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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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2 occurrences of Ancients and Moderns in the Eighteenth Century
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The idea of progress, finding expression in many forms
and levels, was most vociferously discussed during the
eighteenth century in the literary quarrel of the an-
cients and moderns, which embraced questions of au-
thority, antiquarianism, and the new experimental sci-
ence. The attack on authority in science and literary
criticism first foreshadowed and later paralleled the
challenging of authority in religion and politics, which
developed during the Enlightenment in systems of
deism and political democracy.

Most of the arguments in favor of modern learning
as opposed to ancient grew out of the efforts of
Descartes and Bacon to persuade their respective
countrymen to adopt a new method of judging and
seeking truth. Both rejected the authority of the an-
cients in scientific questions—Bacon as part of his
inductive method and Descartes as part of his system
of “methodical doubt.” Descartes asserted in the first
article, The Passions of the Mind (1649):

What the ancients have taught is so scanty and for the most
part so lacking in credibility that I may not hope for any
kind of approach toward truth except by rejecting all the
paths which they have followed.

Aristotle, was first attacked and discredited in the realm
of science, and then disputed in literature. Homer
developed as another natural target. Critics assumed
that if they could sufficiently tarnish his image, they
would succeed in proving the superiority of the modern

Abbé Pons in France, for example, praised Descartes
for subjecting the scientific system of Aristotle to rigid
scrutiny and exposing the latter's deviations from truth.
Then he pointed to the parallel between the long reign
of Aristotle in science and that of Homer in literature.
He argued in his Letter on theIliadof La Motte
(Lettre surl'Iliadede la Motte, 1714) that the rejec-
tion of Aristotle furnished a presentiment of the immi-
nent fall of Homer. Two years later, the English poet


Sir Richard Blackmore drew the same parallel between
science and criticism in his Essay upon Epick Poetry:
“Unless the Admirers of Homer will assert and prove
their Infallibility,” he challenged, “why may they not
be deceiv'd as well as the Disciples and Adorers of

Even after Aristotle had been dethroned in the realm
of science, it remained difficult to budge Homer from
his pedestal. Critical opinion in the late seventeenth
century generally agreed with Boileau that since
Homer had been constantly admired and followed
throughout the ages, he should always continue to be
admired and imitated. The abbé Terrasson, however,
in his Critical Dissertation on the “Iliad” (Dissertation
critique sur “l'Iliade,”
1715) revolted against this logic.
For him, literary work should not be judged according
to the reputation it had enjoyed in the past, but ac-
cording to its conformity to reason and nature. Literary
criticism, according to Terrasson, should adopt the
philosophic spirit which had been responsible for
progress in the natural sciences, acknowledging the
superiority of “reason which leads us to attribute each
phenomenon to its proper and natural principle,” in-
dependent of the opinion of other men. Blackmore said
essentially the same:

It's clear, that Aristotle form'd all his Axioms and Doctrines
in Poetry, from the Patterns of Homer and other Greek
Writers; and without assigning any Reason of his Positions.
... But it is not the Authority of the greatest Masters, but
solid and convincing Evidence, that must engage our Belief.

The debate concerned not only the two separate
issues of which age possessed greater genius or mental
powers and which possessed greater knowledge, but
also a far more important one; did an increase of
knowledge mean progress? This is another way of
asking whether people are actually happier in the
modern world. The partisans of the ancients were
obviously accepting a form of cultural primitivism.
Some men who did not profess any form of primitivism,
nevertheless considered the new science as nothing
more than an interesting development, which did
nothing to change man's nature or to make him any
happier. Others justified their indifference to the ques-
tion by appealing to the commonplace observation of
the century—that human nature never changes. Lord
Chesterfield, for example, prided himself on the dis-
covery “that nature was the same three thousand
years ago as it is at present; that men were but men
then as well as now.” He was willing to grant that
modes and customs often vary, but insisted that
“human nature is always the same.” Taking a common-
place metaphor, originally introduced by Montaigne,
he argued in a letter to his son, 7 February 1749, that
there is no more reason to assume that men were
better, braver, or wiser in ancient times than “to sup-
pose that the animals or vegetables were better then
than they are now.” La Bruyère in another famous
analogy, from his Caractères (1687), compared authors
who espoused the side of the moderns to robust infants
who suck the nourishing milk of their nurses and then
revolt and beat them.

The major disputants in the quarrel between ancients
and moderns made use of three primary metaphorical
expressions which passed from pen to pen without
acknowledgment: (1) the paradox that modern men are
the real ancients; (2) the image of the human race as
a single man; and (3) the image of a giant with a dwarf
on his shoulders.

(1) The paradox concerning the antiquity of modern
men derives from Bacon, who expressed it in Latin,
Antiquitas saeculi juventus mundi (“Ancient times are
the youth of the world”). Our times then are the an-
cient times “when the world is ancient and not those
which we account ordine retrogrado by a computation
backward from ourselves.” The same paradox may be
found in Descartes, Pascal, and Malebranche. The
Encyclopédie, in the article, “Anciens,” called it an
ingenious sophism, equivalent to the pleasantry, le
monde est si vieux qu'il radote
(“the world is so old
it drivels”). In the last decade of the eighteenth century,
Thomas Paine gave the argument a political twist in
The Rights of Man (1791) in order to discredit Burke's
concept of prescription. The only reason for studying
governments in the ancient world, as far as Paine was
concerned, was to profit by their errors and to perceive
later improvements by contrast. “Those who lived a
hundred or a thousand years ago,” Paine affirmed,
“were then moderns as we are now.”

(2) The image of the human race as a single man
compared the life span of the entire human race to
one man's progress from cradle to grave. It exists in
both Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon and in all the
major participants in the ancient-moderns dispute. The
figure could be used by one side to show that the race
was already approaching senility, and by the other side
to characterize the ancients as infants.

(3) The giant-dwarf image represents the ancients
as giants supporting the moderns as dwarfs on their
shoulders so that the latter may have an advantageous
view of nature. The metaphor figured prominently
during the Renaissance in the writing of the Spaniard,
Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540), and in Ben Jonson
(1572-1637), and was reintroduced by Fontenelle. This
image may also be used to support either side of the
controversy: the ancients interpreted the puny figure
of the modern dwarf as a sign of decay, but the mod-
erns considered his advantageous position as a symbol
of the superior knowledge of modern times.


The debate was introduced into the literary realm
by Alessandro Tassoni in the last of his Ten Books of
Miscellaneous Thoughts
(Dieci libri di pensieri diversi
[1620]). In theory he seemed to favor the ancients by
attacking the argument that knowledge is cumulative
and that, therefore, it must always be the latest gener-
ation which has the greatest amount of it. Such reason-
ing, he affirmed, would hold only if study and research
were continuously carried on by outstanding minds,
but in actuality learning has frequently been captured
by hostile forces or inferior intellects and thus learning
may decline instead of advance. In his pragmatic sur-
vey of the concrete achievements of civilization, how-
ever, Tassoni acknowledged the superiority of the
moderns. It follows from Tassoni's arguments that
progress does not need to take place in a straight line,
but it may occur in spurts and jumps; some areas may
go forward while others go backwards, and there may
even be occasional periods of total retrogression.

In France, the preliminary skirmishes began in 1635,
when a minor poet, Boisrobert, who had probably read
Tassoni in translation, attacked the ancients before the
French Academy. He was followed by Desmarets de
Saint-Sorlin who argued passionately in his Discourse
to Prove That Only Christian Subjects are Appropriate
to Heroic Poetry
(Discours pour prouver que les sujets
chrétiens sont seuls propres à la poésie héroïque
that Christian miracles are far superior to pagan my-
thology as subjects for heroic poetry. Although the
dispute over the use of Christian subject matter in the
epic tradition developed in England as a separate
contest, completely independent of that between the
ancients and moderns, the two contests are themati-
cally related. The advocates of Christian poetry took
up their position with the moderns, for the substitution
of Christian materials for the classical deities represents
a triumph of the contemporary world over the past.
Desmarets maintained that the epic poet must be not
only a story-teller, but also an authority on “history,
geography, astronomy, matters of nature, logic, ethics,
rhetoric, fables, agriculture, architecture, painting,
sculpture, perspective, and music.” This requirement
of extensive knowledge for the epic poet obviously put
the ancients at a great disadvantage. John Dryden
similarly required the epic poet to combine the “natu-
ral endowments, of a large invention, a ripe judgment,
and a strong memory” with “the knowledge of liberal
arts and sciences, and particularly moral philosophy,
the mathematics, geography, and history.”

Carrying the controversy to the completely different
area of linguistics, François Charpentier in 1683 pub-
lished a treatise, On the Excellence of the French Lan-
(De l'Excellence de la langue française), arguing
that modern French rather than the classical languages
should be the medium for inscriptions on public monu-
ments. Taking a position which Alexander Pope was
to express a generation later in his satires, (First Epistle
of the Second Book of Horace
[1737]), and Marivaux
in his Miroir (XI [1755]), Charpentier maintained that
those who expressed a preference for the ancients did
so because they were jealous of contemporary authors.

In 1687 Charles Perrault united literary and scien-
tific considerations in a poem exalting his own times,
The Century of Louis XIV (Le Siècle de Louis le
) which he read before the Academy. The an-
cients were great in their way, he admitted, but still
had all the limitations of human beings. Homer had
written under the disadvantages of living in a primitive
society and, therefore, had fallen into various errors
which he could have avoided had he written in the
modern world. Without qualification Perrault affirmed
that the ancient authorities in science and history,
Aristotle and Herodotus, had already been discredited.
As symbols of the scientific superiority of the moderns,
Perrault featured in his poem a detailed description
of the telescope and microscope. We may find close
parallels to these passages in many French and English
poems as well as in a Russian Georgic poem, Letter
on the Use of Glass
(1752) by M. V. Lomonosov.

Perrault further developed his notions in a prose
dialogue, Parallels between Ancients and Moderns
(1688-96), not actually intended to show parallels, but
instead differences and distinctions. For the gathering
of ammunition against the ancients, he appealed to the
astronomer Huygens, who supplied him with informa-
tion concerning the advance of science. On the literary
side Perrault repeated his charge that Homer and
Vergil had been guilty of an infinite number of errors
because they lacked knowledge which came to light
in later times. As one example of Homer's great defi-
ciencies, his lack of verisimilitude, Perrault pointed to
the victory of Ulysses and three of his friends over 108
suitors of Penelope: the four warriors surmounting
impossible odds to kill their foes without taking them
by surprise, while Ulysses in the midst of the fray
delivered a long moral discourse.

Mme Dacier answered the objections to the errors
and implausibilities of the ancients by affirming that
whatever reproaches are made against Homer may be
made equally against the Old Testament. In the preface
to her translation of the Iliad (1711) she confined the
argument to social customs rather than to scientific
knowledge. The epic poet must portray customs and
behavior exactly as they are in his own times; otherwise
his imitation of nature will be false and his heroes no
more credible than heroes of romances. “In a word,
the poem imitates what exists and not that which has
come into being only after it.” Since Homer could not


conform to the usages of later centuries, it is necessary
for later centuries to comprehend the customs of his

In 1688 Fontenelle published a volume of pastoral
poetry in which he inserted a Digression sur les anciens
et les modernes.
Here he maintained that the question
of the preeminence of ancients or moderns may be
reduced to a consideration of whether the trees of
former times were taller than those growing at present,
a problem which had been presented by Montaigne
in the Apologie de Raymond Sebond. This is a phase
of the related theological doctrine of the degeneration
of the world. Fontenelle argued that if biological
differences exist in man as well as in plants, these
differences are caused by geography and climate, not
by chronology. And since the climate is essentially the
same in Greece, Italy, and France, all human beings,
including the ancients and moderns, Greeks, Romans,
and French, are biologically equal. A scientist of mod-
ern times, he affirmed, because of the accumulation
of information knows ten times more than one of the
times of Augustus, and he has ten times greater facility
in acquiring his knowledge. The great reputation of
the ancients is based upon prejudice and tradition. In
literature, the names of the ancients sound better to
our ears merely because they are Greek and Latin.
Before Fontenelle, eloquence and poetry had been the
main subjects of contention, but for him they counted
less than the sciences. He admitted that the ancients
could theoretically have attained perfection in elo-
quence and poetry, but granted that they had actually
attained it only in the former. Critics were accustomed
to consider both Greeks and Romans as ancients, but
Fontenelle affirmed that in a relative sense the Romans
were moderns. In literary merit, he placed Cicero over
Demosthenes, Vergil over both Theocritus and Homer,
Horace over Pindar, and Livy over the Greek histori-
ans. And he asserted for his contemporaries a further
claim to superiority—that they had developed new
literary forms like the novel, and the lettres galantes
which had not existed in antiquity.

Fontenelle also touched on the faults of Homer,
which the latter's admirers had attempted to exonerate
or vindicate under the plea of poetic license. Homer,
for example, indiscriminately mingled as many as five
dialects in a single line, a process equivalent to a
French poet's blending the dialects of Picardy, Gas-
cony, Normandy, and Brittany with ordinary French.
Both Perrault and Fontenelle used the single man
image, but the latter refused to carry the comparison
to its logical end, resolutely affirming that the human
race would never degenerate into senility.

Fontenelle, nevertheless, had no illusions concerning
the intrinsic merits of mankind, but shared the cautious
skepticism of those who rejected the doctrine of prog-
ress. In an imaginary dialogue between Montaigne and
Socrates (1683), he represents the former as charging,
in connection with the doctrine of universal degenera-
tion, that men do not know how to use the knowledge
they acquire. They are like birds too ignorant to stay
away from a net which has already snared thousands
of their kind. Pierre Bayle pessimistically observed in
like vein in his Historical and Critical Dictionary
(1695-97), that “the world is too undisciplined to profit
from the maladies of former centuries.” “Each century
behaves as though it were the first.”

During the seventeenth century Nicolas Boileau-
Despréaux was considered to be the foremost French
theoretician of classicism and defender of the Ancients.
In his Critical Reflections on Longinus (1694), he
emphasized what he considered to be one of the
strongest arguments in favor of ancient writers, the
constant admiration in which they have continually
been held; a sure and infallible proof, he felt, that they
should always be admired. Yet he also admitted in a
letter to Perrault, published by the latter in 1701, that
although no French Cicero or Vergil had yet appeared,
the Age of Louis XIV had surpassed any previous age
in tragedy, painting, architecture, and especially in
philosophy and science. He virtually abandoned the
ancients when he admitted, “the Age of Louis XIV
is not only comparable but superior to the most famous
ages of antiquity, even the Age of Augustus.” Had the
debate depended on authority alone, Boileau's ca-
pitulation would have meant the total victory of the
moderns at least in France, but other critics continued
to exalt the preeminence of the ancients as still others
disparaged them.

Abbé Jean Terrasson in a posthumous work, Philoso-
phy Applicable to All Subjects
(1754), affirmed that the
superiority of the moderns is a necessary and natural
effect of the very constitution of the human spirit.
Fontenelle was wrong, he believed, in resting the
argument on a comparison between trees in various
centuries. Since trees in all ages remain the same, the
parallel merely places the moderns on an equal plane
with the ancients. Men, unlike trees, endow their
progeny with their knowledge and advice. The prog-
ress of the human spirit Terrasson illustrated with the
old allegory of the human race as a single man. Instead
of accepting such a system, which provides us infants
for teachers and models, Terrasson exhorted us to re-
spect our nephews over our ancestors. Our progeny
will inevitably have greater enlightenment than we

This is not far from the confident assertion of M. J.
de Condorcet in his Historical Sketch of the Progress
of the Human Mind
(1793) that no limit can be pre-


scribed to the improvement of the human species.
Observations of various races of lower animals had
demonstrated to Condorcet's satisfaction, long before
Darwin, that improvement in physical faculties could
be transmitted from one generation to the next. Human
beings, he reasoned, could also pass on to their progeny
that part of their physical organism on which their
intelligence, mental energy, and moral sensibility
depend, and proper education could bring about
modification and unlimited improvement of these

In England after Bacon's initial attack on authority
in science, the debate shifted to literary theory. Most
late seventeenth-century literary critics limited them-
selves to discussing the Aristotelian rules without
mentioning the Stagirite's outmoded science. Dryden,
for example, constantly vacillated between adhering
to the rules and violating them. He admired Shake-
speare, but condemned him by the rules; he praised
Milton, but placed Homer and Vergil higher. In open-
ing a complimentary address to his “Honour'd Friend
Dr. Charleton” (1663), however, he declared,

The longest Tyranny that ever sway'd
Was that wherein our Ancestors betray'd
Their free-born Reason to the Stagirite.
One of the few Restoration critics unequivocally to
repudiate slavish obeisance to the ancients was Charles
Gildon, who in Miscellaneous Letters and Essays (1694)
drew the parallel with scientific knowledge. He con-
sidered it beyond doubt that the Greeks were far
behind the moderns in physics and other sciences,
which for the ancients “chiefly consisted in words.”
Since authority had been for many years considered
as a deterrent to scientific inquiry he could see no
reason why his contemporaries not only continued to
accept it but blindly followed it in poetry “since 'tis
perhaps almost as prejudicial to our imitation of Nature
in This, as to our discovery of it in the Other.”

The French had debated the relative merits of the
French language and the classical ones, the moderns
unequivocally affirming the superiority of their own
tongue. The English Restoration critics, however,
accepted the theory that English had been a barbarous
language until their own times, and even the most
vigorous moderns in England granted the preference
to classical idioms. Addison went so far as to assert
in the Spectator (No. 417) that if “Paradise Lost falls
short of the Aeneid or Iliad, it proceeds from the fault
of the language in which it is written.... So divine
a poem in English is like a stately palace built of brick.”
Later David Hume suggested that if “Waller had been
born in Rome during the reign of Tiberius, his first
productions had been despised, when compared to the
finished odes of Horace” (“Of the Rise and Progress
of the Arts and Sciences” [1742]).

In England, the formal controversy broke out in full
force in 1690 when Sir William Temple published An
Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning,
the superiority of the ancients in every area and deny-
ing that the moderns profit from their inheritance.
According to his argument, learning which is derived
may weaken invention and dilute genius. “So a Man
that only Translates, shall never be a Poet, nor a Painter
that only copies, nor a Swimmer that swims always
with Bladders.” A few pages later he inconsistently
demolished this argument by attributing the revival of
learning in the modern world to the restoration of
Greek and pure Latin after the Middle Ages.

Temple adapted the single man metaphor to his
purpose by imagining a strong and vigorous man who
should at the age of thirty fall ill and decline until
sixty when he should recover and then be more vigor-
ous than most men of this age. Although it could be
said that he had grown more in strength during the
ten years from 60 to 70 than at any other period, he
had still not acquired more strength and vigor than
he had possessed at the age of thirty. Temple similarly
interpreted the giant-dwarf image to the detriment of
the moderns. As Temple viewed it, the dwarf, despite
his advantageous position, sees less than the giant if
he is naturally shorter-sighted, if he is less observant,
or if he is dazzled by height.

By speculating on the possibility that our ancients
had their own ancients with a period of intellectual
stagnation intervening between them and their fore-
runners, a period comparable to the Middle Ages,
Temple introduced a cyclical theory of history refuting
the idea of progress. According to his reasoning, the
arts and sciences came to the West from India and
perhaps ultimately from China. For information to
support this theory—although not the theory itself—
Temple relied upon two major sources, Thomas
Burnet's Telluris theoria sacra (Sacred Theory of the
1681-89) and John Nieuhoff's Voyages and
Travels into Brasil
(1682). The cyclical theory itself was
current in the Renaissance and had been refuted by

William Wotton answered Temple in Reflections
upon Ancient and Modern Learning
(1694), a lengthy
treatise, covering all phases of the arts and sciences,
which draws heavily upon Perrault for the arts and
on the defenders of the Royal Society for the sciences.
Quite moderate in his advocacy of the moderns,
Wotton refused to follow Fontenelle in claiming supe-
riority for his own times in oratory and the arts. With
impressive logic he observed that values in the arts
are based upon opinion and are subject to debate;


whereas values in the sciences are objective and may
be ascertained by comparison. In the second edition
of his Reflections (1697), Wotton added an appendix
by a noted scholar, Richard Bentley, who shifted the
controversy to the area of philological scholarship.

Bentley used his linguistic learning to prove that the
Greek works of Phalaris and Aesop, which Temple had
extolled as ancients were spurious and really composi-
tions of modern times. Charles Boyle joined the fray
against Bentley, and finally Swift, as a partisan of
Temple and the ancients, produced a masterful satire
on the entire controversy, The Battle of the Books
(1704). Swift's mock epic in prose casts the books in
St. James Library arrayed in two armies, Moderns and
Ancients, disputing a plot of ground on Mount Parnas-
sus. The spirit of the work is succinctly conveyed by
one of its mock-epic conventions: the episode of the
spider and the bee. The two insects, representing Mod-
erns and Ancients respectively, argue over which of
the two is regarded by the outside world as the superior
creature. The spider affirms that the bee is a plunderer
of nature, stealing from every variety of flower;
whereas the spider himself is a domestic animal erect-
ing his dwelling entirely through his own efforts and
with materials extracted from his own person. The bee
admits ranging over field and garden, but asserts that
his collecting of nectar does no harm to the flowers
he visits; whereas the spider pours out poison from his
breast to spin his web, which perpetually gathers dirt
and sweepings. Aesop, who is chosen to moderate the
dispute, decides in favor of the bee, whom he associates
with himself as an Ancient.

Whatever we have got, has been by infinite labour and
search, and ranging through every corner of nature; the
difference is that, instead of dirt and poison, we have rather
chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax, thus furnishing
mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness
and light.

Bacon had preceded Swift in the image of the spider
and Ben Jonson in the image of the bee, and Temple
had vastly extended the latter in an essay Of Poetry
(1690). Matthew Arnold later adopted the metaphor
“sweetness and light” as the symbol of classical culture
in a famous essay defending it, Culture and Anarchy

Diderot, a moderate in the controversy, allegorized
the quarrel of ancients and moderns somewhat in the
vein of the episode of the spider and the bee in a
digression inserted in a licentious novel written for the
amusement of his mistress, Les Bijoux indiscrets (1748).
One of the characters in a dream finds himself accom-
panied by the Goddess Minerva in a gallery of statues
and books symbolizing the ancients. A crowd of men
burn incense and adorn the statues with garlands, at
the same time abusing those of their number who fail
to bow profoundly enough before the statues. These
are succeeded by a horde of pygmies, who hack at the
statues and try to tear them apart. Minerva explains
that this quarrel has been going on for a long time,
and always to the disadvantage of the pygmies. The
statues run some risk of being tarnished by the incense
of the worshippers, she explains, but the efforts of the
pygmies to destroy them only make them more bril-

Swift, in a companion piece to his Battle of the
Books, A Tale of the Tub
(1704), ironically pointed to
Homer's gross ignorance of the laws of England and
the doctrines of the Anglican Church as a means of
repudiating the moderns' method of judging Homer
by the standards of a later and more sophisticated age
than his. Similarly he ridiculed the moderns as critics
whose art consisted merely in the discovering and
collecting of faults. “Their imaginations are so entirely
possessed and replete with the defects of other pens,”
he charged, “that the very quintessence of what is bad
does of necessity distil into their own.”

The method of subjecting Homer to the test of
verisimilitude and good taste was applied in earnest
by La Motte and Terrasson. The former condemned
such “low” images as Achilles' asking Thetis to remove
the flies from the wounds of Patroclus; the latter found
fault because the Iliad does not conform to rational
principles of stylistic organization; because the action
does not adhere to the theme of the work; and because
Agamemnon commits capital crimes against religion
and justice. The strong implication of both La Motte
and Terrasson was that Homer was as much a barbar-
ian as a poet. The principle argument of La Motte
was that Homer must be subjected to the judgment of
reason and not accepted as the voice of authority. In
his opinion, the only pleasures which Homer provides
are those based on novelty, on antiquarianism, on re-
spect for authority, and on prejudice. None of these
have any relation to reason, the single quality on which
aesthetic appreciation should be based (Discours sur
1714). La Motte admitted that it was illogical
to attack Homer for not conforming to the dignity of
later ages. But he insisted that criticism had the right
to condemn Homeric times for their barbarousness and
to indicate that the description of them in the Iliad
appeared disagreeable to the more fastidious standards
of later ages.

In 1716, Sir Richard Blackmore published “An Ac-
count of the present controversy concerning Homer's
Iliad,” in which he also refused to submit to the au-
thority of ancient writers “unless they were supported
by Reason.” He condemned the ludicrousness of rivers


making speeches and horses shedding tears and labelled
the manners and behavior of the pagan Gods a re-
proach to human nature. Yet he suggested that Féne-
lon's highly praised modern prose epic, Télémaque, had
many worse faults than the Iliad, particularly in the
author's introducing heathen machines and having
Grecian pagans speak in the manner of Jews, Egyp-
tians, and Chaldeans.

Pope in An Essay on Criticism (1711), however,
returned to an almost unanswerable defense of the
alleged blemishes in Homer—the argument of the
French critics that they were intentional—designed to
provide variety and to present his most sublime pas-
sages in relief.

Those oft are stratagems which error seem,
Nor is it Homer nods, but we that dream.

(I, 179-80)

This is a couplet based on Horace's The Art of Poetry
(lines 359-60), but Pope's defense is stronger than
Horace's. The latter merely suggests that soporific
passages may be condoned in a poem which is very

The contention in England over the age of the writ-
ings of Aesop and Phalaris, which was waged on lin-
guistic grounds, had its counterpart in France in disa-
greements over the theory of translation. Madame
Dacier in the Preface to her translation of the Iliad
(1711), argued that the more sublime and beautiful a
work is in the original, the more it loses in translation.
No writer suffers as much as Homer does, for it is
impossible in French to communicate the harmony,
nobility, and majesty of his expressions. Characterizing
the French language as timid and circumspect because
of its formality and blind adherence to custom, she
condemned it for lacking the boldness and liberty
necessary to reveal the beauties of Homer. Although
she was a confirmed classicist, Mme Dacier, in defend-
ing Homer, anticipated by a century the linguistic
arguments of the romanticists which were based on
freedom from restraint. Of Lucretius she remarked that
his philosophy and principles were absurd and false,
but that the verses in which they were expressed would
charm every ear by their beauty and harmony.

Abbé La Motte replied in his Discours sur Homère
(1714) that no one in the modern world could know
the dead languages well enough to appreciate their
nuances and beauties. Those who prided themselves
on understanding the beauties and negligences of
Homer, that is, the bold strokes which his admirers
praised him for, could have only an approximate
knowledge of ancient Greek. These critics vaunted
themselves for possessing knowledge of a language
which they understood only partially and imperfectly.
La Motte went even further and declared that the
French language was the equal of Greek in beauty of
expression. He found examples to illustrate its clarity
in history, sublimity in panegyric, saltiness in satire,
dignity in tragedy, naiveté in fable, and tenderness in
opera. Each language, he maintained, has utilitarian
communication as its function, and harmony and
sonority are only secondary. It is only because French
has kept itself within the limits of good sense and
clarity that it can be reproached for lacking boldness.
Audacious and daring terms exist in French speech,
but if they should ever become commonplace, French
would become degenerate and corrupt. It is precisely
the good sense of the French language, La Motte
insisted, which represents its greatest richness.

Because many French men of letters shared La
Motte's pride in the French language, it was possible
for the great French seventeenth-century authors
eventually to displace the ancients as classic models
in French culture. In England, the respect for the
vernacular did not reach these heights, and as a result,
English neo-classicism never attained the authority of
the French.

Abbé Dubos took an eclectic position in his Critical
Reflections on Poetry and Painting
(1719), one of the
major documents in the controversy, but on the ques-
tion of translation he stood firmly with the ancients.
It is form alone in Homer which gives pleasure, he
affirmed, and therefore Homer must be translated ex-
actly. But Dubos also maintained that no translation
can do justice to the beauty of a poetic original since
the rhythm and harmony of classical verse cannot be
rendered in another language. The Aeneid in French
is not the same poem as the Aeneid in Latin. Dubos
argued, moreover, that those who cannot read an an-
cient poem in the original must accept the judgment
about it of those who can. One cannot rely on one's
own appraisal of a translation no matter how rational
the appraisal may be, since the translation and the
original are different entities. The beauties of a poem
are judged by sentiment, not reason, and “the general
agreement of the senses of other men, is next to the
agreement of our own, the most certain means we have
of judging phenomena which are ranked under senti-

With these arguments Dubos was opposing those
moderns like La Motte, who considered that the chief
value of studying the ancients was to obtain historical
and sociological information and that the purpose of
criticism was to place an author in his philosophical
and historical context. In rejecting sociological criti-
cism, Dubos discounted the need for verisimilitude and
historical accuracy in art. We do not read poetry to
look for contradictions, he affirmed, but for the pleas-


ure of being moved emotionally. Holding that the only
purpose of poetry is to excite sentiments, not to per-
suade the reason, he considered it a matter of indiffer-
ence whether a poem be completely contrary to real-
ity. In his emphasis on sentiment, therefore, Dubos
entirely abandoned the Cartesian theory of the advance
of knowledge through reason. In his opinion, the
greatest discoveries in science—the compass, the
printing press, the weight of air, the movement of the
earth, and the circulation of blood—came by chance,
not by following rational procedures. Cartesian reason
he affirmed produces nothing but absurd theories such
as that of the beast machine. Sentiment and imagina-
tion, therefore, are more important for progress, ac-
cording to Dubos, than reason.

The sociological criticism which Dubos opposed
could be used, however, to the advantage of the An-
cients. Fénelon in a Letter on the Activities of the
(1716), suggested that the deformity and
crudeness of religion and the lack of true morality in
Homeric times served to make Homer's artistic
achievement all the more admirable by contrast. The
great epic poet had portrayed with superb imagery
and verbal power concepts which in themselves are
absurd and shocking. Jean Bovin in his Apology for
(1715), made a comparison with China, which
was emerging at that time as a popular theme. What
he enjoyed in reading about China, he said, was
Chinese customs. “If the heroes of the century of
Homer do not resemble ours, this difference should give
us pleasure.”

Although Giambattista Vico in Italy wrote his New
(Scienza Nuova [1725; 1744]), with absolutely
no reference to the critical dispute raging in France
and England, the fundamental thought of his treatise
completely contradicts those who attributed philo-
sophical discrimination to the ancients. Vico believed
that it was fear which first led men to create gods in
their imaginations and that their first form of expression
was poetical. Contrary to all the ancient philosophers,
including Plato and Aristotle, Vico believed that “it
was the deficiency of human reasoning power that gave
rise to poetry,” and he concluded that his discovery
of “the origins of poetry does away with the opinion
of the matchless wisdom of the ancients.”

Addison in the Spectator (No. 160 [1711]), used
Homer as his only example of natural genius in a
distinction between the contributions to humanity
which depend upon native inspiration alone and those
which have depended upon accumulated experience.
Those in the first category of genius have “... by the
mere Strength of natural Parts, and without any Assist-
ance of Art of Learning,... produced Works that were
the Delight of their own Times and the Wonder of
Posterity.” The second category, “formed themselves
by Rules, and submitted the Greatness of their natural
Talents to the Corrections and Restraints of Art.”
Homer was Addison's single example of the first class,
and Plato, Aristotle, Vergil, Cicero, Milton, and Bacon
of the second. Abbé Dubos converted this distinction
to one between ancients and moderns. He affirmed that
the moderns are undoubtedly more advanced in the
sciences, but their superiority depends on the prior
accumulation of a mass of knowledge, not on genius.
Modern reason, therefore, is not really superior to
ancient. In the realm of art, moreover, time and expe-
rience are of no value. The high esteem in which
Homer is held, Dubos maintained, is not due to the
reign of Aristotle and should not be reduced because
the latter has fallen from favor; instead Homer's repu-
tation is based entirely on the pleasure which people
of all ages have found in his work.

Pope in An Essay on Criticism attempted to blur
the distinction between genius and acquired experience
by affirming that to follow nature and to imitate the
ancients is the same thing.

Learn for ancient rules a just esteem;
To copy nature is to copy them.
Like most classicists, Pope advocated the imitation of
the ancients in order to attain nature. His friend
Edward Young, however, in Conjectures on Original
(1752), prescribed the opposite method.
Instead of imitating Homer, the poet should imitate
nature: “drink where he drank, at the true Helicon,
that is, at the breast of nature.” Young recognized that
in both science and the arts, the respect for authority
inculcated by the ancients leads simply to imitation
of their models and to acceptance of their beliefs. His
theory is summarized by the paradox: “The less we
copy the renowned ancients, we shall resemble them
the more.” A Spanish critic G. M. Jovellanos in an essay
On the Necessity of Uniting the Study of Literature
and the Sciences
(1797), took his inspiration directly
from Young in explaining why the moderns with much
greater knowledge than the ancients nevertheless dis-
played less genius: “because the ancients created, and
we imitate; because the ancients studied nature, and
we study them. Why do we not follow their track?
And if we wish to equal them, why do we not study
as they did?”

Diderot, however, in a highly-regarded critical essay,
Salon de 1767, affirmed that precisely because the
Greeks had based their artistic creation on nature, their
work could never be excelled. “The inviolable laws
of Nature must be executed; Nature does nothing by
leaps and bounds, and this is no less true in the arts
than in the cosmos.” Despite the possibility of going


directly to nature for models and inspiration, Diderot
affirmed that it is impossible for modern artists ever
to equal the ancients—they can only be imitators.
Goethe in the section of his autobiography Poetry and
(Dichtung und Wahrheit, 1811-33), devoted to
the “Antique and the Present,” reiterated and supported
this view.

Marivaux in The Mirror (1755) offered an explanation
of the paradox that literary works could be greater in
ancient times than in modern despite the accumulation
and proliferation of knowledge in the modern world.
He maintained that ideas and taste are not parallel and,
therefore, do not increase at the same rate. Each gen-
eration which comes on the earth adds its own portion
to the stock of ideas, and these never entirely disap-
pear: their impression remains indelibly in humanity.
But even though modern times may have a greater
accumulation of ideas than existed in the past, there
is unfortunately less of taste. The augmentation of ideas
is an infallible consequence of the duration of the
world, Marivaux concluded, but the art of employing
those ideas in works of the spirit may decline—in
which event belles lettres may sink, criticism and taste
disappear. Marivaux concluded, therefore, that there
had never been a period to equal that of the ancients.

Vauvenargues in his Discourse on the Character of
Various Centuries
(1745) made a parallel admission that
ineffably greater knowledge is available in modern
times than in the past, but he questioned whether the
average man was capable of assimilating or utilizing
this knowledge. As far as Vauvenargues was concerned,
that which depends on the spirit receives no increase
from the proliferation of the products of the intellect,
and since taste depends on the spirit, knowledge is
being increased in vain: “our judgment is instructed,
but our taste is not improved.”

Even Turgot, one of the most ardent exponents of
perfectibility, conceded that while the capacity for
knowledge of the nature of truth is as infinite as truth
itself, the development of the arts is as limited as man
himself. Poetry, painting, and music have a fixed point
determined by language and by the sensibility of our
organs. This fixed point, Turgot believed, had been
attained by the men of the Age of Augustus, who,
therefore, will remain as models for all subsequent
generations (Second Discourse... on the Progress of
the Human Mind,

Abbé Terrasson refused to accept the separation of
arts and sciences as valid in the measurement of human
progress, condemning the division as artificial by means
of an original variant of the single-man image. In a
discourse with the pertinent title, Philosophy Applica-
ble to all the objects of the Mind and Reason
he affirmed that such a separation would perhaps be
applicable to a creature with two souls, but it does
not fit humanity. He maintained, moreover, that infe-
rior as the ancients were in the sciences, they knew
more about them, particularly geometry and astron-
omy, than they knew about the true principles of
reason and humanity, “unique source of the true use
of belles-lettres in prose and poetry.”

The first critic to suggest the possibility that the fine
arts may progress, just as the sciences do, was Edward
Young. As part of his campaign against the principle
of imitation in literature, he urged poets not only to
go beyond the ancients in representing nature, but even
to go beyond nature itself and to develop a world of
pure imagination. “In the fairyland of fancy,” he
remarked in his Conjectures, “genius may wander wild;
there it has creative power, and may reign arbitrarily
over its own empire of chimeras.” This is the essence
of the ultra-modern spirit, and Young himself recog-
nized that it was partly rant. But he declared unequiv-
ocally, “all arts and sciences are making considerable
advance,” and he did not hesitate to ask, “why may
not poetry go forward with this advancement?”

Condorcet, probably the most ardent “perfectibilian”
of the century, vigorously supported the view that
progress occurs in the fine arts. In his Historical Sketch
(1793) he made an original distinction between “that
which belongs really to the progress of art and that
which is due only to the talent of the artist.” In the
past, he contended, critics had judged artists rather
than works, giving rise to the adulation of the ancient
authors and the growth of a cult requiring imitation
of the first models. Although not making any aesthetic
comparisons between specific ancient and modern au-
thors, Condorcet affirmed that the arts are improved
by and draw profit from advances in philosophy and
science—either through more precise knowledge of the
effects and powers of these arts themselves or through
the destruction of prejudices against them. Reasoning
such as this may have inspired the poet Shelley to
speculate in the Preface to The Revolt of Islam (1817),
that “there may be such a thing as perfectibility in
works of fiction.”

This doctrine of perfectibility is related to the socio-
logical criticism of La Motte since both systems assume
that literature is as much a product of society as of
individuals. The concept of the interaction of literature
and society directly opposes all theories of absolute
values, including that of the supremacy of the ancients.
Mme de Staël fully developoed the concept in her
pioneer treatise Literature Considered in Its Relations
with Social Institutions
(De la Littérature considerée
dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales,

In Spain, ever since Luis Vives in the sixteenth
century had used literary arguments against the doc-


trine of the degeneration of the world, critics in that
country confidently extolled the originality and vigor
of Spanish literature. During the middle of the eight-
eenth century, however, a Dominican priest, Benito
Jeronimo Feijoo, considered to be one of the most
progressive as well as prolific minds in Spain at the
time, published an essay “Resurrection of the Arts and
Defense of the Ancients” (1750), taking a moderate
position in the controversy, but leaning toward the side
of the ancients. On the subject of the arts he asked:
“What is there in our century which can compete with
the beauties of the poetry and eloquence of the century
of Augustus?” And with respect to the sciences he
affirmed that if the stories told of the intellectual pene-
tration of some of the ancients are true, “certainly one
may infer that their physical knowledge was much
superior to all the philosophers of these times.” Two
of his examples of this penetration are revealing:
Democritus was able merely by tasting milk to tell that
it came from a black goat which had been pregnant
only once. And the same philosopher, saluting a girl
whom he had greeted the night before Salve virgo, used
the words Salve mulier in the morning; it was later
discovered that she had been violated. Feijoo reflected
the point of view of Temple that the ancients really
deserve the credit for many of the discoveries ascribed
to the moderns, including circulation of the blood, the
telescope, printing, and the compass. He insisted
moreover that the first discovery of a principle or art
is worthy of more praise than its subsequent develop-
ment by the moderns.

In France the debate continued on scientific as well
as aesthetic grounds. Father Noël Regnault, in his
Ancient Origin of New Physics (L'Origine ancienne de
la physique nouvelle
[1734]), stressed the great debt
which modern science owes to the ancients and argued
that the improvements of his day would not have been
possible without the ancients. A French Protestant
clergyman, living in England, Louis Dutens, published
in 1766 An Inquiry into the Origin of the Discoveries
attributed to the Moderns: Wherein It is Demonstrated,
That our most celebrated Philosophers have, for most
part, taken what they advance from the Works of the
Ancients, and that many important Truths in Religion
were known to the Pagan Sages.
Considering the works
of his predecessors, Perrault, Fontenelle, Wotton, and
Temple as comprising fine declamation and rhetoric
rather than proofs or demonstrations, Dutens at-
tempted to reveal the enormous share the ancients have
had in “modern discoveries.” He followed Addison and
Dubos in distinguishing between those arts and sciences
“which require long experience and practice to bring
them to perfection, and those which depend solely on
talent and genius.” He admitted that the moderns have
brought the former to higher stages of development,
and that the Christian religion has even extended mo-
rality itself. Also in the area of scientific inventions,
he distinguished between the products of genius and
philosophy and the “mere effects of chance, or the
lucky hits of some ignorant artisans.” After including
printing, gunpowder, and the compass in the category
of lucky hits he tried to trace to the ancients the
systems of logic and metaphysics of Descartes, Leibniz,
Malebranche, and Locke; Buffon's theories of universal
matter, generation, and nutrition: Newton's theory of
colors; Harvey's theory of the circulation of blood; the
plurality of worlds; the motion of the earth around
the sun; and the sexual system of plants. On the subjects
of architecture, sculpture, poetry, eloquence, and his-
tory, Dutens took for granted the preeminence of the
ancients, affirming that “The moderns themselves will
not contest with them; on the contrary the height of
their ambition is, to imitate them.” Dutens concluded
that the ancients had preceded or prepared the way
for the moderns “in almost all truths of the greatest
importance.” Supporting the theory of Temple that the
ancients had their own ancients, as well as commenting
on the opinion of Perrault that recent discoveries had
been so extensive that there was little left to be learned,
he quoted Seneca concerning the future: “Had even
everything been found out by the ancients, there would
still this remain to be done anew, to put their inven-
tions into use and make their knowledge ours” (Epistle
). Though Dutens' work is today virtually unknown,
it was widely circulated in its own time. John Wesley,
for example, republished it in abridged form in later
editions of his Survey of the Wisdom of God in Crea-
—a text-book of popular science originally pub-
lished in 1763—which went through several editions
in England and the United States. Summarizing his own
impression, Wesley exclaimed: “Alas! how little new
has been discovered, even by Gassendi, Malebranche,
Mr. Locke, or Sir Isaac Newton! How plain is it, that
in philosophy, as well as the course of human affairs,
'there is nothing new under the sun.'”

A number of replies to this objection of the lack
of novelty, which Wesley was quoting from Ecclesiastes
in the Old Testament (1:9), were already in print. In
order to discourage literary imitations, La Motte ridi-
culed the concept that no new thoughts are possible
and that the human mind had already imagined every-
thing that could be said. He compared ideas to the
variety in human physiognomies and affirmed that
experience shows that no two men will ever be born
who are exactly alike. In like manner, even though
ideas may always follow certain common paths, there
will always be infinite opportunity for original appli-
cations (Discourse on Poetry [1707]). Marivaux in The


Mirror (1755) made exactly the same comparison and
added as a further analogy that just as man has not
discovered all the forms of which matter is susceptible,
he has not exhausted all the ways of thinking and

Dubos similarly argued that artists of genius do not
use the works of their predecessors as models, but go
directly to nature. “Nature is more abundant in differ-
ent or varied subjects than the genius of artisans in
ways of imitating them.” Dubos made the original
observation, moreover, that particular subjects are
compatible for the talents of particular artists, and that
some subjects remain virtually untouched because no
artist has yet discovered them. Thomas Paine charac-
teristically scoffed in an essay in The Pennsylvania
(1775) that the notion that “We have found
out everything
has been the motto of every age,” and
that this species of vanity was stronger among the
ancients than the moderns. Combining chronological
and cultural primitivism, he diverted himself by look-
ing back and imagining “a circle of original Indians
haranguing on the sublime perfection of the age.”

Voltaire associated the quarrel of ancients and mod-
erns with one of the most important scientific projects
of the century, twin expeditions organized by the
French Academy of Science to measure the latitude
at the North Pole and at the Equator and thus to test
Newton's hypothesis that the earth is flattened at the
poles. In a congratulatory poem to the scientists (“A
Messieurs de l'Académie des Sciences” [1738]), Voltaire
unequivocally espoused the side of the moderns.
Addressing the ancient Greeks, Voltaire bid them to
be ashamed and embarrassed at their poor performance
in contrast to the great exploits of his contemporaries.
“Your century” he declared “is vanquished by the
century in which we are.” According to Voltaire, opin-
ion in the past had universally favored the Greeks, only
because it had been in bondage to lies and prejudices.
In a note to his poem, Voltaire reaffirmed the parallel
between science and literature, but his examples reveal
his own prejudices. He declared that two minor French
musical tragedies, Alcine and Armide, were worth more
than all Greek poetry put together and that Thales
and Pythagoras were not fit to study under Newton.
“But the first-comers seized the Temple of Glory, time
confirmed their claim, and the late-comers find the area
occupied.” In one of his tales, “The World as It is”
(1746) Voltaire insisted that the first efforts in every
art are always crude despite the preference which
critics stubbornly accord to the ancients over the mod-
erns. In his seminal history The Century of Louis XIV
(1752), he unequivocally asserted “the prodigious su-
periority of our century over the ancients” and added
that at least as far as philosophy is concerned the
dispute is definitely decided in favor of the moderns.
In a later dialogue bearing the title Ancients and
(1765), Voltaire retreated to the more moder-
ate position of Fontenelle that the controversy could
best be resolved by granting that the modern world
had discovered new laws of physics, but had not
improved upon the ancients' rules of eloquence.

Oliver Goldsmith maintained that there exists no real
basis of comparison between ancients and moderns,
calling in question, in his An Enquiry into the Present
State of Polite Learning
(1759), the commonplace that
nature is always the same. According to Goldsmith,
both ancients and moderns imitated nature as they
found it, but nature was different for each culture. Both
ancients and moderns should then be considered excel-
lent in their separate imitations. Homer would have
been despised by the Greeks if he had written like
Milton, and Milton would have been ridiculous if he
had adopted Homer's religion. One should not con-
demn Plautus for failing to depict characters like
Molière's, nor the reverse. To do so would be as absurd
as condemning “a geographer for not introducing more
rivers, or promontories, into a country, than nature had
given it; or the natural historian, for not enlivening
his description of a dead landscape with a torrent,
cataract, or a volcano.”

For Herder in Germany, it was not precisely nature
which changes from one chronological period to an-
other, but national cultures which differ one from
another. Classical art he described, in an essay Homer
und Ossian
(1795), as an expression of national, cultural
and social conditions which no longer exist in the
modern world. Imitations of ancient art, therefore, are
false and without soul since they do not express the
emotions of the artist. According to Herder, a German
poet of the eighteenth century cannot create ancient
art just as an apple tree cannot bear pears.

Herder argued moreover in his Philosophy of the
History of the Development of Mankind
der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menschheit
[1774]) that
just as there exists no “absolute” human being, but all
members of the human race differ one from another,
there can be no one historical form of culture—the
ancient or any other—which can be made as an “abso-
lute ideal.” The classic norm forced the poet to be
an imitator, not a creator. Herder, like Goldsmith, was
a moderate. He did not try to elevate either the ancient
or the modern world over the other, but he agreed
with virtually all of his predecessors on the side of the
moderns that the artist should follow his own inspira-
tion or native talent rather than the standards or
models of the past.

New impetus for studying and understanding the
ancients came during the second half of the eighteenth


century in the wake of extensive excavations and
archeological investigations, which led to a Greek
Revival in art and architecture. The movement was
most significant in Germany, giving rise to Winckel-
mann's esthetic treatise, Thoughts concerning the Imi-
tation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture
in which he emphasized the artistic importance of
simplicity, not merely that of nature, but that of the
absolute or ideal. Schiller in the sixth of his Letters
concerning the Esthetic Education of Mankind
analyzed the civilization of the ancient Greeks and
concluded that the form of culture it represented had
then attained maximum development. Continued
progress in culture, he felt, had to be based upon a
split between intellect and feeling. In his most impor-
tant critical work, On Naive and Sentimental Poetry
(Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung [1795-96]),
he reformulated “the old Ancient-Modern debate by
a new dichotomy,” in which he endeavored to justify
his own art and modern art in general (René Wellek,
History of Modern Criticism, I, 234). In Schiller's usage,
naive refers to the mode of expression of the ancients
based upon instantaneous reaction to primitive man-
ners and the simplicity of nature; sentimental refers
to the mode of expression of the moderns based upon
an emotional attitude toward nature and manners,
reconstructed in tranquility. The ancients portray only
that which is happening at the moment; the moderns
portray strong feelings conditioned by moral concepts
and calm reflection. The moderns, ineffably below the
ancients in everything related to nature, still have a
better understanding of it. The ancients had conformed
to nature, but the moderns in sophisticated society, by
controlling nature, oppose it. Schiller granted the su-
periority of the ancients in the plastic arts, where
observation is paramount, but found the moderns su-
perior in all areas based upon ideas where reflection
is supreme.


The best general treatment is that of J. B. Bury in The
Idea of Progress
(London 1920; New York, 1932). The
Renaissance background is exhaustively presented by José
Antonio Maravall in Antiguos y Modernos. La idea del
progresso en el desarrollo inicial de una sociedad
1966). The French aspect is treated by H. Rigault in Histoire
de la querelle des modernes
(Paris, 1856), which is supple-
mented by A. Lombard, La Querelle des anciens et des
modernes. l'abbé Dubos
(Neuchâtel, 1908). The German
phase is presented by E. M. Butler in The Tyranny of Greece
over Germany
(New York, 1935), and the English by R. F.
Jones in Ancients and Moderns. A Study of the Rise of the
Scientific Movement in Seventeenth-Century England,
ed. (St. Louis, 1961).

The three most valuable scholarly editions of relevant
works are J. Swift, A Tale of a Tub, The Battle of the Books..., ed. A. C. Guthkelch and D. Nichol Smith (Oxford,
1920); Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Entretiens sur la
pluralité des mondes
and Digression sur les anciens et les
ed. Robert Shackleton (Oxford, 1955), and
F. M. A. de Voltaire, La Henriade, ed. Owen R. Taylor
(Geneva, 1965).

Most of the above works contain extensive bibliographies.
The edition of La Henriade is especially valuable for the
literary phase of the debate.


[See also Baconianism; Criticism, Literary; Cycles; Deism;
Literature and its Cognates; Mimesis; Nature; Perfectibility;
Poetry and Poetics; Primitivism; Progress.]