Walter Besant, novelist, dramatist, historical writer, and critic, was born in Portsea, England, August 14, 1836, the son of William Besant and his wife Sarah Ediss. He was educated at King's College, London, and at Cambridge, from which he was graduated in 1859. For a time he was instructor in mathematics at Leamington College, and from 1861 to 1867 was senior professor at the Royal College, Mauritius. Because of ill health, he returned to London in 1868. He wrote for Once a Week, and his first published book was "Studies in Early French Poetry." In 1872, in collaboration with James Rice, he published "Ready-Money Mortiboy," and finding that they could work together in harmony, they continued joint publication until 1881 when Rice stopped writing on account of illness. After this, Besant continued writing novels alone until his death at Hampstead June 9, 1901. His novels are well written and entertaining, and while not profound, are all the better for that reason. Even when the theme is social improvement of the poor, the novels do not become sermons. Besides novels, he wrote some nineteen or twenty books on the subject of London and its environs, numerous biographies, half-a-dozen plays, and many essays. He was married, in 1874, to Mary Forster-Barham, of Bridgewater, and by her had two sons and two daughters.
See below, under James Rice for their joint works.
REFERENCES: W. Besant, The autobiography of Sir Walter Besant, 1902; Anon., Two English Men of Letters," Literary Digest, XII, 1901, 785, with portrait; Anon., "Walter Besant," from Mail and Express, quoted in Book News, XI, 1892, 4, good portrait; Obit. Ibid., XIX, 1900-1901, 733; Outlook, LXVIII, 1901, 383, 571; Allibone, Supplement. I.
Fireside Library. No. 139
Waverley Library (quarto). Nos. 114, 126