« PrécédentContinuer »
In 1720, Bentley published a specimen of his New Testament, consisting of the twenty-second chapter of the Apocalypse, the text restored according to the reasons and authorities in his notes, and the common readings in the margin. This was accompanied by a prospectus of the work. Here he again takes occasion to profess his intended abstinence from conjectural emendation.
The author is very sensible, that in the Sacred Writings there is no place for conjectures or emendations. Diligence and fidelity, with some judgment and experience, are the characters here requisite. He declares, therefore, that he does not alter one letter in the text without the authorities subjoined in the notes.-P. 435.
Various causes have been assigned for the abandonment of this great work; but the truth is very readily discoverable. The incessant legal disquietudes which pursued the Divinity Professor to the very verge of his tempestuous life;-the petty jealousies, which never allowed him to pass over an assault on his learning, which (had it needed vindication) his great design would have so amply vindicated; and which frequently impelled him to edit a classic author without any better view than the anticipation or confusion of an adversary;—these alone will abundantly account for a failure which is the common loss of the Christian world.
Our great critic,* from the year 1713, had been occupied upon Terence. This author, in the year 1724, was edited by Dr. Hare. Several circumstances had interposed a coolness between these literary heroes; and the critical eye of Bentley soon selected from the accompaniments of Terence what were supposed invidious inuendos. The edition was indeed indebted to conversations with Bentley for all that it possessed of value; while much of the information which he had afforded, especially with respect to the metres, was mistated or misunderstood. This gave an opening for his rival's resentment, who, accordingly, with an almost unexampled rapidity, printed off his celebrated edition of Terence, in which, by a critical dissertation on the Terentian measures, and the accentuation of the dipodia, he furnishes the most complete idea of the comic metrical system of the Latins which can be hoped for. The work is defaced by needless and unsupported conjectural emendations; and it is obvious, without any independent acquaintance with its history, that its principal design was to crush his supposed adversary, Hare.
*We again write this phrase advisedly, notwithstanding the Edinburgh Reviewer. "Dr. Monk (says he) has evinced an equal partiality for another class of phrases, which we had likewise supposed to be obsolete; our young scholar-our new doctor-our critic-our devoted critic-our Aristarchus-our literary veteran-and EVEN our hero" !!! Yes, reader! the Bishop has said all this-and EVEN our hero !!! It is too true-there is no defence to be set up. The evil example has infected us, and we see no means of escaping the contagion. But let us ask the Reviewer one question;-since he supposes these phrases obsolete, Where have been his studies in modern biography ?
But Bentley did not rest here. Finding that Hare was about to edit Phædrus, he resolved to anticipate him. But in aiming a stroke which he designed to be irresistible, he struck beyond the mark, and the blow recoiled upon the assailant.
He had made no preparations for this work, except such emendations and conjectures as he was in the habit of writing in the margin of all classical authors in the course of their perusal. Many of these were of the most daring class of his emendations; and many more, though ingenious and plausible, were unnecessary. All, however, were introduced into the text; and the notes did little more than point out the supposed faults of the former readings, and then ordered the substitution of the new ones by a sort of critical decree; the reasons of which he frequently left for others to explain. Great as had been the haste with which the Doctor's Terence was completed, the Fabulist was despatched with ten-fold expedition. In none of his publications did he display so much presumption, as in putting forth this crude collection of new readings, supported by notes, the jejuneness of which formed a remarkable contrast to his copious annotations upon Horace, and which were unworthy even to appear in the same volume with his edition of the Comedian: and never did he more expose himself to the attacks of enemies, than when, at the suggestion of pique and resentment, he launched this puny and meagre performance into the troubled waters of criticism.—Pp. 513, 514.
Dr. Bentley's next literary achievement was ill calculated to restore his lost reputation. He attempted a critical edition of Paradise Lost, which, as our readers well know, "humbled Milton's strains" most effectually. We transcribe the Bishop's account of the circumstances which originated this undertaking :
It will be expected that I should give some account of an enterprize, which is without parallel in the history of literature, and which, at first sight, argues mental aberration, or the dotage of talent. The facts of the case I believe to have been these: The idea of correcting a poem, which, from the blindness of its author, might be supposed to have suffered some injury in the transcription and the press, originated with Elijah Fenton, Pope's coadjutor in the translation of the Odyssey: he published, in 1725, an edition of Milton, containing many changes in the punctuation, and some substitutions for words which, he imagined, might, from similarity of sound, have been misrepresented by the amanuensis. This performance seems to have led Bentley to exercise his critical ingenuity in some corrections of the poem, which he mentioned to his intimates; for I find that a report was spread just afterwards of his design to write notes upon the text of Milton. The idea was soon abandoned; but the mention of it might have suggested to Queen Caroline the wish that the great critic would exercise his talents upon an edition of the prince of English poets, and thus gratify those readers who could not enjoy his celebrated lucubrations on classical writers. Her Majesty having expressed her pleasure that Dr. Bentley should undertake such a work, he immediately complied; having the double motive of obedience to the Queen's commands, and a wish to bring his literary merits immediately before the noble judges, who were in a few months to become the arbiters of his fate. Pp. 577, 578.
The unpoetical complexion of Bentley's mind; his incessant propensity to alter the text of every author he read; his ignorance of the Italian poets and the romances, all disqualified him for the task he had undertaken. That Paradise Lost was committed to an editor by the poet himself; that the author never heard the poem read even in
the second edition; and that he either suffered this blundering editor to insert twenty lines at a time, or that he was without suspicion of such a circumstance; all these suppositions are so highly improbable as to justify the belief that Bentley himself discredited his own hypothesis.
Bentley's edition of Milton is so well known, that, limited as we are, we may be well excused from entering on its defects; yet there is one circumstance brought forward in another part of our author's work, which bears so extraordinary a relation to this exploit of Bentley, that we cannot pass it unnoticed A Mr. Johnson, Master of Nottingham School, whom the Bishop believes to be the same with Richard Johnson, Bentley's contemporary at St. John's, published, in 1717 (fifteen years before the Milton appeared) an attack on the Horace, called "Aristarchus Antibentleianus." In this volume, as a sort of interlude between the parts, Johnson inserted a burlesque criticism on the ballad of Tom Bostock, in ridicule of Bentley's Latin style. From this we shall make one short extract, with the view of showing with how extraordinary a tact this writer had anticipated the character of Bentley's English criticism. Had it been caricatured from the living model of the commentary on Paradise Lost, a greater spirit and freshness of imitation could not have been expected.
And now my hand's in, after the example of great authors, and the Doctor in particular, I shall not think much of my labour, for the reader's benefit, the honour of the English nation in general, and the family of the Bostocks in particular, to put down one stanza of a certain English Marine Ode, for so in good truth it is, and so it is intituled in all the parchments, and the first editions; how in the latter it came to be called a Ballad, I for my part can't tell; let them look to it that were the cause of it. But 'tis high time to put down the place. Why so it run then,
Then old Tom Bostock he fell to the work,
He prayed like a Christian, but fought like a Turk,
Which nobody can deny, &c.
Now you must understand that this Tom Bostock was chaplain, in Latin capellanus, in a sea-fight, a long time ago, and after the enemy had boarded the ship, cut 'em all off to a man. O bravo Tom! Thus much for the interpretation. Now to the reading.
Old. I have a shrewd suspicion that all is not sound at bottom here; how sound a complexion soever the words may seem to have. For why old pray ye? What, he hewed down so many lusty fellows at fourscore, I'll warrant ye? A likely story. I know there is old boy, as well as any of ye: but what then? And I could down with old Tom in another place, but not here.
For once again, I say, why old Tom? What, when he was commending him for so bold an action, would he rather say old Tom, than bold Tom? Was it not a bold action? Is not the word bold necessary in this place? And do you find it any where else? Thou, therefore, ne'er be afraid of being too bold, no, rather boldly read bold Tom, I'll bear thee out; in Latin, me vide. But you'll say, neither edition nor manuscript hath this reading; I thought as much.
What of all that! I suppose we have never a copy under the author's own hand as for the librarians and editors, what can you expect from such cattle as
they, but such stuff as this? One grain of sense (and God be thanked I don't want that) weighs more with me than a tun of their papers.-Pp. 340, 341.
The last literary effort of Bentley's life was a reformed edition of Homer. This he purposed to effect by a collation of MSS., comparison of scholiasts, quotations in Greek authors, and, most especially, by the insertion of the Digamma. The existence of this letter was known from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Priscian, Terentian, and others; it had been recently discovered in some ancient inscriptions; there could be no doubt that it was prevalent in the age of Homer, and the insertion of it explained many metrical paradoxes. Bentley lived to collate the Iliad and Odyssey throughout; but he was never able to complete his notes or publish his text.* He had advanced as far as the Sixth Book of the Iliad, when a paralytic seizure, and the death of his wife, seemed to set bounds to all his intellectual undertakings. He had, however, in 1739, contrived to publish his edition of Manilius. His Lucan was not published until after his death, which took place on the 14th day of July, 1742, in the eightyfirst year of his age.
Having now attended our critic to the close of his conspicuous career, we will add a few words, (they must be very few,) on the "word-catcher, who lives by syllables" in the Edinburgh Review. If he could live on these only, we would not interfere with his livelihood; for, from his sensitive remarks on the Bishop's expression, "some scribbler writing for bread in a garret," it is easy to conjecture his predicament. But he has chosen to live by detraction also. We have already noticed his perversion of the Bishop's sentiment respecting "the first wish of a scholar;" we now examine some others equally flagrant. His Lordship is accused of "worldly wisdom;"-in plain language, of giving inconsistent and unmerited praise to living individuals, with a view to secular advancement. We will not insult Bishop Monk by vindicating him from such a charge against such an adversary; but we will examine the proofs which the libeller has advanced in favour of his position, that the Bishop of Gloucester (say, if you will, the Dean of Peterborough; but Dr. Monk was Bishop, or elect, at least, when this Number of the Review was published,) paid court, for preferment, to the Bishops of London and Durham. The biographer observes :
Notwithstanding this frequent abuse of his erudition, such is the power of genius, and so great the preponderance of his solid and unshaken merits, that Bentley has established a school of criticism, of which the greatest scholars since his time have been proud to consider themselves members; and in spite of the envy and opposition of his contemporaries, has attained a more exalted reputation than has hitherto been the lot of any one in the department of ancient literature.-P. 663.
*For a compendious account of the Digamma, we refer our readers to the article under that head in the Lexicographical division of the Encyclopædia Metropolitana, and to the sixth preliminary Essay in Trollope's Homer.
On this passage we have the following sage remark: "Whether this latter clause does not contain a very material exaggeration, we may safely leave to the determination of the learned reader :* but it may not be superfluous to compare this lofty panegyric with another sentiment of the very reverend author, contained in his dedication to the Bishop of London :
"In the first place, there is no one to whom an account of the life and writings of a distinguished scholar can be inscribed with more propriety than to your Lordship, who have obtained the same rank in literature at the present day as was enjoyed during his life-time by Dr. Bentley.-P. v.
“With what sentiments this passage will be read by many scholars on the continent, and even in England, it is not for us to anticipate." We agree in the concluding sentence; it is not, indeed, for such a scribbler as this to have any "anticipations" on the subject. We will, however, take leave to "anticipate" the fate of his criticism in all literary society. It is almost an insult to common sense to shew that the contradiction here insinuated does not exist. The Bishop makes no comparison between Bentley and Dr. Blomfield; he only states that they held the same station in their respective generations. May not this be true without any derogation from the Bishop's merited eulogium on the former? It is needless to point out the incapacity of this writer for comprehending the merits either of Bentley or Blomfield, even if he has attempted to read them, which we greatly doubt; but had he even mixed with scholars, he would have known that there was nothing incongruous in this passage of the Bishop's dedication. Our author offends in the same way by classing the Bishop of Durham's Historical Account of Infidelity "among the ablest theological pieces in our language." This "worldly wisdom" the northern scribbler may not possess; but does this prove (to retort his own words) "the extent of his learning, or the elegance of his taste?"
The next misrepresentation is yet more grossly offensive: “Dr. Monk is pleased to remark that Atterbury has associated his name with the political history of this country, in a degree which has seldom been the lot of a churchman. After the statement we have now made, the reader may be sufficiently prepared to estimate the value of the commendation which one high churchman sometimes bestows on another." It is here evidently intended to charge the Bishop, or church principles, or both, with an undue connexion with secular politics, if not with treason. For this infamous accusation it must be obvious that the passage here cited affords not the slightest pretext. It is in truth no commendation of Atterbury whatever. It is a simple remark; a
*It is much to be regretted that the Boreal luminary did not condescend to illustrate this position.