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EARLY LIFE. THE LETTER TO MILL.
RICHARD BENTLEY was born on January 27, 1662. markable variety of interest belongs to his life of eighty years. He is the classical critic whose thoroughly original genius set a new example of method, and gave a decisive bent to the subsequent course of scholarship. Amongst students of the Greek Testament he is memorable as the first who defined a plan for constructing the whole text directly from the oldest documents. His English style has a place of its own in the transition from the prose of the seventeenth century to that of the eighteenth. During forty years he was the most prominent figure of a great English University at a stirring period. And everything that he did or wrote bears a vivid impress of personal character. The character may alternately attract and repel; it may provoke a feeling in which indignation is tempered only by a sense of the ludicrous, or it may irresistibly appeal to our admiration; but at all moments and in all moods it is signally masterful.
His birthplace was Oulton, a township in the parish of Rothwell, near Wakefield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. His family were yeomen of the richer class, who for some generations had held property in the neighbourhood of Halifax. Bentley's grandfather had been a captain in the Royalist army during the civil war, and had died whilst a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. The Bentleys suffered in fortune for their attachment to the Cavalier party, but Thomas Bentley, Richard's father, still owned a small estate at Woodlesford, a village in the same parish as Oulton. After the death of his first wife, Thomas Bentley, then an elderly man, married in 1661 Sarah, daughter of Richard Willie, of Oulton, who is described as a stone-mason, but seems to have been rather what would now be called a builder, and must have been in pretty good circumstances; he is said to have held a major's commission in the royal army during the troubles. It was after him that his daughter's first - born was called Richard. Bentley's literary assailants in later years endeavoured to represent him as a sort of ploughboy who had been developed into a learned boor; whilst his amiable and accomplished grandson, Richard Cumberland, exhibited a pardonable tendency to over-estimate the family claims. Bentley himself appears to have said nothing on the subject.
He was taught Latin grammar by his mother. From a day-school at Methley, a village near Oulton, he was sent to the Wakefield Grammar School-probably when he was not more than eleven years old, as he went to Cambridge at fourteen. School-boy life must have been more cheerfui after the Restoration than it had been before, to judge from that lively picture in North's "Lives" of the school at Bury St. Edmund's, where the master-a staunch Royalist-was forced, "in the dregs of time," to observe "superhypocritical fastings and seekings," and "walked to church after his brigade of boys, there to endure the infliction of divers holdersforth." Then the King came to his own again, and this scholastic martyr had the happy idea of
publishing his cavaliership by putting all the boys at his school into red cloaks ;" “ of whom he had near thirty to parade before him, through that observing town, to church ; which made no vulgar appearance.” The only notice of Bentley's school-life by himself (so far as I know) is in Cumberland's Memoirs, and is highly characteristic. “I have had from him at times whilst standing at his elbow”-says his grandson, who was then a boy about nine years old—"a complete and entertaining narrative of his school-boy days, with the characters of his different masters very humorously displayed, and the punishments described which they at times would wrongfully inflict upon him for seeming to be idle and regardless of his task- When the dunces, he would say, could not discover that I was pondering it in my mind, and fixing it more firmly in my memory, than if I had been bawling it out amongst the rest of my school-fellows.” However, he seems to have retained through life a warm regard for Wakefield School. It had a high reputation. Another of its pupils, a few years later, was John Potter, author of the once popular work on Greek antiquities, editor of Lycophron, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury.
Bentley was only thirteen when his father died. His grandfather, Richard Willie, decided that he should go to the University without much more delay. The boy had his own way to make; his father's small estate had been left to a son by the first marriage; and in those days there was nothing to hinder a precocious lad from matriculating