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Bentley's Letter to Archbishop Wake.


• ledge I have of you, which encourages me to give you a long • letter about those unfashionable topics, Religion and Learning. • Your Grace knows, as well as any, what an alarm has been 'made of late years with the vast heap of Various Lections found . in MSS. of the Greek Testament. The Papists have made a 'great use of them against the Protestants, and the Atheists * against them both. This was one of Collins's topics in his • Discourse on Freethinking, which I took off in my short "answer; and I have heard since, from several hands, that that

short view I gave of the causes, and necessity, and use of • Various Lections, made several good men more easy in that é matter than they were before. But since that time I have « fallen into a course of studies that led me to peruse many of the oldest MSS. of the Greek Testament and of the Latin, too, of St. Jerome, of which there are several in England a full thousand years old; the result of which has been that I find I am • able (what some thought impossible) to give an edition of the

Greek Testament exactly as it was in the best exemplars at the time of the Council of Nice; so that there shall not be ' twenty words, nor even particles, difference; and this shall * carry its own demonstration in every verse, which I affirm

cannot be so done of any other ancient book, Greek or Latin; • so that that book, which, by the present management, is * thought the most uncertain, shall have a testimony of certainty • above all other books whatever, and an end be put at once to all Various Lections now or hereafter. • I'll give your Grace the progress which brought me, by degrees, into the present view and scheme that I have of a new | edition. Upon some points of curiosity, I collated one or two . of St. Paul's Epistles, with the Alexandrian MS., the oldest 6 and best now in the world.* I was surprised to find several transpositions of words, that Mill and the other collators took no notice of: but I soon found their way was to mark nothing • but change of words; the collocation and order they entirely * neglected; and yet, at first sight, I discerned what a new force . and beauty this new order (I found in the MS.) added to the * sentence. This encouraged me to collate the whole book over 'to a letter, with my own hands. There is another MS. at * Parist, of the same age and character with this; but meeting

* The Vatican Codex had not at this time been examined.

† This is the Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (Reg. Par. No. 9.). Its real character was detected by Allix, a French Protestant minister, who took refuge in England on the revocation of the Edict of Nantz. Burnet made him a prebendary of Salisbury, and the University of



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with worse usage, it was so decayed by age, that five hundred years ago it served the Greeks for old vellum; and they writ over the old brown capitals a book of Ephraim Syrus; but so

that even now, by a good eye and a skilful person, the old • writing may be read under the new.... Out of this, by an

able hand, I have had above two hundred lections given me from the present printed Greek; and I was surprised to find * that almost all agreed both in word and order with our noble • Alexandrian. Some more experiments in other old copies

have discovered the same agreement: so that I dare say, take 6

all the Greek Testaments surviving, that are not occidental * with Latin too, like our Beza's at Cambridge, and that are a * thousand years old, and they'll so agree together, that of the

thirty thousand present Various Lections, there are not there found two hundred.*

• The western Latin copies, by variety of translators, without public appointment, and a jumble and heap of all of them, were grown so uncertain, that scarce two copies were alike;

which obliged Damasus, then Bishop of Rome, to employ St. • Jerome to regulate the best received translation of each part of

the New Testament to the original Greek; and so set out a 'new edition, so castigated and corrected. This he declares in his preface he did ad Græcam veritatem, ad exemplaria Græca, sed vetera; and his learning, great name, and just authority, extinguished all the other Latin versions; and (his] has been conveyed down to us under the name of the Vulgate. 'Twas plain to me, that when that copy came first from that great • Father's hands, it must agree exactly with the most authentic Greek exemplars; and if it could now be retrieved, it would be the best test and voucher for the true reading out of several ' pretending ones. But when I came to try Pope Clement's

Vulgate, I soon found the Greek of the Alexandrian and ' that would by no means pary. This set me to examine the

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Oxford conferred an honorary degree upon him. He was a man of great erudition, and the author of many works, principally controversial, now little read.

* Nothing can exhibit the critical sagacity of Bentley more strikingly than his exact estimate of the value of the Alexandrine Codex, which had been much over-estimated by Mill. It is quite clear that the transcriber of it has been in many places influenced by a regard for the Hieronymic version, as is distinctly shown by Wetstein, though only a small percentage of the passages he cites tells for his argument. Although invaluable, therefore, for ascertaining the Greek text which Jerome used, it is not to be cited for that of a more ancient date in the first instance.


Use to be made of Jerome's Vulgate.


Pope's Latin by some MSS. of a thousand years old; and the • success is, that the old Greek copies and the old Latin so exactly agree (when an able hand discerns the rasures and the old lections lying under them), that the pleasure and satisfac• tion it gives me is beyond expression.

The New Testament has been under a hard fate since the • invention of printing. After the Complutenses and Erasmus,

who had but very ordinary MSS., it has become the property of booksellers. Robert Stephens's edition, set out and regulated by himself alone, is now become the standard. That text

stands as if an apostle was his compositor. No heathen author has had such ill-fortune. Terence, Ovid, &c., for the first . century after printing, went about with twenty thousand errors

in them. But when learned men undertook them, and, from the oldest MSS., set out correct editions, those errors fell and • vanished. But if they had kept to the first published text, and 'set the Various Lections only in the margin, those classic * authors would be as clogged with variations as Dr. Mill's Testa- ment is.

• Popes Sixtus and Clemens*, at a vast expense, had an 6 assembly of learned divines, to recense and adjust the Latin

Vulgate, and then enacted their new edition authentic; but I • find, though I have not yet discovered anything done dolo malo, * they were quite unequal to the affair. They were mere Theologi, had no experience in MSS., nor made use of good Greek copies; and followed books of five hundred years before those

of double [that] age. Nay, I believe they took these new ones • for the older of the two; for it is not every body knows the age of a manuscript.

I am already tedious, and the post is a going; so that, to . conclude, in a word, I find that, by taking two thousand errors * out of the Pope's Vulgate, and as many out of the Protestant • Pope Stephens's, I can set out an edition of each in columns, s without using any book under nine hundred years old, that shall so exactly agree, word for word; and, what at first

The Romish Church has furnished the Reformers with a constant weapon of annoyance, by successively pronouncing the text of each of these editions authentic, although they differ from one another in several hundred places. The Protestant polemics took advantage of this breach in the theory of Infallibility. A book was published at Oxford in 1600, entitled Bellum PAPALE, sive Concordia Discors Sixti V. et Clementis VIII., which so galled the champions of the Papacy, that an attempt was made to deny the publication of the Sixtine edition. Unfortunately, however, some copies exist, -one in the Bodleian.


.amazed me, order for order*, that no two tallies, nor two indentures, can agree better.

• I affirm that these so placed will prove each other to a de'monstration ; for I alter not a letter of my own head without

the authority of these old witnesses. And the beauty of the • composition (barbarous, God knows, at present) is so improved, • as makes it more worthy of a revelation, and yet not one text of consequence injured or weakened.

My Lord, if a casual fire should take either his Majesty's • library or the King of France's, all the world could not do * this. “As I have, therefore, great impulse, and I hope not *ůbɛɛì, to set about this work immediately and leave it as a Keluncov to posterity, against Atheists and infidels, I thought it my duty and my honour to first acquaint your Grace with • it; and know if the extrinsic expense necessary to do such a * work completely (for my labour I reckon nothing) may obtain any encouragement, either from the Crown or public?

I am, with all duty and obedience,
Your Grace's most humble servant,

Ri. BENTLEY.' The proposition of Bentley was, as might have been expected, favourably received by Wake, himself a distinguished scholar, and who was reported, when at Paris some time before, to have made for his own behoof a transcript of the whole of the socalled Codex Claromontanus, – a manuscript containing the Epistles of St. Paul, with a Latin version, of the same age and character with the Codex Bezæ. Bentley now set about furnishing himself with the materials for the execution of his design. He obtained a collation of the Vatican MS., the first, we believe, that ever was made, from Mico, then librarian at Rome. He sent over John Walker, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, to Paris, to procure collations of all the treasures which existed in the several libraries of that city. This gentleman met at first with some little coolness from the superior authorities of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Maur, who imagined that his object, from the interest he displayed for Latin as well as Greek

* Jerome shared the scrupulosity of the authors of the so-called • Itala Versio.' He says of himself (Ep. ad Pammachium), ' Ego * enim non solum fateor sed etiam liberâ voce profiteor me in inter,

pretatione Græcorum, absque Scripturis Sanctis, ubi et verborum ordo mysterium est, non verbum e verbo sed sensum exprimere e sensu.' It is unfortunate that this point (of all others, perhaps, the most important in the classification of MSS.) should have been thought an immaterial one by Mr. Alford. (Prolegomena, p. 72.)


Bentley's Design mistaken by the Benedictines.


MSS., would probably interfere with an edition of the Vetus • Itala,' about which some members of their own body were engaged. It's comical,' says Bentley, in a letter to Walker, that the Benedictine Fathers will not believe you, but fancy 'my scheme is the same with theirs, when it's just the reverse.

They are seeking the old Italic Version, and I their Vulgate, and by it the Greek of Origen. I am too old to engage in so 'extensive a work as theirs, so they need not be jealous of me. • If both works see the light, they'll illustrate each other, but

not depreciate. If they'll be communicative, I can recompense * it to them et operâ et consilio.' But the influence of the more learned members of the society prevailed over the ignorance and illiberality of the 'Præpositi;' and it is pleasing to see in an age of no common bigotry and religious exasperation, the humanising influence of letters. Montfaucon and De la Rue zealously and successfully pleaded the cause of a Protestant editor of the New Testament before the ruling body of the college. Vellem in eorum cætu,” says one of the monks, writing to Bentley, 'vidisses D. Bernardum (Montfaucon), ' quam strenue Bentleianas partes tueretur; turpe esse quidquam denegare Viro celebri qui nos tot et tantis beneficiis cumu'laverat, qui tam propensâ voluntate non emendationes tantum, sed et libros ipsos transmittebat; se, si suscepti operis auctor * esset, relicturum potius et integrum Cantabrigiam missurum * esse, quam Benedictino nomini tantam inferret injuriam.' After a little more explanation, Walker was not only allowed to consult the MSS., but assisted in every possible way by the worthy Fathers. ' I believe,' he says, in his next letter to Bentley, 'that they would do any thing with pleasure that you • desired of them; and, if you please to order me, I will put them upon collating some of their MSS., while I am at work

upon those of other libraries.' Indeed, he seems to have been completely petted by them. He caught a severe cold, which would have interrupted his task, “if the Benedictine Fathers " had not offered me a chamber with a fire to study in, in their Abbaye.' De la Rue calls him, Walkerus noster,' and adds, Nostrum eum dico, qui primum nobis ob tuam commendationem carus, postmodum ob exploratam morum ipsius suavitatem carissimus fuit. As for Montfaucon, his first champion, he loved him as a son,' and through his influence procured him the privilege of having various MSS. brought from other libraries into the Benedictine Monastery for more convenient collation.

Walker was not the only assistant whom Bentley made use of. He had sent over Wetstein to Paris for similar purposes,

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