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BENTLEY, R.

Proposals for a New Edition of the Greek Testament, with specimens of the manner in which he intended to carry it out. He proposed, by comparing the text of the Vulgate with that of the oldest Greek MSS., to restore the Greek text as received by the church at the time of the council of Nice. A large number of subscribers to the work was obtained, but it was never completed. His Terence (1726) is more important than his Horace, and it is upon this, next to the Phalaris, that his reputation mainly rests. Its chief value consists in the novel treatment of the metrical questions and their bearing on the emendation of the text. To the same year belong the Fables of Phaedrus and the Sententiae of Publius Syrus. The Paradise Lost (1732), undertaken at the suggestion of Queen Caroline, is generally regarded as the most unsatisfactory of all his writings. It is marred by the same rashness in emendation and lack of poetical feeling as his Horace; but there is less excuse for him in this case, since the English text could not offer the same field for conjecture. He put forward the idea that Milton employed both an amanuensis and an editor, who were to be held responsible for the clerical errors, alterations and interpolations which Bentley professed to detect. It is uncertain whether this was a device on the part of Bentley to excuse his own numerous corrections, or whether he really believed in the existence of this editor. Of the contemplated edition of Homer nothing was published; all that remains of it consists of some manuscript and marginal notes in the possession of Trinity College. Their chief importance lies in the attempt to restore the metre by the insertion of the lost digamma. Among his minor works may be mentioned: the Astronomica of Manilius (1739), for which he had been collecting materials since 1691; a letter on the Sigean inscription on a marble slab found in the Troad, now in the British Museum; notes on the Theriaca of Nicander and on Lucan, published after his death by Cumberland; emendations of Plautus (in his copies of the editions by Pareus, Camerarius and Gronovius, edited by Schröder, 1880, and Sonnenschein, 1883). Bentleii Critica Sacra (1862), edited by A. A. Ellis, contains the epistle to the Galatians (and excerpts), printed from an interleaved folio copy of the Greek and Latin Vulgate in Trinity College. A collection of his Opuscula Philologica was published at Leipzig in 1781. The edition of his works by Dyce (1836-1838) is incomplete.

He had married in 1701 Joanna, daughter of Sir John Bernard of Brampton in Huntingdonshire. Their union lasted forty years. Mrs Bentley died in 1740, leaving a son, Richard, and two daughters, one of whom married in 1728 Mr Denison Cumberland, grandson of Richard Cumberland, bishop of Peterborough. Their son was Richard Cumberland, the dramatist. Surrounded by his grandchildren, Dr Bentley experienced the joint pressure of age and infirmity as lightly as is consistent with the lot of humanity. He continued to amuse himself with reading; and though nearly confined to his arm-chair, was able to enjoy the society of his friends and several rising scholars, J. Markland, John Taylor, his nephews Richard and Thomas Bentley, with whom he discussed classical subjects. He was accustomed to say that he should live to be eighty, adding that a life of that duration was long enough to read everything worth reading. He fulfilled his own prediction, dying of pleurisy on the 14th of July 1742. Though accused by his enemies of being grasping, he left not more than £5000 behind him. A few Greek MSS., brought from Mount Athos, he left to the college library; his books and papers to his nephew, Richard Bentley. Richard, who was a fellow of Trinity, at his death in 1786 left the papers to the college library. The books, containing in many cases valuable manuscript notes, were purchased by the British Museum.

Of his personal habits some anecdotes are related by his grandson, Richard Cumberland, in vol. i. of his Memoirs (1807). The hat of formidable dimensions, which he always wore during reading to shade his eyes, and his preference of port to claret (which he said “would be port if it could”) are traits embodied in Pope’s caricature (Dunciad, b. 4), which bears in other respects little resemblance to the original. He did not take up the habit of smoking till he was seventy. He held the archdeaconry of Ely with two livings, but never obtained higher preference in the church. He was offered the (then poor) bishopric of Bristol but refused it, and being asked what preferment he would consider worth his acceptance, replied, “That which would leave him no reason to wish for a removal.”

Bentley was the first, perhaps the only, Englishman who can be ranked with the great heroes of classical learning, although perhaps not a great classical scholar. Before him there were only John Selden, and, in a more restricted field, Thomas Gataker and Pearson. But Selden, a man of stupendous learning, wanted the freshness of original genius and confident mastery over the whole region of his knowledge. “Bentley inaugurated a new era of the art of criticism. He opened a new path. With him criticism attained its majority. Where scholars had hitherto offered suggestions and conjectures, Bentley, with unlimited control over the whole material of learning, gave decisions” (Mähly). The modern German school of philology does ungrudging homage to his genius. Bentley, says Bunsen, “was the founder of historical philology.” And Jakob Bernays says of his corrections of the Tristia, “corruptions which had hitherto defied every attempt even of the mightiest, were removed by a touch of the fingers of this British Samson.” The English school of Hellenists, by which the 18th century was distinguished, and which contains the names of R. Dawes, J. Markland, J. Taylor, J. Toup, T. Tyrwhitt, Richard Porson, P. P. Dobree, Thomas Kidd and J. H. Monk, was the creation of Bentley. And even the Dutch school of the same period, though the outcome of a native tradition, was in no small degree stimulated and directed by the example of Bentley, whose letters to the young Hemsterhuis on his edition of Julius Pollux produced so powerful an effect on him, that he became one of Bentley’s most devoted admirers.

Bentley was a source of inspiration to a following generation of scholars. Himself, he sprang from the earth without forerunners, without antecedents. Self-taught, he created his own science. It was his misfortune that there was no contemporary gild of learning in England by which his power could be measured, and his eccentricities checked. In the Phalaris controversy his academical adversaries had not sufficient knowledge to know how absolute their defeat was. Garth’s couplet—


“So diamonds take a lustre from their foil,
And to a Bentley ’tis we owe a Boyle”—


expressed the belief of the wits or literary world of the time. The attacks upon him by Pope, John Arbuthnot and others are evidence of their inability to appreciate his work. To them, textual criticism seemed mere pedantry and useless labour. It was not only that he had to live with inferiors, and to waste his energy in a struggle forced upon him by the necessities of his official position, but the wholesome stimulus of competition and the encouragement of a sympathetic circle were wanting. In a university where the instruction of youth or the religious controversy of the day were the only known occupations, Bentley was an isolated phenomenon, and we can hardly wonder that he should have flagged in his literary exertions after his appointment to the mastership of Trinity. All his vast acquisitions and all his original views seem to have been obtained before 1700. After this period he acquired little and made only spasmodic efforts—the Horace, the Terence and the Milton. The prolonged mental concentration and mature meditation, which alone can produce a great work, were wanting to him.

F. A. Wolf, Literarische Analekten, i. (1816); Monk, Life of Bentley (1830); J. Mähly, Richard Bentley, eine Biographie (1868); R. C. Jebb, Bentley (“English Men of Letters” series, 1882), where a list of authorities bearing on Bentley’s life and work is given. For his letters see Bentlei et doctorum virorum ad eum Epistolae (1807); The Correspondence of Richard Bentley, edited by C. Wordsworth (1842). See also J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship, ii. 401-410 (1908); and the Bibliography of Bentley, by A. T. Bartholomew and J. W. Clark (Cambridge, 1908).

BENTLEY, RICHARD (1794-1871), British publisher, was born in London in 1794. His father owned the General Evening Post in conjunction with John Nichols, to whom Richard Bentley, on leaving St Paul’s school, was apprenticed to learn the printing