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William Cox Bennett

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Bennett, William Cox I Mr. Bennett, Bennet, Bennett I, 1820-1895, misc. writer. Born in Greenwich. Attended a school in Greenwich, but forced by death of father to discontinue his schooling at an early age. Despite scanty education, became well-read man. Took active part in educational and social betterment of his native borough, as in formation of a literary institution, reform of a charity school, establishment of public baths and wash houses. Instrumental in securing Gladstone's return to Parliament for the borough, 1868. Honorary auditor of Association for the Repeal of Taxes on Knowledge; member of London council of Education League. Contributed to People's Journal, Howitt's Journal, Ladies' Companion, London Figaro, and other periodicals. On staff of Weekly Dispatch. Privately printed two volumes of verse, 1843, 1845; thereafter published some ten volumes. With one class of readers his verse was "very sorry stuff" (North Brit. Rev., Feb. 1861); with another class it gained immense popularity. Most popular were what Bennett called his "Home Poems" – particularly his poems on infants, which earned him the title "Laureate of the Babies" (Sala, Breakfast in Bed, p. 45). "Critics have said," wrote Bennett, "that 'Baby May,' 'Baby's Shoes,' and 'The Worn Wedding-ring,' have been reprinted in almost every newspaper and popular periodical of England, America, and our Colonies" ("Preface," Poems, 1862.). In 1869 awarded Hon. LL.D. by Tusculum College, Tennessee. Thereafter was "Dr. Bennett" to his contemporaries. 




      Many years after Bennett's death, Bennett's name became connected with one of the literary forgeries of Thomas J. Wise. Bennett had been a friend of Mary Russell Mitford, Mrs. Browning's favourite correspondent. This fact provided Wise the pretext for naming Bennett as the person from whom he had obtained copies of the "Reading: 1847" edition of Mrs. Browning's Sonnets. In 1934, shortly before the exposure of the forgeries, Wise cleared Bennett of complicity in the matter; what he had obtained from Bennett, Wise now remembered, was a copy of Bennet's privately printed My Sonnets, 1843 – not copies of Mrs. Browning's sonnets.
      Bennett was addicted to sending to eminent contemporaries – acquainted or unacquainted with him – copies of his verses. Dickens, one of the recipients of this attention, wrote Bennett a note of thanks, Aug. 29, 1848, addressing him as "Dear Sir": "I beg to assure you, in reply to your obliging note, that I have felt from the first the liveliest interest in those verses which you have kindly sent me from time to time, and that I have very highly esteemed those marks of your remembrance. Believe me I feel indebted to you for giving me this opportunity of saying, that I have been deeply moved and affected by some of your writings, and that I thank you with all my heart" (Further Testimonials in Favour of W. C. Bennett, ... Candidate for the Secretaryship of the London School Board, pp. 7-8). Later, Bennett presented to Dickens a copy of Our Glory-Roll, and Other National Poems, inscribed to him "with the profound admiration and respect" of the author, and a copy of Proposals for ... a Ballad History of England, similarly inscribed (Stonehouse, Catalogue). Bennett also expressed publicly his admiration of Dickens. In an untitled sonnet on Gad's Hill, he gave praise to "England's world-loved Dickens," and, on Dickens's death, he published in the Penny Illustrated Paper, June 18, 1870, an "In Memoriam" poem on Dickens. 
      About three months before the first number of H.W. appeared, Bennett inquired of Dickens about the possibility of his becoming a contributor. Dickens wrote to him, Jan. 3, 1850, that he hoped to have the pleasure of being able to accept contributions from Bennett once the periodical was in existence (MS Times Bookshop, London). 
      The H.W. article "Street Minstrelsy" named Bennett as a writer of songs and ballads popular with the people. 
                                                                                                                                                                                   D.N.B. suppl. 1901 

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971. 

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 

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