Bensly, Robert Lubbock (DNB01)
BENSLY, ROBERT LUBBOCK (1831–1893), orientalist, born at Eaton, near Norwich, on 24 Aug. 1831, was the second son of Robert Bensly and Harriet Reeve. Educated at first in a private school (in which he already commenced the study of Hebrew) in his native place, he passed in 1848 to King's College, London, and thence in 1851 to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated (2nd class, classical tripos) in 1865, was college lecturer in Hebrew 1861-89, and was fellow of the college from 1876 until his death. In 1857 he gained the Tyrwhitt university scholarship for Hebrew; and from 1864 to 1876 he was under-librarian to the university, and Lord Almoner's professor of Arabic, 1887-93. Semitic studies were not flourishing at Cambridge during Bensly's student career. He often recounted the tale of his persistent but fruitless attempts to induce one of the Arabic professors, Theodore Preston, an obdurate absentee, to come up and deliver lectures. It is therefore not surprising to find him studying for some years in German universities, first at Bonn and then at Halle, where he became the pupil of Rodiger, especially in Syriac. In 1870 Bensly joined the Old Testament revision committee, of which he was a regular and valued member, conservative in his minute scholarship, yet unbiassed by traditional authority. In 1875 he edited 'The Missing Fragment of the Latin Translation of the Fourth Book of Ezra' (Il Esdras), which he had previously traced to its hiding-place in the communal library at Amiens. He also published, on the occasion of the orientalists' congress in 1889, 'The Harklean Version of Hebrews xi. 28-xiii. 25.' After his sojourn in Germany, 1855-60, Bensly resided continuously in Cambridge, but during the last few years of his life paid two visits to Egypt. The latter of these had as its object a visit to Mount Sinai, in order to assist in the decipherment of the important Syriac palimpsest of the gospels. This document had been previously discovered by Mrs. A. S. Lewis; but its identity and consequent importance were first pointed out by Bensly and his pupil, Mr. F. C. Burkitt, who together examined the photographs made by her. The manuscript was published in the following year (1894) by the Cambridge University Press, under the name of Bensly, together with those of his fellow-transcribers, Messrs. J. R. Harris and F. C. Burkitt.
Three days after his return from the east, on 23 April 1893, Bensly died. He was buried at Eaton. His personal friends and pupils raised a memorial fund, and therewith purchased and presented as a separate collection to the uni versity library his oriental books and adversaria, to which also his collection of manuscripts was added as a gift from his widow. Bensly married at Halle, on 14 Aug. 1860, Agnes Dorothee, daughter of Baron Eduard von Blomberg, who, with three children, survives him. His eldest son, Edward, is now professor of Greek in Adelaide University.
Bensly's strong point as an orientalist was his exhaustive knowledge of Syriac literature. His scholarship was distinguished by its painstaking and minute accuracy. This really explains the small amount of his published work. His edition of 'IV Maccabees' was in hand for twenty-seven years, and was published with additional matter by Dr. W. E. Barnes in 1895. His only other separate work was the 'Epistles of St. Clement in Syriac,' also posthumous (Cambridge, 1899), edited from the unique manuscript which, twenty-three years before, he himself had brought to light.
[Personal knowledge and information supplied by relatives and Mr. F. C. Burkitt, above mentioned; In Memoriam R. L. Bensly, by H. T. Francis (privately printed), Cambridge, 1893; Venn's Gonville and Caius College Biographical History.]