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When this wild work first raised the attention of the publick, Sacheverell, meeting Smalridge, tried to flatter bim, by seeming to think him the author; but Smalridge answered with indignation, “ Not all that you and I have in the world, nor all that ever we shall have, should hire me to write the Tale of a Tub.'"
The digressions relating to Wotton and Bentley must be confessed to discover want of knowledge, or want of integrity; he did not understand the two controversies, or he willingly misrepresented them. But Wit can stand its ground against Truth only a little while. The honours due to learning have been justly distributed by the decision of posterity.
“ The Battle of the Books" is so like the “ Combat des
? A full and true Account of the Battle fought last Friday between the Antient and the Modern Books in Saint James's Library, published 1704, in the same volume as the Tale of the Tub. S. S. vol. x. p. 217.
This jeu d'ésprit relates to two keen and memorable controversies, which at that time divided the literary world. The first was the grand comparison between ancient and modern learning. Fontenelle and Perrault were the first modern authors who dared to assume to their own times a superiority over the ancients. Fontenelle denied the ancients any preference in philosophy and mathematics, and even placed the moderns upon a level with them in poetry and oratory. Perrault supported Fontenelle, and claimed, moreover, for his own age and for the French Academy, the superiority in painting and architecture. This doctrine was as unpalatable to English scholurs as it had been to those of France, and Sir William Temple published in answer, his Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning. Wotton and Bentley replying, Swift's powers of satire were naturally exerted in behalf of bis patron. A second subject of controversy, more private and petty, and therefore conducted with greater animosity, was involved with this, namely, a violent dispute between Boyle, afterwards Lord Orrery, and Bentley, over an edition of the Epistles Phalaris. FC a full account, see S. vol. x. p. 219.
The old Royal Library at St. James's was founded by Henry VIII., and well furnished with books collected by John Leland and others at the dissolution of the Abbeys. Bentley, the celebrated critic and classic, was keeper both of the St. James's and Cottonian Libraries.
Livres," I which the same question concerning the Ancients and Moderns had produced in France, that the improbability of such a coincidence of thoughts without communi. cation is not, in my opinion, balanced by the anonymous protestation prefixed,' in which all knowledge of the French book is peremptorily disowned.
For some time after Swift was probably employed in solitary study, gaining the qualifications requisite for future eminence. How often he visited England, and with what diligence he attended his parishes, I know not. It was not till about four years afterwards that he became a professed author, and then one year (1708) produced “The Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man;"* the ridicule of Astrology, under the name of “Bickerstaff ;
1 Johnson probably took the title Combat des Livres from A Defence of the Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning in Answer to the Objections of Sir Wm. Temple, by W. Wotton, B.D. 1705, where it is given, but the book itself has not been found. Probably the work meant was the Histoire Poetique de la Guerre nouvellement declarée entre les Anciens et les Modernes in 12 books, 1688, for no one can examine it without agreeing with Scott who points out its strong resemblance with the Battle of the Books “in the plan and management of the literary warfare.” But Scott is curiously wrong in ascribing this book to “Coutray,” whereas the author was François de Callières, and calling it “a spirited poem” omitting to observe that it is written in prose. Hallam says (Lit. Eur. vol. iv. p. 559),“ The Battle of the Books is such an improvement of the similar combat in the Lutrin (Boileau) that we can hardly own it an imitation."
2 C. Perrault, Parallèle des Anciens et Modernes, answered by Boileau. 3 An Apology, prefixed to the fifth edition of the Tale of a Tub. 4 S. S. vol. viii. pp. 247-280. Forster, p. 232.
Predictions for the year 1708. Scott remarks that“ the solemn, ambiguous, and authoritative style assumed by these astrologers (almanack makers or, as they called themselves, Philomaths) afforded an ample field for the exercise of Swift's irony, who has imitated with exquisite dexterity the mysterious style of their annual predictions.” S. S. vol. viii. p. 454. See Forster, p. 221-226. Steele paid the highest compliment to the name which Swift had rendered famous through all Europe, by publishing the Tatler as the “first of the lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esquire."
the “ Argument against abolishing Christianity;") and the defence of the “ Sacramental Test.'
“ The Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man" is written with great coolness, moderation, ease, and perspicuity. The “ Argument against abolishing Christianity” is a very happy and judicious irony. One passage in it deserves to be selected.
“If Christianity were once abolished, how could the free-thinkers, the strong reasoners, and the men of profound learning, be able to find another subject so calculated, in all points, whereon to display their abilities? What wonderful productions of wit should we be deprived of from those, whose genius, by continual practice, hath been wholly turned upon raillery and invectives against religion, and would therefore never be able to shine, or distinguish themselves, upon any other subject ? We are daily complaining of the great decline of wit among us, and would take away the greatest, perhaps the only, topick we have left. Who would ever have suspected Asgill for a wit, or Toland for a philosopher, if the inexhaustible stock of Christianity had not been at hand to provide thein with materials ? What other subject, through all art or nature, could have produced Tindal for a profound author, or furnished him with readers ? It is the wise choice of the subject that alone adorns and distinguishes the writer. For had an hundred such pens as these been employed on the side of religion, they would have immediately sunk into silence and oblivion." 3
The reasonableness of a Test is not hard to be proved;
1 S. S. vol. viii. pp. 61-78.
2 A letter from a Member of the House of Commons in Ireland, to a Member of the House of Commons in England, concerning the sacramental test, 1708. S. S. vol. viii. pp. 351-374. Forster, pp. 247
3 S. S. vol. viii. p. 74.
but perhaps it must be allowed that the proper test has not been chosen.
The attention paid to the papers published under the name of Bickerstaff, induced Steele, when he projected the
· Tatler,” to assume an appellation which had already gained possession of the reader's notice.
In the year following he wrote a “ Project for the Advancement of Religion," addressed to Lady Berkeley ; by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was advanced to his benefices. To this project, which is formed with great purity of intention, and displayed with spriteliness and elegance, it can only be objected, that, like many projects, it is, if not generally impracticable, yet evidently hopeless, as it supposes more zeal, concord, and perseverance, than a view of mankind gives reason for expecting.
He wrote likewise this year a “ Vindication of Bickerstaff;"2 and an explanation of an “ Ancient Prophecy," 3 part written after the facts, and the rest never completed, but well planned to excite amazement.
Soon after began the busy and important part of Swift's life. He was employed (1710) by the primate of Ireland to solicit the Queen for a remission of the First Fruits and Twentieth parts to the Irish Clergy."
With this purpose 1 This treatise was written about 1709, when Swift was Chaplain in the family of Lord Berkeley. It was of this paper Steele wrote in Tatler, No. 5, and after describing the importance of its subject matter and the charm of its style, he says :-“ It was said by one in company, alluding to that knowledge of the world this author seems to have, “The man writes much like a gentleman, and goes to Heaven with a very good mien."" S. S. vol. viii. p. 81.
2 S. S. vol. viii. pp. 490-497. 3 This must be a famous Prediction of Merlin, the British Wizard, 66 written above a thousand years ago, and relating to the year 1709.” S. S. vol. viii. p. 498. Swift also wrote A Wonderful Prophecy. “Breathed forth in the year 1712.” S. S. vol. xiii. p. 258.
4 Dr. Narcissus Marsh.-P. CUNNINGHAM.
5 Swift's Memorial to Harley on this subject. S. S. vol. xv, p. 381. Forster, pp. 174, 317.
he had recourse to Mr. Harley, to whom he was mentioned as a man neglected and oppressed by the last ministry, because he had refused to co-operate with some of their schemes. What he had refused, has never been told; what he had suffered was, I suppose, the exclusion from a bishoprick by the remonstrances of Sharpe,” whom he describes as the harmless tool of others hate, and whom he represents as afterwards suing for pardon.
Harley's designs and situation were such as made him glad of an auxiliary so well qualified for his service ; he therefore soon admitted him to familiarity, whether ever to confidence some have made a doubt; but it would have been difficult to excite his zeal without persuading him that he was trusted, and not very easy to delude him by false persuasions.
He was certainly admitted to those meetings in which the first hints and original plan of action are supposed to have been formed; and was one of the sixteen Ministers, or agents of the Ministry, who met weekly at each other's houses, and were united by the name of Brother.
Being not immediately considered as an obdurate Tory, he conversed indiscriminately with all his wits, and was yet the friend of Steele ; who, in the “ Tatler,” which began in 1710, confesses the advantages of his conversation, and mentions something contributed by him to his paper. But he was now immerging into political controversy; for the
Tory Prime Minister under Queen Anne, afterwards Earl of Oxford, died 1724.
2 Archbishop of York. Dr. John Sharpe, who for some unbecoming reflections in his sermons, had been suspended, May 14th, 1686, was raised from the Deanery of Canterbury to the Archbishopric of York, 1691, and died, 1712-13. He was the “ poor York ” of The Author upon himself. A satirical and political poem. S. S. vol. xii. pp. 315-318.
3 S. S. vol.i.p. 148. Vid. supr. vol.ii.p.190, for the names of the members.
4 In Tatler, No. 230, Swift anticipates the strange proposal he subsequently made to Harley for an English Academy, by a paper on false