Imágenes de páginas

from Wadham, and his name was placed on the college rolls. He thus obtained access to the Bodleian Library, with its priceless treasures. Never, perhaps, were they opened to one more capable of wisely using them. At this time Bentley, conscious of his powers and full of the vigor of young manhood, formed vast literary projects. He thought of editing the fragments of all the Greek poets-a truly Herculean task —and of bringing out a huge edition of Hesychius, Suidas, and the other Greek lexicographers. But his attention was soon drawn away from these schemes by another undertaking. Some of the Oxford scholars were about to bring out an edition of the Chronicle of John of Antioch, surnamed Malelas. This Malelas was a late writer, (cent. 7-10 A. D.), and his Chronicle, which is written in Greek, is not of much value, but contains a few fragments of better things. Bentley's friend, Dr. John Mill, was to supervise the edition. Bentley observed to Mill that he would like to see the book before it was published; and Mill consented on condition that Bentley would make such suggestions as occurred to him.

Accordingly, Bentley embodied his observations upon Malelas in a Latin letter addressed to Dr. Mill. This letter it was which first gave Bentley a reputation among European scholars. It is surely one of the most marvelous feats of scholarship ever performed by a young man less than thirty years of age. Not content with criticising and annotating Malelas, Bentley ranges at will over the whole domain of classical literature. In this one letter of ninety-eight pages over sixty Greek and Latin writers are incidentally explained or amended. In the careless exuberance of his learning Bentley pauses here to emend a scholiast, there to restore the text of a dramatic fragment, now to establish a rule of meter, and now to correct a point of chronology. And the impression of power which the work leaves upon us is heightened by the singular Latin style in which it is written-rough, unhewn, sometimes strongly colloquial, but with a sledge hammer force and directness which drive the thought home into the mind of the reader. Bentley's words are "like nails driven in a sure place.” The letter to Mill appeared in 1691. In 1690 Bentley had taken orders, and became chaplain to Bishop Stillingfleet. It so happened that the scientist and philosopher Robert Boyle, who died in 1691, left a bequest of fifty pounds a year to be paid to some divine for preaching eight sermons in the year against notorious infidels. The trustees appointed in the will selected Bentley to deliver these lectures. He chose as his subject, “A Confutation of Atheism,” and as his point of attack the doctrines of Thomas Hobbes. Atheism was rife in Bentley's day, and this he attributed to the influence of Hobbes and his disciples. The Hobbists did not recognize the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and Bentley resolved to meet them upon their own ground and confute them by arguments based upon the evidences of design in the material universe.

Newton's Principia had been published only five years before. Bentley, was a good mathematician; he had been third wrangler at Cambridge, in which university then, as now, great importance was attached to mathematics. But the Principia was by no means easy to understand without a guide. Accordingly, Bentley wrote to Newton, and the latter replied in four letters giving directions for the study of the book. These are still extant, and are of extraordinary interest. They are a conspicuous proof of the powers of both the great men concerned. Six of the Boyle Lectures had been printed before the correspondence took place; yet Newton approves of nearly all the arguments which Bentley, alone and unaided, had drawn from the Principia. The rapidity with which Bentley, while engaged in many other labors, comprehended a work so abstruse and lying so far outside of his special province is little less than marvelous. It shows that he was no narrow pedant, but a man of broad intelligence and wide sympathies. The Boyle Lectures were published in 1692. They were received with great favor, and still occupy an important place in controversial literature. They also did much to promote the spread of belief in Newton's system as opposed to that of Descartes. The acquaintance thus formed

between Newton and Bentley continued. A letter written by Bentley in 1697 to John Evelyn-author of the Diarymentions the fact that a small group of friends had arranged to meet in the evening once or twice a week at Bentley's rooms in St. James's. These friends were Isaac Newton, John Locke, Sir Christopher Wren, and John Evelyn. Such a company had not been gathered in England since the days when Shakespeare and his friends met at the Mermaid. Of all their high converse no word is left; but we may be sure that of the hours so passed they might well have said:

We spent them not in toys or lust or wine,
But search of deep philosophy,
Wit, eloquence, and poesy,

Arts that I loved, for they, my friend, were thine. In 1692 Bentley opened a correspondence with Johann Georg Grævius, professor at Utrecht, one of the greatest scholars of the time. Grævius was about to edit an edition of the Greek poet Callimachus which his son, who had just died, had left unfinished. Bentley undertook to aid in this task by collecting the fragments of the poet. This he did with conspicuous skill and success. He not only gathered the fragments and emended their text, but showed how lost works could be in part reconstructed from them. In the same year Bentley was made prebendary of Worcester, and in 1694 he was appointed keeper of the Royal Library and a fellow of the Royal Society. In all this the influence of his friend, Bishop Stillingfleet, assisted him. In 1696 Bentley took up his residence at St. James's. He labored earnestly to secure better quarters for the library, and also to secure funds for the Cambridge University Press, which had fallen into neglect.

This brings us to the first great crisis of Bentley's life. There had arisen not long before in France a dispute as to the comparative merits of ancient and modern writers. This controversy was imported into England by Sir William Temple. Temple was a statesman and writer of ability, but had far too little learning to be a fit judge in a question of this kind. However, he espoused the cause of the ancients, and in an essay entitled, “On Ancient and Modern Learning," alleged the fables of Æsop and the letters of Phalaris as superior to any modern works of like character. This naturally drew the attention of his readers to the letters of Phalaris, and the scholars of Christ Church College, Oxford, prepared to bring out a new edition of them. The nominal editor was Charles Boyle, a young nobleman of considerable ability and some learning; but he was assisted by some of the older members of the college. In preparing the work he wished to use a manuscript which was in the king's library at St. James's. Accordingly, he wrote to his bookseller, a man named Bennet, asking him to have the manuscript collated. Bentley, who had just taken charge of the Royal Library, sent the manuscript to Bennet and allowed amply sufficient time for it to be collated; but as he himself was about to leave London for some time, he was obliged to demand its return after five or six days had elapsed. The collator had been negligent and had not finished his task; and Bennet, to excuse himself to Boyle, threw the blame upon Bentley, alleging that the manuscript had not been lent long enough to permit a complete collation. Boyle's book appeared in January, 1695, and in the preface he severely reflected upon Bentley for this alleged lack of courtesy. Upon seeing the book Bentley wrote to Boyle explaining the true state of the case and requesting him to suppress the obnoxious passage; but Boyle refused to make the change. In 1697 Bentley's friend William Wotton was preparing a second edition of his Reflections on Ancient and Modern Learning, in which he took a position in favor of the mod

Bentley had once promised Wotton to write something about the fables of Æsop and the letters of Phalaris. The latter now reminded him of this promise; and Bentley, who was not the man to let an insult pass unavenged, seized the opportunity. He inserted in Wotton's book an essay in which he stated the truth about the matter of the manuscript, and then reviewed Boyle's book very severely, showing that the letters of Phalaris were forgeries, and handled both Boyle and Sir William Temple without gloves.


The Christ Church men were naturally highly incensed, and resolved to write a reply which should demolish Bentley once for all. There was not a first-class scholar among them, but there were many able men, full of acuteness, wit, and knowledge of the world. Their reply was mainly written by Atterbury and Smalridge, though printed under the name of Boyle. It is a most amusing and remarkable production, keen, witty, and plausible, but superficial to the last degree and full of stupendous blunders. At this day it seems ludicrous that a body of men with scarcely more learning among them than many a bright college senior possesses should dare to attack the first scholar of the age; but Bentley's powers were not yet fully known. The book was received with great favor, and the town rang with laughter and applause. The Christ Church party congratulated themselves that they had "settled the pedant.” Garth, in his caricature of Bentley wrote thus:

When you return to these [letters] again, you feel by the empti. ness and deadness of them that you converse with some dreamy pedant with his elbow on his desk, not with an active, ambitious tyrant with his hand on his sword, commanding a million of subjects.

But the Christ Church party were to be undeceived ere long. The lion was but crouching for his spring. Well aware of his own vast superiority to his puny antagonists, Bentley was in no haste to reply. He might in a very few days have refuted their arguments; but he preferred to wait, and to make his answer what Thucydides calls his history—a “possession for all time” (rrñua és del.) “Indeed,” he says, “I am in no pain about the matter, for it is a maxim with me that no man was ever written out of reputation but by himself.”

The letters of Phalaris, which were the subject of the controversy, are a collection of Greek epistles which purport to have been written by the tyrant Phalaris. This Phalaris, according to the legend, ruled in the city of Agrigentum in southern Sicily, about the middle of the sixth century B. C. He was an able but unscrupulous and ruthless man, and was

« AnteriorContinuar »