Throughout his life, Arthur Christopher Benson proved to be a prolific writer, and this reality transcends the dozens of books he authored. He was both a compulsive diarist – David Newsome estimates up to five million words in the surviving 180 volumes, (Newsome, page 385*) – and correspondent. Not only did Benson write voluminously to his friends and family, but he made a sustained and concerted effort to answer every letter received from his readers. Below are few examples of this immense body of labor followed by transcriptions and commentary.
May 20, 1907
Dear Mr Clark,
Many thanks to you for your kind + generous letter about my books. I need hardly say that the reception of them in America has been a very real pleasure to me, because American readers are, at the present time, even more than English readers, on the look out for the serious note in literature. Moreover I cannot help feeling that people are getting a little tired of soulless fiction, and desire that subjects should be (?) of directly and not only in parables.
Your words about my elder sister have touched me greatly, and I am sending on your kind message to my mother, which she will appreciate greatly.
I am afraid that you put far too charitable an interpretation upon the failure of which you speak.
With sincere thanks to you for writing so kindly + cordially,
very truly yours
Arthur C. Benson
Several week before this letter was written, AC Benson and his brother Edward were informed of the mental breakdown of their sister Maggie. The first week of that month, AC travelled to the Benson family home and signed the required papers to institutionalize her. (Newsome, p 219-20) A talented writer in her own right, Maggie never fully recovered and passed away in 1916. Their mother, Mary Benson (1841-1918) was a cousin of the philosopher Henry Sidgwick. Unfortunately, the identity of the American Mr. Clark and the topic for which he bore a charitable interpretation is not known. The letter was written on paper from Magdalene College where Benson was a Master.
June 11, 1907
I must send you one line to thank you for your kind + sympathetic letter, which has not only given me real pleasure but encouragement as well. It was good of you to write.
Very truly yours,
Arthur C. Benson
This brief letter addressed to an unknown corespondent is written on letterhead of Benson’s private retreat away from Cambridge. After the ordeal of Maggie’s illness, Benson spent the summer visiting and traveling with friends such as Maurice Baring and Percy Lubbock. However, that autumn, his own struggle with mental illness resulted in a deeply depressive period that lasted for two years. (Newsome, page 220-5)
Letters from personal collection. Images and Commentary: copyright 2021 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.
*Newsome, David On the Edge of Paradise, A. C. Benson: The Diarist (London: John Murray, 1980).