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Bentley, Richard

, perhaps the greatest among the classical scholars of England, was born at Oulton in Yorkshire, January 27th, 1662. After spending five years at the Wakefield Grammar School, he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1676, taking the Bachelor's degree in 1679. No record has been kept of his career as an undergraduate, though he is known to have given evidence of a strong taste for classical study. In 1682, his college gave him the appointment of headmaster to the Spalding Grammar School in Lincolnshire, an office which he shortly resigned to become tutor to the son of Dr. Stillingfleet, afterwards Bishop of Worcester. In 1689, he went to Oxford with his pupil, and gained such reputation by his erudition as to be twice appointed to deliver the Boyle Lectures on the “Evidences of Religion.” In 1690 he took orders, and received from Bishop Stillingfleet various preferments, with the office of librarian to the Royal Library at St. James's. In 1700, he became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1717, Regius Professor of Divinity. His arrogance, greed, and violence in his relations with his colleagues of the university made his subsequent career one of continual strife and controversy. In 1718, the University Senate voted to deprive him of his degrees; in 1734, his deposition as Master was pronounced; yet his ability and force of character were such that at the time of his death he still retained his offices as well as his degrees. He died July 14th, 1742.

As a philologist, Bentley may be truly said to have established the principles of historical criticism and opened a new era for classical scholarship, so that in Germany to-day his name is held in the highest honour as the greatest of England's philologists. His Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris (1699) gave him an immediate reputation all over Europe. These Epistles purported to be the production of Phalaris (q.v.), and to date back to the sixth century B.C. This claim Bentley, in a paper published for Wotton, showed to be false, whereupon the Christchurch (Oxford) editor of the Epistles, the Hon. Charles Boyle (afterward Earl of Orrery) attacked Bentley in a dissertation which Dyce has characterized as “a tissue of superficial learning, dexterous malice, and happy raillery.” To this Bentley, superior alike in scholarship and wit, made his immortal reply, to which no answer was ever given, and which is a marvellously brilliant effort, unique in being at once imposing in its learning and fascinating in its ingenious use of all the arts of controversy. The best edition is Wagner's (1874).

Other important works of Bentley are his Letter to Mill, on the chronicler John Malelas (1691); an edition of Horace (1711)—an epoch-making masterpiece, recently edited by Zangemeister (1869); an edition of Terence (1726); and an edition of Paradise Lost (1732), carried out on the same plan, and much less happily executed. A very remarkable proposal of Bentley's—remarkable considering the time at which it was put forth—was his plan, published in 1720, of printing an edition of the New Testament in which the received Greek text should be corrected by a careful comparison of the oldest existing Greek MSS., and with the Vulgate. This proposal, which was received with a storm of opposition, was not carried out; but the principles laid down by Bentley have been adopted, and have produced important results in the hands of Lachmann and other textual critics of later times. See Monk, Life of Bentley, 2 vols. (1833); and Jebb, Bentley (1882); with the article Textual Criticism.

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