Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bentley, Samuel

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BENTLEY, SAMUEL (1785–1868), printer and antiquarian, second son of Edward Bentley, for some years principal of the accountant's office in the Bank of England, and nephew of John Nichols, the noted antiquarian, was born 10 May 1785. He was educated at St. Paul's School, where he had his cousin, the younger Nichols, as a schoolfellow. After an apprenticeship to the business of John Nichols—who was for some years printer, publisher, and editor of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’—he was taken into partnership, and largely contributed to build up the fame of that distinguished house. He was not only a scholar, but also a man of remarkable industry. He successively indexed the ‘Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century,’ by John Nichols, and the ‘History of Durham,’ by Surtees, whilst at the same time devoting his energies to the personal revision of every work printed by his firm. In 1816 he edited, and wrote the Latin prefaces, for an octavo issue of the ‘Concio de Puero Jesu,’ a work composed by Erasmus at the request of Dean Colet. This edition is dedicated to Dr. Sleath, the headmaster of St. Paul's, and bears the imprint, ‘Typis I. et I. B. Nichols et S. Bentley. mdccc.x.vi. Excudebant Joannes Nichols cum sociis olim scholæ Paulinæ alumnis.’ In 1819 Bentley went into partnership with his brother Richard [q. v.], in Dorset Street, Salisbury Square; and on the latter taking over the business of Colburn, he established the firm of Samuel and John Bentley, Wilson, & Fley, at Bangor House, Shoe Lane, John being his nephew. It was here that his personal reputation was definitely secured; and he spared no pains to place himself at the head of his calling. Lord Beaconsfield on one occasion, speaking of the productions of Bentley in Shoe Lane, said that if there were two editions of a book, and one of them was printed at Bangor House, he would unhesitatingly choose that one. Bentley's zeal led him at an early date to visit the type-foundry of Firmin Didot at Paris, though he had probably little to learn from the Frenchmen in the way of taste or efficiency. He was not merely an accurate printer and an indefatigable antiquarian, but he was accomplished also as a musician and an artist. Some of his paintings (amongst them being a faithful portrait of his father) elicited the praise of Maclise. He had imbibed his uncle's interest in archæological subjects; and his knowledge of architecture, of Old English music, and of the early Norman-French tongue, which presents so many difficulties even to men of scholarly attainments, was very considerable. His best professional work was the ‘Excerpta Historica,’ a royal 8vo, published in 1831, in which he had the assistance of Sir Harris Nicolas, Sir Charles Young, Mr. Duffus Hardy, and others. He in turn lent valuable aid to Sir Harris in preparing for publication the ‘Scrope and Grosvenor Roll;’ and his poring over the decayed manuscript of this work for several hours daily in the Tower of London was assigned by himself as the cause of his eventual blindness. Sir H. Nicolas paid him a handsome compliment for his valuable assistance in this connection. ‘Nothing,’ he wrote, ‘could be more delightful to me than the cordial co-operation I have received from you throughout the work, or more useful than the numerous suggestions with which you have favoured me; indeed, if I did not rely on a continuance of your aid, I should almost despond of the prospect before me of volume iii.’ In 1836 Bentley printed for private circulation ‘An Abstract of Charters and other Documents contained in a Cartulary of the Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster, in the possession of S. B.’ After struggling for some time against failing eyesight, he was compelled to abandon his business in 1853; but in his retreat at Croydon, attended by his faithful and accomplished wife—whom he had married in 1825, and who survived him—he enjoyed fifteen years of cultivated ease.

[Works as cited above; Gent. Mag. June 1868; private information from Mr. George Bentley, which corrects the magazine obituary notice of his uncle in some important particulars.]

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