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RICHARD BENTLEY, D.D.
(With a Portrait.)
OULTON, a village in the West Riding of Yorkshire, situate between Leeds and Wakefield, may boast of being the birthplace of one of the most accurate Grecians and most litigious Ecclesiastics that ever adorned or troubled a University. In both characters he rose to heroic eminence. His grandfather, a Captain in the army of Charles I., died a prisoner of war in Pontefract Castle. His father, Thomas Bentley, possessed a small farm at Woodlesford, in the parish of Oulton; and his mother was daughter of a stonemason in the same parish. Richard, born on the 27th of January, 1661-62, was baptized with the name of his maternal grandfather, who undertook, as soon as necessary, the cost of his education. But his mother, although of humble rank, must also have been well educated ; for she taught him the Latin Accidence. Furnished with these elements, he went early to a day-school at Methley, then to the Grammar-School at Wakefield, thence to Cambridge, and was entered as a sizar in St. John's, before he had completed his fifteenth year. There he had the privilege of hearing Isaac Newton-afterwards Sir Isaac-lecture. It is needless to say that he made good use of his time; and as youth barred him from attaining to a Fellowship, VOL. XIX. Second Series.
which would otherwise have been the object of his ambition, he gladly accepted an appointment to the head-mastership of the Grammar-School of Spalding, in Lincolnshire, and took charge of that institution at the very early age of twenty. A proof that the talent and the bearing of this young Master were above his age, is afforded by the fact, that Dr. Edward Stillingfleet, Dean of St. Paul's, engaged him, after he had taught the boys of Spalding but one year, to be domestic tutor of his own son. Residence in London opened his way to the society of eminent men, both in Church and State; but he owed his advancement chiefly to unwearied application in elementary studies, which were then incomparably more difficult than any one who has had the advantages of modern school-books is able to conceive.
Dean Stillingfleet, Richard Bentley's patron, when consecrated Bishop of Winchester, confided his son to the charge of his private tutor, and sent them both to Oxford. Here the tutor devoted himself with extraordinary ardour to the collation of Greek manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and formed plans for giving the world new editions of several Greek and Latin poets.
While Bentley was busy in preparing a critically-corrected edition of the Greek Lexicon of Hesychius,-a labour of immense magnitude, only to be effected by a combination of extraordinary penetration, with equal patience,-his attention was drawn to an obscure Greek chronicler of the ninth century, Malelas of Antioch, which was then passing through the press. Some notes which he wrote on the first proof-sheets so far gained the admiration of the editor, that he was requested to continue and publish his annotations; and these laid the foundation of his fame as first Greek scholar of the age.
Thus far young Bentley might almost be pronounced a model for the imitation of studious youth. But there is reason to fear that his religious knowledge was miserably beneath comparison with his classical, and that the culture of his mind had been prosecuted without leaving space for the care of his soul. Although not infidel, nor yet immoral,--for he was too industrious and high-minded to be enslaved by the grosser vices,—he lacked that grace which alone can raise any man, however learned, above the dominion of worldly tempers.
Bentley cannot be regarded as a theologian; and perhaps his lesser familiarity with technical divinity, gave him some advantage in confuting the atheistic doctrines of Spinoza and Hobbes in a style acceptable to the halfChristian clergy and lawyers of his day. “The positions of Hobbes,” observes Dr. Monk, Bishop of Gloucester, the biographer of Bentley, “had been ably combated by Cudworth, in his “Intellectual System,' and by Cumberland, in his book, “ De Legibus Nature ;' but these works were not sufficiently popular to resist an evil which had spread so far as to become seriously alarming.” To counteract that fashionable infidelity, the Honourable Robert Boyle, youngest son of Richard, first Earl of Cork, who died on the last day but one of the year 1691, bequeathed by will a yearly allowance of fifty pounds to maintain a lectureship for the defence of religion against infidels. The lecturer was to be annually chosen, and to deliver eight discourses in the year, in one of the churches of the metropolis. Dr. Thomas Tenison, then Bishop of Lincoln, and afterwards the Primate, with three laymen, were trustees; and these forthwith nominated Mr. Bentley as lecturer for the next year, 1692.
“We can hardly conceive a greater compliment to the merits of a young man, only in Deacon's orders, than the selection of him from the whole clerical profession, to be the first champion in such a cause, and that too upon an institution in which the celebrity of the founder was in itself sufficient to draw the eyes of the public. He mentions this distinction, at different periods of his life, in such terms as show that he considered it the greatest of the honours with which he was ever invested.”
“ The reader of these discourses is informed and delighted by the variety of knowledge which they contain, and their close and convincing train of reasoning. The success with which Bentley unmasks the tenets of the Atheist, grapples with his arguments, and exposes his fallacies, has never