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Swift's patron, Sir William Temple, had been drawn into a dispute "by a silly question raised in France on the respective merits of ancient and modern writers, wherein somebody having declared Corneille to be as much superior to Æschylus as Pascal was to Plato, Temple took up the cudgels for the ancients, on whose behalf he made assertions quite as preposterous, and incidentally declared the Epistles of Phalaris to be one of the triumphs of antiquity. Then came Wotton, a so-styled youthful prodigy of learning in those days, defending the moderns against Temple; then a new edition of Phalaris produced on behalf of Temple by Charles Boyle, afterwards Lord Orrery, his tutor Atterbury, and other Oxford scholars; and then from the other university the scornful challenge of Richard Bentley, first of scholars, who in a second edition of Wotton's book, declared the Phalaris epistles to be the egregious forgery which they too truly were. At this stage of the conflict, while Boyle, Atterbury and Smallridge were preparing the reply that elicited Bentley's crushing rejoinder, Swift came to the protection of Temple with the Battle of the Books , and of all that constituted once the so famous controversy, its prodigious learning and its furious abuse, this triumphant piece of humour alone survives. It was circulated widely before Temple died, and not until four years later  appeared in print."-Forster.
A history of the rivalry long subsisting between ancient and modern books, and an account of the manner in which it was revived among the volumes in the St. James's Library, of which Bentley was "regent" or curator, leads up to the allegory of the Spider and the Bee; after which the interposition of the Goddess Criticism, mother of Wotton, is described, and then the fray begins in earnest in a series of Homeric contests between the classics and their translators and commentators.
THE SPIDER AND THE BEE
HINGS were at this crisis when a material accident For upon the highest corner of a large window there dwelt a certain spider, swollen up to the first magnitude by the destruction of infinite numbers of flies, whose spoils lay scattered before the gates of his palace, like human bones before the cave of some giant. The avenues to his castle were guarded with turnpikes and palisadoes, all after the modern way of fortification. After you had passed several courts you came to the centre, wherein you might behold the constable himself in his own lodgings, which had windows fronting to each avenue, and ports to sally out upon all occasions of prey or defence. In this mansion he had for some time dwelt in peace and plenty, without danger to his person by swallows from above, or to his palace by brooms from below: when it was the pleasure of fortune to conduct thither a wandering bee, to whose curiosity a broken pane in the glass had discovered itself, and in he went; where, expatiating a while, he at last happened to alight upon one of the outward walls of the spider's citadel; which, yielding to the unequal weight, sunk down to the very foundation. Thrice he endeavoured to force his passage, and thrice the centre shook. The spider within, feeling the terrible con
vulsion, supposed at first that nature was approaching to her final dissolution; or else that Beelzebub, with all his legions, was come to revenge the death of many thousands of his subjects whom his enemy had slain and devoured. However, he at length valiantly resolved to issue forth and meet his fate. Meanwhile the bee had acquitted himself of his toils, and, posted securely at some distance, was employed in cleansing his wings, and disengaging them from the ragged remnants of the cobweb. By this time the spider was adventured out, when, beholding the chasms, the ruins, and dilapidations of his fortress, he was very near at his wit's end; he stormed and swore like a madman, and swelled till he was ready to burst. At length, casting his eye upon the bee, and wisely gathering causes from events, (for they knew each other by sight,) A plague split you, said he ; is it you, with a vengeance, that have made this litter here? could not you look before you, and be d-d? do you think I have nothing else to do, in the devil's name, but to mend and repair after you?-Good words, friend, said the bee, having now pruned himself, and being disposed to droll : I'll give you my hand and word to come near your kennel no more; I was never in such a confounded pickle since I was born.-Sirrah, replied the spider, if it were not for breaking an old custom in our family, never to stir abroad against an enemy, I should come and teach you better manners.-I pray have patience, said the bee, or you'll spend your substance, and, for aught I see, you may stand in need of it all toward the repair of your house. -Rogue, rogue, replied the spider, yet methinks you should have more respect to a person whom all the world allows to be so much your betters.
-By my troth, said the bee, the comparison will amount to a very good jest ; and you will do me a favour to let me know the reasons that all the world is pleased to use in so hopeful a dispute. At this the spider, having swelled himself into the size and posture of a disputant, began his argument in the true spirit of controversy, with resolution to be heartily scurrilous and angry, to urge on his own reasons, without the least regard to the answers or objections of his opposite; and fully predetermined in his mind against all conviction.
Not to disparage myself, said he, by the comparison with such a rascal, what art thou but a vagabond without house or home, without stock or inheritance? born to no possession of your own, but a pair of wings and a drone-pipe. Your livelihood is a universal plunder upon nature; a freebooter over fields and gardens; and, for the sake of stealing, will rob a nettle as easily as a violet. Whereas I am a domestic animal, furnished with a native stock within myself. This large castle (to show my improvements in the mathematics) is all built with my own hands, and the materials extracted altogether out of my own person.
I am glad, answered the bee, to hear you grant at least that I am come honestly by my wings and my voice; for then, it seems, I am obliged to Heaven alone for my flights and my music; and Providence would never have bestowed on me two such gifts, without designing them for the noblest ends. I visit indeed all the flowers and blossoms of the field and garden; but whatever I collect thence enriches myself, without the least injury to their beauty, their smell,
or their taste. Now, for you and your skill in architecture and other mathematics, I have little to say: in that building of yours there might, for aught I know, have been labour and method enough; but, by woful experience for us both, it is plain the materials are naught; and I hope you will henceforth take warning, and consider duration and matter, as well as method and art. You boast indeed of being obliged to no other creature, but of drawing and spinning out all from yourself; that is to say, if we may judge of the liquor in the vessel by what issues out, you possess a good plentiful store of dirt and poison in your breast; and, though I would by no means lessen or disparage your genuine stock of either, yet I doubt you are somewhat obliged, for an increase of both, to a little foreign assistance. Your inherent portion of dirt does not fail of acquisitions, by sweepings exhaled from below; and one insect furnishes you with a share of poison to destroy another. So that, in short, the question comes all to this: whether is the nobler being of the two, that which, by a lazy contemplation of four inches round, by an overweening pride, feeding and engendering on itself, turns all into venom, producing nothing at all but flybane and a cobweb; or that which, by a universal range, with long search, much study, true judgment, and distinction of things, brings home honey and wax.
This dispute was managed with such eagerness, clamour, and warmth, that the two parties of books, in arms below, stood silent a while, waiting in suspense what would be the issue; which was not long undetermined for the bee, grown impatient at so much loss of time, fled straight away to a bed of roses,