BENTLEY, Richard, English divine, clas sical scholar, and polemicist: b. Oulton, near Wakefield, Yorkshire, 27 Jan. 1662; d. Cam bridge, 14 July 1742. His father is said to have been a blacksmith. To his mother, a woman of strong natural abilities, he was indebted for the rudiments of his education, and in 1676 he entered Saint John's College, Cambridge. In 1682 he left the university, and became usher of a school at Spalding; a year later he took the position of tutor to the son of Dr. Stilling fleet, dean of Saint Paul's. He accompanied his pupil to Oxford, where he availed himself of the literary treasures of the Bodleian Library in the prosecution of his studies. In 1684 he took the degree of A.M. at Cambridge, and in 1689 obtained the same honor at the sister uni versity. His first published work was a Latin epistle to Dr. John Mill on an edition of the 'Chronicle of John Malela,' which appeared in 1691. It displayed so much profound learning and critical acumen as to excite the sanguine anticipations of classical scholars from the future labors of the author. Dr. Stillingfleet, having been raised to the bishopric of Worces ter, made Bentley his chaplain, and in 1692 collated him to a prebend in his cathedral. He was chosen the first preacher of the lecture instituted by the celebrated Robert Boyle for the defense of Christianity. The discourses against atheism which he delivered on this oc casion were published in 1694; they have since been often reprinted, and translated into several foreign languages.
In 1693 he was appointed keeper of the Royal Library at Saint James'— a circumstance which incidentally led to his famous controversy with the Hon. Charles Boyle, afterward Earl of Orrery, relative to the genuineness of the 'Greek Epistles of Phalaris.' In this dispute Bentley was victorious, though opposed by the greatest wits and critics of the age, including Pope, Swift, Garth, Atterbury, Aldrich, Dod well and Conyers Middleton, who advocated the opinion of Boyle with an extraordinary degree of warmth and illiberality. In 1699 Bentley, who had three years before been created D.D., published his 'Dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris,' in which he proved that they were not the compositions of the tyrant of Agrigentum, who lived more than five centuries before the Christian era, but were written by some sophist under the borrowed name of Phalaris, in the declining age of Greek literature.
Soon after this publication Dr. Bentley was presented by the Crown to the mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, worth nearly f1,000 a year. He now resigned the prebend of Wor cester, and in 1701 was collated to the arch deaconry of Ely. His conduct as head of the college gave rise to accusations of various of fenses, including embezzlement of college money. The contest, lasting more than 20 years, was decided against him, a sentence, de priving him of his mastership, being passed; but Bentley's superior skill and mastery of legal forms constantly baffled all attempts to oust him. In 1711 he published a quarto edition of Horace at Cambridge, which was reprinted at Amsterdam; and in 1713 appeared his remarks on 'Collins' Discourse on Free-Thinking,' un der the form of a 'Letter to F. H. (Francis Hare), D.D., by Phileleutherus Lipsiensis.' He was appointed Regius professor of divinity in 1716, and in the same year issued proposals for a new edition of the Greek Testament, an under taking for which he was admirably qualified, but which he was prevented from executing in consequence of the animadversions of his de termined adversary, Middleton. In 1726 he published an edition of Terence and Phadrus; and his notes on the comedies of the former in volved him in a dispute with Bishop Hare on the metres of Terence. The last work of Dr. Bentley was an edition of Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' with conjectural emendations, which appeared in 1732, but this proved a failure. He died at the master's lodge at Trinity, and was interred in the college chapel. His learning was early recognized on the continent. Dutch classical scholarship followed his lead and modern German classical scholars owe much to Bentley. He is justly regarded as the founder in England of the science of text criticism, and much of his work has served as foundation for the modern science of compara tive philology. The German scholar, J. A. Wolf, wrote an excellent biography of Bentley; and an English biography of him was written by Monk (London, 2 vols., 1833). Consult Professor Jebb's monograph in the 'English Men of Letters Series' (New York 1882) ; Bartholomew and Clark, 'Bibliography of Bent ley' (Cambridge 1908) ; Sandys, 'A History of Classical Scholarship' (Vol. II, Oxford 1908).