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A Tale Of A Tub - The Tale of a Tub - Section V - A Digression In The Modern Kind Post by :margiezam Category :Nonfictions Author :Jonathan Swift Date :July 2011 Read :1550

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A Tale Of A Tub - The Tale of a Tub - Section V - A Digression In The Modern Kind

Section V - A Digression In The Modern Kind

We whom the world is pleased to honour with the title of modern
authors, should never have been able to compass our great design of
an everlasting remembrance and never-dying fame if our endeavours
had not been so highly serviceable to the general good of mankind.
This, O universe! is the adventurous attempt of me, thy secretary -

"Quemvis perferre laborem
Suadet, et inducit noctes vigilare serenas."

To this end I have some time since, with a world of pains and art,
dissected the carcass of human nature, and read many useful lectures
upon the several parts, both containing and contained, till at last
it smelt so strong I could preserve it no longer. Upon which I have
been at a great expense to fit up all the bones with exact
contexture and in due symmetry, so that I am ready to show a very
complete anatomy thereof to all curious gentlemen and others. But
not to digress further in the midst of a digression, as I have known
some authors enclose digressions in one another like a nest of
boxes, I do affirm that, having carefully cut up human nature, I
have found a very strange, new, and important discovery: that the
public good of mankind is performed by two ways--instruction and
diversion. And I have further proved my said several readings
(which, perhaps, the world may one day see, if I can prevail on any
friend to steal a copy, or on certain gentlemen of my admirers to be
very importunate) that, as mankind is now disposed, he receives much
greater advantage by being diverted than instructed, his epidemical
diseases being fastidiosity, amorphy, and oscitation; whereas, in
the present universal empire of wit and learning, there seems but
little matter left for instruction. However, in compliance with a
lesson of great age and authority, I have attempted carrying the
point in all its heights, and accordingly throughout this divine
treatise have skilfully kneaded up both together with a layer of
utile and a layer of dulce.

When I consider how exceedingly our illustrious moderns have
eclipsed the weak glimmering lights of the ancients, and turned them
out of the road of all fashionable commerce to a degree that our
choice town wits of most refined accomplishments are in grave
dispute whether there have been ever any ancients or no; in which
point we are like to receive wonderful satisfaction from the most
useful labours and lucubrations of that worthy modern, Dr. Bentley.
I say, when I consider all this, I cannot but bewail that no famous
modern hath ever yet attempted an universal system in a small
portable volume of all things that are to be known, or believed, or
imagined, or practised in life. I am, however, forced to
acknowledge that such an enterprise was thought on some time ago by
a great philosopher of O-Brazile. The method he proposed was by a
certain curious receipt, a nostrum, which after his untimely death I
found among his papers, and do here, out of my great affection to
the modern learned, present them with it, not doubting it may one
day encourage some worthy undertaker.

You take fair correct copies, well bound in calf's skin and lettered
at the back, of all modern bodies of arts and sciences whatsoever,
and in what language you please. These you distil in balneo Mariae,
infusing quintessence of poppy Q.S., together with three pints of
lethe, to be had from the apothecaries. You cleanse away carefully
the sordes and caput mortuum, letting all that is volatile
evaporate. You preserve only the first running, which is again to
be distilled seventeen times, till what remains will amount to about
two drams. This you keep in a glass vial hermetically sealed for
one-and-twenty days. Then you begin your catholic treatise, taking
every morning fasting (first shaking the vial) three drops of this
elixir, snuffing it strongly up your nose. It will dilate itself
about the brain (where there is any) in fourteen minutes, and you
immediately perceive in your head an infinite number of abstracts,
summaries, compendiums, extracts, collections, medullas, excerpta
quaedams, florilegias and the like, all disposed into great order
and reducible upon paper.

I must needs own it was by the assistance of this arcanum that I,
though otherwise impar, have adventured upon so daring an attempt,
never achieved or undertaken before but by a certain author called
Homer, in whom, though otherwise a person not without some
abilities, and for an ancient of a tolerable genius; I have
discovered many gross errors which are not to be forgiven his very
ashes, if by chance any of them are left. For whereas we are
assured he designed his work for a complete body of all knowledge,
human, divine, political, and mechanic {102a}, it is manifest he
hath wholly neglected some, and been very imperfect perfect in the
rest. For, first of all, as eminent a cabalist as his disciples
would represent him, his account of the opus magnum is extremely
poor and deficient; he seems to have read but very superficially
either Sendivogus, Behmen, or Anthroposophia Theomagica {102b}. He
is also quite mistaken about the sphaera pyroplastica, a neglect not
to be atoned for, and (if the reader will admit so severe a censure)
vix crederem autorem hunc unquam audivisse ignis vocem. His
failings are not less prominent in several parts of the mechanics.
For having read his writings with the utmost application usual among
modern wits, I could never yet discover the least direction about
the structure of that useful instrument a save-all; for want of
which, if the moderns had not lent their assistance, we might yet
have wandered in the dark. But I have still behind a fault far more
notorious to tax this author with; I mean his gross ignorance in the
common laws of this realm, and in the doctrine as well as discipline
of the Church of England. A defect, indeed, for which both he and
all the ancients stand most justly censured by my worthy and
ingenious friend Mr. Wotton, Bachelor of Divinity, in his
incomparable treatise of ancient and modern learning; a book never
to be sufficiently valued, whether we consider the happy turns and
flowings of the author's wit, the great usefulness of his sublime
discoveries upon the subject of flies and spittle, or the laborious
eloquence of his style. And I cannot forbear doing that author the
justice of my public acknowledgments for the great helps and
liftings I had out of his incomparable piece while I was penning
this treatise.

But besides these omissions in Homer already mentioned, the curious
reader will also observe several defects in that author's writings
for which he is not altogether so accountable. For whereas every
branch of knowledge has received such wonderful acquirements since
his age, especially within these last three years or thereabouts, it
is almost impossible he could be so very perfect in modern
discoveries as his advocates pretend. We freely acknowledge him to
be the inventor of the compass, of gunpowder, and the circulation of
the blood; but I challenge any of his admirers to show me in all his
writings a complete account of the spleen. Does he not also leave
us wholly to seek in the art of political wagering? What can be
more defective and unsatisfactory than his long dissertation upon
tea? and as to his method of salivation without mercury, so much
celebrated of late, it is to my own knowledge and experience a thing
very little to be relied on.

It was to supply such momentous defects that I have been prevailed
on, after long solicitation, to take pen in hand, and I dare venture
to promise the judicious reader shall find nothing neglected here
that can be of use upon any emergency of life. I am confident to
have included and exhausted all that human imagination can rise or
fall to. Particularly I recommend to the perusal of the learned
certain discoveries that are wholly untouched by others, whereof I
shall only mention, among a great many more, my "New Help of
Smatterers, or the Art of being Deep Learned and Shallow Read," "A
Curious Invention about Mouse-traps," "A Universal Rule of Reason,
or Every Man his own Carver," together with a most useful engine for
catching of owls. All which the judicious reader will find largely
treated on in the several parts of this discourse.

I hold myself obliged to give as much light as possible into the
beauties and excellences of what I am writing, because it is become
the fashion and humour most applauded among the first authors of
this polite and learned age, when they would correct the ill nature
of critical or inform the ignorance of courteous readers. Besides,
there have been several famous pieces lately published, both in
verse and prose, wherein if the writers had not been pleased, out of
their great humanity and affection to the public, to give us a nice
detail of the sublime and the admirable they contain, it is a
thousand to one whether we should ever have discovered one grain of
either. For my own particular, I cannot deny that whatever I have
said upon this occasion had been more proper in a preface, and more
agreeable to the mode which usually directs it there. But I here
think fit to lay hold on that great and honourable privilege of
being the last writer. I claim an absolute authority in right as
the freshest modern, which gives me a despotic power over all
authors before me. In the strength of which title I do utterly
disapprove and declare against that pernicious custom of making the
preface a bill of fare to the book. For I have always looked upon
it as a high point of indiscretion in monstermongers and other
retailers of strange sights to hang out a fair large picture over
the door, drawn after the life, with a most eloquent description
underneath. This has saved me many a threepence, for my curiosity
was fully satisfied, and I never offered to go in, though often
invited by the urging and attending orator with his last moving and
standing piece of rhetoric, "Sir, upon my word, we are just going to
begin." Such is exactly the fate at this time of Prefaces,
Epistles, Advertisements, Introductions, Prolegomenas, Apparatuses,
To the Readers's. This expedient was admirable at first; our great
Dryden has long carried it as far as it would go, and with
incredible success. He has often said to me in confidence that the
world would never have suspected him to be so great a poet if he had
not assured them so frequently in his prefaces, that it was
impossible they could either doubt or forget it. Perhaps it may be
so. However, I much fear his instructions have edified out of their
place, and taught men to grow wiser in certain points where he never
intended they should; for it is lamentable to behold with what a
lazy scorn many of the yawning readers in our age do now-a-days
twirl over forty or fifty pages of preface and dedication (which is
the usual modern stint), as if it were so much Latin. Though it
must be also allowed, on the other hand, that a very considerable
number is known to proceed critics and wits by reading nothing else.
Into which two factions I think all present readers may justly be
divided. Now, for myself, I profess to be of the former sort, and
therefore having the modern inclination to expatiate upon the beauty
of my own productions, and display the bright parts of my discourse,
I thought best to do it in the body of the work, where as it now
lies it makes a very considerable addition to the bulk of the
volume, a circumstance by no means to be neglected by a skilful

Having thus paid my due deference and acknowledgment to an
established custom of our newest authors, by a long digression
unsought for and a universal censure unprovoked, by forcing into the
light, with much pains and dexterity, my own excellences and other
men's defaults, with great justice to myself and candour to them, I
now happily resume my subject, to the infinite satisfaction both of
the reader and the author.

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