Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Battle of the Books (Author: Jonathan Swift)

Analytical Table

The Preface informs us this piece was written in 1697, on account of a famous dispute about Ancient and Modern Learning, between Sir William Temple, and the Earl of Orrery, on the one side, and Mr Wotton and Bentley on the other.

War and invasions generally proceed from the attacks of Want and Poverty upon Plenty and Riches. The Moderns quarrel with the Ancients about the possession of the highest top of Parnassus; and desire them to surrender it, or to let it be levelled. The answer of the Ancients not accepted. A war ensues; in which rivulets of ink are spilt; and both parties hang out their trophies, books of controversy. These books haunted with disorderly spirits; though often bound to the peace in Libraries. The Author's advice in this case neglected; which occasions a terrible fight in St James's Library. Dr Bentley, the Library-keeper, a great enemy to the Ancients. The Moderns, finding themselves 50,000 strong, give the Ancients ill language. Temple, a favourite of the Ancients. An incident of a quarrel between


a Bee and a Spider; with their arguments on both sides. Æsop applies them to the present dispute. The order of battle of the Moderns, and names of their leaders. The leaders of the Ancients. Jupiter calls a Council of the Gods, and consults the books of Fate; and then sends his orders below. Momus brings the news to Criticism; whose habitation and company are described. Paracelsus engages Galen; Aristotle aims at Bacon, and kills Descartes; Homer overthrows Gondibert; kills Denham and Wesley, Perrault and Fontenelle. Encounter of Virgil and Dryden; of Lucan and Blackmore; of Creech and Horace; of Pindar and Cowley. The episode of Bentley and Wotton. Bentley's armour. His speech to the modern generals. Scaliger's answer. Bentley and Wotton march together. Bentley attacks Phalaris and Æsop. Wotton attacks Temple, in vain. Boyle pursues Wotton; and, meeting Bentley in his way, he pursues and kills them both.

The Bookseller to the Reader

The following discourse, as it is unquestionably of the same author, so it seems to have been written about the same time, with the former; I mean the year 1697, when the famous dispute was on foot about ancient and modern learning. The controversy took its rise from an essay of Sir William Temple's upon that subject; which was answered by W. Wotton, B.D. with an appendix by Dr. Bentley, endeavouring to destroy the credit of Æsop and Phalaris for authors, whom Sir William Temple had in the essay before mentioned highly commended. In that appendix the doctor falls hard upon a new edition of Phalaris, put out by the honourable Charles Boyle (now Earl of Orrery) to which Mr. Boyle replied at large with great learning and wit; and the doctor voluminously rejoined. In this dispute, the town highly resented to see a person of Sir William Temple's character and merits roughly used by the two reverend gentlemen aforesaid, and without any manner of provocation. At length, there appearing no end of the quarrel, our author tells us, that the BOOKS in St. James's Library, looking upon themselves as parties principally concerned, took up the controversy, and came to a decisive battle; but, the manuscript, by the injury of fortune or weather, being in several places imperfect, we cannot learn to which side the victory fell.

I must warn the reader to beware of applying to persons, what is here meant only of books in the most literal sense. So, when Virgil is mentioned, we are not to understand the person of a famous poet called by that name; but only certain sheets of paper, bound up in leather, containing in print the works of the said poet: and so of the rest.

The Preface of the Author

Satire is a sort of glass,1 wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it. But if it should happen otherwise, the danger is not great; and I have learned from long experience never to apprehend mischief from those understandings I have been able to provoke: for anger and fury, though they add strength to the sinews of the body, yet are found to relax those of the mind, and to render all its efforts feeble and impotent.

There is a brain, that will endure but one scumming; let the owner gather it with discretion, and manage his little stock with husbandry; but, of all things, let him beware of bringing it under the lash of his betters; because that will make it all bubble up into impertinence, and he will find no new supply. Wit without knowledge being a sort of cream, which gathers in a night to the top, and by a skilful hand may be soon whipped into froth; but once scummed away, what appears underneath will be fit for nothing but to be thrown to the hogs.