Edmund Clerihew Bentley

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Edmund Clerihew Bentley (July 10, 1875March 30, 1956) was a popular English novelist and humorist of the early 20th century, and the inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of humorous verse on biographical topics.


  • When their lordships asked Bacon How many bribes he had taken He had at least the grace To get very red in the face.
    • "Bacon", in Baseless Biography (1939), p. 6.

Clerihews: Biography for Beginners (1905)

  • The art of Biography
    Is different from Geography.
    Geography is about maps,
    But Biography is about chaps.
  • Sir Christopher Wren
    Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
    If anyone calls
    Say I am designing St. Paul's."
  • John Stuart Mill,
    By a mighty effort of will,
    Overcame his natural bonhomie
    And wrote "Principles of Political Economy."
  • What I like about Clive
    Is that he is no longer alive.
    There is a great deal to be said
    For being dead.
  • Sir Humphrey Davy
    Abominated gravy.
    He lived in the odium
    Of having discovered sodium.
  • It was a weakness of Voltaire's
    To forget to say his prayers,
    And one which to his shame
    He never overcame.

Trent's Last Case (1912)

Full text at Wikisource
  • Between what matters and what seems to matter, how should the world we know judge wisely?
    When the scheming, indomitable brain of Sigsbee Manderson was scattered by a shot from an unknown hand, that world lost nothing worth a single tear; it gained something memorable in a harsh reminder of the vanity of such wealth as this dead man had piled up—without making one loyal friend to mourn him, without doing an act that could help his memory to the least honor. But when the news of his end came, it seemed to those living in the great vortices of business as if the earth, too, shuddered under a blow.
    • Chapter I: "Bad News"
  • 'Many young women of twenty-six in these days could face such an ordeal, I suppose. I have observed a sort of imitative hardness about the products of the higher education of women today which would carry them through anything, perhaps. I am not prepared to say it is a bad thing in the conditions of feminine life prevailing at present. Mabel, however, is not like that. She is as unlike that as she is unlike the simpering misses that used to surround me as a child. She has plenty of brains; she is full of character; her mind and her tastes are cultivated; but it is all mixed up' — Mr Cupples waved his hands in a vague gesture — 'with ideals of refinement and reservation and womanly mystery. I fear she is not a child of the age.'
    • Chapter III: "Breakfast"
  • 'What do you mean by "a man like me"?' he [Philip Trent] demanded with a sort of fierceness. 'Do you take me for a man without any normal instincts? I don't say you impress people as a simple, transparent sort of character — what Mr Calvin Bunner calls a case of openwork; I don't say a stranger might not think you capable of wickedness, if there was good evidence for it: but I say that a man who, after seeing you and being in your atmosphere, could associate you with the kind of abomination I imagined is a fool — the kind of fool who is afraid to trust his senses.'
    • Chapter XIII: "Eruption"
  • She [Mabel Manderson] uttered a little laugh of impatience. 'So you think he has been talking me round. No, that is not so. I am merely sure he did not do it. Ah! I see you think that absurd. But see how unreasonable you are, Mr Trent! Just now you were explaining to me quite sincerely that it was foolishness in you to have a certain suspicion of me after seeing me and being in my atmosphere, as you said.' Trent started in his chair. She glanced at him and went on: 'Now, I and my atmosphere are much obliged to you, but we must stand up for the rights of other atmospheres. I know a great deal more about Mr Marlowe's atmosphere than you know about mine even now. I saw him constantly for several years. I don't pretend to know all about him; but I do know that he is incapable of a crime of bloodshed. The idea of his planning a murder is as unthinkable to me as the idea of your picking a poor woman's pocket, Mr Trent.'
    • Chapter XIII: "Eruption"
  • Can you understand the soul of a man who never hesitated to take steps that would have the effect of hoodwinking people, who would use every trick of the markets to mislead, and who was at the same time scrupulous never to utter a direct lie on the most insignificant matter? Manderson was like that, and he was not the only one. I suppose you might compare the state of mind to that of a soldier who is personally a truthful man, but who will stick at nothing to deceive the enemy. The rules of the game allow it; and the same may be said of business as many business men regard it. Only with them it is always wartime.
    • Chapter XV: "Double Cunning"
  • I can only say that you must have totally renounced all trust in the operations of the human reason; an attitude which, while it is bad Christianity and also infernal nonsense, is oddly enough bad Positivism too, unless I misunderstand that system.
    • Chapter XVI: "The Last Straw"

Clerihews: More Biography (1929)

  • George the Third
    Ought never to have occurred.
    One can only wonder
    At so grotesque a blunder.
  • Chapman & Hall
    Swore not at all.
    Mr Chapman's yea was yea,
    And Mr Hall's nay was nay.

Trent's Own Case (1936)

Written in collaboration with H. Warner Allen
  • There are some places which, seen for the first time, yet seem to strike a chord of recollection. "I have been here before," we think to ourselves, "and this is one of my true homes." It is no mystery for those philosophers who hold that all which we shall see, with all which we have seen and are seeing, exists already in an eternal now; that all those places are home to us which in the pattern of our life are twisting, in past, present and future, tendrils of remembrance round our heart-strings.
    • Chapter XV: "Eunice Makes a Clean Breast of It"
  • That is almost the definition of any friendship that is worthwhile — that we don't care a damn how you behave yourself.
    • Chapter XV: "Eunice Makes a Clean Breast of It"
  • As he went through the half-darkness of the lamp-lit streets, deserted almost entirely at this hour, he brooded over his hard luck. What chance had he ever been given? Raught, for that matter, like many another in case like his, was far from grasping fully how bad his luck had been, how little the chance that life had offered. Neglect and harshness had marked him in infancy; there had been nothing at any time to tell against the effect of them. But in all of the past that he remembered and could understand there had been more than enough to be stored up as matter for savage resentment, for the soul-sick criminal's conviction that he owes the world no more than such repayment as he can make in its own coin.
    • Chapter XVII: "Fine Body of Men"
  • He was less afraid of gentlemen than of most other kinds of men; for instinct told him that, however detestable a gentleman's personal character might be, he was usually not inclined to be censorious or even inquisitive about the conduct of his fellow-creatures.
    • Chapter XVII: "Fine Body of Men"
  • I know, if anyone does — all research workers know — how much is missed that really matters because reports have to be written in officialese. They have to be, because a lot of us can't take anything seriously unless you make it dull for them.
    • Chapter XXI: "Aunt Judith Knits"

Trent Intervenes (1938)

Short story collection
  • And as for that low, velvety voice of hers, if she asked me to murder my best friend I should have to do it on the spot.
    • 3. "The Clever Cockatoo"
  • You may as well know, Philip — you'll soon find out, anyhow — the truth is she will flirt with any man that she doesn't actively dislike. She's so brimful of life she can't hold herself in — or she won't, rather; she says there's no harm in it, and she doesn't care if there is. Before her marriage she didn't go on in that way, but since it turned out badly she has been simply uncivilized on that point. And her being perfectly clear-headed about it makes it so much worse.
    • 3. "The Clever Cockatoo"
  • Is it a cosmic law, d'you think, that conceited men's hats are always too small?
    • 7. "The Old-fashioned Apache"
  • Lord Southrop was, of course, eccentric in his views; and you never knew — here the housekeeper, with a despondent head-shake, paused, leaving unspoken the suggestion that a man who did not think or behave like other people might go mad at any moment.
    • 11. "The Unknown Peer"
  • [S]he had a singular spaciousness of mind in which nothing little or mean could live.
    • 12. "The Ordinary Hairpins"
  • Trent read and re-read the pitiful message [a suicide note], so full of the awful egotism of grief.
    • 12. "The Ordinary Hairpins"

Quotes about Bentley

  • I recur here to my personal point about the tendency to miss what the title means; or even what the title says. An article like this is called subjective because it has no subject. In a rambling column, whether because it is personal or impersonal, it is permissible to introduce personal trifles about oneself, as well as about other people, so long as it is made sufficiently obvious that they are trifling. And I may remark in this connexion, or disconnexion, that I happen to have a very strong objection to that trick of missing the point of a story, or sometimes even the obvious sense of the very name of a story. I have sometimes had occasion to murmur meekly that those who endure the heavy labour of reading a book might possibly endure that of reading the title-page of a book. For there are more examples than may be imagined, in which earnest critics might solve many of their problems about what a book is, merely by discovering what it professes to be. … It is odd that one example occurred in my own case... in a book called The Man Who was Thursday.
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