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  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  The Battle of the Books

  and Other Short Pieces

  by Jonathan Swift

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  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces



























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  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces


  SATIRE is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover

  everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason for that

  kind 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.

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  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces







  WHOEVER examines, with due circumspection, into the annual records

  of time, will find it remarked that War is the child of Pride, and

  Pride the daughter of Riches:- the former of which assertions may

  be soon granted, but one cannot so easily subscribe to the latter;

  for Pride is nearly related to Beggary and Want, either by father

  or mother, and sometimes by both: and, to speak naturally, it very

  seldom happens among men to fall out when all have enough;

  invasions usually travelling from north to south, that is to say,

  from poverty to plenty. The most ancient and natural grounds of

  quarrels are lust and avarice; which, though we may allow to be

  brethren, or collateral branches of pride, are certainly the issues

  of want. For, to speak in the phrase of writers upon politics, we

  may observe in the republic of dogs, which in its original seems to

  be an institution of the many, that the whole state is ever in the

  profoundest peace after a full meal; and that civil broils arise

  among them when it happens for one great bone to be seized on by

  some leading dog, who either divides it among the few, and then it

  falls to an oligarchy, or keeps it to himself, and then it runs up

  to a tyranny. The same reasoning also holds place among them in

  those dissensions we behold upon a turgescency in any of their

  females. For the right of possession lying in common (it being

  impossible to establish a property in so delicate a case),

  jealousies and suspicions do so abound, that the whole commonwealth

  of that street is reduced to a manifest state of war, of every

  citizen against every citizen, till some one of more courage,

  conduct, or fortune than the rest seizes and enjoys the prize:

  upon which naturally arises plenty of heart-burning, and envy, and

  snarling against the happy dog. Again, if we look upon any of

  these republics engaged in a foreign war, either of invasion or

  defence, we shall find the same reasoning will serve as to the

  grounds and occasions of each; and that poverty or want, in some

  degree or other (whether real or in opinion, which makes no

  alteration in the case), has a great share, as well as pride, on

  the part of the aggressor.

  Now whoever will please to take this scheme, and either reduce or

  adapt it to an intellectual state or commonwealth of learning, will

  soon discover the first ground of disagreement between the two

  great parties at this time in arms, and may form just conclusions

  upon the merits of either cause. But the issue or events of this

  war are not so easy to conjecture at; for the present quarrel is so

  inflamed by the warm heads of either faction, and the pretensions

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  The Battle of the Books and

  Other Short Pieces

  somewhere or other so exorbitant, as not to admit the least

  overtures of accommodation. This quarrel first began, as I have

  heard it affirmed by an old dweller in the neighbourhood, about a

  small spot of ground, lying and being upon one of the two tops of

  the hill Parnassus; the highest and largest of which had, it seems,

  been time out of mind in quiet possession of certain tenants,

  called the Ancients; and the other was held by the Moderns. But

  these disliking their present station, sent certain ambassadors to

  the Ancients, complaining of a great nuisance; how the height of

  that part of Parnassus quite spoiled the prospect of theirs,

  especially towards the east; and therefore, to avoid a war, offered

  them the choice of this alternative, either that the Ancients would

  please to remove themselves and their effects down to the lower

  summit, which the Moderns would graciously surrender to them, and

  advance into their place; or else the said Ancients will give leave

  to the Moderns to come with shovels and mattocks, and level the

sp; said hill as low as they shall think it convenient. To which the

  Ancients made answer, how little they expected such a message as

  this from a colony whom they had admitted, out of their own free

  grace, to so near a neighbourhood. That, as to their own seat,

  they were aborigines of it, and therefore to talk with them of a

  removal or surrender was a language they did not understand. That

  if the height of the hill on their side shortened the prospect of

  the Moderns, it was a disadvantage they could not help; but desired

  them to consider whether that injury (if it be any) were not

  largely recompensed by the shade and shelter it afforded them.

  That as to the levelling or digging down, it was either folly or

  ignorance to propose it if they did or did not know how that side

  of the hill was an entire rock, which would break their tools and

  hearts, without any damage to itself. That they would therefore

  advise the Moderns rather to raise their own side of the hill than

  dream of pulling down that of the Ancients; to the former of which

  they would not only give licence, but also largely contribute. All

  this was rejected by the Moderns with much indignation, who still

  insisted upon one of the two expedients; and so this difference

  broke out into a long and obstinate war, maintained on the one part

  by resolution, and by the courage of certain leaders and allies;

  but, on the other, by the greatness of their number, upon all

  defeats affording continual recruits. In this quarrel whole

  rivulets of ink have been exhausted, and the virulence of both

  parties enormously augmented. Now, it must be here understood,

  that ink is the great missive weapon in all battles of the learned,

  which, conveyed through a sort of engine called a quill, infinite

  numbers of these are darted at the enemy by the valiant on each

  side, with equal skill and violence, as if it were an engagement of

  porcupines. This malignant liquor was compounded, by the engineer

  who invented it, of two ingredients, which are, gall and copperas;

  by its bitterness and venom to suit, in some degree, as well as to

  foment, the genius of the combatants. And as the Grecians, after

  an engagement, when they could not agree about the victory, were

  wont to set up trophies on both sides, the beaten party being

  content to be at the same expense, to keep itself in countenance (a

  laudable and ancient custom, happily revived of late in the art of

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  war), so the learned, after a sharp and bloody dispute, do, on both

  sides, hang out their trophies too, whichever comes by the worst.

  These trophies have largely inscribed on them the merits of the

  cause; a full impartial account of such a Battle, and how the

  victory fell clearly to the party that set them up. They are known

  to the world under several names; as disputes, arguments,

  rejoinders, brief considerations, answers, replies, remarks,

  reflections, objections, confutations. For a very few days they

  are fixed up all in public places, either by themselves or their

  representatives, for passengers to gaze at; whence the chiefest and

  largest are removed to certain magazines they call libraries, there

  to remain in a quarter purposely assigned them, and thenceforth

  begin to be called books of controversy.

  In these books is wonderfully instilled and preserved the spirit of

  each warrior while he is alive; and after his death his soul

  transmigrates thither to inform them. This, at least, is the more

  common opinion; but I believe it is with libraries as with other

  cemeteries, where some philosophers affirm that a certain spirit,

  which they call BRUTUM HOMINIS, hovers over the monument, till the

  body is corrupted and turns to dust or to worms, but then vanishes

  or dissolves; so, we may say, a restless spirit haunts over every

  book, till dust or worms have seized upon it - which to some may

  happen in a few days, but to others later - and therefore, books of

  controversy being, of all others, haunted by the most disorderly

  spirits, have always been confined in a separate lodge from the

  rest, and for fear of a mutual violence against each other, it was

  thought prudent by our ancestors to bind them to the peace with

  strong iron chains. Of which invention the original occasion was

  this: When the works of Scotus first came out, they were carried

  to a certain library, and had lodgings appointed them; but this

  author was no sooner settled than he went to visit his master

  Aristotle, and there both concerted together to seize Plato by main

  force, and turn him out from his ancient station among the divines,

  where he had peaceably dwelt near eight hundred years. The attempt

  succeeded, and the two usurpers have reigned ever since in his

  stead; but, to maintain quiet for the future, it was decreed that

  all polemics of the larger size should be hold fast with a chain.

  By this expedient, the public peace of libraries might certainly

  have been preserved if a new species of controversial books had not

  arisen of late years, instinct with a more malignant spirit, from

  the war above mentioned between the learned about the higher summit

  of Parnassus.

  When these books were first admitted into the public libraries, I

  remember to have said, upon occasion, to several persons concerned,

  how I was sure they would create broils wherever they came, unless

  a world of care were taken; and therefore I advised that the

  champions of each side should be coupled together, or otherwise

  mixed, that, like the blending of contrary poisons, their malignity

  might be employed among themselves. And it seems I was neither an

  ill prophet nor an ill counsellor; for it was nothing else but the

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  neglect of this caution which gave occasion to the terrible fight

  that happened on Friday last between the Ancient and Modern Books

  in the King's library. Now, because the talk of this battle is so

  fresh in everybody's mouth, and the expectation of the town so

  great to be informed in the particulars, I, being possessed of all

  qualifications requisite in an historian, and retained by neither

  party, have resolved to comply with the urgent importunity of my

  friends, by writing down a full impartial account thereof.

  The guardian of the regal library, a person of great valour, but

  chiefly renowned for his humanity, had been a fierce champion for

  the Moderns, and, in an engagement upon Parnassus, had vowed with

  his own hands to knock down two of the ancient chiefs who guarded a

  small pass on the superior rock, but, endeavouring to climb up, was

  cruelly obstructed by his own unhappy weight and tendency towards

  his centre, a quality to which those of the Modern party are

  extremely subject; for, being li
ght-headed, they have, in

  speculation, a wonderful agility, and conceive nothing too high for

  them to mount, but, in reducing to practice, discover a mighty

  pressure about their posteriors and their heels. Having thus

  failed in his design, the disappointed champion bore a cruel

  rancour to the Ancients, which he resolved to gratify by showing

  all marks of his favour to the books of their adversaries, and

  lodging them in the fairest apartments; when, at the same time,

  whatever book had the boldness to own itself for an advocate of the

  Ancients was buried alive in some obscure corner, and threatened,

  upon the least displeasure, to be turned out of doors. Besides, it

  so happened that about this time there was a strange confusion of

  place among all the books in the library, for which several reasons

  were assigned. Some imputed it to a great heap of learned dust,

  which a perverse wind blew off from a shelf of Moderns into the

  keeper's eyes. Others affirmed he had a humour to pick the worms

  out of the schoolmen, and swallow them fresh and fasting, whereof

  some fell upon his spleen, and some climbed up into his head, to

  the great perturbation of both. And lastly, others maintained

  that, by walking much in the dark about the library, he had quite

  lost the situation of it out of his head; and therefore, in

  replacing his books, he was apt to mistake and clap Descartes next

  to Aristotle, poor Plato had got between Hobbes and the Seven Wise

  Masters, and Virgil was hemmed in with Dryden on one side and

  Wither on the other.

  Meanwhile, those books that were advocates for the Moderns, chose

  out one from among them to make a progress through the whole

  library, examine the number and strength of their party, and

  concert their affairs. This messenger performed all things very

  industriously, and brought back with him a list of their forces, in

  all, fifty thousand, consisting chiefly of light-horse, heavy-armed

  foot, and mercenaries; whereof the foot were in general but sorrily

  armed and worse clad; their horses large, but extremely out of case

  and heart; however, some few, by trading among the Ancients, had

  furnished themselves tolerably enough.

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  While things were in this ferment, discord grew extremely high; hot

  words passed on both sides, and ill blood was plentifully bred.

  Here a solitary Ancient, squeezed up among a whole shelf of

  Moderns, offered fairly to dispute the case, and to prove by

  manifest reason that the priority was due to them from long

  possession, and in regard of their prudence, antiquity, and, above

  all, their great merits toward the Moderns. But these denied the

  premises, and seemed very much to wonder how the Ancients could

  pretend to insist upon their antiquity, when it was so plain (if

  they went to that) that the Moderns were much the more ancient of

  the two. As for any obligations they owed to the Ancients, they

  renounced them all. "It is true," said they, "we are informed some

  few of our party have been so mean as to borrow their subsistence

  from you, but the rest, infinitely the greater number (and

  especially we French and English), were so far from stooping to so

  base an example, that there never passed, till this very hour, six

  words between us. For our horses were of our own breeding, our

  arms of our own forging, and our clothes of our own cutting out and

  sewing." Plato was by chance up on the next shelf, and observing

  those that spoke to be in the ragged plight mentioned a while ago,

  their jades lean and foundered, their weapons of rotten wood, their

  armour rusty, and nothing but rags underneath, he laughed loud, and

  in his pleasant way swore, by -, he believed them.

  Now, the Moderns had not proceeded in their late negotiation with

  secrecy enough to escape the notice of the enemy. For those

  advocates who had begun the quarrel, by setting first on foot the

  dispute of precedency, talked so loud of coming to a battle, that

  Sir William Temple happened to overhear them, and gave immediate

  intelligence to the Ancients, who thereupon drew up their scattered