Harvard Classics, Volume 32: Literary and Philosophical Essays

I know we just got through reading two volumes of essays, but there was one more volume of essays left to work through, this time from Continental (French, German and Italian) authors.

Unlike the sprawling English language collections, the essays in this volume were particularly great. This is probably due to the wider field from which they were drawn and the reduced size of the collection (One volume versus two).

The essays started with the most important essayist, Montaigne. The topics covered by Montaigne in these selected essays apply universally and are philosophically digestible. I would compare the works here positively with Cicero’s philosophy.

Charles Augustin Saint-Beuve’s essay on what makes a classic was an interesting essay about a timeless question.

Renan’s The Poetry of Celtic Races was an unexpected pleasure as it laid out what makes Celtic literary forms unique and distinct versus the Germanic and Mediterranean forms that have prevailed over time. It’s the kind of thing that compares Lancelot to Roland, and really was an unexpected pleasure to read.

The Aesthetic Education of Man, by Schiller was truly a masterpiece that snuck up on me a bit. It was very enlightening and got to the heart of many important issues when it comes with not just education, but the nature of beauty and the role of an educated person in society.

Kant’s short work, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals lays out Kant’s philosophy in a dense, summary form. It is about as dense and hard to work through as one might imagine, and I think I gleaned a few interesting ideas from it on ethics, but I think Kant is something that I will really have to study closely and fully when I decide to devote myself to studying him for awhile.

All and all, these works that I’ve mentioned, along with the ones I haven’t, made for an excellent collection of shorter works from non-English speaking authors. The next volume is a collection of writings about various travels and journeys ranging from Herodotus’ description of Egypt to Sir Walter Raleigh’s exploits in Venezuela.

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