Robert Keable at Magdalene College with AC Benson

Robert Keable at Magdalene College with AC Benson

November 03, 2023

Many of us have fond memories of our time as undergraduates at university and Robert Keable was no exception. He loved his time at Magdalene College, Cambridge and was proud to leave a trust fund to pay for poor students from his old school – Whitgift Grammar – to study history at the college. His best written novel, Peradventure, is a semi-autobiographical account of his time there. Little effort is made to disguise people or places. Paul Kestern’s upbringing and views are his. The college maybe called St Mary’s, but the description of buildings and traditions are Magdalene. Paul had his own ‘gyp’ or college servant – Mr Mavis, and ‘bedder’ or housekeeper, Mrs Rover. Tressor is AC Benson and Father Vassell, RH Benson. Thurloe End where Paul stays with Father Vassell is Hare House - RH Benson’s home near Cambridge.

Magdalene College would not exist – certainly in its current form – without the service and generosity of AC Benson. Benson was a fellow of the college from 1904 and then Master from 1915 to his death in 1925. He spent huge sums of his own money renovating buildings and building new ones and he led the rapid improvement in the scholarship and academic reputation of the College. Benson had been at Magdalene for just a year when Keable joined. He was a huge influence on Keable and they developed a firm friendship which survived the writing of Simon Called Peter.

Keable’s time at Cambridge

Keable was always going to become a priest but neither he nor his father - an evangelical who came late to the priesthood having never been to university - saw any need for him to study divinity. Instead, he chose history. In his last year at Whitgift he sat exams for three scholarships to Cambridge - two closed school ones and one open - eventually being awarded an Open Latimer-Neville Exhibition by Magdalene. Like many young men of his generation, he was the first member of his family to go to university and he was keen to make his parents proud.

Magdalene was an interesting choice. There was no obvious connection with his school. Students going to Cambridge from Whitgift at that time tended to go to Gonville and Caius, Corpus Christi or Christ’s. As far as I have discovered he was the only one from Croydon during his time there although Arthur Tedder – later Marshal of the Royal Air Force – did follow him to Magdalene from Whitgift to read history a year after Keable graduated.

When Keable joined the College it was one of the smallest and poorest in Cambridge and still retained a reputation as a college for wealthy gentlemen seeking to enjoy themselves. That reputation had been built over the second half of the C19th, when Magdalene operated as a last chance saloon for the upper classes. In those days students had to pass an exam in their second year known as the ‘Previous Examination’[i] which was a mix of Classics and Mathematics. It wasn’t a particularly hard exam to pass but lazy, or not very bright students, struggled. Some colleges, with good academic reputations, insisted their students who failed the exam had to leave. Magdalene however always gave students in their college – and increasingly from other colleges - a second go at the exam. By the Eighteen Eighties over half the college was made up of refugees from other colleges and they were overwhelmingly ex-Etonian or ex-Harrovians, many from Trinity College.

Latimer Neville was Master of Magdalene for over 50 years from 1853 to 1904 so he, more than anyone, was responsible for its reputation. According to Alex Samuels he was ‘a good but dull man, lacking intellectual powers’[ii]. Although he had a horror of inebriation and fornication, was absolutely rigid in his view that students should attend morning and afternoon chapel on Sundays, and was fiercely opposed to the keeping of dogs in college; his rule was seen as mild and the college was known to be more relaxed than others. When he died in 1904 the Cambridge Review suggested that that some might think his rule was too mild as ‘he always had a compassionate view of undergraduates’ shortcomings’.

Following his death in January 1904 his son Henry Neville, having inherited his father’s title of Visitor of Magdalene, had sole responsibility for appointing his successor. With money short Henry’s first priority was to appoint a wealthy man with private means, but he was also aware that he needed to find someone qualified to run an educational institution. He chose ‘Stuart Donaldson, an Eton product, an Eton master, a First-Class Honours graduate of King’s – and the Visitor’s exact contemporary at school and university’[iii].

Donaldson’s first task was to oversee the election of a fifth Fellow and he encouraged his friend, another former teacher at Eton, AC Benson, to stand. Saving money was a priority and Benson did not need a stipendiary. Benson was a divisive figure. He had left Eton after criticising the school for its obsession with teaching Latin and Greek instead of offering a broader curriculum and, for his day, he had unconventional views including refusing to believe in hell while championing the likelihood of reincarnation. As Professor Ged Martin – a former research fellow at Magdalene - pointed out, Benson was already a popular writer, on the verge of becoming a literary megastar, with impressive Establishment credentials. The son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson (Archbishop 1883-1896), he had written the libretto for Elgar’s Coronation Ode which included the words to Land of Hope and Glory, and was working on editing Queen Victoria’s letters which were published a couple of years later.[iv]

When Keable arrived at Magdalene in Autumn 1905 new master, Stuart Donaldson, and the new Fellow Benson were beginning their second year and were both busy trying to modernise the college. There is no doubt Donaldson would have seen Keable as the perfect recruit. Donaldson was an evangelical priest - who tried to insist his students attend chapel on Sunday – and a militant teetotal who only served ginger beer or barley wine when he entertained. Keable had embraced his own very puritanical upbringing, and joined the college as a committed evangelical, teetotal, non-smoker, and celibate. He had also never been to the theatre which his Cambridge friends quickly rectified.

A contemporary of Keable, A.V. Atkindon, wrote later about the view of his college servant, (or Gyp as they were known in Cambridge),

Magdalene was only just emerging – under Stuart Donaldson and Arthur Benson from its long raffish period, the passing of which was much regretted by my Gyp, who shook his head and said ‘Things ain’t what they were. I remember when gentleman’s ‘osses used to be standing every morning right up the road but now they (not the ‘osses) go in for lectures and reading!’ His gloom was only alleviated by the arrival of Prince Leopold of Battenberg, whose Gyp he became. [v][vi]

When Latimer-Neville died in 1904 there were only 40 undergraduates in the college with just 10 matriculating that year. The numbers started to rise with 17 joining in Keable’s year and a further 26 the following year[vii] but the college stayed small. An advantage of having so few undergraduates was that everyone knew everyone, and there were no cliques. Keable initially made friends with the more religiously minded members of the college, but he also mixed with the noisier students and even took up rowing, gaining a seat in the second college boat which ‘got on’ in the annual bumps – making fours bumps in 1908. Under the captaincy of his friend George Mallory the success of his boat, and the first boat, was celebrated across the college with practically the whole college turned out to support the two boats in the lent races. Years later Keable noted that his college oar had pride of place on his wall of his library in his house in Tahiti.

Keable was not handsome, certainly according to his friends. One described him as having had a weak chin, a freckled face and wire-like coarse red hair which tended to curl in the front. He wore a pair of pince-nez and he was also knock-kneed. And he was not a smart dresser usually wearing a Norfolk jacket and a rather tight-fitting pair of checked patterned trousers. However, everyone agreed he was a strong character, and the Revd James Jones wrote ‘Most men said that he possessed strong personal magnetism.’ [viii] He was popular throughout the College and his contemporaries seemed to agree that he was a genial soul.

The College in 1905 was very small – just the one courtyard of buildings including the chapel and hall, then the Pepys Building behind and the Master’s Lodge someway off.  The standard of the rooms varied enormously. Keable had to survive on £150 a year – which he did comfortably – and so had one of the smallest rooms up in the attic of what is now called the First Court. This allowed him a view over the narrow garden to the river Cam, as well as a view down the narrow street towards St John’s. He entertained his friends in the simple room with its worse for wear couch, a couple of chairs and a square table in the centre. It must have been a spartan life as there was no electricity and no running water. To have a bath meant using a tin hip-bath filled with heater water by the gyp and bedder.

In Peradventure there is a description of another student’s rooms which the hero Paul visits.

The other had ground-floor rooms, much finer and bigger than Paul’s. They had been redecorated; a baby grand stood in one corner; a revolving bookcase by the fire held a terra-cotta Winged Victory; two or three gilt-framed pictures graced the white-papered walls.

Manning, who has the rooms explains: ‘That’s a genuine Corot over there which I bamboozled the governor into letting me bring up.’ (In 2018 a painting by Jean-Baptise-Camille Corot sold for $9 million at Christies.)

One very good friend was Arthur Grimble, the author of A Pattern of Islands, who later joined the colonial office and worked in the Gilbert Islands before becoming a Governor, first of the Seychelles and later of the Windward Island. Grimble’s daughter in her introduction to one of her father’s books described their friendship:

Keable was a year senior to my father, but they were inseparable companions, though very different in character – my father easy going, urbane, gregarious (he was a founder of the Aristippeans, a society devoted to the pleasures of the moment); Keable an earnest, somewhat introspective young man, reading for the church and immersed in missionary work during vacations. The bond between them was literature, especially poetry and philosophy. One can imagine the midnight discussions in clouds of smoke (at Pepys Society meetings they all smoked churchwarden pipes), tremendous passions aroused, momentous decisions arrived at only to breed greater and more agonizing doubts followed by fresh debates next day.[ix]

The Pepys Society was founded by Keable as an opportunity for undergraduates to share original verse and prose. (The diarist Samuel Pepys had been an undergraduate at Magdalene College). The society lasted for four years after Keable graduated before being renamed.

Benson, although an English Literature lecturer, oversaw the teaching of History at Magdalene a subject which had been virtually ignored previously. He did not actually teach the subject but coached Keable in essay writing for the History Tripos general paper. Also studying History and starting the same year with Keable was George Mallory, later famous as a climber who tragically died in 1924 near the top of Mount Everest.

At Whitgift Keable had written poetry and prose for the school magazine and Benson encouraged him to continue doing so in Cambridge offering to read his efforts and inviting him to dinner to discuss his work. Keable wrote pieces for the Church Mission Society Record and local papers, and eventually had three poems later published in an anthology of Cambridge poets edited by Aelfrida Tillyard (Cambridge poets, 1900-1913). Also in the anthology were poems by Rupert Brooke who was at King’s in the year below Keable. Years later Keable wrote that he had made the acquaintance of Brooke, presumably either through George Mallory – who was a friend of Brooke – or through Benson who also knew him at Cambridge.

Benson was clearly impressed by Keable’s writing and a few years later, after Keable had become a priest, he recorded in his diary:

My old pupil, torn from the arms of Rome, came to see me. An interesting creature bought up by Evangelical parents, the father a parson who had been a nonconformist. Keable was at Croydon School and came here as a historian: he got a first in history – then went as a curate to Bradford and only escaped falling to Rome by going out to Zanzibar. He has been there two years. Instead of writing to his friends, he printed a monthly letter and sent it around – such really beautiful letters, giving a view of the missionary life which is unlike all others I have ever read. He is really a poet and a first-rate writer.[x]

Although Keable studied history at Cambridge – and the subject remained a life-long passion of his and a source of income when he was down on his luck and needed to earn money as a teacher – he remained active in the church. As soon as he arrived in Cambridge, he joined the Inter-Collegiate Christian Union and began to preach in the open air. In Peradventure he has a scene with Paul going to Parker’s Piece and preaching under the lamp in the centre of the park. (The lamp is still a well-loved landmark in Cambridge). He also became a member of the Children's Special Service Mission - now called the Scripture Union. He practiced his evangelical beliefs with zeal. One summer he joined a beach mission at Port Erin in the Isle of Man. In his final year Keable was elected the Hon Sec of the College’s Mission, proposed by JN Methuen and seconded by George Mallory. The College Mission, based in Camberwell, South London, was called the Magdalene Lads Club. It had been set up in 1907 in a derelict public house, (previously called The Hit and Miss) providing rooms for reading, games (such as billiards), meetings, drill and gymnastic displays. The Mission provided leisure activities for nearly 200 young men with cricket, football, swimming, gymnastics, and shooting teams and a boy scout section.

RH Benson

It was through Benson that Keable met his brother Monsignor RH Benson. Keable arrived at Cambridge a committed Evangelical and had never met or socialised with Catholics and Anglo Catholics. RH Benson (called Hugh by his friends and family) was a former Anglican priest who had become a Roman Catholic priest in 1904 and lived and worked as a chaplain in Cambridge. He would dine in the hall at Magdalene two or three times a week and was happy to talk to the undergraduates about Catholicism. Despite the sixteen-year age gap, they quickly became friends. Hugh Benson was a very appealing character with a pleasing stutter and boyish eagerness.  They were drawn together by highbrow conversation. During their many conversations he worked on Keable, and tried to convert him from his evangelical views towards Catholicism.

Stuart Donaldson was concerned that Arthur Benson’s brother was attempting to convert students in the college to Catholicism and he asked him to do something about it. Benson, although not a supporter of Roman Catholicism, realised that his brother only discussed Catholicism with students who wanted to know about it, and he suggested Donaldson should try to find an impressive evangelical to talk to students and present a counter view.

It is not surprising that as a young student Keable was keen to learn about the different Christian sects and a couple of Keable’s friends at Cambridge remember visiting different churches together around Cambridge. Rev Crouch wrote:

While in Cambridge I should think he must have attended, often in company with me, practically every kind of religious service provided in the town, including the little Catholic Apostolic Church! And his moods would vary from blank agnosticism on one day to, let us say, Plymouth Brethrenism on the next.[xi]

Thanks to his church visits and his many conversations with Hugh Benson, Keable’s Christian friends began to notice a difference in him. Revd. James later wrote that although Keable remained loyal to Anglicanism, he stopped speaking of Protestantism but always of Catholicism and there were outward signs of change – in chapel he started to genuflect and cross himself ‘practices then unknown amongst us’ and he became fascinated in necromancy and spiritualism which also had always interested Hugh Benson.

Revd. James argued that Hugh Benson was able to influence Keable because he presented him with intellectual arguments that had made him become a Roman Catholic and that Keable, with his clever mind, had enjoyed the arguments. In Keable’s touching five-page tribute of Hugh Benson written after his death in 1914 he discusses their conversations saying that he ‘had the knack of putting catholic truths simply and illuminatingly… and of illustrating them from homely incidents in his own life that made them abundantly clear.’[xii]

In Peradventure Keable re-enacted his friendship with Hugh Benson through conversations between Paul and a stuttering Father Vassall. During one vacation Paul goes to stay at Father Vassell’s house and his description, written a few years after Hugh Benson died, is an affectionate account. After the book was published AC Benson wrote to Keable to confirm the accuracy of the portrayal saying: ‘The picture of my brother and Hare Street is admirable, both matter and manner – though isn’t the stammering overdone?’

The house, called Thurloe End in Peradventure, still exists as a grade 2 listed building in the hamlet of Hare Street in East Hertfordshire. Keable spent some time living there in his final year at Magdalene while Hugh Benson was writing Necromancers. Living with Hugh Benson was very different from living with his parents especially at mealtimes. Each meal, whether indoors or out, was an event in itself, full of laughter. Not only was alcohol allowed, it arrived in a cask of ‘Spanish Burgundy’ before bottling!

The two of them, despite the age gap, were very similar characters. Many of Keable’s friends even those who knew him later in his life described his boyishness and Keable wrote of Hugh Benson in a similar way.

The man we knew had a personality so eager, so boyish, so considerate, and with it all so courageous, that there must be many who look back to him now with a sense of loss too deep for verbal expression. His zest of life was, I think, the most marked characteristic. He was so eager over anything that he did, from his wood carving of shields bearing the instruments of the Passion, with which he was occupied when I first saw him in his Cambridge rooms and which hung later about the altar at Hare Street, to the tapestry of the Quest of the Holy Grail. … I recollect to with what energy he laboured in the garden at Buntingford, he loved the open air and we even breakfasted out of doors that spring though it was chill so early in the year.[xiii]

There can be no doubt Keable found Hugh Benson’s way of life more attractive than his parent’s and he wrote that ‘religion and philosophy, speaking in generalities, do shape people's houses, occupations and dress’.

It was not only Hugh Benson who sought to persuade Keable to become a Catholic. Another important influence on him at this time was a friend of Hugh Benson’s - Father Kenelm Vaughan. Keable wrote about him years later in an article for Asia magazine in 1926.

I have met, perhaps two men in my life who gave me that sense of otherworldliness in high degree whose eyes seemed assuredly to have looked into ‘things not seen’ and whose minds have been convinced that spirit is more than matter and that the essential world about us is not bricks and motor at all. The one was the Reverend Father Kenelm Vaughan, Catholic priest and mystic, who yet may be a Catholic saint[xiv]

AC Benson was very aware of the agonies Keable was going through as an undergraduate and in his diary he twice discussed letters from Keable. In the first entry he wrote:

And a long letter of Keable’s telling me his religious trouble. He is evidently being drawn into the Church of Rome, and wants an infallible interpretation of the infallible Bible. In reply I tried to point out that objective certainly was impossible and that, for whatever reason we had to live by faith not by scientific statements.[xv]

A few weeks later he recorded, ‘I did letters – a new mass of arguments from poor Keable, who wants to join the RC Church, alas. It would kill his parents.’[xvi]

Although tempted, Keable never committed himself to becoming a Roman Catholic, but he did gradually begin to lose his Low Church instincts much to his father’s horror. In Peradventure Paul’s father writes letters vigorously denouncing any intercourse with a papist and is quoted as saying ‘I would sooner see a son of mine dead than a Roman Catholic.’ This must surely have been an exaggeration but a friend, A V Atkindon remembers Keable’s father arriving at Cambridge:

‘to point out to him the error of his ways in being led away by Fr. Benson. It was a painful experience for them both, but I never asked him what happened, feeling that to do so …would have been faintly indecent.’ [xvii]

Keable graduates

In the end Keable Keable bucked the trend of Magdalene undergraduates and achieved a first; the first Magdalene student ever to get a first in History Tripos, a degree which was first offered at Cambridge in 1873. Benson received the news from George Mallory writing in his diary: ‘Mallory sent me a wire about the Tripos. My men have done well and Keable has got a First!’[xviii]

In Peradventure Keable conveys the excitement of learning of the first ‘with a sense, first of utter unreality, and then of triumph that had given him for a fleeting hour the carriage of a god’. It certainly meant a lot to him. Peradventure was written 12 years later, and he still wrote ‘he had got a First, which nothing could ever destroy and which would remain a title to respect among all sorts and conditions of men. Differ with him as men might and would, he had entered set and recognised lists and ridden a triumphant course.’ In the novel he rushes off to tell Tressor (Benson) the news, suggesting it was thanks to him more than anyone else.

Less enthusiastic is his description of receiving his degree. Clearly – with the exception of women now receiving degrees instead of supporting their menfolk – little has changed in the past hundred years.

The files of neophytes lined up on the crowded floor of the Senate House in an atmosphere of subdued whispering talk, peering over heads and round shoulders in an endeavour to see what was going forward at the far end. One had occasional glimpses of a rather bored-looking personage in robes on a raised chair, dons with sheafs of papers in the vicinity, and some young man or another kneeling in stiff self-consciousness. …. An usher gave them their signal. Paul found himself in a cleared space, and saw Tressor looming large on its edge. He was aware that he had to kneel in a feudal attitude and that the Vice-Chancellor was murmuring Latin. The indifference of the majority about him made the whole ceremony oddly impersonal. [xix]

After he graduated Keable remained in Cambridge moving over the river to the Cambridge Clergy Training School now called Westcott House. His friend Ivan Manor wrote:

I knew Keable very well at Westcott House. He was curiously emotional and very attracted to Rome. He would spend, I think, long periods brooding and I remember him coming down to breakfast one morning with the remark “I nearly went over last night.” [xx]

The vice Principal of the college BTB Smith described him as ‘that lovable man, Keable Keable’, continuing:

he was outstanding among the men at Westcott when I was vice-Principle there. The two Bensons AC and RH, both influenced him – though he rather enjoyed suggesting that very little was needed to lead him to follow RH to Rome, I rather doubt whether he ever seriously contemplated that step. [xxi]

Keable’s reputation for brilliance was shown by a letter the Rev E Sharpe wrote to Dr Douglas in the early 1960s. (Dr Douglas researched Keable’s life fifty years ago contacting many of his Cambridge friends). When asked about Keable he wrote back:

You have fulfilled a prophecy which I have long come to expect to be fulfilled, to wit that my chief claim to fame would be that I was at Westcott House with Robert Keable. This was made by Whitcombe, who was his particular friend at the time. [xxii]

Keable and Benson

After Keable was ordained, he maintained his friendship with the Bensons. He visited Cambridge when he could. The first time he returned, as a curate, Benson recorded in his diary:

Keable an old Magdalene man, History First, now curate at Bradford came to dine – very analytical and pleasant – he is working under an Evangelical Rector and the old attraction of the Ch of Rome which he used to feel is reasserting itself. I used to blame him for always wanting to see Hugh.

He goes on to explain Keable’s current conundrum that there must surely be just one true church, and if, so that church must be Rome. 

One can’t argue with a man in that frame of mind anymore than one can argue with a drunkard who has a whisky bottle inside a broken door. Everything we say fans the flame. I felt just helpless. Only of course he can’t live so and there is no reason why he should. He says he hates telling his father but that is simply the breaking of eggs. He will see Hugh again on Thursday. I was sorry for him and his affection and attitude touched me greatly, though all the things he said seemed so hopeless to me, the whole scheme of providence … He is going to see Hugh shortly and I know what that means.[xxiii]

Keable preached twice at Magdalene. On the first occasion Benson wrote:

Keable preached a sermon, rather moving, but I thought lacking in breadth of sympathy. He described a ‘vicar of things’ which was meant to be characteristic of the modernist, I told him afterwards it was only ‘a view of Inge’s’ We walked around the garden – he is going to be VP of a college in Zanzibar he looks tired and worn but full of energy.

He added later: ‘Then Keable to tea.’ Arthur Tedder a former Whitgift student was also in the congregation and wrote to his father:

We had Keable (late of Whitgift) to preach in the college chapel for the Universities Mission in Central Africa on Sunday morning. He is a very fine preacher; his sermon was by far the best (which I am afraid is not saying much) we have had in the chapel since I have been up. He preached the university sermon for the mission the same night – rather an honour. He has got a good post as director of some clerical college in Zanzibar to which he goes out this Christmas. I think he will make a name for himself.[xxiv]

After Keable had returned from Zanzibar in 1914 he again visited Benson this time to ask for advice on his next job. Benson recorded:

he has come home on furlough and has been offered a living at Sheffield. He is still much drawn by Rome. He talked to me at much length – he has a strange longing for authority, which seems to be a craving in restless and fanciful minds…  He told me very tentatively of his offer and was surprised and pleased that I warmly advised his acceptance of it. It is what he wants – a sphere just to try his own theory. He will find it won’t work with everyone – and will realise that you can’t have an all-embracing theory of religion.[xxv]

Benson went on: ‘It was a very interesting evening’ as they discussed Keable’s time in Zanzibar and Keable told him all about the the Bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston.

Hugh Benson died in October 1914 and Benson wrote to Keable to thank him for the appreciation Keable had written about his brother for the Treasury Magazine. He liked ‘the detail and visualisation of it,’ suggesting the article was ‘vivid and beautiful’ but he did not agree with Keable’s view that his brother was sentimental. He was clearly upset by many of the commentaries on his brother, so Keable got off quite lightly.

I don’t of course in the least object to other people’s interpretations of him – your article is real enough; but I have been sickened by the RC papers, some of them, who represent him as a mild, dreamy, contemplative, a - worldly poseur – what would they say to the fact that for some years back he had had a very large income, and that he saved most of it, making remarkably shrewd investments? That is perfectly consistent with my Hugh – he hated priggishness; and two out of every three pictures of him are pictures of a prig.[xxvi]

Soon after, when Keable looked to publish his book on Zanzibar – City of Dawn – Benson agreed to write the introduction of the ‘brilliant little book’ by his ‘friend and former pupil’.[xxvii]

Probably the last time they met was just before Keable headed to Basutoland having accepted a parish there instead of in Sheffield. Again, he came to preach.

The service in chapel was disgraceful – the organ very badly played by a new man, the singing like the squeaking of mice, and a new grotesque tune for an old hymn which no one knew, and everyone hated. Keable preached a good sermon on Missions – a little sentimental and rather too obvious when he was reading and when he was extemporising. Then I walked with him in the garden. He is a very nice fellow, full of affection and I feel him to be a real friend.[xxviii]

Stuart Donaldson died in October 1915 and Benson was the obvious choice to take over as the Master of Magdalene. He suffered from depression and had bouts of illness which meant that he was absent from Magdalene for long periods of time during which time he stopped writing his diary. One of these coincided with the publication of Simon Called Peter. There are however two more entries in Benson’s diaries about Keable. The first came soon after Keable had left his wife in 1922 and travelled to Tahiti with Jolie.

Sermon by Archbishop of Kimbala Gresford Jones – a nice … ugly man. We had a long talk about Keable who was his curate. He had an affection for Keable and thought he had some genius. He put his troubles down to sex-suppression. But now he tells me K has separated from his wife, a nice handsome woman and given her a very inadequate allowance.[xxix]

Two years later, soon after Jolie (the mother of Keable's first son) had died Keable wrote to Benson who recorded in his diary:

A gale and the windows all lashed with rain. A letter from Keable, indicating his intention of leaving money to the college which pleased me. He has had a bad break down.[xxx]

Benson died six months later in June 1925. It took another quarter of a century for Keable’s gift to Magdalene of a trust fund to finally materialise – on the death of Keable’s wife Sybil. Between 1952 and 1979 five Whitgift students were recipients of the Keable Scholarship. DR Benchley, KS Rokison, EB McGinnis, AD Murray and NA Diaper.


[i] The Previous Examination was eventually abolished in 1960. Students who did well in the Higher Certificate (introduced in 1917) were exempt.

[ii]  Samuels, Alex, Magdalene Association Essay Prize 2005-2006  (Archived July 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine)

[v] Douglas, from A.V Atkindon to Dr Douglas 10th Nov 1960

[vi] Prince Leopold of Battenberg (1889- 1922) was the son of Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice, he changed his name to Sir Leopold Mountbatten in 1917

[viii] Jones,  Revd James, Reminiscences Benson, Keable and Mallory 1906-1910, (Magdalene College Magazine)

[ix] Grimble, Margaret introduction to Artur Grimble’s Migrations, Myth and Magic from the Gilbert Islands, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1972

[x] AC Benson diaries Vol 143 pp34-36

[xi] Douglas, from Rev Crouch undated

[xii] Keable, Robert, Robert Hugh Benson: A Personal Tribute, The Treasury Illustrated Magazine (G.J.Palmer and Sons) p198

[xiii] Keable, Robert, Robert Hugh Benson: A Personal Tribute, The Treasury Illustrated Magazine (G.J.Palmer and Sons) p199

[xiv] Keable, Robert Tahitian visitors (Asia magazine May 1926) p 426

[xv] AC Benson diaries Vol 94 p7-8

[xvi] AC Benson diaries Vol 94 p29

[xvii] Douglas, from A.V Atkindon to Dr Douglas 10th Nov 1960

[xviii] AC Benson diaries Vol 121 p4


[xix] Keable, Peradventure p239

[xx] Douglas, from Ivan Mavor St. Marys Highfield, Rosshire to Dr Douglas 23rd June 1959

[xxi] Douglas, from Rev BTD Smith undated

[xxii] Douglas, from Rev E Sharpe, 12 King Street, Dundee Undated

[xxiii] AC Benson Vol 121 pp3-4

[xxiv] Letter from Lord Tedder (Magdalene 1909-1913) written to parents in 1911

[xxv] AC Benson diaries Vol 143 p34-36

[xxvi] Letter from AC Benson to Robert Keable Oct 29th 1914

[xxvii] Keable, Robert, City of Dawn, Nisbet 1915 – Introduction by AC Benson

[xxviii] AC Benson Vol 149 p11

[xxix] AC Benson Vol 175 p60

[xxx] AC Benson diary Vol 178 p120