Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 04.djvu/315

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Bentley
Bentley
311

tific method, was to bring accurate philological knowledge into relation with historical research. It is a storehouse of exact and penetrating erudition, comprehending several monographs on special subjects, which to this day retain their intrinsic value. It is a monument of controversial genius; not of that which quibbles and hectors, but of that in which the keenest wit flashes around the strictest and most lucid argument.

As to the reception which the 'Dissertation' experienced, it has generally been assumed that Bentley's complete victory was immediately recognised. This is an error, as was shown for the first time in the biography of Bentley contributed to the 'English Men of Letters' series by Professor Jebb. Swift's 'Battle of the Books,' published with the 'Tale of a Tub' in 1704, implies the absence of any public sentiment which would feel Swift's pronouncement for Boyle to be absurd; but, putting this aside as purely popular satire, we have other evidence. 'A Short Review' of the controversy, by Atterbury, which crime out anonymously in 1701, says of Bentley: 'Common pilferers will still go on in their trade, even after they have suffer'd for it.' In 1749 a distinguished Cambridge scholar, Thomas Francklin, published a translation of the 'Letters of Phalaris,' in which he argued that Bentley's criticisms may touch special points, 'and yet the book be authentic ill the main, and an original still.' Nay, in 1804, after Tyrwhitt and Porson had borne testimony to the real state of the case, Bentley's own grandson, Richard Cumberland, used a half-apologetic tone in claiming the advantage for Bentley. This hesitation of judgment must seem to posterity the crowning distinction of the great scholar's work. It shows how immensely that work was in advance of its age. And it is comforting for all who have to strive against specious charlatanry: it shows that the truth, be it never so clear, may have to wait. But the better scholars knew, even then, that Bentley had won; and 'the applauses of his friends' (to which the incognito Atterbury alludes in 1701) soon turned to effect. The mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, fell vacant towards the end of 1699—about eight months after the 'Dissertation' came out—by Dr. Mountague accepting the deanery of Durham. The nomination rested with William's six commissioners, viz., the two archbishops (Tenison and Sharp) and Bishops Lloyd, Burnet, Patrick, and Moore, Moore being the successor of Bentley's old patron, Stillingfleet, who had died in April 1699. They were unanimous in recommending Bentley, and he was appointed by the crown. He remained king's librarian; but henceforth his home was at Trinity College. On 1 Feb. 1700 Bentley was admitted master.

From 1700 to 1738 Bentley was at constant feud, more or less, with the fellows of the college. Yet during the whole of this period—from the thirty-eighth to the seventy-sixth year of his age—he carried on an almost unbroken series of literary works. A clear distinction must be drawn between his official and his domestic life. It would be a mistake to suppose that the external broils in which he was involved were his main occupations, or even that they very seriously interrupted his studies. He was a man of extraordinary nerve, with rare power of concentration. The college wars probably seem more important to us than, except at crises, they did to him. Briefly, the story is as follows. Between 1700 and 1709 the new master committed a number of petty encroachments on the privileges of the fellows, which excited extreme irritation. Early in 1710, at the instigation of Edmund Miller (a barrister fellow of the college), the fellows appealed to the Bishop of Ely (Moore) as general visitor, arguing that, under the 40th of the Elizabethan statutes for the college, Bentley was liable to be deprived of the mastership. After long delays Bentley was brought to trial before the bishop of Ely. Dr. Moore, at Ely House in London in 1714. The trial lasted six weeks, ending about 15 June. Before judgment could be given, Bishop Moore died, on 31 July. The next day, 1 Aug. 1714, London heard that Queen Anne was no more. Political excitement thrust lesser matters out of sight. After Dr. Moore's death the judgment which he had drafted was found among his papers: 'By this our definitive sentence, we remove Richard Bentley from his office of master of the college.'

For the next ten years (1714-24) Bentley ruled the college with practically despotic power, while the fellows, led by Miller down to 1719, made intermittent resistance. The most notable incident of the decade was in 1718, when Bentley was deprived of his degrees by the university. This was as a punishment for having failed to appear before the vice-chancellor's court, which had issued a decree for his arrest at the suit of Conyers Middleton. Middleton (the biographer of Cicero) had received a D.D. degree, and Bentley, as regius professor of divinity, had exacted a fee which Middleton sought to recover. On 26 March 1724 the university, under legal compulsion, restored Bentley's degrees.

Then came three years (1726-7) of comparative peace. And then followed a second