Washington's Dictum on Private Life

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

George Washington

George Washington
Vol. 43, pp. 225-228 of The Harvard Classics

Washington declared that the strength of the new nation lay in the "pure and immutable principles of private morality." A free government, fortified by the virtues and affection of its citizens, can command the respect of the world.
(Washington inaugurated April 30, 1789.)

Washington’s First Inaugural Address

[At the first election held under the Constitution, George Washington, who had been chairman of the convention which framed the Constitution, was unanimously chosen President. The inaugural address was delivered in Federal Hall, at Wall and Nassau Streets, New York, April 30, 1789.]


AMONG the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties, than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years; a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust, to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature, and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is, that, if in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

How I Got Rich - by Sindbad the Sailor

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Illustration from The Story of Sinbad the Sailor

Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.
Vol. 16 pp. 231-242 of The Harvard Classic

Sindbad, a poor man, recited woeful verses before the magnificent dwelling of Sindbad of the Sea. The great Sindbad, hearing him, invited the poor Sindbad to a feast and told the wonderful story of his fabulous fortune.

Nights 537–566

The Story of Es-Sindibad of the Sea and Es-Sindibad of the Land

THERE was, in the time of Khalifeh, the Prince of the Faithful, Harun Er-Rashid, in the city of Baghdad, a man called Es-Sindibad the Porter. He was a man in poor circumstances, who bore burdens for hire upon his head. And it happened to him that he bore one day a heavy burden, and that day was excessively hot; so he was wearied by the load, and perspired profusely, the heat violently oppressing him. In this state he passed by the door of a merchant, the ground before which was swept and sprinkled, and there the air was temperate; and by the side of the door was a wide mastabah. The porter therefore put down his burden upon that mastabah, to rest himself, and to scent the air; and when he had done so, there came forth upon him, from the door, a pleasant, gentle gale, and an exquisite odour, wherewith the porter was delighted. He seated himself upon the edge of the mastabah, and heard in that place the melodious sounds of stringed instruments, with the lute among them, and mirth-exciting voices, and varieties of distinct recitations. He heard also the voices of birds, warbling, and praising God (whose name be exalted!) with diverse tones and with all dialects; consisting of turtle-doves and hezars and blackbirds and nightingales and ring-dove and kirawans; 1 whereupon he wondered in his mind, and was moved with great delight. He then advanced to that door, and found within the house a great garden, wherein he beheld pages and slaves and servants and other dependants, and such things as existed not elsewhere save in the abodes of Kings and Sultans; and after that, there blew upon him the odour of delicious, exquisite viands, of all different kinds, and of delicious wine.

"Vanity of Vanities," Saith the Preacher

Monday, 28 April 2014

Tanakh and Old Testament

Vol. 44 pp. 335-341 of The Harvard Classics

Three hundred years before Christ, a preacher in Jerusalem complained that there was no new thing under the sun. Everything considered new had really existed in the time of the fathers. Sophisticated and modern is this writer of 2,300 years ago.


[1]  THE WORDS of the 1 Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

[2]  Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

[3]  What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?

He Dared to See Forbidden Beauty

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson. (1803–1882). Essays and English Traits.
Vol. 5, pp. 297-310 of The Harvard Classics

The Puritan world feared Beauty. Emerson, great American essayist and philosopher, declared that the world was made for beauty, and openly worshipped at beauty's shrine.
(Emerson died April 27, 1882.)

XVIII. Beauty

THE SPIRAL tendency of vegetation infects education also. Our books approach very slowly the things we most wish to know. What a parade we make of our science, and how far off, and at arm’s length, it is from its objects! Our botany is all names, not powers: poets and romancers talk of herbs of grace and healing; but what does the botanist know of the virtues of his weeds? The geologist lays bare the strata, and can tell them all on his fingers: but does he know what effect passes into the man who builds his house in them? What effect on the race that inhabits a granite shelf? what on the inhabitants of marl and of alluvium?

Do Miracles Still Happen

Saturday, 26 April 2014

David Hume

David Hume (1711–76). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
Vol. 37, pp. 375-385 of The Harvard Classics

Just what constitutes a miracle? Does Science endorse miracles? One wonders why such marvelous things do not happen often nowadays. Hume tells why.
(David Hume born April 26, 1711.)

Of Miracles
Part I

THERE is, in Dr. Tillotson’s writings, an argument against the real presence, which is as concise, and elegant, and strong as any argument can possibly be supposed against a doctrine, so little worthy of a serious refutation. It is acknowledged on all hands, says that learned prelate, that the authority, either of the scripture or of tradition, is founded merely in the testimony of the Apostles, who were eye-witnesses to those miracles of our Saviour, by which he proved his divine mission. Our evidence, then, for, the truth of the Christian religion is less than the evidence for the truth of our senses; because, even in the first authors of our religion, it was no greater; and it is evident it must diminish in passing from them to their disciples; nor can any one rest such confidence in their testimony, as in the immediate object of his senses. But a weaker evidence can never destroy a stronger; and therefore, were the doctrine of the real presence ever so clearly revealed in scripture, it were directly contrary to the rules of just reasoning to give our assent to it. It contradicts sense, though both the scripture and tradition, on which it is supposed to be built, carry not such evidence with them as sense; when they are considered merely as external evidences, and are not brought home to every one’s breast, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit.

Mighty Rome Feared These Men

Friday, 25 April 2014


Tacitus, Germany
Vol. 33, pp. 106-120 of The Harvard Classics

Men who danced among sharp swords - who gambled with their lives - who took their women to the battlefields to encourage the brave and shame the cowardly - these were the primitive Germans who made Roman emperors tremble.

 For their drink, they draw a liquor from barley or other grain; and ferment the same, so as to make it resemble wine. Nay, they who dwell upon the bank of the Rhine deal in wine. Their food is very simple; wild fruit, fresh venison, or coagulated milk. They banish hunger without formality, without curious dressing and curious fare. In extinguishing thirst, they use not equal temperance. If you will but humour their excess in drinking, and supply them with as much as they covet, it will be no less easy to vanquish them by vices than by arms.

Nineteen Million Elephants

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882). Origin of Species.
Vol. 11, pp. 74-86 of The Harvard Classics

At the rate at which elephants naturally increase, Darwin estimated that in 750 years there could be nearly 19,000,000 elephants. But did Darwin consider the ravages of civilization and circuses?

II. Struggle for Existence
Geometrical Ratio of Increase

STRUGGLE for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. Although some species may be now increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them.

"If You Have Poison for Me, I Will Drink It"

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

King Lear and the Fool in the Storm

William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of King Lear.
Vol. 46, pp. 293-303 of The Harvard Classics

Shaken and disillusioned by the treachery of his elder daughter, King Lear suspected even the faithful Cordelia of evil designs. Her most tender efforts to comfort him failed to drive away the insistent specter of his madness.
(Shakespeare died April 23, 1616.)

Act IV
Scene VI


  Edg.  From the dread summit of this chalky bourn. 1
Look up a-height; 2 the shrill-gorg’d 3 lark so far
Cannot be seen or heard. Do but look up.
  Glou.  Alack, I have no eyes.
Is wretchedness depriv’d that benefit,
To end itself by death? ’Twas yet some comfort,
When misery could beguile the tyrant’s rage,
And frustrate his proud will.
  Edg.        Give me your arm.
Up: so. How is ’t? Feel you your legs? You stand.
  Glou.  Too well, too well.
  Edg.        This is above all strangeness.
Upon the crown o’ the cliff, what thing was that
Which parted from you?
  Glou.        A poor unfortunate beggar.
  Edg.  As I stood here below, methought his eyes
Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,
Horns whelk’d 4 and waved like the enridged sea.
It was some fiend; therefore, thou happy father,
Think that the clearest 5 gods, who make them honours
Of men’s impossibilities, have preserv’d thee.
  Glou.  I do remember now. Henceforth I’ll bear
Affliction till it do cry out itself,
“Enough, enough,” and die. That thing you speak of,
I took it for a man; often ’twould say,
“The fiend, the fiend!” He led me to that place.
  Edg.  Bear free and patient thoughts.

Happiness as a Duty

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals.
Vol. 32, pp. 310-317 of The Harvard Classics

Immanuel Kant, the most influential of German philosophers, taught that it was man's duty to be happy, for an unhappy man is tempted to sin. Seekers after happiness find aid and inspiration in Kant's writings.
(Immanuel Kant born April 22, 1724.)

First Section: Transition from the Common Rational Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical


  To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations, e.g. the inclination to honour, which, if it is happily directed to that which is in fact of public utility and accordant with duty, and consequently honourable, deserves praise and encouragement, but not esteem. For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination. Put the case that the mind of that philanthropist were clouded by sorrow of his own, extinguishing all sympathy with the lot of others, and that while he still has the power to benefit others in distress, he is not touched by their trouble because he is absorbed with his own; and now suppose that he tears himself out of this dead insensibility, and performs the action without any inclination to it, but simply from duty, then first has his action its genuine moral worth. Further still; if nature has put little sympathy in the heart of this or that man; if he, supposed to be an upright man, is by temperament cold and indifferent to the sufferings of others, perhaps because in respect of his own he is provided with the special gift of patience and fortitude, and supposes, or even requires, that others should have the same—and such a man would certainly not be the meanest product of nature—but if nature had not specially framed him for a philanthropist, would he not still find in himself a source from whence to give himself a far higher worth than that of a good-natured temperament could be? Unquestionably. It is just in this that the moral worth of the character is brought out which is incomparably the highest of all, namely, that he is beneficent, not from inclination, but from duty.

Books as Windows to the Past

Monday, 21 April 2014

Hippolyte Taine

Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1863)
Vol. 39, pp. 410-418 of The Harvard Classics

Through the pages of a book the reader sees the life of past days. Carnivals, processions, battles, coronations, voyages - the whole history of the world and its people is revealed in a stupendous pageant. Taine was a Frenchman who wrote an unsurpassed history of English literature; its introduction reveals the unusual combination of an imaginative and an analytical style.
(H. A. Taine born April 21, 1828.)

Introduction to the History of English Literature

1 HISTORY, within a hundred years in Germany, and within sixty years in France, has undergone a transformation owing to a study of literatures.

  The discovery has been made that a literary work is not a mere play of the imagination, the isolated caprice of an excited brain, but a transcript of contemporary manners and customs and the sign of a particular state of intellect. The conclusion derived from this is that, through literary monuments, we can retrace the way in which men felt and thought many centuries ago. This method has been tried and found successful.

Byron Gave His Life for Freedom

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Lord Byron

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824)
Vol. 41, pp. 801-815 of The Harvard Classic

England's romantic poet died while fighting against the Turks on the side of the Greeks. His poems, "The Isles of Greece" and "The Prisoner of Chillon," proclaim freedom.
(At Missolonghi, Greece, 37 guns honor Byron, April 20, 1824.)

The Prisoner of Chillon

MY hair is gray, but not with years,
  Nor grew it white
  In a single night,
As men’s have grown from sudden fears;
My limbs are bow’d, though not with toil,
But rusted with a vile repose,
For they have been a dungeon’s spoil,
And mine has been the fate of those
To whom the goodly earth and air
Are bann’d, and barr’d—forbidden fare;
But this was for my father’s faith
I suffer’d chains and courted death;
That father perish’d at the stake
For tenets he would not forsake;
And for the same his lineal race
In darkness found a dwelling-place.
We were seven—who now are one,
  Six in youth, and one in age,
Finish’d as they had begun,
  Proud of Persecution’s rage;
One in fire, and two in field
Their belief with blood have seal’d,
Dying as their father died,
For the God their foes denied;
Three were in a dungeon cast,
Of whom this wreck is left the last.

Battle of Concord

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)
Vol. 42, pp. 1245-1246 of The Harvard Classics

Dr. Eliot says of the opening stanza of the "Concord Hymn": "In twenty-eight words here are the whole scene and all the essential circumstances . . . what an accurate, moving, immortal description is this!"
(The Battle of Concord was fought on April 19, 1775.)

Concord Hymn
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837

BY the rude bridge that arched the flood,
  Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
  And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
  Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
  Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
  We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
  When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
  To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
  The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Ready for Adventures and Conquests

Friday, 18 April 2014

Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616). Don Quixote, Part 1.
Vol. 14, pp. 17-28 of The Harvard Classics

Reading too many romances of knights and valorous deeds caused a poor Spanish gentleman to polish up his great-grandfather's armor, rechristen his old nag, and sally forth. "Don Quixote," besides holding a secure niche in literature as the work that quashed the romantic school of knight-errantry, is at the same time one of the most widely-read stories in the world.
(Cervantes receives the last sacraments April 18, 1616.)

The First Part
I. Wherein Is Rehearsed the Calling and Exercise of the Renowned Gentleman, Don Quixote of the Mancha

THERE lived not long since, in a certain village of the Mancha, the name whereof I purposely omit, a gentleman of their calling that use to pile up in their halls old lances, halberds, morions, and such other armours and weapons. He was, besides, master of an ancient target, a lean stallion, and a swift greyhound. His pot consisted daily of somewhat more beef than mutton: a gallimaufry each night, collops and eggs on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and now and then a lean pigeon on Sundays, did consume three parts of his rents; the rest and remnant thereof was spent on a jerkin of fine puce, a pair of velvet hose, with pantofles of the same for the holy-days, and one suit of the finest vesture; for therewithal he honoured and set out his person on the workdays. He had in his house a woman-servant of about forty years old, and a niece not yet twenty, and a man that served him both in field and at home, and could saddle his horse, and likewise manage a pruning-hook. The master himself was about fifty years old, of a strong complexion, dry flesh, and a withered face. He was an early riser, and a great friend of hunting. Some affirm that his surname was Quixada, or Quesada (for in this there is some variance among the authors that write his life), although it may be gathered, by very probable conjectures, that he was called Quixana. Yet all this concerns our historical relation but little: let it then suffice, that in the narration thereof we will not vary a jot from the truth.

Benjamin Franklin - Book Salesman

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin. (1706–1790). His Autobiography.
Vol. 1, pp. 66-77 of The Harvard Classics

In 1731 there were not many books in America. Franklin saw the need for more books and by house-to-house canvassing persuaded Philadelphians to aid him in founding a public library which to-day stands as a lasting memorial to Franklin.
(Benjamin Franklin died April 17, 1790.)

  But this affair having turned my thoughts to marriage, I look’d round me and made overtures of acquaintance in other places; but soon found that, the business of a printer being generally thought a poor one, I was not to expect money with a wife, unless with such a one as I should not otherwise think agreeable. In the mean time, that hard-to-be-governed passion of youth hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way, which were attended with some expense and great inconvenience, besides a continual risque to my health by a distemper which of all things I dreaded, though by great good luck I escaped it. A friendly correspondence as neighbors and old acquaintances had continued between me and Mrs. Read’s family, who all had a regard for me from the time of my first lodging in their house. I was often invited there and consulted in their affairs, wherein I sometimes was of service. I piti’d poor Miss Read’s unfortunate situation, who was generally dejected, seldom cheerful, and avoided company. I considered my giddiness and inconstancy when in London as in a great degree the cause of her unhappiness, tho’ the mother was good enough to think the fault more her own than mine, as she had prevented our marrying before I went thither, and persuaded the other match in my absence. Our mutual affection was revived, but there were now great objections to our union. The match was indeed looked upon as invalid, a preceding wife being said to be living in England; but this could not easily be prov’d, because of the distance; and, tho’ there was a report of his death, it was not certain. Then, tho’ it should be true, he had left many debts, which his successor might be call’d upon to pay. We ventured, however, over all these difficulties, and I took her to wife, September 1st, 1730. None of the inconveniences happened that we had apprehended; she proved a good and faithful helpmate, assisted me much by attending the shop; we throve together, and have ever mutually endeavored to make each other happy. Thus I corrected that greaterratum as well as I could.

Inside the Gates of Hell

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Dante and his Poem

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). The Divine Comedy.
Vol. 20, pp. 32-39 of The Harvard Classics

The city of Dis, within the gates of Hell, was guarded by monsters and surrounded by a moat filled with the tormented. Dante, protected by Virgil, entered the forbidden city, and viewed sights never before seen by living man.
(Dante urges attack on the city of Florence, April 16, 1311.)

Inferno [Hell]
Canto VIII

ARGUMENT.—A signal having been made from the tower, Phlegyas, the ferryman of the lake, speedily crosses it, and conveys Virgil and Dante to the other side. On their passage, they meet with Filippo Argenti, whose fury and torment are described. They then arrive at the city of Dis, the entrance whereto is denied, and the portals closed against them by many Demons.

O Captain! My Captain!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Walt Whitham

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
Vol. 42, pp. 1412-1420 of The Harvard Classics

(Lincoln died April 15, 1865.)
The rugged, genuine Lincoln was idealized by Walt Whitman - the founder of the new school of American poetry. Two of Whitman's finest poems were inspired by Lincoln.

O Captain! My Captain!

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
      But O heart! heart! heart!
        O the bleeding drops of red,
          Where on the deck my Captain lies,
            Fallen cold and dead.

A Raid on Spanish Treasure in America

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sir Francis Drake

Captain Walter Bigges, Drake's Great Armada
Vol. 33, pp. 229-242 of The Harvard Classics

Spanish towns in the New World were rich in treasure and tempting booty for English soldiers of fortune, who were venturesome and merciless. "Ho! for the Spanish Main!" was the rallying cry for all freebooters and buccaneers.


A Summary and True Discourse of SIR FRANCIS DRAKE’S West Indian Voyage, begun in the year 1585. Wherein were taken the cities of SANTIAGO, SANTO DOMINGO,CARTHAGENA, and the town of ST. AUGUSTINE, in FLORIDA. Published by MASTERTHOMAS CATES.

  THIS worthy knight, for the service of his prince and country, having prepared his whole fleet, and gotten them down to Plymouth, in Devonshire, to the number of five and twenty sail of ships and pinnaces, and having assembled of soldiers and mariners to the number of 2,300 in the whole, embarked them and himself at Plymouth aforesaid, the 12. day of September, 1585, being accompanied with these men of name and charge which hereafter follow: Master Christopher Carlile, Lieutenant-General, a man of long experience in the wars as well by sea as land, who had formerly carried high offices in both kinds in many fights, which he discharged always very happily, and with great good reputation; Anthony Powell, Sergeant-Major; Captain Matthew Morgan, and Captain John Sampson, Corporals of the Field. These officers had commandment over the rest of the land-captains, whose names hereafter follow: Captain Anthony Platt, Captain Edward Winter, Captain John Goring, Captain Robert Pew, Captain George Barton, Captain John Merchant, CaptainWilliam Cecil, Captain Walter Bigges, 1 Captain John Hannam, Captain Richard Stanton.Captain Martin Frobisher, Vice-Admiral, a man of great experience in seafaring actions, who had carried the chief charge of many ships himself, in sundry voyages before, being now shipped in the Primrose; Captain Francis Knolles, Rear-Admiral in the galleonLeicester; Master Thomas Venner, captain in the Elizabeth Bonadventure, under the General; Master Edward Winter, captain in the Aid; Master Christopher Carlile, the Lieutenant-General, captain of the Tiger; Henry White, captain of the Sea-Dragon; Thomas Drake, 2 captain of the Thomas; Thomas Seeley, captain of the Minion; Baily,captain of the Talbot; Robert Cross, captain of the bark Bond; George Fortescue, captain of the bark Bonner; Edward Careless, captain of the Hope; James Erizo, captain of theWhite Lion; Thomas Moon, captain of the Francis; John Rivers, captain of the Vantage; John Vaughan, captain of the Drake; John Varney, captain of the George; John Martin,captain of the Benjamin; Edward Gilman, captain of the Scout; Richard Hawkins, captain of the galliot called the Duck; Bitfield, captain of the Swallow.

Michelangelo His Boon Companion

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571).  Autobiography.
Vol. 31, pp. 23-35 of The Harvard Classics

Kings, emperors, the greatest artists and sculptors of the Renaissance at its most magnificent period, walk through the pages of his autobiography - not as cold, austere, historical characters but as the intimate friends of Cellini.


NOW let us return to Piero Torrigiani, who, with my drawing in his hand, spoke as follows: “This Buonarroti and I used, when we were boys, to go into the Church of the Carmine, to learn drawing from the chapel of Masaccio. 1 It was Buonarroti’s habit to banter all who were drawing there; and one day, among others, when he was annoying me, I got more angry than usual, and clenching my fist, gave him such a blow on the nose, that I felt bone and cartilage go down like biscuit beneath my knuckles; and this mark of mine he will carry with him to the grave.” 2 These words begat in me such hatred of the man, since I was always gazing at the masterpieces of the divine Michel Agnolo, that although I felt a wish to go with him to England, I now could never bear the sight of him.

The Perfect Argument

Saturday, 12 April 2014

George Berkeley

George Berkeley (1685–1753). Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists.
Vol. 37, pp. 230-240 of The Harvard Classics

You would doubtless like to know how to hold your own in any argument. Read what Leslie Stephen declares the finest specimen in our language of the conduct of argument.

The Second Dialogue

  Phil. Besides spirits, all that we know or conceive are our own ideas. When, therefore, you say all ideas are occasioned by impressions in the brain, do you conceive this brain or no? If you do, then you talk of ideas imprinted in an idea causing that same idea, which is absurd. If you do not conceive it, you talk unintelligibly, instead of forming a reasonable hypothesis.

  Hyl. I now clearly see it was a mere dream. There is nothing in it.

  Phil. You need not be much concerned at it; for after all, this way of explaining things, as you called it, could never have satisfied any reasonable man. What connexion is there between a motion in the nerves, and the sensations of sound or colour in the mind? Or how is it possible these should be the effect of that?

Danger in Being Young and Fair

Friday, 11 April 2014

Faust etching by Rembrandt

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Faust. Part I.
Vol. 19, pp. 115-131 of The Harvard Classics

The virgin beauty of Margaret enchanted Faust, who dazzled her with the brilliance of many gems. Margaret innocently took his gifts, believing that beauty should not "blush unseen" - but unmindful of consequences to follow.


That I my anxious zeal may prove,
Your pangs to sooth and aid your love,
A single moment will we not delay,
Will lead you to her room this very day.


And shall I see her?—Have her?


She to a neighbour’s house will go;
But in her atmosphere alone,
The tedious hours meanwhile you may employ,
In blissful dreams of future joy.

Americans - by Will of the King

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Faceplate of the book in which the charter was published

First Charter of Virginia (1606)
Vol. 43, pp. 49-58 of The Harvard Classics

Before English adventurers could attempt settlement in America it was necessary first to get permission from the King. The charter of King James to the oldest American colony is an extremely important historical document.
(King James grants charter to Virginia, April 10, 1606.)

First Charter of Virginia

[This charter, granted by King James I. on April 10, 1606, to the oldest of the English colonies in America, is a typical example of the documents issued by the British government, authorizing “Adventurers” to establish plantations in the New World. The name “Virginia” was at that time applied to all that part of North America claimed by Great Britain.]

I JAMES, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. WHEREAS our loving and well-disposed Subjects, Sir Thomas Gates, and Sir George Somers, Knights, Richard Hackluit, Prebendary of Westminster, and Edward-Maria Wingfield, Thomas Hanham, and Ralegh Gilbert, Esqrs. William Parker, andGeorge Popham, Gentlemen, and divers others of our loving Subjects, have been humble Suitors unto us, that We would vouchsafe unto them our Licence, to make Habitation, Plantation, and to deduce a Colony of sundry of our People into that Part of America,commonly called VIRGINIA, and other Parts and Territories in America, either appertaining unto us, or which are not now actually possessed by any Christian Prince or People, situate, lying, and being all along the Sea Coasts, between four and thirty Degrees ofNortherly Latitude from the Equinoctial Line, and five and forty Degrees of the same Latitude, and in the main Land between the same four and thirty and five and forty Degrees, and the Islands thereunto adjacent, or within one hundred Miles of the Coasts thereof;

A Perfect Land in a Wilderness of Waters

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon. (1561–1626). The New Atlantis.
Vol. 3, pp. 145-155 of The Harvard Classic

West of Peru there was reported to be a land where Truth and Science were used to promote the happiness and freedom of man. Here is Bacon's description of this ideal commonwealth.
(Francis Bacon died April 9, 1629.)

WE SAILED from Peru, (where we had continued by the space of one whole year,) for China and Japan, by the South Sea; taking with us victuals for twelve months; and had good winds from the east, though soft and weak, for five months space, and more. But then the wind came about, and settled in the west for many days, so as we could make little or no way, and were sometimes in purpose to turn back. But then again there arose strong and great winds from the south, with a point east, which carried us up (for all that we could do), towards the north; by which time our victuals failed us, though we had made good spare of them. So that finding ourselves, in the midst of the greatest wilderness of waters in the world, without victuals, we gave ourselves for lost men and prepared for death. Yet we did lift up our hearts and voices to God above, who showeth his wonders in the deep,beseeching him of his mercy, that as in the beginning he discovered the face of the deep, and brought forth dry land, so he would now discover land to us, that we might not perish.

Beware the Vengeful Hounds!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014


Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.). The Libation-Bearers.
Vol. 8, pp. 111-121 of The Harvard Classics

Orestes, holding an avenging sword over his mother, is told: "Beware thy mother's vengeful hounds." How he pays for disregarding his mother's warning is told in this drama where a mother is slain to avenge a father's ghost.

Hither and not unsummoned have I come;
For a new rumour, borne by stranger men
Arriving hither, hath attained mine ears.
Of hap unwished-for, even Orestes’ death.
This were new sorrow, a blood-bolter’s load
Laid on the house that doth already bow
Beneath a former wound that festers deep.
Dare I opine these words have truth and life?
Or are they tales, of woman’s terror born,
That fly in the void air, and die disproved?
Canst thou tell aught, and prove it to my soul?

Nature Guided His Pen

Monday, 7 April 2014

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770–1850)
Vol. 41, pp. 639-651 of The Harvard Classics

Wordsworth was so closely in touch with Nature that the simple beauty of flowers, woods, and fields is reflected in his poems as if Nature herself took up the pen and wrote.
(Wordsworth born April 7, 1770.)

The Daffodils

WANDER’D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Who Is Bad?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. (121–180). The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.
Vol. 2, pp. 243-253 of The Harvard Classics

Badness has many interpretations, a different definition has been the dictate of each new generation. The solution of the eternal riddle was earnestly sought by Marcus Aurelius.
(Marcus Aurelius born April 6, 121 A. D.)


1. WHAT is badness? It is that which thou hast often seen. And on the occasion of everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is that which thou hast often seen. Everywhere up and down thou wilt find the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the middle ages and those of our own day; with which cities and houses are filled now. There is nothing new; all things are both familiar and short-lived.

  2. How can our principles become dead, unless the impressions [thoughts] which correspond to them are extinguished? But it is in thy power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame. I can have that opinion about anything, which I ought to have. If I can, why am I disturbed? The things which are external to my mind have no relation at all to my mind. Let this be the state of thy affects, and thou standest erect. To recover thy life is in thy power. Look at things again as thou didst use to look at them; for in this consists the recovery of thy life.

  3. The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds, exercises with spears, a bone to cast to little dogs, a bit of bread into fish-ponds, labourings of ants and burden-carrying, runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings—[all alike]. It is thy duty then in the midst of such things to show good humour and not a proud air; to understand, however, that every man is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies himself.

You and Your Dreams

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679). Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan.
Vol. 34, pp. 313-322 of The Harvard Classics

Dreams and their causes interested Hobbes. Without superstition, the philosopher weighed the evidence of ghosts, goblins, and witches.
(Hobbes born April 5, 1588.)

Chapter II
Of Imagination

THAT when a thing lies still, unless somewhat else stir it, it will lie still for ever, is a truth that no man doubts of. But that when a thing is in motion, it will eternally be in motion, unless somewhat else stay it, though the reason be the same, namely that nothing can change itself, is not so easily assented to. For men measure not only other men but all other things, by themselves; and, because they find themselves subject after motion to pain and lassitude, think everything else grows weary of motion, and seeks repose of its own accord; little considering whether it be not some other motion wherein that desire of rest they find in themselves consisteth. From hence it is that the schools say heavy bodies fall downwards out of an appetite to rest, and to conserve their nature in that place which is most proper for them; ascribing appetite and knowledge of what is good for their conservation, which is more than man has, to things inanimate, absurdly.

The Mistakes of a Night

Friday, 4 April 2014

Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–1774). She Stoops to Conquer.
Vol. 18, pp. 205-215 of The Harvard Classics

Genial and rollicking fun are provided in this highly entertaining story of a man who mistakes a private house for an inn, and who treats his host's daughter like a serving maid.
(Oliver Goldsmith born April 4, 1774.)

Act the First

SCENEA Chamber in an old-fashioned House

Mrs. Hardcastle
VOW, Mr. Hardcastle, you’re very particular. Is there a creature in the whole country but ourselves, that does not take a trip to town now and then, to rub off the rust a little? There’s the two Miss Hoggs, and our neighbour Mrs. Grigsby, go to take a month’s polishing every winter.
  Hard.  Ay, and bring back vanity and affection to last them the whole year. I wonder why London cannot keep its own fools at home! In my time, the follies of the town crept slowly among us, but now they travel faster than a stage-coach. Its fopperies come down not only as inside passengers, but in the very basket.

Romance with a Happy Ending

Thursday, 3 April 2014

George Herbert

Izaak Walton (1593–1683). The Lives of John Donne and George Herbert.
Vol. 15, pp. 392-404 of The Harvard Classics

"As a conqueror enters a surprised city; love made such resolutions as neither party was able to resist. She changed her name into Herbert the third day after this first interview."
(George Herbert born April 3, 1593.)

The Life of Mr. George Herbert

  I shall now proceed to his marriage; in order to which, it will be convenient that I first give the reader a short view of his person, and then an account of his wife, and of some circumstances concerning both. He was for his person of a stature inclining towards tallness; his body was very straight, and so far from being cumbered with too much flesh, that he was lean to an extremity. His aspect was cheerful, and his speech and motion did both declare him a gentleman; for they were all so meek and obliging, that they purchased love and respect from all that knew him.

A Spoon Dances in the Moonlight

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882). The Voyage of the Beagle.
Vol. 29, pp. 462-471 of The Harvard Classics

A huge spoon dressed in human finery, placed on a grave, appears to become convulsed when the moon's rays fall on it and dances to the tune of chanting natives. Weird sights, according to Darwin, abound in the South Seas.

Chapter XX


  After dinner we stayed to see a curious half superstitious scene acted by the Malay women. A large wooden spoon dressed in garments, and which had been carried to the grave of a dead man, they pretend becomes inspired at the full of the moon, and will dance and jump about. After the proper preparations, the spoon, held by two women, became convulsed, and danced in good time to the song of the surrounding children and women. It was a most foolish spectacle; but Mr. Liesk maintained that many of the Malays believed in its spiritual movements. The dance did not commence till the moon had risen, and it was well worth remaining to behold her bright orb so quietly shining through the long arms of the cocoa-nut trees as they waved in the evening breeze. These scenes of the tropics are in themselves so delicious, that they almost equal those dearer ones at home, to which we are bound by each best feeling of the mind.

"Oh! to Be in England Now That April's There"

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Robert Browning

Robert Browning (1812–1889)
Vol. 42, pp. 1068-1074 of The Harvard Classics

Everyone knows the pangs of homesickness in the spring. Even bright, sparkling Italy could not wean Browning's affection from the green hedgerows of misty England.

Home-thoughts, from Abroad

O, TO be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

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