Wellington College, Duke's Ride, Crowthorne RG45 7PU, UK
Eton College, Windsor SL4 6DW, Regno Unito
University of Cambridge, 4 Mill Ln, Cambridge CB2 1RZ
Greshams School, Cromer Rd, Holt NR25 6EA, Regno Unito
Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Parish of the Ascension, All Souls Ln, Cambridge CB3 0EA, UK
Arthur Christopher Benson (24 April 1862 – 17 June 1925) was an English essayist, poet, author and academic and the 28th Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is noted for writing the words of the song "Land of Hope and Glory". After the death of his mother in 1888 Howard Sturgis moved with his lover, William Haynes-Smith, into a country house named Queen's Acre, near Windsor Great Park. Their home was a familiar retreat for many other bachelors in Henry James' circle, including Arthur Christopher Benson, Percy Lubbock, and Gaillard Lapsley. Arthur left behind ‘a packet of letters of very dangerous stuff’ and another packet ‘that had to be burnt unopened’, according to his brother Fred. Arthur Hamilton at Cambridge (1886) is cited as example in Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850-1900, by Brian Reade.
Benson was born on 24 April 1862 at Wellington College, Berkshire, the son of Edward White Benson (1829–1896), first headmaster of the college. He was one of six children of Edward White Benson (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1882–96) and his wife Mary Sidgwick Benson, sister of the philosopher Henry Sidgwick.
Benson was born into a literary family; his brothers included Edward Frederic Benson, best remembered for his Mapp and Lucia novels, and Robert Hugh Benson, a priest of the Church of England before converting to Roman Catholicism, who wrote many popular novels. Their sister, Margaret Benson, was an artist, author, and amateur Egyptologist.
The Benson family was exceptionally accomplished, but their history was somewhat tragic; a son and daughter died young; and another daughter, as well as Arthur himself, suffered from a mental condition that was possibly bipolar disorder or manic-depressive psychosis, which they had inherited from their father. None of the children married. Despite his illness, Arthur was a distinguished academic and a prolific author.
From the ages of 10 to 21, he lived in cathedral closes, first at Lincoln where his father was Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, and then at Truro where his father was the first Bishop of Truro. He retained a love of church music and ceremony.
During 1874 he won a scholarship to Eton from Temple Grove School, a preparatory school in East Sheen. He became a student of King's College, Cambridge during 1881, where he was a scholar and scored first for the Classical tripos during 1884.
From 1885 to 1903 he taught at Eton, returning to Cambridge in 1904 as a Fellow of Magdalene College to lecture in English Literature. He became president of the college in 1912 and Master of Magdalene in December 1915, a post he held until his death in 1925. From 1906, he was a governor of Gresham's School.
In the Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, B.A. (1886) by Arthur Benson, the ‘silent and languid’ Arthur exemplifies the process of slowly coming out and suddenly going back in again: Arthur seems not to have suspected it at first, and to have delighted in his friend’s society; but such things as habits betray themselves, and my belief is that disclosures were made on November 8, which revealed to Arthur the state of the case. What passed I cannot say. I can hardly picture to myself the agony, disgust, and rage (his words and feelings about sensuality of any kind were strangely keen and bitter), loyalty fighting with the sense of repulsion, pity struggling with honour, which must have convulsed him when he discovered that his friend was not only yielding, but deliberately impure.
The modern development of Magdalene was shaped by Benson. He was a generous benefactor to the college with a significant impact on the modern appearance of the college grounds; at least twenty inscriptions around the college refer to him. In 1930, Benson Court was constructed and named after him.
He collaborated with Lord Esher in editing the correspondence of Queen Victoria (1907). His poems and volumes of essays, such as From a College Window, and The Upton Letters (essays in the form of letters) were famous during his time; and he left one of the longest diaries ever written, some four million words. Extracts from the diaries are printed in Edwardian Excursions. From the Diaries of A. C. Benson, 1898–1904, ed. David Newsome, London: John Murray, 1981. His literary criticisms of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward FitzGerald, Walter Pater and John Ruskin, rank among his best work. Today, he is best remembered as the author of the words of one of Britain's best-known patriotic songs, Land of Hope and Glory, written for the coronation of King Edward VII.
Like his brothers Edward Frederic (E. F.) and Robert Hugh (R. H.), A. C. Benson was noted as an author of ghost stories. The bulk of his published ghost stories in the two volumes The Hill of Trouble and Other Stories (1903) and The Isles of Sunset (1904) were written as moral allegories for his pupils. After Arthur's death, Fred Benson found a collection of unpublished ghost stories. He included two of them in a book, Basil Netherby (1927); the title story was renamed "House at Treheale" and the volume was completed by the long "The Uttermost Farthing"; the fate of the rest of the stories is unknown. The collection Paul the Minstrel and Other Stories (1911; reprint 1977, collects the contents of The Hill of Trouble and Other Stories and The Isles of Sunset. Nine of Arthur's ghost stories are included in David Stuart Davies (ed), The Temple of Death: The Ghost Stories of A. C. & R. H. Benson (Wordsworth, 2007), together with seven by his brother R. H. Benson, while nine of Arthur's and ten of Robert's are included in Ghosts in the House (Ash-Tree, 1996); the contents of the joint collections are similar but not identical.
In The Schoolmaster, Benson summarised his views on education based on his 18-year experience at Eton. He criticised the tendency, which he wrote was prevalent in English public schools at the time, to "make the boys good and to make them healthy" to the detriment of their intellectual development.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he founded the Benson Medal in 1916, to be awarded "in respect of meritorious works in poetry, fiction, history and belles lettres".
He died, unmarried, at the Master's Lodge of Magdalene and was buried at St Giles's Cemetery in Cambridge. A cousin James Bethune-Baker is also buried in the cemetery.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE