The battle of the books.., p.2
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       The Battle of the Books and Other Short Pieces, p.2

           Jonathan Swift
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troops together, resolving to act upon the defensive; upon which,

  several of the Moderns fled over to their party, and among the rest

  Temple himself. This Temple, having been educated and long

  conversed among the Ancients, was, of all the Moderns, their

  greatest favourite, and became their greatest champion.

  Things were at this crisis when a material accident fell out. For

  upon the highest corner of a large window, there dwelt a certain

  spider, swollen up to the first magnitude by the destruction of

  infinite numbers of flies, whose spoils lay scattered before the

  gates of his palace, like human bones before the cave of some

  giant. The avenues to his castle were guarded with turnpikes and

  palisadoes, all after the modern way of fortification. After you

  had passed several courts you came to the centre, wherein you might

  behold the constable himself in his own lodgings, which had windows

  fronting to each avenue, and ports to sally out upon all occasions

  of prey or defence. In this mansion he had for some time dwelt in

  peace and plenty, without danger to his person by swallows from

  above, or to his palace by brooms from below; when it was the

  pleasure of fortune to conduct thither a wandering bee, to whose

  curiosity a broken pane in the glass had discovered itself, and in

  he went, where, expatiating a while, he at last happened to alight

  upon one of the outward walls of the spider's citadel; which,

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  yielding to the unequal weight, sunk down to the very foundation.

  Thrice he endeavoured to force his passage, and thrice the centre

  shook. The spider within, feeling the terrible convulsion,

  supposed at first that nature was approaching to her final

  dissolution, or else that Beelzebub, with all his legions, was come

  to revenge the death of many thousands of his subjects whom his

  enemy had slain and devoured. However, he at length valiantly

  resolved to issue forth and meet his fate. Meanwhile the bee had

  acquitted himself of his toils, and, posted securely at some

  distance, was employed in cleansing his wings, and disengaging them

  from the ragged remnants of the cobweb. By this time the spider

  was adventured out, when, beholding the chasms, the ruins, and

  dilapidations of his fortress, he was very near at his wit's end;

  he stormed and swore like a madman, and swelled till he was ready

  to burst. At length, casting his eye upon the bee, and wisely

  gathering causes from events (for they know each other by sight),

  "A plague split you," said he; "is it you, with a vengeance, that

  have made this litter here; could not you look before you, and be

  d-d? Do you think I have nothing else to do (in the devil's name)

  but to mend and repair after you?" "Good words, friend," said the

  bee, having now pruned himself, and being disposed to droll; "I'll

  give you my hand and word to come near your kennel no more; I was

  never in such a confounded pickle since I was born." "Sirrah,"

  replied the spider, "if it were not for breaking an old custom in

  our family, never to stir abroad against an enemy, I should come

  and teach you better manners." "I pray have patience," said the

  bee, "or you'll spend your substance, and, for aught I see, you may

  stand in need of it all, towards the repair of your house."

  "Rogue, rogue," replied the spider, "yet methinks you should have

  more respect to a person whom all the world allows to be so much

  your betters." "By my troth," said the bee, "the comparison will

  amount to a very good jest, and you will do me a favour to let me

  know the reasons that all the world is pleased to use in so hopeful

  a dispute." At this the spider, having swelled himself into the

  size and posture of a disputant, began his argument in the true

  spirit of controversy, with resolution to be heartily scurrilous

  and angry, to urge on his own reasons without the least regard to

  the answers or objections of his opposite, and fully predetermined

  in his mind against all conviction.

  "Not to disparage myself," said he, "by the comparison with such a

  rascal, what art thou but a vagabond without house or home, without

  stock or inheritance? born to no possession of your own, but a pair

  of wings and a drone-pipe. Your livelihood is a universal plunder

  upon nature; a freebooter over fields and gardens; and, for the

  sake of stealing, will rob a nettle as easily as a violet. Whereas

  I am a domestic animal, furnished with a native stock within

  myself. This large castle (to show my improvements in the

  mathematics) is all built with my own hands, and the materials

  extracted altogether out of my own person."

  "I am glad," answered the bee, "to hear you grant at least that I

  am come honestly by my wings and my voice; for then, it seems, I am

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  obliged to Heaven alone for my flights and my music; and Providence

  would never have bestowed on me two such gifts without designing

  them for the noblest ends. I visit, indeed, all the flowers and

  blossoms of the field and garden, but whatever I collect thence

  enriches myself without the least injury to their beauty, their

  smell, or their taste. Now, for you and your skill in architecture

  and other mathematics, I have little to say: in that building of

  yours there might, for aught I know, have been labour and method

  enough; but, by woeful experience for us both, it is too plain the

  materials are naught; and I hope you will henceforth take warning,

  and consider duration and matter, as well as method and art. You

  boast, indeed, of being obliged to no other creature, but of

  drawing and spinning out all from yourself; that is to say, if we

  may judge of the liquor in the vessel by what issues out, you

  possess a good plentiful store of dirt and poison in your breast;

  and, though I would by no means lesson or disparage your genuine

  stock of either, yet I doubt you are somewhat obliged, for an

  increase of both, to a little foreign assistance. Your inherent

  portion of dirt does not fall of acquisitions, by sweepings exhaled

  from below; and one insect furnishes you with a share of poison to

  destroy another. So that, in short, the question comes all to

  this: whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by


  lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride,

  feeding, and engendering on itself, turns all into excrement and

  venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that

  which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true

  judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.


  This dispute was managed with such eagerness, clamour, and warmth,

  that the two parties of books, in arms below, stood silent a while,

  waiting in suspense
what would be the issue; which was not long

  undetermined: for the bee, grown impatient at so much loss of

  time, fled straight away to a bed of roses, without looking for


  reply, and left the spider, like an orator, collected in himself,

  and just prepared to burst out.

  It happened upon this emergency that AEsop broke silence first. He

  had been of late most barbarously treated by a strange effect of

  the regent's humanity, who had torn off his title-page, sorely

  defaced one half of his leaves, and chained him fast among a shelf

  of Moderns. Where, soon discovering how high the quarrel was

  likely to proceed, he tried all his arts, and turned himself to


  thousand forms. At length, in the borrowed shape of an ass, the

  regent mistook him for a Modern; by which means he had time and

  opportunity to escape to the Ancients, just when the spider and the

  bee were entering into their contest; to which he gave his

  attention with a world of pleasure, and, when it was ended, swore

  in the loudest key that in all his life he had never known two

  cases, so parallel and adapt to each other as that in the window

  and this upon the shelves. "The disputants," said he, "have

  admirably managed the dispute between them, have taken in the full

  strength of all that is to be said on both sides, and exhausted the

  substance of every argument PRO and CON. It is but to adjust the

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  reasonings of both to the present quarrel, then to compare and

  apply the labours and fruits of each, as the bee has learnedly

  deduced them, and we shall find the conclusion fall plain and close

  upon the Moderns and us. For pray, gentlemen, was ever anything so

  modern as the spider in his air, his turns, and his paradoxes? he

  argues in the behalf of you, his brethren, and himself, with many

  boastings of his native stock and great genius; that he spins and

  spits wholly from himself, and scorns to own any obligation or

  assistance from without. Then he displays to you his great skill

  in architecture and improvement in the mathematics. To all this

  the bee, as an advocate retained by us, the Ancients, thinks fit to

  answer, that, if one may judge of the great genius or inventions of

  the Moderns by what they have produced, you will hardly have

  countenance to bear you out in boasting of either. Erect your

  schemes with as much method and skill as you please; yet, if the

  materials be nothing but dirt, spun out of your own entrails (the

  guts of modern brains), the edifice will conclude at last in a

  cobweb; the duration of which, like that of other spiders' webs,

  may be imputed to their being forgotten, or neglected, or hid in a

  corner. For anything else of genuine that the Moderns may pretend

  to, I cannot recollect; unless it be a large vein of wrangling and

  satire, much of a nature and substance with the spiders' poison;

  which, however they pretend to spit wholly out of themselves, is

  improved by the same arts, by feeding upon the insects and vermin

  of the age. As for us, the Ancients, we are content with the bee,

  to pretend to nothing of our own beyond our wings and our voice:

  that is to say, our flights and our language. For the rest,

  whatever we have got has been by infinite labour and search, and

  ranging through every corner of nature; the difference is, that,

  instead of dirt and poison, we have rather chosen to till our hives

  with honey and wax; thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of

  things, which are sweetness and light."

  It is wonderful to conceive the tumult arisen among the books upon

  the close of this long descant of AEsop: both parties took the

  hint, and heightened their animosities so on a sudden, that they

  resolved it should come to a battle. Immediately the two main

  bodies withdrew, under their several ensigns, to the farther parts

  of the library, and there entered into cabals and consults upon the

  present emergency. The Moderns were in very warm debates upon the

  choice of their leaders; and nothing less than the fear impending

  from their enemies could have kept them from mutinies upon this

  occasion. The difference was greatest among the horse, where every

  private trooper pretended to the chief command, from Tasso and

  Milton to Dryden and Wither. The light-horse were commanded by

  Cowley and Despreaux. There came the bowmen under their valiant

  leaders, Descartes, Gassendi, and Hobbes; whose strength was such

  that they could shoot their arrows beyond the atmosphere, never to

  fall down again, but turn, like that of Evander, into meteors; or,

  like the cannon-ball, into stars. Paracelsus brought a squadron of

  stinkpot-flingers from the snowy mountains of Rhaetia. There came

  a vast body of dragoons, of different nations, under the leading of

  Harvey, their great aga: part armed with scythes, the weapons of

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  death; part with lances and long knives, all steeped in poison;

  part shot bullets of a most malignant nature, and used white

  powder, which infallibly killed without report. There came several

  bodies of heavy-armed foot, all mercenaries, under the ensigns of

  Guicciardini, Davila, Polydore Vergil, Buchanan, Mariana, Camden,

  and others. The engineers were commanded by Regiomontanus and

  Wilkins. The rest was a confused multitude, led by Scotus,

  Aquinas, and Bellarmine; of mighty bulk and stature, but without

  either arms, courage, or discipline. In the last place came

  infinite swarms of calones, a disorderly rout led by L'Estrange;

  rogues and ragamuffins, that follow the camp for nothing but the

  plunder, all without coats to cover them.

  The army of the Ancients was much fewer in number; Homer led the

  horse, and Pindar the light-horse; Euclid was chief engineer; Plato

  and Aristotle commanded the bowmen; Herodotus and Livy the foot;

  Hippocrates, the dragoons; the allies, led by Vossius and Temple,

  brought up the rear.

  All things violently tending to a decisive battle, Fame, who much

  frequented, and had a large apartment formerly assigned her in the

  regal library, fled up straight to Jupiter, to whom she delivered a

  faithful account of all that passed between the two parties below;

  for among the gods she always tells truth. Jove, in great concern,

  convokes a council in the Milky Way. The senate assembled, he

  declares the occasion of convening them; a bloody battle just

  impendent between two mighty armies of ancient and modern

  creatures, called books, wherein the celestial interest was but too

  deeply concerned. Momus, the patron of the Moderns, made an

  excellent speech in their favour, which was answered by Pallas, the

  protectress of the Ancients. The assembly was divided in their

  affections; when Jup
iter commanded the Book of Fate to be laid

  before him. Immediately were brought by Mercury three large

  volumes in folio, containing memoirs of all things past, present,

  and to come. The clasps were of silver double gilt, the covers of

  celestial turkey leather, and the paper such as here on earth might

  pass almost for vellum. Jupiter, having silently read the decree,

  would communicate the import to none, but presently shut up the


  Without the doors of this assembly there attended a vast number of

  light, nimble gods, menial servants to Jupiter: those are his

  ministering instruments in all affairs below. They travel in a

  caravan, more or less together, and are fastened to each other like

  a link of galley-slaves, by a light chain, which passes from them

  to Jupiter's great toe: and yet, in receiving or delivering a

  message, they may never approach above the lowest step of his

  throne, where he and they whisper to each other through a large

  hollow trunk. These deities are called by mortal men accidents or

  events; but the gods call them second causes. Jupiter having

  delivered his message to a certain number of these divinities, they

  flew immediately down to the pinnacle of the regal library, and

  consulting a few minutes, entered unseen, and disposed the parties

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  according to their orders.

  Meanwhile Momus, fearing the worst, and calling to mind an ancient

  prophecy which bore no very good face to his children the Moderns,

  bent his flight to the region of a malignant deity called

  Criticism. She dwelt on the top of a snowy mountain in Nova

  Zembla; there Momus found her extended in her den, upon the spoils

  of numberless volumes, half devoured. At her right hand sat

  Ignorance, her father and husband, blind with age; at her left,

  Pride, her mother, dressing her up in the scraps of paper herself

  had torn. There was Opinion, her sister, light of foot, hoodwinked,

  and head-strong, yet giddy and perpetually turning. About

  her played her children, Noise and Impudence, Dulness and Vanity,

  Positiveness, Pedantry, and Ill-manners. The goddess herself had

  claws like a cat; her head, and ears, and voice resembled those of

  an ass; her teeth fallen out before, her eyes turned inward, as if

  she looked only upon herself; her diet was the overflowing of her

  own gall; her spleen was so large as to stand prominent, like a dug

  of the first rate; nor wanted excrescences in form of teats, at

  which a crew of ugly monsters were greedily sucking; and, what is

  wonderful to conceive, the bulk of spleen increased faster than the

  sucking could diminish it. "Goddess," said Momus, "can you sit

  idly here while our devout worshippers, the Moderns, are this

  minute entering into a cruel battle, and perhaps now lying under

  the swords of their enemies? who then hereafter will ever sacrifice

  or build altars to our divinities? Haste, therefore, to the

  British Isle, and, if possible, prevent their destruction; while I

  make factions among the gods, and gain them over to our party."

  Momus, having thus delivered himself, stayed not for an answer, but

  left the goddess to her own resentment. Up she rose in a rage,

  and, as it is the form on such occasions, began a soliloquy: "It

  is I" (said she) "who give wisdom to infants and idiots; by me

  children grow wiser than their parents, by me beaux become

  politicians, and schoolboys judges of philosophy; by me sophisters

  debate and conclude upon the depths of knowledge; and coffee-house

  wits, instinct by me, can correct an author's style, and display

  his minutest errors, without understanding a syllable of his matter

  or his language; by me striplings spend their judgment, as they do

  their estate, before it comes into their hands. It is I who have

  deposed wit and knowledge from their empire over poetry, and

  advanced myself in their stead. And shall a few upstart Ancients

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