The Battle of the Books

 

As journalists these days are staking out their position on the Tree of Life, somewhere between amphibians and reptiles, I was reminded of one of the great works of Jonathan Swift, probably the most imaginative English writer in the last few hundred years.

In “The Battle of the Books” he recounts a war between the writers of the Ancient World and their modern critics, carried out as a phantasmagorical war of books that takes place in St James’s Library. The modern “critics”, of course, are full of contempt for traditional wisdom built up through the Ages, and so full of themselves, puffed up with their progressive modernisms.

[Immediately, that brings to mind the whole slew of modern journalists, pretending to report and analyze, but really venting their collective leftist spleen against President Trump, his family, their country and all normal, sane people.]

Momus, the patron of the Moderns, in conducting the battle,

… 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, hood-winked, 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.

Momus then entreats the goddess Criticism to hasten to the British Isle, thereby

…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 dare to oppose me? But come, my aged parent, and you, my children dear, and thou, my beauteous sister; let us ascend my chariot, and haste to assist our devout Moderns, who are now sacrificing to us a hecatomb, as I perceive by that grateful smell which from thence reaches my nostrils.”

Ah!, to be blessed with Swift’s powers of invective…one can but dream.

Rebel Yell

Bookmark and Share

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *