« PreviousContinue »
Many years ago, walking in the sequestered valleys of Cumberland, with an eminent aụthor of the present day, we came to a long and desolate sort of gallery, through a wilderness of rocks, which, after rising and narrowing for about two miles, suddenly opened right and left into a little pastoral recess, within the very heart of the highest mountains. This verdant circus presented in its centre a beautiful but tiny lake, locally called a tarn, with a wild brook issuing from it through the road by which we had approached, a few quiet fields upon the margin of the lake, solemn hills looking down upon it from every side; and finally, a hamlet of seven cottages clustering together, as if for mutual support, in this lovely, but still awful, solitude. A solitude, indeed, so perfect we had never seen : nor had we supposed it possible that, in the midst of populous England, any little brotherhood of households could pitch their tents so far aloof from human society, from its noisy bustle, and (we ventured to hope) its angry passions. Though a valley, and fenced by barriers ver
* Life of Richard Bentley, D. D. By J. H. Monk, D. D. VOL. II.
dant indeed, but also insuperable, this little chamber in the hills was yet far above the ordinary elevation of inhabited ground : road there was none, except the rude sort of sheep-track by which we had come : the nearest town, and that a small one, was at six miles' distance; and here, if anywhere, it seemed possible that a world-wearied man should find a perfect rest. • Yes,' said our distinguished guide, who had guessed our thoughts — • Yes, nature has done her part to create in this place an absolute and perpetual Sabbath. And doubtless, you conceive that, in those low-roofed dwellings, her intentions are seconded. Be undeceived then: lawsuits, and the passions of lawsuits, have carried fierce dissension into this hidden paradise of the hills; and it is a fact, that not one of those seven families will now speak to another. We turned away at these words with a pang of misanthropy, and for one moment assented to the king of Brobdignagthat men are the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.'
Something of the same sentiment accompanied us at intervals through this Life of Bentley, and the records which it involves of Cambridge. Where upon this earth shall peace be found, if not within the cloistral solitudes of Oxford and Cambridge ? Cities of Corinthian beauty and luxury; with endowments and patronage beyond, the revenues of considerable nations ; in libraries — pictures — cathedrals, surpassing the kings of the earth; and with the resources of capital cities, combining the deep tranquillity of sylvan villages ; — places so favored by time, accident and law, come nearer to the creations of romance than any other known realities of Christendom. Yet in these privileged haunts of meditation, hallowed by the foot. steps of Bacon and Milton, still echoing to those of Isaac Barrow, and Isaac Newton absolutely walking amongst them, did the leading society of Cambridge with that man at their head, who, for scholarship, was confessedly the foremost man of all this world' – through a period of forty years' fight and struggle with so deadly an acharnement; sacrificed their time, energy, fortune, personal liberty, and conscience, to the prosecution of their immortal hatreds; vexed the very altars with their fierce dissensions; and went to their graves 80. perfectly unreconciled, that, had the classical usage of funeral cremation been restored, we might have looked for the old miracle of the Theban Brothers, and expected the very flames which consumed the hostile bodies to revolt asunder, and violently refuse to mingle. Some of the combatants were young men at the beginning of the quarrel; they were gray-headed, palsied, withered, doting, before it ended. Some had outlived all distinct memory, except of their imperishable hatreds. Many died during its progress; and sometimes their deaths, by disturbing the equilibrium of the factions, had the effect of kindling into fiercer activity those rabid passions, which, in a Christian community, they should naturally have disarmed or soothed.
Of feuds so deadly, so enduring, and which continue to interest at the distance of a century, everybody will desire to know who, in a criminal sense, was the author. The usual way of settling such questions is to say, that there were “faults on both sides,' - which, however, is not always the case ; nor, when it is, are
the faults always equal. Dr. Monk, who gives the fullest materials yet published for a just decision, leaves us to collect it for ourselves. Meantime, we suspect that his general award would be against Bentley; for, though disposed to be equitable, he is by no means indulgent to his hero; and he certainly thinks too highly of Colbatch, the most persevering of all Bentley's enemies, and a malicious old toad. If that, however, be Dr. Monk's leaning, there are others (with avenues, perhaps as good, to secret information) whose bias was the other way. In particular, we find Dr. Parr, about forty years after Bentley's death, expressing his opinions thus to Dr. Charles Burney: 'I received great entertainment from your account of our Aristarchus; it is well written and well directed; for, in spite of vulgar prejudice, Bentley was eminently right, and the College infamously wrong.' — [Dr. Parr's Works, vol. vii., p. 389.] Our own belief sets in towards the same conclusion. But, if not, we would propose, that at this time of day Bentley should be pronounced right, and his enemies utterly in the wrong. Whilst living, indeed, or whilst surviving in the persons of his friends and relations, the meanest of little rascals has a right to rigorous justice. But when he and his are all bundled off to Hades, it is far better, and more considerate to the feelings of us Public, that a little dog, should be sacrificed than a great one; for by this means, the current of one's sympathy with an illustrious man is cleared of ugly obstructions, and enabled to flow unbroken, which might else be unpleasantly distracted, between his talents on the one hand and his knavery on the other. And one general remark we must make upon the conduct of this endless feud, no matter who began it, which will show Bentley's title to the benefit of the rule we have proposed. People, not nice in distinguishing, are apt to confound all the parties to a feud under one common sentence : and, whatever difference they might allow in the grounds of quarrel, as to temper, at least, and charity, where all were confessedly irritated and irritating, they allow of none. But, in fact, between Bentley and his antagonists, the differences were vital. Bentley had a good heart; generally speaking, his antagonists had not. Bentley was overbearing, impatient of opposition, insolent, sometimes tyrannical. He had, and deservedly, a very lofty opinion of himself; he either had, or affected, too mean a one of his antagonists. Sume superbiam quæsitam meritis, was the motto which he avowed. Coming to the government of a very important college, at a time when its discipline had been greatly relaxed, and the abuses were many, his reforms (of which some have been retained even to this day) were pushed with too high a hand; he was too negligent of any particular statute that stood in his way; showed too harsh a disregard to the feelings of gentlemen; and too openly disdained the arts of conciliation. Yet this same man was placable in the highest degree; generous; and, at the first moment when his enemies would make an opening for him to be so, forgiving. His literary quarrels, which have left the impression that he was irritable or jealous, were (without one exception) upon his part mere retorts to the most insufferable provocations; and though it is true, that when once teased into rousing himself out of his lair, he did treat his man with rough play, left him ugly remembrances of his leonine power, and