« AnteriorContinuar »
at fourteen, though the ordinary age was already seventeen or eighteen. On May 24, 1676, “Ricardus Bentley de Oulton was enrolled in the Admission Book of St. John's College. The choice of a University may have been influenced by the fact that John Baskervile, the master of Wakefield School, was a member of Emmanuel College, Cambridge; the choice of a College, partly by the fact that some scholarships for natives of Yorkshire had been founded at St. John's by Sir Marmaduke Constable. Bentley, like Isaac Newton at Trinity, entered as a subsizar, a student who receives certain allowances. St. John's College was just then the largest in the University, and appears to have been as efficient as it was distinguished. The only relic of Bentley's undergraduate life is a copy of English verses on the Gunpowder Plot. That stirring theme was long a stock subject for College exercises. Bentley's verses have the jerky vigour of a youth whose head is full of classical allusions, and who is bent on making points. The social life of the University probably did not engage very much of his time; and it is left to us to conjecture how much he saw of two Cambridge contemporaries who afterwards wrote against him-Richard Johnson, of his own College, and Garth, the poet, of Peterhouse; or of William Wotton, his firm friend in later life —that "juvenile prodigy" who was a boy of fourteen when Bentley took his degree, and yet already a Bachelor of Arts.
Nothing is known of Bentley's classical studies whilst he was an undergraduate. His own statement, that some of his views on metrical questions dated from earliest manhood (iam ab adolescentia), is too vague to prove anything. Monk remarks that there were no prizes for classics at Cambridge then. It may be observed, however, that there was one very important prize-the Craven University Scholarship, founded in 1647. But no competition is recorded between 1670, when Bentley was eight years old, and 1681, the year after he took his first degree. The studies of the Cambridge Schools were Logic, Ethics, Natural Philosophy, and Mathematics. Bentley took high honours in these. His place was nominally sixth in the first class, but really third, since three of those above him were men of straw. The Vice-chancellor and the two Proctors then possessed the privilege of interpolating one name each in the list, simply as a compliment, and they naturally felt that such a compliment was nothing if it was not courageous. Bentley's degree had no real likeness, of course, to that of third Wrangler now; modern Mathematics were only beginning, and the other subjects of the Schools had more weight; the testing process, too, was far from thorough.
Bentley never got a Fellowship. In his time-indeed, until the present century—there were territorial restrictions at almost all Colleges. As a native of Yorkshire, he had been elected to a Constable scholarship, but the same circumstance excluded him from a greater prize. When he graduated, two Fellowships at St. John's were already held by Yorkshiremen, and a third representative of the same county was inadmissible. He was a candidate, indeed, in 1682; but as no person not in Priest's Orders was eligible on that occasion, he must have gone in merely to show what he could do. The College was enabled to recognise him in other ways, however. He was appointed to the mastership of Spalding School in Lincolnshire. At the end of about a year, he quitted this post for one which offered attractions of a different kind. Dr. Stillingfleet-then Dean of St. Paul's, and forroerly a Fellow of St. John's, Cambridge-wanted a tutor for his second son: and his choice fell on Bentley.
A youth of twenty-one, with Bentley's tastes and powers, could scarcely have been placed in a more advantageous position. Stillingfleet was already foremost amongst those scholarly divines who were regarded as the champions of Christianity against deists or materialists, and more particularly as defenders of the English Church against designs which had been believed to menace it since the Restoration. The researches embodied in Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae and other works had for their general aim to place the Anglican religion on the historical basis of primitive times. In the course of his extensive and varied studies, he had gradually formed that noble library-one of the finest private collections then existing in England—which after his death was purchased for Dublin by Archbishop Marsh. Free access to such a library was a priceless boon for Bentley. At the Dean's house he would also meet the best literary society in London; and his "patron "—to use the phrase of that day—received him on a footing which enabled him to profit fully by such opportunities. Stillingfleet could sympathise with the studies of his son's young tutor. In his own early days, after taking his degree at the same College, Stillingfleet had accepted a domestic tutorship, and “ besides his attendance on his proper province, the instruction of the young gentleman,” had found time to set about writing his Irenicum—the endeavour of a sanguine youth to make peace between Presbyterians and Prelacy. A contemporary biographer (Dr. Timothy Goodwin) has thus described Dr. Stillingfleet: “He was tall, graceful, and well-proportioned; his countenance comely, fresh, and awful; in his conversation, cheerful and discreet, obliging, and very instructive." To the day of his death in 1699 Stillingfleet was Bentley's best friend the architect, indeed, of his early fortunes.
The next six years, from the twenty-first to the twentyseventh of his age (1683-1689), were passed by Bentley in Dr. Stillingfleet's family. It was during this period, when he enjoyed much leisure and the use of a first-rate library, that Bentley laid the solid foundations of his learning. He enlarged his study of the Greek and Latin classics, writing notes in the margin of his books as he went along. In those days, it will be remembered, such studies were not facilitated by copious dictionaries of classical biography, geography, and antiquities, or by those well-ordered and comprehensive lexicons which exhibit at a glance the results attained by the labours of successive generations. Bentley now began to make for himself lists of the authors whom he found cited by the ancient grammarians; and it may be observed that a series of detractors, from Boyle's allies to Richard Dawes, constantly twit Bentley with owing all his learning to “indexes.” Thus, in a copy of verses preserved by Granger, Bentley figures as
“Zoilus, tir'd with turning o'er
At this time he also studied the New Testament critically. His labours on the Old Testament may be described in his own words: "I wrote, before I was twenty-four years of age, a sort of Hexapla; a thick volume in quarto, in the first column of which I inserted every word of the Hebrew Bible alphabetically; and, in five other columns, all the arious interpretations of those words in the Chaldee, Syriac, Vulgate, Latin, Septuagint, and Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, that occur in the whole Bible.”
Bentley did not take Orders till 1690, when he was
twenty-eight, but he had probably always intended to do
His delay may have been partly due to the troubles of James II.'s reign. Immediately after the Revolution Dean Stillingfleet was raised to the see of Worcester. His eldest son had gone to Cambridge ; but Bentley's pupil, James, was sent to Wadham College, Oxford. Bentley accompanied him thither; and, having taken an ad eundem degree of M.A., was placed on the books of Wadham College. He continued to reside at Oxford till the latter part of 1690; and we find him engaged on behalf of the University in negotiations for the purchase of the library which had belonged to Dr. Isaac Voss, Canon of Windsor. This valuable collection—including the books of Gerard John Voss, Isaac's father-ultimately went to Leyden; not, apparently, through any fault of Bentley's, though that was alleged during his controversy with Boyle.
While living at Oxford, Bentley enjoyed access to the Bodleian Library; and, as if his ardour had been stimulated by a survey of its treasures, it is at this time that his literary projects first come into view. “I had decided” (he informs Dr. Mill) “to edit the fragments of all the Greek poets, with emendations and notes, as a single great work.” Perhaps even Bentley can scarcely then have realised the whole magnitude of such a task, and would have gauged it more accurately two years later, when he had edited the fragments of Callimachus. Nor was this the only vast scheme that floated before his mind. In a letter to Dr. Edward Bernard (then Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford) he discloses a project of editing three Greek lexicons—those of Hesychius and Suidas, with the Etymologicum Magnum-in three parallel columns for each page. These would make three folio