Bentley, Richard, Dd
Bentley, Richard, D.D.
called, in philological criticism, "the British Aristarchus," was born at Oulton, near Wakefield, Jan. 27, 1662, and admitted at St. John's College 1676. He accepted the mastership of the grammar-school of Spalding, in Lincolnshire, early in 1682. In 1683 he became private tutor to the son of Dr. Stillingfleet, afterward bishop of Worcester. He accompanied his pupil to Oxford, where he was admitted M.A. At Oxford he had access to the MSS. of the Bodleian Library. At this time he meditated two very laborious undertakings-a complete collection of Fragments of the Greek Poets, and an edition of the three principal Greek lexicographers, Hesychius, Suidas, and the Etymologicum Magnum, to be printed iab parallel columns on the same page. Neither scheme, however, was carried into effect. To the edition of Callimachus, published by Graevius in 1697, Bentley contributed a collection of the fragments of that poet. But his reputation for scholarship was established by a performance of a much more confined nature-a dissertation on an obscure chronicler named Malala, which was published as an Appendix to Chilmead and Mill's edition of the author in 1691. This showed such an intimate acquaintance with Greek literature, especially the drama, that it drew the eyes of foreign as well as British scholars upon him, and obtained a warm tribute of admiration from the great critics Graevius and Spanheim to this new and brilliant star of British literature. Bentley was ordained deacon in March, 1690. In 1692, having obtained the first nomination to the Boyle lectureship, he chose for his subject the confutation of atheism, directing his arguments more especially against the system of Hobbes. In these lectures Bentley applied the principles and discoveries of Newton's Principia to the confirmation of natural theology. The Principia had been published about six years; but the sublime discoveries of that work were yet little known, owing not merely to the obstacles which oppose the reception of novelty, but to the difficulty of comprehending the proofs whereby they are established. To Bentley belongs, as bishop Monk remarks, the undoubted merit of having been the first to lay open these discoveries in a popular form, and to explain their irresistible force in the proof of a Deity. This constitutes the subject of his seventh and eighth sermons — pieces admirable for the clearness with which the whole question is developed, as well as for the logical precision of their arguments. Among other topics, he shows how contradictory to the principles of philosophy is the notion of matter contained in the solar system having been once diffused over a chaotic space, and afterward combined into the large bodies of the sun, planets, and secondaries by the force of mutual gravitation; and he explains that the planets could never have obtained the transverse motion, which causes them to revolve round the sun in orbits nearly circular, from the agency of any cause except the arm of an almighty Creator. From these and other subjects of physical astronomy, as well as from the discoveries of Boyle, the founder of the lecture, respecting the nature and properties of the atmosphere, a conviction is irresistibly impressed upon the mind of the wisdom and benevolence of the Deity. We are assured that the effect of these discourses was such that atheism was deserted as untenable ground; or, to use his own expression, the atheists were 'silent since that time, and sheltered themselves under deism.' This work gave him great reputation, and in 1692 he was made canon of Worcester by bishop Stillingfleet. In 1699 he was appointed master of Trinity College, Cambridge; and in the following year the archdeaconry of Ely was conferred upon him. Of his contributions to Greek literature we have not room to speak; but, in the midst of personal quarrels, his literary activity for many years was wonderful. In 1713 he published, under the signature of Philoleutheros Lipsiensis, a reply to Collins's Discourse of Freethinking; and in none of his writings are his accurate learning and matchless faculty of disputation more signally displayed. In 1717 he was chosen regius professor of divinity at Cambridge. In 1720 he issued proposals for a new edition of the N.T. in Greek, with the Latin version of Jerome. Taking up that father's observation that in the translation of the Holy Scriptures "the very order of the words is mystery," he conjectured that if the most ancient Greek manuscripts were compared with Jerome's Latin, they might be found to agree with that version both in the words and order; and, upon trial, his ideas were realized even beyond his expectations. He stated also in these proposals that he believed he had recovered, with very few exceptions, the exemplar of Origen, the great standard of the most learned fathers for more than two hundred years after the Council of Nice; and observed that, by the aid of the Greek and Latin manuscripts, the text of the original might be so far settled that, instead of thirty thousand different readings, found in the best modern editions, not more than two hundred would deserve much serious consideration. But so much opposition was made to his plan that he dropped it. Bentley died July 14, 1742. His Works, collected and edited by the Rev. Alexander Dyce, were published in London in 1836 (3 vols. 8vo), but unfortunately the collection is incomplete. His Life and Writings, by bishop Monk, were published in London in 1830; and his Correspondence, edited by Wordsworth, in 1842 (2 vols. 8vo). See Foreign Quarterly Review, July, 1839; North American Review, 43, 458; Edinburgh Review, 2, 321; Allibone, 1:169; Hook, Ecclesiastica l Biography, 2, 253.