Tackling The “Harvard Classics”

Liberal arts is an important field of study. It is also one which can be (and even in a college setting, largely is) self-taught. What most people get today is a far cry from what would be considered standard 100 years ago. The American founders would cry to see how far we’ve fallen when it comes to practicing the Western Canon. I myself am not nearly as well versed in it as I ought to be.

Charles William Elliot, former president of Harvard, claimed that one could achieve a full liberal education from reading 15 minutes a day from a 5-foot shelf. By my estimation, at 15 minutes per day, every day, this would take 18 months at a typical reading pace.

A publisher challenged him to choose the texts for this shelf. He wound up with a 51-volume, 2.5 million word collection which was published in 1909.


While I have many projects going right now: I’m working through the Anti-Federalists and analyzing their positions, I need to work on my own writing, I’ve got plenty of other reading to catch up on, I’m learning speaker-building (for me this is mostly just basic woodworking), and I’ve got a full time job to worry about.

But being educated is a lifelong task that requires work. I’ve been far too light on reading more of the western canon the past few years and its time I got back to it.

With that I plan on embarking on reading the Harvard Classics. At a minimum I will read the ones I haven’t read already.

Wikipedia’s Table of Contents for the Classics, along with what I’ve already read (with dates) are below. I’ll note that I went to a private high school which focused hard on Western Canon sources 2001-2005, so works within those dates are prime candidates for re-reading. When it comes to enlightenment philosophers, I’ve often read selections from some of their works listed in school, but unless I read the full text and remember its name, I left it unmarked.

  • Vol. 1: FRANKLIN, WOOLMAN, PENN
    • His Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin
    • The Journal of John Woolman, by John Woolman (1774 and subsequent editions)
    • Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
  • Vol. 2. PLATO, EPICTETUS, MARCUS AURELIUS
    • The Apology, Phaedo, and Crito, by Plato (2007)
    • The Golden Sayings, by Epictetus
    • The Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius (2012)
  • Vol. 3. BACON, MILTON’S PROSE, THOS. BROWNE
    • Essays, Civil and Moral, and New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon
    • Areopagitica and Tractate of Education, by John Milton
    • Religio Medici, by Sir Thomas Browne
  • Vol. 4. COMPLETE POEMS IN ENGLISH, MILTON
    • Complete poems written in English, by John Milton (some, but not all)
  • Vol. 5. ESSAYS AND ENGLISH TRAITS, EMERSON
    • Essays and English Traits, by Ralph Waldo Emerson (some, but not all)
  • Vol. 6. POEMS AND SONGS, BURNS
    • Poems and songs, by Robert Burns
  • Vol. 7. CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE, IMITATION OF CHRIST
    • The Confessions, by Saint Augustine
    • The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis
  • Vol. 8. NINE GREEK DRAMAS
    • Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Furies, and Prometheus Bound (2008), by Aeschylus
    • Oedipus the King and Antigone, by Sophocles (2002 & 2004 respectively)
    • Hippolytus and The Bacchae, by Euripides
    • The Frogs, by Aristophanes
  • Vol. 9. LETTERS AND TREATISES OF CICERO AND PLINY
    • On Friendship, On Old Age, and letters, by Cicero
    • Letters, by Pliny the Younger
  • Vol. 10. WEALTH OF NATIONS, ADAM SMITH
    • The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith
  • Vol. 11. ORIGIN OF SPECIES, DARWIN
    • The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
  • Vol. 12. PLUTARCH’S LIVES
    • Lives, by Plutarch (2008, and yes I read all of them)
  • Vol. 13. AENEID, VIRGIL
    • Aeneid, by Virgil (just pieces)
  • Vol. 14. DON QUIXOTE, PART 1, CERVANTES
    • Don Quixote, part 1, by Cervantes
  • Vol. 15. PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, DONNE & HERBERT, BUNYAN, WALTON
    • The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
    • The Lives of Donne and Herbert, by Izaak Walton
  • Vol. 16. THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS
    • Stories from the Thousand and One Nights (some but not all)
  • Vol. 17. FOLKLORE AND FABLE, AESOP, GRIMM, ANDERSON
    • Fables, by Aesop
    • Children’s and Household Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
    • Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen
  • Vol. 18. MODERN ENGLISH DRAMA
    • All for Love, by John Dryden
    • The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
    • She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith
    • The Cenci, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
    • A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon, by Robert Browning
    • Manfred, by Lord Byron
  • Vol. 19. FAUST, EGMONT, ETC. DOCTOR FAUSTUS, GOETHE, MARLOWE
    • Faust, part 1, Egmont, and Hermann and Dorothea, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    • Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe  (2003)
  • Vol. 20. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE
    • The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri
  • Vol. 21. I PROMESSI SPOSI, MANZONI
    • I Promessi Sposi, by Alessandro Manzoni
  • Vol. 22. THE ODYSSEY, HOMER
    • The Odyssey, by Homer (2002 & 2006)
  • Vol. 23. TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, DANA
    • Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
  • Vol. 24. ON THE SUBLIME, FRENCH REVOLUTION, ETC., BURKE
    • On Taste, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections on the French Revolution, and A Letter to a Noble Lord, by Edmund Burke
  • Vol. 25. AUTOBIOGRAPHY, ETC., ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES, J.S. MILL, T. CARLYLE
    • Autobiography and On Liberty (2003), by John Stuart Mill
    • Characteristics, Inaugural Address at Edinburgh, and Sir Walter Scott, by Thomas Carlyle
  • Vol. 26. CONTINENTAL DRAMA
    • Life is a Dream, by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
    • Polyeucte, by Pierre Corneille
    • Phèdre, by Jean Racine
    • Tartuffe, by Molière
    • Minna von Barnhelm, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
    • William Tell, by Friedrich von Schiller
  • Vol. 27. ENGLISH ESSAYS: SIDNEY TO MACAULAY
  • Vol. 28. ESSAYS: ENGLISH AND AMERICAN
  • Vol. 29. VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE, DARWIN
    • The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin
  • Vol. 30. FARADAY, HELMHOLTZ, KELVIN, NEWCOMB, ETC
    • The Forces of Matter and The Chemical History of a Candle, by Michael Faraday
    • On the Conservation of Force and Ice and Glaciers, by Hermann von Helmholtz
    • The Wave Theory of Light and The Tides, by Lord Kelvin
    • The Extent of the Universe, by Simon Newcomb
    • Geographical Evolution, by Sir Archibald Geikie
  • Vol. 31. AUTOBIOGRAPHY, BENVENUTO CELLINI
    • The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
  • Vol. 32. LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS
    • Essays, by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
    • Montaigne and What is a Classic?, by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
    • The Poetry of the Celtic Races, by Ernest Renan
    • The Education of the Human Race, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
    • Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, by Friedrich von Schiller
    • Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, by Immanuel Kant
    • Byron and Goethe, by Giuseppe Mazzini
  • Vol. 33. VOYAGES AND TRAVELS
    • An account of Egypt from The Histories, by Herodotus (2001 & 2007)
    • Germany, by Tacitus
    • Sir Francis Drake Revived, by Philip Nichols
    • Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World, by Francis Pretty
    • Drake’s Great Armada, by Captain Walter Bigges
    • Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Voyage to Newfoundland, by Edward Haies
    • The Discovery of Guiana, by Sir Walter Raleigh
  • Vol. 34. FRENCH AND ENGLISH PHILOSOPHERS, DESCARTES, VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU, HOBBES
    • Discourse on Method, by René Descartes
    • Letters on the English, by Voltaire
    • On the Inequality among Mankind and Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, by Jean Jacques Rousseau
    • Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes
  • Vol. 35. CHRONICLE AND ROMANCE, FROISSART, MALORY, HOLINSHEAD
    • Chronicles, by Jean Froissart
    • The Holy Grail, by Sir Thomas Malory
    • A Description of Elizabethan England, by William Harrison
  • Vol. 36. MACHIAVELLI, MORE, LUTHER
    • The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli (1998, 2002)
    • The Life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper
    • Utopia, by Sir Thomas More (2003)
    • The Ninety-Five Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and On the Freedom of a Christian, by Martin Luther
  • Vol. 37. LOCKE, BERKELEY, HUME
    • Some Thoughts Concerning Education, by John Locke
    • Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, by George Berkeley
    • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume
  • Vol. 38. HARVEY, JENNER, LISTER, PASTEUR
    • The Oath of Hippocrates
    • Journeys in Diverse Places, by Ambroise Paré
    • On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, by William Harvey
    • The Three Original Publications on Vaccination Against Smallpox, by Edward Jenner
    • The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever, by Oliver Wendell Holmes
    • On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, by Joseph Lister
    • Scientific papers, by Louis Pasteur
    • Scientific papers, by Charles Lyell
  • Vol. 39. PREFACES AND PROLOGUES
  • Vol. 40. ENGLISH POETRY 1: CHAUCER TO GRAY
  • Vol. 41. ENGLISH POETRY 2: COLLINS TO FITZGERALD
  • Vol. 42. ENGLISH POETRY 3: TENNYSON TO WHITMAN
  • Vol. 43. AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS
  • Vol. 44. SACRED WRITINGS 1
    • Confucian: The sayings of Confucius
    • Hebrew: Job (2001)Psalms, and Ecclesiastes
    • Christian I: Luke and Acts
  • Vol. 45. SACRED WRITINGS 2
    • Christian II: Corinthians I and II and hymns
    • Buddhist: Writings
    • Hindu: The Bhagavad-Gita
    • Mohammedan: Chapters from the Koran
  • Vol. 46. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA 1
    • Edward the Second, by Christopher Marlowe
    • Hamlet (2005 & 2006), King Lear, Macbeth (2005 & 2007), and The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
  • Vol. 47. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA 2
    • The Shoemaker’s Holiday, by Thomas Dekker
    • The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson
    • Philaster, by Beaumont and Fletcher
    • The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
    • A New Way to Pay Old Debts, by Philip Massinger
  • Vol. 48. THOUGHTS AND MINOR WORKS, PASCAL
    • Thoughts, letters, and minor works, by Blaise Pascal
  • Vol. 49. EPIC AND SAGA
    • Beowulf (2002)
    • The Song of Roland
    • The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
    • The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
  • Vol. 50. INTRODUCTION, READER’S GUIDE, INDEXES
  • Vol. 51. LECTURES
    • The last volume contains sixty lectures introducing and summarizing the covered fields: history, poetry, natural science, philosophy, biography, prose fiction, criticism and the essay, education, political science, drama, travelogues, and religion.

 

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