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productions of Dr. Bentley's pen is it that you have collected these very unfavorable sentiments concerning him? In which of his labours have you traced the brutal ignorance of a goatherd, the clownish stupidity of a hedger and dilcher ? Indeed, my good Lord, these are hard words ;-worse by one half than you
bestowed upon the prophet Ezra, who escaped your satire with the appellation only of a semi-barbarian. Could you have given worse language to a country curate at a visitation? Is your Lordship sure that these expressions are perfectly elegant and perfectly true? are they fit for one scholar, one gentleman, one Christian divine to bestow upon another? do they give us any impression of your Lordship's manners, of your wit, or of your judgment? The virtues of your heart, my Lord, and the purity of your morals, will support your character with the present age; but it must be the productions of your understanding, that are to establish your reputation with posterity. How therefore could you think of transmitting to after ages an opinion, which mankind will be sure to charge to the error either of
your head or of your heart! What provocation can you have received from Dr. Bentley's genius, that you should liken it to that of boors and peasants? I don't know, my Lord, what kind of licence you men of learning take in speaking of each other; but we, who act in common life and have common understandings, stare at such familiarities : a certain cautious principle (which your Lordship seems to hold in disregard) called prudence, and a small degree of worldly virtue (in which your Lordship, 'tis plain, on some occasions, does not abound) called good manners, teach us to smother and repress these sallies of spleen and ill-nature; if not from natural principle, yet from the dread of that humiliating correction, which expressions of so offensive a nature would be apt to incur. These, my Lord, are amongst the checks and restraints that civilize society. I don't mean to apply them to the case iu question: I believe, and, by your Lordship’s example, am convinced, that other rules and principles obtain in the republic of letters; every thing there breathes an unrestrained freedom of manners; affronts are mutually interchanged, and challenges are publicly given and accepted by the gravest and most respectable characters : nothing, however, shall persuade me that this is not ridiculous and unbecoming. I cannot see Professors, dignified Divines and Bishops tilting at each other, without a blush: 'tis this unpardonable petulancy that makes the company of men of learning so little sought after; it reduces literary science to the rank of a mechanical art; when
the scholar is found to give way to as many little niean detracting insinuations in his profession, as a Fiddler, or a Tailor does in his. For my own part, such is my prejudice against envy and ill-nature, and so great is the respect that I bear to candour and complaisance, that, although I have your Lordship's example before my eyes, still I cannot be persuaded that invidious aspersions, lessening comparisons, and calumnious railings are any proofs of liberal education, or of an elegant improved understanding; and this I can tell your Lordship, that if you had not expressly, ay, and in capital letters, asserted," THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD to have been the place of your education, the seat where you first sacrificed to the muses and to the graces; it might really, to future ages, have been just matter of doubt, in what one spot of this globe your Lordship had imbibed those elegant and friendly manners, which run through the whole of your disputations with Bishop W..., and are particularly marked out in the character you have given of Dr. Bentley; a character in which you have apparently a double intent; not only to undeceive the world with respect to any false opinions we might have taken úp concerning his understanding, but to give us at the same time a just impression of your own; for where would be the use of exposing Dr. Bentley's egregious deficiency in all the polite accomplishments of a scholar, if you did not thereby tacitly inform mankind that Dr. L. .th was eminently endowed with them all? This, my Lord, of all the roads which lead to fame, is the shortest and easiest ascent: 'tis following the camp without mixing in the fray.
That men, born in the same country, cultivators of the same science, professing the same religion, fellow-labourers in the same ministry, should invidiously defame and disparage each other in the eyes of mankind, is a mystery to men of ordinary capacities. It a Caprimulgus, my Lord, a low and paltry Herdsman, should set about to under-rate the talents of a rival in that rustic occupation; if a Fossor, a vulgar untaught Hedger and Ditcher, should attempt to disparage the handy-work of a fellow-labourer, such low-bred dealings in clowns might find some excuse; but when we see the same mean passions carried into upper life, and exhibited by a man of your Lordship’s talents and erudition, we blush for you, for your profession, for your title; we feel an ingenuous shame for the disreputation, which is brought upon learning, nay, even upon our
369 country; and we sigh when we can no longer esteem a character like your Lordship's;-for surely, my Lord, you forget how much you expose your own fame, when you endeavour to blind and to blacken that of Dr. Bentley's.
The treatment the world has thought proper to bestow upon critics in general, suits its gratitude: it is owing to the labors of the eminent in that department, that almost any of the now elegant remains of Greek and Roman literature are at this day intelligible; the moment they were so, the weapons they were so kind to polish for our use have been employed against themselves: a run therefore upon criticism in general is become too trite to be any longer a subject of complaint; but the pulling down the fame of the dead, though reared by the approbation of the learned of all Europe, must be ungenerous, however severe a provocation may be supposed to be concealed in a man's having been called incomparable by the Bishop of G .... The lot of Dr. B. has been particular: as his character is at present arraigned by your Lordship, his condition has in like manner been debased in the Biographia Britannica, from that of a gentleman to a mean tradesman: this misrepresentation may perhaps have had a share in inducing your Lordship to bestow apon him the delicate epithets, which you was sure from Catullus were good Latin, and from the authority of an uninformed modern historian, you imagined were justly applicable to his supposed birth.
But I just now desired your Lordship to resolve me in which of Dr. Bentley's original works it was, that you had discovered such convincing marks of the meanness and contemptible rusticity of his genius : was it in his declamations from the pulpit that he betrayed this utter ignorance of the beauties and excellencies of writing? Did ever Herdsman, from his observations on nature and the fabric and construction of man, argue up to the divine Author and Creator of all things with such strength of reasoning, such convictive eloquence, as are to be found in bis Lectures ? Did ever Hedger and Ditcher give such edifying, such satisfactory Reasons for the Hope and the Faith that was in him, as are given in his famous Commencement Sermon? Many clowns, my Lord, it must be confessed, have preached before kings, and still continue to preach; but does Dr. Bentley's sermon before the king impeach him of inurbanity ? Surely not; and it will be hard to think, with your Lordship, that the same person, who was capable of composing in so good a style himself, should be incapable of forming any judgment with respect to that of another man's. I flatter my
self therefore I may conclude, that it is not in the pulpit your Lordship will arraign Dr. Bentley; it is not for his Jabows in the cause of religion, the instruction of mankind, and the confutation of atheism, that your Lordship (so conspicuous for merits of the same nature) means to degrade and disgrace his memory. I may say for him what Bishop W.... pleaded for himself “ that his services to religion and society seem to entitle him to common respect - - from every man of letters, engaged in the same cause, where no personal animosities have intervened.” And as your Lordship, in describing your own character, has professed yourself to be,2 " as a member of the commonwealth of letters,' a true lover of peace and quietness, of mutual freedom, candour, and benevolence; and that you detest and despise the squabbles that are perpetually arising from the jealousy and peevishness of the genus irritabile scriptorum ;" I will venture to conclude that you have not taken up this contemptuous opinion of his understanding and abilities, from the services he has done to religion, and the instructions he has bequeathed to mankind.
But, my Lord, this is not all: I have some little matter more to offer in defence of his mangled reputation; some few remarks more to make upon his services in the cause of God and of religion; I hope these will not be taken for tokens of his want of understanding. The confutation of atheism seems an easy and obvious task, a work for real herdsmen and hedgers; every object proves the existence of the Deity, and every rational being comprehends that proof: but Bentley, like a hardy obstinate clown as he was, undertook a bolder task; this ignorant, unpolished peasant undertook, my Lord, to confute and expose the fine gentlemen of his age, the wits and reasoners of the time, the set of Free-thinkers that unhinged the age in which he lived, and threw the whole bench of bishops (your Lordship was not then amongst the number) into consternation and dismay. In this dilemma, my Lord, when the whole army of Protestant divines, mitred and unmitred, like that of Saul upon the challenge of Goliath, trembled behind their trenches, this despicable herdsman, this booby boor, taken like David from the sheep-folds, entered the lists, and singly overthrew the mighty champion of infidelity. The triumphs of Christianity upon this victory were only to be equalled by the applauses, which every true believer bestowed upon their defender: the whole bench of bishops honored Dr. Bentley
with their thanks. Behold the revolution of a few years ! Bentley dics; your Lordship succeeds to a seat on that bench; you dissent from your predecessors, and tear their trophies from his shrine.
Let me stop here for a moment; I would fain preserve all possible respect for your Lordship, and must not therefore pursue my thoughts where they would lead me on this subject. But really if men of your order, who are enlisted and banded together against the legions that make war upon Christianity, cannot withhold your fingers from each other's throats, how can the general cause of religion prosper ? How must the spirits of the modern Free-thinkers revive, when your Lordship tells them and the world, that he, who had cut their follies to the heart by the keen edge of his most piercing ridicule, was a man void of all pure taste and genius; incapable of any fine discernment ; blind to all the beauties and excellencies of writing ; a mere grammatical and verbal critic; in short, unus caprimulgus aut fossor? This, my Lord, is pity to the fallen indeed; it is binding up their wounds yet bleeding with his strokes: it is recalling them to life and vigour, putting arms into their hands, and pointing out the victim against whom they should employ them: methinks it puts me in mind of the call of Lucifer to his troops of rebel angels, when they lay prostrate and confounded in the burning gulph: no doubt they will, like them, obey the summons, and arise.
The policy therefore of this conduct of your Lordship’s I cannot comprehend; the generosity, the urbanity of it I have already considered; suffer me now to carry my enquiries into the truth of it.
What, my Lord! will you allow the author of “ The Remarks” no place but amongst grammatical and verbal critics ? will you expel him from the society of liberal and well-accomplished scholars ? was he fit for no higher uses, than like a juggler to play with Thericlean cups and Sicilian talents ? was this his proper sphere of science; and did he really excel in nothing higher ? are there no sparks of genuine Attic wit, no sallies of native humour, no polished strokes of temperate and cleanly ridicule, (not such I mean as your Lordship’s pleasantries upon the sin of Sodom,) to be found in that work? are there really no dawnings of a pure taste, no shadowings of a discerning faculty to be found ? Your Lordship says no—He possessed them not-He was a clown, a clumsy blockheadWhat an error have the learned of all the nations in Europe been in !