History and Theory
The battle of the books had gradually narrowed the focus in the old quarrel between the ancients and the moderns to one commanding issue. Long before Bentley's career concluded in derision, it was clear that the controversy was above all about history, about how to read and understand past authors, and about how to recapture and represent past customs, institutions, and events. The struggle between rhetoric and philology, between the critical standards of the poets and men of the world on the one hand and of the scholars and antiquaries on the other, was from this perspective really an argument about the respective claims of two different and perhaps incompatible ways of doing history. And so it is not surprising that both the ancients and the moderns wrote and deliberated about history during the battle of the books, about the meaning and method of getting at the past, and about what they thought had transpired in ancient and modern times. Thus was added a further dimension to the conflict.
In the next pages, we shall take a look at some of these works in order to see how they both reflected and deepened the issues that were at stake in the quarrel. Temple had taken up history as one of the traditional humanities and defended the ancients there, as in all classical literature, for their eloquence and practical value in furnishing examples to men of affairs. Herodotus and Livy were like Homer and Virgil, supreme in their own domain, models of form and content till the end of time. The best a modern could hope to do was to imitate, that is to say, to adapt the style and shape of the ancient works to later history, though necessarily at a lower level. Wotton had of course objected. Here, as elsewhere, he paid his respects to the ancients, but he tried to diminish the supreme