John Kitto was born in Plymouth on December 4, 1804.
His father was a drunken stonemason, and young John was a ‘sickly infant’. At the age of four he was sent to live with a grandmother, and the stories she told (albeit of fairies and giants) developed a hunger for learning in the young child.
As he grew older, Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels became firm favourites.
And then disaster struck! In 1817, while apprenticed to his father as a stonemason, a fall from the roof of a house – 35 feet to the ground – left John unconscious for a fortnight. “When he awoke one morning he asked for a book…” Thirteen year-old John could see, but he could not hear. He was deaf for the rest of his life.
He worked in the Plymouth workhouse, then at a library. Anthony Norris Groves, pioneer of the early Brethren movement, met Kitto and “gave decision and evangelical tone” to young John. He took Kitto on as assistant in his dental surgery. Kitto then did printing with the Church Missionary Society and went to Malta in 1827 to distribute tracts in various languages.
When A.N. Groves gave up his profession (and 1200 pounds sterling a year!) to become a missionary, 25 year-old Kitto went with him – to Baghdad. “Early in 1831 plague visited the city … and in the first fortnight 7000 died”, including Mrs Groves.
Groves and Kitto returned to England, and John Kitto took up his pen to write articles for a Christian magazine… For 20 years he wrote and wrote – “it regularly occupied him 16 hours a day” (Doing Good, by R. Steel, page 253).
In the process of his extensive literary exploits, Kitto became Doctor of Divinity and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, besides being a member of several foreign societies. He paid other visits to the East, and wrote numerous books on his observations.
His Daily Bible Illustrations (eight volumes) became a best-seller.
Spurgeon commends it highly – a work “we have read with an enthusiasm that few works can inspire…” (Sword and Trowel, 1868, page 153). Spurgeon adds that the records of Kitto’s perseverance gave him “the first impetus to literary study” (page 151).
This remarkable man of God married … had nine children … and suffered much ill health in his closing years.
He died in Germany (to which he had ventured for health reasons) on 25 November, 1854, at the age of 50.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com