Introducing the Best-Selling author nearly no one has ever heard of
Silas K Hocking was one of the Victorian Era's best selling authors. In fact he was the first ever author to sell a million of his books in his lifetime
Copyright © 2004 Bruce Tober All Rights Reserved
Silas K(itto) Hocking.
He was born in Cornwall, the third son of a part-time tin mine owner. A preacher and an author, he came by both vocations naturally enough, it would seem, through his mother, Elizabeth Kitto, who was related to John Kitto, author of The Pictorial Bible.
And by the time he died in 1935 he was acclaimed as the first author
to sell one million books in his lifetime. He was one of the last of the "Evangelical books for children"
However, in today's world, while he may not be a household name, at least in the North of England, he was author of the book on which a very successful musical stage play is based. It's a play which Joe Riley, arts reporter for The Liverpool Echo called "The Scouse Oliver Twist" when it was premiered in Liverpool a decade ago.
That play and the Hocking book on which it's based, is called, Her Benny. The play, by Anne Dalton, a Southport teacher who gave up teaching to go into show business full time, has been running, on and off, around the country, for most of the past decade.
Hocking was not only an author, he was also a Methodist minister in Southport, where he preached "to crowded congregations for 13 years". It was while there, Riley says, that "he wrote his rags to riches story of Liverpool street urchins Little Nell (not to be confused with the Dickens' character of the same name) and her brother Benny, during the 1880s."
Prior to Southport, he held pastorates in Manchester and Liverpool. He retired from the ministry in 1895 to devote himself full time to writing, liberal politics (he unsuccessfully contested the Aylesbury division of Buckinghamshire in 1906 and Coventry in January 1910), lecturing, and journalism", according to OUP's Dictionary of National Biography.
His second novel
Her Benny was Hocking's second novel. He wrote it in 1879 and sold its copyright for only £20. It appeared first as a serial and then in book form. It was an instant best-seller, translated into many languages and selling more than one million copies. Its hero and heroine Little Nell and Benny Bates were based on actual children.
"And those who have occasion to penetrate their dark and filthy recesses are generally thankful when they find themselves safe out again. In the winter those streets and courts are kept comparatively clean by the heavy rains; but in the summer the air fairly reeks with the stench of decayed fish, rotting vegetables, and every other conceivable kind of filth ... The children that seem to swarm in this neighbourhood are nearly all of a pale, sallow complexion, and of stunted growth. Shoes and stockings and underclothing are luxuries that they never know, and one good meal a day is almost more than they dare hope for. Cuffs and kicks they reckon upon every day of their lives; and in this they are rarely disappointed ..."
In all, Hocking wrote fifty books, including his reminiscences, My Book of Memory (1923). In 1894 he became editor of the Family Circle, and two years later established, with Frederick Anthony Atkins, the Temple Magazine, a sixpenny illustrated monthly journal for Sunday reading. Amongst his best-selling titles are: Alec Green (1878), Her Benny (1879), For Light and Liberty, Caleb Carthew (1884), In Spite of Fate (1897), Gripped (1902) and Who Shall Judge (1910)