DR. MONK'S LIFE OF BENTLEY.*
IT is long since we have met with a work so full of the kind of merit which distinguishes Dr. Momes Life of BENTLEY. It is a merit not of this age : learning, labour, minute investigation, acuteness, familiar acquaintance with the subject, and a sincere and impartial desire to arrive at the truth,—these are the charac- teristics of a quarto of uncommon solidity and volume. Haste, carelessness, rash generalization, indifference to truth, a striving after effect, mixed up with occasional brilliancy of expression, and occasional depth of thought, are the qualities which more especially distinguish the writings of the day, and which form a curious contrast with the patient accuracy of the regular scholar and conscientious divine.
Dr. BENTLEY'S life may almost be divided into two halves, consisting of critical controversies and college squabbles. It is not, therefore, to be expected that entertainment is the distin- guishing feature of this work. One half will be found interesting only to Fellows of Colleges in the University of Cambridge ; the other half, to the students of classical literary history, and more especially that part of it which turns upon verbal criticism. Dr. MONK'S Life is not, however, simply confined to its nominal sub- ject, the biography of BENTLEY; for it judiciously and neatly introduces the character of all those scholars with whom the critic's labours brought him in contact : so that, in fact, the Life of BENTLEY may be considered as the history of scholarship for a series of years, commencing with the latter part of the seven- teenth century. Dr. BENTLEY was not only a person of immense learning and singular acuteness, but also of a most arrogant and overhearing temper. When the weapons with which he contended were those of scholarship, he generally succeeded in overpowering his anta- .goinst ; but in matters of form, of business, respecting the rules of office, or the limits of authority, where he was more tenacious . than even on the subject of a classical emendation, his opponents, by taking advantage of his violence and his carelessness, mostly contrived, if not to worst him, at least to keep him in continual hot water. The consequence is, that his life is a narrative troubled with every species of fermentation, and by no means, as a whole, productive of impressions favourable to the dignity of human na- ture. The giant sprawls in the dust, and buffets with enemies who take every advantage of his prostration, and who, indeed, if were not for his degrading position, could never have been able to cope with him at all. We had proposed to ourselves to trace the life of Dr. BENTLEY, from his first introduction to the world as the tutor of the son of Bishop STILLINGFLEET, to his final establishment as Master and . monarch of Trinity College ; marking the different epochs of his • The Life of Richard Bentley, D.D., Master of Trinity College, and Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge ; with an Account of his Writings, and Anecdotes of many Distinguished Characters during the period - In which be flourished. By James Henry Monk, D.D., Dean of Peterborough. 4to. London, 1830. great literary exertions, from his Episiola ad Millium to his last ingenious emendation of a Greek inscription, a short time before his death. We fear, however, the detail would possess but small interest for the general reader ; and we therefore prefer adding to this slender notice of a valuable and meritorious work, a short specimen of Dr. MONK'S manner and style. The occasion is, POPE'S second offence against the aged critic.
" It was at this time, when Bentley was too much sunk under the load
of years and infirmity to be an object ofjealousy or resentment, that Pope chose to write against him a severe satire, and Warburton assisted his friend in holding, him up to ridicule and contempt. The spleen of the sa- tirist appears to have been lately increased and irritated by the inter- ference of Thnmas Bentley; who had, indiscreetly perhaps, taken up the cudgels in his uncle's cause, and addressed an angry letter to Pope in some of the journals. As none of the commentators have given a clue
to find this epistle, I can only conjecture from circumstances, that it was written in 1740, and that it was intended to resent some ridicule cast upon our Aristarehus. That point, however, is of no importance ; few people, except Pope, would have suffered themselves to be disturbed by such effusions ; and a writer who passed his life in satirizing others, ought not to have complained of occasional attempts at retaliation. It appears from his correspondence with Warburton, that the latter had suggested to the poet some ludicrous comparison, as applicable to the uncle and nephew : Pope's reply betrays much asperity and anger. 'Your simile,' says he, 'of B. and his nephew, would make an excellent epigram. But all satire is become so ineffectual, when the last step that virtue can stand upon, shame, is taken away, that epigram must expect to do nothing even in its own little province, and upon its own little subjects.' t Not long afterwards, the scheme of the Fourth Book of the Dunciad was suggested to the satirist by Warburton : here it was arranged that theAristarAus of Cambridge should perform a conspicuous character. Even the greatest admirers of Pope must acknowledge, that this piece, relating, as it does, to subjects which have no connexion with those ridi- culed in the three former books, is an incongruous appendage to his poem ; nor was it very decent to introduce his sarcasms upon such cha- racters as Bentley, Clarke, and Mead, the ornaments of the age in which they lived, as the sequel of a satire, designed to ridicule the dulness and poverty of the scribblers who wrote for bread in the purlieus of Smithfield and Grub Street. The long oration assigned to Bentley, who appears as the representative of the two Universities, consists in reflections upon the whole system of academical studies, whether classical, philosophical, or metaphysical. Though some of the verses are excellent, the satire is too general to be felt, the irony is not happily sustained, and the fiction of the speaker is inappropriate. The opening lines only are personally ap- plicable, and are meant to describe his appearance and manner.
'As many quit the streams that murm'ring fall To hill the sons of Blarg'ret and Clare Hall, Where Bentley late tempestuous wont to sport In troubled waters, but now sleeps in port. Before them mareh'd that awful Aristarch ; Plow'd was his front with many a deep remark : His hat, which never ward to human pride, Walker with rev'rence took, and laid aside. Low bow'd thereat: he, kingly, did but nod ; So upright Quakers please both man and God.
Mistress I dismiss that rabble from your throne : Avaunt—is Aristarchus yet unknown ? Thy mighty scholiast, whose unwearied pains Blade Horace dull, and humbled Milton's strains. Turn what they will to verse, their toil is vain ; Critics like me shall make it prose again. Roman and Greek grammarians ! know your better, Author of something yet more great than letter ; • While totv'ring o'er your alphabet, like Saul, Stands our digamma, and o'ertops them all.'
"The conclusion of the scene again exhibits the individual character: Walker, our hat I '—nor more he deign'd to say,
But stern as Ajax' spectre, strode away.'
"Cumberland is seriously displeased with this allusion, and very gravely maintains the improbability of his grandfather's ever commanding the Vice-Master to reach his hat : but it does happen, that for this scene the poet had some authority, in the following anecdote which had been related to him. Phillip Miller, the celebrated botanist, and author of the Gardener's Dictionary, went on an embassy to Cambridge to consult the Aristarchus upon some classical subject, for the advantage a a foreign scholar. He was hospitably received at Trinity Lodge, and after dinner propounded his question ; when Bentley, perhaps not approving this style of consultation, recommended him to drink his wine. Miller, however, took three opportunities of recurring to the object of his mission ; when Bentley, offended, called to his faithful companion, 'Walker! my hat'— and quitted the room, in a manner not unlike that described by the poet..t. The Vice-Master himself was so far from being mortified at the manner in which his name was connected with Bentley's, that after the Doctor's death, he preserved the identical hat, hung upon a peg in his college rooms, and used to point it out to persons who visited him, as a relic and memorial of his revered friend."
We shall not add a word more respecting Dr. MONK'S work, beyond this general character, that though this piece of biography is far from Ibeing the most interesting in the language, it is in our opinion the most complete and elaborate life that exists of a scholar.
t "Pope's Works, vol. ix. p.379. There is an epigram upon Bentley, given by Mr.
Bowles, as Pope's—he having found it in his handwriting; but even the evidence of his handwriting is hardly sufficient to make us believe that the great poet was the father of so paltry a production Did Milton's prose, 0 Charles, thy death defend ? A furious foe unconscious proves a friend. On Milton's verse did Bentley comment? Know A weak, officious friend, becomes a fo : While he but sought his author's fame to further, The murd'rous critic has aveng'd thy murder:—Vol. iv. p. 32."
"This anecdote is told by Mr. George Ashby, in some manuscripts in the pos- session of Sir Thomas Cullum, Bart. communicated to me by his kindness."