A. C. Benson

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Arthur Christopher Benson (circa 1899)

Arthur Christopher Benson, FRSL (24 April 1862 – 17 June 1925) was an English essayist, poet, author and academic[1] and the 28th Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is noted for having written the words of the song "Land of Hope and Glory".

Early life and family[edit]

Benson was born on 24 April 1862 at Wellington College, Berkshire. He was one of six children of Edward White Benson (1829-1896; Archbishop of Canterbury 1882–96; the first headmaster of the college) 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[2] or manic-depressive psychosis, which they had inherited from their father. None of the children married.[3] 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.

In 1874 he won a scholarship to Eton from Temple Grove School, a preparatory school in East Sheen. In 1881 he went up to King's College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar (King's College had closed scholarships for which only Etonians were eligible) and achieved first class honours in the Classical tripos in 1884.[4]


From 1885 to 1903 he taught at Eton, but returned to Cambridge in 1904 as a Fellow of Magdalene College to lecture in English Literature. He became president of the college (the Master's deputy) in 1912, and he was Master of Magdalene (head of the college) from December 1915 until his death in 1925. From 1906, he was a governor of Gresham's School.[5]

"Fasti Etonenses", Benson caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1903.

The modern development of Magdalene was shaped by Benson.[4] 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.[6] In 1930, Benson Court was constructed and named after him.[7]

He collaborated with Lord Esher in editing the correspondence of Queen Victoria (1907).[8] His poems and volumes of essays, such as From a College Window and The Upton Letters (essays in the form of letters) were famous in 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.

He wrote the lyrics of the Coronation Ode set to music by Edward Elgar for the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which has as its finale one of Britain's best-known patriotic songs, "Land of Hope and Glory".

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 for his pupils as moral allegories. 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";[9] the fate of the rest of the stories is unknown. 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.[10] 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.[11]

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".[12]


He died at the Master's Lodge at Magdalene and was buried at St Giles's Cemetery in Cambridge. A cousin, James Bethune-Baker, is also buried in the cemetery.

Critical reception[edit]

Horror critic R. S. Hadji included Benson's Basil Netherby on his list of "unjustly neglected" horror books.[13]


  • Men of Might: Studies of Great Characters (with H. F. W. Tatham, 1892).[14]
  • Le Cahier Jaune: Poems (1892).[15]
  • Poems (1893).
  • Genealogy of the Family of Benson of Banger House and Northwoods, in the Parish of Ripon and Chapelry of Pateley Bridge (1894).[16]
  • Lyrics (1895).[17]
  • Lord Vyet & Other Poems (1898).
  • Ode in Memory of the Rt. Honble. William Ewart Gladstone (1898).[18]
  • Thomas Gray (1895).[19]
  • Essays (1896).[20]
  • Fasti Etonenses: A Biographical History of Eton (1899)[21]
  • The Professor: and Other Poems (1900).[22]
  • The Schoolmaster (1902).[23]
  • The Upton Letters (1905).[24]
  • Monnow: An Ode (1906).
  • The Hill of Trouble and Other Stories (1903).[25]
  • The Isles of Sunset (1904).[26]
  • Peace: and Other Poems (1905).[27]
  • The Gate of Death: A Diary (1906).[28]
  • From a College Window (1906).[24]
  • Rossetti (1906).[29]
  • Walter Pater (1906).[30]
  • The Thread of Gold (1907)[31]
  • Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton (1907).[24]
  • The House of Quiet: An Autobiography (1907).[32]
  • The Altar Fire (1907).[24]
  • The Letters of One, a Study in Limitations (1907).
  • Beside Still Waters (1908).[33]
  • At Large (1908).[24]
  • Tennyson (1908).[34]
  • Until the Evening (1909).[35]
  • The Poems of A. C. Benson (1909).[36]
  • The Child of the Dawn (1911).[37]
  • Paul the Minstrel and Other Stories (1911).[24]
  • The Leaves of the Tree: Studies in Biography (1911).[38]
  • Ruskin: A Study in Personality (1911).[39]
  • The Letters of Queen Victoria (1907).[40][41][42]
  • Thy Rod and Thy Staff (1912).[43]
  • The Beauty of Life: Being Selections from the Writings of Arthur Christopher Benson (1912).[44]
  • Joyous Gard (1913).[45]
  • The Silent Isle (1913).[46]
  • Along the Road (1913).[47]
  • Where No Fear Was: A Book About Fear (1914).[24]
  • The Orchard Pavilion (1914).[48]
  • Escape and Other Essays (1916).[49]
  • Meanwhile; A Packet of War Letters (1916).[50]
  • Father Payne (1917).[51]
  • Life and Letters of Maggie Benson (1920).[52]
  • Watersprings (1920).[53]
  • Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother (1920).[54]
  • The Reed of Pan; English Renderings of Greek Epigrams and Lyrics (1922).[55]
  • Magdalene College, Cambridge: A Little View of Its Buildings and History (1923).[56]
  • Selected Poems (1924).
  • Chris Gascoyne; An Experiment in Solitude, from the Diaries of John Trevor (1924).
  • Everybody's Book of the Queen's Dolls' House (1924).
  • Memories and Friends (1924).
  • Edward Fitzgerald (1925).[57]
  • The House of Menerdue (1925).[58]
  • Rambles and Reflections (1926).[59]
  • Basil Netherby (1926).
  • The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson (1926).

Reviews of Benson’s poetry[edit]

  • "The Poetry of Mr. A. C. Benson" in the Sewanee Review, Volume 14 (Sewanee: University of the South, 1906), 110-111, 405-421.[60]
  • "Poets All" in The Speaker, Volume 15, 13 February 1897 (London), 196.[61]
  • "Mr. Benson’s Poems" in The Literary World, Volume 48, 3 November 1893 (London: James Clarke & Co.), 329.[62]
  • "Selected Poetry of Arthur Christopher Benson" (1862–1925).[3]
  • "A Literary Causerie" in The Speaker, Volume 15, 13 March 1897 (London), 299.[61]


  1. ^ "Benson, Arthur Christopher". Who's Who. 59: 136. 1907.
  2. ^ Ridley, Jane (9 July 2011). "The gay Lambeth way" (review of Rodney Bolt, As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil: The Impossible Life of Mary Benson)". The Spectator.
  3. ^ a b "Selected Poetry of Arthur Christopher Benson, 1862 – 1925". Representative Poetry Online. University of Toronto.
  4. ^ a b "Benson, Arthur Christopher (BN881AC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ The Times newspaper, 22 October 1906, p. 6, col. C.
  6. ^ "Twentieth Century". Magdalene College. Archived from the original on 1 March 2004. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  7. ^ The colleges and halls - Magdalene - British History Online. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  8. ^ Ward, Yvonne M. (2014). Censoring Queen Victoria: how two gentlemen edited a queen and created an icon. Oneworld. ISBN 9781780743639.
  9. ^ Mike Ashley, "The Essential Writers: Blood Brothers" (Profile of E. F., A. C. and R. H. Benson). Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine (pp. 63-70). May/June 1984.
  10. ^ Jack Sullivan (ed.), The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. NY: Viking Penguin, 1986, p. 30.
  11. ^ Benson, A.C. (2011) [1902]. "Chapter 6, Intellect". The Schoolmaster. Peridot Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-908095-30-5.
  12. ^ "The Benson Medal". The Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 April 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  13. ^ R.S. Hadji, "13 Neglected Masterpieces of the Macabre", in Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine, July–August 1983 . TZ Publications, Inc. (p. 62)
  14. ^ Men of Might: Studies of Great Characters. Arnold. 1899 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1892). Le Cahier Jaune: Poems. G. New – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1894). Genealogy of the Family of Benson of Banger House and Northwoods, in the Parish of Ripon and Chapelry of Pateley Bridge. New – via Internet Archive. Genealogy of the family of Benson.
  17. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1895). Lyrics. John Lane – via Internet Archive.
  18. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1898). Ode in Memory of the Rt. Honble. William Ewart Gladstone. R. Ingalton Drake – via Google Books.
  19. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1895). Thomas Gray. Eton. hdl:2027/hvd.hwilqf.
  20. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1896). Essays. New York. hdl:2027/hvd.32044086675808.
  21. ^ "Review of Fasti Etonenses by A. C. Benson & A History of Eton College by Lionel Cust". The Athenæum (3767): 8–9. 6 January 1900.
  22. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1900). The Professor: And Other Poems. John Lane – via Internet Archive.
  23. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1908). The Schoolmaster: A Commentary Upon the Aims and Methods of an Assistant-master in a Public School. Putnam – via Internet Archive.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g "Project Gutenberg".
  25. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1903). The Hill of Trouble and Other Stories. London. hdl:2027/inu.39000002156706.
  26. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1905). The Isles of Sunset. Ibister – via Internet Archive.
  27. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1905). Peace: And Other Poems. J. Lane – via Internet Archive.
  28. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1906). The Gate of Death: A Diary . G. P. Putnam's sons – via Google Books.
  29. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1906). Rossetti. S. Chand & Co. hdl:2027/njp.32101066385236.
  30. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1906). Walter Pater. Macmillan – via Internet Archive. A. C. Benson Walter Pater.
  31. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1907). The Thread of Gold. Murray – via Internet Archive.
  32. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1907). The House of Quiet: An Autobiography. E. P. Dutton – via Internet Archive. The House of Quiet: an Autobiography.
  33. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1908). Beside Still Waters. G.P. Putnam's Sons – via Internet Archive.
  34. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1907). Alfred Tennyson. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. hdl:2027/uc1.b3742961.
  35. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1909). Until the Evening. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t7fq9th3h.
  36. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1909). The Poems of A. C. Benson ... J. Lane – via Google Books.
  37. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1912). The Child of the Dawn. G. P. Putnam's Sons – via Internet Archive.
  38. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1911). The Leaves of the Tree; Studies in Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t5k93398t.
  39. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1911). Ruskin: A Study in Personality. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. hdl:2027/uiug.30112074811271.
  40. ^ Victoria (1907). The Letters of Queen Victoria, a selection from Her Majesty's correspondence between the years 1837 and 1861, published by authority of His Majesty the king; Vol. I 1837–1843. London: John Murray. hdl:2027/umn.31951002171032u.
  41. ^ Victoria (1907). The Letters of Queen Victoria, a selection from Her Majesty's correspondence between the years 1837 and 1861, published by authority of His Majesty the king; Vol. II 1844–1853. New York: Longmans, Green & Co. hdl:2027/hvd.hx3v5u.
  42. ^ Victoria (1907). The Letters of Queen Victoria, a selection from Her Majesty's correspondence between the years 1837 and 1861, published by authority of His Majesty the king; Vol. III 1854–1861. London: John Murray. hdl:2027/osu.32435028626158.
  43. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1912). Thy Rod and Thy Staff. London: Smith, Elder & Co. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t6154n414.
  44. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1912). The Beauty of Life: being selections from the writings of Arthur Christopher Benson. London, New York, Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton. hdl:2027/inu.39000002953664.
  45. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1913). Joyous Gard. New York and London: G.P. Putnam's. hdl:2027/uc1.$b682860.
  46. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1910). The Silent Isle. London: Smith, Elder & co. hdl:2027/uc1.$b682863.
  47. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1913). Along the Road. London: James Nisbet & Co. hdl:2027/pst.000006729585.
  48. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1914). The Orchard Pavilion. New York and London: G.P. Putnam's Sons. hdl:2027/inu.30000118996788.
  49. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1915). Escape, and Other Essays. New York: The Century Co. hdl:2027/hvd.32044090316472.
  50. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1916). Meanwhile; A Packet of War Letters. London: John Murray. hdl:2027/uc1.b4078800.
  51. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1917). Father Payne. Putnam – via Internet Archive. Father Payne.
  52. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1917). Life and Letters of Maggie Benson. J. Murray – via Internet Archive. Life and Letters of Maggie Benson.
  53. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1913). Watersprings. Smith, Elder – via Internet Archive. Watersprings.
  54. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1915). Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother. Longmans, Green – via Internet Archive. Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother.
  55. ^ Benson, A. C. The Reed of Pan; English renderings of Greek epigrams and lyrics.
  56. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1923). Magdalene College, Cambridge; A little view of its buildings and history. Cambridge: Bowes & Bowes. hdl:2027/uc1.$b279316.
  57. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1905). Edward Fitzgerald. Macmillan – via Internet Archive. Edward Fitzgerald.
  58. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher (1925). The House of Menerdue. London: William Heinemann. hdl:2027/uc1.$b682947.
  59. ^ Benson, Arthur Christopher. Rambles and Reflections. London: John Murray. hdl:2027/uc1.$b682862.
  60. ^ The Sewanee Review. University of the South. 1906 – via Google Books.
  61. ^ a b The Speaker. 1897 – via Google Books.
  62. ^ The Literary World. 1893 – via Google Books.
  • Ryle, Edward Hewish (1925). Arthur Christopher Benson as Seen by Some Friends. London: G. Bell and Sons.
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 39. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
  • Wilson, Keith (1990). "A. C. Benson," in Robert Beum, ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Essayists, 1880–1960. Detroit: Gale, pp. 192–204.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Stuart Alexander Donaldson
Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Allen Beville Ramsay