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Sir Walter Besant – Biography

Below is the detailed biography of Sir Walter Besant, a well known British novelist and historian of the Victorian era. His brother was Frank Besant whose wife was the famous Annie Besant. 

The early life of Sir Walter Besant

A portrait of Sir Walter Besant

Walter was born on the 14th of August in the year 1836 in Portsmouth, Hampshire. His father was a wine merchant – William Besant who had two other sons. He went to St Paul’s, Southsea for his schooling as a little boy and later to Stockwell Grammar School in London.

He did his degree from King’s College London and went as a pensioner to Christ’s College, Cambridge in the year 1855. He had a flair for teaching and did so for some years at Rossall School in Lancashire. He was a mathematical teacher and went on to be one at Leamington College. 

Further, he also went to Mauritius where he spent six years as a Math Professor at the Royal College, Mauritius. 

Career – Sir Walter Besant

One of his first works was ‘Studies in French Poetry’ that he published in 1868. His individual novels include ‘All in a Garden Fair’, ‘Dorothy Foster; and ‘Children of Gibeon’. He also wrote ‘All sorts and conditions of men’ in favour of the poor class of the society whose hardships he identified.

East London by Sir Walter Besant

He collaborated with James rice and wrote ‘Ready Money Mortiboy’ in the year 1872 and ‘The Golden Butterfly’ in the year 1876. Both these works bought them major success. Sadly, this partnership was broken due to the death of James Rice in 1882. 

He established ‘The Peoples’ palace’, an organisation in the East of London to address the worries of the poor class. Many books are found to be written about the topography of London and very specifically about the history of the city. 

He formed such institutes in his time in Mauritius as well and also joined many, such as the ‘Lodge of Harmony’ in 1862. He was made Master of Marquis of Dalhousie Lodge, London in the year 1873. He founded the Society of Authors in London in the year 1884. 

‘Westminster’ by Sir Walter Besant in the year 1895

He also worked toward improving Briton and American relations as he was a treasurer of an organisation called ‘Atlantic Union’ that supported the cause.

Major Works 

His fictional works were known among London and read by many. ‘The Alabaster Box’ that came in 1900, ‘Alfred’ in 1899, ‘Armorel of Lyoness’ in 1890, “The Bell of St Paul’s” in 1889 were some of the many. 

A very interesting book called ‘Doubts about Dives’ was published by him. It is a fictional story of a rich man and a poor man exchanging bodies. A compilation of such stories was released by him in the year 1902. It is called ‘A five year’s Tryst and other stories’. He also wrote ‘A Fountain Sealed’ in the year 1897. Later, his famous work was ‘The Fourth Generation’ in 1900. 

Another fascinating work was ‘The Inner House’ in 1888. It was about a fictional society of men that discovered immortality. He also wrote ‘The Lady of Lynn’ in 1901. These are just some of the many famous books by Sir Walter Besant.

‘No other way’ by Sir Walter Besant

He also wrote the play ‘The Charm and other drawing-room plays’ in collaboration with W. Pollock in the year 1896. 

His non-fictional works included the ‘Amusement of the People’ in the year 1884. In collaboration with another writer, he wrote ‘Constantinople, A Sketch of its history from its foundation to its conquest by the Turks in 1453. This was published in 1879.

A similar work called ‘ Essays and Historiettes’ came out in 1903. Another historical work in collaboration with two other writers was ‘Jerusalem, the City of Herod and Saladin’ in the year 1871. ‘The Queen’s reign and its commemoration’ was written in 1897.

An entire series of books about the city of London called London was written from 1892 until 1912. Nearly 7 volumes of the book are found. He also has a beautiful write up about the Westminster covering its history, purpose, architecture, style and more.

Legacy of Sir Walter Besant

Walter Besant was made a knight in the year 1895. He was the Secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund from the years 1868 to 1885. He was certainly one of the important men of the Victorian era. His works describing the social conditions in London have certainly driven the movement forward. He died on the 9th of June, 1901 at the age of 64 years in Frognal, London.