Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bentley, Richard (1794-1871)

BENTLEY, RICHARD (1794–1871), publisher, descended from an old Shropshire family, was born in London, probably in Paternoster Row, where his father, Edward Bentley, in conjunction with John Nichols, published the ‘General Evening Post,’ of which he was part proprietor. Richard was sent to St. Paul's School, where he had for school-fellows John Pollock, R. H. Barham (Ingoldsby), and Medhurst, the China missionary, among others. Some amusing letters addressed in after years to Bentley may be found in Barham's ‘Life and Letters,’ 2 vols. 1870. After quitting the school he learned the art and business of printing in the office of his uncle, John Nichols, Red Lion Court, author of the ‘History of Leicestershire.’ In 1819 Bentley joined his brother Samuel [q. v.], who had established a printing-office in Dorset Street, Salisbury Square, and afterwards in Shoe Lane. The Bentleys took high rank among printers, and were noted especially for the care with which they printed woodcuts, such as those which illustrate Yarrell's works on natural history. In 1829 Richard Bentley joined in partnership with Henry Colburn, the publisher of fashionable novels, who had then recently published with great success Evelyn's and Pepys's Diaries.

In 1832 Colburn retired from the business on terms which were afterwards cancelled by an agreement which gave him liberty to set up another business in Great Marlborough Street, London. Bentley continued in New Burlington Street, where in process of time he gathered round him many men of letters. Luttrell, Moore, Isaac Disraeli and his greater son Benjamin, Theodore Hook, Barham, Haliburton (Sam Slick), Charles Dickens, Mrs. Norton, George Cruikshank, and John Leech were of those whose works, in part or wholly, he brought before the world. ‘Bentley's Miscellany’ was started in 1837, when Barham uttered his well-known joke as to the title best suited for the new magazine [see Barham, Richard Harris]. In the previous year Bentley had made the acquaintance of Charles Dickens, at the time reporter to the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ and had come to an agreement with him (signed 22 Aug. 1836) for two novels for the sum of 1,000l. In October 1836 Dickens was offered and accepted the stipend of 20l. a month as editor of the ‘Miscellany,’ increased in the following March to 30l. a month. The success of the ‘Miscellany,’ in which ‘Oliver Twist’ appeared with Cruikshank's illustrative plates, was so great that Bentley raised his terms considerably, paying 750l. for ‘Oliver Twist,’ and offering 4,000l. for the second novel, ‘Barnaby Rudge.’ The popularity of Dickens, however, had risen so rapidly that he felt dissatisfied with the arrangements made with his publisher. In January 1839 he withdrew from the editorship of the ‘Miscellany,’ was freed from the engagement to contribute ‘Barnaby Rudge’ to that magazine, and bought from Bentley the copyright and remaining stock of ‘Oliver Twist’ for 2,250l. W. H. Ainsworth became editor of the ‘Miscellany,’ which continued to flourish till 1868, when it ceased to appear, after a successful career of thirty-one years. For some years (1837 to 1843) contributors to the magazine met at the ‘Miscellany’ dinners in the Red Room in Burlington Street. Moore gives an account of one of these festive gatherings in his ‘Diary’ (vii. 244).

The issue of 127 volumes of ‘Standard Novels’ was another remarkable venture of Bentley's which met with great success. He was enterprising enough even to publish, in January 1845, a newspaper entitled ‘Young England,’ which set forth the views of the small party known under that name. Despite the labours of the Hon. George Smythe and his friends, this journal came to an end, after a short existence of three months. In like manner ‘Bentley's Quarterly Review’ (1859), though conducted by Mr. Douglas Cook, with the assistance of Lord Robert Cecil, afterwards Marquis of Salisbury, only reached a fourth number. Bentley held what was thought to be the copyright of many works written by American authors. By a decision of the House of Lords in 1859 the claim to such right was annulled, with a loss to Bentley equivalent to 16,000l.

In 1867 Bentley had the misfortune to meet with a severe accident at the Chepstow railway station, in consequence of which he relinquished the management of his business to his son, Mr. George Bentley. He lived, however, four years longer, dying at Ramsgate, 10 Sept. 1871, at the age of seventy-seven.

[The Bookseller, 1871, p. 811; Forster's Life of Dickens, i. 113, 120, 126, 139, 141, 201, ii. 450, iii. 212–13; Letter by G. Bentley, in the Times, 8 Dec. 1871; Moore's Diary, vii. 244; Barham's Life, 2 vols. 1870.]

R. H.