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CHAPTER XIII

SCHOLARS AND ANTIQUARIES

I. BENTLEY AND CLASSICAL SCHOLARSHIP

AT the end of the seventeenth century, the history of scholarship is illuminated by the great name of Richard Bentley. From 1699, when his Dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris was published, until the end of his long life in 1742, each successive work that came from his pen was expected with impatience and welcomed with enthusiasm by the learned all over Europe, who, by their common use of Latin, were able more easily than now to understand and to communicate with each other.

When Bentley was born in 1662, there were already men in England of great learning. But most of these busied themselves with theology, chronology and patristic study rather than with the classical authors. Five names may be mentioned here. The first of these is John Pearson, successively master of Trinity college, Cambridge, and bishop of Chester. The Exposition of the Creed and the Vindication of certain epistles attributed to Ignatius of Antioch, have been already treated in an earlier volume1. Bentley wrote of him as 'the most excellent Bishop Pearson, the very dust of whose writings is gold.' John Fell was successively dean of Christ Church and bishop of Oxford. His chief work is a critical edition of the works of Cyprian. The epigram by which his name is chiefly known at the present day was probably written by Tom Brown, while an undergraduate at Christ Church2. William Lloyd, bishop of St Asaph and, later, of Worcester, is famous as one of the seven bishops. He wrote chiefly on church history and is appealed to by Bentley as 'that incomparable historian and chronologer.' Henry Dodwell was elected Camden professor of history at Oxford in 1688. The most important of his very numerous works discussed ancient

1 See ante, vol. vii, p. 297.

2 As to Fell, cf. ante, vol. vII, p. 457.

chronology; and Bentley, in his Phalaris, while controverting Dodwell's views, constantly refers to his book De Cyclis, then in the press, as 'that noble work,' and to the author as 'the very learned Mr Dodwell.' John Moore was bishop of Ely and, as such, became Bentley's judge in 1710. His library, one of the best collections of books and MSS in Europe, was eventually presented by George I to Cambridge university.

Richard Bentley was born on 27 January 1662, at Oulton, in Yorkshire, and educated at Wakefield grammar school and St John's college, Cambridge. He took the degree of B.A. with distinction in 1680 and, after acting for about a year as master of Spalding school, was chosen as tutor to his son by Stillingfleet, then dean of St Paul's and, from 1689, bishop of Worcester. For six years Bentley was a member of Stillingfleet's household. The dean's library was famous and now forms part of archbishop Marsh's library in Dublin; but one may suppose that these books have never again found a reader so ardent and so apt as Bentley. Johnson once said to Boswell that he had never known a man who studied hard, but that he concluded, from the effects, that some men had done so; and he named Bentley as an example. This may be illustrated by Bentley's own words:

I wrote, before I was twenty-four years of age, a sort of Hexapla; a thick volume in quarto, in the first column of which I inserted every word of the Hebrew Bible alphabetically; and, in five other columns, all the various interpretations of those words in the Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate Latin, Septuagint, and Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, that occur in the whole Bible. Yet biblical study was only a small part of Bentley's labours.

In 1689, when young Stillingfleet went to Oxford, Bentley went with him and became a member of the university. To him, one of the chief attractions of the place must have been the Bodleian library. Two years later appeared his first published work, the Epistola ad Millium.

The Sheldonian press was about to print a manuscript chronicle by a medieval writer named Joannes Malelas; and John Mill, famous for his critical edition of the New Testament, sent the proof-sheets of Malelas to Bentley, on condition that he should contribute something to the book. Of the published book, the last hundred pages are taken up by Bentley's Latin letter. Of the many subjects discussed in the Epistola, the chief are the plays of the Attic dramatists and the lexicon of Hesychius. Bentley's Epistola gave evidence of a knowledge which embraced all the known writers of antiquity and extended even to the unprinted MSS

of the Oxford libraries. But it showed more than this: Bentley was absolute master of his erudition and could apply it with the nicest precision to solve the problems presented by his author. The Greek texts which he quoted were often so corrupt as to be unintelligible; but, again and again, he restored meaning by emendations as certain as they are wonderful. For such work as this, he had one immense advantage over all his predecessors: he had learnt for himself the laws of Greek metre, which were very imperfectly understood even by such men as Grotius and Casaubon. The whole work bears, in the highest degree, the impress of conscious power. It was soon perceived by the few men in Europe who were competent to judge what Bentley had done that a star of the first magnitude had risen above the horizon.

In 1692, when Robert Boyle, eminent as a natural philosopher, had left money to found a lectureship in defence of the Christian religion, Bentley, who had now been ordained, was chosen as the first lecturer. He delivered eight lectures in two London churches, taking as his subject 'A confutation of Atheism.' The last three lectures drew arguments from the 'origin and frame of the world'; and, for this part of his work, Bentley sought the aid of Isaac Newton, whose Principia had been published five years before. Newton sent full replies to Bentley's enquiries and expressed satisfaction that his discoveries should be used as an argument against atheism. Bentley showed great power as a controversialist his argument, acute and logical, is expressed in a style of remarkable force and vigour. The lectures were printed at once and soon translated into Latin, French, German and Dutch.

Bentley was now a man of mark, and, in 1694, he was appointed keeper of the royal libraries, with official lodgings in St James's palace. We learn from one of his letters that a small group of his friends were in the habit of meeting there once or twice a week ; their names were John Evelyn, John Locke, Christopher Wren and Isaac Newton.

From his Boyle lectures, he went back to the Greek poets. John George Graevius, professor at Utrecht and the foremost Latin scholar of the day, was about to issue an edition of Callimachus; and Bentley undertook to collect for this work all the fragments of Callimachus extant in Greek literature. Graevius, who had read the Epistola ad Millium with the keenest enthusiasm, expected much of Bentley and got even more than he expected. For Bentley discovered twice as many fragments as had been previously known; his metrical knowledge enabled him, in many

cases, to correct them where corrupt; and his penetration could often point out the relation of one fragment to another. No such collection of the fragments of a classical author had ever been seen. Until his death in 1703 Graevius remained one of Bentley's heartiest admirers.

The time was now coming when Bentley's friends were to be put to the proof. By no fault of his own, he became involved in a famous controversy, in which he was supposed, by the ignorant, to have had the worst of it, although, in fact, he was completely victorious over his antagonists and, in the course of his reply, also made an immense contribution to the knowledge of antiquity.

The subject of this controversy was the genuineness of certain letters attributed to Phalaris, the half-legendary ruler of Agrigentum, who roasted his enemies in a brazen bull. An idle comparison between ancient and modern learning, begun in France, had spread to England; and Sir William Temple, then eminent as a man of letters, published an essay, in 1690, in which he gave the preference to ancient literature, in general, and praised the letters of Phalaris, in particular, as superior to anything since written of the same kind. Temple's essay having turned attention to Phalaris, a new edition of the letters was published in 1695 by Charles Boyle, then an undergraduate at Christ Church, a grandnephew of Robert Boyle, the founder of the lectures. In his preface, the editor made an insulting reference to Bentley and complained of his discourteous conduct in refusing the use of a MS of Phalaris kept in the royal library. Bentley wrote at once to Boyle, explaining that there had been a mistake, and that he had intended no discourtesy; but Boyle, acting on the advice of others, refused to make any amends. His reply was practically a defiance to Bentley to do his worst. Bentley was the last man to swallow such an insult, and it was not long before he had an opportunity to say something for himself. His friend, William Wotton, had, in 1694, entered the lists against Sir William Temple in defence of modern learning; and, in 1697, a second edition of his book included an appendix in which Bentley briefly stated his proofs that the letters of Phalaris were spurious, and then gave the true version of the affair of the MS. But he went further: in language of decided asperity, he pointed out errors in Boyle's edition, blaming his teachers for them more than 'the young gentleman' himself.

By some of the resident members of Christ Church, this censure was bitterly resented; and it was determined to crush Bentley. The members of this society were numerous and united by an

unusually strong corporate feeling, as nearly all of them had been educated at Westminster. Though, in point of learning, they were children compared to Bentley, yet they were formidable antagonists in any controversy at the bar of public opinion. They were wits and men of the world; they had much influence in literary and academic circles; and, though their erudition was meagre, they showed a marvellous dexterity in the use of what they had. The ringleader in the conspiracy against Bentley was Francis Atterbury1: of the book, which appeared in 1698 and bore the name of Charles Boyle, he wrote the greater part and revised the whole.

This joint production, to which Boyle seems to have contributed nothing except his name, was read with avidity by a public quite incompetent to judge of the matter in dispute. The book had merits which all could understand: in a polished and pleasant style, it exhausted every art of the controversialist in throwing ridicule on Bentley as a dull pedant without the manners of a gentleman or the taste of a genuine man of letters. Nor was ridicule the only weapon employed: charges of dishonesty, plagiarism and even heterodoxy were scattered up and down its pages. Public opinion, prejudiced in Boyle's favour by his youth and high birth, soon declared decisively against Bentley. It was at this time that Swift, then residing in Sir William Temple's family, ridiculed Bentley in his Battle of the Books; and Garth's poem, The Dispensary, published in 1699, is chiefly remembered by the foolish couplet in which he expressed his agreement with the prevailing sentiment of polite society:

So diamonds take a lustre from their foil,
And to a Bentley 'tis we owe a Boyle.

Atterbury and his friends had good reason to suppose that they had crushed Bentley and destroyed not only his reputation for learning but, also, his character.

But it was not easy to crush Bentley. It was about this time that he replied to the condolence of a friend: 'Indeed, I am in no pain about the matter; for it is a maxim with me that no man was ever written out of reputation but by himself.' He set to work to revise and enlarge what he had already written about Phalaris, and his full reply appeared early in 1699. The Dissertation did not instantly convert public opinion to Bentley's side; but competent scholars, not, at that day, a large company, saw at once that Bentley had not only disproved for ever the

1 As to Atterbury see the chapter Divines of the Church of England in vol. x, post.

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