Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

same.

paid no attention for some time: and when renewed applications roused him to exertion, such was his ignorance, that he sent a collater with a printed Phalaris to Sion College, imagining, as it seems, that and the King's library to be the

His next step was to ask the assistance of Mr. Bentley, who occasionally visited his shop, judging him likely to have interest to procure a loan of the manuscript; but so little zeal did he shew to oblige his Christ Church customer, that he did not go to solicit the favour, but mentioned it when he casually saw him. To the first request, which seems to have been in the beginning of 1694, Bentley answered at once that he should be happy in an opportunity of obliging Mr. Boyle, a young man related to the illustrious founder of his lecture, and “tliat he would help him to the book.” This was some time before he had the custody of the library; but it was afterwards noticed, that he might have made interest with the persons employed upon the catalogue, whom he sometimes accompanied and assisted in their work. However it was not reasonable to expect any uncommon exertions to serve a gentleman who seemed himself to consider the matter too trifling for any application to him either by letter or through a friend. But the real cause of the offence was a conversation between him and the bookseller, upon the latter asking confidentially his opinion of the work on which Mr. Boyle was employed : Bentley told him that "he need not be afraid of undertaking it, since the great names of those that recommended it would ensure its sale ; but that the book was a spurious one, and unworthy of a new edition.” Bennett receiving from Oxford fresh applications for the collation, in order to excuse himself, laid the blame upon the new librarian, whom he asserted that he had long solicited in vain, and who had besides spoken with disparagement and contempt both of the book and its editors. This representation being implicitly believed by Boyle and his friends, convinced them that Bentley was behaving uncourteously from hostility to a work, which he was known to consider as not being the genuine production of the tyrant whose name it bore. What ensued, confirmed them in this opinion. After another and more urgent letter, the bookseller, though he still gave himself no trouble respecting the object, happening to meet Bentley in the street, renewed his request for the manuscript; and was answered that “he should have it as soon as he sent for it to his lodgings:" it was, in fact, delivered to his messenger on the same day, along with an injunction that no time should be lost in making the collation, as he was shortly going out of town, and must replace the book in the library before his departure. As he granted this favour the very first time that it was asked after he had the custody of the library, nothing but a misrepresentation of facts could have led people to charge him with uncourteous or disobliging conduct. The time of his leaving London to keep his residence at Worcester was approaching, and as he was to set off early on a Monday morning, he applied to Bennett the preceding Saturday, for the restoration of the book ; which had been put into his hands from five to nine days before. The shortest of these periods was more than sufficient for the completion of the task ; but it was not until almost the last moment that this trust-worthy agent sent the book to Gibson, a person who obtained his livelihood as a correcter of the

press, with orders to collate it with despatch. He had not advanced further than twenty pages, when a message arrived from the bookseller that it must be immediately returned, “as the library-keeper waited for it in the shop :" his solicitation for longer time obtained only a permission to keep it till the evening; to a further delay Bentley refused to consent, not choosing to risk its safety during his absence from town. There still, however, remained sufficient time for a competent person to have finished the collation; but at nine o'clock that evening when the manuscript was returned, only forty of the 148 epistles were dispatched. It was the care of Bennett to give his employer such a representation of this matter as should confirm his suspicion of some discourtesy personally directed against himself. Mr. Boyle had already expressed his belief of this being the fact; and to create such a quarrel as should preclude explanation between the parties, appeared the best mode of concealing his own negleet of the

commission. Besides, the numerous inquiries made upon the subject soon discovered to this sagacious tradesman his interest in siding with a powerful literary party.

Such is the state of the facts, as it appears from a careful examination of the many tedious discussions respecting this much talked of but trivial affair, which has, by a strange accident, found a place in our literary history. To Bentley, had the transaction been fairly stated, not a shadow of blame could be attached; and Boyle was censurable only for giving implicit credit to the representations of his agent. To have gratuitously affronted a promising young scholar, of a name and family which he held in veneration, was inconsistent with Bentley's character: he would rather have rejoiced in an opportunity of obliging him, and, if properly applied to, would undoubtedly have made the collation himself

. But a notion prevailed at Christ Church, that an affront was intended both for Phalaris and his patrons, and this it was determined to resent. Possibly the tory politics prevalent in that society, might have had their share in hurrying on a quarrel with a scholar in the opposite interest.-Pp. 50—53.

When the edition of Phalaris appeared, the Preface contained the following sentence :"Collatas etiam curavi usque ad Epist. XL. cum MSto, in Bibliothecâ regiâ, cujus mihi copiam ulteriorem Bibliothecarius, PRO SINGULARI SUA HUMANITATE, negavit.It was in vain that Bentley remonstrated and explained; the offensive imputation was published and circulated ; and it may be supposed that the critic, whose forbearance was rarely so conspicuous on subsequent occasions, yielded unreluctantly to the solicitations of his friend Wotton, that he would, in pursuance of a previous pledge, demonstrate the spuriousness of Phalaris. Accordingly, about two years afterwards, he put forth his just dissertation on the subject, in the form of letters to Mr. Wotton.

To enter here on the particulars of this curious and celebrated controversy would be as superfluous as impossible. They are already well known to our readers from the books published at the time, and from the amusing account given by Mr. D'Israeli in his “ Quarrels of Authors.” Bishop Monk has detailed them with great spirit and perspicuity; and to him we must be content to refer. In the following year the rejoinder of the Christ Church wits appeared, in the shape of an examination, by Boyle, of Bentley's remarks. In the beginning of the year 1699, it was met by the immortal “ Dissertation.”

Meanwhile Bentley had been accumulating honours and distinctions. Through the interest of Stillingfleet, now Bishop of Worcester, he became Chaplain in ordinary to the King; the Rectory of Hartlebury, in Worcestershire, was given him till his pupil, James Stillingfleet, should be in full orders; he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society; and took at Cambridge the degree of D.D. In the year 1700, the ecclesiastical commission appointed by King William III. to recommend fit persons to ecclesiastical appointments, unanimously determined to assign to Bentley the Mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge. This appointment appears so congenial to all that former

VOL. XII. NO, X,

[ocr errors]

years had disclosed of Bentley's character, that it might have been hoped that the opportunities which it afforded for study would have determined the fate and the fame of the illustrious possessor. But Trinity College happened, at that time, to be manifestly declining; and the Master's irregular zeal to render worthy of his high reputation the society over whom he was called to preside, alloyed, apparently, by some motives of baser material, unfortunately converted this promising scene of peace and studious wisdom into a theatre of exterminative war.

From this period to the latest years of Bentley's protracted life, his time was wholly divided between his critical pursuits, and a struggle to subvert the liberties of his college. The latter object he pursued and achieved with a perseverance, sagacity, and ability, not unworthy a Cromwell or a Napoleon. We shall not attempt even a sketch of his policy in this respect; the subject is far from grateful, and we shall readily resign it for the consideration of those literary and theological undertakings which immortalize his name, and the commemoration of which is best suited to the designation of these pages. Bentley's public "principles" were, in point of "liberality," a century in advance ; commencing whig, he afterward dedicated to the Earl of Oxford, and again in the reign of George I. got up a whig address to that monarch on the suppression of the rebellion. This conduct maintained, of course, his interest at court; it was otherwise, however, with the university, where the first scholar of his day was deprived of all his degrees ; but the patronage he had secured was ample for effecting his restoration. To his ejection from his Mastership he paid no manner of attention. It is curious that he was enabled to retain the emoluments and privileges of this office solely by a lapsus calami in the college statutes, which, had it occurred in a classical author, would have been subjected to his critical castigation. The letter of the Fortieth Statute of Trinity College is as follows : “ Porro si dictus Magister coram dicto VISITATORE examinatus, et vel de Hæreseos, vel læsæ Majestatis crimine, &c. vel denique de alio quovis consimili crimine notabili coram prædicto VISITATORE legitimè convictus fuerit, sine morâ per eundem VICEMAGISTRUM officio Magistri priveter." It is obvious that for Vicemagistrum we should here read visitatorem ; yet this clerical error afforded Bentley the means of escaping the Visitor's sentence, by tampering with the Vice-master for the time being, and electing, on the earliest opportunity, a creature of his own to sustain that office.

Before, however, we proceed to the more honourable part of Bentley's life, we will afford our readers a summary of the articles on which he was arraigned and convicted by the Bishop of Ely :-Notorious neglect of public worship in college ; neglect to appoint lecturers on the catechism; affixing the college-seal to documents in presence of fewer than sixteen fellows, and sometimes against the remonstrances of the whole seniority; alienation of college estates ; expenditure of college property on private objects, and particularly in bribing one of the fellows to withdraw charges against him. In Bishop Monk's remarks all our readers will concur : In the

perusal of the foregoing narrative, some, perhaps, may have remarked that Dr. Bentley might have been an excellent lawyer; others may have thought his talents adapted for military command: but all must agree that such a display suited any character rather than that of a learned and dignified clergyman.-P. 637.

We have already traced the leading points in Bentley's literary career up to the production of his immortal Dissertation on Phalaris. But the great critic had not been wholly employed in making new acquisitions. He had projected new editions of Philostratus, Hesychius, and Manilius; and he produced a collection of fragments, notes, and emendations to Grævius's Callimachus, which our learned author has thus characterized :

Dr. Bentley's notes and emendations upon Callimachus, and his collection of the fragments of that poet, were drawn up, after repeated interruptions, and transmitted to Grævius for publication during the year 1696 : the last batch of fragments he sent to Utrecht on his return to town from Worcester, where he had been passing two months with the Bishop. Grævius's Callimachus appeared in the August following, and presented two extraordinary specimens of Greek erudition; differing from one another, but each constituting a monument to the fame of its author: the collection of fragments by our critic, and the diffuse commentary by Ezechiel Spanheim. The inexhaustible stores of knowledge in mythology, antiquities, and philology, which the latter exhibits, are an object of admiration; and though he overlays the poet with his learning, yet his commentary will always be valued as a mine of information upon every subject of which it treats. The merits of Bentley's performance were different: above four hundred fragments, raked together from the whole range of ancient literature, digested in order, amended and illustrated with a critical skill, which had no example, presented a still greater novelty. There existed no collection of Greek fragments which he could have taken for his model; and Valckenaer, one of the greatest scholars who have trodden in his footsteps, speaking of this collection, says, 'qua nihil in hoc genere præstantius prodiit aut magis elaboratum.'— Pp. 58, 59.

In 1701, Bentley married Mrs. Johanna Bernard, daughter of Sir John Bernard, of Brampton, in Huntingdonshire. In the same year he became Archdeacon of Ely, and, by consequence, a member of Convocation. He now projected editions of classical books for the use of his college, and began with Horace. This edition was ten years in preparation, and certainly was not calculated to sustain his richly merited celebrity. Every scholar will agree with Bishop Monk that Bentley's acquaintance with Latin was greatly inferior to his knowledge of Greek; while a stroke of the pen, or the omission of a letter, are much more influential in the latter language than in the former. Accordingly Bentley's Latin emendations are almost every where forced and considerable ; while his Greek corrections are brief, neat, and demonstrative. One idea on which he constantly acted was, that an author must necessarily always have expressed himself with the strictest propriety; and wherever his text appeared to deviate from this, an alteration was accordingly obtruded. This assumption is so manifestly contrary to truth, that it is astonishing how it could have been, for one moment, admitted by the discriminating intellect of Bentley. But it frequently happens that the emendation is as devoid of propriety as the original. Thus in the line cited by the Bishop, "Et malè tornatos incudi reddere versus," where Bentley corrects "ter natos," there is a manifest incongruity between the ideas of "incus” and natus." Whether Horace inadvertently incurred the impropriety which all MSS. exhibit, or whether he considered the metaphors as of too little importance to require reconciliation, so long as their meaning was evident, or whether some unknown particulars of ancient art would harmonize ideas which appear to us as distinct as those of an anvil and a lathe, are different questions ; but Bentley's correction contradicts MSS. and does not effect the consistency for which he contends. Another unfortunate propensity of our great critic was that of seeking a parallel authority for every expression of a classical author, with as much assiduity as if the subject of his criticism had been a modern writer of a dead language. Passages are frequently “slashed" with no better reason than the absence of a similar cast of expression in other writers. Beside these blemishes, which equally affect all Bentley's criticisms on Latin authors, he was, in his Horace, peculiarly unfortunate : having printed his “emended” text before the notes were written, his pride compelled him to the vindication of many

corrections," which consideration must have shown to be indefensible. Upwards of twenty of these emendations he felt it necessary to his reputation to retract. That he has “made Horace dull,” is a verdict which, though pronounced by wit, has been fully ratified by judgment.

While employed on his Horace, Bentley had embarked a portion of his fame on an undercurrent of criticism. Mr. John Davies, Fellow of Queen's College, was publishing an edition of the Tusculan Questions. To these Bentley contributed a body of emendations, exhibiting that skill in the old versification of Latium, which enabled him at a subsequent period to clear, to a great extent, the intricate subject of the Terentian metres. Mr. Peter Needham, Fellow of St. John's College, about the same time, published an edition of the Commentary of Hierocles on the Golden Verses of Pythagoras. To this Bentley supplied a body of emendations and conjectures by no means equally felicitous with those on Cicero. Christopher Wolfius, of Leipsic, immediately published a review of them, and demonstrated, from an

66

« AnteriorContinuar »