Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kennedy, Benjamin Hall

KENNEDY, BENJAMIN HALL, D.D. (1804–1889), head-master of Shrewsbury School, regius professor of Greek at Cambridge, and canon of Ely, born at Summer Hill, near Birmingham, in 1804, was eldest son of Rann Kennedy [q. v.] From 1814 to 1818 he was educated in his father's house and at King Edward's School, Birmingham, and throughout his youth owed much to the encouragement of his father's friends, Dr. John Johnstone [q. v.] and Dr. Parr [q. v.], the latter especially taking a keen interest in him. The example of his father early imbued him with a love of learning and passionate admiration for poetry, and he read widely in his father's large library. When a child he thoroughly mastered an edition of ‘The British Theatre’ in thirty volumes, and a love of dramatic literature never left him. In spite, however, of his discursive reading, he worked hard at classics, and when, in January 1819, he went to Shrewsbury School, the composition which he wrote, consisting, as the fashion then was, entirely of original Latin composition in verse and prose, exhibits astonishing command of Latin and power of invention. Samuel Butler (1774–1839) [q. v.] was the head-master of Shrewsbury, and had made it one of the leading schools of the country. Under him young Kennedy rapidly developed. In a year he became second boy, and in a year and a half, when he was not sixteen, head boy, a position which he held until he left in 1823. Among his schoolfellows were Charles (Autobiography, i. 30 seq.) and Erasmus Darwin. While still at school, by Butler's advice, he sent in a copy of iambics for the Porson prize, and a Latin ode for Sir W. Browne's medal at Cambridge; in both cases the examiners selected his composition for the prize, and, although he was not eligible for the Browne medal, he received the Porson, and the regulations were in consequence altered, so that he is the only schoolboy who ever won it.

In 1823 Kennedy went to St. John's College, Cambridge. Professor J. E. B. Mayor (Classical Review, May 1889) says that the list of what he had then read ‘sounds like the record of a Scaliger.’ In January 1824, when only in his second term, he won the Pitt university scholarship. During the examination Dean Law set Isaiah ch. xiv. 6–17 for Greek iambics, and Kennedy's translation (see Between Whiles) was so good that the Greek professor, Dobree, had it printed and circulated. His other university distinctions were the Porson prize for the second time in 1824, and for the third in 1826; the prizes for the Greek ode in 1824, for the Latin ode in 1824, and for the epigrams in 1825, and the members' prize in 1828. He graduated B.A. in 1827, being a senior optime in the mathematical tripos, and senior classic and first chancellor's medallist. Throughout his undergraduate career he was as notable for his wit and his social qualities as for his scholarship. The first Lord Lytton, who for fifty years remained his close friend (see dedication of translation of The Birds), has recorded (Life, i. 232) the impression produced by ‘an ardent, enthusiastic youth from Shrewsbury, a young giant in learning, who carried away the prize from Praed.’ He took frequent part in the Union debates, then held in the back room of the Red Lion in Petty Cury, and became president in 1825. In 1824 he was also elected a member of the Cambridge Conversazione Society, better known as ‘the Apostles,’ where he formed an intimacy with Frederick Denison Maurice [q. v.] and John Sterling [q. v.], and in the same year became an original member of the Athenæum, at the invitation of Richard Heber. Among his other friends and acquaintances in what Lord Lytton calls ‘that brilliant undergraduate world’ (Life of his father, i. 243, and see pp. 243–7) were W. M. Praed, Alexander Cockburn, Charles Wordsworth, Charles Buller, and William Selwyn (see dedication Between Whiles, 1st edit.)

In 1827 Kennedy went to Shrewsbury as an assistant-master, but, on being elected fellow of St. John's in 1828, returned to Cambridge to take pupils. Among them were R. Shilleto, Charles Merivale (afterwards dean of Ely), Henry Philpott (afterwards bishop of Worcester), and William Cavendish (afterwards seventh duke of Devonshire). He was ordained deacon in 1829 and priest in 1830, and in the latter year accepted a mastership under Dr. Longley at Harrow, where he had the Grove House. In March 1831 he married Janet, daughter of Thomas Caird, esq., of Paignton, Devonshire. At Harrow (see Recollections of Harrow, by H. T. Torre, 1890) discipline was at the time extremely lax, and the general standard of teaching very low, and Kennedy's position as assistant-master gave him no effective influence. But early in 1836 Dr. Butler was made bishop of Lichfield, and Kennedy, his former pupil, was, greatly to his satisfaction, nominated his successor in the head-mastership of Shrewsbury. Kennedy was at the same time made D.D. by royal mandate.

Kennedy remained at Shrewsbury until 1866, a period of thirty years, and throughout that time the school maintained an unparalleled reputation for classical training. It was poorly endowed, and could not secure brilliant boys by offers of rich scholarships. Although the head-master was fairly well paid, there were no means of remunerating under-masters liberally, and the whole burden of teaching the upper boys fell upon the head-master. The buildings of the school were meagre and the accommodation for boarders very defective. Until Kennedy went there was no cricket-ground, and the very scanty school grounds possessed a solitary fives-court as the sole provision for healthy amusement. The numbers of the school were consequently never large, and varied during his time from eighty to 140. None the less Kennedy regularly sent up to the universities a succession of pupils, who carried all before them. A list of the innumerable distinctions obtained by Shrewsbury men at Oxford and Cambridge between 1840 and 1860 undoubtedly establishes his claim to be the greatest classical teacher of this century (see Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners on the Revenues and Management of certain Schools, &c., 1864, ii. 330–2). His success was due to his energetic nature; his enthusiasm, like all genuine enthusiasm, was contagious, and his pupils left him possessed of the true key of knowledge—a genuine and vigorous love of knowledge for its own sake. The veneration in which he was held by them is sufficiently proved by the large sum which was raised for a testimonial to him on his retirement in 1866. The money was devoted partly to the building of the chancel of the present chapel at Shrewsbury School, and partly to the founding of a professorship of Latin in the university of Cambridge. Kennedy added 500l. to the fund, on the condition that the professorship should not be called the Kennedy professorship, but merely the Latin professorship. The first occupant of the new chair was one of his pupils, H. A. J. Munro [q. v.], and the second was another, Mr. J. E. B. Mayor. It was to Kennedy that Munro dedicated his great edition of ‘Lucretius’ and Professor Mayor his equally great edition of ‘Juvenal.’

While at Shrewsbury Kennedy was, in 1843, appointed prebendary of Lichfield, and in 1861 select preacher in the university of Cambridge. In 1862 a royal commission sat to inquire into the condition of the nine chief public schools, including Shrewsbury, and Kennedy's published evidence clearly defined the value of classical study. Among the changes recommended was the use of the same Latin and Greek grammars in public schools, and the head-masters of nine chief schools unanimously selected as the basis of the new Latin grammar Kennedy's ‘Elementary Latin Grammar,’ originally published in 1843. In pursuance of this resolution a sub-committee, consisting of Kennedy, Dr. Hessey (of Merchant Taylors' School), and Dr. Scott (of Westminster School), constructed, on the basis of Kennedy's ‘Grammar,’ ‘The Public School Latin Primer,’ which was published in 1866. As a supplement to it, Kennedy, in 1871, published ‘The Public School Latin Grammar,’ a more thorough and complete work than any which had preceded it in England. The Latin primer met with much criticism, but it stood the test of time, and in 1888 Kennedy thoroughly revised it. Before Kennedy left Shrewsbury in 1866 he had accepted the living of West Felton, near Oswestry, vacant by the death of his son-in-law, William Burbury, patron of the living.

In 1867 Kennedy was appointed regius professor of Greek at Cambridge and canon of Ely, which offices he held until his death. He represented the Ely chapter as proctor in convocation for some years. At Ely he was much beloved, and largely helped to break down the barriers which long separated the cathedral body from the rest of the town. At Cambridge he took an animated part in the business of the university, and was elected a member of the council in 1870. With his daughters he took a warm interest in the movement for the education of women, and in an impressive speech in the Arts School in February 1881 he strongly supported the opening of the honour examinations of the university to students of Girton and Newnham colleges. He was from 1870 to 1880 a member of the committee for the revision of the New Testament, and took an active part in the work. In 1880 he was elected an honorary fellow of his old college, St. John's, and in 1885 an ordinary fellow of it for the second time after an interval of fifty-eight years. In the same year he received from the university of Dublin the honorary degree of LL.D. Kennedy died at Torquay on 6 April 1889; his wife predeceased him in 1874. His portrait by Ouless, painted by subscription, hangs in the hall of St. John's College.

Kennedy's passionate love of poetry, and not merely their classical perfection, gives his compositions in Greek and Latin their singular charm. Dr. William Hepworth Thompson [q. v.], master of Trinity, rightly said, ‘Kennedy is an original Latin poet’ (see Between Whiles, 2nd edit. p. ix, two-thirds of Gray's ‘Elegy’ translated in the train going from Cambridge to Devonshire). In politics he was a liberal, and in religious matters a staunch supporter of the established church, although intolerant of narrow sectarian prejudices. His general reading was exceptionally wide, and his memory unusually retentive. Of English history his knowledge was profound and minute; ‘few members of the united services could have vied with him in familiarity with naval and military annals; in Wellington's despatches he was as much at home as in Thucydides’ (Professor Mayor in Class. Rev. May 1889). He was a brilliant speaker, with a voice and gesture capable of every modulation. In society he was an excellent conversationalist, overflowing in anecdote and genial humour.

His chief published works are as follows: 1. ‘Elementary Latin Grammar,’ 1843. 2. ‘Græcæ Grammaticæ Institutio Prima,’ 1847. 3. ‘Child's Latin Primer,’ 1848. 4. ‘Sabrinæ Corolla,’ 1st edit. 1850, 2nd 1859, 3rd 1867, 4th 1890. 5. ‘Curriculum Stili Latini,’ 1858. 6. ‘Hymnologia Christiana,’ 1863. 7. ‘Public School Latin Primer,’ 1866. 8. ‘Child's Latin Accidence,’ 1869. 9. ‘Subsidia Primaria,’ in three parts; pts. i. and ii. 1870, pt. iii. 1873. 10. ‘Public School Latin Grammar,’ 1871. 11. ‘Studia Sophoclea,’ 1874. 12. ‘The Birds of Aristophanes translated into English Verse, with Introduction, Notes, and Appendices,’ 1874. 13. ‘P. Vergilii Maronis Bucolica, Georgica, Aeneis, with Commentary and Appendix,’ 1st edit. 1876, 2nd edit. 1879, 3rd edit. 1881. 14. ‘The Psalter or Psalms of David in English Verse,’ 1876. 15. ‘Occasional Sermons preached before the University of Cambridge and elsewhere,’ 1877. 16. ‘Between Whiles, or Wayside Amusements of a Working Life,’ 1st edit. 1877, 2nd edit. 1882. 17. ‘The Agamemnon of Æschylus, with Metrical Translation and Notes,’ 1st edit. 1878, 2nd edit. 1882. 18. ‘The Theætetus of Plato, with Translation and Notes,’ 1881. 19. ‘The Œdipus Tyrannus of Sophocles, with Metrical Translation and Notes,’ 1st edit. 1882, 2nd edit. 1885. 20. ‘Ely Lectures on the Revised Version of the New Testament,’ 1882. 21. ‘Pauline Christology,’ 1883. 22. ‘Revised Latin Primer,’ 1888.

[Private information; autobiographical details in Between Whiles, 1st and 2nd edit.; Lord Lytton's Life of his father, vol. i.; Report of Her Majesty's Commission on Nine Public Schools, 4 vols. 1864; Classical Review, May and June 1889.]

T. E. P.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.171
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
414 ii 7 Kennedy, Benjamin H.: for cxiv. read ch. xiv.
24 f.e. for Bishop Heber read Richard Heber
415 i 14 f.e. for the present read the present chapel at