Common sense isn't.
THE HARVARD CLASSICS
EDITED BY CHARLES W. ELIOT , L.L.D.
Also check out:
An older perspective on words in books.
An MIT Museum article on Charles Eliot.
P. F. Collier & Son Company
BY P. F. COLLIER & SON COMPANY
MANUFACTURED IN U. S. A.
THIS book was prepared and is sent to you with one purpose in view, to enable you to profit in full measure from the writings of the immortals whom you have at your beck and call in the Harvard Classics.
This great company of the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting minds of all ages and every land will afford you entertainment in endless variety, inspiration and stimulation of mind. They will carry you forward upon that road to the high goal toward which all of us are making our way. It is then to the countless hours in which you will walk in step with these great thinkers of all time that this book is dedicated.
The Harvard Classics are “all things to all men.” They are universal in their appeal and universal in their power to bestow pleasure, self satisfaction and the joy of mental growth to each man, woman and child with impartiality and in infinite variety.
HOW often does that question come to all of us? Magazines, newspapers, the books of the day—all pall upon us with their deadly monotony of the commonplace. We want something to carry us out of ourselves, to take us a million miles from our humdrum existence, to stimulate our minds to fresh endeavor, to give us a new viewpoint upon our problems, to enable us to get a fresh hold upon ourselves.
Then it is, that the Harvard Classics find their place. They meet every need, they entertain when no other book can, they exhilarate and they satisfy. They bring to you the rare pleasure of commingling with great minds, they feed your mind with stimulating thoughts, they turn your mind into fresh channels. For the Harvard Classics touch every facet of human interest. Here beckoning to you are romance, adventure, drama and mystery. Read to your heart’s content in these full blooded books—full of thrill, stimulus and delight.
You can turn to the Arabian Nights, to the explorations of Drake and Raleigh, to the adventures of Ulysses, to the homely philosophy of Franklin, to Froissart’s entrancing Chronicles, to the breathless poems of Browning, to the writings of the prophets of the mystic east, to the glorious moving prose of Burke and Macaulay, and so on through the great classics of the ages.
We want to urge you to keep at all times several volumes of the Harvard Classics easily at hand on your desk or table to read and to browse through. Don’t put your set away in a distant bookcase where you must go to get them. These are friendly books to have near you, they are the best of companions at all times. To be able to reach for your favorite volume and take a few moments out of a busy day, in which you are transported to other worlds and other times is a privilege that cannot be held lightly. The Harvard Classics will repay you manyfold in dividends of delight and satisfaction for the hours you have spent in the company of the immortal writers.
DR. CHARLES W. ELIOT for forty years President of Harvard University, acclaimed without question America’s greatest scholar and educator, was eminently fitted to select out of the world’s literature, a well-rounded library of liberal education—depicting the progress of man observing, recording, inventing, and imagining from the earliest historical times to the present day.
Never before had a task of this magnitude been undertaken by an educator of the standing of Dr. Eliot. Never before had a question of such unusual public importance received the time and attention that has been applied to the selection of the contents of the Harvard Classics.
“Before the reading plan represented by The Harvard Classics had taken definite form, I had more than once stated in public that in my opinion a five-foot—at first a three-foot—shelf would hold books enough to afford a good substitute for a liberal education to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.
“P. F. Collier & Son Company proposed that I undertake to make a selection of fifty volumes, which would approximately fill a five-foot shelf, and be well adapted to accomplish the educational object I had in mind.
“I accepted the proposal. The work of selection extended intermittently over nearly twelve months; for the question of exclusion or inclusion of each item had to be carefully considered from every possible angle.
“It was further proposed that the set be called the Harvard Classics. In view of this proposed name, and of the fact that I had been president of Harvard University for nearly forty years, I asked the President and Fellows of Harvard College if they saw any objection, from the point of view of the University, to my accepting the
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proposal of P. F. Collier & Son Company. The Board replied unanimously that they saw no objection, and that, in their judgment, the undertaking, if well carried out, would prove a useful one from the educational point of view.
“My aim was not to select the best fifty, or best hundred, books in the world, but to give, in twenty-three thousand pages or thereabouts, a picture of the progress of the human race within historical times, so far as that progress can be depicted in books. The purpose of The Harvard Classics is, therefore, one different from that of collections in which the editor’s aim has been to select a number of best books; it is nothing less than the purpose to present so ample and characteristic a record of the stream of the world’s thought that the observant reader’s mind shall be enriched, refined and fertilized.
“Within the limits of fifty volumes, containing about twenty-three thousand pages, my task was to provide the means of obtaining such knowledge of ancient and modern literature as seemed essential to the twentieth-century idea of a cultivated man. The best acquisition of a cultivated man is a liberal frame of mind or way of thinking; but there must be added to that possession acquaintance with the prodigious store of recorded discoveries, experiences, and reflections which humanity in its intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization has acquired and laid up.
“Liberal education accomplishes two objects. It produces a liberal frame of mind, and it makes the studious and reflective recipient acquainted with the stream of the world’s thought and feeling, and with the infinitely varied products of the human imagination. It was my hope and belief that fifty volumes might accomplish this result for any intelligent, ambitious, and persistent reader, whether his early opportunities for education has been large or small. Such was the educational purpose with which I undertook to edit The Harvard Classics.
“All the main divisions of literature are represented. Chronologi-
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cally considered, the series begins with portions of the sacred books of the oldest religions, proceeds with specimens of the literature of Greece and Rome, then makes selections from the literature of the Middle Ages in the Orient, Italy, France, Scandinavia, Ireland, England, Germany and the Latin Church, includes a considerable representation of the literature of the Renaissance in Italy, France, Germany, England, Scotland and Spain, and arriving at modern times comprehends selections derived from Italy, three centuries of France, two centuries of Germany, three centuries of England and something more than a century of the United States.
“In order to make the best use of The Harvard Classics it will be desirable for the reader to reread those volumes or passages which he finds most interesting, and commit to memory many of the pieces of poetry which stir and uplift him. It is a source of exquisite and enduring delight to have one’s mind stored with many melodious expressions of high thoughts and beautiful imagery.
“The elaborate alphabetical index is intended to give any person immediate access to any author or any subject mentioned in the entire collection, and indeed to any passage in the fifty volumes to which the inquirer has a good clue. This full index makes The Harvard Classics convenient books of reference.
“It would have been impossible to perform the task satisfactorily if the treasures of the general library and of the department libraries of Harvard University had not been at disposal. The range of the topics in the series was so wide, and the number of languages in which the desired books were originally, written so great, that the advice of specialists, each in some portion of the field, had frequently to be sought. I obtained much valuable advice of this sort from scholarly friends and neighbors.
* * * *
“The Harvard Classics have demonstrated their fitness for the special work they were intended to do. The publishers have advised me that nearly a half million sets have been placed in the homes of enthusiastic purchasers, and that a stream of unsolicited letters of
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approval comes from these owners. I have myself been surprised to see how often I turn to the collection to enjoy pieces of permanent literature, in contrast with the mass of ephemeral reading matter which I am obliged to go through.
“One may hope that the collection will endure for decades to come, not only as a monument and milestone, but also as an active force toward the sound mental equipment of American reading people.”
DR. ELIOT’S Five-Foot Shelf of Books free you from the limitations of your age, of your country, of your personal experiences; they give you access to all ages, to all countries, to all experience. They take you out of the rut of life in the town you live in and make you a citizen of the world. They offer you the companionship of the most interesting and influential men and women who have ever lived; they make it possible for you to travel without leaving home, and to have vacations without taking time from your work. They offer you—if you will only accept their gifts— friends, travel, the knowledge of life; they offer you education, the means of making your life what you want it to be.
Emerson said: “There are 850,000 volumes in the Imperial Library at Paris. If a man were to read industriously from dawn to dark for sixty years, he would die in the first alcove. Would that some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books and alighting upon a few true ones, which made him happy and wise, would name those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.”
Emerson’s wish, which is the great need and wish of thousands of earnest, ambitious people, has been fulfilled. The fulfillment is Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf of Books.
NOW you have the Harvard Classics, stop for a moment and think just what they mean to you! Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf of Books bring to your side, in the comfort of your own home, a liberal education, entertainment and counsel of the greatest men the world has ever seen.
These men are the makers of civilization, the shapers of history. You live with them through past ages; you know their achievements; you travel with them, discover with them, hear their immortal sayings, listen to their profound logic, thrill to their beautiful poems and stories.
The world’s immortals stand ready to take you into their confidence. You can live with them day by day. You can watch Cellini— wonderful combination of artist and knave—in his dealings with princes and pontiffs, his love affairs and his duels. You can read the letters of Pliny the Younger, in which he asks whether he shall destroy the “sect called Christians,” and those describing the destruction of Pompeii. You can stand with Cicero in the Roman Senate while he denounces Catiline. You revel in the delightful humor of the eccentric Don Quixote, who gaily set forth to battle windmills, believing that they were giants.
You will thrill again to the adventures of the Boy Dana, standing on the windswept deck of his sailing ship as she encountered the hazardous passage around Cape Horn. You will respond to the lilt of Herrick’s poem, as he writes, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying.” You will read the fascinating oriental adventures to be found in The Thousand and One Nights. You can see Franklin hanging out the lantern in front of his house, the first street light in America. You can live with the greatest men in the intimate personal concerns of their daily existence. There is in all literature no greater pleasure than this.
By opening the pages of a book, to transport oneself in a second into the age of Pericles or the Gardens of the Medici at Florence, is
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the modern version of Aladdin’s lamp and makes one master of treasures more rare and lustrous than those which adorned the palaces of Bagdad.
Dr. Eliot’s selections cover every field of human knowledge. On the authority of this great educator and scholar, you have at your elbow the most interesting and important books.
So vast is the range of The Harvard Classics, that they touch every phase of human interest. They tell of the great discoveries and inventions of the ages, the epoch-making progress of our world in science and medicine, and they relate the history and development of our laws, our educational systems, and our humanitarian reforms. They present the supreme works of 302 of the world’s immortal, creative minds; essays, biography, fiction, history, philosophy, the supreme writings which express man’s ambitions, hope and development throughout the centuries.
“My first reading of the Harvard Classics,” writes a woman purchaser, “gave me a pleasure likened unto finding small particles of gold, and the more I read, the more nuggets of golden literature are obtained through a few minutes of pleasant reading each day.” Nearly a half million busy men and women are finding the joy of mental relaxation and stimulus in a few moments a day spent with these books.
WHAT makes the Harvard Classics the greatest library of literature ever conceived? What has brought these marvelous works into the homes of nearly a half million people? The Harvard Classics most assuredly have supreme qualities that entitle them to greatness. Dr. Eliot has given in this peerless library two incomparable boons to the world.
The first has been to present a brilliant selection of the priceless writings of all time so that, as he said, “Their faithful and considerate reading will give any man the essentials of a liberal education, even if he devote but fifteen minutes a day.” The second is found in the magnificent group of editorial features. These are:
The Introductory Lectures
The General Index
The Index to the First Lines
The Chronological Index
The Readers’ Guide
The Selections for Boys and Girls
The Lecture Volume
The Daily Reading Guide
These make the Harvard Classics live to the reader, they indispensably aid him to obtain the utmost in enjoyment from his set. They transform these imperishable books into a living, constructive force to entertain, stimulate and inspire him. They enable the Harvard Classics to render an educational service unsurpassed by any other set of books.
In brief, these great exclusive features combined with the priceless selections give to every man and woman the privilege of a university training at home. These invaluable features are described in detail in the following pages.
IN leafing through the volumes of Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf you will perceive that all selections are preceded by an introductory critical essay. These you will find of the greatest interest for they call to your attention in a most fascinating and illuminating manner the chief facts in the life of the author and how he came to write that particular book. You are told of the writer’s personal traits, his struggles and his triumphs which helped to mold his life and the contribution he has made to world literature.
This skilfully-written essay is a “critique” of the particular selection that follows, establishing its place in literature and estimating it in comparison with other works by the same author. Lastly it suggests why you—as a cultivated man or woman—should read it. You are told how much to believe of Cellini’s famous, bragging Autobiography, why Sir Walter Scott was forced to write from morning to midnight, and, to give still another instance, the circumstances surrounding Samuel Johnson’s bitterly ironic letter to one of the greatest nobles of England, Lord Chesterfield.
In selections, such as the books of the Bible, you are told what is most important to look for in these classics. Full explanation is made of the contents of a piece and an appreciation of the beauty and power of the selection is generally given so that you may more readily perceive its merits. Comparisons are frequently made between one work and another. These are of untold assistance in giving you a broad view of a certain period or of allied forms of literature and science.
If you are making a study of any given subject, you will often find that the Introductory Lectures furnish you with information which you can obtain nowhere else. By their variety, their simplicity of statement, and their fullness of detail, these critical essays are amply fitted to supplement the selections, adding greatly to your interest, and will help you extract the greatest benefit from them. This is really having university instruction at home, and more than that, by the greatest teacher of one of the greatest universities.
AN extraordinarily helpful feature to the reader are the voluminous footnotes which appear throughout the entire set. Every one of the 22,462 pages has been carefully edited so that reader and student may obtain the most from their reading and extract the full meaning from the text.
These footnotes include explanations of involved passages, cross references, interesting sidelights and criticisms. They contain titles of books for supplementary reading, phrases and passages translated from their original foreign languages, definitions of words and terms, brief accounts of the lives of famous people mentioned in the text, pronunciations of strange words, and many other invaluable helps to the reader.
They indicate differences of opinion, they review trends of thought related to those in the subject matter, they point out errors of judgment in the light of present day thinking, they mention important events which influenced contemporary writing, they show the bearing one scientific or geographic discovery had on another, they reveal the relations existing among different countries, schools, and religions. They clear up obscure meanings in the works of the older writers not readily intelligible in the present day.
These exhaustive footnotes throughout the entire fifty volumes, enable the reader to gain a full and comprehensive knowledge of the selection which he is reading. Thus, the great pieces of literature which go to make up the Harvard Classics are rendered completely enjoyable and understandable to everyone. In every respect the footnotes correspond to the detailed explanations and comments given by university lecturers in their college courses.
In no other work will you find such diversified and useful information on so many subjects. These footnotes, complete in every detail, were prepared by scholars who have made their life work the study of this immortal literature. They are but another splendid feature of the Harvard Classics.
THIS main Index to the Five-Foot Shelf is as complete as the human mind can make it. It is the only volume of its kind in existence; over $50,000 and a year of expert work were spent upon it. It contains 76,000 references and gives instant access to the worth while books of every age that have been written on every subject. Here, in fact, is the exhaustive key to this vast storehouse of knowledge.
The Index is extremely easy to use. Page 116 of the fiftieth volume fully and clearly explains the way in which contents have been compiled. But even the perusal of this explanatory note is almost unnecessary, for the Index is arranged so simply that the reader will find no difficulty in finding what he wants.
To the busy man who wants information for a speech, an article, an advertisement, or an editorial, this Index renders a service that cannot be computed in terms of dollars and cents. Long days of search would not bring to hand the wealth of material that can be obtained in a few minutes through this source.
Cross-indexed as thoroughly as it is, there are few items that can possibly escape you. Certainly the sub-divisions of each topic will enable you to find instantly what you are looking for.
Realizing the worth of this great work of reference, Dean Evans, of the Chattanooga Law School, said, “The Index Volume is a marvel of excellence. By it one may easily trace the best thoughts of the wisest men on all topics of vital human interest running through the ages.”
Particularly valuable is the Index to the First Lines of poems, songs, hymns and psalms appearing in all the volumes of the Harvard Classics. Very often you hear or remember the first line of a poem quoted and are unable to establish the title or the author. This Index gives you the means by which you can “place” the verse in your own mind.
If you yourself are hunting for an apt quotation, a line of poetry,
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or even the author, his dates of birth and death, or the title of his poem, you have only to look up the first line of poetry and be referred to the place where the author and his work are mentioned. By using this convenient list of first lines, you often save yourself hours of fruitless search and, in some cases, mental embarrassment at not being able to locate a well known poem. In this fashion does the Index to First Lines take the place of a private secretary.
Volume fifty contains a complete chronological index starting with the earliest known dates, centuries before Christ, and coming down to our present day. This index lists the years of birth and death of the world’s famous men, with explanatory comments on each. It gives dates of industrial, social, and religious revolutions, of decisive battles, and when epoch-making speeches were delivered, on what dates classic dramas were written, acted, and published, and when notable scientific discoveries were made.
This Index may be used with Dr. Eliot’s prescribed courses of reading, and will be invaluable for reference. It is difficult to estimate the importance of this specialized index to the student of history, civilization, literature and allied subjects. The entire story of mankind may be read from this table of dates.
THE Readers’ Guide offers you courses of reading and study of a broad educational nature. By following the suggested outline of any course which you will find in volume fifty, you will obtain a splendid working knowledge of that subject comparable in every way to that which you would receive in a university. These courses as laid out by Dr. Eliot are designed to afford a liberal, general training.
More than any other American educator, Dr. Eliot is responsible for our modern methods of university teaching. He inspired and formulated the educational system not only at Harvard, of which he was president for forty years, but he influenced the curriculums in schools and colleges throughout the country. These courses therefore in which he took so great an interest and care in outlining for reading in the Harvard Classics bear the stamp of the highest authority.
Dr. Eliot was a staunch believer in systematized reading. He held that reading so done, would lead to a liberal education. Reading not so organized was of negative value. He felt that directed reading leading progressively through a subject from its simpler to its more complicated aspects was the best possible training. The reading courses in the Harvard Classics represent his idea of orderly, worth while reading for every man and woman.
Their value to the ambitious, serious student cannot be easily estimated. A faithful carrying out of the assignments in the outlines will give a very remarkable knowledge of the subjects studied.
Out of his wide experience, Dr. Eliot prescribes here eleven reading courses. These are all on cultural subjects which form the backbone of a liberal college education and they embrace such interesting and instructive topics as The History of Civilization, Religion and Philosophy, Education, Science, Politics, Voyages and Travels, Criticism of Literature and the Fine Arts, Drama, Biography and Letters, Essays, Narrative Poetry and Prose Fiction. In each of these widely diversified subjects, Dr. Eliot has arranged a broad, comprehensive
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reading list from the writings appearing in the Five-Foot Shelf and arranged them according to subject and the order in which they should be read. Logically, Dr. Eliot chooses the simpler selections first, which give the elemental or general survey of the subject and gradually proceeds to the more difficult aspects as the reader progresses.
But so wisely has the great educator selected his lists, that the topics for reading are also generally in chronological order. In this way you start at the beginning of man’s thought on a subject and follow it down through the centuries. Dr. Eliot has also written a short description of each reading course, explaining its plan and purpose and telling you what is most important to get from your reading. He comments briefly on the classic selections and often mentions the chief facts in the lives of the famous authors. The short prefaces in fact, serve the same highly useful purpose as a professor’s introductory remarks in a classroom.
In arranging these courses Dr. Eliot has mingled with the serious, in pleasant proportion, lighter pieces in order to give variety and entertainment, as well as instruction. These include novels reflecting the life of the times, witty poems, stirring ballads, and essays dealing appropriately with the subjects. Dr. Eliot’s simple but thorough plan of study enables you to master his courses with the greatest benefit to yourself. This Readers’ Guide is a valuable key which unlocks the knowledge, the wit and wisdom in the Harvard Classics. It is but another of the many precious contributions Dr. Eliot makes to the cause of real education.
It is not at all out of the way to suggest that he had a very definite reference to the reading courses when he made that famous statement about the Harvard Classics, that, “the faithful and considerate reading of these books will give any man the essentials of a liberal education even if he devote to them but fifteen minutes a day.”
In order that the child may have a pleasant introduction to this monumental work, there are here given those pieces which the boy or girl can read and enjoy. Dr. Eliot has chosen more than sixty stories, poems and articles with the numbers of volumes and pages where they appear in the Five-Foot Shelf. Here will be found the world’s best tales, plays and verses arranged in the order in which they are likely to appeal to growing children. The easier, simpler tales come first and give the younger members of the family a solid foundation of interesting, easily understood literature. As the children develop, they can follow down the list and read the more advanced selections. Thus, they have secured a grasp on worth while books and have developed a taste for reading which will ever be a constant source of pleasure and satisfaction.
The Harvard Classics bring the growing mind of the boy and girl in contact with the greatest reading of all time. These books will serve to whet their healthy and eager curiosity, for they are the finest writings of the greatest creative minds of the world. The Harvard Classics will bring to the growing boy and girl a familiarity with the supreme literature, at the impressionable age when cultural habits are formed for a lifetime.
These selections will train your children to turn to the Harvard Classics for their entertainment, stimulation and recreation, and they will use this great library throughout their school years.
THE additional volume to the fifty volume set is entitled, “Lectures on the Harvard Classics.” This extraordinary series falls into twelve main divisions of knowledge such as, History, Poetry, Natural Science, Philosophy, Biography, Prose Fiction, Criticism and the Essay, Education, Political Science, Drama, Voyages and Travel and Religion, with each division containing five lectures on those subjects. Thus there are sixty lectures in all. If you will turn to Dr. Eliot’s short introduction, you will sense the importance he puts on this series of lectures in promoting the educational object he had in mind when he made the collection. Also turn to President Neilson’s preface in which he says, the lectures open the door to the Harvard Classics “the great storehouse of standard works in all the main departments of intellectual activity.”
Through these lectures, as Dr. Neilson further writes, the student is introduced to a vast range of topics under the guidance of distinguished professors. Among these are George Pierce Baker, probably the best known teacher today of the drama in America; Thomas Nixon Carver, the most noted authority on political science and economics in this country; Bliss Perry, famous professor at Harvard, editor and lecturer; Ralph Barton Perry, one of America’s outstanding philosophers and many others equally prominent.
To have the privilege to hear this group of men speak or read their great lectures is an opportunity which cannot be measured in terms of dollars and cents. These lectures will do much to broaden your outlook and extend your interests to diversified, vital branches of thought. The footnotes, too, in this volume furnish splendid supplementary material for reading. They make the author’s meaning perfectly clear to you and offer interesting information on the matter in the text. The value of this volume with the other features such as the Introduction, Notes, Guides to Reading and Indexes as Professor Neilson states, “may thus claim to constitute a reading course unparalleled in comprehensiveness and authority.”
PRESIDENT ELIOT wrote in his introduction to the Harvard Classics, “In my opinion, a five-foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to any one who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.” With this very definitely in mind, we have prepared a daily reading guide in which the assignments chosen appropriately enough, will take the usual person about fifteen minutes to read with leisurely enjoyment. These selections assigned for each day in the year as you will see, are introduced by comments on the author, the subjects or the chief characters. They will serve to introduce you in the most pleasant manner possible to the Harvard Classics. They will enable you to browse enjoyably among the world’s immortal writings with entertainment and stimulation in endless variety.
To take a few minutes out of your busy day to commune with these great writers of all time is one of the finest habits possible. That fifteen minutes will carry you on wings of romance and adventure to other lands, to the scenes of other days and will break the monotony of your days, will change the course of your thinking, will give you the privilege of contact with the great minds whose writings have stimulated and inspired mankind over the centuries.
As comprehensive as it is, the Daily Reading Guide does not presume to exhaust the wealth of interest and profit that lies between the pages of this great library. We believe that once you have been afforded a taste of the delights of the imperishable writings you will straightway turn back to read the larger works to which you have been so pleasantly introduced. In addition to the Reading Guide, you have Dr. Eliot’s Reading Courses as outlined in volume fifty— the remarkable course of sixty lectures and the index with its seventy-six thousand references, all of which will provide you with fascinating topics in an unfailing diversity. Thus the Harvard Classics afford you in generous measure entertainment and enchantment and intellectual stimulus.
Also check out:
An older perspective on words in books.
An MIT Museum article on Charles Eliot.
|Quote of the moment|
|The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize.|
|~ Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945), U.S. president. The Wit and Wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt, On America, p. 7, eds. Peter and Helen Beilenson, Peter Pauper Press (1982). |
On the value of education. ~
Common sense isn't.
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