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Download The Harvard Classics as Free eBooks: A “Portable University” Created in 1909

Each revolutionary age produces its personal type of nostalgia. Confronted with the large social and financial upheavals on the nineteenth century’s finish, realized Victorians like Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and Matthew Arnold regarded to Excessive Church fashions and performed the bishops of Western tradition, with a monkish devotion to preserving and transmitting outdated texts and traditions and turning again to easier methods of life. It was in 1909, the nadir of this milieu, earlier than the arrival of modernism and world battle, that The Harvard Classics took form. Compiled by Harvard’s president Charles W. Eliot and known as at first Dr. Eliot’s 5 Foot Shelf, the compendium of literature, philosophy, and the sciences, writes Adam Kirsch in Harvard Journal, served as a “monument from a extra humane and assured time” (or so its higher courses believed), and a “time capsule…. In 50 volumes.”

What does the large assortment protect? For one factor, writes Kirsch, it’s “a document of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought greatest in their very own heritage.” Eliot’s intentions for his work differed considerably from these of his English friends. Relatively than merely curating for posterity “one of the best that has been thought and mentioned” (within the phrases of Matthew Arnold), Eliot meant his anthology as a “transportable college”—a realistic set of instruments, to make sure, and in addition, in fact, a product. He advised that the complete set of texts may be divided right into a set of six programs on such conservative themes as “The Historical past of Civilization” and “Faith and Philosophy,” and but, writes Kirsch, “in a extra profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is ‘Progress.’” “Eliot’s [1910] introduction expresses full religion within the ‘intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization.’”

In its skilled synergy of ethical uplift and advertising, The Harvard Classics (discover hyperlinks to obtain them as free ebooks beneath) belong as a lot to Mark Twain’s bourgeois gilded age as to the pseudo-aristocratic age of Victoria—two sides of the identical ocean, one may say.

The concept for the gathering didn’t initially come from Eliot, however from two editors on the writer P.F. Collier, who supposed “a business enterprise from the start” after studying a speech Eliot gave to a body of workers wherein he “declared {that a} five-foot shelf of books might present”

a superb substitute for a liberal training in youth to anybody who would learn them with devotion, even when he might spare however fifteen minutes a day for studying.

Collier requested Eliot to “choose the titles” and they might publish them as a collection. The books appealed to the upwardly cellular and people hungry for information and an training denied them, however the fee would nonetheless have been prohibitive to many. Over 100 years, and several other cultural-evolutionary steps later, and anybody with an web connection can learn all the 51-volume set on-line. In a earlier submit, we summarized the variety of methods to get your palms on Charles W. Eliot’s anthology:

You’ll be able to nonetheless purchase an outdated set off of Amazon for $750. However, simply as simply, you’ll be able to head to the Web Archive and Challenge Gutenberg, which have centralized hyperlinks to each textual content included in The Harvard Classics (Wealth of Nations, Origin of Species, Plutarch’s Lives, the checklist goes on beneath). Please be aware that the earlier two hyperlinks received’t provide you with entry to the precise annotated Harvard Classics texts edited by Eliot himself. However if you need simply that, you’ll be able to all the time click on right here and get digital scans of the true Harvard Classics.

Along with these choices, Bartleby has digital texts of the complete assortment of what they name “probably the most complete and well-researched anthology of all time.” However wait, there’s extra! Rather more, in actual fact, since Eliot and his assistant William A. Neilson compiled an extra twenty volumes known as the “Shelf of Fiction.” Learn these twenty volumes—at fifteen minutes a day—beginning with Henry Fielding and ending with Norwegian novelist Alexander Kielland at Bartleby.

What could strike fashionable readers of Eliot’s assortment are exactly the “blind spots in Victorian notions of tradition and progress” that it represents. For instance, these three harbingers of doom for Victorian certitude—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—are nowhere to be seen. Omissions like this are fairly telling, however, as Kirsch writes, we’d not take a look at Eliot’s achievement as a relic of a naively optimistic age, however quite as “an inspiring testimony to his religion in the potential for democratic training with out the lack of excessive requirements.” This was, and nonetheless stays, a noble excellent, if one which—just like the utopian desires of the Victorians—can typically appear frustratingly unattainable (or culturally imperialist). However the widespread availability of free on-line humanities actually brings us nearer than Eliot’s time might ever come.

If you want to help the mission of Open Tradition, think about making a donation to our web site. It’s laborious to rely 100% on adverts, and your contributions will assist us proceed offering one of the best cultural and academic supplies to learners in all places. You’ll be able to contribute by means of PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks to your help!

Associated Content material:

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W.H. Auden’s 1941 Literature Syllabus Asks College students to Learn 32 Nice Works, Protecting 6000 Pages

The Harvard Classics: A Free, Digital Assortment

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Josh Jones is a author and musician primarily based in Durham, NC. Comply with him at @jdmagness

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