Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bentley, George

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
1415523Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 1 — Bentley, George1901William Fraser Rae

BENTLEY, GEORGE (1828–1895), publisher and author, born in Dorset Square, London, on 7 June 1828, was the eldest surviving son of Richard Bentley (1794–1871) [q. v.] and Charlotte, daughter of Thomas Botten. He was educated, first, at the school of the Rev. Mr. Poticary, Blackheath, where Benjamin Disraeli had been a pupil, and, secondly, at King's College, London, where he sat on the same form as Dr. Lionel Beale, At the age of seventeen he entered his father's publishing office. He served as a special constable when a fear of breaches of the peace by the Chartists existed in 1848, his beat being the same as Louis Napoleon's. The following year he was in Rome when it was forcibly occupied by the French.

From his marriage in 1853 until 1860 Bentley lived in a house in Regent's Park. He then moved to Slough and occupied a house in Upton Park. Several years later he bought land at Upton and built a house for himself. He was interested in meteorology, and he kept records and charts of the rain-fall during many years.

From 1859 onwards Bentley largely shared with his father the business of publishing; yet he found time for literary work also, writing an introduction to an edition of Maginn's 'Shakspeare Papers' and 'Rock Inscriptions of the Jews in the Peninsula of Sinai.' When his firm purchased 'Temple Bar Magazine' in 1866 he became its editor, holding that office till death and writing several papers for it, which he collected and printed for private circulation. After his father's death in 1871, he had a very arduous task, as the resources of the firm had been crippled owing to a decision of the House of Lords denying copyright in England to works by American authors, to the commercial failure of 'Bentley's Quarterly,' and of a newspaper called 'Young England,' and to a heavy loss on the complete edition of Horace Walpole's 'Letters,' which Peter Cunningham edited. However, Bentley, by his energy, perseverance, and tact, eventually placed the business on a more solid basis, with the result of reaping great pecuniary gain. Under his guidance the firm greatly improved its position both in the trade and in public estimation. The office of publisher in ordinary to her majesty, which his father had enjoyed, was continued to him and to his son.

In 1872, Bentley achieved an extraordinary publishing feat of printing. Two copies of the American case concerning the 'Alabama Claims' had been delivered in London — the one to the government, the other to Bentley & Son. The documents filled a large quarto of five hundred pages, and among them were many coloured maps. 'In seventy-two hours afterwards, by the diligence of the Chiswick Press, a facsimile reprint was published [by Bentley] in this country, many days in advance of the government issue' (Leaves from the Past, privately printed in 1896, p. 109). Reference to this prompt action was made by Gladstone, then prime minister, in the House of Commons.

The record of Bentley's life is chiefly a list of the books which he published, the majority consisting of works of fiction, travel, history, and biography. He prided himself on giving no book to the world which he considered unworthy of being read, and he was as careful about the external appearance of a book as about its contents. As editor of 'Temple Bar' he carefully selected works of fiction for publication in monthly instalments. He was an assiduous purveyor to the circulating libraries of novels in three volumes, and the most popular were afterwards included in his six-shilling series of 'Favourite Novels.' The more noteworthy novelists whom he introduced to the public are Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Henry Wood, Miss Rhoda Broughton, Miss Florence Montgomery, Hawley Smart, Miss 'Marie Corelli,' Mr. W. E. Norris, Mr. 'Maarten Maartens,' and Mrs. Riddell. His eminence as a publisher was attained at the cost of great personal labour and to the injury of his health, which was always delicate. During fifteen years he passed each winter at Tenby in South Wales. His last winter was spent at Weston-super-Mare. He returned to his house at Upton in the spring in very feeble health, and in the night of 29 May 1895 an attack of angina pectoris ended his life. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Lawrence, Upton.

Bentley married, 16 June 1853, Anne, daughter of William Williams of Aberystwyth. His only son Richard, born in May 1854, after conducting the business for five years, dissolved the firm in 1898, making over the stock and assets to Messrs. Macmillan & Company.

Bentley was a member of the Stationers' Company and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He was very conservative in his tastes and his feelings, his firm being the last to continue the custom, dating from the end of the seventeenth century, of an annual trade dinner, to which the principal booksellers were invited, and at which new and standard publications were offered for sale after the cloth was removed. The place was sometimes the Albion Tavern, sometimes the hall of the Stationers' Company, and, in later years it was the Hôtel Métropole. He was intimately versed in the literature of France as well as in that of his own country, and, as editor of 'Temple Bar,' he made it the vehicle for conveying to the English public much interesting information about the best French writers. He left behind him twenty-one manuscript volumes of literary journals, extending over forty-six years, which are now in the possession of his son Richard. Bentley's portrait in middle age was etched by Lowenstam, and in later life engraved by Mr. Roffe. Mr. 'Maarten Maartens,' the Dutch writer of English fiction, whom Bentley introduced to the English reading public, thus wrote after his death: ' "I am a publisher," Bentley would say jokingly, "but I am also a lover of literature." He might have added, "and of literary men"' (Leaves from the Past, p. 119).

[Academy, 1895, i. 483; Athenæum, 1895, i. 739; Le Livre, October 1885, pp. 292-8; The Bookman, July 1895; Times, 31 May 1895; private information.]

F. R.