Bentham, James

, M. A. and F. A. S. prebendary of Ely, rector of Bow-brick-hill in the county of Bucks, and domestic chaplain to the right-hon. lord Cadogan, was the brother of the above-mentioned Edward. Having received the rudiments of classical learning in the grammar-school of Ely, he was admitted of Trinity college, Cambridge, March 26,1727, where he proceeded B. A. 1730, and M. A. 1738, and was elected F. A. S. 1767. In the year 1733 he was presented to the vicarage of Stapleford in Cambridgeshire, which he resigned in 1736, on being made minor canon in the church of Ely. In 1767 he was presented by bishop Mavvson to the vicarage of Wymondharn in Norfolk, which he resigned in the year following for the rectory of Feltwell St. Nicholas, in the same county. This he resigned in 1774 for the rectory of Northwold, which in 1779 he was induced by bishop Keene to change for aprebendal stall in the church of Ely, though he was far from improving his income by the change. But his attachment to his native place, with which church the family had been connected without any intermission for more than 100 years, surmounted every other consideration. In 1783 he was presented to the rectory of Bow-brick-hill, by the rev. Edward Guellaume. From his first appointment to an office in the church of Ely, he seems to have directed his attention to the study of church architecture. It is probable that he was determined to the pursuit of ecclesiastical antiquities by the eminent example of bishop Tanner (a prebendary of the same stall which Mr. Bentham afterwards held), who had honoured the family with many marks of his kindness and friendship. For researches of this kind Mr. Bentham seems to have been excellently qualified. To a sound judgment and a considerable degree of penetration, accompanied by a minuteness and accuracy of inquiry altogether uncommon, Mr. Bentham added the most patient assiduity and unwearied industry. The history of the church with which he was connected afforded him full scope for the exercise of his talents. It abounds with almost all the various specimens of church architecture used in England to the time of the reformation. Having previously examined with great attention every historical monument and authority which could throw any light upon his subject, after he had circulated, in 1756, a catalogue of the principal members of this church (Ely), viz. abbesses, abbots, bishops, priors, deans, prebendaries, and | archdeacons, in order to collect further information concerning them, he published “The History and Antiquities of the conventual and cathedral Church of Ely, from the foundation of the monastery, A. D. 675, to the year 1771, illustrated with copper-plates,Cambridge, 1771, 4to. The sheets of Mr. Bentham’s work were carefully revised by his brother Dr. Bentham, and by the Rev. W. Cole, of Milton; and both were considerable contributors to it. This was probably the cheapest book ever published, the subscription price being only eighteen shillings, which was raised to non-subscribers to a guinea and a half. It has of late years seldom been sold under twelve or fourteen guineas, but a new edition has just been published, 1812, which, for paper and typography, reflects honour on the Norwich press.

In the introduction the authorthought it might be useful to give some account of Saxon, Norman, and what is usually called Gothic architecture. The many novel and ingenious remarks, which occurred in this part of the work, soon attracted the attention of those who had turned their thoughts to the subject. This short essay was favourably received by the public, and has been frequently cited and referred to by most writers on Gothic architecture. By a strange mist-ike, these observations were hastily attributed to the celebrated Mr. Gray, merely because Mr. Bentham has mentioned his name among that of others to whom he conceived himself indebted for communications and hints. Mr. Bentham was never informed of this extraordinary circumstance till the year 1783, when he accidentally met with it in the Gentleman’s Magazine for the month of February in that year; upon which he immediately thought it necessary to rectify the mistake, and to vindicate his own character and reputation as an author from the charge of having been obliged to Mr. Gray for that treatise, when he had published it as his own; and this he was enabled to do satisfactorily, having fortunately preserved the only letter which he had received from Mr. Gray on the subject. The truth was, that Mr. Bentham had written the treatise long before he had the honour of any acquaintance with Mr. Gray, and it was that which first introduced him to Mr. Gray. What his obligations were will appear by reference to a copy of that letter, which he received from Mr. Gray when he returned the six sheets which Mr. Bentham had submitted to him at his own request. It happened | that the two last sheets, though composed, were not worked off, which gave Mr. Bentham an opportunity of inserting some additions alluded to in Mr. Gray’s letter. In the Magazine for July 1784, may be seen the full and handsome apology which this explanation produced from a correspondent, who, under the signature of S. E. had inadvertently ascribed these remarks to Mr. Gray. These remarks have been since printed in an excellent collection of “Essays on Gothic Architecture,” published by Mr. Taylor, of Holborn. When the dean and chapter of Ely had determined upon the general repair of the fabric of their church, and the judicious removal of the choir from the dome to the presbytery at the east end, Mr. Bentham was requested to superintend that concern as clerk of the works. With what indefatigable industry and attention he acquitted himself in that station, and how much he contributed to the improvement and success of the publ.c works then carrying on, appears as well by the minutes of those transactions, as by the satisfaction with which the body recognized his services. This employment gave him a thorough insight into the principles and peculiarities of these antient buildings, and suggested to him the idea of a general history of antient architecture in this kingdom, which he justly considered a desideratum of the learned and inquisitive antiquary. He was still intent upon this subject, and during the amusement of his leisure hours continued almost to the last to make collections with a view to some further illustration of this curious point, though his avocations of one kind or another prevented him from reducing them to any regular form or series. But he did not suffer these pursuits to call him off from the professional duties of his station, or from contributing his endeavours towards promoting works of general utility to the neighbourhood. To a laudable spirit of this latter kind, animated by a zeal for his native place, truly patriotic, is to be referred his steady perseverance in recommending to his countrymen, under all the discouragements of obloquy and prejudice, the plans suggested for the improvement of their fens by draining, and the practicability of increasing their intercourse with the neighbouring counties by means of turnpike roads; a measure till then unattempted, and for a long time treated with a contempt and ridicule due only to the most wild and visionary projects, the merit of which he was at last forced to rest upon the result of an experiment made by himself. With this | view, in 1757, he published his sentiments under the title of “Queries offered to the consideration of the principal inhabitants of the city of Ely, and towns adjacent, &c.” and had at length the satisfaction to see the attention of the public directed to the favourite object of those with whom he was associated. Several gentlemen of property and consideration in the county generously engaged in contributing donations towards setting on foot a scheme to establish turnpike roads. By the liberal example of lord-chancellor Hardwicke, lord Royston, and bishop Mawson, and the seasonable bequest of 200l. by Geo. Riste, esq. of Cambridge, others were incited to additional subscriptions. In a short time these amounted to upwards of 1000l. and nearly to double that sum on interest. The scheme being thus invigorated by these helps, and by the increasing loans of those whose prejudices began now to wear away, an act was obtained in 1763 for improving the road from Cambridge to Ely. Similar powers and provisions were in a few years obtained by subsequent acts, and the benefit extended to other parts of the isle in all directions, the success of which hath answered the most sanguine expectations of its advocates. With the same beneficent disposition, Mr. Bentham in 1773 submitted a plan for inclosing and draining a large tract of common in the vicinity of Ely, called Gruntiten, containing near 1300 acres, under the title of “Considerations and Reflections upon the present state of the fens near Ely,” &c. Cambridge, 1778, 8vo. The inclosure, however, from whatever cause, did not then, take place; but some of the hints therein suggested have formed the groundwork of many of the improvements which have since obtained in the culture and drainage of the fens. Exertions of this kind could not fai^o procure him the esteem and respect of all who knew him, especially as they were wholly unaccompanied with that parade and ostentation by which the best public services are sometimes disgraced. Mr. Bentham was naturally of a delicate and tender constitution, to which his sedentary life and habits of application were very unfavourable; but this was so far corrected by rigid temperance and regularity, that he was rarely prevented from giving clue attention either to the calls of his profession or to the pursuits of his leisure hours. He retained his faculties in full vigour to the last, though his bodily infirmities debarred him latterly from attendance upon public worship, which he always | exceedingly lamented, having been uniformly exemplary in that duty. He read, with full relish and spirit, most publications of note or merit as they appeared, and, till within a few days of his death, continued his customary intercourse with his friends. He died Nov. 17, 1794, in the eightysixth year of his age. He left only one son, the Rev. James Bentham, vicar of West Braddenham in Norfolk, a preferment for which he was indebted to the kind patronage of the late bishop of Ely, the hon. Dr. James Yorke. Mr. Joseph Bentham, brother to the Historian and to Dr. Bentham, and an alderman of Cambridge, was many years printer to the university, and died in 1778. The History of Ely being the last work he printed, this circumstance is recorded on the last page by the words “Finis hie officii atque laboris.A fourth brother, the Rev. Jeffery Bentham, precentor of the church of Ely, &c. died in 1792, aged seventy two. A fifth, the Rev. Edmund Bentham, B.D. rector of Wootton-Courtnay, Somersetshire, died in Oct. 1781, at Moulsey Grove, near Hampton. Mr. Cole, who in his ms Athenae, gives some account of the Benthams, with a mixture of spleen and respect, remarks that this Edmund died in a parish in which he was not buried, was buried in a parish with which he had no connexion, and has a monument in a church (Sutton) where he was not buried, but of which he had been curate for near forty years. 1


Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, vol. III. Gent. Wag. LIV. 243; LXIV. 1062, 1151. Cole’s ms Ath. in Brit. Mus.