Thursday, April 14, 2022


Richard Bentley's Colloquial Manner

R.C. Jebb, Bentley (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889), pp. 16-17 (on Bentley's Epistola ad Joannem Millium):
It is interesting to see how strongly this first production bears the stamp of that peculiar style which afterwards marked Bentley's criticism. It is less the style of a writer than of a speaker who is arguing in a strain of rough vivacity with another person. The tone is often as if the ancient author was reading his composition aloud to Bentley, but making stupid mistakes through drowsiness or inattention. Bentley pulls him up short; remonstrates with him in a vein of good-humoured sarcasm; points out to him that he can scarcely mean this, but—as his own words elsewhere prove—must, no doubt, have meant that; and recommends him to think more of logic. Sometimes it is the modern reader whom Bentley addresses, as if begging him to be calm in he face of some tremendous blunder just committed by the ancient author, who is intended to overhear the aside:—'Do not mind him; he does not really mean it. He is like this sometimes, and makes us anxious; but he has plenty of good sense, if one can only get at it. Let us see what we can do for him.'

This colloquial manner, with its alternating appeals to author and reader, in one instance exposed Bentley to an unmerited rebuke from Dr Monk. Once, after triumphantly showing that John of Antioch supposed the Boeotian Aulis to be in Scythia, Bentley exclaims, 'Good indeed, Johnny!' (Euge vero, ὦ Ἰωαννίδιον). Dr Monk thought that this was said to Dr John Mill, and reproved it as 'an indecorum which neither the familiarity of friendship, nor the license of a dead language, can justify towards the dignified Head of a House.' Mr Maehly, in a memoir of Bentley, rejoins: 'That may be the view of English high life; a German savant would never have been offended by the expressions in question.' (Das mag Anschauung des englischen high life sein: einem deutschen Gelehrten würden die fraglichen Ausdrücke nie aufgefallen sein.) But our Aristarchus was not addressing the Principal of St Edmund Hall; he was sportively upbraiding the ancient chronicler. Indeed, Monk's slip—a thing most rare in his work—was pointed out in a review of his first edition, and is absent from the second.

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