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OF THE BOOKS
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 in their place; or else the said ancients will give leave to the moderns to come with shovels and mattocks, and level the 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 license, 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 here be 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
* Sir William Temple affects to trace the progress of arts and sciences from east to west. Thus the moderns had only such knowledge of the learning of Chaldæa and Egypt as was conveyed to them through the inedium of Grecian and Roman writers.
of 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 in all 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 there 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
* Their title-pages.
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 held fast with a chain.
By this expedient, the public peace of libraries inight certainly have been preserved, if a new species of controversial books had not arose 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 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 every body'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 hereof.
The guardian of the regal library, * a person of great valour, but chiefly renowned for his humanity, t 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
* Dr Bentley was appointed Royal Librarian, 23d December, 1693, upon the death of his predecessor, Mr Justell. He had already distinguished himself by his learning, and by his excellent sermons, preached at Boyle's Lectures, for which he received the thanks of the trustees.
+ The dispute concerning the loan of the manuscript of Phala. ris, led Mr Boyle, the editor, thus to express himself in his preface:
“ Collatas etiam (Epistolas, viz.) curadi usque at Epistolam XL. cum manuscripto in Bibliothecâ Regiả, cujus mihi copiam ulteriorem Bibliothecarius pro singulari sua humanitate negavit."This was the sparkle which kindled so hot a flame. Dr Bentley does not quite clear himself of having been a little churlish concerning the manuscript, and even of having expressed an opinion very unworthy of his good sense and learning, that, when collated, it was lessened in value, and no better than a squeezed orange:The answer, could the supposed deterioration in value be admitted, would be, that both the orange and manuscript were put to their proper use. But a manuscript, of which the value is ascertained by collation, is in fact more precious than when it remains a matter of undefined curiosity.
| Dr Bentley aided Wotton in his Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, by proving that the works of Phalaris and Æsop, authors extolled by Sir William Temple, were in reality spurious.