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published his “ Proposals for Printing," in which he explains the principles of his edition. He observes that the printed texts of the New Testament, Greek and Latin, are based on comparatively recent manuscripts. His aim has been to recover from older Latin manuscripts the text of the Latin “Vulgate” as formed by Jerome [about 383 A.d.], and to compare this with the oldest Greek manuscripts. Jerome's version was not only strictly literal, but aimed at representing the very order of the Greek words. Where it agrees with our oldest Greek manuscripts, there, Bentley argues, we may recognise the Greek text as received by the Church at the time of the Council of Nice (325 A.D.) “and two centuries after.” This test will set aside about four-fifths of those 30,000 various readings which “crowd the pages” of the editions. The text of the New Testament can be fixed “ to the smallest nicety." As corroborative evidence, Bentley further proposes to use the Syriac, Coptic, Gothic, and Æthiopic versions (in which Walton's Polyglott would help him), and the citations by the Greek and Latin Fathers, within the first five centuries. Those centuries are to be the limit of the various readings which his foot-notes will exhibit. And he reassures the public mind on a point which might well occasion uneasiness. “ The author is very sensible, that in the Sacred Writings there's no place for conjectures or emendations." He will not “alter one letter in the text” without the authorities given in the notes, but will relegate conjectural criticism to the Prolegomena. Tho work is to be “a Charter, a Magna Charta, to the wholo Christian Church; to last when all the ancient MSS. hero quoted may be lost and extinguished.” As a specimen of his edition, Bentley subjoined the last chapter of Revelation, with notes supporting those readings which he re stores to the text, whilst the “received” readings, when displaced, are given in the margin.
The “Proposals” bad scarcely appeared when they were anonymously attacked by Dr. Conyers Middleton, who was then in the midst of his feud with Bentley. This was the year of the South Sea scheine, and Dr. Middleton allowed himself to write of “Bentley's Bubble.” Bentley's reply-founded on the supposition that his assailant was Colbatch-was still more deplorable. Middleton then printed, with his name, “Some Further Remarks,” criticising the “Proposals" more in detail, and on some points with force. Colbatch writes to Middleton: According to all that I can speak with or hear from, you have laid Bentley flat upon his back.” Bentley writes to Atterbury (now Bishop of Rochester): “I scorn to read the rascal's book; but if your Lordship will send me any part which you think the strongest, I will undertake to answer it before night.”
Meanwhile the public subscription invited by the “ Proposals ” already amounted, in 1721, to two thousand pounds. Amidst many distractions, Bentley was certainly continuing to digest bis materials. At some time before August, 1726, he received a most important accession to them. The “Vatican ” manuscript—which contains the Greek Testament in capital letters as far as the middle of Hebrews ix.—was collated for Bentley by an Italian named Mico. Thomas Bentley, the nephew, being at Rome in 1726, tested Mico's work in three chapters, but did not, as has been supposed, make a complete independent collation. Subsequently the Vaticanus was again collated for Bentley, so far as concerned traces of hands other than "the first,” by the Abbé Rulotta, whose services were procured by the Baron de Stosch, then employed in Italy by the British Government to watch the Pretender. Rulotta's collation reached Bentley in July, 1729. Its accuracy, as compared with that of Angelo Mai, was recognised by Tischendorf, when he saw it at Trinity College in 1855. In that same summer of 1729 Bentley was making inquiries regarding a manuscript, in the Library of the University of Dublin, which contains the text of the three witnesses (1 Jolin v. 7, 8): it is that which is known, from the name of the donor, as the Codex Montfortianus, and is not older than the fifteenth century. Considerable uneasiness appears to have been felt, after the issue of Bentley's “Proposals,” at the prospect of his omitting that text, against which he had decided in his lost dissertation in 1717. It is unnecessary to remind readers that more recent criticism has finally rejected the words, for which there is no evidence in Latin before at least the latter part of the fifth century, and none in any other language before the fourteenth.
Here—in the summer of 1729—it has usually been said, as by Monk, that all vestige of the proposed edition ends. A slight but interesting trace, however, carries us three years further. From a marginal note in a copy of the quarto New Testament at Geneva (1620), preserved in the Wake collection at Christ Church, Oxford, it appears that John Walker was still making collations in 1732. These, it cannot be doubted, were auxiliary to Bentley's edition, for which the “Proposals” designate Walker as overseer and corrector of the press.” Seven years more of working life remained to Bentley, before the paralytic seizure which overtook him in 1739. Why was his edition never completed and published? We need not pause on the curiously inadequate reason suggested by Wetstein—that Bentley resented the refusal of the Government to remit the duty on foreign paper which he desired to import. The dates alone refute that, for the incident occurred in 1721. Probably the answer is to be sought in a combination of two principal causesthe worry of litigation which harassed him from 1729 to 1738; and a growing sense of complexity in the problem of the text, especially after he became better acquainted with the Vatican readings.
Bentley's materials were bequeathed by him to his nephew Richard, possibly in the hope that they might be edited and published. Nothing was done, however. Dr. Richard Bentley returned the subscriptions, and at his death in 1786 bequeathed his uncle's collections to Trinity College, where they have since been preserved. Several volumes contain the collations made by Bentley himself or by his various assistants—including Mico's and Rulotta's collations of the Vaticanus. The point which Bentley's critical work had reached is best shown by a folio copy of the Greek and Latin Vulgate (Paris, “ apud Claudium Sonnium,” 1628). “Having interleaved it he writes to Wetstein—“I have made my essay of restoring both text and version [i. e., both Greek and Latin); and they agree and tally even to a miracle; but there will be (as near as I can guess) near 6000 variations, great and little, from the received Greek and Latin exemplars." The notes on the interleaved pages are in Bentley's handwriting from the beginning to the end of the New Testament. He used this volume as a general register of results obtained by his collations—the readings of the Vaticanus, which came to him after nearly all the rest, being added in paler ink. It is from this folio that Mr. Ellis prints (besides excerpts) the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians, in his Bentleii Critica Sacra (1862); though it
is to be observed that we cannot assume Bentley's final acceptance of the text, as there printed, except in the points on which he has expressly touched. The notes on Revelation xxii. stand in the folio verbatim as they were printed in the “Proposals ” of 1720. Speaking generally of the work exhibited by the folio, we may say that its leading characteristics are two-wealth of patristic citation, and laborious attention to the order of words. It may further be observed that there does not appear to be any trace of that confident temerity by which Bentley's treatment of the classics was so often marked. Had his edition been published, the promise made in the “Proposals” would, in all probability, have been strictly kept. Conjectural criticisms would have been confined to the Prolegomena.
A question of great interest remains. What was the value of the principle on which Bentley founded his design, and how far has that principle been fruitful in later work? Bentley's undertaking (as briefly defined in his letter to Dr. Wake) was, “ to give an edition of the Greek Testament exactly as it was in the best exemplars at the time of the Council of Nice” (325 A.D.). He saw that, for this, our ultimate witnesses are the Greek manuscripts nearest in age to that time. But it might still be asked: How can we be sure that these oldest Greek manuscripts represent a text generally received at the time when they were written ? Bentley replied : I compare them with the oldest received Latin translation that I can find. Such a received Latin version must have represented a received Greek text. Where it confirms our oldest Greek manuscripts, there is the strongest evidence that their text is not merely ancient, but also is that text which the Church received at the time when the Latin version was made.