A. C. Benson

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Arthur Christopher Benson.

Arthur Christopher Benson (24 April 1862 – 17 June 1925) was an English essayist, poet, and author[1] and the 28th Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.


Benson was one of six children of Edward White Benson (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1882–96) and his wife Mary, sister of the philosopher Henry Sidgwick. The Benson family was exceptionally literate and accomplished, but their history was somewhat tragic. A son and daughter died young; and another daughter, as well as Arthur himself, suffered badly from a mental condition that was probably manic-depressive psychosis, which they had inherited from their father. None of the children ever married.[2]

Despite his illness, Arthur was a distinguished academic and a most prolific author. He was educated at Temple Grove School, Eton, and King's College, Cambridge.[3] From 1885 to 1903 he taught at Eton, returning to Cambridge to lecture in English literature for Magdalene College. From 1915 to 1925, he was Master of Magdalene. From 1906, he was a governor of Gresham's School.[4]

Benson caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1903.

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 day; 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. Today, he is best remembered as the author of the words of one of Britain's best-loved patriotic songs, Land of Hope and Glory, and as a brother of novelists E. F. Benson and Robert Hugh Benson, and of Egyptologist Margaret Benson.

Like his two brothers Edward Fredric (E.F.) and Robert Hugh (R.H.), A.C. Benson was also noted as an author of ghost stories. The bulk of his published ghost stories in the two volumes The Hill of Trouble (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 After Arthur's death, Fred Benson found a collection of unpublished ghost stories by Arthur. He put two of them into a book, Basil Netherby (1927); the title story was renamed "House at Treheale" and the volume was completed by the long "The Uttermost Farthing".[5] The fate of the rest of the stories is unknown. The collection Paul the Minstrel and Other Stories (1911; reprint 1977, collects the entire contents of The Hill of Troubles and The Isles of Sunset.[6] 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 Robert Hugh (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 two joint collections are similar but not identical.

In The Schoolmaster Benson summarized his views on education based on his 18-year experience at Eton. He criticized 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.[7]

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'.[8]

He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge. His cousin James Bethune-Baker is also buried in the Ascension Parish Burial Ground.


  • Men of Might: Studies of Great Characters (with H.F.W. Tatham, 1892).[1]
  • Le Cahier Jaune: Poems (1892).[2]
  • Poems (1893).
  • Genealogy of the Family of Benson of Banger House and Northwoods, in the Parish of Ripon and Chapelry of Pateley Bridge (1894).
  • Lyrics (1895).[3]
  • Lord Vyet & Other Poems (1898).
  • Ode in Memory of the Rt. Honble. William Ewart Gladstone (1898).[4]
  • Thomas Gray (1895).[5]
  • Essays (1896).[6]
  • The Professor: and Other Poems (1900).[7]
  • The Schoolmaster (1902).[8]
  • Monnow: An Ode (1906).
  • The Hill of Trouble and Other Stories (1903).[9]
  • The Isles of Sunset (1904).[10]
  • Peace: and Other Poems (1905).[11]
  • The Gate of Death: A Diary (1906).[12]
  • From a College Window (1906).[13]
  • Rossetti (1906).[14]
  • Walter Pater (1906).[15]
  • The Thread of Gold (1907).[16]
  • Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton (1907).[17]
  • The House of Quiet: An Autobiography (1907).[18]
  • The Altar Fire (1907).[19]
  • The Letters of One, a Study in Limitations (1907).
  • Beside Still Waters (1908).[20]
  • At Large (1908).[21]
  • Tennyson (1908).[22]
  • The Upton Letters (1908).[23]
  • Until the Evening (1909).[24]
  • The Poems of A. C. Benson (1909).[25]
  • The Child of the Dawn (1911).[26]
  • Paul the Minstrel and Other Stories (1911).[27]
  • The Leaves of the Tree: Studies in Biography (1911).[28]
  • Ruskin: A Study in Personality (1911).[29]
  • The Letters of Queen Victoria (1911).Volume One, Volume Two Volume Three
  • Thy Rod & thy Staff (1912).[30]
  • The Beauty of Life: Being Selections from the Writings of Arthur Christopher Benson (1912).[31]
  • Joyous Gard (1913).[32]
  • The Silent Isle (1913).[33]
  • Along the Road (1913).[34]
  • Where No Fear Was: A Book About Fear (1914).[35]
  • The Orchard Pavilion (1914).[36]
  • Escape and Other Essays (1916).[37]
  • Meanwhile; A Packet of War Letters (1916).[38]
  • Father Payne (1917).[39]
  • Life and Letters of Maggie Benson (1920).[40]
  • Watersprings (1920).[41]
  • Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother (1920).[42]
  • The Reed of Pan; English Renderings of Greek Epigrams and Lyrics (1922).[43]
  • Magdalene College, Cambridge: A Little View of Its Buildings and History (1923).[44]
  • 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).[45]
  • The House of Menerdue (1925).[46]
  • Rambles and Reflections (1926).[47]
  • 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.[48]
  • “Poets All” in The Speaker, Volume 15, Feb 13, 1897 (London), 196.[49]
  • “Mr. Benson’s Poems” in The Literary World, Volume 48 Nov 3, 1893 (London: James Clarke & Co.), 329.[50]
  • “Selected Poetry of Arthur Christopher Benson" (1862-1925).[51]
  • “A Literary Causerie” in The Speaker, Volume 15, March 13, 1897 (London), 299.[52]


  1. ^ "Benson, Arthur Christopher". Who's Who. 59: 136. 1907. 
  2. ^ "Selected poetry of Arthur Christopher Benson, 1862 – 1925". Representative Poetry Online. University of Toronto. Retrieved 19 July 2009. 
  3. ^ "Benson, Arthur Christopher (BN881AC)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ The Times newspaper, 22 Oct 1906, p. 6, col. C
  5. ^ Mike Ashley, "The Essential Writers: Blood Brothers" (Profile of E.F. , A.C. and R. H. Benson). Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine (p. 63-70). May/June 1984.
  6. ^ Jack Sullivan (ed). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. NY: Viking Penguin, 1986, p.30
  7. ^ Benson, A.C. (2011) [1902]. "Chapter 6, Intellect". The Schoolmaster. Peridot Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-908095-30-5. 
  8. ^ "The Benson Medal". The Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 11 August 2010. 
  • 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