William Bentley

I’ve extensively examined the Founding era record re what the FFs believed on religion and paid special attention to the philosophers and theologians who influenced them. Still, sometimes notable figures get ignored. It’s a failing of mine that I haven’t yet dealt with Rev. William Bentley.

Expect more about him in the future. For now, an except from his diary:

His political affinities and extensive learning brought him into full sympathy with many of the leading statesmen and scholars of Virginia. The late President Jefferson, and Bishop Madison, evinced the highest appreciation of his character. During the administration of the former gentleman, Dr. Bentley was selected as the candidate for the chaplaincy in Congress but he declined that office.

Sometime later, when Mr. Jefferson was maturing his plans for establishing the University of Virginia, which was incorporated in 1819, he consulted him about it and tendered to him the honor of its Presidency. But he refused all these honors on the ground that “he had been so long wedded to the East Church, he could not think of asking a Divorce from it.”

The honor of a Doctorate in Divinity was conferred by Harvard University upon him, a few months before his decease. It came too late to heal the wounded feelings of Dr. Bentley, in being so long overlooked by his Alma Mater and too late for her to enjoy the benefit of the will he had made in her favor.

Piqued by her tardy acknowledgment of his claims, he had, a short time before, revoked the bequest made to her, and given all his valuable books, manuscripts, and rare curiosities, to Alleghany College at Meadville, and the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester. The College received his theological and classical books and was made richer in that department than any other institution in the West. The trustees immediately caused a building to be erected, which was to be called Bentley Hall, in honor of his memory. On the 5th of July, 1820, its corner stone was laid covering a plate on which this name was inscribed. But the College soon fell into other hands and the library and the building have lost all association with the name of the illustrious donor.

Fortunately for his memory, a better fate attended his bequest to the Antiquarian Society. Upon the receipt of his valuable gifts the Society passed resolutions recognizing the great learning and talents of Dr. Bentley and the inestimable value of this contribution to their library, and a suitable acommodation was provided for them in alcoves superscribed with his name.

In this collection are many rare Persian, Arabic and Chinese manuscripts, scarce pamphlets, choice works of art, and a mass of correspondence which the Doctor maintained with the eminent scholars and statesmen of his day among whom were the Ex-Presidents J. Adams, Jefferson and Madison.

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