Arthur Christopher Benson was an accomplished English author, poet and essayist. A number of his ghost stories have also been published along with stories of the same genre created by his illustrious brothers, Edward Fredric Benson and Robert Hugh Benson.
But, he is best known as the author of a particular British patriotic song, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. He lived closed to a renowned Cathedral as his father was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps this brought out the ecclesiastical influence in his life.
Though marred by spells of deep depression right from childhood to his last years, A. C. Benson was a distinguished academic, who became the 28th Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge. His father was the headmaster of Wellington College at the time of his birth, and later became the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He lived at Lincoln and Truro from the age of 10 to the age of 21, so his early years were influenced heavily by Christianity. 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 born on the 24th of April 1862 at Wellington College in Berkshire.
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.
Benson was a prolific writer throughout his life, composing fiction, poetry, librettos (including the famous song Land of Hope and Glory), essays and biographies. He was also co-editor of Queen Victoria’s letters, but is now mostly remembered for his diaries. Benson began to keep a regular diary from 1897 and continued until the end of his life. He left behind 180 notebooks, with over four million words.
They revealed that the apparently somewhat retiring academic had had a far more tumultuous inner life than an outer one. The diaries were first edited by Percy Lubbock and published as The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson by Hutchinson & Co (London) in 1926.
According to Lubbock, in his introduction, ‘the familiar grey or purple notebook lay always on [Benson’s] table, close to his hand; and at any free moment of his busy day he would seize it, write in it with incredible swiftness, and bring it up to date with a dozen headlong pages.’ By the end of a month, Lubbock adds, the notebook would be filled from cover to cover and a new one opened.
He was elected as the president of Magdalene College in 1912 and then went on to become ‘Master of Magdalene’ in 1915. He held on to this post till his death, and brought about immense changes to the college which took wings under his able leadership. Well-known for his lively ways of teaching, he encouraged others to pursue subjects like archaeology, music and science, in addition to history and English. He was very famous with the young undergraduates as a friendly and understanding teacher.