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THE HARVARD CLASSICS

The Five-Foot Shelf of Books

THE HARVARD CLASSICS
EDITED BY CHARLES W. ELIOT , L.L.D.

Fifteen Minutes a Day

The Reading Guide


[Introduction] [January] [February] [March] [April] [May] [June] [July] [August] [September] [October] [November] [December]

Also check out:
An older perspective on words in books.
An MIT Museum article on Charles Eliot.


30 FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY

FEBRUARY

...howling Winter fled afar
To hills that prop the polar star;
And loves on deer-borne car to ride
With barren darkness at his side
... sullen Winter! hear my prayer,
And gently rule the ruin'd year
...
CAMPBELL (Vol. 41, p. 772)

1 King Arthur's Knights Find Holy Grail
The intrepid Knights of the Round Table were startled by "crackling and crying of thunder" which rang through the great hall of the castle. Then there entered "The Holy Grail covered with white samite."
Read from Malory's THE HOLY GRAIL Vol. 35, pp. 112-123

2 "Apparel Oft Proclaims the Man"
Before his son, Laertes, departs for a foreign country, Polonius advises him as to his conduct and dress, while Hamlet, the king's son, has to learn by experience.
(Shakespeare's twins - Hamnet and Judith - baptized Feb. 2, 1585.)
Read from Shakespeare's HAMLET Vol. 46, pp. 107-120

3 A House of Mirth and Revelry
While the cat's away the mice will play. Boisterous and ludicrous happenings occur in a house left in charge of a servant. But in midst of merriment the master returns.
(Ben Jonson receives life pension from James 1, Feb. 3, 1619.)
Read from Jonson's THE ALCHEMIST Vol. 47, pp. 543-558

4 "Genius, a Secret to Itself"
Thus wrote Carlyle, who affirms that great minds are unconscious of their stupendous strength. And each of us has his own peculiar mental attributes.
(Thomas Carlyle died Feb. 4, 1881.)
Read from Carlyle's CHARACTERISTICS Vol. 25, pp. 319-327

5 Diamonds, Diamonds Everywhere!
Trapped in a valley filled with huge diamonds guarded by venomous serpents, Sindibad devised a clever means of escaping with many of the glittering jewels.
Read from THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Vol. 16, pp. 243-250

FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY 31

FEBRUARY Reading Guide

6 Charles Lamb Suggests To-day's Reading
"The reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty in 'Edward' furnished hints which Shakespeare scarcely improved in his 'Richard the Second,' and the death scene of Marlowe's King moves to pity and terror." -CHARLES LAMB.
(Christopher Marlowe born Feb. 6, 1564.)
Read from Marlowe's EDWARD THE SECOND Vol. 46, pp. 73-89

7 A Letter from a Lion
Johnson was not always a conventional guest. Graciously treated, he responded in like manner, but offended, Johnson could wield a pen dripping with vitriol.
(Samuel Johnson writes to Lord Chesterfield, Feb. 7, 1755.)
Read: LETTER TO LORD CHESTERFIELD Vol. 39, pp. 206-207

8 Tragic Death of a World-Famous Beauty
"But I, the Queen of a' Scotland, maun lie in prison strang." Burns sings of poor Mary bound by chains, yearning for the day when flowers would "bloom on her peaceful grave."
(Mary, Queen of Scots, beheaded Feb. 8, 1587.)
Read from BURNS' POEMS Vol. 6, pp. 396-406

9 Rest Between Wars
Tacitus, the historian, visited the virile German tribes in their primitive homes on the banks of the Rhine He was surprised to learn that the men so active and eager in war lolled in indolence during the intervals between.
Read from Tacitus ON GERMANY Vol. 33, pp. 93-102

10 No Fancy for a Plain Gentleman
Voltaire once visited Congreve. This famous dramatist requested to be regarded only as a plain gentleman. "Had you been that I should never have come to see you," Voltaire cynically replies.
(William Congreve baptized Feb. 10, 1670.)
Read from Voltaire's LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH Vol. 34, pp. 130-140

11 The Queen Freezes Her Philosophy
Descartes was slain through the eccentric whim of a queen who demanded that he tutor her in the freezing dawn in the dead of winter. His philosophy lives in this essay.
(René Descartes died at Stockholm, Feb. 11, 1650.)
Read from Descartes' DISCOURSE ON METHOD Vol. 34, pp. 5-20

32 FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY

FEBRUARY Reading Guide

12 Oxford Corrects Lincoln's Mistake
Lincoln himself thought his famous Gettysburg Address was a failure. To-day the whole world acclaims its greatness. Cast in bronze, it hangs on the wall of Balliol College, Oxford, regarded as the perfection of English prose.
(Abraham Lincoln born Feb. 12, 1809.)
Read: LINCOLN'S WRITINGS Vol. 43, pp. 415-420

13 The Frank Story of an Amazing Life
At the age of fifty-eight Benvenuto Cellini shaved his head and retired to a monastery to write his own story of murder, passion, and great deeds of the Renaissance. His life is a vivid picture of the most colorful period in history, a period when statecraft and religion and black magic and assassination were naïvely mingled in men's lives.
(Benvenuto Cellini died Feb. 13, 1570.)
Read from CELLINI's AUTOBIOGRAPHY Vol. 31, pp. 68-80

14 Love Always Young
(St. Valentine's Day.)
Pascal - an original genius - purposed to master everything that was new in art and science. He was a mathematician and scientist as well as a religious enthusiast and moralist, and he shows a decidedly human side of his nature in this superb essay on Love.
Read: Pascal's DISCOURSE ON THE PASSION OF LOVE Vol. 48, pp. 411-421

15 The World Well Lost?
The romantic and heedless loves of Antony and Cleopatra figure prominently in history, literature, and drama. Dryden made a fascinating play from the story of Antony, who sacrificed the leadership of Rome, reputation, and life itself for love of the Egyptian queen, who followed him in death.
(Mark Antony offers Cæsar crown at Rome, Feb. 15, 44 B. C.)
Read from Dryden's ALL FOR LOVE Vol. 18, pp. 53-69

16 Social Circles Among Ants
Ants have slaves who work for them. These slaves make the nests, feed the master ants, tend the eggs, and do the moving when a colony of ants migrate. Darwin minutely describes the habits and lives of the industrious ants and their marvelous social organization - a wonder to mankind.
Read from Darwin's ORIGIN OF SPECIES Vol. 11, pp. 264-268

FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY 33

FEBRUARY Reading Guide

17 Death His Curtain Call
While acting in one of his own plays, Molière was suddenly stricken and died shortly after the final curtain. He took an important role in "Tartuffe" which introduces to literature a character as famous as Shakespeare's Falstaff.
(Molière died Feb. 17, 1673.)
Read from Molière's TARTUFFE Vol. 26, pp. 199-217

18 Lasting Peace with Great Britain
All Americans should know this treaty which finally inaugurated an era of peace and good understanding with England. For aver a hundred years this peace has been unbroken.
(Treaty with Great Britain proclaimed Feb. 18. 1815.)
Read: TREATY WITH GREAT BRITAIN (1814) Vol. 43. pp. 255-264

19 Earthly Experience of a Chinese Goddess
The thousandth celestial wife of the Garland God slipped and fell to earth, where she took mortal form and served as an attendant in a temple. Death finally released her and she went back to heaven to tell her lord of the ways of men.
Read from the BUDDHIST WRITINGS Vol. 45 pp. 693-701

20 Voltaire Observes the Quakers
Because the early Quakers shook, trembled, and quaked when they became inspired - they received the title of "Quakers." This sect attracted the keen-minded Voltaire, who made interesting notes on them during his visit to England.
Read from Voltaire's LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH Vol. 34, pp. 65-78

21 Does Football Make a College?
Just what makes a university? A group of fine buildings? A library? A staff of well-trained teachers? A body of eager students? A winning football team? Cardinal Newman defines the prime functions of a university.
(Cardinal Newman born Feb. 21, 1801.)
Read from Newman's THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY Vol. 28, pp. 31-39

22 An Ode for Washington's Birthday
(George Washington born Feb. 22, 1732.)
Burns asks for Columbia's harp, and then sings of liberty. He bewails the sad state of the land of Alfred and Wallace which once championed liberty, and now fights for tyranny.
Read from BURNS' POEMS Vol. 6, pp. 492-494

34 FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY

FEBRUARY Reading Guide

23 Pepys' Nose for News
Gossipy, witty Pepys had a curiosity that made him famous. He knew all the news of court and street. Stevenson, who never put his pen to a dull subject, writes of Pepys.
(Samuel Pepys born Feb. 23, 1632.)
Read from Stevenson's SAMUEL PEPYS Vol. 28, pp. 285-292

24 Lights and Shadows of Milton
In a superb poem, Milton bids Loathed Melancholy begone to some dark cell. He calls for the joys of youth and vows eternal faith with them.
(John Milton marries his third wife, Elizabeth Marshall, Feb. 24, 1662.)
Read: MILTON'S POEMS Vol. 4, pp. 30-38

25 Punished for Too Sharp a Wit
The brilliant wit and cutting satire of Defoe made for him friends and enemies - but mostly enemies. So piercing and two-edged was "The Shortest-Way with Dissenters" that he was fined, imprisoned and pilloried.
("The Shortest-Way with Dissenters" censored, Feb. 25. 1703.)
Read: THE SHORTEST-WAY WITH DISSENTERS Vol. 27, pp. 133-147

26 A David Who Side-stepped Goliath
Hugo was insulted by the most powerful critics in France. He put into the preface of a play "his sling and his stone" by which others might slay "the classical Goliath."
(Victor Hugo born Feb. 26, 1802.)
Read: HUGO'S PREFACE TO CROMWELL Vol. 39 pp. 337-349

27 Poet Apostle of Good Cheer
(Longfellow born Feb. 27, 1807.)
"Tell me not in mournful numbers, life is but an empty dream..."
"Stars of the summer night! Far in yon azure deeps--"
So begin poems that have charmed and cheered thousands.
Read from LONGFELLOW'S POEMS Vol. 42, pp. 1264-1280

28 Spoke Latin First
(Michel de Montaigne born Feb. 28, 1533.)
Proficient in Latin even before he knew his own tongue, Montaigne received an unusual education. His whole life was spent in storing up his choice thoughts for our profit and pleasure.
Read from Montaigne's ESSAYS Vol. 32, pp. 29-40

FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY 35

FEBRUARY Reading Guide

LEAP YEAR

29 Goethe's Tale of a Maiden in Love
To either Saint Patrick or the Scottish Parliament of 1228 go the honors - or dishonors - of originating the traditions attending this day; says the latter, "ilka maiden ladee, of baith high and lowe estait, shall hae libertie to speak ye man she likes." The course of true love runs smooth in Goethe's narrative poem, enduring today for its characterization and swift-flowing lines.
Begin HERMANN AND DOROTHEA Vol. 19, p. 337; also pp. 395-410

Hot Bath
Dr. William Harvey established the fact that the arteries carry blood by feeling his own pulse while in a hot bath. (See Reading Assignment for June 3rd.)

A BLESSED COMPANION IS A BOOK, - A BOOK THAT FITLY CHOSEN IS A LIFE-LONG FRIEND. - DOUGLAS JERROULD [sic].


[Introduction] [January] [February] [March] [April] [May] [June] [July] [August] [September] [October] [November] [December]

Also check out:
An older perspective on words in books.
An MIT Museum article on Charles Eliot.


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Quote of the moment
It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,-glittering like the morning star full of life and splendour and joy…. Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men,-in a nation of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded.
~ Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Vol. iii. p. 331. ~

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