Richard Bentley

Richard Bentley was a well-known scholar and critic.

He was associated with Heptonstall.

He was said to have been one of the greatest classical scholars of all time. His editing and interpretation of classical texts inspired generations of classicists.

He was a friend of Isaac Newton.

In 1682, he was Master of Spalding School, Lincolnshire.

In 1690, he was chaplain to the Bishop of Worcester and prebendary of Worcester in 1692.

In 1692, he gave the first course of Boyle lectures: A Confutation of Atheism.

In 1694, he was Keeper of the Royal Libraries.

In 1695, he was Chaplain-in-Ordinary to the King.

In 1697, he proved that the Letters of Phalaris – said to have been written by the 6th century BC Tyrant of the Greek colony of Agrigento in Sicily – were a forgery of the 2nd century AD. In 1699, he wrote his Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris.

In 1711, he completed his edition of the Latin poet, Horace.

From 1717, he was Regius Professor of Divinity.

From 1700, he was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and, having committed a number of petty encroachments on the privileges of the fellows, he was brought to trial before Moore, the Bishop of Ely in 1714. The Bishop died before delivering sentence, but left judgement against Bentley in his papers. In 1733, he was again brought before Greene, the Bishop of Ely, and was deprived of his mastership, but he retained the position because the Vice Masters refused to execute the sentence.

Among his many contributions to classical scholarship was his discovery and restoration to certain words in Homer's poems of the digamma; this was the 6th letter of the original Greek alphabet, pronounced like the English w and had become obsolete before the classical period.

His half-brother, Thomas Bentley [1693-1742], was also a classical scholar. He was Librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge. He published annotated editions of classical authors, including Horace [1713] and Callimachus [1741].

Richard's youngest son, also Richard Bentley [1708-1782], was a writer – of some unsuccessful plays – and lived for some time in the south of France and in Jersey. In 1753, he did drawings for editions of Gray's poems which were printed by Walpole. He was a correspondent of Horace Walpole until they fell out in 1761

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 18:38 / 12th April 2021 / 4038

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