« Benson, Edward White Bentley, Richard Benton, Angelo Ames »

Bentley, Richard

BENTLEY, RICHARD: English theologian and scholar; b. at Oulton, near Wakefield (25 m. s.w. of York), Yorkshire, Jan. 27, 1662; d. at Cambridge July 14, 1742. He was the son of a blacksmith, 56was grounded in Latin by his mother, studied at the grammar-school at Wakefield, and was admitted at the age of fourteen (the usual age of matriculation was seventeen or eighteen) to St. John's College, Cambridge. He took his first degree in 1680 with honor in logic, ethics, natural science, and mathematics, and became schoolmaster at Spalding in Lincolnshire. But Stillingfleet, the wealthy and learned dean of St. Paul's, soon called him to London to superintend his son's studies. He took his pupil in later years to Oxford and reveled there among the manuscripts in pursuance of his researches in profane and especially Biblical literature, entering on his life's work of treating and publishing texts. He had taken his M.A. at Cambridge in 1684 and received the same degree from Oxford probably in 1689. Before his twenty-fourth year he had started for himself a hexapla dictionary; in the first column stood every Hebrew word in the Bible and in the other five all the different translations of these words in Chaldee, Syriac, Latin, and Greek (both the Septuagint and Aquila). His Latin letter of ninety-eight pages to John Mill appeared in 1691 as an appendix to an edition of the chronicle of Malalas and presented a mass of critical research, including much drawn from manuscripts; he moved over the field of classical literature as if it were his library of which he knew every inch, and showed himself a master in criticizing the origin of books, in following up etymological rules, in explaining their use, and in dealing with meter. In this, his virgin effort, he gave explanations and corrections for some sixty Greek and Latin authors. He wrote like an authority, and in the happiest manner. He published Callimachus (1693), Phalaris (1699; the debate is still interesting), Menander arid Philemon (1710), Horace (1711), Terence (1726), and Manilius (1739); his edition of Milton's Paradise Lost appeared in 1732.

Ordained 1690, probably at once Stillingfleet's house-chaplain, he became canon of Worcester in 1692, librarian to the king in 1694, chaplain in ordinary to the king in 1695, D.D. from Cambridge and Master of Trinity in 1699, vice-chancellor of the University 1700, archdeacon of Ely 1701. His intrigues secured his election as regius professor of theology in 1717. His apparent love of power led the academic senate, Oct. 17, 1718, to deprive him, illegally, of his academic degrees, which a decree of court restored to him in 1724. He was almost always in hot water either in literature, in his college, or in politics. Legally deprived of his mastership in 1734, he kept it, simply because the man who should oust him did not choose to move.

He delivered the first Boyle lectures (see Boyle, Robert) in 1692, his intimate friend Isaac Newton helping him. He wrote against the freethinker Collins in 1713. Sterne quoted in Tristram Shandy his sermon on papistry, 1715. In 1691 he wrote to John Mill about the text of the New Testament, in 1713 he discussed the readings, and in 1720 he published his proposals for a new edition. At least from 1716 on, and apparently as late as 1732, he caused collations to be made in the libraries from London to Rome. But he did not publish an edition, probably because he found it impossible to give what he wished to give. His collations are in the library of Trinity College.

Caspar René Gregory.

Bibliography: The best life is by R. C. Jebb, in English Men of Letters, London, 1887. Consult also J. H. Monk, Life of Richard Bentley . . . with an Account of his Writings, 2d corrected ed., ib. 1833; A. A. Ellis, Bentleii critica sacra, Cambridge, 1862; DNB, iv, 306–314.

« Benson, Edward White Bentley, Richard Benton, Angelo Ames »
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