A.C. Benson and Cambridge: I, 1862-1884

The first part of an extended essay on A.C. Benson and Cambridge University.


Ged Martin


A.C. Benson: Unravelling the Stereotypes


Benson Background: Institutional and Family

"I never remember their seeking each other's company or wanting to be alone together."

"The Martin of Martins my soul bereaves / flying no more to me!"

EWB, 1858-1882: A Lucky Career?


Academic Record

Benson at King's: A Cambridge Education?

King's and Cliques

Benson's Crisis of November 1882

"I had had a bad shock."

Canterbury Bells, 1882

"...every nervous misery known to man" 

"... the greatest and most sudden blow that ever befell me"


Sections III and IV are on:




"I was never big enough to embrace and overlap Eton"

Boys, Beauty¸ and Brides

"Wider still and wider / Shall thy bounds be set"

By appointment: "more capable, more suitable and more trustworthy"

"... the poor little College ... so out of elbows and out of heart"

The old Magdalene and the new

Successor to Donaldson?

"Humanitarian Hockey and Socialist Spillikins"

"... the abject farce of compulsory Greek"

From a Stodger's Window

"I have been for a moment nearer God.... He would make all plain, if He could"

The Case of Dr Crippen

"The Christian Theory of War"

"...Lord Braybrooke hardly hesitated"

"...one of our great Masters"



Imperialism – Sexuality – Biography –"... and I not there": a possible comparative approach –  "What an odd book this diary is!" – "I am very early Victorian in my tastes" – Educational Reformer – Mental Health

Tailpiece: Understanding Benson's College?




I: Understanding A.C. Benson; Understanding Magdalene?

When I became an undergraduate at Magdalene College Cambridge in 1964, the personality of A.C. Benson loomed broodingly over the institution.  "No one can be long in Magdalene without encountering the spirit of Benson or hearing something described as 'Bensonian'," wrote Ronald Hyam in 1992.[1] Arthur Christopher Benson was elected to a Fellowship in 1904. In 1915, he became Master, and served a ten-year term until his death in 1925. In terms of endowment, Magdalene was by far the poorest college in Cambridge. A prosperous bachelor, Benson was generous in his benefactions,[2] but used them, so it seemed, to fasten his impress forever. His characteristic initials, A.C.B., or heraldic symbols appear twenty times in a small academic precinct.[3]

Benson was everywhere. Magdalene's meeting room, Benson Hall, was a double-storey mock-Baronial dining room, with windows at the upper level – and complete with a minstrels' gallery. It had been built by Benson when he had occupied a set of apartments known as the Old Lodge.[4]  One of the first things that any member of Magdalene learned about Benson was that he had contributed the words of Land of Hope and Glory to Elgar's music. The collaboration had occurred two years before he came to Magdalene, but it was all too easy to imagine an Edwardian imperialist dreaming of "wider still and wider" in the precious artificiality of his fantasy dining room.[5] Senior members of the College foregathered for dinner in a cosy anteroom tucked behind the Hall, which gave direct access, through a disguised door in the ancient panelling, to the High Table. Traditionally, the Fellows of Magdalene had processed the length of the Hall past the junior tables, but Benson had disliked being stared at by undergraduates, and accordingly financed the construction of a more discreet entry.  After dining, dons and their guests adjourned upstairs to the Combination Room, where it was the job of the junior Fellow to take round the decanter and pour glasses of port. In earlier times, the decanter had simply been passed from hand to hand. Benson had imposed the custom, to prevent the forgetful or the greedy from omitting the pass on the supply.[6] When rising numbers after the First World War pushed the College to expand across Magdalene Street, the new development was called Benson Court in his memory.[7] As late as 1994, a College historian could assert that "Magdalene today is very largely Benson's creation."[8]

However irritatingly omnipresent Benson might be, there seemed no doubt that he merited a substantial, and predominantly positive, place in the history of Magdalene, and not just because he had bought his way into the collective gratitude. The key constitutional feature of the College was its dependence upon Audley End, an Essex mansion, whose owner, Lord Braybrooke, possessed the right to appoint the Master of Magdalene. In 1853, the Braybrooke of the day had bestowed the post upon one of his younger sons, the Honourable and Reverend Latimer Neville. Neville had presided over the College's declining fortunes for fifty-one years – incidentally outliving his brothers, so that he eventually (in 1902) inherited the family peerage, thus becoming Master and Visitor, a highly dubious combination – although one that did not long endure. On his demise, in 1904, the incoming Lord Braybrooke had appointed as Neville's successor an Eton housemaster, Stuart Alexander Donaldson. Donaldson, in turn, imported Benson as a non-stipendiary Fellow, and – so the established narrative asserted – and made the previously failing College into a lively success.[9] If there was a Donaldson-Benson revolution, it had distinctly limited aims: Benson himself took pride in claiming that, thanks to "a traditional connexion with several old families," the College had "never lacked a certain touch of social distinction".[10] Moreover, it became, as Ronald Hyam termed it, a "stalled revolution," thanks to Lord Braybrooke's disastrous decision to select, as Benson's successor in 1925, another Eton schoolmaster, the hopelessly reactionary A.B. Ramsay. By the nineteen-sixties, the Bensonian legacy – if there was such a thing – seemed to have become both hijacked and fossilised.

Since I entered Magdalene almost forty years after Benson's death, I would of course have needed to be psychic to have encountered him at first hand. I endured supervisions in medieval history enfolded in one of his high-backed armchairs, maybe even the one in which he had died, but A.C. Benson made no appearance to enliven the proceedings. But I did have a vivid second-hand experience of the man, which (unlike so many university episodes) stayed in my memory largely because I was embarrassed by a sudden revelation from a respected senior academic. Frank Salter had been brought to Magdalene in 1910, from Trinity, to teach History, largely on the initiative of A.C. Benson, who almost certainly helped finance his appointment. By the nineteen-sixties, Salter was of course retired, but he took an interest in Magdalene's undergraduate historians, and even conducted the occasional stately class. One day he began talking to me about Benson, and his mental breakdowns. He launched into a forceful explanation – Frank Salter's opinions were generally strong in tone – that Benson was a complicated person, and it emerged that there was something troubling this splendid man, a distinguished College figure in his late seventies, so monumental and so respected.

 Benson poured out his impressions into a huge personal diary. After his death in 1925, his friend Percy Lubbock produced a digest, conveying a portrait of its author that, although far from uncritical, was affectionate and – so it seemed – well-rounded. In accordance with the terms of Benson's will, the volumes were then sealed for fifty years. Four decades into the closure, Salter was uneasy about what the 1975 revelation might say about him. Even in Lubbock's carefully laundered version, it was noticeable that there was no repetition of Benson's 1910 allusion to "[t]he beloved Salter" (at a dinner party also attended by the "very handsome and very charming" Rupert Brooke).[11] Newsome's biography of 1980, based on the first detailed modern reading of the diary, did indeed chronicle a cooling of the relationship, although there seems to have been no dramatic falling-out. Benson liked his young men to be lively and independent-minded, but, in the last resort, they were expected to remember that they were his acolytes. By 1911, Benson found his protégé "rather bluff and provocative," far too "intensely conscious of righteousness" for a man so young.[12] As it happened, this was hardly an unfair portrayal, since Frank Salter did indeed have a tendency to spiky dogmatism, but – a decade before the re-examination of the diary – he could not know what it might say about him, and he evidently feared the worst. Hence his direct appeal that, if I were around in 1975, I should tell people that Benson could be harshly unfair in his private personal judgements. I found it a doubly embarrassing experience – partly because my engagement with scholarship was, at that time, not so intense as to make it likely that I would have any future voice in the academic world, but far more that I found it sad that Salter, who had given such service to the College, and who was held in much roguish affection, should have felt uneasy about the possible impact of potentially negative allusions to him in A.C. Benson's long-forgotten outlet for passing bouts of personal spleen. I do not, for one moment, imply that this essay is written in discharge of an obligation casually placed upon me half a century ago. But that unexpected monologue did leave me with a sense of having glimpsed Benson, at one remove. It also alerted me to the strong possibility that the received impression of the 27th Master of Magdalene perhaps sketched a convenient mythology.[13]

A.C. Benson: Unravelling the Stereotypes

This essay began with an intention to re-examine six aspects of A.C. Benson's career, in order to modify the context for an assessment of his relationship with Magdalene. As will become apparent, discussion of these original themes has in several instances branched out into related issues. It also became obvious that it was impossible to leap from Benson at King's, in the years 1881-84, to Benson at Magdalene, after 1904, without delving more deeply into his experience as a master at Eton master, between 1885 and 1903. This is an area that takes me well out of my intellectual comfort zone, and I have relied (perhaps not always as gratefully as I should) upon Tim Card's impressive history of Eton in that era.[14] Other, loosely connected sub-themes – some of them perhaps better tagged as disgrace-notes – have intruded into the story, such as Benson's bizarre fascination with murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen, and his preposterous delusion that he was a socialist – neither of which became incorporated in the received Magdalene tradition.

The first of the six themes is an insistence that his life experience needs to be set more firmly against his family background, which has too often been treated as incidental detail. Second, the two-dimensional notion of A.C. Land of Hope and Glory Benson as a stuffy imperialist has to be set aside as a caricature. Third, the Magdalene tradition managed to ignore the fact that he was an educational reformer, seen by his more sedate contemporaries as an iconoclast who sought to destroy the supremacy of Latin and Greek in the public school curriculum. Nor was he some abstruse minor theorist engaged in debate with a few dozen fellow practitioners: in terms of quality and durability of his output, A.C. Benson was certainly far from a towering literary figure, but he enjoyed a huge if transitory popularity, which gave his controversial opinions considerable publicity. Not all of this was necessarily beneficial to the College that appeared under the signature of his prefaces and as the address from which he wrote letters to newspapers. Fourth, the onward-and-upward mystique that portrays his twenty-one years of association with Magdalene as a golden age of renewal sits uneasily with the reality that, for around one third of that time, Benson was in the grip of two mental breakdowns, long phases of devastating depression which required extensive periods in nursing homes – a disability that of course limited his impact upon his adopted institution.[15] It may even be that if the writings of Arthur Christopher Benson retain any value today, it is because he wrote frankly about the terrible affliction that engulfed him.

The fifth line of revision links back to the first, Benson and his family. It is natural enough that Magdalene history should view him as a benefactor and a rare example of a Master who brought a national reputation to the College.[16] Biographical thumbnails generally mention, almost as if it were a matter of background interest, that his father was Archbishop of Canterbury. The emphasis should be the other way around: it was not that the Archbishop was incidentally father of the Cambridge don, but rather that A.C. Benson was the son of Edward White Benson, Primate of All England from 1883 until his death in 1896. As if this were not in itself a sufficient burden, he was also in a sense his father's substitute and second-choice heir. It was Benson's elder brother, Martin, who was the focus of his father's hopes and recipient of his father's confidence. Martin Benson's death, in 1878, when Arthur was fifteen, left Benson attempting to fill a gap in parental expectations. The Benson family had a habit of referring to one another by initials (hence the ACB logo all over Magdalene today). There is something slightly precious about this in-group private code, but I use "EWB" for Benson's father, partly to avoid repetition of surname, but also because the abbreviation conveys something of his dark and intimidating presence, almost an alien force, in Benson's life. Much of the driving force in his life stemmed from a felt need to achieve something comparable to the determined and essentially self-made success of his father's life. "I had a good start; I ought to have done better," he wrote in November 1909, as he emerged from his first breakdown.[17] The question to be asked is: did he eventually find a surrogate form of career success in Cambridge? Was Magdalene his private Canterbury? From the fact that his two worst attacks of depression came during his Cambridge days – the first three years after his election to a Fellowship, the second less than two years after his accession to the Mastership, we might suspect that, deep down, for Benson himself, Magdalene was a cul-de-sac rather than a great highway.

The sixth aspect of his life story that demands renewed focus is his earlier experience of Cambridge, as a student between October 1881 and December 1884. Benson's modern biographer, David Newsome, provides a useful sketch of this period of his life,[18] but the overall process of biography tends to treat any subject's undergraduate experience as a mere prelude to adult life. The central event of Benson's years at King's College came in November 1882, an episode cautiously described by his first chronicler, Percy Lubbock as a "crisis of emotion and religion, no matter exactly how they were mixed".[19] Its medium-term impact, was to overshadow his student days with an extended cloud of depression. "For more than two years," he wrote in February 1885, "... I have not had one happy day."[20] In the longer term, his mental turmoil closed off any serious possibility of ordination, and seeking a career in the Church of England, perhaps the most obvious way of accommodating himself to his dominant father. But the misery of Benson's initial Cambridge experience also poses a large question: why did he choose to return in 1904, and spend the rest of his life there?

It may perhaps be noted that these six themes do not centrally address the subject of much interest to recent scholars, Benson's sexuality – although it is, of course, discussed at a later point in the essay. It is accepted that he was attracted to young males, although of precisely what age and in exactly what manner remains open to definition. It will be argued that, while a homosexual orientation formed part of his crises of personal identity, the central issue of his mental health merits discussion on its own terms. At a later point in this essay, the possibility is mooted that Benson suffered from bipolar disorder. Given my lack of medical qualifications, this suggestion can barely claim the status even of a hypothesis. The most that can be said is that it fits the known facts of Benson's mental illnesses – but, of course, amateur medical opinions usually do correspond to externally observed symptoms, so a happy approximation does not amount to a firm diagnosis. However, two points may be made as possible lines of reflection. First, if Benson's mental condition was marked by bipolar disorder, then it becomes less pertinent to identify a single explosive cause to his crisis of November 1882. Bipolar disorder often manifests itself in young adults, and may result from general factors such as stress. Thus it may not be necessary to postulate the breakdown of a homoerotic relationship – or, indeed, any other private trauma -- as the trigger factor. Second, we should have to downplay as misleading the view taken by Benson's friends – that he suffered two lengthy breakdowns but recovered to full mental health each time. Bipolar disorder is a continuing affliction which manifests itself in a range of responses, from desperate depression to energetic euphoria. The upbeat phases in Benson's life – during which he was often aware of his proximity to disaster – could equally have been symptomatic of an underlying time-bomb. Even if attractive, such an explanation can only be tentative. As far back as 1980, Magdalene historian Ronald Hyam suggested that the opinion of a psychiatrist should be sought to evaluate Benson's accounts of his mental illnesses.[21]  But Benson in the pages of his books and diary is not Benson on the couch, and psychiatrists may feel a professional reluctance to pronounce at such a distance. The biographical tendency of recent decades, to view Benson primarily through his homosexuality, is an example of a prism that risks turning into a prison. In the absence of reliable diagnosis, it would be equally unhelpful – even careless and lazy -- if every incident in his life was ascribed to bipolar disorder.

 Having highlighted the themes of the essay, this discussion now doubles back towards a more conventional narrative. But first, it is useful to examine the sources upon which it is based.


This is explicitly a secondary essay, seeking to review Benson and the significance of his association with Magdalene College Cambridge on the basis of published biography, reminiscences by contemporaries, and the extensive writings of Benson himself. The source material is extensive and it is rich (at least, in the sense of being temptingly quotable), but it is not without its hazards.

The major modern study is the life by David Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise: A.C. Benson: the Diarist, published in 1980. Newsome's authority as the established interpreter of Benson largely rested upon the fact that he was one of the few scholars to have read his subject's extensive, and sometimes outspoken, diaries. Benson began to keep a regular journal in 1897, but retrospective allusions enabled Newsome to add detail to earlier phases of his life. In addition, beguiling extracts from the diaries were published in 1926, a year after Benson's death, by Percy Lubbock, a former Eton pupil who became a colleague, friend and supporter. Lubbock knew Benson well enough, for good or ill, to produce an affectionate, sharp and apparently well-rounded portrait of his subject. He had been one of the first boys to join Benson's newly established House at Eton, opened in 1892. The title of his selected volume, The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson, underlined its post-1897 emphasis. It began, then, with its subject in mid-life, and, indeed, in low-level crisis about the direction of his life. Accordingly, Lubbock merely noted the "dark depression," and he contented himself with the comment that the influence of "that remarkable man" EWB "partly defeated itself ... so exactingly, so purposefully, it was exerted".[22]

It is a measure of A.C. Benson's magnetism that he became the subject of around a dozen attempts to evoke and memorialise his jovial but elusive personality. Nine of these appeared in a memorial volume, simply called Arthur Christopher Benson: as seen by some friends, edited by another former Eton pupil, E.H. Ryle, within a few months of its subject's death. M.R. (Monty) James recalled the Cambridge phases of Benson's life, before 1884 and after 1904.  Two Eton colleagues, Hugh MacNaghten and Edward Lyttelton, wrote about Benson as a schoolmaster, supplemented by the recollections of three of his pupils, Ryle himself, Mark Sturgis and Edward Cadogan. Stephen Gaselee and Geoffrey Madan focused on the second Cambridge period, while Percy Lubbock discussed Benson the author. Of these, the tributes by MacNaghten and Sturgis were slight, the former because, as he confessed, he was not a particularly close friend, and did not share Benson's heretical views on the teaching of Classics. Perhaps the most notable contribution was that of Lyttelton, an intensely competitive man, who had become headmaster of Eton in 1905, a post that many thought should have gone to Benson. Benson's essay, "Ambition," in his 1906 collection, From a College Window, could be taken as a commentary on the very obvious weaknesses of his supplanter, and Benson later handled Lyttelton savagely in the columns of The Times. Ryle's volume gave Lyttelton the opportunity to take his revenge in a sweetly vicious hatchet job.[23] Benson's passing also triggered an informed, indeed sympathetic, obituary notice in The Times,[24] plus a brief memoir, apparently syndicated, by J.C. Squire, the poet and literary journalist, who had fallen under Benson's spell when he was an undergraduate at St John's College Cambridge.[25] Gaselee drew upon his comments in Ryle's collection for his entry in the 1922-1930 supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography.  Another notable, but overlooked, assessment of Benson by Francis Turner, was first delivered for internal consumption within Magdalene in the nineteen-fifties, and published by the College as an occasional paper in 1992. Turner had encountered Benson during his final years, and mixed warm personal recollections within a framework of Lubbock's extracts from the diary.[26] These short but incisive portraits have tended to drop from sight. By contrast, the wider Benson family has attracted a good deal of attention from various later writers – and, as we shall see, for good if alarming reasons – from Betty Askwith to Simon Goldhill.[27]

The third group of sources comes from the terrifyingly prolific writings of Benson himself. Both as a biographer and an essayist, he occasionally made illuminating reference to his early life – not least because several of his books were about his own family. His biggest project was a two-volume biography of his own father, which he was urged to undertake by EWB's oldest friend, Bishop Lightfoot of Durham. It appeared, just before Christmas 1899, in two massive volumes. The Morning Post thought it "a work of singular charm and biographical excellence," but a reviewer in the equally Conservative Standard complained that it was "robbed of a good part of its value by the utterly superfluous matter with which it is stuffed." Benson responded to the challenge that his book "would have been a much better one if it had been shortened by one-half": a single-volume abridgement appeared in 1901.[28] He also wrote biographies of his brother Hugh, who had become a Catholic priest, and his sister Maggie, whose last years were clouded by mental illness – in the latter case, accepting that many would feel that "the world has heard enough about my family".[29] The writer's own recollections of people he had encountered formed the core of Benson's two sparkling volumes of biographical essays, The Leaves of the Tree (1911) and Memories and Friends (1924).[30] The life of EWB, Edward Lyttelton scoffed, had been "carefully supervised" by the archbishop's widow.[31] Indeed, the author's prefatory verse of dedication to her might have been more appropriate to a mass-produced Mother's Day card. But, after Mary Benson's death in 1918, and his own recovery from his second breakdown, Benson returned to the subject of his father's career before he became Archbishop, and his own early life, in a charming memoir called The Trefoil.[32] If the double-decker biography of 1899 had helped him come to terms with his domineering father, The Trefoil represented a belated emancipation from his overshadowing example. By suggesting that EWB's move to Canterbury was "the greatest mistake of his life," Benson implicitly exonerated himself from any alleged failure to emulate his father's achievement. If EWB had indeed been an inappropriate choice for the archbishopric, then his son might come to terms with any perceived limitations in his own career, such as his inability to accept ordination in the Church or his reluctance to grasp the headmastership of Eton. "He should have stayed at Truro .... It was the right soil for him to sow."[33] It will be argued below that EWB was probably fortunate to escape from Cornwall before the contradictions of his position and the limitations of his resources boxed him into frustrating failure. But for Benson, The Trefoil at long last enabled him to sit in judgement upon the parent who had so often made him feel inadequate.

A further complication is that, in much of his essay writing, Benson projected a wholly imaginary personality that was at variance with his actual existence.[34] Lubbock joked that his friends admired "how sociably he cultivated seclusion, how energetically he commended repose".[35] "I want to live on the edge of life," he wrote in 1902, sadly reflecting two years later, "I stand on the outskirts and applaud".[36] Sometimes, he seemed even to be observing himself from without, in a bizarre form of semi-detached narcissism. Sometimes, this effort at humility crashed badly.  In Thy Rod and Thy Staff, Benson attempted an autobiographical account of his first breakdown, with the courageous and laudable aim of helping others. Unfortunately, it came across as "self-pity," its attempts at profundity bouncing embarrassingly along the surface. One critic claimed that it was akin to "a little girl saying how much worse her measles had been than her brother's." Benson, who was often irritated and sometimes hurt by criticism, had to agree that this particular sally was "rather clever and not untrue."[37]

To project the complexity of his "curious duality" (to quote Lubbock) still deeper into perversity,  Benson himself sometimes claimed "that the man in his books, the unworldly dreamer, the mild and placid recluse, was truly himself; while the other character, that of the man who thoroughly enjoyed the business and bustle of the world, was ... mainly assumed for self-protection."[38]  Of all Shakespeare's characters, Benson claimed the closest identity, in his own ideal universe, with Ariel, the elusive spirit of The Tempest, saying that he would like to spend eternity flying around the universe and observing minute details. This was surely an unexpected ambition for a loud-voiced man, sixteen stone (and rising) and over six feet tall, although it was perhaps more appropriate to his imaginary alternative form, "the little cage of bones and skin, in which our spirit is confined".[39] It would be a short step from this Ariel fixation to see Benson in terms of notable Edwardian fantasy, Peter Pan. Perhaps the barely hidden dark side to Barrie's story explains why no Benson scholar seems yet to have gone down that road. In assessing his writings as autobiographical evidence, it is important to bear in mind that he may have cited experiences selected to illustrate a Benson that his closest friends did not recognise. On one occasion, he contradicted his own recollection in order to emphasise different projected aspects of his identity. As an undergraduate, Benson had rowed for King's, almost certainly in the Lent or Easter Terms of 1882.[40] Writing about growing older (at the geriatric age of forty-four), Benson claimed he did not regret his inability to share the enthusiasms of the young, claiming bitterly that he had been an ineffective member of a boat crew. But, just a few months later, when attacking the English cult of games, he repudiated the vision of himself as "a spectacled owlish man" of no athletic prowess, insisting he had been "competent" but not a keen oarsman.[41]  This is a cameo example of what Goldhill calls "autobiografiction," one that illustrates that Benson's memories were tweaked to suit Benson's present.

With A.C. Benson the novelist, we encounter yet more perplexing problems of the interpretation. At first sight, the general weakness of his fiction might seem helpful to the historian. He was often superficial and sentimental, his lack of grand inventiveness inclining him to thinly disguised recycling of his own experiences. The interpretational problem with this material is that it is not always obvious where autobiography ends and fantasy takes over. For instance, Benson wrote two accounts of his 1882 crisis, which are sufficiently similar to suggest vivid recollection. In the first, Memoir of Arthur Hamilton, published anonymously in 1886, the crisis apparently triggered by a revivalist meeting in Cambridge was in fact caused by the collapse of a homoerotic friendship with a younger boy. In the second, The House of Quiet, in 1904, the account of the upheaval is detailed and persuasive, but it happens without any mention of any sexual or emotional shock. As already made clear, Edward Lyttelton was a sour critic, but he was sharing a house with Benson when the Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton appeared, and internal evidence suggests that it may have been the last literary production by his "friend" that he bothered to read. Lyttelton dismissed the portrayal of the hero as "nebulous ... and loosely compacted," a mishmash of "incongruous interpolations".[42] That is about as far as we are going to get in bridging personal attributes and literary criticism, a disappointment since the 1886 novel forms central "evidence" for Benson's experience four years earlier. (Thirty years after its publication, Benson himself called it "an odd little book ... a morbid affair," but this may have been an attempt to distance himself from its embarrassing revelations.[43])

This Bensonian duality can be seen in his first rendering of his November 1882 crisis, recounted in his 1886 account, Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, which was also his first novel. The hero was a reclusive invalid whose autobiography was edited by Christopher Carr, a friend whom he had met at Trinity College, Cambridge.[44] Benson had simply bifurcated his forenames, Arthur and Christopher. The anonymity did not fool Benson's uncle, Henry Sidgwick, whose interest was aroused when he spotted an allusion to his own college, Trinity, in the title. "The names seemed somehow familiar to me," he wrote; "reflecting on them, I conjectured that the hero and biographer were 'differentiated' out of my nephew, Arthur Christopher Benson."[45] A second, very similar, account of the 1882 crisis appeared in the House of Quiet, a novel of 1904. Also originally published anonymously, it was re-issued in 1907 with Benson's name on the title page, a concession that necessarily revealed the identity of the creator of Arthur Hamilton.[46] One peculiarity of The House of Quiet is that the narrator is never actually named, being described only by the shadow-Benson who edited the text as a "distant cousin".[47] The major difference between the two accounts, already noted, is their handling of the crisis of November 1882: in Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton the trauma was set in the context of the collapse of a deeply emotional and obviously homoerotic friendship, whereas The House of Quiet manages to convey the subject's anguish without this complication. The discrepancy is discussed later in this essay. It seems sufficient to note here that attribution of experiences and opinions to 'Arthur Hamilton' and 'Distant Cousin' indicate that while Benson's narration of them through these proxies makes it highly likely that they individually reflect real events, they were not necessarily connected as presented in his fiction, and must be handled carefully as biographical evidence.  

The scholarly studies, the recollections, the autobiographical glimpses – these combine to provide rich challenging sources for examining and reconstructing A.C. Benson. But there remains one source that underlies them all, the diary that he kept, with gaps during his illnesses, from August 1897 until a few days before his death in June 1925.[48] Its most obvious problem as a source, for me, is that I am not one of the very small number of scholars who have read it.[49] In common with most people who have explored Benson, I have primarily relied upon the extracts published by Lubbock in 1926. These selections from Benson may be almost too charming and persuasive. Newsome called them "fascinating, but necessarily innocuous,"[50] in contrast to his own reconstruction, which portrayed a much darker world, of emotional male friendships and the ever-present danger of mental catastrophe. Hence, it is necessary to ask: was Lubbock's distillation too beguiling, and hence misleading? Leaving aside the breakdowns, which Lubbock sympathetically integrated into the overall picture, the post-1904 story has something of the flavour of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (which dates from 1908), with Oscar Browning as Toad, Monty James as Mole and Benson himself veering between Ratty and Badger, all of them messing about in colleges in the long summer days of Edwardian Cambridge.[51] It should be noted that just four years earlier, in 1922, Lubbock had published a similarly atmospheric memoir of his own early life, at Earlham Hall near Norwich, later part of the University of East Anglia.[52] But Lubbock can be acquitted of any temptation to fashion A.C. Benson in his own image by Newsome's own publication of a companion volume to his massive biography, a collection of twelve extended extracts from the diary showing Benson at public events (usually in a privileged seat), visiting famous people and great houses, and exploring beautiful landscapes.[53] True, Lubbock published only "about one fortieth"[54] (if that) of the original text, but we should make allowances for repetition of attitudes and opinions and experiences. Lubbock, we may be reasonably sure, was faithful to most of the diary.

The more perplexing question is whether the diary was completely faithful to Benson – or perhaps, vice-versa. Despite Benson's breadth and brilliance in conversation, Francis Turner quickly encountered "a number of doors marked NO ENTRY."[55] "Don't make your house in my mind," he would warn even those whom he treated as his closest friends.[56] "I have a carefully locked and guarded strong room," he wrote of himself in March 1903.[57] Indeed, deep in the heart of his House at Eton, Benson had maintained a study so private that some of his resident pupils never knew its exact location.[58] He admitted to himself that one function of keeping a diary was "to get some of the venom out of my system".[59] Some of his opinions were irritably over-stated. The Sussex seaside resort of Hastings may not be the ultimate urban experience, but to call it a "dreary and loathsome town" is surely exaggerated. There may be something artificial about Cheltenham, but it is hardly a "terrible place".[60] Benson was a superb dinner-party host, ready with provocative conversational gambits capable of drawing out even the shyest of guests. Sometimes, one has the sense that Benson was trying out interpretations that he knew pushed the logical limits. On a country walk with George Mallory in 1910, he argued that "all poets are really saying the same thing; the style, the metre, the subject, don't matter – it is the wonder of things beautiful they express." Not surprisingly, his companion "disputed it flatly."[61] But in the pages of the diary, there was no interlocutor to bounce his flights of fancy aside. A holiday visiting Yorkshire churches in 1901 led to a flight of fancy about the strength of the Roman Catholic Church. "By using confession, it makes people interested in themselves, and feeling it right to be interested; it makes everyone form a kind of romantic picture of himself or herself."[62] It is hard to imagine that such a theory would appeal either to Catholics, who would emphasise spiritual solace, or to Protestants, who were obsessed with the tyranny of priestly control. It does not seem to have surfaced again in Benson's extensive writings on religion. Equally, his flash of insight that Newman "was really an artist, not an ecclesiastic at all" can only be regarded as a perverse reading of the Apologia, one that would hardly have survived the polite massacre of any Cambridge dinner table conversation.[63] Occasionally, there is even reason to suspect that Benson himself recognised that he was simply straining for effect. Sightseeing in the Scottish Borders in 1904, he concluded that Walter Scott was "a great big jolly child – making a toy house of Abbotsford, collecting old bric-à-brac, pretending to be everything but what he was, and enjoying that like a child".[64] It was clever, but it was also silly. The following year, when he wrote about his visit to Abbotsford in The Upton Letters, that interpretation was suppressed.[65] 

In his early years as a diarist, Benson sometimes shared its pages with friends.[66] Gradually, however, it became a fiercely guarded private record. But even in the depths of his own dialogue with himself, its author sometimes wondered "if I am posing all the time," as he mused in 1905. "Anyone might think they could get a good picture of my life from these pages," he noted in 1903, adding bleakly: "but it is not so."[67] Yet, for the friends of his later years, viewing the diary the only way they could, through the prism of the Lubbock edition, there seemed almost too much of the melancholic phantom. As Turner insisted, it was "absolutely essential" to keep in contrast the "strange radiance of his presence, the sociable brilliance of his talk, his massive and genial form, his friendly half-quizzical look."[68] Newsome acknowledged that the Benson of the diary often seemed "gratuitous, ungenerous, even unfair."[69] Turner commented that "Benson was a man who passionately desired his own way". In the pages of the diary, he sometimes comes across as somebody who wished to control his own planet, not least by reducing its inhabitants to characters in a cartoon strip. His descriptions of people by their appearance often add a vivid flash of seeming reality, but they are essentially attempts at de-humanisation. Of course, they are for that very reason highly quotable. Nonetheless, we should not forget that when he called William Temple "half roly-poly pudding, half trombone", he was dismissing one of the most notable and most appealing Anglican clergymen of his time.[70] That, of course, was essentially the point that Frank Salter wished to convey in his unexpected homily to me half a century ago. Thanks to Lubbock and Newsome, we have much of the diary, if at second hand. It is a magnificent resource, but one to be used with sensitivity.

Benson Background: Institutional and Family

One starting point for understanding Benson is to recognise that his family background was overshadowed by institutional life. He was born in 1862, second son of the headmaster (technically styled Master) of Wellington College, a newly founded public school in Berkshire. Late in 1872, when Benson was ten, EWB accepted the Chancellorship of Lincoln Cathedral. Four years later, he was appointed as the first bishop of the newly created diocese of Truro: his father's enthronement took place in May 1877, when Benson was fifteen.[71] The intensity of relationships between family and institution varied across the three locations. At Wellington, it was overwhelming. At Lincoln, the Bensons formed part of the society of a cathedral close, but shortage of money meant that they could employ few servants, so that life at the Chancery had more pronounced domesticity than at the school – but the Lincoln years were overshadowed both by EWB's bouts of depression, and Mary Benson's extended breakdown. At Truro, the household resided in a former vicarage a mile out of town, although it is doubtful whether this provided Benson with much of a buffer against the clerical circus of energetic priests whom EWB recruited to make up the new diocesan team. Meanwhile, Benson was experiencing three more institutions as part of his education, beginning with two years at Temple Grove, a preparatory school near London, the only place where he was actively unhappy, as distinct from liable to clinical depression.[72] In 1874 a scholarship took him to Eton, where he spent the next seven years, an experience that centrally defined him as an Etonian, gradually becoming aware that "the centre of life had insensibly shifted from home to school".[73]

His Eton obituary recalled the new boy as "shy, sensitive and lovable". Benson would eventually admit that he was "a little afraid of it [Eton] and its mockery, without ever respecting its ideals." He had been taken there first as a visitor when he was nine, and "I did not like the look of the place".[74] Forty years later, he recalled his "state of mild bewilderment" on finding himself among "close on a thousand boys", although he rapidly concluded that size was not a problem. The curious aspect of social relations at Eton was that most boys in fact came to know only a few of their schoolmates, since friendships were formed almost entirely within boarding houses, and even there rarely spanned age groups. Whatever advantages Eton bestowed upon its inmates, an efficient network of influence does not seem to have been one of them: "there are many men whom I have since known well who were in the school with me, and with whom I never exchanged a syllable." Benson's relative isolation was increased by his membership of the elite of seventy King's Scholars ('Collegers'), who lived in the original ancient buildings. "It was all very grand and dignified," he recalled, although these youngsters, marked out as the cleverest in the school, were "badly fed, and very little looked after." Among the "many ancient and curious customs" was the requirement for three of the youngest boys to wait upon sixth formers, "handing plates, pouring out beer, or holding back the long sleeves of the big boys' gowns, as they carved for themselves at the end of the table." Benson was one of the last to perform this menial function, which was "abolished shortly after my arrival as being degrading", although he found it "amusing", and he appreciated the opportunity to eavesdrop on the bigger boys – "the great men" – as they chatted at meals. He insisted that the power of hierarchy was never exploited for sexual abuse. He acknowledged that, as a young teenager, he was "vague and guileless" but "I never came in the way of any evil influence whatever at Eton, in any respect whatever." An older boy who was a family friend allowed him to take refuge in his study and work quietly. "I think now that it was rather a dangerous business ... if I saw a similar tendency in my own house, I should do my best to stop it." In fact, the bigger boys behaved "like sensible elder brothers".[75]  In 1902, he had stated that, during seven years as a pupil at Eton, he never encountered "the smallest temptation of a direct nature to evil", although there was much "Rabelaisian" talk among the boys.[76]

The cult of games – especially cricket and rowing, which Benson collectively termed "athletics" – was already in the ascendant. "Boys in the [cricket] eleven and the [rowing] eight were the heroes of the place .... All the social standing of boys was settled entirely by athletics. A boy might be clever, agreeable, manly, a good game-shot, or a rider to hounds in the holidays, but if he was no good at the prescribed games, he was nobody at all at Eton."[77] But, as a pupil, Benson himself found space in which to ignore this value system. "I was not in the least interested in the victories of the School at football or cricket, and I don't think I ever talked about such things."[78] However, reviewing his Eton life in 1903, he recalled that "though my interest in athletic matters was small ... it was necessary to maintain a certain amount of interest in them for the purposes of ordinary life." He was proud that he represented the College in Eton's football code, the Field Game, and his obituary in The Times also stated that he had played in the incomprehensible ritual of the Wall Game. Eton also made him "a fair football [soccer] player".[79] By the time Benson returned as a master, enthusiasm for "athletics" was becoming an irrational centre-piece of all activities, and eventually he set his face against it. It says much for the casual ethos of Eton during Benson's schooldays that he barely mentioned the teaching he received. Classics, mechanically ingested, dominated the curriculum. Since "one was left genially alone ... it was possible to be very idle ... we most of us lived in a happy-go-lucky way, just doing enough to pass muster." (The school organised little in the way of competitive examinations, and no attempt was made to secure external qualifications.) EWB urged him to compete with Hugh Macnaghten, the star pupil in his year, but Benson refused, saying that Macnaghten worked "wickedly hard". As a senior boy, Benson became sufficiently interested in the Classics to win a further scholarship, to King's College Cambridge in 1881. He later played down his achievement: "I did indeed wriggle into a scholarship at King's, but it was a poor performance".[80]

Transfer to King's essentially transported him further along a conveyor belt, to an institution twinned with Eton and still largely shaped by the partnership. Family life did not provide a satisfactory alternative home base. In 1883, with EWB's consecration as archbishop of Canterbury, the Bensons moved yet again – their third upheaval in just over a decade – to an oscillating dual residence, at Lambeth Palace and the Primate's official country residence at Addington, a few miles away in Surrey. At Lambeth, the headquarters of the Church of England, there was no escape from the worldwide Anglican communion. Benson tried to portray the Archbishop's country estate at Addington as a haven of family stability, but privately he retained "scarcely a pleasant memory" of the place.[81] As will be suggested, Benson remained very much part of the first family of Anglicanism, even though he was by now making a career for himself as a schoolmaster, having accepted an invitation to return to Eton in 1885. Although hailed as a success both in the classroom and as a guide and mentor for teenage boys, he steadily became disillusioned by the narrowness of the classical education that he was obliged to churn out. He resigned in 1903, and a year later settled in Cambridge for his last two decades. Meanwhile, in 1899, his widowed mother established for the first time something resembling a family home, unencumbered by EWB's storm-force personality and career. Benson was a frequent and appreciative visitor to the Sussex country house, Tremans (he also seems to have paid most of the bills) but, approaching forty and with a career of his own, it was of necessity a holiday retreat rather than the centre of his life. In any case, Tremans was no paradise. Mary Benson's relationship with Lucy Tait, daughter of a previous Primate (the two women shared a bed) caused tensions within a household that was also tragically overshadowed by the illness of Benson's sister, Maggie, whose mental collapse took violent forms.[82]

It is no surprise that the summary of A.C. Benson's movements may seem confusing: his life was built into no fewer than nine institutions: Wellington, Lincoln and Truro in the dynamic middle years of his father's career; Temple Grove, Eton and King's College Cambridge, in his own pupil and student days; Lambeth/Addington as the stage sets for EWB's archbishopric; Eton again, this time as a master, and finally Cambridge, with Magdalene substituted for King's. Even Benson's holidays were little more than an extension of his institutional life, energetic itineraries accompanied by colleagues. One regular vacation host was Stuart Donaldson, an Eton master who married an aristocratic wife. The Donaldsons were wealthy enough to rent estates for shooting – Benson, despite the winsome personality of his essays, enjoyed slaughtering wildlife – where they assembled disparate people to form artificial house parties. It was Donaldson's prosperity, plus the social cachet of this marriage, that made him the appropriate choice for the Mastership of poverty-cursed and widely-despised Magdalene in 1904.  

Benson himself made occasional attempts to live apart from the institutions with which he was associated, but always tethered by an umbilical hyphen. In his early years as an Eton master, he shared lodgings with Edward Lyttelton, living like Holmes and Watson in Baker Street. Lyttelton's marriage led Benson to relocate to an apartment of his own, over Eton's bookshop, before taking charge of a boarding house three years later. In 1904-6, as he put out feelers to establish a relationship with Cambridge, he lived at the Old Granary, a very prominent house overlooking the Cam, now part of Darwin College. Neither the house that he purchased in Windsor as an eventual retirement home, nor the residence that he designed and built in Cambridge's academic ghetto of Grange Road would ever be lived in by him. His sole attempt at an independent lifestyle, at Hinton Hall near Haddenham in Cambridgeshire – and that only during the vacations from Magdalene – was terminated by his first breakdown, and Benson himself believed that the bleak landscape of the Fens had contributed to his malady.

Two major points may be drawn from this fluid elision of institutional and family life. The first is that it helps to explain the most successful and most fulfilling phases of Benson's life, his time as a housemaster at Eton (1892-1903) and his years as a don at Magdalene. In both roles, he was able to treat an institution as a family, inverting the relationship with which he had grown up. Second, the rapid changes of scene may account for what otherwise seems a strange decision, the return to Cambridge in 1904 despite the unhappiness of his student days.  "I have spent all my life in tearing up roots," he wrote in 1901, as he moved closer to breaking the strongest of all his links, with Eton itself.[83] "I could not live alone," he noted in 1910. Benson could only function within, or alongside, a network of like-minded people. Once Eton became untenable, his options were limited. He disliked London,[84] although it is fair to note that the Benson of Magdalene made guest appearances in the capital often enough. He had no connections with Oxford,[85] and had become too secular a figure to settle in a cathedral city. By a process of exclusion, Cambridge became the only acceptable place for relocation. Potentially, the institutions of the University town could provide some of the elements of support comparable to those of an extended family. Its particular advantage was that the family was not called Benson.

"I never remember their seeking each other's company or wanting to be alone together."[86]

For most children, subordination of family life to a series of institutions might be seen as a deprivation, a recipe for failure of emotional engagement. In Benson's case, it may even have been a partial blessing. It is now widely recognised that his parents' marriage was one of the strangest and most disturbing alliances which can be documented in Victorian English history. The story can briefly, and distastefully, summarised. EWB had defied family poverty to achieve a brilliant record at Cambridge,[87] from which he had proceeded in 1852 to teach at Rugby. It is worth stressing that Rugby was not simply a major public school, but the chief examplar of a Christian educational establishment, as re-fashioned by Thomas Arnold, who had died ten years earlier. The fact that EWB rapidly came to be seen, not simply as an effective classroom performer but as a likely future headmaster, in the Arnoldian mould and succession, demonstrates the extent to which he established himself not merely as a personality but as a phenomenon. Such an iconic being would require a consort who could combine wifely functions with a chosen role, a role mapped out by EWB himself. 

The story of EWB's wooing is well-known. At Rugby, he lodged with a cousin's widow, Mary Sidgwick, who was rearing three boys and a girl. (One of the boys, Benson's uncle Henry, became a notable Cambridge intellectual). EWB targeted the daughter, named Mary after her mother but known in childhood as "Minnie" – a name doubtless redolent, to a classical scholar, for the Latin word for "least". Had Minnie and her mother been able to call upon the protective counsel of close adult male relatives, it is unlikely that her suitor would have got away with, or even dared to broach, what Betty Askwith called the "odious selfishness" of his proposal to sign her up as his bride.[88] As recently retold by Goldhill, the story becomes even less edifying, with EWB bullying Mary Sidgwick into allowing him to set out his matrimonial stall, and ignoring her prohibition to go ahead anyway. And so ensued the disturbing episode in which EWB, aged 23, sat twelve year-old Minnie / Mary on his knee and, in effect, informed her that they would be one day be married. (She gave her tearful consent, but could hardly be regarded as capable of responsible agreement to such a proposition.)[89]

While undoubtedly repelled by EWB, Goldhill makes the valid point that his behaviour was not entirely alien to the mores of the time.  Sabine Baring-Gould had educated a sixteen year-old to become his bride, although in her case class rather than destiny was the reason for re-training a girl from a textile mill. In middle age, John Ruskin also fell for an eleven year-old girl, but he did wait until she was seventeen before proposing. Other possible parallels throw even less favourable light upon EWB's raid on youthful innocence. At much the same time, the Oxford don C.L. Dodgson developed a fascination with a young girl, but when Alice Liddell made the transition from Wonderland to puberty, his enthusiasm cooled. EWB, by contrast, invested in Minnie / Mary for her carnal potential, upon which he relied as "a remedy against sin" while waiting for her to occupy the "plump and innocent pillow" reserved for her in his bed.[90] Perhaps the full awfulness of EWB's wooing may be seen against the background of one of nineteenth-century England's most delightful love stories. The superb artistry of Jane Austen's Emma lies in the way the reader comes to realise that the irritating heroine was always going to marry the intensely serious Mr Knightley, but the inevitability of the outcome is so deeply woven into the plot that we do not see it coming. Of course, it helped that Mr Knightley kept quiet about his feelings for Emma until she was twenty, and robustly capable of making up her own mind.

Minnie's pursuer did resemble Mr Knightley in one respect. Knightley was "one of the few people who could see faults in Emma Woodhouse, and the only one who ever told her of them".[91] Perhaps EWB saw himself as a second Knightley: he went the extra mile to ensure that Minnie was made aware of every blemish that might undermine her destined role as his wife and mother of his children. In one of his love letters, he reproved her for using the word 'so' "as if it were synonymous with 'very'." This was a "rather vulgar" error, into which she had fallen five times in her previous missive, "which otherwise is a very nice one."[92] Minnie expressed gratitude for her correction. It is obvious that she was afraid of the man who had descended upon her, insisting on giving her lessons in subjects such as architecture and physical geography, which she "dreaded".[93]

In 1859, Minnie Sidgwick became Mary Benson – she did at least generally recover the dignity of her baptismal name – because EWB had been appointed to establish Wellington College and now needed not just a wife but a headmaster's wife, an additional burden upon a bride of eighteen. Her staccato notes recalling the horror of their honeymoon indicated that her six-year training had concentrated notably more upon architecture and syntax than upon anatomy and sexuality.[94] Finding herself in bed with EWB shocked her into realising that she was not in love with him. She would later seek emotional refuge in lesbian relationships. The first two years of her married life were deeply unhappy. With classic controlling tactics, EWB would state general character flaws, and then attribute them to his wife as hurtfully as he could. "Some people shrank from things of an unpleasant nature," he pronounced in 1862, adding, "especially if they had fat chins." When Mary showed her resentment at the gibe, her rebellious misconduct became the central issue upon which EWB focused.[95] Mary Benson's acceptance of her fate was the conjugal equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome, where the prisoner adopts the viewpoint of captor, damning herself as "unloving, childish, weak, unstable," a disappointment to her husband.[96]

Benson certainly saw marriages that worked, such as the Eton partnership of Francis and Blanche Warre-Cornish.[97] But within his own family, he had no opportunity to imbibe the basic point that a successful marriage is essentially a friendship – an unfortunate failure of observation, not least because many of his male friendships were punctuated by the emotional frictions that are also part of married life. Gradually, Mary's wifely position improved. She learned to some extent if not how to cushion herself and respond to her husband's moods. She once remarked of EWB that "if only he were bland and prosy instead of eager and sensitive, what a much easier time he would have of it".[98] Following the birth of her first child, Martin, Mary's childhood nurse, Elizabeth Cooper, joined the household. Together, the two women directed their energies to a growing brood of children, who were devoted to "Beth". There would be four boys – Martin, Arthur (the Benson of Magdalene), Fred, who became the novelist E.F. Benson, and (Robert) Hugh, whose rebellion against EWB took the form of eventual secession to the Catholic Church. The two daughters were Nelly, who died of diphtheria at the age of 26, and Maggie, whose prolonged mental illness has already been noted.

Even in his filial biography, Benson made clear that the children feared their father: "our feeling was almost as much awe as love... his displeasure was frightful to bear." They felt "almost a relief" when he left the house. EWB's unbridled anger could be unleashed by disproportionately small offences: Benson vividly remembered "the terror ... indelibly stamped on my memory" when his elder brother accidentally broke a small ornament, and was condemned to forfeit his pocket-money to make amends.[99] At boarding school, Fred was caught eating Turkish delight in bed, a misdemeanour that was reported to his father. When EWB thunderously sentenced him to solitary confinement, Fred "took it for granted" that eating Turkish delight in bed was "unintelligibly wicked".[100] In fact, Fred was quickly pardoned – one of the many problems about EWB was that "there was an element of uncertainty about his justice".[101] Hugh endured a more terrible experience. During the holidays from Eton, news reached home that he had been accused of cruelty to another boy, and faced a severe flogging on his return to school. EWB did not sit down with his son and talk the matter through. Rather, he reduced Hugh to tears with a display of towering indignation.  Hugh's only consolation was that his father's anger could not exceed the rage he had unleashed when the boy had been caught throwing stones at goldfish in the pond. In fact, no schoolboy flogging ensued. After careful examination by the Eton authorities, Hugh was exonerated. It is not recorded that he received any parental apology.

Even when EWB was not angry, contact with him could be exhausting and disorientating. He taught basic Latin to Hugh as a small boy with all the intense energy of an advanced seminar, piling derivations and details into simple texts. His stressed-out pupil felt "like a small china mug being filled out of a waterfall."[102] One of the more traumatic episodes of Benson's undergraduate years was triggered by his father's agitated pleas that he should decline an entirely innocent invitation to meet the distinguished actor, Sir Henry Irving, at a supper party. Feeling "like a little boat which had come within the reach of an eighty-ton gun," Benson made an excuse and missed the chance to meet one of the great figures of English theatre.[103]

"The Martin of Martins my soul bereaves / flying no more to me!"[104]

Until the eve of his sixteenth birthday, Benson's elder brother Martin functioned as a partial buffer against his father's torrential personality. Having set out to design – with mixed results – a perfect wife, EWB also aimed to craft an ideal son: Martin, his firstborn, was the subject of this experiment. Half a century after it was written, David Newsome's sketch of Martin Benson as "The Examplar" of learning and godliness combined is one of the finest glimpses of Victorian intellectual and family life.[105] Martin's death, at the age of seventeen, was a hammer-blow from which EWB never recovered. It also catapulted Benson, the second son, into a dual role that he felt himself incapable of fulfilling, as his father's heir and his brother's substitute.

There can be little doubt that Martin White Benson was indeed, as Benson himself put it in 1923, "a boy of quite extraordinary ability," probably the indirect inheritor of the terrifying intelligence and serious purpose of their uncle, Henry Sidgwick.[106] By the age of fourteen, he was "reading books of an advanced kind," and had become an expert amateur numismatist. Encouraged to engage with adults, Martin's trademark question, "Please explain," indicated his hunger to engage with serious subjects.[107] For instance, EWB assumed that his teenage son shared his father's interest in ecclesiastical politics.[108] He responded by obligingly playing the required role, sometimes adopting a persona far beyond his years. He was twelve when EWB took the brood to the unknown territory and undefined challenge of Lincoln – with Mary Benson away in Germany recovering from a breakdown. EWB fought against black depression, but Martin stepped forward and declared: "I think it's quite right to have come here; and I am very glad, Papa, that you have come."[109]

Of course, the received picture of Martin Benson as a teenage paragon can only be partly true. His younger brother saw a side of him that was "quick-tempered, entirely fearless, combative, distinctly law-breaking," very far from the "retiring little secluded scholar" that his parents chose to celebrate.[110] Like his mother before him, Martin had to be hectored and lectured into EWB's chosen identity. The headmaster of Temple Grove reported that the boy found it hard to settle in to his preparatory school, and that his work was disappointing. "Now, my boy, we did not expect this," EWB complained. There followed a long homily of reproof that Martin should only be sixth in a class of eleven, "Now, my dear boy, you must never let me see such a poor report again."[111] By the time Martin had risen to the senior form at Temple Grove, EWB had accepted the Chancellorship of Lincoln, despite the warning of a friend that he would be cutting his income in half "just at the time when Martin and Arthur's education will cost you every penny you can spare."[112] The boy was put under pressure to win a scholarship to Winchester, the most lucrative financial award available for competition. Far from reflecting that his own career choice was responsible for the situation, EWB pressured Martin. "Your fault intellectually is to be rather dreamy .... It is a weakness that you should try to cure."[113] As Benson said of his father many years later: "He did not want people to develop on their own lines, but on his own; he wanted them to fill his own mould."[114] Martin duly won his scholarship, and forged forward into precocious maturity, an aficionado of cathedral architecture and taster of theological debate. Dutifully poured into the parental mould, he even imitated his father's penchant for the general statement of wise principle. In almost his last comment to EWB, he reflected with all the authority of a boy of seventeen-and-a-half: "One's views of life change very quickly."[115] But Martin delivered his Olympian pronouncements with a slight stammer, a tell-tale sign of a youngster coping with stress.[116]

Benson's relations with his brother were complex, but predominantly destructive of the younger boy's self-confidence. Although the two of them "rambled about a good deal together, we were not exactly comrades".[117] As so often with siblings, the two-year gap between them was too wide to allow a partnership of equals, but too close for affectionate disengagement: in later life, Benson got on much more easily with his younger brother, Hugh, despite the latter's defection to the Catholic Church, no doubt partly because they were born nine years apart. In the privacy of his diary, Benson called his relationship with Martin "a kind of compulsory friendship".[118] An illustration of the difference that a two –year difference could make came from the Wellington days – Arthur's pre-teen years – when there was an occasion at a family meal when Martin announced that he was a Liberal. Without realising that his father was "seriously vexed" both by the topic and the selection, Arthur weighed in to declare himself a Conservative. Martin was old enough to have picked up some information about political affairs, Arthur knew that fruit was made into conserves and imagined he was identifying with the jam-making party.[119]

The two boys overlapped for a time at their preparatory school, Temple Grove. In his senior year, Martin and his friends formed a coterie and "with a pleasing sense of what was due to them," they called themselves "the Aristocracy". They adopted their own terminology, for instance renaming the dishes that appeared with such depressing frequency on the kitchen menu. Arthur was excluded.[120] Martin was "very contemptuous" of his brother's blundering ignorance.[121] Arthur's first steps in Latin produced a splendid howler, when he construed "Amor vincit omnia" (love conquers all) as "everything conquers love" – a mis-translation that might have served as an unofficial motto for Benson's subsequent emotional life.[122] At home, Martin's dominance was even more pronounced: Benson called him "rather a good-humoured autocrat in the nursery circle, impulsively affectionate, but severe."[123]  It may be that, as the brood entered their teens and began to escape from the infantile menagerie, relationships were starting to ease. "You are so much nicer than you used to be," Martin was assured by his admiring sister Nelly soon after his seventeenth birthday.[124] Five months later, he was dead.

It is a well-established part of the Benson family saga that EWB was shattered by Martin's death in February 1878. "The calamity was so overwhelming to him and so unintelligible," Benson recalled (misusing "so" to mean "very") – "... to the end of his life Martin was never out of his mind."[125] Often cited is EWB's private note of a decade later that the loss of his eldest son "remains an inexplicable grief – every day – to see into that will be well worth dying".[126] Each spring, this iron-hard man would watch the house martins arriving from distant climes, and fantasise that their busy twittering contained a news of "a Martin beyond or wind and tide / Whom you know better than we." The verse, also quoted at the head of this section, was found among his papers after his death.[127] Less noticed is his letter in reply to the sympathy of a fellow cleric in which he confessed that "God's ways are so wonderful that I cannot yet master the feeling that twined in with his love – there must be something of the 'I took him away in my anger'."[128] His son's death was searing enough, but to have suspected that it was a divine punishment for some unspecified offence can only have been torture.  All of this is deeply moving, yet it is equally in no way surprising. An ecclesiastical colleague from Lincoln days recalled "the immense reverence which, as a father, he felt for his children. He spoke sometimes with awe and trembling lest his own strong will and stubborn temper ... should do some wrong to them."  There is something trite about the accompanying statement that EWB felt his children "were his, and yet not his, they were only lent."[129] EWB loved his children. His Victorian tragedy was that he found it difficult to convey those feelings to the vulnerable youngsters who so much craved his approval. Benson would spend much of his adult life coming to terms with the hidden passion of his father's feelings. "How can children understand that they are loved, unless it is shown them plainly?"[130]  

Two aspects of Martin Benson's death, one medical, the other spiritual, merit brief discussion, since both had implications for the shaping of his brother Arthur. Most accounts state that Martin died of meningitis.[131] The diagnosis was questioned by Betty Askwith in 1971, who noted the absence of any reference to a severe headache. This may simply reflect incomplete reporting at the time, although it may also be noted that there is no mention of Martin having the distinctive rash, the feature that is stressed in modern-day public health awareness campaigns about the disease.[132] There are problems in writing about Martin's illness two lifetimes after the event. I have no medical training, and must be cautious in pitting my assessments against those of Sir William Jenner, who took charge of the case. But, unlike Jenner, I do have instant and extensive access through the Internet to at least the headline findings of modern medical research. Meningitis had been identified as a medical condition long before 1878, but it was not until the following decade that its bacterial origins were discovered – and hence its propensity for transmission.  Hence, in 1878, nobody seems to have enquired whether there were other cases around Winchester at the time. Meningitis strikes with terrifying speed, with an incubation period that rarely exceeds ten days. By contrast, Martin had seemed listless during the Christmas holidays at Truro, and died in mid-February, after his return to school.[133] In 1923, Benson attributed his brother's death to "some subtle inflammation of the brain, caused ... by a fall he had had some months previously, on the steps of the [Winchester] College Hall."[134] An untreated brain injury may well not be incompatible with a subsequent meningitis infection, but it does shift the balance of explanation. The overall point, in the context of 1878, is that meningitis was loosely termed "brain fever". The grieving parents concluded that Martin had died of meningitis, meningitis was brain fever and hence – as Benson later put it – it was unhappily clear that my brother's death was in part due to precocious mental development". He recalled that EWB now recoiled from placing "any sort of pressure" upon his children, preferring "a tender desire to subordinate everything to our free happiness".[135] Early in his time at Eton, Benson had been urged by his father to measure himself against the brilliant Macnaghten. Now, it seems, that pressure was removed.  "I am sure that my father was afraid of over-stimulating our mental energies."[136] What does seem clear is that, from the age of fifteen, Benson saw himself as the indulged and inadequate substitute for his lost elder brother.

On the spiritual front, too, Benson could not live up to the ideal established by Martin. Here again, the elder brother excelled beyond his years, with "a firm and devout Christian faith, very mature for a boy." A.J. Mason, one of EWB's Truro team of commando clerics, felt that Martin "might have been destined to treat the subject of Christianity on profound philosophical lines" – and Mason would go on to become Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.[137] On his deathbed, deprived of the power of speech, Martin signalled that he wished to take Communion. EWB consecrated the wine, with a glass used in place of a chalice. Martin was offered a spoonful, but gestured to insist that he wished to raise the glass to his lips, thus participating fully in the Eucharist. His mother then began to whisper into his ears the words of the majestic hymn of Isaac Watts, "When I survey the wondrous cross". From Martin there came "a momentary look of inquiry", followed – EWB reported – by "the most perfect look I ever beheld of satisfied adoration". He seemed to be gazing and pointing at "something – someone" invisible to his parents. "He sees more than we see," commented the nurse.[138] It was too much for his parents to accept that Martin had probably suffered a seizure. "As surely as I see this paper," EWB wrote to his closest friend, "he saw Jesus Christ".[139] Within hours, he was dead. Martin Benson had left this world in a perfect Victorian death-bed scene.

What was the effect upon Benson of his brother's untimely death? Curiously, we seem to know very little. Afflicted with what Goldhill calls "graphomania," the Benson siblings analysed each other, but little attention would be bestowed in later decades on the lost eldest sibling. Benson himself recreated on paper some of his greatest personal crises, but apparently wrote no extended account of hearing the news and offered only the briefest recollection of Martin in his coffin, "with his hands clasped and his blue eyes dimmed in death."[140] (Benson equally left no record either of his father's unexpected death in 1896.) "I shall never forget the look on my father's white drawn face," he wrote of their first meeting after Martin's death: "it was impossible not to be aware of the ravages of his grief".[141] Mary Benson, who had rediscovered her religious belief in the years after her 1873 breakdown, carried the family with her unbelievably serene stoicism: "my mother was more wonderful in her faith and courage than I could have thought possible."[142] Her hopeful, even joyous, response was transmitted to six year-old Hugh, who wrote to Benson at Eton: "Martin is in hefen. ... He is Saint Martin now."[143]

At fifteen, Benson himself was in turmoil. "I was in an entirely bewildered and half terrified frame of mind," he wrote of himself during the weeks that followed Martin's death, "having been suddenly and for the first time confronted with tragedy, and having lost my most familiar companion." Counselling for grief, discussing and sharing the wounds of bereavement, were simply not the Victorian way of responding to tragedy. Benson was packed off to stay with his father's sister, who was married to Thomas Hare, the proponent of proportional representation electoral systems. They made a point of not mentioning Martin's death: "indeed, there was nothing to be said."[144]

Looking back in 1914, Benson felt that EWB was unable to "speak easily and openly of spiritual experience," a deficiency that was compounded by his "singular delight in ceremonial and liturgical devotion". The result was that "religion did impress itself rather too much as a matter of solemn and dignified occupation than as a matter of feeling and conduct." Benson himself had felt "profoundly attracted as a boy by the aesthetic side of religion, and loved its solemnities with all my heart".[145] Edward Lyttelton was paying off accumulated scores of unrequited rivalry when he penned his perverse tribute in 1925, but he was probably accurate in his deduction that, as a boy, Benson "grew to associate deep strong religious conviction ... with the harsher, wounding element in his surroundings". The result – so Lyttelton alleged – was that "a lasting reverence, an unquestioned loyalty to Divine Law, was never securely planted in his heart."[146] In a reminiscence of 1908, Benson partly confirmed the analysis. "One of my own earliest experiences in the ugly path of religious gloom was that I recognised quite clearly to myself that I did not love God at all. ... I was well enough aware by childish instinct that my mother did not cease to love me when I was naughty, but I could not tell about God." The miserable Sundays, when the Almighty would not allow children to play with their toys, suggested a stern and fearful divine personality. The worst of it was "that, with His terrible power of knowing everything, He was well aware that I did not love Him. It was best to forget about Him as much as possible, for it spoiled one's pleasure to think about it."[147]

As  a boy at Eton, Benson revelled in the externals of religion, the ceremonies and strange titles of ecclesiastics. M.R. James, a year his junior, was fascinated by this "very superior party. ... His chief topic is the Collegiate Church and Ecclesiastical Constitutions generally. He is much interested in canons, prebendaries, good stalls etc."[148] Unfortunately, ecclesiological erudition hardly provided the spiritual fare needed to give strength in the face of a sudden bereavement. In the year after his brother's death, Benson struck up a friendship with G.H. Wilkinson, one of his father's Truro team, whose faith was simple, but powerful in its mystical intensity.[149] It was Wilkinson to whom he turned in his personal crisis of 1882, Wilkinson who prayed with him in Magdalene chapel in 1905 ("the solemnest act I have ever taken part in"), when Benson was unsure where his career was taking him.[150] Benson never lost his fascination with the externals of religiosity. When he visited York Minster in 1899, "the old spell fell on me" the moment he entered the building: "the fragrant scent, the muffled sounds, the mild warmth, the soaring roof, all affect me as few other things do". An evening gathering at Cambridge in 1910, spent with High Church clerics – men with whose beliefs he shared very little – nonetheless left him delighted. "I liked the ecclesiastical feeling – it reminded me of Truro .... I know exactly what to do and say." He called the discourse "clerical shop; I enjoy talk about clerical costume, church music and furniture, ecclesiastical politics and promotions."[151]  "I certainly used to like ritualism," he recalled in 1913.[152] The problem was that Benson's religious identification concentrated upon ephemeral externals, and could never emulate Martin's fervent embrace of the fundamentals. 

The most obvious by-product of Martin's death was that Benson was promoted to eldest son, and with it the quasi-adult role EWB's confidant. "I became more of a companion to my father than ever before".[153] Benson accompanied EWB's travels around his diocese, as he tried to rouse demoralised clergy, exiled to an Atlantic peninsula and engulfed in a Methodist ocean.[154] They visited other West Country cathedrals, such as Bath and Wells, and Gloucester, staying in primitive inns where EWB would order a bottle of wine, but carefully order it to be corked up for a second night's consumption after a single glass had been poured for each of them.[155] The bishop began to confide in his son, "to talk to me far more freely about what was in his mind.[156] On a walking tour in Switzerland in 1879, EWB wept as he spoke of his ferocious temper: Benson himself was disturbed when he discovered in later life just how severe were his father's floggings of refractory boys at Wellington.[157] Not surprisingly, as a teenager and a young man, Benson found it difficult to respond to his father's unexpected and unsettling openness. "How trivial I was! ... I never wholly broke through my childish awe of him," and, as a result, he never wholly understood the man who did so much to shape him.[158] Looking back on himself when he started to teach at Eton, in 1885, Benson felt that he had been "just a big shy schoolboy".[159] It may not be entirely fanciful to suggest that the trauma of Martin's death left an arrested fifteen year-old adolescent hiding inside him. Hence the paradox of the bulky football-player with the walrus moustache who poured out books that embodied comforting philosophy without demands of dogma, and offered reassuring observation without the dangers of close involvement. It is noteworthy that the fluent writer to whom Punch once wickedly attributed a volume to be called At a Safe Distance apparently never managed to get far enough away from the traumatic tragedy of February 1878 to analyse it in cold prose. He could not equal Martin's intellectual power nor could be aspire to his brother's copybook deathbed piety. Such indications as he did record strongly suggest that he did not even particularly like Martin. And Benson would soon face a hurdle that his brother had not survived to confront. Even EWB had feared that Martin's "sweet and perfect example" might be tested by "the tone of University opinion".[160] Although Winchester had strong links with Oxford, "University" to EWB clearly meant Cambridge, with all the dangers of its rationality and agnosticism. It was assumed that Martin, with his sharp intellect and his strong faith, would have resisted all snares and temptations. But would Arthur Benson, diffident and dilettante, fare so robustly when he went up to King's in 1881?

EWB, 1858-1882: A Lucky Career?

EWB's curriculum vitae conveys a terrifying onward-and-upward message about his career. As already noted, after six years teaching at Rugby, he was appointed in 1858 as first Master (headmaster) of Wellington College, designed as a memorial to the great duke, and originally intended – as the second duke ruefully put it – for the "scrubby little orphans" of Army officers.[161]  By force of will, EWB turned the project into a mainstream public school, which necessarily involved emphasis upon the Classical curriculum – that same emphasis upon Latin and Greek that Benson himself later came to regard as arid and ineffective. In December 1872, EWB accepted the post of Chancellor of Lincoln cathedral (his career moves tended to happen late in the year), where he founded a clergy training college, established night schools for working men and boys, and launched a major city mission. Four years later, in December 1876, he was named as the first bishop of Truro, energetically establishing the new diocese and laying the physical foundations of a cathedral. Another six years saw him accepting Canterbury. This tempestuously successful rise to greatness can only have been an intimidating model for his son Arthur to follow.

In fact, closely examined, EWB's progress owed a certain amount to accident, to frustration and to luckily timed departures from arguably impossible challenges. In cricketing terms, he resembled a batsman who basks in the glory of scoring a century, but who has reached his hundred thanks to some lucky shots and poor fielding. We should also begin by noting that EWB's career was to some extent overshadowed by a job of which he dreamed but did not achieve. He left Rugby to create its clone at Wellington, and with the hope that he might return in due course to succeed his friend Frederick Temple as one of England's leading headmasters. But when Temple became bishop of Exeter in 1869 (taking the diocese from which Truro would be carved), EWB agonised and eventually decided that he could not abandon his own creation.[162] As he faced his own career crossroads, whether to become a candidate for the headship of Eton in 1905, and subsequently assessed his decision not put himself forward, Benson was inclined to elide his father's two major career decisions – EWB's refusal to go for Rugby, a post which arguably he should have sought, and his acceptance of the Primacy, a challenge that Benson came to believe he would have been well advised to decline.

It is also worth noting that EWB's career largely avoided Cambridge. In his Rugby days, he remained a Fellow of Trinity, generally spending a few days in residence during the school holidays. He was sufficiently involved in academic business to secure, in 1856, the moving of a comma in a Latin "Grace," the University's form of legislation. However, the offer in 1857 of a lectureship at Trinity, "with the almost immediate prospect of a Tutorship", was overtaken by his acceptance of the challenge of creating the new Wellington College.[163] "God has been opening my eyes of late to see that I am not able or worthy to work in his fields of thought," he admitted in 1858.[164] More to the point, EWB liked to have his own way, whereas a relatively junior Fellow of a large college would have to learn the arts of compromise. "Cambridge was not really his spiritual home," Newsome concluded, "although he sometimes liked to think so."[165] Later, as he became committed to clerical training, he saw the cathedrals rather than the universities as his field of educational activity.[166] This may partially explain why his son settled in Cambridge from 1904: it was one of the few places available to him where he would not be overshadowed by the memory of his father.

In turning his back upon Rugby, it was not as if EWB enjoyed anything like equivalent status as Master of Wellington.[167] Internal authority was divided, and it was not until 1868 that he achieved control of the school's catering and domestic arrangements. Far from operating as a dominant and secure educational proconsul, he was answerable to an interventionist and sometimes suspicious Board of Governors. "In the early years at Wellington," his wife recalled, "he used often to tell me when he went up to a Governors' Meeting, that he would probably come home dismissed."[168] In fact, his position was reasonably secure so long as the College's original driving force, the Prince Consort, dominated the Board, while after Albert's death in 1861, the fourteenth Earl of Derby, three times Conservative prime minister, generally provided support. Derby's death in 1869 seems to have emboldened a minority of governors who were suspicious of their increasingly powerful pedagogue. Matters came to a head early in 1872, after three boys were found to have engaged in a heterosexual adventure during the school holidays (in Surbiton), one of them contracting a venereal infection as a result. EWB insisted on excluding all three, but the governors over-ruled him and declared for the readmission of the uninfected two. EWB mobilised other public school headmasters in his support, and the governors grudgingly accepted a compromise, by which the education of the offenders was paid for at other academies. Benson believed this episode was "one of the determining causes" behind EWB's move to Lincoln.[169] EWB's achievement in creating Wellington, and making it into a public school, was remarkable. But there can be little doubt that it was purchased at a terrible cost in energy and temper, and all too much reason to fear that before long, it would have collapsed into acrid controversy around him.[170]

The move to Lincoln, then, was more of a humiliating retreat from a life's work than a foot on the ladder of ecclesiastical preferment: when EWB took the Chancellorship, he could have had no certainty that he would secure any further career advancement.[171] Soon after the family's relocation, he plunged into what he would later call "the most acute and intolerable attack" of depression he ever experienced. His wife was away in Germany, recovering from a breakdown, and also (unbeknown to her husband) exploring her own lesbian identity.[172] The new job was not well paid. Cathedral revenues had generally been pruned in 1840; by 1870, their "most prominent feature" of English cathedrals "was their poverty".[173] EWB's income was sharply reduced, forcing economies upon the household. Moreover, his job – Chancellor – was ill-defined and barely regarded. It was a designation that appears in few senior ecclesiastical careers. Two officials dominated most cathedrals: the bishop ran the diocese, the dean had practical charge of the precinct. Officially, deans shared their authority with the cathedral chapter, but this was generally composed of canons who were often largely non-resident.  The bishop, Christopher Wordsworth, nephew of the poet, had brought EWB to Lincoln. But the dean, J.W. Blakesley, was a different proposition. EWB tactfully called him "very able, not enthusiastic, but anxious for good things." Blakesley was a formidable personality: he had been an early member of the Cambridge Apostles, and was an authority on Herodotus. The Dean used his considerable ability to denigrate and block EWB's schemes, managing to make the hapless Chancellor appear both sentimental and naive.[174] When Blakesley died in 1885 – well after EWB had moved on – the obituary writer in The Times could hardly conceal his disdain for a throwback to the days of "clergymen who were ... hardly to be distinguished from other gentlemen save by their broader culture and higher standard of refinement". He had taken holy orders "as a matter of course" soon after his graduation in 1831, had remained untouched by all currents of thought within the Church. As Dean of Lincoln, he was "very little before the public in any way," although he was well-known at London's Athenaeum Club.[175] EWB's local initiatives looked like bold attempts to strike out new pathways for the Church. In reality, they reflected the desperate displacement activities of a dynamically energetic personality frustrated by an immovable obstacle. When EWB began to build his own cathedral, in Truro, he made sure that the offices of bishop and dean were combined.

EWB's first achievement, the establishment of a theological college to train clergy, was in fact part of Wordsworth's agenda. In 1871, the Anglican monopoly over Cambridge and Oxford had come to an end. In a comical over-reaction, Wordsworth claimed that the Church of England had been "driven from the universities" and would have to take refuge in the cathedrals, "which would become the fortresses of the church."[176] In reality, since the acquisition of a degree continued to be seen as a highly desirable preliminary to ordination, it made sense to concentrate postgraduate clerical training in the university towns: in Cambridge, rival wings of the Church established Ridley Hall and what would become Westcott House in 1881. The proliferation of diocesan colleges, some of them very small, was a waste of resources that proved to be a cul-de-sac: EWB's own theological college at Truro closed in 1900.[177]

EWB also established night schools and Bible classes, but his major effort at evangelisation was the Lincoln Mission of February 1876.[178] One unexpected beneficiary of the exercise was Mary Benson, who found her personal faith, although this did not improve her relationship with her husband.[179] The Mission was undoubtedly a notable episode, but it needs to be put into context. First, it was neither repeated nor replicated. Twenty years later, no second Mission had been held in Lincoln itself. Although at Canterbury, EWB would deliver a series of addresses entitled Fishers of Men, there does not seem to have been any attempt to repeat the campaign in Grimsby. Until the creation of the bishopric of Southwell in 1884, industrial Nottinghamshire lay within the Lincoln diocese, but the fallow fields of east Midlands apostasy remained unploughed. The failure to follow up on the initiative may be largely explained by the fact that EWB moved to Truro soon after, underlining the extent to which the project depended upon his energy and vision. But even though the Mission remained so obviously centred on the city of Lincoln, the second point that needs to be noted is that the cathedral played a relatively small part in it. EWB delivered the challenging sermons that were reprinted as Singleheart in the cathedral: he had statutory rights to preach there that not even Blakesley could override. But the Mission itself was spear-headed from a city centre parish church. Nor was this mismatch in resources entirely the result of the Dean's negativity. The cathedral, one of its officials stated a few years later, was "an extraneous ornament or decorative addition ... in no true sense the mother church of the diocese."[180] At Truro, EWB would plan his cathedral as an integral part of a drive to recapture Cornwall for the Anglican Church.

In 1876, a visiting relative startled fourteen year-old Arthur Benson with a warning that he would soon have to move from Lincoln. Two bishoprics were vacant, and EWB was "nearly certain" to be appointed either to Rochester, or the new see of Truro.[181] EWB had indeed recently refused the bishopric of Calcutta, since his wife would not stand the climate and he had a responsibility to educate his children. (He had no problem in distinguishing between divine commands and unwelcome job offers.) However, the selection was less obvious to the prime minister. "I am very busy trying to make a Bishop of Truro. Nothing gives me more trouble than the Episcopacy," Disraeli complained in November 1876. "Cornwall is full of Dissenters, like a rabbit warren." That meant ruling out appointing any bishop addicted to ritual ("any high jinks would never do"), yet Disraeli believed (on what authority is not clear) that "the dissenting pastors, particularly the Wesleyans, the most numerous, are no longer popular with their flocks. So there is an opportunity for an adequate man". A few days later, on the recommendation of his cabinet colleague Gathorne Hardy, Disraeli opted for EWB, concluding that he had "got a good man".[182]

The key challenge for EWB would be how he would relate to the central fact about Cornwall, that it was a stronghold of Nonconformity.[183] Goldhill takes a positive view, concluding that he "worked carefully but happily with the non-conformists in Cornwall".[184] In reality, there was always – and necessarily – an element of competition. When he was appointed, the denomination's national publication, the Methodist Recorder, hoped that "one effect of a bishop of Cornwall is to put Methodism on its mettle.... If the Church can win a Methodist county, it has a perfect right to do so."[185] "He always recognised quite frankly that Methodism had kept religion alive in Cornwall when the Church had almost lost the sacred flame," Benson wrote of his father, "and he treated Nonconformity as an enthusiastic friend". This statement, abbreviated as in Goldhill's quotation, does not tell the full story.[186] "He has frequently expressed a high appreciation of the work of John Wesley, and has thus gained the sympathy to a large extent of the Wesleyan body in Cornwall," noted the Truro correspondent of The Times when EWB's move to Canterbury was announced.[187] But EWB's use of hymns by Wesley, and his decision to include him in the stained-glass windows of Truro cathedral were attempts to reclaim the founder of Methodism for the Church of England, in which he had been an ordained minister. The fact that EWB recognised that Methodism had kept the faith alive in Cornwall did not mean that he intended it to continue in that role, the more so as he condemned its version of Christianity. Hence the importance of the unquoted extension of the Benson's description of his father's view of Nonconformity: it was "an enthusiastic friend, ready to be drawn on to fuller truth".[188] Soon after EWB's arrival in Cornwall, there was a brief spat with Britain's most prominent Nonconformist politician, John Bright, who claimed the bishop had been sent to grapple with Methodism. Bright quickly backed off, having reacted to an inaccurate press report, but EWB's personal chaplain, A.J. Mason, almost certainly with his knowledge and approval, announced that "Dissenters were already flocking to the churches to hear a 'fuller doctrine'."[189]

The truth is that at no point did EWB work with Cornwall's Nonconformists, either carefully or happily. Not until the First World War, with its patriotic imperatives, did denominations share platforms or projects. A very basic issue of recognition blocked the possibility of such co-operation, one which EWB brought with him from Lincoln as part of his baggage. A major Nonconformist grievance was that, in rural areas especially, it was often only possible to bury the dead in Anglican churchyards, where only Church of England funeral rites were allowed. When the child of a Lincolnshire Methodist clergyman died, Bishop Wordsworth had banned a headstone identifying her as the daughter of "Reverend H. Keet, Wesleyan minister".[190] Keet had won a court case over the issue in 1876, but memories were still fresh among his Cornish co-religionists, who were also conscious of their local strength and far more assertive than the minority group EWB had encountered in Lincoln. "The new bishop found the Methodists eager to find fault."[191]

While EWB does not seem to have engaged directly with rival denominations in his published addresses, he was horrified by much Nonconformist theology. "Calvinism (of which Wesley taught not a word) has pervaded nearly every place," he noted early in his episcopacy, with the concomitant abomination, in his eyes, that the confident Methodist belief in predestined salvation had led to the rejection of the sacraments that were fundamental to Anglican belief.[192] "How are we to fight the Cornish sin?," he asked himself in 1881, defining the problem of local Methodism as the "utter rebellion against all discipline which leaves their religion a prey to what is most gross."[193] He tried to perceive "rudimentary liturgies" in the fervent Hallelujahs of Wesleyan services, but was amused by a report of two women who violently disagreed over "'which had most grace'. They scratched each other, tore out each other's hair, and positively fought."[194] Occasionally, the mask of respectful co-existence slipped. Preaching at Liskeard in 1879, he spoke of a father whose deficiencies in religious education meant that he could not offer spiritual consolation to a dying child.  The easily identifiable father hit back. "I am the parent alluded to, who had but a little light and knowledge, and could not direct the dying child." With angry contempt, he detailed thirty-five years experience as a Methodist Sunday School pupil and teacher – "and yet so heathenish."[195] Coming so soon after his own bereavement, EWB's comments were particularly insensitive, the more so as they evidently violated the integrity of a private conversation.

Even if EWB had been able to construct a local truce with Nonconformity, national issues were enough to fan the flames of sectarian division. The Burials Act of 1880 resolved the issue of Nonconformist access to the churchyards, but emboldened a section of English Dissent to press a renewed campaign to break the links between Church and State.[196] In February 1882, its spearhead, the Liberation Society, held a well-attended meeting in Truro. The problem with the Liberation Society was that it was very well informed both about the size of clerical endowments, and the politicisation of the Church by government control. Addressing a diocesan conference in October 1882, EWB decided to abuse the plaintiff, but his denunciation of the disestablishment campaign for "crafty forgeries and miles of printed fallacies" was badly received. "Had Dr Benson's promotion [to Canterbury] come a few months ago his departure would have caused great regret in the county," commented the Truro correspondent of The Times, adding that the atmosphere in Cornwall had been soured by his outburst.[197]

It seems reasonable to assume that if EWB had remained longer in Cornwall, his relations with local Nonconformity would have become even more antagonistic. He was preparing the ground for a major counter-campaign to reassert Anglican supremacy. Just as the Wesleyan movement had created for itself the role of a parallel Establishment, so EWB planned to revive the Church of England by aping the structures and strategy of Methodism. In this, he announced in 1877, "the help of the laity is indispensable." Since many Cornish parishes were very large, he planned to license laymen to preach in outlying settlements. In 1882, EWB was the driving force in an unsuccessful attempt to bring the recently-established Salvation Army into the Anglican fold.[198] He had outlined his own regenerative scheme four years earlier, a diocesan-wide "Society of Holy Living", essentially built around a committed laity. "Wesley's success was that he formed everywhere Societies with a life not necessarily dependent upon [the] Parish Priest," but Wesley's shortcoming had been his failure to anchor his organisation to the Church. "We must have in each society the Parish Priest if he likes as the head, but whether he likes or not another clergyman elected as Chaplain, and also a lay warden elected." EWB believed that "only some such plan can counteract the fact that religion in the English Church depends so utterly on personnel of parson."[199] (This last phrase was not well expressed: the modern-day jargon 'clerical manpower' was probably intended.) EWB envisaged a revolutionary adaptation of Methodist organisation, by-passing the frequently demoralised clergy whom he had inherited, mobilising the laity but ensuring discipline by the attachment of clergy acting as chaplains. As he put it to the Church Congress of 1880, most "evangelists within the Church will be what they are without it, poor men working for love," but they required leadership, "and the Head Missioners' proper home is among the Cathedral canons."[200] 

EWB seemed to be talking as if he wished his cathedral to be one based upon people not precincts, but he was equally determined to make his headquarters physically impressive. He wanted a noble building, something that "will remind us to do all our works in a great way – a Cathedral way – to put up with nothing that is petty and puny," he declared in 1879.[201] This was a tall order. No cathedral had been erected on a wholly new site since Salisbury had been begun in 1220, reaching completion in an impressively rapid thirty-eight years. St Paul's, rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, backed by the State and drawing upon the resources of England's richest city, had taken over half a century. "We may as well expect another Iliad from a Greek poet as another cathedral from an English architect," a Church reformer had written in 1872.[202] EWB claimed his hand had been forced: St Mary's, the Truro parish church allocated to him, was reportedly close to physical collapse. To rebuild it as a small parish church would block the chances of erecting a full-scale cathedral for a century – and risk turning away worshippers, leaving them no alternative but the Methodist meeting.[203]  But for a bishop who described himself as "hurled ... on the most unfurnished of promontories, unchurched, unchaptered, and unrevenued,"[204] it seemed reckless indeed to embark on such a project. EWB was unabashed, arguing that it was precisely because Cornwall had to appeal to the generosity of others that the new diocese should operate on an imaginative scale. "England would not have helped to build a Parish church," he said in 1879, defending his decision to go for a cathedral. In fact, England was less persuaded than EWB had hoped. For instance, Rothschilds, the great finance house, icily requested that his London bagman "would not put them to the pain of calling on them with a request they could not accede to."[205] Consequently, EWB embarked on a fund-raising campaign through the pulpits of England, wherever incumbents agreed to a special collection. At Westminster Abbey in February 1879, the offertory amounted to £43 and ten shillings, just under one tenth of one percent of the £45,000 he needed even to start the project. He cashed in on his popularity as Chancellor of Lincoln with a return visit to the cathedral he could fairly claim as his model, but even there his secured just short of £80.[206] Perhaps most notably, his mendicity brought about a clash with a fellow bishop, an episode that revealed much about EWB's steely character, and may have contributed to identifying himself as an emerging possibility for Canterbury.

Disraeli had considered sending the bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Charles Ellicott, to Canterbury in 1868. His predecessor as prime minister, Lord Derby, had grudgingly accepted that Ellicott was "learned" and "a sound Churchman... but I should doubt his having much strength of character, and he has a foolish voice and manner which make him appear weaker than I believe he really is."[207] Ellicott's subsequent advice that agents of Joseph Arch's National Agricultural Labourers' Union should be thrown into horseponds, did little to enhance his reputation either for judgement or for Christian charity.[208] However, the bane of his life was not trade union agitation but the obstinate attachment of some of his own clergy to illegal ceremonial. Few churches gave him so many headaches as All Saints', Clifton in Bristol, with its reputation for "pronounced ritualism".[209] It was just the sort of congregation that would embrace the grandiose holiness of the Truro project (All Saints' itself was an impressive and recent example of voluntary effort), and Clifton was Bristol's moneyed suburb. It was hardly surprising that in November 1879, EWB arranged to preach a fund-raising sermon there. Unfortunately, he did not think to seek permission from the diocesan.

Ellicott sent his brother bishop a frosty letter, informing EWB that he had been in dispute with the vicar of All Saints', Clifton for the previous seven years. The incumbent's defiance meant that he, Ellicott, was unable to officiate in the church, or to license its curates. In unleashing his missive, the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol had made three tactical mistakes. The first was his failure to appreciate that the rebuke would seem like a senior ecclesiastic putting in his place a rookie bishop in a gimcrack diocese. (Worse still, he may even have intended to convey that very message.) Second, he had omitted to make any specific proposition or demand. Third, a common failing among the religious, he evidently assumed not only that he was speaking ex cathedra, but that others would bow silently before his pronouncement. He did not know his brother of Truro. EWB responded by telegram, insultingly reply-paid to compel an answer. "Is it your express desire that I should not preach at All Saints', Clifton? Please telegraph." Ignoring the telegram voucher, Ellicott made clear his disapproval in a contemptuous letter. "In reference to a brother bishop I do not deem it right to do more than place the facts before him with which he may be unacquainted and then to leave to him the decision as to the course he deems it best, for the interests of the Church and of Church order generally, to adopt in my diocese." The phrase "brother bishop" was at best patronising, at worst sarcastic. The shenanigans surrounding All Saints', Clifton had formed an entertaining thread in the Anglican soap opera for some years past, and the suggestion that EWB was unaware of them was tantamount to an accusation of unworldiness. The references to "Church order" and "my diocese" could only mean that EWB was expected to retreat, with his crozier between his legs, humiliated and taught a lesson by a proper ecclesiastic on how to be a bishop. EWB shot back, once again by reply-paid telegram: "I may not preach anywhere in your diocese without your consent. Will you be so kind as to give your consent to my preaching at All Saints', Clifton, on Friday next?" Ellicott was now closed in a trap of his own making. He would have been more than satisfied to have forced his "brother bishop" to jump into the ecclesiastical horsepond of his own volition, but he shrank from giving EWB the crucial push himself. "Previous consent not canonically necessary. As, however, you ask, and I hear your cathedral is to benefit, I cannot refuse."[210]

The morale of the clash was clear: don't tangle with Truro. Richard Church, Dean of St Paul's, would say of EWB on his appointment to Canterbury, "he is concilatory, and he is firm".[211] Only one of those qualities was on view during the clash with Ellicott. And the irony is that EWB was, if not technically in the wrong, at least guilty of a breach of courtesy in failing to consult, or even to notify, a long-suffering diocesan about his intention to preach in a controversial church. Soon after his exchange of pleasantries with the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, EWB was able sweetly to underline his point, by hosting a visiting Cornish cleric who was, in his turn, raising money to build his own cathedral in Madagascar. The event incidentally gave the Bishop of Truro the opportunity to utter vacuous episcopal nonsense of epic proportions.[212] Indeed, his comments on that occasion were so absurd that it is permissible to suspect that he was sending up Bishop Ellicott.

The foundation stone of Truro cathedral was laid in May 1880, and EWB, now Archbishop, returned for its consecration in November 1887. Work continued at intervals until the project was substantially completed in 1910. The nave, crucial both for accommodating the congregation and for ceremonial processions, was erected between 1898 and 1903. As Chadwick pointed out, "Truro cathedral was instantly short of money, with heavy expenses, little income, a debt, and no houses for residentiaries." Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that EWB's cathedral torpedoed his own project to establish an order of preachers, the flying evangelists of his projected Society of Holy Living, which had been included in the diocesan statutes.[213] EWB's argument that his hand was forced by the urgent need to shore up St Mary's church is a fair point, although it is clear that he was more than happy to bow to the constraint (which was by no means his usual response to external compulsion). Perhaps he should have drawn upon his strong sense of history, and his fake instant Cornish identity, to argue that the county needed a vernacular building, and that a Celtic cathedral would have been a far less imposing edifice than the alien extravaganzas of the Normans. The problem with any such argument was partly that it was untrue – St David's, the classic example of an isolated white elephant, was twice the size of EWB's Truro project – but also because the most obvious example, St Asaph (restored by Gilbert Scott in 1875) was massively uninspiring. It is also beside the point to criticise the bishop and his architect, J.L. Pearson, for giving Truro cathedral a "craggy sharpness" in "a county of whose churches nothing is more characteristic than the absence of spires and the long lowness of naves and aisles."[214] Self-evidently, the humble outlines of the traditional Cornish parish church could not have been adapted to a cathedral. To build a cathedral in imitation of the only alternative local model, the huge Methodist preaching box, would have been liturgically impractical and politically humiliating. In fact, although nearby houses had to be demolished to squeeze into Truro's town centre, EWB's cathedral was not unduly large. It was the building's height that gave it grandeur, the dimension that of course added nothing to seating accommodation. Every organisation, whether religious or secular, has to determine whether its priorities are about people or about buildings. With his demonic energy, EWB decided he could have both, perhaps hoping that the cathedral, whenever completed, might stimulate the commitment that would generate the flow of money to support both premises and priestly personnel. It did not work out. By 1894, Truro cathedral had an annual income of £1,100, compared with over £11,000 at Exeter. "All else had to come from gifts in an area with no industry and a diminishing population."[215] It might be too much to conclude that EWB's project had become a millstone, but it certainly did not function as a springboard.

When Arthur Benson arrived at King's College Cambridge in 1881, he was bound to be regarded as something more than a promising freshman from Eton. He was inevitably labelled as the son of the Bishop of Truro, the founding headmaster of Wellington College who had gone on to become the dynamic Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral. But the resounding career that he was implicitly expected to equal in some way was much less impressive than it seemed. It is likely that it was not until Benson came to write his father's biography, after EWB's death in 1896, that he was able to perceive the cracks, and begin to emancipate himself from the burden he had inherited. It is of course no criticism of EWB that he retreated from Wellington burned out by overwork and shattered by the hostility of a board of governors, many of whom regarded him not as a godlike headmaster but as merely their subordinate provider of teaching services. The unsuccessful plea of an admiring ally on the Wellington staff, that EWB should at least hold out for a Deanery,[216] was a measure of his desperation to escape. Given his treatment by the governors, he was probably right to go before he was pushed. Even at established public schools, employment could be insecure: Hayman was dismissed from the headmastership of Rugby in 1873, Oscar Browning fired as an Eton housemaster on a technicality in 1875.[217] Almost certainly, EWB was also fortunate in leaving Lincoln after just four years, thus avoiding the all-too-likely eventuality of a jurisdictional clash with Dean Blakesley. In that short span of time, his Lincoln Mission looked like a blueprint for taking the Church to the people. But it was not to be repeated, either in Lincoln, nor (it seems) across the diocese. In any case, in a changing England of manufacturing, mining and growing suburbs, Lincoln was hardly typical. To have stayed longer would have been to encounter diminishing returns. Similarly had EWB remained longer at Truro, the ambiguity of his relations with Cornwall's Methodists – were they allies or rivals? – would almost have certainly have been dissipated. At the time of his translation to Canterbury, there were signs that the fragile truce was breaking down after his attack on the veracity of the Liberation Society. In 1881, when his son went to Cambridge, he had the proud status of a new bishop building a new cathedral. Within a few years, it would have become obvious that the cost of his ambitious project was a major obstacle to his plans to take religion to the people. A year later, the offer of Canterbury would, for the third time in a decade, enable EWB to move on leaving behind him an illusory edifice whose hollowness had not yet become evident.

For the nineteen year-old King's freshman, Arthur Benson, his father's rapid ascent represented an impossibly daunting career model -- impossible because some of its apparent promotions reflected the good fortune of moving just ahead of likely disaster or impending frustration. But there was another aspect to the duality of EWB that can only have bemused his eldest surviving son – and would certainly later impel Benson to repeated biographical exercises in character revision that came close to character assassination. "I have never known anyone in my life whose personality was so strongly marked as my father's." Alongside his "superhuman activity," EWB "was extremely sensitive .... A careless word from one of us, some tiny instance of childish selfishness or lack of affection, might distress him out of all proportion." Even the smallest transgression of word or deed would be met "by a grave and solemn remonstrance." Yet if EWB was terrifying, he was also unpredictable.  "We feared his displeasure very much, but we could never be quite sure what would provoke it. If he was in a cheerful mood, he might pass over with a laugh or an ironical word what in a sad or anxious mood would evoke an indignant and weighty censure."[218] It was difficult to meet the expectations of such a father.

Yet this was not the impression that EWB created outside his own household. His brother-in-law, Henry Sidgwick, first fell under EWB's spell when he was unhappy as a boy at Rugby: "he let me come and talk to him when I liked. ... His sympathy at this time – indeed, at all times ... was eminently wise and tactful ... if his help was really needed, he would – however busy – throw his mind into the question with an energetic consideration of interest in it". Sidgwick remained deferential to EWB even after he had left school for Cambridge: "for the first half of my undergraduate time his influence over me was stronger than that of any one else". Intellectually, he drifted away as he encountered doubts about religion, but he remained a loyal admirer of his brother-in-law, apparently choosing to overlook the strange nature of his sister's marriage.[219] Sidgwick's favourable impression was shared by others. When EWB's name was first suggested as headmaster for Wellington, Lord Derby consulted his nephew, who had been a pupil at Rugby. The report was positive. "I can say nothing but what is most favourable and such, I think, was the opinion of all concerned with him." EWB was "always kind ....much liked, for he has a very interesting way of talking and teaching, and was ever ready to explain any difficulty."[220] "He is such a pleasing, nice, clever man," Queen Victoria noted, after her visit to Wellington in 1864.[221] During the abortive negotiations between the Anglican Church and the Salvation Army, Bramwell Booth was impressed by the Bishop of Truro: "his combination of courtliness and candour, his genial freedom of manner and evident sincerity of feeling, made him lovable and unforgettable."[222] One almost has the impression of his son desperately crying out in repeated biographical revisions in an attempt to persuade the world that his father was a very different person in private life from his public persona. At King's, Benson was encouraged to treat EWB's friend, Henry Bradshaw, as a kind of substitute father. When he received the reproachful and traumatic missive urging him not to tread the path of perdition that must ensue from meeting Henry Irving, Benson took it to Bradshaw, in the hope that the older man might act as a court of appeal.  Bradshaw jovially dismissed Benson's bubbling resentment at the intrusion upon his youthful freedom. "Don't you see, you goose, that it is worth anything to have a father who cares about you like that?"[223] For the time being, trapped in a Kafkaesque world that insisted upon lauding his father's kindness and wisdom, Benson had no alternative but to agree. When he came to work through EWB's papers, he realised for the first time just how deeply he had cared about his children. It was too late. "I loved him not."[224] The complexity of the father-son relationship, and the intimidating double challenge of following an impressively successful parent and an almost impossibly perfect lost elder brother – these would combine to make Benson's student years at King's a period of prolonged personal crisis.         

II: Benson at King's College Cambridge, October 1881 – December 1884

Academic Record

A.C. Benson's Cambridge academic record may be briefly summarised, although – as will be discussed – two issues arise from the basic outline, the quality of his degree, and the fact that he returned to residence for one term, Michaelmas 1884, after taking his Tripos examinations.

Benson entered King's College as a Scholar on 15 October 1881, and read Classics.[225] Not much seems to be recoverable about the organisation of his studies. By the eighteen-eighties, colleges were becoming more involved in the teaching of their ablest students, and candidates for Honours were ceasing to hunt for freelance "coaches".[226] G.W. Prothero seems to have been his Tutor, which in Cambridge parlance implied a general oversight of life and studies rather than a specific teaching responsibility: Prothero was a historian. Benson did not warm to him. However, he did take to another Fellow, J.E.C. Welldon, whom he found "orthodox, genial and positive". With characteristic pomposity, Welldon claimed Benson as a former student in his 1915 autobiography.[227] Welldon left Cambridge for a headmastership in 1883. He remained a friend, but it is unlikely that his orthodoxy offered much help during the personal crisis of November 1882.   In December 1882, Benson took part (as "Chief of the Chorus") in the University's first Greek play (the first, that is, in modern times), an event that would quickly become an annual Cambridge landmark. Ajax in 1882 was succeeded by The Birds in 1883, in which Benson also appeared.[228]  (The fact that he was capable of taking part in the 1882 Greek play is important in assessing the impact of Benson's personal crisis the previous month.) In 1884, he entered for a University prize, the Chancellor's English Medal, awarded for an ode or heroic verse. (EWB had won its equivalent for Classics in 1852.) The topic, the Florentine religious fanatic Savanarola, could hardly have appealed to Benson, and he came second, with an honourable mention, to fellow Kingsman Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson.[229] Benson encountered Dickinson again in 1901, looking "rather frowsy and peaky. He beat me in Chancellor's English Medal. But I would not change place with him now."[230] Proxime accessit had evidently been a disappointment to a young man who saw himself as a litterateur.  In the summer of 1884, Benson took a First in the Classical Tripos.[231] He returned to King's that autumn, and spent the Michaelmas Term studying divinity – in his own undated comment, "read enough theology to very nearly wreck my religion." In January 1885, King's awarded him its Crawford Prize for Divinity, but by then Benson had left to teach at Eton.[232]

First Class Honours in one of Cambridge's most distinguished degree programmes – only the Mathematical Tripos vied with Classics in prestige – sounds like a the crowning of a triumphant University career. The truth is slightly more complex and a little less impressive. For decades, reformers had criticised the Classical Tripos for its emphasis upon the linguistic mechanics of grammar and philology. Students engaged in minute textual examination of speeches and letters in Latin and Greek, but knew nothing of the philosophy they expounded, the political theory they embodied, or even the historical events to which they contributed. In 1858, it was suggested that the Tripos be divided into two parts, the first concentrating upon linguistic skills, the second more widely exploring understanding of classical civilization. It is hardly worth surveying the controversies that followed, nor is it edifying to untangle the frequently obtuse arguments in defence of the purity of critical scholarship. Suffice to say, a two-part degree structure was eventually endorsed in 1879, and came on stream in 1881.[233] However, the new dispensation overlapped with another fundamental Cambridge rule, that the acquisition of a degree required not simply, and quite rightly, success in examinations, but also nine terms of residence in the University. Since the new Part One was, in effect, the previous and much revered Classical Tripos, it was possible to graduate after achieving Honours in it, provided nine terms of residence had been "kept". The new Part Two, which could be taken up to the tenth term of residence, was, in effect, the equivalent not of the later Finals examination, but of a modern-day taught Master's degree. In 1884, for instance, around 130 male candidates took Honours in Part One, but only twenty reappeared to tackle Part Two a year later. Benson was not among them. Moreover, the new system sought to eliminate jostling for intellectual pre-eminence by ending the practice of listing candidates, not only by degree classes, but in order of merit. This was done by introducing sub-categories within each class, with the Firsts initially split into no fewer than five sub-groups. Benson was placed in the somewhat galling fourth category, which he shared with a man called Robert Gilson, from Trinity, later headmaster of King Edward's School in Birmingham.[234] There were nineteen successful candidates above them (including M.R. James and Lowes Dickinson from King's), with eight below. When Benson's name was put forward for a Fellowship at Magdalene in 1904, reservations were expressed about the quality of his degree, and the fact that he had not proceeded beyond Part One.[235] A.G. Peskett, Magdalene's Classics don, had been an examiner in 1884, and may have recalled – or even retained notes – of his performance.

As already noted, Benson returned for a further term in Cambridge after taking his Tripos, but without any intention of proceeding to Part Two of the Classical Tripos, even though its syllabus would have helped remedy precisely the contextual ignorance of the ancient world of which he later complained. (His close friend, Herbert Tatham, who went up to Trinity in 1881, took a First in both Parts of the Classical Tripos, in 1883 and 1885.) Benson spent this tenth term in an apparently undirected course of reading in divinity. On the face of it, this was hardly a surprising line of enquiry for the eldest surviving son of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Lubbock recalled that, from childhood, Benson "had no doubt that he would take orders, devote himself to a cure in a country parish, and peaceably proceed to some pleasant canonry or deanery in the distance."[236] However, it has been already noted that Benson found that his intensive explorations of theological tomes came close to wrecking his religious beliefs. 'Distant Cousin' engaged in a similar programme of reading, but "found that the commentators obscured rather than assisted. ... I turned through book after book ... dreaming that, though the rind was tough, the precious morsels lay succulent within." If, as seems likely, 'Distant Cousin' was Benson's proxy, it would seem that he found his studies more scatological than theological. "Some, like cattle on a summer evening, seemed to stand and brood within the pool itself, careless if they fouled the waters."[237]

The core problem, as Benson explained to his uncle, Henry Sidgwick, was that the dominant voice in English theological debate was Brooke Foss Westcott, but "he (A.C.B.) could not get hold of his method."[238] Benson thrilled to the memory of Westcott delivering a course of vocational addresses "to any undergraduate who cared to come" in a side-chapel at King's, a small man struggling with his own overwhelming sense of humility to impart his message "in the huge, rich, echoing chapel, dimly lighted." But even as a student, Benson was put off by Westcott's manner: "I remember well thinking that it would have been more impressive if he had shown a calmer dignity ... but at the end of one particular address I can remember having a flash of perception, and realising what a much more deeply impressive thing it was to see his obvious reluctance and timidity, than if he had spoken volubly and serenely." But Westcott on paper was disappointingly inaccessible. To understand his terminology required "a semi-philosophical, semi-theological training ... and thus his work exacts a greater intellectual strain than the ideas which he laid stress upon required." There was a jerkiness about his argument. From the pulpit Westcott made good his deficiencies in verbal explanation "by gesture, look, and emphasis." On paper, he was obtuse and mystifying. In time, Benson came to doubt that Westcott deserved to be regarded as a "scientific theologian" at all, concluding that "a very much needed and noble message" was "partially buried under his obscure and involved sentences."[239] This was a sad but severe rejection of (dare one say, revenge upon?) one of his father's closest friends.

But could there have been another, more mundane reason, for Benson's inconsequential tenth term in Cambridge? As already noted, it was possible to graduate having passed Part One of the Classical Tripos, provided the candidate had "kept" the requisite nine terms. Newsome deduces from subsequent allusions in Benson's diary that he spent some time in Cambridgeshire's mental hospital, located at Fulbourn, five miles east of the town.[240] As will be seen in subsequent discussion, this cannot have happened immediately after his personal crisis of November 1882. If he did indeed spend time in hospital, there is a slight possibility that Benson had failed to meet the residence requirements for one of his nine terms by the time he sat Part Two in the summer of 1884, and was obliged to spend an additional term in Cambridge as a result. However, his own account insists that he had taken his degree by July 1884, and accepted a post at Eton from the following January. To fill in the time, he had "obtained leave to reside at Cambridge in the interval and to improve my mind." Since he was in residence during the Long Vacation as well for the following Michaelmas Term, this seems persuasive.[241] As noted above, he read privately in theology through the second half of 1884, probably with the intention of proceeding to ordination.

On balance, Newsome's suggestion that Benson was hospitalised in Fulbourn seems unlikely. It was the County Lunatic Asylum (originally, when opened in 1858, the adjective "Pauper" was included): an undergraduate who became violently disruptive might have been taken there under restraint, but a young man from a privileged background suffering from deep depression would have been more likely to have received treatment in a private clinic, as would be Benson's experience twice during later life. Several Internet sources mention that the Cambridge Footlights originated in an entertainment put on in 1883 by undergraduates for patients in the Asylum.[242] The revue was accompanied by a cricket match: perhaps Benson's later allusions to Fulbourn refer to a visit at that time? If he did spend time in Fulbourn during his student years, it cannot have been for long enough to have affected his residence – unlike his two later breakdowns, which spanned several years.

Benson at King's: A Cambridge Education?

"I was starved intellectually by the meagre academical system," wrote 'Distant Cousin'. "I took up the Classical Tripos, and read, with translations, in the loosest style imaginable, great masses of classical literature, caring little about the subject-matter, seldom reading the notes, with no knowledge of history, archaeology or philosophy, and even strangely ignorant of idiom. ... I did indeed drift into the First Class, but this was merely due to familiarity with, rather than knowledge of the Classics".[243] If, as seems probable, this was indeed Benson speaking of himself, one obvious riposte would be to ask why he did not commit to a further year of study, and imbibe the broader education offered by Part Two. Presumably he regarded this as more of the same. Certainly, his protest – "I left Cambridge a thoroughly uneducated man"[244] – would evolve, as he became disillusioned with school-mastering, into a broad dismissal of Eton's Classics-based curriculum, and a bold outline of an educational substitute.

"I was distinctly idle and dilettante ... as a Cambridge undergraduate," Benson later confessed.[245] The description of a typical Cambridge day spent by 'Arthur Hamilton' almost certainly reflects Benson's own routines at times when he did not feel under pressure to deliver. (In this passage, the hero even seems to forget that he is at Trinity.) "He got up rather late, read his subjects for an hour or two, strolled about to see one or two friends, lunched with them or at home, strolled in the afternoon, often dropping in to King's for the anthem, went back to his rooms for tea, the one time at which he liked to see his friends, read or talked till hall, and finally settled down to his books again at ten, reading till one or two in the morning."[246] Another of Benson's autobiographical characters, 'Hugh Neville' in Beside Still Waters, revelled in the sudden freedom of undergraduate life: "a few weeks after he had settled at Cambridge, in spite of the strangeness of it all, in spite of the humiliation of being turned in a moment from a person of dignity and importance into a mere 'freshman', he realised that the freedom of the life, as compared with the barrack-life of school, was irresistibly attractive.  He had to keep two or three engagements in the day, and even about these there was great elasticity.  The independence, the liberty, the kindliness of it all, came home to him with immense charm."[247] But even in this idyllic and laid-back lifestyle, EWB was never far away. The letters flowed from Truro, and sometimes from Lambeth Palace where Archbishop Tait had granted EWB a pied-à-terre, to "My dearest Arthur," "My dearest boy and loving son," almost certainly in far greater quantities than the revealing handful that Benson published in his father's biography.[248] They were couched in loving terms, no doubt deeply felt if not always effectively communicated, and certainly enough to explain why Bradshaw thought Benson a "goose" to resent his father's concerns over meeting Sir Henry Irving.

Three weeks into his undergraduate career, Benson felt a sharp parental tug on leading strings that should no longer have existed. In the excitement of his new existence, Benson had fallen short of EWB's expectations as a letter-writer. His father rebuked him with a smothering of intimidating affection that recalls Hugh Benson's feeling of being a china mug filled out of a waterfall. "You must not reproach yourself, as if while growing older you seemed to me less anything that is dear or wise," EWB wrote, adding: "surely, my dear boy, everything that a father can do to assure his son how he loves and values him and is satisfied with him, I try to do, and love to do, because it is only the expression of my deepest feeling towards you." The sentiment was no doubt well-meant, but it carried a distinct overtone of love-me, love-my-dogmatism. EWB made some indulgently patronising remarks and all the interesting people his son was meeting, but then switched to business: "let us talk of your work and life". The message was that Benson's study regime was a legitimate area for father-son dialogue. EWB urged: "make for yourself some rules about the hours of work, and exercise, and seeing friends. It will never do to make the bulk of a student-life social, and get as much work as you can into the spaces left. You must take it the other way round". The advice in itself was sound, but it would have been better to allow the younger man the space to make his own decisions, guided by those who taught him: it was not for nothing that dons were described as being in loco parentis. But EWB could not resist detailed time-and motion supervision. Benson should set out his work schedule in a timetable, and keep a register to check that he was on track. "Don't sit up at night, whatever you do. Force yourself into morning reading (and don't eat such lots of things at breakfast that you can't read after them!)." 'Arthur Hamilton', it will be noted, read into the small hours, and Benson defied his father in other small ways, such as taking up smoking.[249] "Not overlong hours — not drive, or sleeplessness, but calm reading and reflection," was EWB's recipe for deriving "the greatest and most fruitful happiness" from the process of study. The aim was "quiet thought and cheerfulness".[250] When his son finally came face-to-face with his own crisis, he was condemned to two years of turbulent doubts and misery. It is likely that he never completely escaped the sensation that EWB was seeking to control his every move. Like most undergraduates, Benson relied upon his father to supplement his scholarship income, which meant submitting his termly accounts for minute inspection. EWB had a horror of waste, but he seems to have an even greater phobia about inexactitude: "he was less grieved by the addition of ten pounds to a tailor's bill than by the omission of a halfpenny in the credit account." [251]

Following the Eton path to King's gave Benson at least a slight cushion against his father's overshadowing personality: Martin Benson would almost certainly have been directed towards Trinity, EWB's own college. Every Cambridge college was a world of its own; King's was a private universe, with its magnificent Chapel and grassy and privileged riverside precinct.  One of Benson's semi-autobiographical characters, the hero of The Altar Fire, revisited the college twenty years after going down, to find the same "charming, pretty, quiet place, blinking lazily out of its deep-set barred windows in the bright sun".[252] On his own return visit after a long absence, in 1901, Benson was moved by the experience of attending a service King's Chapel. '"I did not realise how much this place had fed my heart."[253] His fictional alter ego seemed to recall himself "moving in golden light, talking and laughing in firelit rooms, lingering in moonlit nights by the bridge, wondering what life was going to bring."[254] The moonlit nights by the bridge remained vivid in Benson's memory, because he had strolled there with J.K. Stephen, "Jem" or "J.K.S.," an Eton hero and nephew of Leslie Stephen, who had taken a First in History in 1881. J.K.S. was a former President of the Union, a member of the Apostles, a magnetic personality who achieved without apparent effort, and treated freshmen and professors equally with frank charm. Benson recalled him strolling to the river, hands in pockets and wearing an open-necked shirt – shocking informality in the Cambridge of those times – naming the constellations in the starry sky, before goading an owl that lived in a thicket of trees beside the Cam, until the bird retreated, wings flapping in the night air, to escape the absurdity of Jem's avian oratory.[255]  The King's College river bank was a strange enclave in the heart of a busy town, even containing a kitchen garden leading to "a deserted little slip of ground like a terrace where snapdragons grew." When he returned in 1901, he found the idyllic enclave occupied by the Tudor-Victorian bulk of Bodley's Buildings.[256]

Through J.K.S., Benson became a member of a Sunday evening club, "T.A.F." or Twice A Fortnight. Members took turns to provide a cold supper. There was no agenda, no set programme of lectures, but J.K.S. himself held forth in conversational flow about books and life – if not actually taboo, politics was at least unworthy of attention – while other members sketched caricatures or sometimes played the piano.[257] The atmosphere suited Benson. "I was all for poetry and art," he recalled a quarter of a century later; "I found history tedious, science tiresome, politics insupportable."[258] In fact, this was not entirely true, even of his carefree freshman year. During his first term, Benson proposed a motion at the King's debating society, "That the Higher Education of Women is Undesirable". This did not sit easily with EWB's establishment of a high school for girls in Truro, nor with the energetic career of his aunt Ada Benson (Ada McDowall), who headed three such schools in succession. More to the point, it was a tactless initiative within a small academic community, where his Aunt Nora, Eleanor Sidgwick, was Vice-Principal of Newnham. News of the debate reached Trinity High Table, where Sidgwick himself received some chaff, enough to ask his nephew for details. It appeared that the motion was carried by eleven votes to ten.[259]

The core of Benson's unofficial education was a very different gathering, the innocuously named Chitchat Club, which met on Saturday evenings to listen to papers which members took turns to read. It seems that Benson was elected at the start of his second year, possibly on the basis of his contributions to the King's debating society. M.R. James, who was also a member, recalled it as a small and sociable group, although its actual proceedings seem to have bounced off him. Thirty years later, he could only bring to mind an evening spent in the engagingly fantastical exercise of planning an English Literature Tripos, based on twelve classic novels and beginning with Thackeray's Esmond. [260] For Benson, the Chitchat Club was perhaps more important. 'Distant Cousin' "derive[d] immense intellectual stimulus from my Cambridge life, though little from the prescribed course of study; for I belonged to a little society that met weekly, and read papers on literary and ethical subjects, prolonging a serious, if fitful, discussion late into the night."[261] 'Hugh Neville' testified to a similar experience. Throughout his first year at Cambridge, he felt "he was merely a big schoolboy in mind.  The real change in his mental history dated from his election to a small society which met weekly, where a paper was read, and a free discussion followed." His religious belief had been "purely orthodox and sensuous" in character, a combination of unquestioning orthodoxy within a ceremonial wrapping of music and ritual. "But in this society he met young men – and older men too, for several of the Dons were members – who were rationalists, materialists, and definitely sceptical." For the first time, he was forced to analyse and defend his faith. "The first effect of this was to develop a great loyalty to his traditions, and almost the first hard thinking he had ever done was in the direction of attempting to defend his faith on scientific principles.  But the attempt proved fruitless; one by one his cherished convictions were washed away, though he never owned it, not even to himself."[262]  The Saturday evening disputations of the Chitchat Club may have contributed to Benson's November 1882 crisis, although it must be borne in mind that he had only recently become a member.

Benson was also a member of at least three University organisations. One was the Pitt Club, a socially select gentlemen's club, a piece of Pall Mall in Jesus Lane, which about twenty years earlier had moved away from its original Tory political loyalties. One of the most sacred characteristics of the traditional English club is that its members possess the sovereign right to ignore one another. Hence it cannot be assumed that Benson was brought into contact with the Honourable M.B. Hawke, of Magdalene, who had been ahead of him at Eton but came up to Cambridge at the same time – and would go on to captain the England cricket team. Although nothing appears to be known about the extent of Benson's involvement in the Pitt Club, his membership points to two elements about him. First, it underpins the point that he belonged to a socially exclusive elite, as he would demonstrate in the internal feuding of King's, to be discussed later. Second, it may have helped shape his attitude to Magdalene, which in the eighteen-eighties was in the deepest pit of its Victorian decline. The Pitt Club was run by undergraduates, but the Presidency was always conferred upon a senior member. In Benson's time, this was the Dean of Magdalene, the Reverend Frederick Gunton, a hunting parson noted for his flippant disregard of his responsibilities.[263] When Benson came to Magdalene in 1904, the memory of Gunton may have helped dispose him to believe that the College had been in a worse state than was in fact the case of the determined and defiant little society of early Edwardian days.

Benson was also a member of the Cambridge Union Society. Both J.K. Stephen and his uncle Henry Sidgwick had been Presidents of the Union, but by the eighteen-eighties, debates were predominantly on political topics, subject matter which Benson claimed to find "insupportable". He did however speak once, on 11 November 1884. As this was just weeks before he left the University to teach at Eton, Benson may have been ticking a box, taking the opportunity to sample a Cambridge experience. The fact that the President, W.A. Raleigh, was from King's no doubt helped him catch the eye of the chair. The 1884 Reform Act, about to receive the royal assent, would determine who had the right to vote, but a parallel measure for redistribution of constituencies, regulating who would vote where, was the subject of much public discussion. One issue, although a relatively minor one, was the question of University seats, as the broadening of franchise qualifications tended to place a question mark over privileged representation of graduate elites. In the event, abolition was ruled out in negotiations between the two party leaders, Gladstone and Salisbury, and brushed aside when debated in the House of Commons in March 1885.[264] Equally, there was never much chance that the predominantly Conservative Cambridge Union would endorse the motion: "That this House would approve of the disfranchisement of this University," however fervently the young Austen Chamberlain of Trinity might argue the case. There were only three speakers for the motion, while A.C. Benson of King's spoke fourth of twelve members who voiced opposition. The young men of Cambridge defended their University seats by a margin larger than two-to-one, 116 votes to 43.[265] Radicals criticised the four Cambridge and Oxford seats as the preserve of clerical voters, most of them non-resident and so not even reflecting the opinions of the nation's intellectuals. This may explain why Benson, son of the Archbishop, put aside his distaste for political topics on this occasion. There were two longer-term sequels to this episode. First, Raleigh became a notable figure in the academic and literary world, holding a series of Chairs in the new discipline of English Literature, culminating in a move to Oxford in 1904. Benson encountered him in 1911, "most interesting and delightful .... full of zest and humour," although he was disconcerted when his King's contemporary  received a knighthood that year.[266] Second, by November 1911, Benson had reversed his position, declaring himself in favour of "the abolition of the University seats, as an artificial plurality of voting."[267]

The third organisation with which Benson was associated was a student society dedicated to the poetry of Robert Browning. Such groups come and go in academic communities, and, in this instance, Benson seems to have been instrumental in both processes. He delivered a paper on Browning's poem Waring, "so brilliant that he was unanimously elected Secretary at the first opportunity. It never met again." Benson himself recalled that the Society was "newly-founded," and described himself as "a devout reader and whole-hearted worshipper of the poet". When Browning visited Cambridge, to stay with Sidney Colvin, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Benson was one of a group of undergraduates invited to meet the great man over breakfast. He recalled climbing the stairs to Colvin's rooms in Trinity with "tremulous awe and expectation," only to encounter "a short sturdy man ... perfectly good-humoured, simple and natural" who resolutely refused to respond to any of the ponderous literary themes that Colvin attempted to lob into the conversation. "He just talked away, readily and amusingly, as any well-informed, sensible man might talk." That was Benson's account to his mass popular audience. Privately, he recalled Browning as "tiresome to meet" and "rather pompous".[268] The upshot was that Benson took implacably against his former hero, and killed the Society by resolutely declining to summon any further meetings. M.R. James went so far as to suggest that Benson had accepted office in order to kill the venture, although he delicately hinted that the Arthur Benson of those days was not sufficiently well organised to carry through such a determined strategy. Benson's behaviour seems all the more puzzling, since the Browning Society membership was apparently not confined to undergraduates. M.M. Pattison Muir, Fellow of Caius, was "particularly anxious" to deliver a paper, "but nothing could induce the Secretary to summon a meeting." Pattison Muir was a Scotsman – in fact an import to Cambridge from Glasgow University – and a scientist, identifiers which may have been strikes against him in Benson's perceptions: in 1906, he confessed to having been too much "at the mercy of small prejudices" in cutting off any attempt to relate to people who displeased him.[269] It is also tempting to note that EWB was not only an enthusiast for Browning's poetry, but insisted on reading his favourite works aloud to his family.[270] Rejecting Browning may have been a surrogate way of rejecting his father.

When Robert Browning attempted to make conversation at that disastrous breakfast, he asked after EWB "whose guest he had been more than once".[271] In Victorian Cambridge, doors flew open for the son of a prominent ecclesiastic – and from midway through Benson's second year, his father was Primate of All England. Indeed, EWB himself responded with mock admiration to his son's report that he had visited three Heads of Houses – the collective term for Masters of Colleges – within three weeks of arriving in Cambridge: "The awe and terror and delight with which I used to gaze on them from afar!"[272] Unlike most freshmen, Benson had special and direct access to two of the most notable figures in Cambridge. Henry Bradshaw was a Fellow of King's, bibliophile, University Librarian and expert in Celtic literature. More to the point, he was EWB's longtime friend. "When I came up to King's as an undergraduate in 1881, my father took me to see him in his rooms." Benson had encountered Bradshaw before. At their most recent encounter, three years earlier, Bradshaw had unaccountably forgotten the recent family tragedy, and addressed him as "Martin". He was eager to make amends: "come to see me at any time: you will always be welcome for your father's sake," he assured the newly-minted freshman, adding, with a kindly smile, "and for your own!"[273] Benson often made use of the privilege of studying in the older man's rooms, and it was through Bradshaw that he encountered other notable personalities such as the composer C.V. Stanford. An even more notable connection was his maternal uncle, the philosopher Henry Sidgwick. As one of Cambridge's first openly-acknowledged agnostics (although simultaneously a loyal admirer of EWB), Sidgwick had formally resigned his Trinity Fellowship in 1869 since he could no longer conscientiously accept the religious tests associated with its acceptance. However, the college had found devices to keep him on, and in 1883, after the tests had been swept away, he became a University professor. In 1876, he had married a Newnham College pioneer, Eleanor Balfour, and Benson was a welcome guest at their home, "Hillside," now part of Clare College's "Colony" in Chesterton Lane. It was at Hillside, early in his undergraduate days, that he met J.R. Seeley, the first professor of Modern History in Cambridge to establish the discipline on firm intellectual grounds.[274] Through the Trinity connection – Benson often lunched with his uncle in his college rooms – he encountered the Master, W.H. Thompson, and became friendly with Frederic Myers, one of the pioneers of psychical research. It was through Myers that, in 1884, Benson met Henry James, who would later become a close friend.[275] He had already encountered the architectural historian, J.W. Clark, who had visited Eton to study the buildings. At Cambridge, he often dined – along with other undergraduates – at Clark's home in Scroope Terrace, Trumpington Street, where the host behaved like "a good-natured uncle talking to favourite nephews."[276] By the time Benson returned to Cambridge in 1904, Clark was well dug-in to the University's administrative structure, holding the key administrative post of Registrary. Another Trinity Fellow who befriended Benson was Harry Goodhart, like himself an Etonian and a footballer. He had graduated in 1881, and was elected to his Fellowship that October, just as Benson came into residence. It was almost certainly Goodhart to whom 'Hugh Neville' turned for friendship. "He made friends with a young Fellow of his college, who was an advanced free-thinker, and set himself to enlighten the undergraduate, whose instinctive sympathy gave him a charm for older men, of which he was entirely unconscious.  They had many serious talks on the subject; and his friend employed a kind of gentle irony in undermining as far as he could the foundations of what seemed to him so irrational a state of mind."[277] Goodhart died young, but, on his return visit in 1901, Benson paused at the foot of the staircase leading to his rooms in Trinity's New Court. "How often at one time I used to creep up there!" There was always "a quiet but warm welcome," but one day "he tried to pull me across the ditch into agnosticism," but backed off in the face of "the warmth with which I spoke of my religious experiences". As a result, "our friendship rather ebbed away".[278] Others, like J.K. Stephen and Henry Sidgwick, steered clear of a subject that might risk causing conflict between Benson and his father.

Yet, for all this privileged access to great minds and famous men (then, as later, he managed rarely to encounter challenging females), Benson remained overwhelmingly shy and conscious of his own "big schoolboy" awkwardness. He tried to sparkle in donnish company, but "but by the time I had composed a suitable remark, the slender opening had already passed, and my contribution was either not uttered at all, or hopelessly belated in its appearance." If he did manage to interject "some deep generalisation," it was either "ruthlessly ignored or contemptuously corrected by some unsympathetic elder of unyielding voice and formed opinions." He felt that his elders regarded him "as a tiresome and heavy young man."[279] Nor was he much more relaxed in the company of his contemporaries. Once a fellow-student invited him to afternoon tea, and help entertain some visiting relatives. In the event, the young host provided his own entertainment, standing on his head and performing backwards somersaults over his sofa. When Benson expressed uncomprehending alarm, a maiden aunt crushed him by asking: "Mr. Benson, have you never been young?"[280] He appreciated a more sympathetic encounter in his undergraduate years with Matthew Arnold, to whom he sought an introduction at a Cambridge garden party. "I shall never forget the stately and amiable condescension with which he greeted me."[281]

Although Benson often wrote of the shy awkwardness of his early years, he was also at pains to dismiss the image of himself "trotting feebly about a football field, and making desperate attempts to avoid the proximity of the ball". Indeed, he "captained a college football team" and claimed to have "derived more pleasure from football than from any other form of exercise."[282] He continued to play football (the association code, soccer) for some years, but an injury in 1889 led him to give up the game two years later.[283] In 1904, Benson recalled playing for the Old Etonians "in old days," as full-back alongside the muscular Christian J.E.K. Studd. The only game that I have traced was played on 25 November 1882, against Cambridge University, "on Parker's Piece, in extremely cold weather". The University won 5-2, against "a weak team," which included Studd and Benson as backs. Since Studd was "a fierce player" who liked to body charge an opponent, and leave him "on the ground like a broken egg," we have to suspect that Benson was the weak point in the defence. (However, M.R. James, perhaps not an expert observer, did recall that "his kicking was wonderful".)[284]  The date of the Parker's Piece encounter is important, since it indicates that Benson was not totally prostrated by the personal crisis he had encountered two weeks earlier. The intriguing possibility arises that A.C. Benson may have been the only Master of Magdalene to have played in an FA Cup tie, for the Old Etonians entered the competition down to 1887.

In 1906, as Benson strolled the banks of the Cam, "watching the boats passing up and down," he ruminated disdainfully on his own experience of the river. "Five-and-twenty years ago I was rowing here myself in one of these boats, and I do not wish to renew the experience.  I cannot conceive why and in what moment of feeble good-nature or mis-applied patriotism I ever consented to lend a hand." Benson did not become a skilful oarsman – "any momentary complacency was generally dispelled by the harsh criticism of the coach on the bank" – and looked back on the experience as one of intolerable slavery. M.R. James, who came up in 1882, recalled that they formed part of a gentlemen's boat, a joke crew rowing in one of the lower divisions, probably in the summer of 1883, in their case wearing academical dress to underline their absurdity.[285]

As a housemaster at Eton from 1892, Benson reinvented himself as an opponent of "athletics", his terms for all forms of organised games. This later pose may tend to obscure both his earlier sporting activities, and the perhaps equally noteworthy the selectivity of his interests. He felt a contempt for golf, regarding "hitting a little ball about over sandy bunkers" as "undignified".[286] Perhaps more remarkable was his indifference, amounting to hostility, towards cricket. Perhaps this may be traced to his childhood at Wellington: the school was carved from the heather-clad Berkshire common land, and initially lacked space for a cricket ground. Facilities were not much better at Eton in Benson's time: he was forced to take part, but barely a quarter of boys played regularly, and the game tended to be monopolised by "swells".[287] A more likely reason was his energetic inability to respond to the tactical subtleties of the game: "I feel sure that he never looked at a bat," Monty James insisted.[288] His boys won Eton's inter-House cricket competition in 1899, but Benson virtually banned any allusion to their success: only the silent silverware on the communal dining table bore witness to their triumph.[289] Three years later, he quietly rejoiced when his boys were knocked out of the same competition, since it removed any obligation on him "to go and watch, which I detest."[290]  He once condemned cricket as "the most unjust and fortuitous of games", because a skilled player might unluckily be out first ball. When jingoistic journalists began to call for conscription during the First World War, his reaction was one of revulsion against compelling men to fight, bizarrely mixed with a narcissistic memory of the agonies of compulsory cricket at Eton.[291] In the privacy of his diary and in the public sphere of essay-writing, he conjured an image of an idealised rural England, but  white-clad figures cracking leather against willow on the village green never featured in those scenes. 

Nor did Benson ride. His father, despite growing up in poverty, was a fearless rider, and fond of his steeds, but Benson never even mastered the basics of harnessing a horse.[292] The most likely explanation for his equine disengagement was that he was tall and heavy, and may simply have been doing the beasts a favour by avoiding them as transportation. At Cambridge, riding was an expensive hobby, not generally associated with serious study, and probably thought to be an unsuitable occupation for the son of a bishop – especially one whose expenditure was subject to tight parental control. This probably had the incidental side-effect, and benefit, that he was not closely associated with Magdalene, which in the early eighteen-eighties reached a low point, generally known as little more than a "sporting" institution: E.R. Yerburgh, in residence from 1879 to 1882, recalled up to twenty horses being led up and down Magdalene Street on hunting days.[293]

Lack of a horse did not inhibit Benson's mobility, either during his student years or afterwards. He was an enthusiastic cyclist, riding the "high bicycle" that was the penultimate stage in the evolution of the modern safety bike of the eighteen-nineties.[294] On his return visit in 1901, he began to recognise familiar sights as the train approached Cambridge, such as "the inn at Whittlesford, where we used to have tea in the old bicycling days". In 1884, probably after his Tripos examinations, he explored the villages to the north, the beginning of a fascination with the Fens.[295] Within Cambridge, like so many of its student denizens, Benson followed his own badger tracks, hardly visiting some of the smaller colleges at all. On his return to live in Cambridge in 1904, he set foot in Sidney Sussex for the first time, and felt ashamed that he had never seen it before.[296] Magdalene, too, was "unfamiliar" to him when he persuaded a porter to show him around in 1904, although he must have passed it on his way to the Sidgwick household in Chesterton Lane, and probably knew Eton contemporaries there as undergraduates.[297] Perhaps if he had known the Magdalene of the eighteen-eighties better, he might have been less keen to acquire a Fellowship at the College twenty years later.

Vacation travel, especially during the long unstructured summer months, formed part of the wider education of the more prosperous of Cambridge undergraduates. Of Benson's explorations, we know little, not least because he did not choose to write about them in his subsequent persona as an essayist. The itinerary of an extensive but unstructured tour of Europe made by 'Arthur Hamilton' combined some vivid detail with untraceable and obviously fictitious place names. The first part of the odyssey, which included sojourns in Brittany and Catalonia, may perhaps reflect actual holiday tours, but thereafter the journey proceeds in larger and larger jumps, for instance  from Spalatro (Split in Croatia), through Hungary and then down the Vistula to the Baltic. One striking feature of this strange wandering is that it virtually encircles Germany, only touching upon the Kaiser's dominions at Danzig and Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad). As a master at Eton, Benson undertook continental holidays with colleagues – to Sicily, Italy, Spain and even as far as Madeira.[298] It was probably these journeys, and not any wanderings in student days, that permitted him the rare pleasure of challenging EWB in full flow. Saddened by opposition to religion across Europe, he claimed that in Spain Catholic clergy were not only mocked "but not even allowed to wear the religious dress!" Benson had recently returned from the country, and assured him that "the clergy did wear the usual dress of priests." EWB shifted ground: it was Portugal where there were banned from showing themselves in traditional garb. Benson had not long since been in Lisbon, where he had observed no such prohibition. "Well, there was a proposal, at all events, to take the dress away."[299] The son's travels did little to broaden the father's mind.

Although his uncle Christopher, after whom he was named, lived at Wiesbaden, where his mother had taken refuge during her 1872-3 breakdown, Benson himself seems to have made only one visit to Germany. He took a holiday there in 1885, and picked up enough of the language "to be able to read an easy book". But even this did not stick: in 1902, he shocked Provost Mahaffy of Trinity College Dublin by confessing that he "could hardly read German". His Eton colleagues, classicists all, sought out Roman architecture and archaeology, which pointed them to Italy and Spain.[300] With his friend and fellow master, Herbert Tatham, and sometimes with his brother Hugh, Benson went climbing in the Alps, but his enthusiasm for the pastime came to an abrupt end in 1896 when he was nearly killed after falling into a crevasse.[301] Switzerland, with its idiosyncratic dialects, was probably not the best place to learn German, and the local economy aimed to serve English visitors. Although he sketched an alternative programme for schoolboys based on learning French, not Latin, an initiative that led to his election as to the presidency of the Modern Languages Association, Benson's linguistic skills were remarkably limited. "He read French, but had no extensive acquaintance with modern languages," said his obituary in The Times. For somebody so deeply grounded in Latin, his apparent lack of curiosity about European languages seems surprising. As Stephen Gaselee loftily put it, Benson "had small French and less German".[302]

King's and Cliques

"At Cambridge, he was credited with the tendency to form a clique," commented The Times in its obituary of Benson; "at all events he was a leading spirit."[303] Benson's part in a damaging feud within King's College forms an episode that is not only deeply distasteful to modern readers, but was widely regarded with much concern and disapproval at the time. It forms an essential prelude to an appreciation of his subsequent role in Magdalene, and also forms a context to the crisis which overshadowed his last two years at Cambridge. Newsome refers in a half-sentence to Benson's defence of the College's "Eton exclusiveness" against the zeal of reformers, but insists that his activism was uncharacteristic – which should surely prompt deeper examination of his motives.[304] One of the most perceptive historians of the intellectual world of nineteenth-century Cambridge, Sheldon Rothblatt, saw greater significance in the episode, which he viewed as a symptom of an emerging dual identity within the college, a fissure that became wider in the decades that followed.[305] The widespread belief that King's College Cambridge had always been closed to all but undergraduates from its sister foundation, Eton, was in fact incorrect. However, since its extensive endowments were indeed only bestowed upon Etonians, by the nineteenth century, King's was in practice the preserve of Henry VI's other brainchild. Change came slowly after the reforms of 1856, with the first non-Eton Fellow securing election in 1873. The decision, in 1869, to admit only undergraduates intending to read for Honours, placed King's in the Cambridge vanguard (in a notably lonely position too), and created an alternative, highly intellectual, basis for an institutional identity. [306] Emerging tensions were not necessarily clear-cut: there were Etonians among the challengers to tradition, while, conversely, there were intellectuals who remained faithful to the old ways. Nonetheless, the unifying element among members of the "Best Set" was their determination to assert the supremacy of their old school. "One cannot deny that there was an Eton clique," M.R. James admitted in 1925. "I think it was inevitable, in that stage of the development of the college, that some cleavage should exist". James, who subsequently had to live with the longer-term ramifications of the feud as Provost, felt "there was no need to dwell on the phase." But he was in no doubt that "Arthur [Benson] was the most prominent figure in it."[307] There are certainly indications that Benson was capable of outbursts of antipathy towards fellow students,[308] so arbitrary that it is tempting to connect them with bouts of insecurity about his sexual identity. There are also hints that Henry Bradshaw, who was distressed by the feud, tried gently to restrain his protégé's dogmatism. ("He hasn't the advantage of being an Etonian, like you and me!" was his jovial defence of one of Benson's targets.)[309] R.W. Pfaff, biographer of M.R. James, identified another thread in the conflict: religion. James himself referred dismissively to one of the objectionable outsiders as "an Agnostic from the City of London School": the traditions that Benson's clique sought to uphold naturally included those of faith and ritual.[310] It was this underlying element that helped explain the continuation of the internal feud, through shifting alliances, after the initial protagonists had graduated. When Augustus Austen Leigh preached his first sermon as Provost in 1889, he asked: "If the reunion of Christendom seems a far off dream, is it too much to hope that within a single College the dream should become a reality? We must live together, work together, play together".[311]  In 1889, animosity even erupted into violence,[312] and the simmering continuation of internal divisions played a part in the decision of M.R. James, in 1918, to leave Cambridge altogether and return to his institutional first love, as Provost of Eton. 

Benson's role as leader of the King's College exclusives seems all the more ill-judged given that, by his third year at Cambridge, his father was Archbishop of Canterbury. In July 1884, EWB assured the Queen that the episcopal bench in the House of Lords would support the considerable extension of the franchise involved in Gladstone's Reform Bill, because it was unthinkable that "the bishops should be found against their own flocks and unwilling to trust them".[313] The contrast to his son's snobbish rejection of a small number of Kingsmen from the wrong end of the middle class seems remarkable. Furthermore, Benson's attitude could even be seen as a tacit rejection of his own father, a product of King Edward's grammar school in Birmingham, who had struggled against poverty to complete his degree at Trinity.

It seems likely that Benson's role in the internal feud left damaged his longer-term relations with King's. The days had passed when the initials "K.S." after an Eton boy's name ensured not merely admission to King's but also virtually guaranteed election to a life-long Fellowship.[314] Benson's First in Classics was not sufficiently glittering to justify his election as a Fellow on graduation, while his attempt to qualify in 1888 with an inadequate book on Archbishop Laud proved an embarrassing disaster. However, given his controversial role in what was an ongoing internal split, it may be that King's was not sorry to keep him at arm's length. In a privately circulated farewell to Eton in 1903, he censured his own slipshod research methods, and claimed that the book's "contemptuous reception ... did me nothing but good". His retrospective humility may have represented an attempt to mend fences with his old college, to pave the way for a more active association after he had settled in Cambridge. If so, the ploy failed, and  he came to feel that he was not welcome in King's, personalising it in 1910 as "a great, clever, ill-bred, doctrinaire booby," adding – in the voice now of a don at poverty-cursed Magdalene – "considering its huge endowments, it does very little for anything or anybody."[315] The criticism was framed in terms of high-minded generalisation, but the hurt sense of rejection was deeply personal. "King's, my old college, is a harsh and indifferent stepmother – no notice taken of one, no interest felt or expressed," he wrote in 1911, a trifle unfairly as he had just turned down an invitation to dine there. Happily, that particular estrangement was overcome a year before his death. "What a fool one is!," he wrote in his diary after being "received with great kindness" at his alma mater. "I had thought I was regarded with hostility at King's, and instead I am the welcome guest." Among those present that evening was Nathaniel Wedd, the agnostic from the City of London School who had so aroused the contempt of M.R. James forty years earlier.[316] But much had changed by 1924 – from global war to Benson's own descent into depressive illness. All the same, it is startling to find Benson, within a few weeks of his death in 1925, speculating on the possibility that he might be called upon to serve as Provost of his former college. After two decades of investing his identity, not to mention much of his money, in Magdalene, he still saw himself essentially as a Kingsman in exile.[317]

When Donaldson proposed him for election at Magdalene in 1904, Benson's divisive role in King's was probably still fresh in the academic memory, and this may help explain the initial lack of enthusiasm with which his name was received. Wider knowledge of the public school world had diluted his Eton exclusivity, but he seems to have had a hand in stage-managing a very similar episode in his adopted institution. In 1910, Benson (and newly recruited History don Frank Salter) took offence at the allegedly rowdy behaviour of a group of undergraduates from two East Anglian grammar schools (Wisbech, which had traditional links with Magdalene, and King's Lynn), along with offenders from three independent schools. One of these, Wellington, EWB's foundation, had pushed its way into the front rank of the public schools, but the other two – Kingswood, for the sons of Methodist ministers, and Denstone, one of the no-frills Woodard boarding schools – were definitely unfashionable. In May 1910, "some of the best twenty men" in the College – Benson's vocabulary recalls the "Best Set" of King's days – visited "the tipsy set," menacing them and apparently turning over their rooms in the process. Revealingly, too, Benson referred to the problem group as "outsiders", and characterised their leader as "a dreadful little cad". Also telling was his analysis of the spat as "a social cleavage, the big schools keeping together" and freezing out objectionable students from "provincial" schools. He even blamed the victims for their own ostracism: if they could not conduct themselves properly, "the good-natured easy-going men can't be expected to pursue them with friendship and civility".[318] Because Newsome played down Benson's role at King's and did not discuss the Magdalene episode (biographers, even in a 400-page study, cannot include everything), the similarity between the episodes has not been noticed. One difference of emphasis between the two confrontations is that, in King's, religion became a divisive issue, whereas in Magdalene the focus was more generally upon standards of personal conduct.

Benson's Crisis of November 1882

The central episode in Benson's student experience was his personal crisis of November 1882. The problem of understanding what happened is complicated by two levels of interpretation. The first is the way in which the central figure described the event and its impact upon him, including the use that he made of it in his fiction; the second is the emphasis which his biographers have placed upon the varied elements of Benson's own explanations. In 1911, he made the simple and apparently factual statement that "at Cambridge, I passed through a severe religious crisis, when the familiar beliefs seemed all broken up, my life appeared worthless and careless, and I found myself thoroughly adrift."[319] As already discussed, the episode featured in two of his books. In his 1886 embarrassing debut novel, The Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, he gave a sketchy and elusive account, noting that his alter-Benson passed through some traumatic experience, and that it happened to coincide with a revivalist mission in the town. But the author was inclined to conclude that "the coincidence of the revival is merely fortuitous," and postulated instead the break-up of a romantic friendship with a younger man.[320] However, in his 1904 novel, The House of Quiet, he gave a much fuller account of the revulsion triggered by the revivalist meeting, telling the story of the personal turmoil without reference to any homo-erotic element.[321]

Obviously, there is enough variation in the source material to permit subsequent interpreters to emphasise different potential elements. Lubbock called it a "crisis of emotion and religion," but could throw no light on the nature of the combination – which might suggest that Benson never discussed the affair with him, and that he simply relied on his friend's books and subsequent, often allusive, diary references.[322] Newsome offered a nuanced account, drawing up The House of Quiet to highlight the dramatic episode of the revivalist meeting, but weaving in the emotional shock of the collapsed male relationship.[323] More recently, Goldhill has entirely discounted any religious theme at all, stating merely that "some traumatic event happened to Benson in his rooms": he feels the need to specify the rooms as H1 King's College, but not to explore the event.[324] Goldhill proceeds to rest his re-creation of November 1882 entirely upon the account of the homo-erotic shock experienced by 'Arthur Hamilton'. It is as well to recognise openly that interpretations of any episode are filtered through the attitudes of the age in which they are formed. In the late-nineteenth century, it was highly dangerous to admit to a homosexual identity. By contrast, in the twenty-first century, most educated people will find it difficult to appreciate that, for the Victorians, loss of religious faith was a seismic and frightening experience.

It is therefore appropriate that I should summarise, at the outset of discussion, my own interpretation of what happened to Benson in November 1882. I view the episode as primarily a crisis in religious belief, triggered by a revivalist meeting in Cambridge which was conducted, unlikely though it may seem, by Ira D. Sankey, who was in town with his evangelistic partner D.L. Moody. The possibility that there was an emotional trigger, the break-up of a romantic friendship, cannot be proved and there are some reasons to treat it with caution, not least because Benson's most detailed account, in The House of Quiet, omits any such contributory factor. It is argued here that the timing of Benson's confrontation with his own religious and personal doubts should be set in the context of his awareness that his father was about to become Archbishop of Canterbury. It is frankly acknowledged that this line of argument is speculative, and open to the criticism that EWB's dark dominance over his eldest surviving son has already been heavily underlined, thus tilting the interpretation by colouring the background.

When he went to Cambridge, A.C. Benson was expected to follow his father into the Church. Lubbock called it not only "the natural prospect", but even one that was "irresistible".[325] Some of his Cambridge friends treated him with doctrinaire kid gloves as a result. J.K. Stephen was initially welcoming to the Eton freshman, but Benson was conscious that he subsequently backed off. "He was a strong Agnostic, while I at that time took a rather definitely religious line, and had the intention of reading theology and taking Orders." Stephen despised religion but "he had no wish to proselytise, or to disturb the minds of those who chose to follow a different line of thought".[326] Similarly, on his departure from Cambridge Benson was "deeply touched" when his uncle Henry Sidgwick made "a gentle apology for not having seen more of me as an undergraduate." In fact, his uncle had been generously attentive to him, but Sidgwick explained that "he had always known and felt that my father was uneasy about his possible influence on my religious views," and that he had accordingly refused to intrude.[327]  Henry Sidgwick certainly had a wary regard for his brother-in-law, while to EWB, agnostics were almost as dangerous as actors. He was alarmed to learn that his son had been invited to spend Sunday at an agnostic household – very likely the Sidgwicks – during his first month at University. "You must be on your guard and be firm," EWB counselled. The host was "a clever man ... not scrupulous as to using a sneer or sarcasm where an argument fails". Benson should insist on attending church: "after he sees you strong he will begin to respect you."[328]

EWB had feared that even Martin, the youthful paragon, would have his faith shaken at University. His second son was tacitly acknowledged to be less intellectually robust, and it is possible that he was already finding difficulties with whole-hearted acceptance of religious belief before he encountered the intellectual minefield of Cambridge. In 1880, Eton established a Mission in Hackney Wick, an industrial area of inner London. EWB later steered Benson's brother Hugh towards working there (this was before Hugh decamped for Rome), but Benson himself does not seem ever to have been contributed – although he did himself say that Hackney was "very hard to reach from Eton," so that few boys became involved.[329] (Benson taught in a Cambridge town Sunday School for a time, an activity engaged in by many undergraduates, and one that was very much approved of by EWB: "Few questions are more vital to the Church life of the xixth century in England for the masses."[330]) If Benson had doubts in his late teens, they were surely related to the death of his brother Martin in 1878. It is noticeable that he wrote very little about bereavement. In Edwardian times, he became, as the Nonconformist MP Sylvester Horne told him in 1914, "a kind of chaplain, you know, to many of us!"[331] In an era of large families and high child mortality, the death of a sibling was a very common experience. Yet Benson never chose to share his experience of losing a brother. Perhaps he was inhibited by the embarrassing fact that he did not much like Martin. But it may equally be that he had never found the consolation for himself that he might have offered to others. In his 1916 reflections on the First World War, Meanwhile – a fictional collection of letters addressed to a war widow, one of his most disappointing books – Benson mentioned bereavement just once, asserting that resilience in the face of the death of a loved-one was "a triumph, as a rule, of courtesy rather than a triumph of faith and hope."[332] This suggests that his own external coping-mechanism may have masked a greater inward turmoil.

The issues of faith and death were raised again in the summer of 1882, when Aunt Nora's brilliant brother, Francis Maitland Balfour, was killed climbing Mont Blanc. Aged thirty, a Fellow of Trinity, his work on embryology had already been recognised by the creation of a Chair in Animal Morphology shortly before his tragic mountaineering expedition. It is likely that Benson had met Balfour through the Sidgwicks. Evidently failing to see what divine purpose was achieved by eliminating the much-admired scholar who had been hailed as the successor to Darwin and Huxley, Benson appealed to EWB for guidance. In its waste of brilliant potential, F.M. Balfour's death had some overtones of the loss of Martin Benson. But whereas Martin had met his end in the serene comfort of Christian belief, Balfour was an agnostic. EWB was not sure how to construe the meaning of the Swiss tragedy either, and seemed tempted to conclude that it must have been Balfour's own fault. "It is written in nature that people must not be careless or wilful." As to Benson's perplexity at "the Spiritual problem of such Life and Death," he could only speculatively suggest that "as God cares for the holy and reverend heathen ... so also, if through the circumstances of secular development, or current of opinion, or personal circumstances, many are swept away from their standing in Christ Jesus, He will know how to deal with them also?" It was liberal and generous to accept the possibility that honest heathen might qualify for Heaven on the plea that the gospel of Christ had never reached them. But to suggest that the same argument might provide a loophole to save the soul of a Cambridge professor who had somehow failed to tune in to the message sounded like special pleading. It did not help the orthodox position that all accounts praised Balfour's personal conduct, thereby undermining EWB's conviction that agnosticism was usually "accompanied by some turning away from goodness". He could only recommend unwavering attachment to faith and hope. Yet when people are wrestling with doubt, urging them to faith and hope constitutes little more than a restatement of the original problem.[333]

Just as Benson was beginning a second year at Cambridge, there was another family tragedy.  EWB's sister Ada had been reared with the Sidgwick family after their own parents had died. She became a campaigner for women's education, founding high schools for girls in Oxford, Norwich and Bedford, after an initial venture in "detestable Surbiton". She was close to EWB, who supported her projects: he himself founded a girls' high school in Truro. (Ruth Pryor, who has memorialised her for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, comments that his "exhortations" did not always help her peace of mind – and she seems to have been prone to the family weakness of mental illness.) In the late eighteen-seventies, she considered joining an Anglican sisterhood, but EWB disapproved, and EWB's disapproval was always tantamount to a veto. Instead, in 1879, she married a fellow educationalist, Andrew McDowall. The birth of a daughter, in 1881, was followed by a collapse into depression, from which she roused herself to launch her new Bedford school, despite being pregnant again.  The arrival of a son in October 1882 was followed by puerperal peritonitis, a traditional scourge of women following childbirth. She died on 11 October 1882, a few weeks short of her forty-second birthday. "She was often with us at one time," Benson recalled. Even as a child, he was aware of tension in her relationship with his father: "she was highly strung and of a passionately affectionate disposition".[334] There is no record of the reaction of Benson's mother to the death of her childhood companion. EWB called her "upright, devout, conscientious, laborious, able Ada." Throwing in for good measure: "Bright, capable, strong, holy." He rejoiced to think of "the greatness of the instantaneous bound in knowledge that must accompany the entrance on the other life, the loving knowledge which ... must at once possess them that it is good for us as well as for them that they should leave us to sorrow for the time." EWB, of course, could not share that knowledge, "[b]ut it helps me to think not only that God sees it, but that one who was lately just like myself sees it now – sees it good for the husband, good for the little children, and knows what is good."[335] EWB's faith was bottomless in its unquestioning acceptance of tragedy. Others may have wondered how the untimely death of this clever, driven woman could be for the benefit of her husband and two babies.

Thus, by the start of his second year at Cambridge, there is good reason to assume that Benson's faith was under challenge. J.K. Stephen had held off from confrontation, but "others of his circle ... argued against religious beliefs with me with considerable impatience and even contempt".[336] Defending his position in the Chit-Chat Club probably also took its toll: 'Hugh Neville' had found his faith eroded by challenging discussions at just such an essay-reading club.[337]

Intriguingly, there is one quasi-intellectual element that does not feature in the story of Benson's re-examination of his faith. Every Cambridge undergraduate had to pass an examination, officially called the Previous but generally known as the Little-Go. This functioned as a retrospective matriculation test, a hurdle that many students failed to surmount. Basically a mishmash of elementary mathematics, Greek and Latin, it also included a generally mechanical study of William Paley's View of the Evidences of Christianity. The precise reasons why Paley had been incorporated into the curriculum, back in 1822, were perhaps assumed rather than asserted. At a practical level, many Cambridge graduates became clergymen, and the Evidences of Christianity would at least provide them with themes for Sunday sermons. More generally, its inclusion proclaimed Cambridge as a community of rational scholars – in an implicitly negative comparison with Oxford – who subscribed to the view that the truths of Christianity, as expounded in Scripture, could be confirmed by independent intellectual analysis. The problem, certainly by 1881, was that Paley fell considerably short of achieving this laudable aim. His book had appeared in 1794, well before Darwin, and at a time when no academic would have dreamed of submitting the Bible to textual scrutiny. If Benson relied upon Paley for his "rather definitely religious line," the derision of his agnostic contemporaries in King's is not altogether surprising. 

Although Benson later dated "my great misfortune"[338] to 9 November 1882, there is reason to believe that the event that triggered the crisis, attendance at a revivalist meeting, actually occurred on Wednesday 8 November, leaving him prostrate with a sense of misery and unworthiness through the days that immediately followed.[339]

The account attributed to 'Distant Cousin' in The House of Quiet is so vivid that it has been taken to reflect Benson's own experience, and is here quoted as attributed to him. The account merits extensive summary.[340] "It had been like any other day." He had attended a "dreary morning service, read huskily by a few shivering mortals in a chilly chapel," dabbled in some academic work, walked with a friend, talking of their plans for the future, before having dinner and then taking coffee with "a mild and amiable youth, now a high Church dignitary in the Colonies." (This was probably St Clair Donaldson, his Eton and Cambridge contemporary, who became Bishop of Brisbane in 1904. He was a brother of Stuart Donaldson, later Master of Magdalene.)

It was over coffee that Benson "laughingly assented" to attend revivalist meeting that was being held in "a hall in a side street". "The first item was the appearance of an assistant, who accompanied the evangelist as a sort of precentor – an immense bilious man, with black hair, and eyes surrounded by flaccid, pendant, baggy wrinkles – who came forward with an unctuous gesture, and took his place at a small harmonium, placed so near the front of the platform that it looked as if both player and instrument must inevitably topple over; it was inexpressibly ludicrous to behold." But a "few simple cords [sic]" quickly turned Benson's amused enjoyment to ashes. "I felt my eyes fill with tears" as the "simple music spoke straight to the heart." Then followed the preacher, "a heavy-looking, commonplace man, with a sturdy look and no grace of look or gesture". Benson could not recapture the details of what the man said but, after a few sentences, "I felt as if he and I were alone in the world." "After a scathing and indignant invective against sin, he turned to draw a picture of the hollow, drifting life, with feeble, mundane ambitions – utterly selfish, giving no service, making no sacrifice, tasting the moment, gliding feebly down the stream of time to the roaring cataract of death. Every word he said burnt into my soul." Benson felt the preacher was probing "the secrets of my innermost heart .... his words fell on me like stabs of a knife." After a dramatic pause, he delivered "a peroration of incredible dignity and pathos," pleading with his hearers to throw themselves at the feet of Jesus as their Saviour. "'Just accept Him,' he cried; 'in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, you may be His – nestling in His arms – with the burden of sin and selfishness nestling at His feet.'" Others crowded forward towards the platform to proclaim their salvation, but "pierced as I was to the heart by contrition and anguish, I knew that this was not for me." Benson walked out "into the night, like one dizzied by a sudden blow." A don from his college who was also leaving praised the preacher's eloquence, but Benson could not respond: "my only idea was to escape and be alone". In the days and weeks that followed, he experienced "every nervous misery known to man .... I think I was nearly mad."

The fictional biographer of 'Arthur Hamilton' "took the trouble ... to hunt up the files of a Cambridge journal" to confirm that there had been a revivalist meeting in the town at the date in question. The actual biographers of Arthur Benson have not followed this example. There was indeed a major revivalist campaign in the town that whole week, and it was headed by the American evangelists David L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey.[341] It is striking that Benson should have found himself, at that moment, so vulnerable to the oratorical tricks of a transatlantic preacher. He shared the conventional English disdain for the United States, even complaining that the Trinity historian G.T. Lapsley had "a detestable American accent," and Lapsley was a product of Harvard.[342] Benson was a natural versifier, who once entertained the unworthy thought of rhyming A.V. Dicey with "icy". It would have been far more in character for him to have mocked the expostulations of Sankey the Yankee. The House of Quiet describes neither the evangelist preacher nor his precentor as Americans – no doubt to have done so would have raised as many questions as it might answer – but he did give a clue in recording that the hymn that brought tears to his eyes was "There were Ninety-and-Nine", very much the spiritual trademark of Ira D. Sankey. (Interestingly, the Cambridge Mission of 1882 was not the first time the two Americans had targeted the English elite. They had planned a rally at Eton in 1875, which was eventually held in nearby Windsor, and attended by around two hundred Eton boys.[343] Benson was probably too junior to have been involved.)

There is a slight problem surrounding the reporting of Moody and Sankey's visit to Cambridge in November 1882. The town's weekly newspaper, the Cambridge Independent Press, was officially published every Saturday. However, it seems to have been printed, and made available, the day before. With the two evangelists holding repeated meetings all week, pressures of space and time crowded in upon reporting after Wednesday, which was November 8. Services on Thursday the ninth, and Friday the tenth were baldly reported to have been "numerously attended".  Of the services reported in some detail, the most likely to have drawn Benson was one on the Wednesday evening aimed particularly at undergraduates, although he might have attended the following evening. Since the central message was the same throughout the Mission, the description of the Wednesday service probably conveys the style and flavour of the whole week.

On the Wednesday evening, the missioners conducted three services in parallel at different venues across the town, which explains the hymn-singing prior to Sankey's arrival. "About four hundred undergraduates assembled at the Gymnasium," a facility in Market Passage (the side street of The House of Quiet), originally operated by Francis Fenner, of cricket ground fame, a short stroll from King's. While waiting for Sankey to appear, "they occupied the time in singing hymns". When Sankey arrived, it seems (the details are not clear) that he related "the story which led to the composition of the hymn" that he invited them to sing. This was almost certainly "There were Ninety-and-Nine", which Sankey had first improvised at a revivalist meeting in Edinburgh on an earlier tour of Britain – a notable achievement as he had never written a hymn tune in his life. "There were ninety and nine that safely lay / In the shelter of the fold. / But one was out on the hills away,/ Far off from the gates of gold." This was the parable of the lost sheep from St Luke's Gospel. As a housemaster at Eton, Benson would object to "standing up in public and describing myself as a frail and trembling sheep," but on this occasion the metaphor may have caught his spiritual insecurity.[344] The newspaper report also suggests that Sankey called upon the audience to sing another hymn with which he was associated: "Am I a soldier of the cross, / A follow'r of the Lamb? / And shall I fear to own His cause, / Or blush to speak His name?" That too would have hit home on a young man whose faith was under pressure from scoffing agnostics. Sankey then preached on a text from Romans x, 9-11, which ends with the words: "Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."

Sankey's words merit extensive quotation: "he spoke on believing and confessing. He maintained that half the people unsaved remained so because they lacked the moral courage to act up to their convictions. Believing in Christ was one thing, but confessing him was another; that was equally essential to salvation. No one could make a stand and confess Christ without influencing others. And the greatest block in the way of confession was prejudice. It was the stone at the door of the sepulchre. If we were ashamed of the religion of Christ, he would be ashamed of us." In his peroration, Sankey "earnestly exhorted men to confess Christ and to make a stand for him. He believed hundreds of men fell when they came to Cambridge, because they failed to make a stand." It could almost have been those words of EWB urging his son to resist the subtle pressures of an agnostic host: "You must be on your guard and be firm ... after he sees you strong he will begin to respect you."[345] Sankey's message was clothed in similar language. "The way to Jesus was a straight road; but across that road lay a cross, which everybody must pick up. Let them take up that cross, make a confession of Christ, and there would go from the University men who would be a blessing to the world." It seems likely that it was these words that "pierced" Benson with "contrition and anguish." He could not pick up that cross: "I knew that this was not for me."

"I had had a bad shock."

What, then, had brought about this unexpectedly seismic reaction? He realised that the attack had not come entirely without warning. Benson had been working too hard, throwing himself "with unaccustomed energy into a hundred new ideas and speculations" – an allusion perhaps to the challenges to his faith from those around him. He had experienced "a sudden attack of sleeplessness" which he should have seen as a harbinger of trouble.[346] (Insomnia is a feature of bipolar disorder, but it is of course associated with many other conditions.) As already noted, in The Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, the author, 'Christopher Carr', argued that "the coincidence of the [religious] revival is merely fortuitous," and outlined an alternative trigger, "some emotional failure, some moral wound" which involved "treading some rather delicate ground." "He had formed, in his last year at school, a very devoted friendship with a younger boy," a relationship that was "truly chivalrous and absolutely pure ... noble, refining, true; passion at white heat without taint". It involved a mutual confidence and trust "of so intimate a kind as can not even exist between husband and wife" – a relationship of which Benson was hardly qualified to speak. They continued to correspond, as undergraduate and schoolboy, letters that on 'Arthur's' side were "so passionate in expression, that for fear of even causing uneasiness, not to speak of suspicion, I will not quote them." Unbeknown to 'Arthur', his young friend, "a weak, but singularly attractive boy," had fallen in with "a bad set" at school. He joined 'Arthur' at Cambridge three years later, "and fell in with a thoroughly bad set there." "Arthur seems not to have suspected it at first, and to have delighted in his friend's society," but "disclosures were made on November 8," which caused 'Arthur' to feel "agony, disgust, and rage (his words and feelings about sensuality of any kind were strangely keen and bitter)". His young friend was "deliberately impure .... an unworthy and brutal nature, utterly corrupted at bottom".[347]

It seems likely that the 'Arthur Hamilton' story reflects some crisis in Benson's own life, probably associated with sexual identity. As Goldhill points out, there were "silencing forces" that inhibited even a self-revelatory personality from offering explicit detail – not least the absence of any accepted vocabulary to define behaviour dismissed under the overall terminology of impurity.[348] Even if there is a core of truth in the story, most of the presentational details were – no doubt deliberately – obscured. The two young men in the novel were products of Winchester, not Eton, while 'Arthur Hamilton' was at Trinity, not King's. There is no evidence of Benson having any kind of friendship with an undergraduate who came up in 1884, the three year gap of the novel. It is true that school ties remained strong, even at Cambridge. J.K. Stephen wrote to the schoolboy Benson from King's; Benson himself sent a freshman's ponderous congratulations to M.R. James on his excellent influence upon the school.[349] Stephen would sometimes belabour Benson "for not answering his letters more promptly and fully," but it a long step from recognising the intensity of such personal correspondence to believing that youngsters would risk the discovery of confessions of passion.

Goldhill's silencing forces can of course be extended beyond Benson himself. The author might have revealed a relationship that others regarded as unworthy and impure, but it would have been a particularly nasty form of revenge to have hinted at the identity of the corrupted comrade. This particular restraint is unfortunate, since to accord any measure of credence to the 'Arthur Hamilton' story, it is necessary to suggest at least some potential candidates for the other half of the relationship. In addition, there are reasons to doubt whether Benson would have been so dangerously self-revelatory in a novel of 1886, published when he had just joined the staff at Eton. William Johnson (later Cory) had been forced to resign from the school in 1872, allegedly for writing just the sort of indiscreet letter to a pupil that  'Christopher Carr' claimed to have destroyed as part of the 'Arthur Hamilton' saga. Three years later, Oscar Browning had been dismissed for various offences, although the official charge against him masking a suspected homo-erotic culture that he fostered.[350] The Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton was published anonymously, but Edward Lyttelton, house-sharing with Benson at Eton, was in no doubt as to his authorship, and the voluminous proofs that accompanied  authorial efforts would have made it hard to keep his work secret.[351] During his first year as a master, Benson was effectively on probation. He recalled being summoned by the Lower Master, "Jimmy" Joynes – modern jargon would call him Benson's line manager – after his class sat their initial round of school examinations. There was a preliminary compliment about "my pleasant relations with the boys" followed by a gentle but telling rebuke that "these must not be won at the cost of firm and definite teaching."[352] All in all, it would have been a particularly bad moment for Benson to have published a novel signalling that he was susceptible to boy love, and it may be preferable to regard the episode as one of the narrative sweepings that Edward Lyttelton thought so untidily and implausibly thrown together. And it should not be forgotten that in The House of Quiet, Benson wrote a vivid account of 'Distant Cousin's' religious crisis without any emotional dimension at all.

But there are also shreds of evidence that point the other way. Confronting his renewed depression in 1907, he wrote: "I was fully as bad as this in 1882, at the time of the Cambridge Mission, but then I had had a bad shock."[353] The shock might perhaps have been the death of his aunt, Ada McDowell, but we should also note that Cardinal Newman, whom he somewhat implausibly approached, also seems to have suspected some unspecified and unconfessed immorality. This would seem to render unlikely Newsome's suggestion that the Memoir of Arthur Hamilton perhaps conflated two events, the religious upheaval of 1882 and the breakdown of an emotional friendship a year later. Moreover, as Newsome acknowledged, "no confidence can be placed in any of the details of the Memoir to assist identification."[354] A more serious problem would seem to be the apparent lack of any clues in Benson's diary. The two scholars, Newsome and Goldhill, who have ploughed through its millions of words, have not solved the mystery. M.R. James, apparently the only Etonian to enter King's in October 1882, is totally impossible as a candidate for a wicked life. But something may be hazarded if we choose to regard the 'younger boy' element as a smokescreen, and that something was called Henry Cockayne Cust.[355] Harry Cust was an exact contemporary of Benson, both at Eton and Cambridge. Intriguingly, Benson's obituary in The Times singled out Cust as a friend, even though their lives had long since diverged.[356] Benson had certainly been attracted to him, noting in later years – on encountering Cust, who was by then burning his candles at both ends  – "oh dear me, my heart beats no longer at the sight of him, as it would have done long ago." Newsome identifies Benson's poem "Utrumque Nostrum," as a tribute to his friendship with Cust. It says of their time together at Eton: "Finding each for the other made,  / I the scabbard and you the blade; / Not that we spoke of it save to joke of it".[357] The modern reader will so instinctively read this as an allusion to buggery that it must surely be interpreted as an example of Benson's innocence, not of his experience.

Unlike Benson, Cust was elected to the Apostles. They sat the Classical Tripos together in 1884, but Cust failed to get a First. However, his academic record proved less noteworthy than his rampant heterosexuality. Cust was a cuckolding cuckoo, who cut a reputedly wide swathe through the bedrooms of the upper classes.[358] Perhaps Cust did indeed reveal to Benson one November evening something of his sexual adventures during the Long Vacation of 1882. A friendship that collapsed just before 8 November can only have involved a student in another college. Within King's, with its grassy precinct and riverside of trees and snapdragons, friends would have shared midnight strolls and shared confidences well before the third week of term. Throughout his life, Benson appears to have little comprehension and definitely no enthusiasm for the mechanics of heterosexual intercourse.[359] If Cust did indeed choose to regale him with delights of penetrating housemaids, or proclaim the irrelevance of the marriage bond, the physical and psychological impact upon Benson could well have been nauseously violent. Maybe we can discern something of this in Benson's later description of Cust as "nothing but a crumpled rose leaf," with its echo of Blake's evocation of corruption in "O rose, thou art sick". "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer," Benson's apostrophe of his one-time friend, certainly hints at some dramatic act of wickedness.[360] But to have attributed the moral downfall, in 1886, to a school and college contemporary would have been to invite censure for so obvious an accusation against an all-too live personality. Hence the transmutation of the fallen idol into the persona of a younger boy, led astray by others. We can only guess at the nature of any revelations Cust may have made about his summer sexual adventures, but there may be a parallel with EWB's disgusted response – and career crisis – to the vacation fornicators of Wellington College a decade earlier.        

Canterbury Bells, 1882[361]

However, another possible trigger may be suggested for Benson's sudden and overwhelming sense of unworthiness, one that could not be masked for inclusion in any novel. By November 1882, the great and enveloping shock in Benson's life was the increasing likelihood that his father was about to become Archbishop of Canterbury, with all the pressures that this elevation would create for his eldest surviving son. Archibald Campbell Tait, Primate of All England, was seriously ill early in September 1882.[362] In circumstances discussed below, Gladstone had already privately resolved by 3 September that his successor should be the bishop of Truro.[363] In fact, Tait rallied, and Gladstone had some second thoughts. The Archbishop himself was in no doubt, either about his hold on life, or regarding the desirability of EWB as his eventual successor. "The Bishop of Truro will come forward and do a great work," he told his household.[364] At the end of September, Tait invited the Benson family to visit him Addington, where he was convalescing. (He had already allocated EWB rooms in Lambeth Palace, a sort of London pied-à-terre, even though the bishop of Truro had no seat in the House of Lords, and so had no reason for frequent visits to the capital.) The Archbishop was too weak to receive the Benson family, and EWB said nothing about his own long bedside interview with the failing Primate. Years later, Benson would recall that on driving through the grounds, "I had a sudden and profound intuition, of a kind I have never experienced before or since, that it was very soon to be our home."[365] This may have been an over-dramatisation: it did not require a particularly deep acquaintance with ecclesiastical politics to grasp that EWB was likely to be in the frame when Canterbury fell vacant. On 20 November, the cable news agencies announced that Tait had suffered a relapse. He died on 3 December. Gladstone offered the succession to EWB by letter on 16 December, an offer that he announced to a specially convened family meeting the following morning. "I myself was not unprepared for it, as I had been told at Cambridge that many people believed it would be offered to him."[366] Rumours about Canterbury had evidently been in circulation and, given the overlap between academic politics and clerical careers, it is no surprise either that Cambridge was interested in the prospects, and moderately well informed about the potential candidates. "For months before the Archbishop's death, many of the foremost leaders in Church and State had been considering the question of his successor," wrote the biographer of Randall Davidson, Tait's son-in-law and personal chaplain, who did his best to block EWB's elevation.[367] Fellows of King's would have been close to such elite gossip, and ready to relay it to the son of an emerging candidate.

To put the matter in managerial jargon, EWB was catapulted into contention for Canterbury because the Church of England had failed to ensure regular recycling of senior personnel and recruitment of fresh leadership talent. In 1882, there were 32 Anglican bishops in the two provinces of Canterbury and York. Four dioceses, including Truro, had been created since 1876. Nine bishops had been appointed before 1865: the oldest, the 84 year-old Ollivant of Llandaff, died the day EWB was offered the Primacy. A further ten had been elevated in a burst of vacancies between 1867 and 1870. The cumulative result was a bad case of see-blocking. Nine bishops were over seventy, many were worn out by their responsibilities, while some had undoubtedly never been cut out for administration, or for saintly and scholarly leadership. Only five bishops were younger than sixty, all of them, EWB included, appointed in the previous five years. The fact that the bishop of Truro had not yet taken his seat in the Lords – where the episcopate had 26 places – underlines how slow was the process of change at the top.

A brief excursion into the politics of the succession will demonstrate how the situation would probably have been regarded among the well-informed Fellows of King's, and relayed to Benson. On 3 September 1882, believing Tait to be dying, Gladstone set out the options in a letter to Gerald Wellesley, the Dean of Windsor. Nephew of the great Duke of Wellington, Wellesley was an astute advisor on patronage matters. More to the point, he was good at managing the Queen, who sometimes had strong views of her own about the selection of bishops. In the event, Tait rallied, Gladstone did not send his letter, and it was Wellesley who died just days later. However, the draft reveals the prime minister's line of argument.  He had earlier favoured the appointment of the bishop of Winchester, Harold Browne, who had almost two decades' experience.[368] But Gladstone now felt that Browne's age was "a grave objection .... it is too much to expect at 71 a vigorous start in the duties of a new and grave office." (The premier, himself a year older, was entitled to an informed opinion.) This, in Gladstone's view, effectively narrowed the choice to two younger bishops, EWB and J.B. Lightfoot of Durham. By coincidence, the two were not only close friends, but near-contemporaries at King Edward's Birmingham and Trinity College Cambridge. Lightfoot's appointment to Durham, in 1879, had been a surprise move from his previous post as a Cambridge professor of divinity. He had proved unexpectedly successful in moving from sitting at a desk to running a diocese, but it would have been a further gamble to place him at the head of the Anglican Communion.  "Both are excellent and liberal-minded men," Gladstone concluded, but Benson won out on almost every heading, from "dignity," through "the proof given of organising power" to his acceptability to all parties within the Church. Lightfoot was admittedly the superior theologian, but – the prime minister uncharitably observed – deficiency in divinity had not troubled Tait, and no archbishop since William Laud could "be expected to govern the thought of the Church."[369] (These last two points eluded Punch, which pictured the High Church party celebrating EWB's promotion as guaranteeing them the Church "by Laud established."[370])

The choice for Canterbury really was as narrow as Gladstone laid out. No doubt other bishops might have been considered if all else failed. Temple, for instance, who would eventually succeed EWB, had been a controversial appointment to Exeter in 1869, and the suspicion of heresy still hovered around him. Gladstone's private secretary, E.W. Hamilton, dismissed him as "hardly eligible". James Woodford of Ely was an energetic diocesan in his early sixties, but Hamilton felt his appointment "might perhaps be too venturesome," and the lack of a wife would have restricted his activities.[371] William Thomson, the Archbishop of York, was the same age, but speculation tacitly drew a veil over his name. Some felt that Gladstone should go beyond the episcopate, but the only plausible candidate, the Dean of St Paul's, R.W. Church, had firmly ruled himself out on health grounds.[372] Browne would have liked the glory, but frankly accepted that "in a year or two I might have failed. ... Gladstone was quite right to pass by an antiquity like myself for the youth and vigour of Benson."[373] But there would have been more than just the argument of faute de mieux. As a devout Anglican leading an increasingly radical Liberal party, Gladstone could foresee that the campaign for disestablishment would represent the greatest external threat to the position of the Church.

The selection of EWB was still not a done deal when the anticipated vacancy became official early in December. Back channels informed the Queen that Tait himself wanted Browne to be appointed, with EWB next in line. In fact, Tait had declined to commit himself to any such formal recommendation, realising that no archbishop had the right to appoint his successor, let alone his successor's successor. Her Majesty did initially object to Gladstone's nomination of EWB, predicting that advancing a man of 53 "above all the other bishops would create a very bad and angry feeling". But her suggestion that Browne "could resign in two years if he were unable to go on" really clinched the matter: if the choice was between Truro in 1883 and Truro in 1885, it made sense to leap a generation and go for EWB right away.[374] The Queen in fact struck her colours the following day, accepting Browne was "too old".[375] Mrs Browne (no Mrs Proudie, she) indicated doubts about her husband's ability to survive the primate's workload. The Bishop of Chester, William Jacobson, contributed the handy thought that EWB had "done so much and so well in organising a new diocese ... that the number of his years can hardly be considered as a reasonable objection". Dean Lake of Durham offered the blunt reflection that the argument over age cut both ways: even if his colleagues did not like EWB, "a very few years may probably see an important accession of younger Bishops to the Bench."[376]   Faced with the inevitability of EWB, the Queen quickly reminded herself that Albert had approved of his work at Wellington, and weighed in with a personal appeal to EWB to take the job.[377]

By placing Benson's crisis in the context of what seemed to be EWB's inexorable rise to the archbishopric, we may begin to appreciate the pressure upon him. The deaths of Frank Balfour, on the verge of a brilliant career at the age of 30, and of his aunt Ada McDowall, at 42 and leaving two motherless infants, further undermined the notion of a benign providence. He had probably not come to terms with the death of his brother Martin. He would also have been conscious that he lacked both Martin's intellect and his piety, and he found himself forced to defend his beliefs in the formidably agnostic environment of King's, an experience that had undermined the faith of his alter-Benson, 'Hugh Neville'.[378] As the son of an Anglican bishop, expected to proceed to a career in the Church himself, Benson was already a target for conversion. The oncoming likelihood that he would shortly become part of the First Family of the Anglican Communion can only have been daunting, the more so as, to extend the terminology of Washington DC, he seemed all too likely to subside into the role of a bewildered First Prodigal Son. On the face of it, caught between agnostic intellectualism and theological spirituality, Benson ought to have proved immune to the heart-tugging oratory of an American evangelist. But EWB not only aimed to involve laity as a key part of his church network in the Truro diocese, but hoped to turn the Salvation Army into a guerrilla wing of the Church of England. When Benson eavesdropped on a Salvation Army service in 1902, he found it "very poor". "It was all 'Come to Jesus and be saved' ... but it didn't say what you were supposed to do afterwards – go around and sing hymns I suppose."[379] But, twenty years earlier, he would have been much more aware of EWB's apparent belief that simple truths could emerge from simple mouths.[380] Derision was not an option when Sankey invited him to come to Jesus and be saved. Placing Benson's November 1882 crisis in the context of EWB's elevation to the Primacy may paradoxically also explain why 'Arthur Hamilton' had to suffer the trauma of the collapse of a romantic friendship. Even for so unimaginatively autobiographical novelist as Benson, it would have been impossible to attributed the central character's unhappiness to the awesome prospect that his father was about to become the spiritual leader of the national Church. 'Arthur Hamilton' was the son of an army officer, who shared some similarities with EWB, "a domestic tyrant, without intending to be. ... He disliked his father, and feared him." It may be significant that 'Arthur Hamilton' also sought to evade his father's insistence that he should go into the Church.[381]

It is possible to object to the hypothesis that it was his father's career that triggered the crisis of early November 1882, by pointing out that the issue of the succession to Tait had peaked two months earlier, during the archbishop's illness in late August and early September, and did not recur as a headline issue until the Primate's death at the beginning of December. But speculation about Canterbury was linked not to expectations of Tait's death, but to a widespread belief that he was about to resign. When Tait had fallen ill in late August 1882, Gladstone's private secretary, E.W. Hamilton, noted that there had been rumours that he intended to resign, "and it is thought that this attack will probably make him fulfil his intention."[382] The Benson family's visit to Addington in September was part of an attempt by the stricken archbishop to ensure an orderly transfer of his office. It is likely that Tait wished to discuss with EWB the upcoming Church Congress, which met at Derby on 3 October 1882. Delegates prayed for the archbishop's recovery, with the Bishop of Lichfield declaring that "the Church of England could ill afford to lose that large heart, that powerful intellect, and that statesmanlike capacity". In fact, the Congress managed well enough without Tait, perhaps because its opening preacher was the bishop of Truro.[383]       

The resumption of parliament in mid-October soon demonstrated the inconvenience of the archbishop's absence from public life.  A small and apparently bizarre issue highlighted the problem. The Reverend S.F. Green was the incumbent of an Anglo-Catholic church at Miles Platting in Manchester. His devotion to ritualism led him into conscientious defiance of the Church authorities which, given the overlap between Church and State, had resulted in his imprisonment for contempt of court. Tait was keen to have him freed, partly out of sympathy – not so much with his practices or his defiance, but rather on the grounds that he had been targeted as a test case – but also to rob him of his doggedly-claimed crown of martyrdom. During the 1881-2 session, the House of Commons quietly buried a bill steered by Tait through the upper house, which would have created a means to release Green. The Archbishop of York now left the issue severely alone. Green's diocesan, James Fraser of Manchester, talked of resigning to allow a successor to sort out the mess. No other bishop had the standing to tackle the issue: only Canterbury was qualified to see the issue as one affecting the Church as a whole.   

However, in Tait's absence, no right reverend prelate would broach the issue in parliament. The archbishop's solution was to write to the Marquess of Salisbury, pleading that he was "quite unable to be present in the House of Lords," and asking him to raise Green's predicament "avowedly at my request."[384] This Lord Salisbury did on 26 October.[385] The approach was perhaps a manoeuvre by Tait to force Archbishop Thomson to take action, but Ebor sat tight, and parliament witnessed the curious spectacle of the leader of the Conservative party raising an ecclesiastical question with the Liberal government. Mindful of their Nonconformist support, Gladstone's ministers had not the slightest intention of intervening. In fact, Tait was able, from his sickbed, to orchestrate a resolution of the impasse. Green was declared to have resigned Miles Platting by going to prison (and obstinately staying there). Bishop Fraser was thus enabled (and persuaded) to ask the courts to ignore his refusal to give guarantees about his future behaviour, since he no longer had a benefice to give assurances about.[386]

Green walked free, but Tait's absence from the Upper House had left the Church looking paralysed. It is likely that the episode renewed speculation that the archbishop would have to step down. Interestingly, one on Britain's telegraphic news agency, the Press Association, had issued a wire report on November 4 that Tait would "shortly resign on account of ill health". This was published overseas,[387] and there is absolutely no evidence that Benson could have known about, since the report was apparently ignored by British newspapers. However, it is unlikely that a trusted wire service would have invented such a story. It probably originated in London Club gossip, and from lobby speculation at Westminster, sources that would quickly reach Cambridge High Tables – and be passed down to interested parties like Benson, on the eve of the Cambridge Mission and his crisis of November 8.

"...every nervous misery known to man" 

"I awoke at some dim hour of the night in the clutch of insupportable fear". The account by 'Distant Cousin' of the exhausted and desperate hours that followed the revivalist meeting undoubtedly portrays something of Benson's misery, leading to the "physical and nervous suffering" of the weeks ahead.[388] It may seem unfeeling to ask: how bad was Benson's suffering? – how could anybody but Benson himself really know? – but in a biographical assessment, two questions need to be resolved. First, should we call the episode a "breakdown" and, second (and closely related) was it comparable to the bouts of mental illness that led to prolonged nursing home care in 1907 and from 1917? Benson himself, as already quoted, regarded his pain in 1907 as equal to that of 1882.[389] The difference in treatment may simply reflect the fact that he sought spiritual support in the first episode and called upon medical help in the later crises. Enough can be recovered to indicate that he did not collapse completely: he played football on 25 November, acted in the Greek play (which must have required extensive rehearsals) early in December, and – at some point – was able to travel to London to ask for the help of his father's friend G.H. Wilkinson. It was the random nature of his attacks that struck 'Distant Cousin'. "Sometimes my depression would leave me for a few hours, like a cat playing with a mouse, and leap upon me in the middle of some social gathering or harmless distraction, striking the word from my lips and the smile from my face."   "I recollect going down with some friends, in a brief lull of misery, to watch a football match, when the horror seized me in the middle of a cheerful talk with such vehemence, that I could only rush off with a muttered word, and return to my rooms, in which I immured myself to spend an hour in agony of prayer." On another occasion, following a lull in torment that had lasted for several days, "out of the secret darkness the terror leapt upon me" as he was relaxing with friends after Hall. "I hurried away, having just enough self-respect to glance at my watch, and mutter something about a forgotten appointment." One of his worst experiences came during a walk with a friend on "a murky November afternoon" (not a time when Cambridge is at its most cheerful) where they crossed a railway line and Benson felt an overwhelming urge to throw himself under an oncoming train.[390]

A brief passage in an essay written over twenty years later may throw light on his mental turmoil in 1882. Benson wrote that "the sense of sin is a terribly complicated one, because it seems to be made up partly of an inner sense of transgression, a sense of failure, a consciousness that we have acted unworthily, meanly, miserably." The trigger for this arraignment of the soul might lie in "acts, which may be in themselves trifling", but it might also be the product of "a conventional instinct which considers certain things to be abominable, which are not necessarily in themselves sinful, because it is the custom of the world to consider them so." The insight is – perhaps necessarily – opaque, but it adds weight to the interpretation that sees a crisis of sexual identity as part of Benson's crisis of unworthiness.[391] Recovery from this "aching frost of the soul" was gradual, hard won from "little encouraging incidents ... an article accepted by a magazine ... an athletic victory, raised me step by step out of the gloom."[392] M.R. James recalled that there was "a good deal of his writing, prose and poems" published in the Cambridge Review. No doubt some of it could be identified, although the only piece that James could recall forty years later, Benson's "advice to a Freshman entering the University of Bagdad," should perhaps be left undisturbed.[393] As already noted, he took pride in having captained a King's soccer team (given the small size of the college, it was probable consisted of the only eleven players could be fielded), and recalled his footballing days with great pleasure.[394] Doubt has already been cast upon Newsome's suggestion that he briefly entered the County Lunatic Asylum at Fulbourn. Overall, the evidence suggests that it was mental anguish and not physical prostration that characterised his bad patches.

The allusion by 'Distant Cousin' to "agony of prayer" is revealing. This was a crisis of belief that Benson knew he had to solve within a context of faith. "I read my Bible incessantly, and prayed for the hour together," wrote 'Distant Cousin'.[395] Benson did not throw himself on the mercies, such as they might have been, of agnostic King's. It might be tempting to conclude that, in the long run, he would have been happier had he followed his uncle Henry Sidgwick and discarded the entire structure of religion. But it is doubtful whether the adoption of full-scale atheism would have counteracted Benson's innate (and certainly inherited) towards debilitating bouts of depression, while Sidgwick never found joy in his doubts, and certainly could not be termed, in the modern sense, a Humanist. In any case, he would have been too much in awe of EWB to attempt to poach his son.[396] Moreover, Benson had too great a need of the externals of worship, its pomp, music and atmosphere, to abandon the Church altogether. It helped that the chapel of his college was one of the glories of European architecture. "I used to steal at even-song into the dark nave of King's chapel," 'Distant Cousin' recalled, where "the flood of subdued light overflowing from the choir" would be accompanied by "freshets of harmony" that "fell like showers upon the arid sense." The acoustics of King's chapel were unique: "the echo lingers without blurring the successive chord".[397] There was no way Benson could give that up.

It is noteworthy that Benson did not find, and maybe did not seek, comfort within Cambridge itself. His Tutor, G.W. Prothero, belonged to the new breed of don that did not take holy orders, and Benson found him unsympathetic anyway. Benson had been entrusted to the care of his father's friend Henry Bradshaw, another notable layman, but nobody seemed to know whether Bradshaw was a believer or not. Notoriously indecisive, he would convey the charming impression of agreeing with every interlocutor. Bradshaw's "innate modesty and diffidence" even inhibited him from expressing an opinion upon Darwin.[398] But Cambridge was stuffed with clergymen: many had respectable qualifications in theology and most were accustomed to dealing with young men. In his own college, J.E.C. Welldon would soon depart for a headmastership, but in November 1882 he was available, and Benson liked him. Equally, it might have been assumed that Benson had reached a crossroads in his life where he badly needed to sit down with his father, overcome his fearful dislike of EWB, and talk, deeply and intimately, about Martin's death, and the meaning of the universe. Of course, Canterbury would have overshadowed any such discussion, and Benson would have been aware of the ruthlessness of EWB's priorities. He had pleaded the needs of his family when he had refused the bishopric of Calcutta in 1876, because he did not wish to go to India, but no such concern had impeded his determination to go to Lincoln three years earlier.

In fact, there is reason to assume that father and son did discuss the crisis in the younger man's life, and – for all the pressures upon him – EWB may have come to Cambridge specially, at least briefly to put a father's duty before an ecclesiastical career. In November 1882, there was a by-election for one of the two Cambridge University parliamentary seats. Since the electorate comprised all Masters of Arts, irrespective of their place of residence, the University seats invariably returned Conservatives on the back of a huge clerical vote. The 1882 by-election was unusual in that the Liberals bothered to field a candidate, but there was no chance that he would win. Paradoxically, EWB's decision to travel from Truro (he may already have been committed to a meeting in London) to show his Tory colours may have helped in his appointment to the archbishopric, since it demonstrated that Gladstone had definitely not chosen him as a political appointee.[399] Polling for the University seat took place between 23 and 28 November: EWB was a guest at Peterhouse Master's Lodge on November 25th.[400] The by-election may simply have been coincidence, but it is surely more likely to have provided a cover story to obscure the real reason for EWB's sudden appearance in Cambridge. It seems reasonable to assume that, sometime during the two weeks after the Cambridge Mission, EWB would have heard – either from Benson himself or through concerned intermediaries – that his son was in mental and emotional turmoil. Having failed to spot the warning signs that had preceded the death of his beloved Martin, it would have been fully understandable that he would have taken the first opportunity, or pretext, to offer succour to Arthur. Even if his appearance in Cambridge was purely fortuitous, EWB would have been remarkably obtuse not to have observed that his son was in distress.

At this point in what can only be a speculative reconstruction of the events of November 1882, we need to recall that Benson himself controlled what we know or may reasonably guess happened, through the two fictional accounts of his personal trauma, two biographical studies of his father, and an essay about G.H. Wilkinson, in whose counsel he eventually found some solace. From the clues given about EWB's visit to Cambridge, it seems likely that father and son talked about the latter's spiritual doubts. From the total silence in any of Benson's records about the nature of their discussion, one can only conclude the encounter was not a success. (The only other possible hypothesis, that EWB announced that he had no space in his schedule to discuss his son's problems, and – by implication – that Benson must pull himself together, is surely too awful to consider.) 

The problem with any discussion about religion with EWB – apart from his masterful personality, which is unlikely to have brooked dissent within his own family anyway – was that his faith was so profound that he could not communicate with anybody who failed to share the intensity his feelings. In 1878, he had told new communicants at a confirmation service at Redruth that they would encounter "trials and difficulties ... sorrows and disappointments; but they would find that God did not allow His people to encounter hardships alone."[401] This kind of attitude could have offered little comfort to Benson at a time when he felt that his prayers "seemed to batter ... like waves against a stony and obdurate cliff".[402] It is only fair to note that EWB was in the grip of grief himself, at the loss of his sister.[403] Characteristically, his letter to their brother, Christopher (the invalid who lived in Germany) could be summed up as arguing that where blind faith failed to produce comprehension, the answer was more blind faith. In his diary, he described "the strange sky" at Ada's funeral, "in which one seemed to see grand figures seated in long lines on either side of a saffron rift in the clouds, the throned forms paling away as the flush deepened towards one central figure". For some reason, this sky brought to mind a verse from the Book of Job: "He woundeth and his hands make whole."[404] It was profound, it was poetic, but it is hard to see in it a message of reassurance to a young man in mental turmoil, confronted by blacker clouds of misery. Fundamentally, EWB simply could not deal with unbelief. Addressing the Truro branch of the Young Men's Christian Association in 1878, he poured scorn on those who dabbled with the dangerous theories of Huxley, Darwin and Herbert Spencer: "the unhappy youth takes them and reduces them and brings them all to bear in his mind" where they resonate as "mere destructive atoms". As a result, "poor fellow, when he begins to think about his Bible, all these theories are present in his mind at once, and he becomes what is called a doubter". For any young man who might have fallen into that intellectual slough, their bishop could provide the killer punch that shattered all arguments for agnosticism. Doubt, he gravely pronounced, "is just as much belief as faith is".[405] Sneering might have seemed an attractive episcopal strategy when talking down to the apprentices and shop assistants of a remote provincial town. EWB's superficial derision was unlikely to cut much ice in the powerful intellectual atmosphere of sceptical Cambridge.

 The hypothesis of an unsuccessful discussion with EWB around 25 November 1882 could supply a link that would help make sense of what can only be regarded as the most bizarre incident in Benson's personal crisis. Looking back thirty years later, even he seemed amazed at his behaviour. "It seems strange now to recall what I did. I had been much moved by a sermon of Newman's, and I wrote him in my bewilderment a despondent letter, saying that I was not of his communion and did not seek to be; but could he resolve my perplexities?"[406] The slightly disguised account in The House of Quiet, which referred to "an eminent Roman Catholic", indicates that the approach was not made in the immediate aftermath of the shock of 8 November 1882,[407] which would also fit with its being a reaction to EWB's visit. Benson called his action "strange": in reality, it was almost incredible. John Henry Newman was perhaps the most controversial religious figure in nineteenth-century England, certainly in the eyes of Anglicans, whose Church he had deserted in a memorable defection to Rome. It had been EWB's friend Charles Kingsley – the family's neighbour in Wellington days – who had charged Newman with indifference to the truth, thereby provoking the Apologia, the spiritual autobiography with which Benson would become familiar.[408] As argued above, Benson had known since the family visit to Addington earlier in the autumn that his father was likely to become archbishop at some future vacancy. In the weeks that followed, he was aware of speculation that the chances of EWB's appointment were increasing, and that the prospect was coming closer. To appeal to Newman at that point was tantamount to attempting to sabotage his father's career. Did he perhaps expect, even hope, that his initiative would become public? There can be little doubt that the defection to Rome of Benson's youngest brother, Hugh, was a posthumous gesture of defiance: Goldhill neatly summarises Hugh's religious writings as "always arguing with the father he could never challenge alive."[409] In his mental agony of 1882, Benson too appears to have risked what could only have been, in Anglican terms, the nuclear option in appealing to Cardinal Newman.

The upshot was a humiliating anticlimax. Newman did indeed reply, but in "a severe and peremptory letter, almost menacing in tone, telling me to rouse myself and live more strictly."[410] 'Distant Cousin' elaborated on the contents: "my only way was to submit myself to true direction, and he did not see that I had any intention of doing this; that it was obvious that I was being plagued for some sin that I had not ventured to open to him."[411] Newman's response is understandable, even defensible. If it seemed "hard, irritated, and bewildered," it is only fair to remember that the writer was eighty-one, and in poor health. He may have resented being treated as an ecumenical agony uncle.[412] Newman's mission was to win souls for the Catholic Church, but, in this case, it surely made sense to set the bar high. It would not have been difficult to identify the young man from King's College Cambridge as the son of a rising Anglican bishop: Benson may well have introduced himself in his letter. To lead such a prize step by step towards Rome would have been a triumph indeed, but it was as well to guard against allegations of poaching. If the Cardinal was indeed playing for high stakes, his ploy rebounded. "I burnt the letter with a hopeless shudder."[413] In 1905, Benson would take his revenge on the man who had spurned him in the crisis of his life. "One cannot help feeling that had Newman been a Pharisee, he would have been, with his love of precedent, and antiquity, and tradition, one of the most determined and deadly opponents of the spirit of Christ.... Newman was a true fanatic, and the most dangerous of fanatics, because his character was based on innocence and tenderness and instinctive virtue."[414] And, in 1923, he finally settled scores with the intimidating figure of EWB himself, condemning his acceptance of Canterbury as the great mistake of his life. "He yielded perhaps to what had always been a temptation to him, the love of ruling."[415]

At the same time as his appeal to Newman, Benson also approached the man who did help him towards a calmer frame of mind.  George Howard Wilkinson was a semi-detached member of EWB's Truro team. Indeed, his role, as Examining Chaplain, was to provide an external element in diocesan clergy training. EWB made him a canon of the emerging cathedral. His stall might have been appropriately dedicated to the Great Western Railway, for Wilkinson was based in London, where he was vicar of the fashionable church of St Peter's, Eaton Square.[416] (He would succeed EWB as bishop of Truro in 1883, but resigned after eight years.) Benson had fallen under his spell as a schoolboy, on the basis of a single walk together during one of Wilkinson's visits, which left him feeling "that a bond had been forged between us, and that he was in the truest sense a spiritual father and friend."[417] Benson made an appointment to see him, perhaps on his way home to Cornwall at the end of term, in December 1882.[418] The visit did not begin well. The vicarage was "a dark house" near Grosvenor Square, a dismal building to encounter on a foggy morning. Benson was shown into "a gloomy room, which reminded me of the consulting-room of a physician." He shared it with a heavily veiled woman, "in obvious trouble of mind." Benson was apprehensive, expecting "to be taken to task for all my doubts and troubles". But the moment he stepped into Wilkinson's study, everything changed. "Never was there such a relief! ... he told me to do anything but brood over my anxieties." Study hard, play hard, avoid theological treatises and religious disputation – that was the core of Wilkinson's advice, which was accompanied by the gift of a "small book" that he had published. "I do not think that it was precisely suited to my need," Benson reflected, "for I wanted a more cogently intellectual treatment," but somehow Wilkinson's warmth, his prayer and his blessing combined to send Benson away "happy and hopeful."

Of course, the clouds did not lift either totally or immediately, but it is clear that Wilkinson provided a turning point. What was the secret of his remarkable influence? Some clues may be found in his "small book", which was almost certainly a collection of talks delivered to his Eaton Square congregation.[419] His opening text (from Hebrews, 12: 5-7), "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?," was perhaps not an encouraging start. But Wilkinson's approach was wholly different from EWB's assurance at the Redruth confirmation service that "God did not allow His people to encounter hardships alone." Wilkinson spoke like somebody who understood what it was to suffer mental torment. "We do not know why the trial comes," he reassured his hearers. "We do not know 'for what cause' the trial is sent to us." Even so, it was wrong to become "discontented, rebellious, miserable, melancholy." Rather the sufferer (in a passage that has not stood the test of time) should emulate "the wife, who does not understand all that her husband does, and yet believes that all is right". Wilkinson spoke a language that Benson could understand, for instance illustrating St Paul's distinction between a corruptible crown and one that was incorruptible by describing a student training for the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (the implication was that this was a big prize, but not quite immortality).  Benson would no doubt have been heartened by his declaration that "those who have never had to pass through much trial are hard in their judgment on others." As 'Distant Cousin' put it of that interview in Grosvenor Gardens, "he bade me believe that I was not alone in my experience; that in many a life there was – there must be – some root of bitterness that must flower before the true seed could be sown". Wilkinson had almost certainly walked in the same valley of darkness in which Benson found himself trapped. He too felt "an acute sense of sin,"[420] which precipitated a mental breakdown in 1891 after several years of intense melancholia. As with Benson's own later illnesses, "the cloud rolled off suddenly in a single instant, while he was giving an address."[421]

Some clue to Wilkinson's remarkable influence over Benson may be deduced from Queen Victoria's assessment of him. When Gladstone had suggested Wilkinson for the new Tyneside bishopric earlier in 1882, the Queen flatly refused to agree. "She has the greatest possible distrust of him," E.W. Hamilton noted, regarding him as "possessed of an excessive greed of power." Her Majesty seems to have heard about the Grosvenor Gardens consulting room. In his 1911 sketch, Benson specifically defended Wilkinson on this point: "though he carried in his heart the stained secrets of hundreds of lives, he never used his power for personal ends, nor tried to establish a personal dominance." Fundamentally, the Queen's key objection may have been the very quality that won Benson's heart. She dismissed Wilkinson as "an extreme sentimentalist".[422] Benson would later turn extreme sentimentalism into a minor literary industry.

Three elements of his response to Wilkinson stand out. First, with the exception of that brief sentence about playing games and avoiding intellectual stress, he seemed unable to recall the precise words that Wilkinson used. Of their 1882 meeting, Benson wrote that "he brought me back, I cannot now imagine how, the sense of a loving presence of God."[423] At one of their last encounters, in 1905, the two adjourned to Magdalene College chapel, where they knelt and Wilkinson blessed him with "a beautiful form of words of which the music remains with me, though I cannot remember the words themselves — to be guided, led, helped, comforted."  "I wish I could recall the words of the prayer ... But I cannot," Benson wrote in another reminiscence. "I only know that he contrived to touch one's hopes and fears, one's difficulties and blessings, with a sureness and a delicacy that made me marvel."[424] Second, lacking religious enthusiasm and self-conscious about his bulk, Benson disliked kneeling for prayer, especially in homes or hotels where somebody might enter the room and find him on his knees.[425]  Wilkinson was the one cleric who could literally sweep him off his feet. At their last encounter, in 1907, they were interrupted by a servant announcing that the bishop's carriage had arrived. "It seemed to me that I could have knelt in prayer with him, and have received his blessing, without any sense of strangeness, if the scene had been a crowded street."[426] Third, it seems that Wilkinson's influence was all the greater because the two men rarely met. That was what made their 1905 encounter so special: Benson took it as "a kind of consecration of my life to Magdalene ... just the peaceful patriarchal blessing that I wanted and needed".[427] It is striking that their 1882 meeting was designed as a one-off. "He did not encourage me to come to him again or to write to him," Benson recalled, grateful that he was being trusted to "fight my own battles on simple and straightforward lines."[428] This was a measure of how deeply Benson had craved the kindness and sympathy of an older man. The ideal Victorian paterfamilias was a star around whom his children orbited at various degrees of remoteness. EWB was a Black Hole, a terrifying force that sucked all life to destruction.

"... the greatest and most sudden blow that ever befell me"[429]

Benson's crisis in November 1882 was twofold: an overwhelming sense of personal unworthiness, plus a collapse of religious belief, the two combining to bring about what we can now recognise as a descent into clinical depression. Depression was never far from him throughout the remainder of his life and, on several occasions, erupted in paralysing onslaughts. It is difficult to say how bad were Benson's attacks of depression during his student days, and for how long. He himself wrote early in 1885 of two years without a single happy day, but in House of Quiet he described a more nuanced affliction, that sometimes lifted, only to ambush him again when he least expected it.[430] Curiously, he does not seem to have specifically associated his depression with Cambridge as a place, much less blamed the University environment for his suffering. He returned for a postgraduate term in the autumn of 1884, when he might have been expected to have taken the first opportunity to sever his links entirely. He attempted to return in 1888, competing somewhat languidly for a King's Fellowship. It was that experience, and not the crisis of 1882, that led him to shun Cambridge for more than decade, but, when he extricated himself from Eton in 1903-4, there seemed no great debate in his mind about where he should settle.

Benson's searing sense of personal worthlessness has been interpreted by both Newsome and Goldhill as a crisis of sexual identity. This may indeed have formed some element in the crisis, but (not surprisingly) precise evidence is lacking. The account in the Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton is not especially persuasive: the book is a grab-bag of miscellaneous episodes. While Benson would not doubt have taken steps to disguise the identity of the fallen idol himself, it is surely noteworthy that no candidate for recipient of his erotic passion has been reliably identified, even by those who have quarried his extensive diary. Perhaps his friend Harry Cust turned his fastidious stomach with boasts of Long Vacation adventures with fornicating housemaids and adulterous chatelaines. And it should not be forgotten that, in 1886, when he published his thinly anonymous first novel, Benson was a young master at Eton – hardly the best moment in any career to advertise a homosexual attachment.

The argument advanced in this essay does not reject the hypothesis of an emotional trauma, but places emphasis upon two other elements of Benson's crisis in November 1882, the occasion of a religious revival, and the context of his father's advance towards the Primacy. By the start of his second year at Cambridge, the family visit to Addington brought home to Benson that his father was likely, sooner or later, to become Archbishop of Canterbury. The young man who, at Eton, had savoured the ecclesiastical gossip of "canons, prebendaries, good stalls etc,"[431] was placed in an 'establishment' college, whose senior members were close to the power structure. As the Michaelmas Term ground on, he would have known that the Canterbury bells were ringing more insistently, and he would have confronted what EWB's further promotion would mean for him, his brother Martin's inadequate substitute, his father's heir, destined himself for ordination and some kind of leadership role in the Church. Benson would have known too of his father's plans to re-launch Anglicanism in the Truro diocese by mobilising the laity, and of his wider hopes to enlist even the uneducated enthusiasm of the Salvation Army to the cause of evangelising the nation. When he turned out that evening intending to mock the revivalist meeting, part of him probably also heard the voice EWB proclaiming that the truths of religion could be stated by the humblest preachers in the simplest terms. Even wrapped as they were in 'sentimentalism', Sankey's words plunged Benson into the depths of a personal hell.

Perhaps the most notable outcome of the 1882 crisis was the fact that Benson recovered his religious beliefs, although it needs to be stressed that these were his beliefs, not necessarily those held by the mainstream of the Anglican Church. Indeed, it seems that at no point in the trauma did he doubt the truth of Christianity. Rather, the problem was his inability to get inside the dogmas, to make them part of his being, an acceptance that was blocked by a sense of personal unworthiness. "Believing in Christ was one thing, but confessing him was another," Sankey had said in those simple words that had hit home so hard. "If we were ashamed of the religion of Christ, he would be ashamed of us." Through Wilkinson's counselling, he found the calm needed to work towards that acceptance. Despite the Grosvenor Gardens advice to avoid books on divinity, he devoted a postgraduate term to intensive reading in theology. Benson was already a compulsive scribbler before he left Cambridge,[432] and his award of a King's College divinity prize suggests that the submission of a substantial scholarly essay. It was expected that he would eventually enter the Church, and he was confident enough to discuss his theological views with his agnostic uncle, Henry Sidgwick.[433] The nature of Benson's religious belief merits further discussion as part of his popular writings in Edwardian times, but it may be summarised as a vague deism, coupled with  his inherited affection for the outward rituals of church-going – essential in the persona of an Eton master. (Turner believed that Benson's "indifference to doctrinal Christianity" was explained by "his inner experience of the eternal", whatever that might mean.[434])

In his 1902 manual, The Schoolmaster, Benson wrote confidently about the duty of his calling to provide spiritual guidance, especially in preparation for the Anglican ceremony of confirmation. Where one of his colleagues summarised his advice to boys as "I just tell them to buck up," Benson recognised that, for thoughtful adolescents, the ritual hurdle could pose questions about self-confidence and self-worth. It was here that his own experience of doubt became positively helpful: "as to personal unworthiness, it is surely possible for a man to say frankly to a boy that he speaks not as one who has triumphed over difficulties and has experienced the fullest powers of the faith of Christ, but as one who is an elder disciple, a little ahead in point of time, at all events, upon the road which leads to God, who at any rate sees clearly what he believes to be true, though his practice may fall far short of it."[435] It was characteristic of Benson that he defined himself by borrowing a familiar witticism – that he subscribed to the religion of all sensible men, which they were too sensible to define.[436] Wilkinson had triumphed over Sankey. But Benson had still to come to terms with the brooding influence of EWB.

Continued as:



[Note: in 2024, "A.C. Benson in Images" was added to this website: https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/392-a-c-benson-in-images]


 [1] R. Hyam, "Preface", in Francis Turner, A.C. Benson (Magdalene College Cambridge Occasional Papers, no. 1, 1992) [cited as Turner]

[2] For Benson's gifts to the College, see P. Cunich et al., A History of Magdalene College Cambridge 1428-1988 (Cambridge, 1994), 218-19 [cited as Magdalene History]; D. Newsome, On the Edge of Paradise: A.C. Benson Diarist (London, 1980), 328 [cited as Newsome].

[3] [Ronald Hyam], Magdalene Described (2nd ed., Cambridge, 2011), 4-5.

[4] Magdalene Described, 22-2.

[5]  Benson left Magdalene a share in the royalties of Land of Hope and Glory. The Bursar formally waived any claim for payment so that the song could be sung (with a regrettable lack of reverence) at an annual historians' party in the 1960s.

[6] As he himself described in A.C. Benson, The Leaves of the Tree (London, 1911), 146-7, cited as Leaves.

[7] Benson's successor as Master, A.B. Ramsay, also his antagonist at Eton, tried to prevent the naming. Magdalene History, 252.

[8] Ronald Hyam, in Magdalene History, 222.

[9] As outlined by Ronald Hyam in Magdalene History, 221-31. Hyam, who came to Magdalene to teach History in 1960, wrote that "I have only ever heard Fellows of Magdalene who knew him speak of him with admiration". Cambridge Review, 5 December 1990, 58.

[10] A.C. Benson, Magdalene College Cambridge... (Cambridge, 1923), 49.

[11] P. Lubbock, ed., The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson (London, 1926), 194 [cited as Lubbock].

[12] Newsome, 263.

[13] Newsome began his 1980 biography with a handsome disclaimer, noting that Benson's comments often seemed harsh. "If, then, I have inadvertently caused any hurt to others by faithfully transcribing Arthur Benson's words, I apologise sincerely."Newsome, xiii. By 1980, few even of Benson's youngest contemporaries were still alive. Half a century earlier, Lubbock had commented of the diary that "it was the sharpest word... that satisfied him, not always the fairest." Lubbock, 247.

[14] T. Card, Eton Renewed... (London, 1994).

[15]  Newsome, 217-35 (1907-9), 342-52 (1917-23). Benson's bouts of depression devoured around one-third of his 21-year association with Magdalene, including more than half of his Mastership.

[16] I avoid using the familiar simile that a Master brought this or that quality "to the Lodge," because Benson never moved into the grim Victorian building.

[17] Newsome, 13. The use of EWB for the father means that, from here on, "Benson" refers to ACB.

[18] Newsome, 32-4.

[19] Lubbock, 30.

[20] Newsome, 43.

[21] Cambridge Review, 5 December 1980, 58.

[22] Lubbock, 30, 34. Lubbock was himself a substantial figure in English letters, one of the first systematically to apply literary criticism to the structure of novels. He was a nephew of Sir John Lubbock, a notable Victorian scientist and archaeologist, first Baron Avebury.

[23] E.H. Ryle, ed., Arthur Christopher Benson: As Seen By Some Friends (London, 1925). [Cited as Ryle. Where quotations or points are attributable to individual contributors, the name is added in parentheses, e.g. Ryle (James)].

[24] The Times, 17 June 1925.

[25] I came across Squire's tribute in Aberdeen Press & Journal, 29 June 1925, and cf. Lubbock, 136.

[26] Turner's paper was first read to a College society in 1953. Another Magdalene source, based on close reading of the diary for 1904-5, is R. Hyam, "A Benson Centenary", Magdalene College Magazine [cited as MCM], 2004-5, 81-6.

[27] Betty Askwith, Two Victorian Families (London, 1971), 108ff; Simon Goldhill, A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion and the Bensons in Victorian Britain (Chicago, 2016) [cited as Goldhill]. It may be appropriate to mention here that this essay has been in contemplation for a very long time. It has come together in 2017 because I had written about Magdalene in the mid-19th century, and the impact of the First World War upon the College, and an extended discussion of A.C. Benson seemed to fill a gap. As my discussion took shape, I sought out Simon Goldhill's book, which had been enticingly reviewed. I have benefited from his research, even where I dissent from some of his arguments. Whatever chronology may seem to imply, my exploration of Benson is not intended as a response to his book. Goldhill's focus is broader than mine, in two respects. First, he embraces the entire Benson clan, whereas I focus more on A.C. Benson's relations with his father. Secondly, he locates his study within a longer span of time, illustrating how the Victorians lacked even the vocabulary, let alone the comprehension, to accept variant sexuality, a situation that was beginning to become more open by 1940, when E.F. Benson published his final volume of autobiography.  

[28] A.C.Benson, The Life of Edward White Benson Sometime Archbishop of Canterbury (2 vols, London, 1899); abridgement 1901, cited as LEWB, i and ii, and ALEWB; Morning Post, Standard, 15 December 1899. The Times reviewer thought the 2-volume version "a little over-laboured", its 1400 pages "a weariness to the flesh." The Times, 15 December 1899.

[29] Hugh: Memoirs of a Brother (London, 1915), cited as Hugh; Life and Letters of Maggie Benson (London, 1917). His brother Fred also wrote about the Bensons: Our Family Affairs, 1867-1896 (London, 1920); Mother (London, 1925) and As We Were: a Victorian Peep-Show (London, 1930).

[30] The Leaves of the Tree: Studies in Biography (London, 1911); Memories and Friends (London, 1924), cited as M&F.

[31] Ryle (Lyttelton), 150.

[32] The Trefoil: Wellington College, Lincoln, and Truro (London, 1923), cited as Trefoil. [At the time of completing this essay, in 2017, I was unaware of that the E.F. Benson Society had published an edition of Benson's memoir of his mother, which he was working on at the time of his death. I add some comments from this useful source in square brackets. Allan Downend, ed., Mary Benson: A Memoir by A.C. Benson, with Introduction by Gwen Watkins (Rye, Sussex, 2010), cited as Downend.]

[33] Trefoil, 281-2.

[34] By "essay writing" I include both the short pieces that he wrote for magazines, and the longer, reflective books of advice upon life.

[35] Lubbock, 132.

[36] Newsome, 44. 144.

[37] Turner, 20; Lubbock, 244.

[38] Ryle (Lubbock), 134.

[39] A.C. Benson, From a College Window (London, 1906), 148 [cited as FACW]

[40] M.R. James, who came up in October 1882, did not remember him as an oarsman. Ryle (James), 12.

[41] FACW, 21, 266-7.

[42] Ryle (Lyttelton), 146.

[43] Escape and Other Essays (London, 1915), 222.

[44] Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, B.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge extracted from his letters and diaries, with reminiscences  of his conversation by his friend Christopher Carr of the same college (London, 1886). See also 1907 ed.  [cited as Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton]

[45] Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir (London, 1906), 439-40.

[46] A.C. Benson, The House of Quiet: an Autobiography (London, 1907 ed., first ed. 1904) [cited as House of Quiet].

[47] It accidentally emerges on page 238 that his old nursemaid addresses 'Distant Cousin' as "Master Henry". Lubbock claimed that Benson's writings were all first drafts, and that he could never be persuaded to re-write, still less re-structure. Ryle, 129.

[48] Newsome argues that Benson began to keep his diary in emulation of William Johnson (later Cory), whose published Letters and Journals he read that year. Benson was one of 23 subscribers to a limited edition of Cory's correspondence, edited by his Eton colleague Francis Warre-Cornish. But when Benson wrote that "W.J. inspires me", he was probably referring to Cory's commitment to teaching. Most of the book consisted of letters; like many other Victorians, Cory kept a journal when travelling. Newsome, 1-2.

[49] The Benson diary covered 180 notebooks, one of which (for 1901) went missing sometime after 1926. Newsome, 385. Lubbock, Newsome and Goldhill seem to be the only scholars who can claim to have read the entire Benson diary. Walter Hamilton, Master of Magdalene in 1975, also vetted its suitability for release. Large parts of the diary have been read by other historians, e.g. Tim Card (on Eton), Ronald Hyam (on  Magdalene) and T.E.B. Howarth (on Cambridge in the 1920s). By kind permission of Magdalene College, I did once consult the Benson diary for a specific enquiry, but that hardly qualifies me to pronounce upon it.

[50] Newsome, 385. My subjective impression is that the earnest seeker after Benson has been well served by the historians who have quoted and extracted from the diary. However, it remains impossible to pronounce that the absence of allusion to any particular subject in secondary works means that Benson never discussed it. For instance, there appears to be only one reference to his brother Martin (Newsome, 20), while Martin (unlike EWB) apparently did not feature in Benson's vivid dreams. But it would be unsafe to conclude from this negative evidence that he had successfully buried this early bereavement.

[51] But it was Benson who acquired a car (and, of course, a chauffeur), and enjoyed being driven at the exhilarating speed of 50 mph. (Lubbock, 218.) Browning rode around Cambridge on a tricycle. The Wind in the Willows comparison can be extended to Benson's attitude to the creatures in the Wild Wood, the looming threat from the masses. Henry Sidgwick noted in his nephew's first novel "the complete absence of the socialistic enthusiasm" that he associated with thoughtful young men of his day. This comment may say more about Sidgwick than about Benson, since there was no obvious need for 'Arthur Hamilton' to have a social conscience. (Curiously enough, Benson did later suffer from the delusion that he was a socialist.)Watching crowds of City clerks streaming across London Bridge in 1902, his only positive conclusion was "I suppose they are 'dear to God' if not to anyone else." The masses were definitely not dear to Benson. When Bank Holiday crowds invaded Cambridge in 1907, he exploded: "how I hated the good-humoured, ugly, shoving, noisy democracy!"    In his winsome literary persona, Benson could be spectacularly patronising, as in the opening passage of From a College Window. "How often have I myself wished to ask simple, silent, deferential people, such as station-masters, butlers, gardeners, what they make of it all! Yet one cannot do it, and even if one could, ten to one they would not or could not tell you." In this aloof attitude, he differed from EWB, who had been brought up among the workshops of Birmingham, and had a natural skill in talking to working men. Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 439-40; Edwardian Excursions, 77; Lubbock, 170; cited as FaCW, 2-3; ALEWB, 262-3.

[52] P. Lubbock, Earlham (London, 1922).

[53] D. Newsome, ed., Edwardian Excursions: From the Diaries of A.C. Benson 1898-1904 (London, 1981), cited as Edwardian Excursions .

[54] Turner, 9. Both Lubbock and Newsome estimated the diary at four million words. This is about five times the length of the King James Bible. 

[55] Turner, 1. 

[56] Lubbock, 18.

[57] Newsome, 7.

[58] Ryle (Ryle), 57.

[59] Newsome, 2.

[60] Lubbock, 48, 80. Benson spent a miserable period at Hastings during his convalescence in 1919-20, but this comment comes from 1900.

[61] Lubbock, 194.

[62] Edwardian Excursions, 36.

[63] Lubbock, 237.

[64] Lubbock, 86.

[65] 'T.B.' (A.C. Benson), The Upton Letters (London, 1905), 14-16.

[66] Lubbock, 37; Edwardian Excursions, 3. Henry James arranged to borrow it in September 1897.  P. Lubbock, ed., The Letters of Henry James (3 vols, London, 1920),  i, 269.

[67] Newsome, 6-7.

[68] Turner, 5.

[69] Newsome, xiii.

[70] Turner, 10; T.E.B. Howarth, Cambridge  Between Two Wars (London, 1978), 48.

[71] Generally, based on ALEWB. The entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is by Mark D. Chapman.

[72] Newsome is of course the authoritative source for the landmarks in Benson's life, supplemented by Ronald Hyam in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[73] A.C. Benson, Escape ... (London, 1916),  215.

[74] Lubbock, 286; A.C. Benson, The Myrtle Bough (Eton, 1903, privately printed), 69. Benson's obituary, in Eton College Chronicle, 25 June 1925, is almost certainly by M.R. James, who followed him to the school a year later.

[75] A.C. Benson, Escape... (New York ed., 1915), 213-26, but cf. Newsome, 30.

[76] A.C. Benson, The Schoolmaster (London, 1902), 154; Myrtle Bough, 13.

[77] Benson, Escape, 213-26.

[78] Newsome, 69.

[79] Myrtle Bough, 14-15; The Times, 17 June 1925. The Eton College Chronicle has recently been digitised, and  is available on-line through the Eton College Archives. Benson may be traced playing both the Field Game and Eton's even more incomprehensible Wall Game (30 October, 27 November 1879, 14, 30 October 1880). He was elected to the Literary Society (confined to a membership of 30) in 1878, and took part in disussions of the political career of the Duke of Wellington, and on the origins of Islam (17 October 1878, 20 May, 17 June 1880). In his final year, he was also a member of the elite Eton Society ("Pop"), and spoke in a debate reported on 13 November 1880. 

[80] Benson, Escape, 213-26, order of quotations changed. Myrtle Bough, 17; Eton College Chronicle, 25 June 1925

[81] Goldhill,164.

[82] Goldhill, 187-9. Fred Benson described his brother "bringing with him his motor-car and his benevolent despotism." E.F. Benson, Final Edition (London, 1940), 24. Although pronounced with a short 'e', Tremans is now known as Treemans. The house is of 16th and 17th century construction.

[83] Newsome, 19.

[84] Newsome, 94-5.

[85] Despite his 'discovery' of the beauty and Englishness of the Cotswolds, Benson seemed strangely incurious about Oxford, "an enchanted city – one ought to spend more time there" was his comment in 1914. (Lubbock, 269) One factor may have been train travel. On leaving Eton, Benson clearly intended to make a mark on the London scene. Oxford trains passed through Windsor, making a clean break difficult.

[86] Newsome, 15 (diary, 1918)

[87] There was astonishment at Trinity's annual awards ceremony in 1851 when "a man of the name of Benson" was called up six times to receive prizes, and delivered orations in both Latin and English. M.E. Bury and J.D. Pickles, ed., Romilly's Cambridge Diary 1848-1864 (Cambridge, 2000), 96.

[88] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 120-8.

[89] Goldhill, 3-49.

[90] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 127.

[91] Jane Austen, Emma (1815), ch. 1.

[92] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 126.

[93] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 123-4.

[94] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 125, 127-8.

[95] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 130-1.

[96] Goldhill, 26.

[97] M&F, 186-213.

[98] Trefoil, 276.

[99] ALEWB, 84-5.

[100] E.F. Benson, Our Family Affairs 1867-1896 (London, 1921), 117.

[101] ALEWB, 85.

[102] Hugh, 34.

[103] Trefoil, 59.

[104] Often quoted in Bensoniana, e.g. LEWB, i, 646-7.

[105] D. Newsome, Godliness & Good Learning: Four Studies on a Victorian Ideal (London, 1961), 148-94 [cited as G&GL].

[106] Sidgwick had been flattered by the comparison half a century earlier. "I am glad that you think Martin is like me," he assured Mary Benson in 1866. Martin was 5 at the time. G&GL, 178.

[107] Trefoil, 156, 246, 46. "What's a Bachelor of Arts and what does he do[?]," he wrote in a letter to his father when he was 9. G&GL, 161.

[108] G&GL, 165-8.

[109] G&GL, 171-2.

[110] Trefoil, 250.

[111] G&GL, 166-7.

[112] LEWB, i, 354-5.

[113] G&GL, 173.

[114] Trefoil, 253.

[115] G&GL, 192.

[116] Trefoil, 247. His uncle Henry Sidgwick also suffered from a stammer, Trefoil, 162.

[117] Trefoil, 156.

[118] Newsome, 20.

[119] Trefoil, 46.

[120] Ryle (James), 4-5.

[121] Newsome, 20.

[122] G&GL, 168-9.

[123] Trefoil, 250.

[124] G&GL, 182.

[125] Trefoil, 250.

[126] ALEWB, 359, and cf. e.g. Newsome, 195.

[127] G&GL, 193-4.

[128] ALEWB, 176.

[129] ALEWB, 146-7.

[130] Newsome, 16.

[131] LEWB, i, 442; Newsome, 27.

[132] Askwith, Two Victorian Families, 151n.

[133] He also complained of disturbing dreams while at Truro, but this was a Benson family trait.

[134] Trefoil, 248.

[135] Maggie, 40.

[136] Eton College Chronicle, 25 June 1925; Hugh, 52.

[137] Trefoil, 246.

[138] G&GL, 187-8.

[139] LEWB, i, 445.

[140] Trefoil, 248. The recollection seems strange, since Martin's eyelids were almost certainly closed when his body was laid out.

[141] LEWB, i, 443; Maggie, 40.

[142] Trefoil, 249.

[143] G&GL, 188.

[144] M&F, 12-13. [Benson's mother encouraged the children "to speak freely of Martin, 'even as he were nearby'. But as we thus talked, I saw my father rise and leave the room suddenly." Downend, 51. Benson also noted, but not explore, the fact that the death of his sister Nelly in 1891 caused much less grief. "Somehow her death did not touch our circle with the same shock and bewilderment as did that of my brother Martin." Downend, 77.]

[145] Hugh, 43.

[146] Ryle (Lyttelton), 153.

[147] A.C. Benson, At Large... (London, 1908), 321.

[148] R.W. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James (London, 1980), 38.

[149] Hugh, 43; Newsome, 26-7.

[150] Newsome, 181-2.

[151] A.C. Benson, Along the Road (2nd ed., London, 1913), 102.

[152] Lubbock, 41-2. 191, 257.

[153] Trefoil, 251.

[154] LEWB, i, 477-81.

[155] Trefoil, 251; Newsome, 16.

[156] Trefoil, 251.

[157] Trefoil, 251-2, 51-2.

[158] Trefoil, 251, 253.

[159] Newsome, 44.

[160] LEWB, i, 445. Oscar Browning, an unreliable source, later claimed that EWB decided to send Benson to King's, "as he heard so good an account of it." In reality, it was natural for a King's Scholar at Eton to proceed to the sister college in Cambridge. O. Browning, Memories of Sixty Years (London [1910]), 289.

[161] LEWB, i, 357.

[162] LEWB, i, 304-6.

[163] LEWB, i, 188, 12; Bury and Pickles, eds, Romilly's Cambridge Diary, 1848-1864, 228.

[164] LEWB, i, 136.

[165] D. Newsome, A History of Wellington College (London, 1959), 88

[166] In 1870, he concluded that the Church was losing its position in the Universities, "and the Cathedral system offers an ancient recognized calm and safe mode of education if only a few more people will give themselves to its development." M.A. Crowther, Church Embattled... (Newton Abbot, 1970), 236.

[167]Newsome, A History of Wellington College, 1859-1959; J.L. Bevir, comp., The Making of Wellington College ... (London, 1920).

[168] LEWB, i, 245, and cf. 207. There was a crisis in the winter of 1861-2 when parents removed pupils after concerns about widespread homosexual activity. EWB, according to Lord Stanley, son of the Earl of Derby, was "generally praised: the fault is in bringing together a large number of boys who from the poverty of their parents have been for the most part badly educated, who know little, and are not easily made amenable to discipline, and have not the manners and ideas of gentlemen. The school was originally a charitable institution, and the idea of grafting on ... a school for the sons of the wealthier classes, is an afterthought." J. Vincent, ed., Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party ... (Hassocks, 1978), 177, 182. Ian Hamilton, who came to the College from a fashionable preparatory school, recalled that his heart sank on realising that the majority of his fellow pupils "were not the sealed pattern articles which were reared, mainly on Greek particles at Cheam." Bevir, Wellington College, viii, and cf. LEWB, i, 202-3. 

[169] Newsome, A History of Wellington College, 166-70;  J. Vincent, ed., A Selection from the Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby ... (London, 1994), 101-2; Bevir, Wellington College, 126-7; LEWB, i, 353-4.

[170] EWB was big enough to acknowledge in 1864 that "whatever has yet been effected here is owing to many favourable circumstances often unforeseen and uncontrolled." Newsome, History of Wellington College, 128,

[171] EWB claimed he was "quite resolved to spend ten or fifteen years (if I have them) without any work that shall call me away." LEWB, i, 372; cf. Goldhill, 159.

[172] Trefoil, 77-8; LEWB, i, 367; Goldhill, 158-9.

[173] O. Chadwick, The Victorian Church, ii (2nd ed., London, 1972), 366ff.

[174] LEWB, i, 372.

[175] The Times, 20 April 1885.

[176] Speech at Cambridge, Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 383.

[177] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 380n.

[178] LEWB, i, 378-9, 395.

[179] Trefoil, 157; Goldhill,

[180] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 383. I have inverted the word order here.

[181] Trefoil, 165.

[182] G.E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli ..., v (London, 1920), 97. Abbreviation written out. Hardy was a strong Churchman who had fought against the disestablishment of the Irish Church, and probably saw Benson as a bastion against dissent in Cornwall. But he owned an estate in Kent, and may have wished to steer a potentially masterful prelate away from Rochester. Nationally, Methodist numbers stalled between 1877 and 1880, before picking up in the following decade, but at a slower rate than overall population growth. At one end of the social spectrum, they were probably losing ground to the Salvation Army, while at the other Methodism was always liable to the secession of its wealthier members to the Anglican Church. It is not clear whether either of these factors could be seen in Cornwall, although the county would have been affected by a third element, emigration. K.S. Inglis, Churches and the Working Class in Victorian England (London, 1973), 97-8.

[183] The major statistical source for religious affiliation was the 1851census, which reported that on enumeration day, Cornwall, with a population of 356,641, had 44,919 attendances at Anglican churches, and 116,042 at other Protestant churches. (There were 592 Catholics and 16 "others".) The census had various shortcomings, such as its inability to identify multiple (i.e. morning, afternoon and evening) attendances.   However, its ratio, of roughly 3:1 Nonconformists to Anglicans, was only paralleled in Wales. ("Sittings" in mainstream Wesleyan chapels outnumbered those in Anglican churches by 3 to 2 [152,905 against 102,341], which may suggest that Nonconformists were more likely to be repeat attenders.) In Devon, Anglicans outnumbered Dissenters by almost 4 to 3, in Dorset by nearly 2 to 1. Census of Great Britain 1851: Religious Worship in England and Wales [abridged] (London, 1854), 142.

[184] Goldhill, 220.

[185] Methodist Recorder, undated, quoted in Royal Cornwall Gazette, 23 December 1876.

[186] LEWB, i, 430; Goldhill, 265.

[187] The Times, 21 December 1882.

[188] LEWB, i, 430.

[189] Royal Cornwall Gazette, 23 November 1877.

[190] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 204.

[191] LEWB, i, 434 (June 1877).

[192] LEWB, i, 438.

[193] LEWB, i, 509. The flourish came in a letter to his wife in 1881.

[194] LEWB, i, 525, 471.

[195] Royal Cornwall Gazette, 4 April 1879.

[196] D. Wiggins, "The Burial Act of 1880, the Liberation Society...," Parliamentary History, xv (1996).

[197] The Times, 21 December 1882.

[198] Inglis, Churches and the Working Class in Victorian England, 189. Bramwell Booth, son of the movement's founder, saw EWB as "the moving spirit in the negotiations," but regarded Randall Davidson as an immoveable obstacle. B. Booth, Echoes and Memories (London, 1925), 59-64 Negotiations broke down over EWB's insistence that members of the Salvation Army should take Communion in Anglican churches.  Booth "could not allow his converts to go to the Church for Holy Communion without making the destructive admission that the Salvation Army lacked an essential of salvation." H. Begbie, Life of William Booth... (2 vols, London, 1920)  i, 465-8.

[199] LEWB, i, 464.

[200] D.J. Vaughan, ed., The Official Report of the Church Congress ... 1880 (London, 1881), 369.

[201] LEWB, i, 451. Thirty years later, a successor, Bishop Charles Stubbs, appealed for funds for a Chapter Endowment Fund to make Benson's vision a reality. The Times, 27 January 1911. 

[202] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 389. Although Truro was the first new cathedral for centuries in England, it was not the first such project in Great Britain. Between 1874 and 1879, and thanks to the munificence of two private benefactors, the Episcopal Church erected an impressive building in Edinburgh.

[203] LEWB, i, 449. There were two other parish churches in Truro, one of which was enlarged after 1880.

[204] Vaughan, ed., The Official Report of the Church Congress ... 1880, 368.

[205] LEWB, i, 451-2.

[206] Royal Cornwall Gazette, 28 February 1879, 22 November 1878.

[207] G.E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli..., v (London, 1920), 68-9.

[208] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 155. The Times called Ellicott's comment an "unfortunate slip of the tongue". The Times, 2 October 1872.

[209] See, e.g. Bristol Mercury, 2 December 1876, 17 June 1878, remarking in its latter issue that "the disease lurks everywhere. Wherever boys and girls, and women, and womanish men abound, there Ritualism can grow and flourish. If a boyish curate can be had, these are the chief elements necessary for success: Decorate the altar, dress the priest and choir, intone the service, and train the audience [sic], and the performance will be complete."

[210] The Times, 10 November 1879 ("Episcopal Courtesies"). Gloucester's local newspaper reprinted the exchange when EWB's appointment to Canterbury was announced, Gloucester Citizen, 28 December 1882.

[211] M.C. Church, ed., Life and Letters of Dean Church (London, 1894), 368.

[212] EWB suggested that "there were so many points in which Madagascar resembled England," such as being an island under the rule of a queen and a prime minister. He added: "like the Cornish people, the natives were adapted to preaching and teaching, and possessed great oratorical power." Royal Cornwall Gazette, 13 February 1880. The comparison was perhaps stronger on ingenuity than tact.

[213] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 390n.

[214]  N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cornwall (Harmondsworth, 1952), 213.

[215] Chadwick, Victorian Church, ii, 390n.

[216] Newsome, History of Wellington College, 170.

[217] EWB would probably have felt little sympathy for either, the more so as Hayman was trying to dismiss his brother-in-law William Sidgwick. Neither casualty could secure any legal redress for dismissal.

[218] Hugh, 32-3. There is a similar statement in Where No Fear Was (London, 1912), 47-8.

[219] ALEWB, 62; Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 10-11.

[220] Newsome, History of Wellington College, 54 (1858).  E.W. Stanley added of EWB that "to a working fellow he was unusually kind, so with an idle one he was more than usually severe."

[221] Newsome, History of Wellington College, 153.

[222] B. Booth, Echoes and Memories (London, 1925), 64.

[223] Leaves, 222.

[224] Newsome, 18.

[225] Basic information about Benson's Cambridge career from Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses. 'Distant Cousin' won an entrance Scholarship to Cambridge "with disastrous ease". House of Quiet, 55.

[226] S. Rothblatt, The Revolution of the Dons... (London, 1968), 230-6.

[227] Newsome, 33; J.E.C. Welldon, Recollections and Reflections (London, 1916), 64.

[228] The Times, 4 December 1882; Newsome, 34. The production team for The Birds (by Aristophanes) invited one of the founders of the modern study of ornithology, Alfred Newton of Magdalene, to inspect their costumes. Newton was critical of some of the details, and Benson concluded that he was "decided, brisk, peremptory, not wholly good-natured, not a man to oppose in many ways." From 1904 until Newton's death in 1907, they were colleagues at Magdalene, but Benson seems never to have overcome his initial dislike of a very great scholar. Leaves, 136-8. In 1906, Benson saw The Eumenides  in Cambridge, and recalled: "I saw it over twenty years ago. I wept copiously when the Furies first burst into song in the dim temple." Lubbock, 148-9. The Eumenides was the 1885 Greek play, indicating that Benson returned to Cambridge at that time.

[229] J.R. Tanner, Historical Register of the University of Cambridge... (Cambridge, 1917), 315-16; The Times, 15 March 1884.

[230] Edwardian Excursions, 23.

[231] Tanner, Historical Register, 649; The Times, 16 June 1884.

[232] Newsome, 43; The Times, 31 January 1885. The Crawford Prize seems to have been more prestigious than the college's Pawley Divinity Prize, which was awarded to four candidates. It is noteworthy that Benson's skills in Latin and Greek did not deter him from using a folksy and barbaric split infinitive.

[233] D.A.Winstanley, Later Victorian Cambridge (Cambridge, 1947), 209-23; Tanner, Historical Register, 644.

[234] Unlike Benson, Gilson sat Part Two, in 1886, and achieved a First.

[235] Newsome, 156.

[236] Lubbock, 30.

[237] House of Quiet, 63-4. The order of Benson's sentences has been changed. It is striking how often such restructuring seems not to change his overall argument!

[238] Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 393. Benson dined with the Sidgwicks on 21 December 1884, almost certainly to mark his departure from Cambridge.

[239] Leaves, 34, 26.

[240] Newsome, 39.

[241] M&F, 214.  Undergraduates had to secure special permission to remain in Cambridge during vacations. Well into the 20th century, a flinty Fellow of Magdalene encountered a junior member of the College on the streets of the town out of term, and instantly hailed a taxi, instructing the driver to take the gentleman to the railway station.

[242] These sources come and go. See https://web.archive.org/web/20090413133920/http://footlights.org/history.html (consulted 24 November 2017) .

[243] House of Quiet, 43.

[244] House of Quiet, 44.

[245] Hugh, 57.

[246] Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, 13.

[247] A.C. Benson, Beside Still Waters (London, 1907), 37-8.

[248] LEWB, i, 511-12, 534-6,

[249] This may be deduced by comparing Benson's memory of being a non-smoker in At Large (London, 1908), 108 with his portrayals of 'Arthur Hamilton' and 'Distant Cousin', who were both heavy smokers. "The thing I learned at Cambridge was to smoke," claimed the former. Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, 9. For EWB's opposition to smoking, Newsome, History of Wellington College, 153.

[250] LEWB, i, 511-12 (letter of 4 November 1881).

[251] LEWB, i, 626.

[252] A.C. Benson, The Altar Fire (London, 1907), 204-5.

[253] Edwardian Excursions, 21.

[254] Benson, The Altar Fire, 204-5.

[255] Leaves, 95. J.K. Stephen suffered a head injury in 1886. Its severity was at first not appreciated, but it gradually affected his behaviour, and may have complicated an already existing bipolar condition.  His death in 1892 gave him the aura of one of the lingering lost spirits of a timeless Cambridge. The Times, 2 January 1911, called Benson's sketch of J.K. Stephen "one of the best bits of work he has ever done." The Stephen family privately congratulated him on the "extraordinary vividness and accuracy" of his sketch. Lubbock, 205.

[256] Lubbock, 55-6.

[257] Leaves, 94.

[258] FaCW, 31.

[259] Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 359.

[260] Ryle (James), 12. The English Literature Tripos began in 1919.

[261] Benson, House of Quiet, 44.

[262] Benson, Beside Still Waters, 37-8.

[263] Magdalene History, 208.

[264] A. Jones, The Politics of Reform  1884 (Cambridge, 1972), 4, 9, 212-13, 231.

[265] Annual Report, Cambridge Union Society 1884-5, 33-4. Benson claimed he had "gained some facility as a debater" from his membership of 'Pop' at Eton. His later Magdalene colleague, A.S. Ramsey, believed he had been "prominent at the Union". The Cambridge Union had an active culture of business meetings in that era, and Benson may have taken part in these. Myrtle Bough, 14; MCM, December 1925, 3.

[266] Lubbock, 208-9; Newsome, 8.

[267] The Times, 29 November 1911. With donnish impartiality, Benson censured Lloyd George who had condemned the University electorates for always returning Conservatives. Earlier that year, he had supported Harold Cox, an advanced Liberal, in a Cambridge University by-election. Cox had been President of the Union in 1881, the term before Benson came into residence. The Times, 27 January 1911. Newsome states that Benson stood for the Union Committee, but was defeated by Austen Chamberlain.  Newsome, 34.

[268] In The Silent Isle (London, 1907, 397) he was openly uncomplimentary about Browning's "commonplace bonhomie, his facile, uninteresting talk."

[269] Ryle (James), 12-13; A.C. Benson, Along the Road (London, 1912), 55-7; Edwardian Excursions, 130;  FaCW, 29. Superficially, Browning's Waring is a jaunty piece of doggerel about a vanished friend, which begins: "What's become of Waring / Since he gave us all the slip, / Chose land-travel or seafaring,  / Boots and chest or staff and scrip, / Rather than pace up and down / Any longer London town?" Written in 1842, it is thought to have been a tribute to his friend Alfred Domett, who had emigrated to New Zealand, where he briefly served as Premier. Domett later returned to England and, by the 1880s, was living in London. Modern literary scholars see in the poem issues of gender and sexual anxiety. How Benson handled it must remain unknown. 

[270] LEWB, ii, 291-3.

[271] Benson, Along the Road, 56.

[272] LEWB, i, 512. The College Heads probably included the octogenarian Provost Okes of King's and perhaps W.H. Thompson, the formidable Master of Trinity. The identity of the third must remain a mystery.

[273] Leaves, 299-302.

[274] Leaves, 78-9, 88.

[275] Leaves, 241-2; M&F, 214-15.

[276] A.E. Shipley, "J": A Memoir of John Willis Clark... (London, 1913), 288.

[277] Beside Still Waters, 37-8.

[278] Edwardian Experiences, 24. His younger brother, A.M. Goodhart, took over Benson's house at Eton. It was a small world.

[279] FaCW, 25.

[280] At Large, 180-1. "I think that I was born middle-aged," he wrote in 1903: Myrtle Bough, 63.

[281] Benson, The Silent Isle, 397.

[282] FaCW, 266-7.

[283] Myrtle Bough, 21; The Times, 17 June 1925.

[284] Edwardian Excursions, 141; Cambridge Independent Press, 2 December 1882; Ryle (James), 12.

[285] FaCW, 20-1; Ryle (James), 12.

[286] FaCW, 277.

[287] Newsome, History of Wellington College, 162, 223; Card, Eton Renewed, 74.

[288] Ryle (James), 12.

[289] Ryle (Ryle), 42-3.

[290] Newsome, 70.

[291]  Benson's attack on cricket in the Cornhill Magazine was quoted by the Kalgoorlie Miner, 10 April 1908; Newsome, 319. However, as Master of Magdalene, Benson favoured allowing E.W. Dawson to play first-class cricket in term time, arguing that "to have a thoroughly good and delightful boy here, in the Cambr[idge] XI is worth any repute for strictness." Newsome, 371. Eddie Dawson had scored 159 for Eton against Harrow. He later played in one test match against South Africa (1928), and four against New Zealand (1930).

[292] LEWB, i, 245, 622-3; FaCW, 278-9.

[293] E.R. Yerburgh, "Reminiscences ... 1879 to 1882," MCM, 45, 2000-1, 88.

[294] Ryle (James), 12.

[295] Lubbock, 55; Edwardian Excursions, 27.

[296] FaCW, 7-9.

[297] Benson would surely have known that Charles Kingsley, the Bensons' neighbour in Wellington days and his father's friend, had been a member of Magdalene, and this might have been enough to have inspired him to call in to the College during his undergraduate days. However, in that era there was little to see: the Pepys Library rarely opened to visitors.

[298] Newsome, 59. Benson commented on Madeira in The Upton Letters. He liked the people and the "exquisite vignettes" of landscape and "the sapphire sea," but "the warm air, the paradisal luxuriance, the greenhouse fragrance, are not a fit setting for a blond, lymphatic man, who pants for Northern winds." A.C. Benson, The Upton Letters (London, 1904), 6-7. Madeira was the most exotic destination he ever travelled to.

[299] LEWB, i, 597.

[300] Myrtle Bough, 20; Edwardian Excursions, 45. Cultural tours with a senior Eton colleague, E.C. Austen Leigh, could be comical adventures. M&F, 169-74. In 1916, Benson recalled that when he had entered the teaching profession, "there was a strong movement to make German a serious subject of study", which explained his decision "to pick up an acquaintance with the language" in the summer of 1885. But interest in English educational circles had waned, because the Germans had sacrificed intellect to patriotism, "tingeing all their studies with an emotional self-worship". Atlantic Monthly, July 1916, 126. He sang a German song at a concert at Eton in May 1885. It was "somewhat long" but "well given" -- and possibly his only recorded solo performance. Eton College Chronicle, 26 May 1885.  

[301] Along the Road, 101-8.

[302] Ryle (Gaselee), 112. One of his Eton pupils, the young Duke of Albany, was ordered by his grandmother, Queen Victoria, to move to Germany in order to inherit the duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. When the Duke talked in 1903 of inviting him to Germany, Benson wrote: "This is a terrible prospect." Edwardian Excursions, 177.

[303] The Times, 17 June 1925.

[304] Newsome, 36.

[305] Rothblatt, The Revolution of the Dons, 226.

[306] Victoria County History of Cambridgeshire, iii, 376-408.

[307] Ryle (James), 10-11. Benson's chief opponent, J.J. Withers, was also an Etonian, although an "Oppidan" (i.e. not a member of the Foundation, which had previously dominated the awards at King's). His obituary in The Times spoke warmly of his ability to "breathe fresh life" into the "overheated atmosphere" of a college where "scholars of the old tradition ... declined to mix with the heterogeneous crowd of newcomers". "A ready wit, an exquisite mimic, warm-hearted and eager for friendship with all the world, Withers had no use for best sets or exclusiveness". He later edited a historical register of King's students, helped form an alumni association, served as MP for Cambridge University, and earned a knighthood. The Times, 30 December 1939. Even allowing for the nil nisi bonum quality of the obituary, it seems a pity that Benson did not get on with Withers, and their antagonism says little for Benson's judgement.

[308] Newsome gives an example of his sudden turning against another King's undergraduate, Arthur Somervell, later a prominent musician. Somervell came from Uppingham, a second-rank public school. He had also talked to Benson confidentially about religion. Newsome, 42.

[309] Leaves, 222-3, and cf. Essays, 256-7. [Note added July, 2021: C. Morris, King's College a Short History (Cambridge, 1989), 54, refers unfavourably to Benson's leadership of the campaign to ostracise the "Bounders". When he returned to Cambridge in 1904, Benson complained of feeling unwelcome in King's. If true, his reception was probably to be explained by memories of the divisive role he had played twenty years earlier.]  

[310] Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, 51-2. L.P. Wilkinson, A Century of King's 1873-1972 (Cambridge, 1980), 24-8, provides a thoughtful review of the 'Best Set' episode.

[311] W.A. Leigh, Augustus Austen Leigh .... (London, 1906), 231.

[312] Rothblatt, The Revolution of the Dons, 226.

[313] ALEWB, 278. "The Church of England has to be built up again from the very bottom," EWB wrote in June 1883. "It is the lower and lower-middle classes who must be won." LEWB, ii, 13.

[314] Oscar Browning had been able to retreat to a King's Fellowship after his dismissal from Eton, a safety net that did not operate to the benefit of the college. "K.S." (King's Scholar) denoted a member of the Foundation at Eton, as distinct from an Oppidan, who lived in a boarding house in the town (oppidum).

[315] Myrtle Bough, 20-1; Newsome, 244.

[316] Lubbock, 226, 306.

[317] Newsome, 376. It seems unthinkable that Benson would have put himself in the position of being regarded as having 'traded up' from the Mastership of Magdalene.

[318] Discussed by Ronald Hyam in Magdalene History, 227-8.

[319] Leaves, 112-13.

[320] Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, 23-3. References to 'Arthur Hamilton' in this section are from these pages, and are not repeated.

[321] House of Quiet, 56-61. References to 'Distant Cousin' in this section are from these pages, and are not repeated.

[322] Lubbock, 30. Equally, of course, Lubbock's discretion might indicate that he knew more then he thought suitable to divulge.

[323] Newsome, 36-43.

[324] Goldhill, 131ff.

[325] Lubbock, 30.

[326] Leaves, 95-6.

[327] Leaves, 65.

[328] LEWB, i, 511.

[329] Benson, Hugh, 81-4.

[330] LEWB, i, 535. (Letter of 9 August 1882). Benson referred to his Cambridge Sunday School class in Myrtle Bough, 19.

[331] Lubbock, 266.

[332] A.C. Benson, Meanwhile... (London, 1916), 118.

[333] LEWB, i, 535-6. The letter was written from Truro on 9 August 1882. Benson was possibly travelling on the continent. The Cambridge Union Society was a private members' club, but the Union sometimes made its debating chamber available for general student meetings. One such gathering was held in early November 1882 (precise date not reported) to discuss how junior members of the University might honour F.M. Balfour. Given his connection by marriage, it is likely that Benson attended. Two members of King's spoke. It would have been reminder of the tragic waste of Frank Balfour's death a few days before the Sankey meeting. Cambridge Independent Press, 4 November 1882.

[334] Trefoil, 19. Benson called her "a clever attractive girl"; his younger brother, Fred, who was only fourteen when Ada died, thought she looked like a horse. LEWB, i, 116; E.F. Benson, Our Family Affairs, 81.

[335] LEWB, i, 520-2 (EWB's diary, and letter to his brother Christopher, 16 October 1882).

[336] Leaves, 96.

[337] Benson, Beside Still Waters, 37-8.

[338] Newsome, 43.

[339] In Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, Benson gives the date as 8 November, and backdates it to 1872.

[340] House of Quiet, 56-61.

[341] Cambridge Independent Press, 11 November 1882. A writer in the Literary Review in 1907 was able to work out that the revival was the work of Moody and Sankey. Literary Review, undated, reprinted Daily News (Perth, Australia), 13 April 1907.

[342] Newsome, 175.

[343] Card, Eton Renewed, 76.

[344] Ryle (Sturgis), 71.

[345] LEWB, i, 511.

[346] House of Quiet, 59.

[347] Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, 23-5. Goldhill surely reads too much into Benson's inclusion of the words "at bottom". Goldhill,122.

[348] Goldhill, 132-49.

[349] Leaves, 87-8; Pfaff, James, 46.

[350] Tim Card, "Cory, William Johnson"; R. Davenport-Hines, "Browning, Oscar," both in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[351] Ryle (Lyttelton), 145-6.

[352] M&F, 109.

[353] Newsome, 39.

[354] Newsome, 43, 41.

[355] D. Atkinson, "Cust, Henry John Cockayne [Harry]," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[356] The Times, 17 June 1925.

[357] Newsome, 31-2; The Poems of A.C. Benson (London, 1908), 148.

[358] Cust's most notable partner was Violet, Marchioness of Granby, later Duchess of Rutland. She gave birth in 1892 to a daughter by Cust, accepted by the Duke as Lady Diana Manners. Lady Diana in turn married the politician Duff Cooper, and they became the glamour couple of interwar High Society. The Cust family estate was near Grantham in Lincolnshire. In her last years, Lady Diana Cooper claimed that her father had also produced a daughter by a housemaid, and that the child had gone on to marry a Grantham tradesman, Alfred Roberts: hence Lady Diana's allusions to "my niece, the prime minister". Attempts to attribute famously imperious style of Margaret Thatcher (née Roberts) to unacknowledged aristocratic descent seem far-fetched. The story, although delicious, is dismissed by Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher, the Authorized Biography, i: Not for Turning (London, 2013), p.14n (for which reference my thanks to Dr Andrew Jones) and see Daily Express, 21 April 2013.  The rumour may have formed part of a coping mechanism on the part of Tory grandees as they dealt with the shock of their party being taken over by the daughter of a provincial tradesman. Cust was on safe ground with other men's wives, as he found when he seduced the unmarried daughter of a baronet. She claimed to be pregnant and he was forced into marriage. They had no children.

[359] Goldhill, 138, 147.

[360] Newsome, 31-2. Benson's poem hints at some falling-out: "First we were parted, grew half-hearted. / Worked and worried, and worse beside" (italics added).

[361] On Christmas morning 1882, having accepted Gladstone's offer of the Primacy, EWB told his children a story, about a priest who heard music coming from a clump of purple flowers. One of the youngsters asked what were the flowers. "'Canterbury Bells, I think,' said my father with a smile." Trefoil, 280-1.

[362] I do not bother to compile an endnote documenting Tait's decline. Suffice to say the New Zealand newspapers (on the National Library of New Zealand's excellent Paperspast website) carried telegraphic reports of Tait's illness in September, and of his expected early resignation (4 November).

[363] H.C.G. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, x (Oxford, 1990), 325-6, draft letter of 3 September 1882 to Dean Wellesley, not sent.

[364] R. Davidson and W. Benham, Life of Archibald Campbell Tait ... (2 vols, London, 1891), ii, 592.

[365] Trefoil, 278-9; LEWB, i, 571.

[366] LEWB, i, 548, 547.

[367] G.K.A. Bell, Randall Davidson: Archbishop of Canterbury (3rd ed., Oxford, 1952), 52.

[368] E.H. Browne had become bishop of Ely in 1864. His brother, Sir Thomas Gore Browne, had served as governor of New Zealand, where he had played a disastrous role in provoking the Maori Wars.

[369] Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, x (Oxford, 1990), 325-6.

[370] Punch, 6 January 1883, 11.

[371] D.W.R. Bahlman, ed., The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton (2 vols, Oxford, 1982), i, 325, 332

[372] Church, ed., Life and Letters of Dean Church, 368.

[373] G.W. Kitchin, Edward Harold Browne... (London, 1895), 457.

[374] Bell, Randall Davidson, 57 (letter of 10 December 1882).

[375] G.E. Buckle, ed., The Letters of Queen Victoria, 2nd series, iii (London, 1928), 371 (Journal, 11 December 1882).

[376] Buckle, ed, Queen Victoria's Letters, iii, 365-6, 371-8, Bell, Randall Davidson, 57. Pressed by the Queen on the issue of Benson's comparative youth, Gladstone asked Jacobson, bishop of Chester to comment on the dilemma of choosing between Winchester and Truro, "the first somewhat old, the second somewhat young for the office." This was a sensible exercise in consultation, since Jacobson, who had headed Gladstone's election committee at Oxford University in 1865, could be relied upon to provide the assurance of a man who was coasting towards his 80th birthday. Matthew, ed., The Gladstone Diaries, x, 378. Lake was Gladstone's nephew by marriage.

[377] LEWB, i, 552. EWB cleared another hurdle by sending a particularly cloying letter to Browne, on 20 December, asking for his blessing, which was freely granted. LEWB, i, 549-50. EWB also neutralised Davidson by asking him to stay on as personal chaplain and ease the transition. This gave Davidson a base from which to await a plum ecclesiastical job, which turned out to be the Deanery of Windsor, vacant again in 1883.

[378] Benson, Beside Still Waters, 37-8.

[379] Edwardian Excursions, 85-6.

[380] I call this an "apparent belief" because Benson did not enlarge upon EWB's policy towards the Salvos in the biography of his father. But EWB referred to the project in a letter of 25 November 1882. LEWB, i, 539-40.

[381] Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton,  1, 4, 29-34.

[382] Bahlman, ed., The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, i, 325 (26 August 1882).

[383] The Times, 4 October 1882. William Maclagan, another Scotsman, was bishop of Lichfield.

[384] Davidson and W. Benham, Life of Archibald Campbell Tait, ii, 453-73. Tait's letter to Salisbury is at ii, 471-2.

[385] Hansard, 26 October 1882, 160-3; The Times, 27 October 1882.

[386] Bishop Fraser overrode the rights of the lay patron, and installed in Miles Platting a young clergyman called W.R. Pym. Walter Ruthven Pym had graduated from Magdalene in 1879. He was a cousin of Latimer Neville, and the new Lord Braybrooke offered him the Mastership in 1904, reportedly at Neville's funeral. Pym declined, having just been appointed Bishop of Bombay. (He does not appear in Honours lists in Tanner's Historical Register. By 1904, a Pass degree was hardly a qualification for a Head of House.) Pym died at Poona in 1908, aged 51. His grandson, Francis Pym, also a member of Magdalene, was Foreign Secretary in 1982-3. Magdalene History, 221.

[387] e.g. in 9 New Zealand newspapers on 6 November.

[388] House of Quiet, 59.

[389] Newsome, 39.

[390] House of Quiet, 60, 211-13.

[391] FaCW, 222-4.

[392] House of Quiet, 60, 211-13.

[393] Ryle (James), 13-14.

[394] FaCW, 267.

[395] House of Quiet, 60. In his poem, "Prayer," Benson wrote: " My sorrow had pierced me through ; it throbbed

in my heart like a thorn; / This way and that I stared, as a bird with a broken limb". Poems of A.C. Benson, 219.

[396] Sidgwick wrote in 1881 that "while I cannot myself discover adequate rational basis for the Christian hope of happy immortality, it seems to me that the general loss of such a hope, from the minds of average human beings as now constituted, would be an evil of which I cannot pretend to measure the extent. I am not prepared to say that the dissolution of the existing social order would follow, but I think the danger of such dissolution would be seriously increased, and the evil would certainly be very great." Human nature might improve "some centuries hence". Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 357.

[397] House of Quiet, 212-13.

[398] G.W. Prothero, A Memoir of Henry Bradshaw (London, 1888), 414.

[399] LEWB, i, 544-5.

[400] LEWB, i, 539-40.

[401] The Cornishman (Penzance), 31 October 1878.

[402] House of Quiet, 60.

[403] EWB's friend Canon Wilkinson probably alluded to his bereavement in a letter of 17 November 1882, regretting "that sadness must come to you when God is making so much use of you". It is unlikely that either man knew of Benson's turmoil at this time. A.J. Mason, Memoir of George Howard Wilkinson (2 vols, London, 1909), ii, 35.

[404] LEWB, i, 521-2; Job, 5:18.

[405] Royal Cornwall Gazette, 5 October 1877.

[406] Leaves, 112-13. Newman had published little in recent years, but a new edition of sermons first published in 1849 had appeared in 1881. Benson may have read one of these. J.H. Newman, Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (6th ed., London, 1881). There are some themes in the opening sermon, "The Salvation of the Hearer the Motive of the Preacher" (1-21) that might have chimed with Benson's distress, but it is unprofitable to speculate. Newsome, 39, seems oddly unsure that Benson approached Newman.

[407] House of Quiet, 60.

[408] 'T.B.' in 1904 claimed to be "going through Newman's Apologia for the twentieth time." Upton Letters, 23. In 1911, Benson argued that we should "be ultimately grateful to Kingsley's fierce and faulty dialectic for eliciting the splendid Apologia." This must rank as one of the most perverse defences of an intellectual argument ever advanced. Revealingly, Benson did not believe that Kingsley had indeed wronged Newman: "it was one of those great controversies in which both the disputants were probably right!" Leaves of the Tree, 251.

[409] Goldhill, 237.

[410] Leaves, 113.

[411] House of Quiet, 60.

[412] House of Quiet, 60.

[413] 'T.B.' in House of Quiet, 60.

[414] Upton Letters, 24.

[415] Trefoil, 281. "I mean to rule," he told Benson, as they walked for the last time in the Cornish lanes. LEWB, i, 526.

[416] A.R. Buckland / R. Strong, "Wilkinson, George Howard," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; LEWB, i, 474. Wilkinson's Eaton Square parishioners presented him with a leaving present of £4,000. Mason, Memoir of Bishop Wilkinson, ii, 41.

[417] Mason, Memoir of Bishop Wilkinson, ii, 37.

[418] The account that follows combines quotations from Leaves, 113-14 and House of Quiet, 61. They are so obviously two accounts of the same event that there seems no point in attempting to separate them.

[419] Both Cambridge University Library and (as it was then) the British Museum assigned Wilkinson's undated 46-page booklet, "The Chastening of the Lord," to 1883, but this may have been simply a cataloguing date. Quotations are from a New York edition, also undated.

[420] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[421] Leaves, 121-3.

[422] Bahlman, ed., The Diary of Sir Edward Walter Hamilton, i, 269 (9 May 1882); Leaves of the Tree, 120.

[423] Leaves, 113.

[424] Lubbock, 115 (15 May 1905); Mason, Memoir of Bishop Wilkinson, ii, 39.

[425] Lubbock, 78.

[426] Mason, Memoir of Bishop Wilkinson, ii, 39.

[427] Lubbock, 115.

[428] Leaves, 114.

[429] Benson's retrospective diary reference to November 1882: Newsome, 36.

[430] Newsome, 43; House of Quiet, 211-13.

[431] R.W. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James (London, 1980), 38.

[432] Ryle (Lyttelton), 145.

[433] Lubbock, 30; Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir, 393.

[434] Turner, 1.

[435] A.C. Benson, The Schoolmaster (London, 1902), 132-4.

[436] Schoolmaster, 128. The device is generally associated with Disraeli, in his 1880 novel Endymion, but its implications had been brilliantly analysed by Leslie Stephen in "The Religion of All Sensible Men," North American Review, cxxx (1880), 438-61.