Benson, William

, an English critic, once of some fame, the son of sir William Benson, formerly sheriff of London, was born in 1682. After receiving a liberal education, he made a tour on the continent, during which he visited Hanover and some other German courts, and | Stockholm. In 1710, he served the office of high sheriff of Wilts; and soon after wrote a celebrated letter to sir Jacob Banks of Mihehead, by birth a Swede, but naturalized, in which he represented the miseries of the Swedes, after they had made a surrender of their liberties to arbitrary power; which, according to his account, was then making great advances at home. When summoned for this letter before the privy council, he avowed himself the author, but no prosecution appears to have followed, as he put his name to the subsequent editions, of which 100,000 are said to have been sold in English, or in translations. He afterwards wrote “Two letters to sir Jacob Banks, concerning the Minehead doctrine,1711, 8vo.

He became member of parliament for Shaftesbury in the first parliament of George I. and in 17 Is was made surveyor general, in the place of sir Christopher Wren, on which occasion he vacated his seat in parliament. Why such a disgrace should be inBicted on sir Christopher Wren, now full of years and honours, cannot be ascertained. Benson, however, gained only an opportunity, and that soon, to display his incapacity, and the amazing contrast between him and his predecessor. Being em-­ployed to survey the house of lords, he gave in a report that that house and the painted-chamber adjoining were in immediate danger of falling. On this the lords were about to appoint some other place for their meeting, when it was suggested that it would be proper to take the opinion of some other builders, who reported that the building was in very good condition. The lords, irritated at Benson’s ignorance and incapacity, were about to petition the king to remove him, when the earl of Sunderland, then secretary, assured them that his majesty would anticipate their wishes. Benson was accordingly dismissed. He was in some measure consoled, however, by the assignment of a considerable debt due to the crown in Ireland, and by the reversion of one of the two offices of auditor of the imprests, which he enjoyed after the death of Mr, Edward Harley. In 1724, he published “Virgil’s Husbandry, with notes critical and rustic;” and in 1739, “Letters concerning poetical translations, and Virgil’s and Milton’s arts of verse.” This last was followed by an edition of “Arthur Johnston’s Psalms,” accompanied with the Psalms of David, according to the translation in the English Bible, printed in 4to, 8vo, and 12mo; with a | Prefatory discourse,1740; in 1741 “A conclusion to his prefatory discourse” and in the same year, “A supplement to it, in which is contained, a comparison betwixt Johnston and Buchanan.” In this comparison, given in favour of Johnston, he was so unlucky, or, rather for the sake of taste, so lucky as to excite the indignation of the celebrated Ruddiman, who wrote an elaborate and unanswerable defence of Buchanan, in a letter to Mr. Benson, under the title of “A Vindication of Mr. George Buchanan’s Paraphrase of the Book of Psalms,Edinburgh, 1745, 8vo. Benson, although a man who had spent the greater part of his life among books, yet a short time before his death, contracted an unconquerable aversion to them, and perhaps to society likewise, as the latter years of his life were passed in close retirement at his house at Wimbledon, where he died Feb. 1754. His character has been variously represented. It was his misfortune, if not his fault, in the outset, that he was placed in the invidious situation of suc-s cessor to sir Christopher Wren, who was most improperly dismissed; and this procured him a place in the Dunciad, which probably served to keep up the remembrance of whaj he would willingly have forgot. Dr. Warton, however, has endeavoured to do him justice in his notes on Pope. “Benson,” says that amiable critic, “is here spoken of too contemptuously. He translated faithfully, if not very poetically, the second book of the Georgics, with useful notes he printed elegant editions of Johnston’s psalms; he wrote a discourse on versification he rescued his country from the disgrace of having no monument erected to the memory of Milton in Westminster-abbey; he encouraged and urged Pitt to translate the yEneid; and he gave Dobson of.1000 for his Latin translation of Paradise Lost.” Another testimony we have of his liberality which ought not to be suppressed. In 1735, a book was published, entitled “The cure of Deism.” The author, Mr. Elisha Smith, was at that time confined in the Fleet prison for a debt of ^^Oo. Benson, pleased with the work, inquired who was the author, and having received an account of his unfortunate state, not only sent him a handsome letter, but discharged the whole debt, fees, &o. and set him at liberty. 1


Nichols’s Life of Bowyer. Chalmers’ Life of Ruddiman, p. 176. Pope’s Works, vol. V.