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A satire portraying a literal battle between books in the St. James library, together with fifteen other pieces


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A satire portraying a literal battle between books in the St. James library, together with fifteen other pieces

30 review for The Battle of the Books and Other Short Pieces

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rick Davis

    The Battle of the Books and other Short Pieces introduced me to Jonathan Swift in a whole new way. I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of Gulliver’s Travels. It’s a fun sort of book with some clever satire, but it’s always really fallen flat with me. I just assumed that it is the best thing Swift ever wrote, as it is the one piece by him required for almost every school. This collection of his shorter writings showed me I was wrong. The book opens with a short story called “The Battle The Battle of the Books and other Short Pieces introduced me to Jonathan Swift in a whole new way. I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of Gulliver’s Travels. It’s a fun sort of book with some clever satire, but it’s always really fallen flat with me. I just assumed that it is the best thing Swift ever wrote, as it is the one piece by him required for almost every school. This collection of his shorter writings showed me I was wrong. The book opens with a short story called “The Battle of the Books.” Apparently in Swift’s day there was quite a bit of disagreement in the educational world over which books were more valuable and important to read. One school of thought favored the ancient writers, the other favored the moderns. The raging debate finds its way into St. James’s library where the books literally take up arms and go to war with one another in a hilarious parody of The Iliad. Some of my favorite passages: “It happened upon this emergency that Æsop 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 a 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” “Then Aristotle, observing Bacon advance with a furious mien, drew his bow to the head, and let fly his arrow, which missed the valiant Modern and went whizzing over his head; but Descartes it hit; the steel point quickly found a defect in his head-piece; it pierced the leather and the pasteboard, and went in at his right eye.” “When Homer appeared at the head of the cavalry, mounted on a furious horse, with difficulty managed by the rider himself, but which no other mortal durst approach; he rode among the enemy’s ranks, and bore down all before him. Say, goddess, whom he slew first and whom he slew last! First, Gondibert advanced against him, clad in heavy armour and mounted on a staid sober gelding, not so famed for his speed as his docility in kneeling whenever his rider would mount or alight. He had made a vow to Pallas that he would never leave the field till he had spoiled Homer of his armour: madman, who had never once seen the wearer, nor understood his strength! Him Homer overthrew, horse and man, to the ground, there to be trampled and choked in the dirt.” After this is included a “Meditation Upon a Broomstick,” apparently a parody of a popular moralist of his day. This one would probably have been funnier if I had read anything by the author being parodied. The selection that follows is a dry satire of astrology and almanacs in which Swift, writing under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff, predicts the death of one of the leading almanac makers of the day. Apparently his satire was so successful that many people really believed that the almanac maker, Mr. Partridge, had died. Poor Mr. Partridge had a difficult time convincing his creditors and business partners that he was still alive. There are a few clever but not amazing poems after this, followed by some birthday poems to the love of Swift’s life, Stella. After this are printed two prayers written by Swift while Stella was dying. These are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt and really show the deep Christian devotion of Swift behind his playful exterior. Finally the book is rounded out with an essay with perhaps the best title ever: “An Argument to Prove that the Abolishing of Christianity in England May, As Things Now Stand, Be Attended with Some Inconveniences, and Perhaps Not Produce Those Many Good Effects Proposed Thereby.” This is a brilliant piece of biting satire lobbed by Swift at the growing secularism of his day. Many parts of it could have been written yesterday with America in mind. The book concludes with a collection of sayings by Swift that are not part of larger essays. I came away from this book with a new appreciation for Jonathan Swift as an author, thinker and satirist. This book is just the thing to instill an appreciation for the breadth and depth of this great writer.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Hope

    Swift's satire, written in 1697, describes the battle between ancient and modern books. At that time, "ancient" referred to the Greek classics and “modern” referred to books written in the 17th century. It was a rebuttal to authors who were writing that modern knowledge had surpassed the knowledge that had been available in earlier books. Swift argued that the essential ideas taught by Aristotle and others were just as valid and important as ever. I’m a fan of 19th century classics (not Swift’s d Swift's satire, written in 1697, describes the battle between ancient and modern books. At that time, "ancient" referred to the Greek classics and “modern” referred to books written in the 17th century. It was a rebuttal to authors who were writing that modern knowledge had surpassed the knowledge that had been available in earlier books. Swift argued that the essential ideas taught by Aristotle and others were just as valid and important as ever. I’m a fan of 19th century classics (not Swift’s definition of the word) and tend to disdain lack of depth in modern “usurpers” so I thoroughly enjoyed Swift’s criticism’s. It’s a pity that his razor sharp wit is cloaked in archaic language and spellings. Take heart, though. It’s only twenty pages long and worth the effort. It also helps to read an article about the essay beforehand so you can recognize the authors whose names are being mentioned.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed el-Masri

    Outwardly, this essay seemed to be an unreadable text. However, when I began to comprehend the essence of the story and its magnitude, I perceived that it was much easier than one can conceive. Indeed, it has paved the way for me to get acknowledged with a number of new words and their usage. It was also that it has got me acquainted with the Greek Mythology and some gods of this great nation. Overall, since it is known that theories are meaningless without experimentation, and fiction is the li Outwardly, this essay seemed to be an unreadable text. However, when I began to comprehend the essence of the story and its magnitude, I perceived that it was much easier than one can conceive. Indeed, it has paved the way for me to get acknowledged with a number of new words and their usage. It was also that it has got me acquainted with the Greek Mythology and some gods of this great nation. Overall, since it is known that theories are meaningless without experimentation, and fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth, it is discerned that the portrayal of the battle between ancient and modern books was something prudent and rational to a great extent. Therefore, I feel it important for everyone to have the chance of reading such a comic satire.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Suhasini Srihari

    "The Battle of the Books" by Jonathan Swift was an amazing read! There is a battle that actually happens between the Ancients and the Moderns (NB: In Swift's time, some scholars favoured the Ancients, the old and the classic; while some favoured the Moderns, the new and innovative.) in the King's library. However, the MS remains unfinished, so, we do not really get to know who wins the battle. The satire is prolific and Swift has effectively portrayed how "wit without knowledge" serves no purpos "The Battle of the Books" by Jonathan Swift was an amazing read! There is a battle that actually happens between the Ancients and the Moderns (NB: In Swift's time, some scholars favoured the Ancients, the old and the classic; while some favoured the Moderns, the new and innovative.) in the King's library. However, the MS remains unfinished, so, we do not really get to know who wins the battle. The satire is prolific and Swift has effectively portrayed how "wit without knowledge" serves no purpose nor bears any meaning at all. It was a delightful read indeed.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Delightfully creative of the Ancients versus the Moderns among the library shelves. Swift uses excellent languages, suitable words, imagery of library shelves, and enough true places and names to bring a verisimilitude to the battle. It is a satire in poking the puffery of those admiring the Moderns in philosophic advocacy counter to the eternal presumption of the Ancients. Yet he seems to work too hard to create a classic conflict. The whimsy gets lost as it seems to get warped into a classic c Delightfully creative of the Ancients versus the Moderns among the library shelves. Swift uses excellent languages, suitable words, imagery of library shelves, and enough true places and names to bring a verisimilitude to the battle. It is a satire in poking the puffery of those admiring the Moderns in philosophic advocacy counter to the eternal presumption of the Ancients. Yet he seems to work too hard to create a classic conflict. The whimsy gets lost as it seems to get warped into a classic collegiate debate. "In this piece, there is an epic battle fought in a library when various books come alive and attempt to settle the arguments between moderns and ancients. There are images of crowded books on shelves, a mix from the ages, a confusion of images led by a handful of classicists and Medievilists of fame. This strong introduction concludes with a gap, characterized by "hiatus valde deflendus" i.e. a gap greatly to be deplored. After thirty pages, Swift inserts "The Episode of Bentley and Wotton" which leads the reader to wonder if ensuing particular combat of singular groups may play this out in detail. Well, Bentley is described as a Captain, the most deformed of the Moderns; tall, but without shape or comeliness; large, but without strength or proportion. His armor was patched up of a thousand incoherent pieces, and the sound of it, as he marched, was loud an dry, like that made by the fall of a sheet of lead .... And, with him, for his aid and companion, he took his beloved Wotton ...." Thus does Swift make fun of the Moderns. Still, you know that Swift will give the Ancients their turn of military and apparent ridicule. In Swift's satire, he skillfully manages to avoid saying which way victory fell. He portrays the manuscript as having been damaged in places, "Desunt Caetera" ('the rest are missing' —used especially to indicate that a manuscript is incomplete), thus leaving the end of the battle up to the reader." And that to me seems a skillful conclusion. The combat in the "Battle" is interrupted by the interpolated allegory of the spider and the bee. And this diversion also seems rather feeble to my reading and does not offer a good viable metaphor. Swift strained rather too much on this insertion. Yet, one advocate has stated:- "This allegory was already somewhat old before Swift employed it, and it is a digression within the Battle proper. However, it also illustrates the theme of the whole work. The bee is like the ancients and like authors: it gathers its materials from nature and sings its drone song in the fields. The spider is like the moderns and like critics: it kills the weak and then spins its web (books of criticism) from the taint of its own body digesting the viscera."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Swift's shorter works are much better than Gulliver's Travels. Swift's shorter works are much better than Gulliver's Travels.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Batgrl (Book Data Kept Elsewhere)

    Gutenberg version here. First use in print of phrase "sweetness and light." Gutenberg version here. First use in print of phrase "sweetness and light."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julie S.

    Literal battle between works of literature? Count me in!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rex Libris

    I read it for the Battle of the Books, but many of the other essays and poems are good reads too.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Angela

  11. 4 out of 5

    Grigoria

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lakshmi

  13. 4 out of 5

    Terry Everett

  14. 4 out of 5

    ♥☆~Lakshmi

  15. 4 out of 5

    Abdullah

  16. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Evavold

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wendi Wanders

  18. 5 out of 5

    Juanita

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eunice

  20. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dr S

  22. 5 out of 5

    Juan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Brown

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Vaughan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joe Strange

  26. 4 out of 5

    Federico

  27. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hollway

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dw

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jaap

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael Austin

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