found in another of his historical romances, named after its heroine, Hypatia, in which the arch neo-Platonist of end-of-empire Alexandria converts to Christianity at the moment of her obscene murder.
Kingsley coined the term Pteridomania in his 1855 book Glaucus, or the Wonders of the Shore.
Charles Kingsley's novel Westward Ho! led to the founding of a town by the same name - the only place name in England which contains an exclamation mark - and even inspired the construction of a railway, the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway. Few authors can have had such a significant effect upon the area which they eulogised. A hotel in Westward Ho! was named for him and it was also opened by him.
A hotel opened in 1897 in Bloomsbury, London, was named after Kingsley. It still exists, but changed name in 2001 to the Thistle Bloomsbury. The original reasons for the chosen name was that the hotel was opened by teetotallers who admired Kingsley for his political and ideas on social reform.