Trusty Servant May 2023 | Page 3

No . 135
The Trusty Servant

Saint Martin : The brief life of Martin White Benson ( 1860 – 1878 )

Dr Nikhil Krishnan ( Co Ro , 22- ) writes :
A short obituary in the Wykehamist issue of February 1878 admitted that Martin White Benson was ‘ perhaps but little known to many ’, his obscurity ‘ owing to his taking small part in School games ’. But Martin ’ s father , then the Bishop of Truro , was not exhibiting a father ’ s partiality when he had pronounced his eldest and most favoured son destined for greatness . His death , barely halfway through his eighteenth year , felt to him a special tragedy : ‘ so much hope for the future ; such admirable preparation for good work , with such persuasive gentleness , such thoughtfulness and such reverence together .’
The bishop ’ s youngest son , Hugh , then six , wrote to his elder brother Arthur , then at Eton , that ‘ Martin is gone to hefen . I am so happy that Martin is gone to Jesus Christ . ... He is Saint Martin now .’ His mother Mary , who had a thoughtful and unsentimental Evangelical faith , wrote that he was ‘ ours now , in a way that nothing can take away .’
Arthur called his father ’ s epitaph , composed for the brass above Martin ’ s grave in the chantry gable , ‘ one of the most beautiful and moving epitaphs ever framed by love and sorrow .’ The Latin words , still legible today , mean : ‘ O Love , O Shepherd , ... who cherish in your bosom the lamb whom you have chosen for yourself , lead us ... to the place where we shall be enabled to enjoy a love that is not blind .’
The Benson family felt the loss of Martin no less keenly for living in an age when nearly every family had been visited by just such a tragedy . But being a family of some power , influence and eloquence – Benson pére was later to be Archbishop of Canterbury and all five of the surviving Benson siblings grew up to be prolific writers –they preserved their memories of their son and brother in countless forms : in letters , memoirs and reminiscences . For the 21st-century historian seeking a window into the inner world of
Martin Benson ’ s plaque in Cloisters .
a remarkable Victorian schoolboy , the archive the Bensons preserved of Martin ’ s short life – now at the Bodleian Library , Oxford –is a precious and deeply moving thing .
Was Martin really the saint his father and youngest brother thought him ? One part of the archive strongly suggests it . Some of the letters he wrote to his parents from Winchester suggest a pious prig , commenting sagely on church politics and reporting dutifully on his reading . His father had no doubt of it , writing