Harvard Classics 39: Prefaces and Prologues

This volume of the Harvard Classics was very reminiscent of the volumes of essays I read not too long ago. There are many works crammed together, so I’ll go over some general thoughts and highlights.

The types of works in these volumes fall into three categories: the “TL;DR” of a work, a commentary by the author or a commentary by a translator.

The volume starts off with prefaces to early translations of classical works into English by William Claxton. These are nice primers on a few classic works, but aren’t particularly memorable.

Calvin’s introduction to the Institutes is interesting to anyone curious about the origins of Reformed theology and the extremely short version of it’s major arguments. The big points are spiritual predestination and the view of sacraments as physical representations of spiritual events.

Copernicus’ introduction to his important work is interesting from a historical perspective, but it is not meant to be a literary work of great insight or to teach you what you don’t already know. The same goes for the preface to Newton’s Principa

Literary prefaces by John Know, Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, Henrie Condell, John Dryden, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Johnson are included, but having delayed writing this post, none of them particularly stood out to me, except that I was really impressed with Edmund Spenser’s writing.

Goethe, Wordsworth, Hugo, Whitman and Taine all have introductions from their own works. Despite the fact I really enjoyed other works by Goethe, this particular introduction didn’t send me. Wordsworth presents, in many fragmented parts, a useful theory of poetry, which is very useful considering my current reading. Hugo’s preface to Cromwell nicely laid out Hugo’s intentions with the book, and provided some insight into 19th century novel-writing.

This review was a short one, but unfortunately, this volume was just a bit too scattered and lackluster for anything to really hold my interest and sink in, aside from Calvin. Hopefully that won’t be the case with the next three volumes, the giant collection of English Poetry.

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