Richard Bentley, an English scholar and critic, born at Oulton, near Wakefield, Jan. 27, 1662, died .July 14, 1742. He was entered as a sizar at St. John's college, Cambridge, at the age of 14, graduated with honors corresponding to those of third wrangler in the present system, and in 1682 was appointed by his college to the head mastership of Spalding grammar school, which he quitted after a year for the situation of domestic, tutor to the son of Dr. Stillngflect, then dean of St. Paul's. He accompanied his pupil to Oxford in 1080, and there pursued his own studies in the Bodleian library, especially in the oriental languages. His first publication, in 1691, a Latin epistle to Dr. John Mill on an edition of the "Chronicle" of John Malala, at once established his reputation as a scholar and a critic. He took holy orders in 1690, and in 1692 obtained the first nomination to the lectureship just founded under the will of Robert Boyle, in defence of religion against infidels. In October of the same year he was appointed a prebendary at Worcester; in April, 1694, keeper of all the king's libraries, and Boyle lecturer for a second time; in 1695 one of the chaplains in ordinary to William III.; and in 1696 he took the degree of D. D. at Cambridge, and assisted his friend Grarvius in preparing an edition of Callimachus. Charles Boyle (afterward earl of Ossory) published a new edition of the "Epistles of Pha-laris" early in 1695, and complained in his preface of some alleged want of courtesy on the part of Bentley respecting the loan of a manuscript in the king's library.
Bentley courteously assured Boyle that his statement was erroneous, and expected the complaint to be withdrawn; but this was not done, and he took his revenge two years later, when, in an appendix to the second edition of Wotton's "Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning," he published his "Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris, Themistocles, Socrates, Euripides, and others, and the Fables of AEsop," demonstrating the spuriousness of all these productions, and dissecting Mr. Boyle's labors with contemptuous severity. The leading scholars of Oxford, headed by Atterbury, united in a reply to Bentley, which was published in 1698, with the name of Charles Boyle on the title page. Pope, Swift, and Gay joined in the controversy. General opinion set strongly against Bentley, who was disliked for his arrogance; but in 1699 Bentley issued that immortal dissertation, as it was called by Porson, in which he disposed of the question at once and for ever, with a splendid display of learning, skill in argument, and no slight wit. To this dissertation a rejoinder was promised, but never appeared. Early in 1700, at the age of 38, Dr. Bentley was made master of Trinity college, Cambridge, an office of large emolument and vast responsibility.
In January, 1701, he married Joanna, daughter of Sir John Bernard, a baronet in Huntingdonshire. In the same year he was made archdeacon of Ely. As actual head of the university of Cambridge, he introduced many necessary reforms, put the university press on a better footing than before, encouraged scholars and scholarship, improved the discipline of his college and the modes of examination for scholarships and fellowships, and extended the college library. Many abuses which he reformed were supported by the fellows of his college, from whose society he kept aloof, and his general conduct, even when morally and legally correct, was arbitrary. In 1709 the vice master of Trinity and some of the senior fellows accused him of malappropriation of the college funds. Out of this arose a long litigation, in which Bentley, supported somewhat by the junior fellows, but more strongly by his own determination, boldness, and adroitness, succeeded in keeping Ms office after sentence of deprivation had been pronounced against him, and retained it until nis death. In 1717 the regius professorship of divinity at Cambridge, by far the richest in Europe, became vacant. Bentley, notwithstanding the doubt whether, as master of Trinity, he could also hold that office, procured himself to be elected.
His opening lecture treated of the text (1 John v. 7) on the three heavenly witnesses. He maintained the doctrine of the Trinity, but decidedly rejected the verse, of which he gave the history. When George I. visited Cambridge, and several persons were nominated to the degree of D. D., Bentley exacted four guineas from each candidate in addition to the usual fees. For this he was tried in the court of the vice chancellor of the university, degraded, and deprived of all his degrees, in October, 1718. He appealed to the law, and after more than five years' litigation the court of king's bench issued a mandamus compelling the university to reinstate him. - Amid all these litigious and troublesome years Bentley pursued his scholastic labors as eagerly as if nothing else had been on his mind. After publishing the appendix to the Chronicle of Malala he began to prepare editions of Phi-lostratus, of Hesychius, and of the Latin poet Manilius; but the Philostratus, though ready for the press, never appeared, nor is it known what has become of it.
In 1695 he assisted Evelyn in the revision of his Numismata. In 1696 he wrote the notes and made the emendations of the text of Callimachus. He wrote in 1708 three critical epistles on the "Plutus " and the "Clouds" of Aristophanes, to assist his friend Ludolf Kuster in his edition of that poet. In 1710 he prepared emendations on 323 passages in the "Fragments of Menander and Philemon," which had been edited, but with great ignorance of Greek, by Le Clerc. In 1711 he completed his edition of Horace, the most popular of all his publications. In 1713 he replied to Anthony Collins's "Discourse on Free Thinking." In 1716 he proposed, in a letter to Archbishop Wake, to restore the original text of the New Testament, exactly as it was at the time of the council of Nice, using the Vulgate to correct the Greek text. The project, which was severely attacked by Dr. Conyers Middle-ton, was never proceeded with. In 1726 he published annotated and revised editions of Terence and Phaadrus. Toward the close of 1731 he undertook his edition of "Paradise Lost," and published it, with notes and corrections of the text, in January, 1732. It has some marks of ability, but, as a whole, is not worthy of his pen.
In 1726 he had noted and corrected the whole of Homer, chiefly with a view to the restoration of the digamma to its place and functions in the metre. In 1732 he seriously applied himself to complete this edition. It was never published, but the MS. was finally transmitted to Gottingen by Trinity college, for the use of Heyne, who in his own edition of Homer acknowledged the profound-est obligations to it, and made the world circumstantially acquainted with its merits. Fourteen years after Bentley's death Horace Wal-pole published at his private press an edition of Lucan, illustrated by the notes of Bentley, combined with those of Grotius. The suggestions contained in it for the emendation of the text are excellent. - Bentley had an overweening opinion of his own dignity and rights, and a determination in upholding both, which opposition only increased. In private, though his manner was stately, if not severe, he is represented as having been amiable. He was perhaps the best classical scholar England has ever produced. By the close attention to verbal details, of which he set an example, the facts have been collected upon which the modern science of comparative philology is founded.