[Disponible en español]

A. C. Benson was one of six children of an Archbishop of Canterbury, although his father was still only Headmaster of Wellington College when he was born. He was an Old Etonian who returned to Eton to teach after taking a First in the Classical Tripos in Cambridge in 1884. He became a House Master six years later but then, wanting more time to write, he went back to live in Cambridge. With Viscount Esher, he edited Queen Victoria's letters. Meanwhile Stuart Donaldson, a colleague from Eton, had been appointed Master of Magdalene. He told A C a new Fellow was needed, but the College couldn't pay him. A C didn't need paying and so was elected, in 1904. Eleven years later he took over the Mastership.

He was an essayist, biographer, short story writer, poet. Altogether he wrote over a hundred books, including the English Men of Letters series, 1904-6, about Rossetti, FitzGerald, Pater, and Ruskin. He wrote the words of "Land of Hope and Glory" though nobody remembers that any more, and besides they've dated very badly. His affinity with FitzGerald can, perhaps, be best seen in some of his verses. This is from The Isles of Sunset (1904):

Let those whose Hearts and Hands are strong
Tell eager Tales of Might and Deeds;
Enough if my sequestered song
To hush'd and twilight Gardens leads!

A better known younger brother, E. F. (Edward Frederic (1867-1940) wrote slightly fewer books: ninety-three in total. Today he's known best for a series of novels, set between the Wars, centred on two rentier ladies, Mapp and Lucia. The books were made into a TV series in the 1980s. Most were set in a Sussex town based on Rye where E.F. lived in the house which once belonged to Henry James (1843-1916). In the books Miss Mapp gets to live there as well. It was bombed in 1940: the grand piano was flung up on to overhead telephone wires and balanced there.

Another brother and a sister were also writers. Gossip has it, though not the DNB, that their mother set up a ménage with Archbishop Tait's daughter when her husband died.

Related Material


Benson, A C. Edward FitzGerald. MacMillan. London. 1905.

Benson, A. C. The Isles of Sunset www.gutenberg.org/etext/18882.

Dictionary of National Biography . Oxford University Press. Oxford. 1975.

Last modified 16 February 2008