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Benton, Joel (1832-1911)

Biographer, Editor, Essayist, Journalist, Lecturer, Poet

Joel Benton was raised in the small town of Amenia, New York. He was the cousin of Myron Benton. He was educated at Amenia Seminary, where he stayed until 1851. He entered the publishing world at the age of nineteen when he was hired as managing editor of the newly created Amenia Times (The Sun, Sept. 16, 1911, 2). He also contributed pieces to the newspaper, the Mercury (Schmidgall 80-1). Benton was an avid fan of Horace Greeley; he returned to journalism in 1872 in order to support Greeley during his presidential campaign. In fact, throughout his literary career, he sent many of his contributions to Greeley's Tribune because of their connection (The Sun, Sept. 16, 1911, 2). For eighteen years of his life, he served as the principal for grammar school. He then served as the supervisor for the town in which he lived (New York Times, Sept. 16, 1991, 7).

Described in his obituary as a man with "a wide acquaintance with the best...great authors," Benton's level of participation in the Pfaffian circle of Bohemians is hard to pinpoint (Amenia Times, Sept. 23, 1911, 2). In a letter written by John Burroughs to Walt Whitman, he notes that Benton wanted Burroughs to come out to see him and bring Whitman along with him (Walt Whitman Archive, loc.00850). It is unclear though whether Burroughs brought Whitman out to the Hudson Valley to Benton's home. According to his obituary in the Amenia Times, during the 1850s and 1860s, there was a literary bureau in his hometown that attracted individuals such as "Horace Greeley, Margaret Fuller, Emerson, Thoreau, and others...and many of these notabilities were entertained at Mr. Benton's home." Moreover, the author of his obituary argued that "the Amenia public of that day demanded and received excellent intellectual recreation and Mr. Benton was a helpful co-operator in all that stood for the best interests of the place" (Amenia Times, Sept. 23, 1911, 2). While it is unknown the entire list of guests who made the visit to Amenia during this period that Benton may have met, his involvement and support of this scholarly atmosphere suggests that he may have been made connections that drew him into the Pfaffian circle here. Scholar Mark Lause suggests Benton had some type of connection to Pfaff's. While Lause incorrectly refers to Joel and Myron as brothers, when they were in fact cousins, he does notes that they were both "Pfaffian writers" who had "close ties to New England" (78).

In 1883 Benton traveled to Minnesota and spent two years writing for Chicago and St. Paul newspapers. He moved back to Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1885 and spent his remaining years in literary pursuits. He published several books, including Emerson as a Poet (1883), Greeley on Lincoln (1893), In the Poe Circle (1899), Life of P. T. Barnum (1902), and Memories of the Twilight Club (1909). Even as a young man, "Benton always wrote with ease. His work is marked by keen observation, a pleasant humor, and a gift of phrase; his style is allusive, and tends to be over-literary. His spirit--except in political discussion, when he could be caustic--was gentle, and he was at his best in writing of out-of-door life or of the great men whom he had known. His verse is pleasing and expressive of his love for nature, but it is on the whole conventional and lacking in power" (Chase). In one of his obituaries, the author remembered him writing "his contributions to magazines and newspapers were multitudinous, but always he wrote as the spirit moved him" (Amenia Times, Sept. 23, 1911, 2).