Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 7. His Reforms at Cambridge

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIII. Scholars and Antiquaries

§ 7. His Reforms at Cambridge

But there is another and a more agreeable side to Bentley’s life during these forty-two years. He did much to reform the discipline and promote the studies of the undergraduates. He showed great zeal in encouraging learning; and it is a remarkable proof of the largeness of his mind that he was quite as favourable to other studies as to those in which he had made his own reputation. Thus, the first lectures delivered by Vigani as professor of chemistry (1702) were given in a laboratory (then called an elaboratory) fitted up by Bentley in the rooms now occupied by the bursar at Trinity. For Roger Cotes, Newton’s greatest pupil, he built an observatory over the central gate of the college. His urgent pressure induced the reluctant Newton to prepare the second and improved edition of the Principia, in 1713; and he himself defrayed the cost of the publication. In 1705, he brought Henry Syke, a learned orientalist, from Utrecht to be Hebrew professor at Cambridge and made him a tutor of Trinity. To Ludolf Küster, a Westphalian scholar then residing in Cambridge, he gave such help as no other man living could have given, for his editions of Suidas and Aristophanes. More than all this, Bentley set a great example to an academic society by the devotion of his whole life to study. He never went abroad; it seems that, after his marriage in 1701, he never left Cambridge except for London, where he had still an official residence as royal librarian; he took no exercise except a walk in his garden; he never appeared at social gatherings, though he enjoyed the society of a few intimate friends at his own house. The business of his life was to exhaust learning; and he said he should be willing to die at 80, as he should then have read everything worth reading. The books which he published must not be supposed to mark the limits of his study. Thus, he devoted years of labour to Homer and to the text of the Greek Testament; and, though he published nothing in either subject, the manuscript materials which he left have profoundly affected the subsequent study of both. Everything which he wrote for the press was prepared in great haste; and his enemies said, with some appearance of truth, that his main motive for appearing in print was his wish to conciliate public opinion, when one of his many law-suits seemed likely to go against him. He probably regarded his books as an interruption to the more pressing business of study. Still, they are the landmarks of his life; and a short account will be given here of the works published by him after 1700.