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THE HARVARD CLASSICS

The Five-Foot Shelf of Books

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.


36 FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY

MARCH

Old Winter back to the savage hills
Withdraweth his force, decrepid now.
GOETHE (Vol. 19, p. 43)

1 Invented Sir Roger de Coverly
Word pictures are often more vivid than photographs. Steele had a gift for originating characters that are remembered longer than flesh and blood people. Sir Roger de Coverly and Will Honeycomb are now bold figures in literature.
(First issue of the "Spectator," published March 1, 1711.)
Read: THE SPECTATOR CLUB Vol. 27, pp. 83-87

2 What Sailors Do on Sunday
"A sailor's liberty is but for a day," as Dana explains. Dressed in his Sunday best, the sailor feels like a dashing Beau Brummel; and sets out to enjoy his freedom. "While it lasts it is perfect. He is under no one's eye and can do whatever he pleases."
Read from Dana's TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST Vol. 23, pp. 112-119

3 For Poets and Fishermen
Isaak Walton, famed patron of fishermen, appreciated other arts and hobbies. He writes of George Herbert, a preacher whose hobby was poetry.
(George Herbert died March 3, 1633.)
Read from Walton's LIFE OF GEORGE HERBERT Vol. 15, pp. 373-382

4 Penn - Pioneer, Thinker, and Builder
(King Charles grants Penn charter of Pennsylvania, March 4, 1681.)
Penn, true to Quaker beliefs, came before the king with his hat on. The king overlooked this and later made him governor of Pennsylvania. A sagacious Penn is revealed in his writings.
Read from Penn's SOME FRUITS OF SOLITUDE Vol. 1, pp. 321-330

5 Laughed at Locks
Prison walls were the least of Cellini's troubles. "Lock me well up and watch me, for I shall certainly contrive to escape." In spite of this warning, the utmost care of the jailers only furnished amusement for the dauntless Cellini.
Read from CELLINI'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY Vol. 31 pp. 214-224

FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY 37

MARCH Reading Guide

6 West Point's Outcast, America's First Great Poet
(Poe expelled from West Point, March 6, 1831.)
Edgar Allan Poe was expelled from West Point and disinherited. So poor was he that when his young wife lay dying, he could not afford a fire to warm her. The weirdness and despair of "The Raven" is particularly symbolic of his life.
Read: Poe's THE RAVEN Vol. 42, pp. 1227-1230

7 Bacon Warns Judges
Bacon pointed out that a judge's duty was to interpret laws and not to make laws. This single essay of Bacon's is a richly con­densed summary of the ethics of law.
(Bacon made Keeper of the Great Seal of England, March 7, 1616.)
Read: Bacon OF JUDICATURE Vol. 3, pp. 130-134

8 Dangerous Experiment with a Wife
Anselmo and Lothario were close friends. Anselmo, anxious to learn if his wife were perfect, as he believed her to be, makes an unusual proposal to his old friend.
Read from Cervantes' DON QUIXOTE Vol. 14, pp. 307-319

9 Common Sense and Good Manners
Swift regretted the laws against dueling because dueling at least was a good means of ridding the country of bores and fools. His keen eye penetrated social customs and saw the common sense that governed good manners.
(Passage of laws against dueling in England, March 9, 1679.)
Read: TREATISE ON GOOD MANNERS Vol. 27, pp. 99-103

10 Beaumont - The Adonis of Elizabethan Playwrights
In the days when contact with the theatre meant exile from the best society, Beaumont and Fletcher, men from good families, dared to ally themselves with the stage as playwrights. "Philaster" won them immortal praise.
Read from PHILASTER Vol. 47, pp. 667-677

11 Gain Gleaned from Suffering
We are paid for our suffering and we pay for our happiness. Every ache, every sorrow receives its recompense here on earth. Emerson gives the basis for this conviction.
(Emerson ordained Unitarian minister, March 11, 1829.)
Read from Emerson's COMPENSATION Vol. 5, pp. 85-92

38 FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY

MARCH Reading Guide

12 An Irish Bishop's Wit
Berkeley believed in a great religious future for America. He lived three years in Rhode Island, and made plans for a college in Bermuda.
(Bishop Berkeley born March 12, 1685.)
Read from Berkeley's THREE DIALOGUES Vol. 37, pp. 228-238

13 Before Nobility Ran Tea Rooms
Manzoni has pictured in this thrilling romance of the seventeenth century nobility, the pompous and sporting life of those good old days when nobles lived sumptuously in spacious castles sur­rounded by vast estates.
Read from Manzoni's I PROMESSI SPOSI Vol. 21, pp. 318-332

14 A Maiden's Forfeit
"This gentlewoman that ye lead with you is a maid?" demanded the knight. "Sir," said she, "a maid I am." "Then she must yield us the custom of this castle."
(Malory, recorder of King Arthur stories, died March 14, 1470.)
Read from THE HOLY GRAIL Vol. 35, pp. 194-200

15 Beware the Ides of March!
(Ides of March, March 15.)
Twice warned of the danger that threatened him on the Ides of March, although "the earth rocked and the stars fell and headless men walked in the Forum," Cæsar goes to the doom awaiting him in the Senate Chamber.
Read from Plutarch's CÆSAR Vol. 12, pp. 315-321

16 Crabs Climb Trees?
Many amazing things happen in the Malay jungles. For ex­ample, Darwin tells about a crab that climbs trees and walks down the trunks for an occasional bath in a pool.
Read from Darwin's VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 466-475

17 An Old Irish Legend
(St. Patrick's Day.)
An old Irish legend tells how, while St. Patrick was preaching about Paradise and Hell, several of his audience begged to be allowed to investigate the reality of these places. St. Patrick actually satisfied their curiosity.
Read from THE POETRY OF THE CELTIC RACES Vol. 32, pp. 174-182

FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY 39

MARCH Reading Guide

18 New Way to Pay Old Debts
A cunning uncle cheats his worthless nephew out of his fortune. The nephew, laughing stock of his former servants, sets out to retrieve his old position and riches.
(Massinger buried March 18, 1640.)
Read from A NEW WAY TO PAY OLD DEBTS Vol. 47 pp. 859-870

19 Seeing Old Egypt
The mysterious Egyptian temples, the floating islands, the huge pyramids and the many wonders of ancient Egypt are pictured for you by Herodotus.
(Last recorded event in Herodotus' history dated March 19, 478 B. C.)
Read from Herodotus' AN ACCOUNT OF EGYPT Vol. 33, pp. 72-84

20 Apples, Feathers, and Coals
Sir Isaac Newton was aided in his momentous discoveries by the most insignificant objects - even apples, feathers, and coal. Vol­taire discusses the wondrous discoveries of Newton.
(Sir Isaac Newton died March 20, 1727.)
Read from Voltaire's LETTERS ON THE ENGLISH Vol. 34, pp. 113-124

21 1,000 Years of History on the Surface of a Shield
Venus, mother of Æneas and wife of Vulcan, obtained from her husband, by seductive witchery, a marvelous shield whose surface reflected a thousand years of future events. Venus describes the wonders of the magic armor.
Read from Virgil's ÆNEID Vol. 13, pp. 280-292

22 From Puppet Show to Majestic Drama
The Faust legend, which can be traced to puppet shows of earlier days, portrays a philosopher who, through Satan's aid and in re­turn for the price of his soul, works magic at will. From this rude framework Goethe has reared a drama of sublime grandeur.
(Goethe died March 22, 1832.)
Read from Goethe's FAUST Vol. 19, pp. 23-36

23 First of a Thousand Harem Stories
Shahrazad, favorite of the treacherous Sultan's harem, selected a most thrilling story for her bridal night. By leaving it unfin­ished she was privileged to live to continue it the next night - and so on for a thousand and one nights.
Read from THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Vol. 16, pp. 15-24

40 FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY

MARCH Reading Guide

24 A Queen Pleads
Guenevere, King Arthur's queen, justly accused but harshly treated, makes a noble and brave attempt to convince her court that Gawaine lied and that Launcelot was true.
(William Morris born March 24, 1834.)
Read: Morris' DEFENSE OF GUENEVERE Vol. 42, pp. 1183-1193

25 How Conscience Makes Cowards of Us All
Hamlet pondered over which course contained the least unhap­piness - whether to suffer here and not incur new dangers, or whether to end it all and chance the unknown terrors of the next world. See how Hamlet reasoned.
(Shakespeare makes his will, March 25, 1616.)
Read from Shakespeare's HAMLET Vol. 46, pp. 144-158

26 "2,500 Years Ago Æsop Said . . ."
Men in all ages have recognized the ingenuity of the practical philosophy and freshness of Æsop's allegories. Spend a few delightful moments with the wit and wisdom of Æsop.
(Caxton prints Æsop's Fables, March 26, 1484.)
Read from Æsop's FABLES Vol. 17, pp. 21-30

27 When Is a Lie Not a Lie?
Is lying or quibbling ever permissible? May one juggle words so a truth is conveyed through a lie and a lie told by a truth? Stevenson unravels this puzzle.
Read: Stevenson's TRUTH OF INTERCOURSE Vol. 28, pp. 277-284

28 Pins and Other Points
The making of a simple pin is one of the most complex affairs of modern industry. Adam Smith regards the process from the worker's point of view, and shows the many and varied economic principles that are involved in pin making.
Read from Adam Smith's WEALTH OF NATIONS Vol. 10, pp. 9-17

29 Hero and Goddess Break Engagement
Brynhild, favorite goddess of Norse mythology, plighted troth with Sigurd, fearless warrior. But Sigurd forgot Brynhild and married Gudrun, whose brother, Gunner, then set out to win the beautiful Brynhild. Complications very like a modern tri­angle arose.
Read from EPIC AND SAGA Vol. 49, pp. 307-317

FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY 41

MARCH Reading Guide

30 The Plague of Milan
"I Promessi Sposi," a seventeenth century novel, vividly describes the devastating plague of Milan. Then whole families sickened in a few hours and died in less than a day's time of strange and violent complaints whose symptoms were unknown to physicians.
(Capuchin monks given charge of the plague hospital in Milan, March 30, 1630.)
Read from Manzoni's I PROMESSI SPOSI Vol. 21, pp. 500-512

31 The Ghastly Whim of John Donne
Monuments are usually made from death masks, but John Donne took pleasure in posing for his, wrapped from head to foot in a shroud. Isaak Walton tells of this in his fascinating biography of the eccentric poet.
(John Donne died March 31, 1631.)
Read from Walton's LIFE OF DR. DONNE Vol. 15, pp. 364-369

the supreme law of all is the weal of the people
Sir Francis Bacon believed that "the supreme law of all is the weal of the people." (See Reading Assignment for March 7th.)


IT WAS TRULY SAID, OPTIMI CONSILIARII MORTUI . . .
BOOKS WILL SPEAK PLAIN WHEN COUNSELLORS BLANCH.
- FRANCIS BACON.


[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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