Bentham, Edward

, canon of Christ-church, Oxford, and king’s professor of divinity in that university, was born in the college at Ely, July 23, 1707. His father, Mr. Samuel Bentham, was a very worthy clergyman, and vicar of Witchford, a small living near that city; who having a numerous family, his son Edward, on the recommendation of Dr. Smalridge, dean of Christ-church, was sent in 1717 to the school of that college. Having there received the rudiments of classical education, he was in Lent term 1723, when nearly 16 years of age, admitted of the university of Oxford, and placed at Corpus-Christi college under his relation Dr. John Burton. In this situation, his serious and regular deportment, and his great proficiency in all kinds of academical learning, recommended him to the notice of several eminent men; and, among others, to the favour of Dr. Tanner, canon of Christ-church, by whose death he was disappointed of a nomination to a studentship in that society. At CorpusChristi college he formed a strict friendship with Robert Hoblyn, esq. of Nanswydden in Cornwall, afterwards representative for the city of Bristol, whose character, as a scholar and a member of parliament, rendered him deservedly esteemed by the lovers of literature and of their country. In company with this gentleman and another intimate friend, Dr. Ratcliff, afterwards master of Pembroke college, Mr. Bentham made, at different times, the tour of part of France, and other countries. Having taken the degree of B. A. he was invited by Dr. Cotes, principal of Magdalen-hall, to be his vice-principal; and was accordingly admitted to that society, March 6, 1730. Here he continued only a short time, for, on the 23d of April in the year following, he was elected fellow of Oriel college. In act term, 1732, he proceeded to the degree of M. A. and, about the same time, was appointed tutor in the college; in which capacity he discharged his duty, in the most laborious and conscientious manner, for more than twenty years. March 26, 1743, Mr. Bentham took the degree of B. D.; and April 22, in the same year, was collated to the prebend of Hundreton, in the cathedral church of Hereford. July 8, 1749, he proceeded to the degree of D. D.; and in April 1754 was promoted to the fifth stall in that cathedral. Here he continued the same active and useful course of life for which he had always been distinguished. He served the offices of sub-dean | and treasurer, for himself and others, above twelve years. The affairs of the treasury, which Dr. Bentham found in great confusion, he entirely new modelled, and put into a train of business in which they have continued ever since, to the great ease of his successors, and benefit of the society. 80 intent was he upon the regulation and management of the concerns of the college, that he refused several preferments which were offered him, from a conscientious persuasion that the avocations they would produce were incompatible with the proper discharge of the offices he had voluntarily undertaken. Being appointed by the king to fill the divinity chair, vacant by the death of Dr. Fanshavve, Dr. Bentham was, with much reluctance, and after having repeatedly declined it, persuaded, by archbishop Seeker and his other learned friends, to accept of it; and, on the 9th of May, 1763, he was removed to the 8th stall in the cathedral. His unwillingness to appear in this station was increased by the business he had to transact in his former situation, and which he was afraid would be impeded by the accession of new duties: not to say that a life spent in his laborious and sedentary manner had produced some unfavourable effects on his constitution, and rendered a greater attention than he had hitherto shewn to private ease and health, absolutely necessary. Besides, as the duties, when properly discharged, were great and interesting, so the station itself was of that elevated and public nature to which his ambition never inclined him: 66 latere maluit atque prodesse.“The diffidence he had of his abilities had ever taught him to suspect his own sufficiency; and his inauguratory lecture breathed the same spirit, the text of which was,” Who is sufficient for these things?" But whatever objections Dr. Bentham might have to the professorship before he entered upon it, when once he had accepted of it, he never suffered them to discourage him in the least from exerting hi* most sincere endeavours to render it both useful and honourable to the university. He set himself immediately to draw out a course of lectures for the benefit of young students in divinity, which he constantly read at his house at Christ-church, gratis-^ three times a week during term-time, till his decease. The course took up a year; and he not only exhibited in it a complete system of divinity, but recommended proper books, some of which he generously distributed to his auditors. His intense application to the pursuit of the plan | he had laid clown, together with those concerns in which his affection for his friends, and his zeal for the public good in every shape, involved him, proved more than a counterbalance for all the advantages of health and vigour that a strict and uniform temperance could procure. Jt is certain that he sunk under the rigorous exercise of that conduct he had proposed to himself: for though 6-; years are a considerable proportion in the strongest men’s lives, yet his remarkable abstemiousness and self-denial, added to a disposition of body naturally strong, promised, in the ordinary course of things, a longer period. Dr. Bentham was a very early riser, and had transacted half a day’s business before many others begin their day. His countenance was uncommonly mild and engaging, being strongly characteristic of the piety and benevolence of his mind; and at the same time it by no means wanted expression, but, upon proper occasions, could assume a very becoming and affecting authority. In his attendance upon the public duties of religion, he was exceedingly strict and constant; not suffering himself ever to be diverted from it by any motives, either of interest or pleasure. Whilst he was thus diligent in the discharge of his own duty, he was not severe upon those who were not equally so in theirs. He could scarcely ever be prevailed upon to deliver his opinion upon subjects that were to the disadvantage of other men; and when he could not avoid doing it, his sentiments were expressed with the utmost delicacy and candour. No one was more ready to discover, commend, and reward every meritorious endeavour. Of himself he never was he? rd to speak and if his own merits were touched upon in the slightest manner, he felt a real uneasiness. Though he was not fond of the formalities of visiting, he entered into the spirit of friendly society and intercourse with great pleasure. His constant engagements, indeed, of one kind or other, left him not much time to be devoted to company; and the greater part of his leisure hours he spent in the enjoyment of domestic pleasures, for which his amiable and peaceable disposition seemed most calculated.

Till within the last half-year of his life, in which he declined very fast, Dr. Bentham was scarcely ever out of order; and he was never prevented from discharging his duty, excepting by weakness that occasionally attacked his eyes, and which had been brought on by too free an | use of them when he was young. That part of his last illness which confined him, was only from the 23d of July to the first of August. Even death itself found him engaged in the same laborious application which he had always directed to the glory of the supreme being, and the benefit of mankind; and it was not till he was absolutely forbidden by his physicians, that he gave over a particular cotrrse cf reading, that had been undertaken by him with a view of making remarks on Mr. Gibbon’s Roman History. Thus he died in the faithful discharge of the duties of religion. That serenity of mind and meekness of disposition, which he had manifested on every former occasion, shone forth in a more especial manner in his latter moments; and, together with the consciousness of a whole life spent in the divine service, exhibited a scene of true Christian triumph. After a few days illness, in which he suffered a considerable degree of pain without repining, a quiet sigh put a period to his temporal existence, on the first of August 1776, when he had entered into the 69th year of his age. His remains were deposited in the west end of the great aile in the cathedral of Christ-church, Oxford. Dr. Bentham resided, the principal part of the year, so regularly at Oxford, that he never missed a term from his matriculation to his death. In the summer he generally made a tour of some part of the kingdom with his family; and, for the last thirty years of his life, seldom failed in carrying them to meet all his brothers and sisters at Ely, amongst whom the greatest harmony and affection ever prevailed. Dr. Bentham married Elizabeth, second daughter of Thomas Bates, esq. of Alton, in Hampshire, by whom he had three children, two of whom, with his widow, survived him, but she died in 1790, and his son, Thomas, rector of Swanton Newarsh, in Norfolk, died in 1803. Dr. Bentharn’s publications were as follows: 1. “The connection between Irreligion and Immorality; a Sermon preached at St. Mary’s in Oxford, at the assizes, March the 1st, 1743-4,1744, 8vo. 2, “An Introduction to Moral Philosophy,1745, and 1746, 8vo. To this tract is annexed a table of reference to English Discourses and Sermons upon moral subjects, ranged according to the order of the introduction; and a table of several of the principal Writers in moral philosophy. 3. “A Letter to a young gentleman,1748, 8vo. 4. “A Letter to a fellow of a college; beingthe sequel of a Letter to a young gentleman of Oxford,1740, 8vo. 5. “Advice to a young man of rank upon coming to the | university.” 6. “A Sermon preached before the honourable House of Commons, at St. Margaret’s Westminster, on Tuesday, January 30, 1749-50,1750, 4to. 7. “Reflections on Logic,” 3vo; a second edition came out in 1755. Our author having been charged, in the Biographia Britannica, under the article Locke, with a design of excluding from the schools that great man’s Essay on the Human Understanding, he subjoined, in 1760, a short, but satisfactory, vindication of himself, to the remaining copies of the Reflections. 8. " Ti> ILxXaiwv, &c. Ewmxpioi.“” Funeral Eulogies upon Military Men from Thucydides, Plato, Lysias, Xenophon. In the original Greek. To which are added, extracts from Cicero. With Observations and Notes in English,“8vo. The second edition, with additions, appeared in 1768. The impression is beautiful, and the notes and observations shew Dr. Bentham’s great acquaintance with classic antiquity, and the Greek language. 9.” De Studiis Theologicts Proelectio,“1764. 10.” Reflections upon the study of Divinity. To which are subjoined, heads of acourse of Lectures,“1771, 8vo. This tract contains many judicious observations; and the heads of a course of Lectures exhibit, perhaps, as complete a plan of theological studies as was ever delivered. 11.” De Vita et Moribus Johannis Burtoni, S. T. P. Etonensis. Epistola Edvardi Bentham, S. T. P. R. ad reverendum admodum Robertum Lowth, S. T. P. Episcopum Oxoniensem.“12.A Sermon preached in the parish church of Christ Church, London, on Thursday, April the 30th, 1772: being the time of the yearly meeting of the children educated in the charity-schools in and about the cities of London and Westminster,“4to. 13.” An introduction to Logic, scholastic and rational,“1773, 8vo. The Specimen Logicoe Ciceronianse annexed, displays Cicero’s close attention to the study of logic, and our author’s intimate knowledge of Cicero. 14.” De Tumultibus Americanis deque eorum concitatoribus seniljs meditatio." This was occasioned by some members of parliament having censured the university of Oxford for addressing the king in favour of the American war. Dr. Bentham, like many other wise and good men, did not imagine that the contest would turn out to be so formidable as it afterwards appeared. He takes occasion, in the course of the pamphlet, to pay a high compliment to his friend Dr. Tucker. 1


Biog. Brit. vol. III. p. 49.