The Battle of the Books In Plain and Simple English (Digital Download)
Books at War: A Satirical Clash of Titans!

Step into the uproarious arena of "The Battle of the Books", a masterwork hailed as one of the most riveting political satires in literary history. But this isn't just any battle—it's an uproarious skirmish set within the King's Library, where books and authors jostle for dominance.

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Excerpt From The Battle of the Books In Plain and Simple English


Satire is a type of mirror in which onlookers generally see everybody's face apart from their own; that is the main reason it gets such a very warm welcome in the world, and why so few people are offended by it. But if the opposite happens, there is no great danger. I have learned from long experience never to worry about getting grief from people who have understood my meaning. Anger and fury, although they add power to the muscles, lessen the power of the mind, making it feeble and impotent.


There is a type of brain that will only allow a person to dip into it once. Let its owner use it with discretion, and be careful how he spends his little stock. Above all he should be wary of exposing it to the attacks of those better than him, because it will all turn into uselessness, and then he will have none left. Wit without knowledge is like cream, which rises to the top of the bottle, and the skilful hand can quickly whip it into froth; once that is skimmed off, what is underneath is good for nothing but pig food.


The Account  



Any person who looks carefully over history will notice that war springs from pride, and pride comes from wealth: the first of these statements is easy to agree to, but it's not so easy to agree to the second; pride is closely related to poverty and need, either on the father or mother's side, and sometimes on both. To tell you the truth, men very seldom come into conflict when everyone has enough; invasions usually take place going from North to South, i.e. the poor attack the wealthy. The most ancient and natural reasons for fighting are lust and greed; although we might say that they are brothers, or at least related to, pride, they certainly spring from need. If we use the language of political writers, we can see in the Republic of dogs, which in its original state seems to be a democracy, that everything is at its most peaceful when they have had a good meal. Civil War starts amongst them when one great bone is grabbed by one of the leading dogs, who either shares it with just a few others, which then makes an oligarchy, or keeps it to himself, which makes a tyranny. The same thing happens with them in the battles they have when any of their females are in heat. As the right to claim to the bitch belongs to all of them (in such a tricky matter it would be impossible to determine exactly who was in the right), jealousy and suspicion is so great that all the dogs in that street are reduced to a state of war, with all citizens fighting against each other, until someone with more courage, skill or luck than the rest takes and enjoys the prize. When that happens there is naturally a great deal of disturbance and jealousy and snarling at the happy dog. Again, if we look at any of those republics engaged in wars with other countries, either as aggressor or defender, we will find that the same motivations will applied to each of them. Poverty or need, of some sort (either real or imagined, which makes no difference to how they behave), has a great part to play, as well as pride, in driving the aggressor.


Now anyone who wants to take these ideas and apply them or adapt them to matters of learning will soon discover what started the disagreement between two great parties fighting at the moment, and will be able to come to their conclusions about the merits of either side. But it is not so easy to discover what started this war, or what is happening in it, because at the moment the hotheads of either side are so passionate, and they think so much of themselves, that they won't allow any talk of agreement. I heard from an old resident of the neighbourhood that the quarrel first began over a small piece of ground on one of the double summits of the hill Parnassus. It seems that the highest and largest of the summits had always been owned by certain tenants called the Ancients; the other was held by the Moderns. But the Moderns, not liking their current position, sent some ambassadors to the Ancients, complaining that they were most annoyed. They said that the height of the summit on which the Ancients sat was spoiling the view from their part, especially if they looked eastwards. Therefore, to avoid war, they offered the Ancients two alternatives; the Ancients could either move down to the lower summit, which the Moderns would kindly give them and move over into their place; alternatively the Ancients could give the Moderns permission to bring their shovels and pitchforks and cut down the summit of the Ancients as low as they thought proper. The Ancients answered that they were very surprised to receive such a message from a group whom they had so kindly allowed to live so near to them. They said that as for their home, they were the original inhabitants, and so to talk to them about removing them or surrender was to talk in a language they did not understand. They said that if the height of their summit cut of the view of the Moderns, they couldn't help it. They also asked them to think whether the harm it did (if there was any) wasn't largely compensated for by the shade and shelter it gave them. As for levelling off or digging out the summit, that was either stupidity or ignorance, because the whole of that hill was a complete rock, which would break their tools and their hearts without taking any damage. So they said they advised the Moderns that they should try to raise up their own side of the hill rather than dream of pulling down the side of the Ancients. If they wanted to do that they would not only give them permission, but also help.


The Moderns rejected this very indignantly, insisting on one of the two alternatives they had offered. So this argument broke out into a long war, continued on one side through determination, and the courage of the leaders and allies, and on the other by strength of numbers, as every defeat brought new recruits. Great streams of ink have been used up in this quarrel and both sides have become much more bitter. Now, you must understand that ink is the great missile used in all battles between learned men. Sent through a sort of machine called a quill, great numbers of them are thrown at the enemy by the brave men on each side, with equal skill and violence, as if they were two armies of porcupines fighting. This poisonous liquid was made by its inventor from two ingredients, gall and iron sulphate. Its bitterness and poison both matched and in some ways encouraged the genius of the combatants. Like the Greeks when they couldn't agree on who had won a battle, and so set up monuments on both sides, the loser being happy to spend the money in order to keep up appearances (a fine ancient custom, which pleasingly has recently been readopted in wars), so the learned, after a sharp and bloody battle, set up their monuments on both sides, no matter who actually lost. These monuments have the merits of their cause written on them, with a full and impartial account of the battle and how the side which set up the monument clearly triumphed. These monuments are known to the world by several names, such as disputes, arguments, rejoinders, brief considerations, answers, replies, remarks, reflections, objections, confutations. For a few days they are put up in all public places, either by themselves or their representatives, for passers-by to look at; then the most important and largest ones are taken away to be put in armouries which they call libraries, where they stay in an area specifically allocated to them, and from then on they are called books of controversy.


These books contain a wonderful essence of the spirit of each warrior while he is alive; once he dies his soul moves into the book. At least, this is the general opinion; I believe that libraries are like other cemeteries, where some philosophers believe that a certain part of the human spirit hovers over the grave until the body has turned into dust or been eaten by worms, but then the spirit vanishes or dissolves. So we might say that a restless spirit hovers over every book, until it has turned to dust or the worms have eaten it. This may happen to some of them in a few days but it might happen later for others; for that reason, controversial books, which are haunted by the most chaotic spirits, have always been kept in a separate section from the rest, and to stop them committing violence against each other, our ancestors thought it was best to tie them down with strong iron chains. What inspired this idea originally was this: when the works of Scotus were first published, they were taken to a certain library and given a place; but as soon as the author was settled in he went to visit his master Aristotle, and they both joined together to grab Plato by force and throw him out of his ancient place amongst the divines, where he had lived in peace for nearly eight hundred years. They succeeded in this, and those two usurpers have ruled in his place ever since; but so that they would have peace in the future it was ordered that all the larger controversial books should be held down with chains.


This method might certainly have made sure that libraries were peaceful, if it hadn't been for the emergence of a new series of controversial books, filled with a more aggressive spirit, due to the war mentioned above between learned men about who should occupy the highest place on Parnassus.


When these books were first allowed into public libraries, I remember saying to several different people that I was sure they would create turmoil wherever they were put, unless great care was taken. Therefore I advised her that the champions of each side should be tied together, or mixed in some other way, so that they might only use their aggression on each other, just as certain poisons cancel each other out when they are blended. And it seems that both my prophecy and my advice were correct, because the terrible fight which broke out last Friday between Ancient and Modern books in the King's library was caused by this precaution being neglected. Now, because everybody is talking about this battle, and people in town are so keen to be told about it, I, having all the qualifications an historian needs, and not having any bias towards either side, have decided to agree to the urgent pleading of my friends by writing down a full and impartial account of what happened.


The Royal librarian, a very brave man but one who is chiefly known for his humanity, was very much in favour of the Moderns, and, in a battle on Parnassus, had vowed that he would knock down two of the ancient chiefs who guarded a small pass on the higher peak. However, trying to climb up, he found that he was cruelly held back by his own unfortunate weight and its tendency to drag him down. This is something which those on the Modern side often suffer from; as they are lightheaded, when they are philosophising they imagine that they have a wonderful agility and think that nothing is too high for them to climb up, but when it comes to practice they find that their backsides and their feet tend to track them down. So, having failed in his plan, this disappointed champion had a great hatred for the Ancients, which he decided he would indulge by favouring the books of their opponents, putting them in the best places. At the same time, any book which had the nerve to support the Ancients was shoved away in some obscure corner, and threatened that if it caused the slightest trouble it would be thrown out of the library.


As well as this, it happened that around this time all the books in the library got very mixed up; several reasons for this were put forward. Some thought it was caused by a great pile of learned dust, which is a cruel wind blew off the shelf of the Moderns into the librarian's eyes. Others claimed that he had been eating bookworms, swallowing them fresh, eating nothing else, and some of them fell into his spleen and some climbed into his brain, greatly disturbing both. Still others claimed that by walking around the library too much in the dark he had completely lost his bearings, and so when he was putting books back he would make mistakes and place Descartes next to Aristotle, poor Plato had been put between Hobbes and the Seven Wise Masters, and Virgil was trapped between Dryden and Wither.


Meanwhile, those books which were on the side of the Moderns chose one of their number to walk through the whole library, checking on their numbers and strength, and to arrange their business. This messenger did his work very well, and returned with a list of the available forces. In total there were fifty thousand, mainly light horsemen, heavily armed footsoldiers, and mercenaries. The footsoldiers in general had poor weapons and worse armour; their horses were large but very weak and spiritless; however, a few of them, by trading with the Ancients, had got themselves acceptable kit.


While everything was stirred up like this, there was much disagreement; hot words were exchanged between the two sides, and plenty of bad blood was caused. A single Ancient, squeezed in amongst a whole shelf of Moderns, offered to try the case fairly and to prove by clear reasoning that the Ancients had the first rights to the territory, due to their long residence, their great age and above all the great debt which the Moderns owed to them. But the Moderns denied his arguments, seeming quite amazed that the Ancients should continue to insist that they were the older, when it was so obvious that the Moderns were in fact far older, if one looked carefully. As for any debts they owed to the Ancients, they declared them all void. “It is true," they said, “that we have been told a few of our side have fallen so low as to borrow some ideas from you, but the rest, the far greater number (especially we French and English) wouldn't dream of sinking so low, indeed until this moment we never exchanged half a dozen words with you. We bred our own horses, we made our own weapons, and we sewed our own clothes." Plato happened to be up on the next shelf, and when he saw that those who were speaking were in the sorry state mentioned a while ago, with their horses thin and exhausted, their weapons made of rotten wood, their armour rusty and only rags for clothes, he laughed loudly, and pleasantly swore that by God, he believed them.


Now, the moderns had not been making their arrangements secretly enough to escape the attention of their enemy. Those speakers who have started the quarrel, by beginning to argue about who had precedence, talked so loudly about starting a battle that Sir William Temple happened to overhear them. He immediately informed the Ancients, who drew their scattered troops together, ready to act defensively; when they saw this, several of the Moderns rushed over to join them, including Temple himself. This Temple, having been educated and mixed with the Ancients for a long time, was their favourite amongst all the Moderns, and became their greatest champion.


Things had reached this crisis point when an important accident happened. At the highest corner of a large window, there was a certain spider living, who had swollen enormously through killing infinite numbers of flies, the bodies of which lay scattered around in front of the gates of his palace, like human bones in front of the cave of some giant. The roads up to his castle were guarded with gates and barricades, following the modern style of defence. After passing through several courts you came to the centre, where you could see the creature himself in his own home, which had windows looking out on each road, and doorways through which he could charge out for either attack or defence. He had lived for some time in his house in peace and prosperity. There was no danger to himself from the swallows up above, or to his palace from the brooms down below. Then a wandering bee happened to go there, which had discovered a broken pane of glass; in he went, chatting away to himself, until at last he happened to land on one of the outer walls of the spider's castle; unable to cope with his weight, it sunk down right to the centre. Three times he tried to get out, and three times the centre of the web shook. The spider inside, feeling the terrible shaking, imagined at first that nature was coming to her final end, or otherwise that the devil and all his armies were coming to take revenge for the death of the thousands of his subjects his enemy had killed and eaten. However, eventually he bravely decided to go out and meet his fate. Meanwhile the bee had freed himself from captivity, and, waiting safely at a distance, was working on cleaning his wings and pulling off the ragged remains of the spiderweb. By this time the spider had come out, and seeing the great tears and holes made in his web, he nearly lost his mind. He raged and swore like a madman, and swelled up until he was ready to burst. Eventually, seeing that the, and putting two and two together (for they knew each other by sight), he said “May a plague split you! Is it you who has done all this damage; can't you look where you were going, damn you? By the devil, do you think I haven't anything else to do apart from clearing up the mess you make?" “These are good words, my friend," said the bee, having cleaned himself up, and feeling like being funny. “I'll swear to you that I'll never come anywhere near your house again; I've never been in such rotten mess in my life." “Sir," replied the spider, “if it wasn't the ancient custom of my family never to travel to attack an enemy, I would come out and teach you better manners." “Please be patient, " said the bee, “or you will wear yourself out, and from what I can see I think you'll need all your energy to repair your house." “You rogue!" answered the spider, “I think you should have more respect for a person which all the world regards as your better." “I swear," said the bee, “it really is funny that you think that, I'd love to hear why you think the world believes that you are better." Hearing this the spider, who had swollen up for the debate, began his argument with true aggressive spirit. He was determined to be offensive and angry, to put forward his own reasons without paying any attention to the answers or objections of his opponent, and his mind was completely made up, there was no hope of changing it.


“I don't want to demean myself," he said, “by comparing myself to such a rascal; what are you but a wanderer with no home, house, no goods or inheritance? You are born with nothing apart from a pair of wings and a buzzer. You get your living by stealing from nature, robbing the fields and gardens, you're just as happy to steal from a nettle as you are from a violet. I am a domestic animal, born with my own goods inside me. This great castle (which shows my skill in mathematics) was all built with my own hands, with materials which came from inside me."


“I'm glad," the bee answered, “to hear you admit that at least my wings and my voice came to me honestly; so it seems that my flight and my music come from heaven alone, and God would never have given me gifts like these without intending them to be used for the most noble purpose. It's true that I visit all the flowers and blossoms in the fields and gardens, but whatever I collect from them makes me richer without doing the slightest harm to their beauty, their smell or their taste. As for you and your skill in architecture and other sciences, I don't have much to say about that. For all I know this building of yours might have taken plenty of work and skill, but through our recent bitter experience we can see that the materials are rubbish. I hope from now on you will take this as a warning, and think about making things sturdy, building to last, as well as thinking about art. You boast that you do nothing to any other creature, but that you spin everything out of yourself; so, if we judge the contents of a bottle by what comes out of it, you must have plenty of dirt and poison inside you. Although I don't want to belittle that which you were born with, I think you must need a little outside help to increase your stores. The dirt that is inside you is increased by breathing up the dust from down below: and when you eat one insect it gives you enough poison to kill another. So, briefly, the question comes down to this: which is the more noble creature, the one which sits in a four inch web, arrogantly feeding itself, turning everything into dirt and poison, producing nothing but fly corpses and cobwebs; or the one which flies everywhere, and through long searching, much study, good judgement and discernment, makes honey and wax."
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