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On this day in history in 1956, died Edward Clerihew Bentley.
Bentley was a journalist and novelist, remembered as the inventor of the clerihew, an irregular form of comic biographical verse.
Edward Clerihew Bentley was born on 10th July 1875, at London. He attended St. Paul's School, London, where he became friends with G.K. Chesterton, and in 1893 went to Merton College, Oxford. After Oxford, he worked as a journalist on several newspapers, particularly the Daily Telegraph, and practiced journalism, for his entire professional life.
Bentley invented the Clerihew, aged 16, as a diversion from his schoolwork. Both he and Chesterton became adept at their construction. The clerihew was originally called a baseless biography, but Bentley personalised it by calling it by his unusual middle name. Here is one of the originals:
Sir Humphrey Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
In 1905, Bentley published Biography for Beginners, a collection of clerihews, under the name E. Clerihew. This was followed in 1929 by More Biography, and in 1939, he brought out Baseless Biography. In Clerihews Complete, published in 1951, all of Bentley's clerihews are collected.
In 1913, Bentley wrote Trent's Last Case, a detective novel, partly in irritation at the infallibility of Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Sherlock Holmes. This novel, with its convoluted and mysterious storyline, marked the end of the Sherlock Holmes era and the beginning of the modern murder mystery, later popularised by Agatha Christie. In 1936, Bentley was encouraged to produce a sequel, Trent's Own Case, and in 1938, he published Trent Intervenes, a collection of short stories.
But Bentley gained more acclaim for his clerihews than for his murder mysteries. Here are a few examples:
The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes;
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.
The meaning of the poet Gay
Was always as clear as day,
While that of the poet Blake
Was often practically opaque.
I doubt if King John
Was a sine qua non.
I could rather imagine it
Of any other Plantagenet.
Seldom troubled a dairy.
He wrote the Inferno
On a bottle of Pernod.
Bentley died at his home in London on 30th March 1956. One wit included in his obituary the lines:
Will someone write a Clerihew
When they bury you?
Bentley, E Clerihew. Trent's Last Case.
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