The Mind and Art of Jonathan Swift

By Ricardo Quintana | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND A TALE OF A TUB

1

IN the spring of 1704 London was gratifyingly scandalized by the appearance of a book the brilliant impertinence of which became at once the subject of immense discussion. It 'has made as much noise,' one report ran, 'and is as full of wit, as any book perhaps that has come out these last hundred years.'1 Its anonymity only served to spread its fame. From Oxford came word that it had originated there -- the work of Edmund Smith and John Philips.2 But still the rumours ran, assigning the authorship of this shocking volume with superb indifference to reputation. When 'the famous Dr. Smalridge' was touched by the voice of scandal, he declared to Sacheverell that not all they both possessed or that ever they should possess could have hired him to write it.3 Another of those stigmatized, William King, cleared himself by issuing Some Remarks on The Tale of a Tub, in which he charged that almost every part of this gross book had 'a Tincture of such Filthiness' as rendered it 'unfit for the worst of Uses.' Some there were who having nothing to lose by being supposed the authors could afford to estimate it more judiciously: ''Tis very well written and will do good service,' wrote Atterbury,4 though he recognized that its profane strokes, bound to be misinterpreted, would -- as he expressed it elsewhere -- do the author's reputation and interest in the world more harm than the wit can do him good.'5

In the first issue of A Tale of a Tub, as in all subsequent editions, appeared also A Full and True Account Of The Battel Fought last Friday, Between the Ancient and the Modern Books In St. James's Library and A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit. By 1710 the authorship of the volume, which Swift never openly acknowledged, had settled definitely on him. The literary

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