Introduction Overview Images KU Leuven Penn Library

Back to Image List

"The Battle of the Books" appeared in A Tale of a Tub, here shown in its fifth edition, the first to contain the illustrations that have now become famous. Swift's satire was occasioned by "the famous Dispute . . . about Antient and Modern Learning" that, as "The Bookseller to the Reader" explains,

took its Rise from an Essay of Sir William Temple's, upon that Subject; which was answer'd by W. Wotton, B.D. with an Appendix by Dr. Bently, endeavouring to destroy the Credit of Aesop and Phalaris . . .

A partisan of Temple, for whom he had worked and on whom he depended, Swift leapt into the fray with a book that, like Pope's Dunciad, has done more to destroy Bentley's reputation outside the field of classical philology than even the arrogantly combative Bentley deserved. Wotton and "his Lover B--ntl--y" meet an unhappy end:

Boyle . . . took a Launce of wondrous Length and sharpness; and as this Pair of Friends compacted stood close Side by Side, he wheel'd him to the right, and with unusual Force, darted the Weapon. B--ntl--ey saw his Fate approach, and flanking down his Arms, close to his Ribs, hoping to save his Body; in went the Point . . . , [which] also pierc'd the valiant W--tt--n . . .

"Going to sustain his dying Friend," Wotton "shared his Fate." Evidently, Swift viewed the wages of philology -- Bentley's philology, anyway -- as death.

Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745. A tale of a tub. Written for the universal improvement of mankind. . . . To which is added, An account of a battel, between the antient and modern books in St. James's Library. . . . The fifth edition: with the author's apology and explanatory notes. By W. W--tt--n, B.D. and others. London: Printed for John Nutt, 1710. Teerink PR3724.T3.1710.