Horace: A Break From Serious Labor

R.C. Jebb, Richard Bentley (Chp. VIII):

As early as 1702 Bentley had been meditating an edition of Horace. I translate from his Latin preface his own account of the motive.

‘When, a few years ago [i. e. in 1700] I was promoted to a station in which official duties and harassing cares, daily surging about me, had distracted me from all deeper studies, I resolved — in order that I might not wholly forget the Muses and my old loves — to set about editing some writer of the pleasanter sort, comparatively light in style and matter, such as would make in me, rather than claim from me, a calm and untroubled mind ; a work that could be done bit by bit at odd hours, and would brook a thousand interruptions without serious loss. My choice was Horace; not because I deemed that I could restore and correct more things in him than in almost any other Latin or Greek author; but because he, above all the ancients — thanks to his merit, or to a peculiar genius and gift for pleasing — was familiar to men’s hands and hearts. The form and scope of my work I defined and limited thus; — that I should touch only those things which concern the soundness and purity of the text; but should wholly pass by the mass of those things which relate to history and ancient manners, — that vast domain and laboratory of comment.’

Bentley began printing his Horace, with his own emendations embodied in the text and the common readings given at the foot of the page, before he had written the critical notes which were to justify these changes. In August, 1706, he says: — ‘I have printed three new sheets in it this last fortnight, and I hope shall go on to finish by next spring.’ Sinister auguries were already heard in certain quarters. ‘I do not wonder,’ he writes to a friend, ‘that some… do talk so wildly about my Horace… I am assured none of them will write against my notes. They have had enough of me, and will here- after let me alone.’ The rumour of Bentley’s new labours inspired his old enemy, Dr King, with a satire called ‘Horace in Trinity College.’ Horace is supposed to have fulfilled his dream of visiting our remote island (visam Britannos), but to have lost the airy form in which he proposed to make that excursion, — under the influence of solid cheer supplied to him from the butteries of Trinity College.

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