“Before one can commence a True Critick, it will cost a man all the good Qualities of his Mind.”
Remember The Battle of the Books? OK, probably not, because it was a while ago, but it was an awesome satire by Jonathan Swift (author of the much more famous and much less awesome Gulliver’s Travels) about libraries and books and people who don’t like the classics.
The Tale of a Tub, also by Jonathan Swift, is kind of like that, but weirder. It combines religious satire with satire on bad writers, satire on critics, satire on philosophy, satire on booksellers, satire on people who don’t like the classics. Basically, Swift hates the whole world.
It takes the form of a treatise written by a pompous, verbose hack writer who’s basically out to get money, and, if you like this sort of thing, it’s brilliant. Like all satire, it requires a lot of annotation for basic understanding, but, unlike Gulliver’s Travels, The Tale of a Tub really rewards understanding, because there’s all kinds of interesting dynamics going on with textual form (fake footnotes, fake gaps in the “manuscript”) as well. It’s also pretty funny in places.
It’s possible that I’m biased because I’m actually studying this stuff (gods help me). But if seventeenth-century satire is your thing (because seventeenth-century satire is a genre with vast, vast appeal, of course </sarcasm>), then really don’t miss The Tale of a Tub.
If it isn’t…well, you can probably give it a pass.