"Dont's" for Conversation

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
Vol. 27, pp. 91-98 of The Harvard Classics

To harp on one's illnesses, giving all the symptoms and circumstances, has been a blemish on conversation for ages. Two hundred years ago Swift complained of persons who continually talked about themselves.
(Jonathan Swift born Nov. 30, 1667.)

Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation

HAVE observed few obvious subjects to have been so seldom, or, at least, so slightly handled as this; and, indeed, I know few so difficult to be treated as it ought, nor yet upon which there seemeth so much to be said.

  Most things, pursued by men for the happiness of public or private life, our wit or folly have so refined, that they seldom subsist but in idea; a true friend, a good marriage, a perfect form of government, with some others, require so many ingredients, so good in their several kinds, and so much niceness in mixing them, that for some thousands of years men have despaired of reducing their schemes to perfection. But, in conversation, it is, or might be otherwise; for here we are only to avoid a multitude of errors, which, although a matter of some difficulty, may be in every man’s power, for want of which it remaineth as mere an idea as the other. Therefore it seemeth to me, that the truest way to understand conversation, is to know the faults and errors to which it is subject, and from thence every man to form maxims to himself whereby it may be regulated, because it requireth few talents to which most men are not born, or at least may not acquire without any great genius or study. For nature hath left every man a capacity of being agreeable, though not of shining in company; and there are an hundred men sufficiently qualified for both, who, by a very few faults, that they might correct in half an hour, are not so much as tolerable.

How Ideas Originate

Saturday, 29 November 2014

David Hume

David Hume (1711–76).  An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
Vol. 37, pp. 299-303 of The Harvard Classics

Did you ever stop to think just how you thought? What inner emotions, what outer influences make up the fathomless depths of mind and intellect? Hume explains how we draw our thoughts, then clumsily put them into tangible shape called ideas.

Of the Origin of Ideas

EVERY one will readily allow, that there is a considerable difference between the perceptions of the mind, when a man feels the pain of excessive heat, or the pleasure of moderate warmth, and when he afterwards recalls to his memory this sensation, or anticipates it by his imagination. These faculties may mimic or copy the perceptions of the senses; but they never can entirely reach the force and vivacity of the original sentiment. The utmost we say of them, even when they operate with greatest vigour, is, that they represent their object in so lively a manner, that we could almost say we feel or see it: But, except the mind be disordered by disease or madness, they never can arrive at such a pitch of vivacity, as to render these perceptions altogether undistinguishable. All the colours of poetry, however splendid, can never paint natural objects in such a manner as to make the description be taken for a real landskip. The most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation.

Friday, 28 November 2014

William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827). Selected Poems.
Vol. 41, pp. 583-592 of The Harvard Classics

"To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower-"
Such was the exaltation of the mysticism of William Blake, who reflected in his poetry the ecstasy of his visions. Simplicity is the keynote of his genius.
(William Blake born Nov. 28, 1757.)

The Tiger

TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

What Land is This?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More (1478–1535). Utopia.
Vol. 36, pp. 191-204 of The Harvard Classics

In wondrous Utopia pearls and precious stones were used as playthings for little children. Gold rings and bracelets were only worn by outcasts, while great golden chains shackled criminals and felons. When ambassadors from foreign lands came in fine raiment, the Utopians treated the plainest dressed as the greatest; the others seemed to them like children.

The Second Book
Of their journeying or travelling abroad, with divers other matters cunningly reasoned, and wittily discussed

BUT IF any be desirous to visit either their friends that dwell in another city, or to see the place itself: they easily obtain licence of their syphogrants and tranibores, unless there be some profitable let. No man goeth out alone but a company is sent forth together with their prince’s letters, which do testify that they have licence to go that journey, and prescribeth also the day of their return. They have a waggon given them, with a common bondman, which driveth the oxen, and taketh charge of them. But unless they have women in their company, they send home the waggon again, as an impediment and a let. And though they carry nothing forth with them, yet in all their journey they lack nothing. For wheresoever they come they be at home. If they tarry in a place longer than one day, then there every one of them falleth to his own occupation, and be very gently entertained of the workmen and companies of the same crafts. If any man of his own head and without leave, walk out of his precinct and bounds, taken without the prince’s letters, he is brought again for a fugitive or a runaway with great shame and rebuke, and is sharply punished. If he be taken in that fault again, he is punished with bondage. If any be desirous to walk abroad into the fields, or into the country that belongeth to the same city that he dwelleth in, obtaining the goodwill of his father, and the consent of his wife, he is not prohibited. But into what part of the country soever he cometh he hath no meat given him until he have wrought out his forenoon’s task, or else despatched so much work, as there is wont to be wrought before supper. Observing this law and condition, he may so whither he will within the bounds of his own city. For he shall be no less profitable to the city, than if he were within it. Now you see how little liberty they have to loiter: how they can have no cloak or pretence to idleness. There be neither wine taverns, nor ale-houses, nor stews, nor any occasion of vice or wickedness, no lurking corners, no places of wicked counsels or unlawful assemblies. But they be in the present sight, and under the eyes of every man. So that of necessity they must either apply their accustomed labours, or else recreate themselves with honest and laudable pastimes.

Shakespeare Should Be Heard

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb. On the Tragedies of Shakspere Considered with Reference to Their Fitness for Stage Representation.
Vol. 27, pp. 299-310 of The Harvard Classics

Charles Lamb, favorite essayist, thought that no stage could do justice to Shakespeare's tragedies. He advocated reading the plays, and with the imagination costuming the players and building the gorgeous scenery in a way equaled by no scene painter or costumer.

TAKING a turn the other day in the Abbey, I was struck with the affected attitude of a figure, which I do not remember to have seen before, and which upon examination proved to be a whole-length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick. Though I would not go so far with some good Catholics abroad as to shut players altogether out of consecrated ground, yet I own I was not a little scandalized at the introduction of theatrical airs and gestures into a place set apart to remind us of the saddest realities. Going nearer, I found inscribed under this harlequin figure the following lines:—

To paint fair Nature, by divine command,
Her magic pencil in his glowing hand,
A Shakespeare rose: then, to expand his fame
Wide o’er this breathing world, a Garrick came.
Though sunk in death the forms the Poet drew,
The Actor’s genius made them breathe anew;
Though, like the bard himself, in night they lay,
Immortal Garrick call’d them back to day:
And till Eternity with power sublime
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time,
Shakespeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine,
And earth irradiate with a beam divine.

  It would be an insult to my readers’ understandings to attempt anything like a criticism on this farrago of false thoughts and nonsense. But the reflection it led me into was a kind of wonder, how, from the days of the actor here celebrated to our own, it should have been the fashion to compliment every performer in his turn, that has had the luck to please the town in any of the great characters of Shakespeare, with a notion of possessing a mind congenial to the poet’s; how people should come thus unaccountably to confound the power of originating poetical images and conceptions with the faculty of being able to read or recite the same when put into words; 1 or what connection that absolute mastery over the heart and soul of man, which a great dramatic poet possesses, has with those low tricks upon the eye and ear, which a player by observing a few general effects, which some common passion, as grief, anger, etc., usually has upon the gestures and exterior, can easily compass. To know the internal workings and movements of a great mind, of an Othello or a Hamlet, for instance, the when and the why and the how far they should be moved; to what pitch a passion is becoming; to give the reins and to pull in the curb exactly at the moment when the drawing in or the slacking is most graceful; seems to demand a reach of intellect of a vastly different extent from that which is employed upon the bare imitation of the signs of these passions in the countenance or gesture, which signs are usually observed to be most lively and emphatic in the weaker sort of minds, and which signs can after all but indicate some passion, as I said before, anger, or grief, generally; but of the motives and grounds of the passion, wherein it differs from the same passion in low and vulgar natures, of these the actor can give no more idea by his face or gesture than the eye (without a metaphor) can speak, or the muscles utter intelligible sounds. But such is the instantaneous nature of the impressions which we take in at the eye and ear at a playhouse, compared with the slow apprehension oftentimes of the understanding in reading, that we are apt not only to sink the play-writer in the consideration which we pay to the actor, but even to identify in our minds in a perverse manner, the actor with the character which he represents. It is difficult for a frequent play-goer to disembarrass the idea of Hamlet from the person and voice of Mr. K. We speak of Lady Macbeth, while we are in reality thinking of Mrs. S. Nor is this confusion incidental alone to unlettered persons, who, not possessing the advantage of reading, are necessarily dependent upon the stage-player for all the pleasure which they can receive from the drama, and to whom the very idea of what an author is cannot be made comprehensible without some pain and perplexity of mind: the error is one from which persons otherwise not meanly lettered find it almost impossible to extricate themselves.

Cupid as a Shoemaker

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Dekker His Dreame

Thomas Dekker (1570–1632). The Shoemaker’s Holiday.
Vol. 47, pp. 469-483 of The Harvard Classics

We are indebted to Thomas Dekker for one of the most humorous characters in all Elizabethan literature; namely, Simon Eyre, an old shoemaker whose affairs became hilariously involved with those of the gentry.

Act I
Scene I

Enter the LORD MAYOR and the EARL OF LINCOLN 1

Lincoln.  MY lord mayor, you have sundry times
Feasted myself and many courtiers more;
Seldom or never can we be so kind
To make requital of your courtesy.
But leaving this, I hear my cousin Lacy
Is much affected to 2 your daughter Rose.

The Book that Upset Tennessee

Monday, 24 November 2014

Title page of the 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882). Origin of Species.
Vol. 11, pp. 23-30 of The Harvard Classics

The signal for the beginning of a great controversy, still raging,
was the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species." This was the first complete statement of the evolution theory, which had been privately advanced but never publicly taught. A new epoch in science dates from this great work.
("Origin of Species" published Nov. 24, 1859.)

I. Variation under Domestication
Causes of Variability

WHEN we compare the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us is, that they generally differ more from each other than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature. And if we reflect on the vast diversity of the plants and animals which have been cultivated, and which have varied during all ages under the most different climates and treatment, we are driven to conclude that this great variability is due to our domestic productions having been raised under conditions of life not so uniform as, and somewhat different from, those to which the parent species had been exposed under nature. There is, also, some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that this variability may be partly connected with excess of food. It seems clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to new conditions to cause any great amount of variation; and that, when the organisation has once begun to vary, it generally continues varying for many generations. No case is on record of a variable organism ceasing to vary under cultivation. Our oldest cultivated plants, such as wheat, still yield new varieties: our oldest, domesticated animals are still capable of rapid improvement or modification.

Less Than Star Dust

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662). Thoughts.
Vol. 48, pp. 26-36 of The Harvard Classics

According to Pascal, a man is not even as significant as a speck of star dust in the universe. Pascal's thoughts on the subject are startling to the modern reader, and they furnish rich food for the imagination.
(Pascal begins writing his "Thoughts," Nov. 23, 1654.)

Section II
The Misery Of Man Without God



Men are never taught to be gentlemen, and are taught everything else; and they never plume themselves so much on the rest of their knowledge as on knowing how to be gentlemen. They only plume themselves on knowing the one thing they do not know.


The infinites, the mean.—When we read too fast or too slowly, we understand nothing.


Nature…—[Nature has set us so well in the centre, that if we change one side of the balance, we change the other also. I act. [Greek]. 1 This makes me believe that the springs in our brain are so adjusted that he who touches one touches also its contrary.]

How a Queen Died for Love

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Virgil reading the Aenid

Vergil (70 B.C.–19 B.C.). Æneid.
Vol. 13, pp. 167-177 of The Harvard Classics

Deserted by her lover, Queen Dido applied to her heart the only balm that could ease her pain.

The Fourth Book of the Æneis


  What pangs the tender breast of Dido tore,
When, from the tow’r, she saw the cover’d shore,
And heard the shouts of sailors from afar,
Mix’d with the murmurs of the wat’ry war!
All-pow’rful Love! what changes canst thou cause
In human hearts, subjected to thy laws!
Once more her haughty soul the tyrant bends:
To pray’rs and mean submissions she descends.
No female arts or aids she left untried,
Nor counsels unexplor’d, before she died.
“Look, Anna! look! the Trojans crowd to sea;
They spread their canvas, and their anchors weigh.
The shouting crew their ships with garlands bind,
Invoke the sea gods, and invite the wind.
Could I have thought this threat’ning blow so near,
My tender soul had been forewarn’d to bear.
But do not you my last request deny;
With yon perfidious man your int’rest try,
And bring me news, if I must live or die.
You are his fav’rite; you alone can find
The dark recesses of his inmost mind:
In all his trusted secrets you have part,
And know the soft approaches to his heart.
Haste then, and humbly seek my haughty foe;
Tell him, I did not with the Grecians go,
Nor did my fleet against his friends employ,
Nor swore the ruin of unhappy Troy,
Nor mov’d with hands profane his father’s dust:
Why should he then reject a suit so just!
Whom does he shun, and whither would he fly!
Can he this last, this only pray’r deny!
Let him at least his dang’rous flight delay,
Wait better winds, and hope a calmer sea.
The nuptials he disclaims I urge no more:
Let him pursue the promis’d Latian shore.
A short delay is all I ask him now;
A pause of grief, an interval from woe,
Till my soft soul be temper’d to sustain
Accustom’d sorrows, and inur’d to pain.
If you in pity grant this one request,
My death shall glut the hatred of his breast.”
This mournful message pious Anna bears,
And seconds with her own her sister’s tears:
But all her arts are still employ’d in vain;
Again she comes, and is refus’d again.
His harden’d heart nor pray’rs nor threat’nings move;
Fate, and the god, had stopp’d his ears to love.

Bargains in Wives

Friday, 21 November 2014


François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778). Letters on the English.
Vol. 34, pp. 93-97 of The Harvard Classics

The beautiful daughters of the Circassians were in demand for the seraglios of the Turkish Sultan. Voltaire tells how these beauties were protected from smallpox centuries before modern vaccination.
(Voltaire ill with smallpox, Nov., 1723.)

Letter XI—On Inoculation

IT is inadvertently affirmed in the Christian countries of Europe that the English are fools and madmen. Fools, because they give their children the small-pox to prevent their catching it; and madmen, because they wantonly communicate a certain and dreadful distemper to their children, merely to prevent an uncertain evil. The English, on the other side, call the rest of the Europeans cowardly and unnatural. Cowardly, because they are afraid of putting their children to a little pain; unnatural, because they expose them to die one time or other of the small-pox. But that the reader may be able to judge whether the English or those who differ from them in opinion are in the right, here follows the history of the famed innoculation, which is mentioned with so much dread in France.

Old Stories Ever New

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Household Tales.
Vol. 17, pp. 90-98 of The Harvard Classics

When the cold winds howled about the thatched huts of the German peasant, the mother drew her children to her side and told them stories. Collected and retold by the Grimm brothers, these stories have perennial charm.

The Valiant Little Tailor

ONE summer’s morning a little tailor was sitting on his table by the window; he was in good spirits, and sewed with all his might. Then came a peasant woman down the street crying, “Good jams, cheap! Good jams, cheap!” This rang pleasantly in the tailor’s ears; he stretched his delicate head out of the window, and called, “Come up here, dear woman; here you will get rid of your goods.” The woman came up the three steps to the tailor with her heavy basket, and he made her unpack the whole of the pots for him. He inspected all of them, lifted them up, put his nose to them, and at length said, “The jam seems to me to be good, so weigh me out four ounces, dear woman, and if it is a quarter of a pound that is of no consequence.” The woman who had hoped to find a good sale, gave him what he desired, but went away quite angry and grumbling. “Now, God bless the jam to my use,” cried the little tailor, “and give me health and strength;” so he brought the bread out of the cupboard, cut himself a piece right across the loaf and spread the jam over it. “This won’t taste bitter,” said he, “but I will just finish the jacket before I take a bite.” He laid the bread near him, sewed on, and in his joy, made bigger and bigger stitches. In the meantime the smell of the sweet jam ascended so to the wall, where the flies were sitting in great numbers, that they were attracted and descended on it in hosts. “Hola! who invited you?” said the little tailor and drove the unbidden guests away. The flies, however, who understood no German, would not be turned away, but came back again in ever-increasing companies. Then the little tailor at last lost all patience, and got a bit of cloth from the hole under his work-table, and saying, “Wait, and I will give it to you,” struck it mercilessly on them. When he drew it away and counted, there lay before him no fewer than seven, dead and with legs stretched out. “Art thou a fellow of that sort?” said he, and could not help admiring his own bravery. “The whole town shall know of this!” And the little tailor hastened to cut himself a girdle, stitched it, and embroidered on it in large letters, “Seven at one stroke!” “What, the town!” he continued, “the whole world shall hear of it!” and his heart wagged with joy like a lamb’s tail. The tailor put on the girdle, and resolved to go forth into the world, because he thought his workshop was too small for his valour. Before he went away, he sought about in the house to see if there was anything which he could take with him; however, he found nothing but an old cheese, and that he put in his pocket. In front of the door he observed a bird which had caught itself in the thicket. It had to go into his pocket with the cheese. Now he took to the road boldly, and as he was light and nimble, he felt no fatigue. The road led him up a mountain, and when he had reached the highest point of it, there sat a powerful giant looking about him quite comfortably. The little tailor went bravely up, spoke to him, and said, “Good day, comrade, so thou art sitting there, overlooking the wide-spread world! I am just on my way thither, and want to try my luck. Hast thou any inclination to go with me?” The giant looked contemptuously at the tailor, and said, “Thou ragamuffin! Thou miserable creature!”

No Man Knows His Resting Place

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). Morte d’Arthur.
Vol. 42, pp. 986-992 of The Harvard Classics

A barge with black sails bearing three black robed queens with crowns of gold carried away the dying King Arthur. Will they bring him back and fulfill Merlin's prophecy?
(Queen Victoria appointed Tennyson poet laureate, Nov. 19, 1850.)

SO all day long the noise of battle roll’d
Among the mountains by the winter sea;
Until King Arthur’s table, man by man,
Had fall’n in Lyonnesse about their Lord,
King Arthur: then, because his wound was deep,
The bold Sir Bedivere uplifted him,
Sir Bedivere the last of all his knights,
And bore him to a chapel nigh the field,
A broken chancel with a broken cross,
That stood on a dark strait of barren land.
On one side lay the Ocean, and on one
Lay a great water, and the moon was full.

Apple or Son the Arrow's Mark

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Friedrich Schiller

Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). Wilhelm Tell.
Vol. 26, pp. 441-449 of The Harvard Classics

The arrow shot from his bow with a twang and whizzed through the air. Tell covered his eyes, fearing to see where the arrow hit. Then the shout of triumph, a shout of the people and not of the tyrant-but the end was not yet.
(William Tell incident, legendary date, Nov. 18, 1307.)

Scene III

  Fürst.  The Viceroy here! Then we shall smart for this!  [Enter GESSLER on horseback, with a falcon on his wrist; RUDOLPH DER HARRAS, BERTHA, and RUDENZ,and a numerous train of armed attendants, who form a circle of lances round the whole stage.

  Har.  Room for the Viceroy!

  Gessl.        Drive the clowns apart.
Why throng the people thus? Who calls for help?  [General silence.
Who was it? I will know.  [FRIESSHARDT steps forward.
        And who art thou?
And why hast thou this man in custody?  [Gives his falcon to an attendant.

  Friess.  Dread sir, I am a soldier of your guard.
And station’d sentinel beside the cap;
This man I apprehended in the act
Of passing it without obeisance due,
So as you ordered, I arrested him,
Whereon to rescue him the people tried.

At Thirty Scott Began to Write

Monday, 17 November 2014

Thomas Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881). Sir Walter Scott.
Vol. 25, pp. 410-420 of The Harvard Classics

Are you curious about famous people, their lives, habits, personalities? Carlyle discusses the intimate life of his illustrious countryman, and reveals Scott, the man, and Scott, the genius who entertained Christendom with his stories.
(Scott writes dedication of "Ivanhoe," Nov. 17, 1817.)


  Till towards the age of thirty, Scott’s life has nothing in it decisively pointing towards Literature, or indeed towards distinction of any kind; he is wedded, settled, and has gone through all his preliminary steps, without symptom of renown as yet. It is the life of every other Edinburgh youth of his station and time. Fortunate we must name it, in many ways. Parents in easy or wealthy circumstances, yet unencumbered with the cares and perversions of aristocracy; nothing eminent in place, in faculty or culture, yet nothing deficient; all around is methodic regulation, prudence, prosperity, kindheartedness; an element of warmth and light, of affection, industry, and burgherly comfort, heightened into elegance; in which the young heart can wholesomely grow. A vigorous health seems to have been given by Nature; yet, as if Nature had said withal, “Let it be a health to express itself by mind, not by body,” a lameness is added in childhood; the brave little boy, instead of romping and bickering, must learn to think; or at lowest, what is a great matter, to sit still. No rackets and trundling-hoops for this young Walter; but ballads, history-books and a world of legendary stuff, which his mother and those near him are copiously able to furnish. Disease, which is but superficial, and issues in outward lameness, does not cloud the young existence; rather forwards it towards the expansion it is fitted for. The miserable disease had been one of the internal nobler parts, marring the general organisation; under which no Walter Scott could have been forwarded, or with all his other endowments could have been producible or possible. ‘Nature gives healthy children much; how much! Wise education is a wise unfolding of this; often it unfolds itself better of its own accord.’

Just Before the Gold Rush

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1815–1882). Two Years before the Mast.
Vol. 23, pp. 164-168 of The Harvard Classics

When the glorious Western coast was only partly settled, Dana visited the Presidios. He saw frontier life at a time when Spanish splendor still gilded California.

Chapter XXI

California and Its Inhabitants

WE kept up a constant connection with the Presidio, and by the close of the summer I had added much to my made vocabulary, besides having made the acquaintance of nearly everybody in the place, and acquired some knowledge of the character and habits of the people, as well as of the institutions under which they live.

  California was first discovered in 1536, by Cortes and was subsequently visited by numerous other adventurers as well as commissioned voyagers of the Spanish crown. It was found to be inhabited by numerous tribes of Indians, and to be in many parts extremely fertile; to which, of course, was added rumors of gold mines, pearl fishery, etc. No sooner was the importance of the country known, than the Jesuits obtained leave to establish themselves in it, to Christianize and enlighten the Indians. They established missions in various parts of the country toward the close of the seventeenth century, and collected the natives about them, baptizing them into the church, and teaching them the arts of civilized life. To protect the Jesuits in their missions, and at the same time to support the power of the crown over the civilized Indians, two forts were erected and garrisoned, one at San Diego, and the other at Monterey. These were called Presidios, and divided the command of the whole country between them. Presidios have since been established at Santa Barbara and San Francisco; thus dividing the country into four large districts, each with its presidio, and governed by the commandant. The soldiers, for the most part, married civilized Indians; and thus, in the vicinity of each presidio, sprung up, gradually, small towns. In the course of time, vessels began to come into the ports to trade with the missions, and received hides in return; and thus began the great trade of California. Nearly all the cattle in the country belonged to the missions, and they employed their Indians, who became, in fact, their slaves, in tending their vast herds. In the year 1793, when Vancouver visited San Diego, the mission had obtained great wealth and power, and are accused of having depreciated the country with the sovereign, that they might be allowed to retain their possessions. On the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Spanish dominions, the missions passed into the hands of the Franciscans, though without any essential change in their management. Ever since the independence of Mexico, the missions have been going down; until, at last, a law was passed, stripping them of all their possessions, and confining the priests to their spiritual duties; and at the same time declaring all the Indians free and independent Rancheros. The change in the condition of the Indians was, as may be supposed, only nominal: they are virtually slaves, as much as they ever were. But in the missions, the change was complete. The priests have now no power, except in their religious character, and the great possessions of the missions are given over to be preyed upon by the harpies of the civil power, who are sent there in the capacity of administradores, to settle up the concerns; and who usually end, in a few years, by making themselves fortunes, and leaving their stewardships worse than they found them. The dynasty of the priests was much more acceptable to the people of the country, and indeed, to every one concerned with the country, by trade or otherwise, than that of the administradores. The priests were attached perpetually to one mission, and felt the necessity of keeping up its credit. Accordingly, their debts were regularly paid, and the people were, in the main, well treated, and attached to those who had spent their whole lives among them. But the administradores are strangers sent from Mexico, having no interest in the country; not identified in any way with their charge, and, for the most part, men of desperate fortunes—broken down politicians and soldiers—whose only object is to retrieve their condition in as short a time as possible. The change had been made but a few years before our arrival upon the coast, yet, in that short time, the trade was much diminished, credit impaired, and the venerable missions going rapidly to decay. The external arrangements remain the same. There are four presidios, having under their protection the various missions, and pueblos, which are towns formed by the civil power, and containing no mission or presidio. The most northerly presidio is San Francisco; the next Monterey; the next Santa Barbara, including the mission of the same, St. Louis Obispo, and St. Buenaventura, which is the finest mission in the whole country, having very fertile soil and rich vineyards. The last, and most southerly, is San Diego, including the mission of the same, San Juan Capestrano, the Pueblo de los Angelos, the largest town in California, with the neighboring mission of San Gabriel. The priests in spiritual matters are subject to the Archbishop of Mexico, and in temporal matters to the governor-general, who is the great civil and military head of the country.

Food Profiteers 300 Years Ago

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Alessandro Manzoni

Alessandro Manzoni (1785–1873). I Promessi Sposi.
Vol. 21, pp. 450-460 of The Harvard Classics

Food profiteering was as active in plague-stricken Milan 300 years ago as in modern times. Shops were stormed for food. Read how the Council strove heroically to fix fair rates.
(Sale of corn and flour regulated in Milan, Nov. 15, 1629.)

Chapter XXVIII

AFTER the sedition of St. Martin’s, and the following day, it seemed that abundance had returned to Milan, as by enchantment. The bread shops were plentifully supplied; the price as low as in the most prolific years, and flour in proportion. They who during those two days had employed themselves in shouting, or doing something worse, had now (excepting a few who had been seized) reason to congratulate themselves: and let it not be imagined that they spared these congratulations, after the first fear of being captured had subsided. In the squares, at the corners of the streets, and in the taverns, there was undisguised rejoicing, a general murmur of applauses, and half-uttered boasts of having found a way to reduce bread to a moderate price.

He Worried About It

Friday, 14 November 2014

Charles Lyell

Charles Lyell (1797–1875). Scientific Papers.
Vol. 38, pp. 398-405 of The Harvard Classics

We wonder if the man who worried about the "scientifical" prediction that "The sun's heat will give out in ten million years more," had read Lyell on the gradual changes in the earth's surface.
(Sir Charles Lyell born Nov. 14, 1797.)

II. Uniformity Of Change

Supposed Alternate Periods of Repose and Disorder—Observed Facts in which this Doctrine has Originated—These may be Explained by Supposing a Uniform and Uninterrupted Series of Changes—Threefold Consideration of this Subject: First, in Reference to the Laws which Govern the Formation of Fossiliferous Strata, and the Shifting of the Areas of Sedimentary Deposition; Secondly, in Reference to the Living Creation, Extinction of Species, and Origin of New Animals and Plants; Thirdly, in Reference to the Changes Produced in the Earth’s Crust by the Continuance of Subterranean Movements in Certain Areas, and their Transference after Long Periods to New Areas—On the Combined Influence of all these Modes and Causes of Change in Producing Breaks and Chasms in the Chain of Records—Concluding Remarks on the Identity of the Ancient and Present System of Terrestrial Changes.

ORIGIN of the doctrine of alternate periods of repose and disorder.—It has been truly observed, that when we arrange the fossiliferous formations in chronological order, they constitute a broken and defective series of monuments: we pass without any intermediate gradations from systems of strata which are horizontal, to other systems which are highly inclined—from rocks of peculiar mineral composition to others which have a character wholly distinct—from one assemblage of organic remains to another, in which frequently nearly all the species, and a large part of the genera, are different. These violations of continuity are so common as to constitute in most regions the rule rather than the exception, and they have been considered by many geologists as conclusive in favour of sudden revolutions in the inanimate and animate world. We have already seen that according to the speculations of some writers, there have been in the past history of the planet alternate periods of tranquillity and convulsion, the former enduring for ages, and resembling the state of things now experienced by man; the other brief, transient, and paroxysmal, giving rise to new mountains, seas, and valleys, annihilating one set of organic beings, and ushering in the creation of another.

When Carthage Was Monte Carlo

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine. (354–430).  The Confessions of St. Augustine.
Vol. 7, pp. 31-38 of The Harvard Classics

Carthage was the playground of the ancient world. In that city of many sins, Augustine was a leader of the revels. His conversion to Christianity amazed those who knew him.
(St. Augustine born Nov. 13, 354.)

The Third Book

His residence at Carthage from his seventeenth to his nineteenth year. Source of his disorders. Love of shows. Advance in studies, and love of wisdom. Distaste for Scripture. Led astray to the Manichæans. Refutation of some of their tenets. Grief of his mother Monnica at his heresy, and prayers for his conversion. Her vision from God, and answer through a Bishop.

TO CARTHAGE I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves. I loved not yet, yet I loved to love, and out of a deep-seated want, I hated myself for wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and safety I hated, and a way without snares. For within me was a famine of that inward food, Thyself, my God; yet, through that famine I was not hungered; but was without all longing for incorruptible sustenance, not because filled therewith, but the more empty, the more I loathed it. For this cause my soul was sickly and full of sores, it miserably cast itself forth, desiring to be scraped by the touch of objects of sense. Yet if these had not a soul, they would not be objects of love. To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to me; but more, when I obtained to enjoy the person I loved. I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscense, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness; and thus foul and unseemly, I would fain, through exceeding vanity, be fine and courtly. I fell headlong then into the love wherein I longed to be ensnared. My God, my Mercy, with how much gall didst Thou out of Thy great goodness besprinkle for me that sweetness? For I was both beloved, and secretly arrived at the bond of enjoying; and was with joy fettered with sorrow-bringing bonds, that I might be scourged with the iron burning rods of jealousy, and suspicion, and fears, and angers, and quarrels.

Story of the First Dresses

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

William Blake's The Temptation and Fall of Eve

John Milton. (1608–1674). Paradise Lost.
Vol. 4, pp. 278-290 of The Harvard Classics

Milton's version tells how the Serpent induced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve offered it to Adam. Then they became conscious for the first time that they were not clothed.
(John Milton married second wife, Nov. 12, 1656.)

The Ninth Book


Queen of this Universe! do not believe
Those rigid threats of death. Ye shall not die.

America's Doughboy Glorified

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
Vol. 42, pp. 1402-1412 of The Harvard Classics

(Armistice Day)
The youth of America-typified in the doughboy of the past war-was gloriously portrayed by Walt Whitman. He also sang of the vast plains and the beauty of America.

One’s-Self I Sing

ONE’S-SELF I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.

Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse
—I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.

A Poet Who Piped for His Supper

Monday, 10 November 2014

Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774)
Vol. 41, pp. 509-520 of The Harvard Classics

Goldsmith traveled through Belgium, France, and Italy, winning his daily bread by playing at farmhouses. He wrote the most brilliant comedy, the best novel, and the finest poem of his age.
(Oliver Goldsmith born Nov. 10, 1728.)

The Deserted Village

SWEET Auburn! loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheer’d the labouring swain,
Where smiling Spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting Summer’s lingering blooms delay’d;
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please:
How often have I loiter’d o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endear’d each scene!
How often have I paused on every charm,
The shelter’d cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topp’d the neighbouring hill;
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whispering lovers made!
How often have I bless’d the coming day,
When toil, remitting, lent its turn to play,
And all the village train, from labour free,
Led up their sports beneath the spreading tree!

Once War Songs, Now Pious Prayers

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Scroll of the Psalms

The Book of Psalms.
Vol. 44, pp. 318-327 of The Harvard Classics

The Psalms have been an inspiration to men in many ages. They have become so associated with the peaceful spirit of Christianity that we forget some of them were once war songs and songs of triumph.

Book V
An Experience of the Captivity

BY the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst thereof
We hanged up our harps.
For there they that led us captive required of us songs, 1
And they 2 that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing Jehovah’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I remember thee not;
If I prefer not Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
Remember, O Jehovah, against the children of Edom
The day of Jerusalem;
Who said, Rase it, rase it,
Even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, that 3 art to be destroyed,
Happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee
As thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones
Against the rock.

Note 1. Heb. words of song. 
Note 2. Or, our tormentors. 
Note 3. Or, that art laid waste. 

Blind But Unconquered

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Paradise Regained

John Milton. (1608–1674). Paradise Regained.
Vol. 4, pp. 359-369 of The Harvard Classics

Milton's indomitable courage kept him at his work even after he lost his sight. Blind, he dictated a sequel to his "Paradise Lost," which he called "Paradise Regained."
(John Milton died Nov. 8, 1674.)

The First Book

I, WHO erewhile the happy Garden sung
By one man’s disobedience lost, now sing
Recovered Paradise to all mankind,
By one man’s firm obedience fully tried
Through all temptation, and the Tempter foiled
In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed,
And Eden raised in the waste Wilderness.

The Voice from a Stone-Dead City

Friday, 7 November 2014

Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.
Vol. 16, pp. 100-107 of The Harvard Classics

Suddenly all the sinful city's inhabitants were turned to stone. When a beautiful woman from Bagdad came to the dead city, night overtook her there. Sleeping in the palace, she was awakened by a man's voice calling.

The Story of the First of the Three Ladies of Baghdad

O PRINCE OF THE FAITHFUL, my story is wonderful; for these two bitches are my sisters, born to my father, but of another mother; and I am the youngest of the three. After the death of our father, who left us five thousand pieces of gold, these my two sisters married, and when they had resided some time with their husbands, each of the latter prepared a stock of merchandise, and received from his wife a thousand pieces of gold, and they all set forth on a journey together, leaving me here; but after they had been absent four years, my sisters’ husbands lost all their property, and abandoned them in a strange land, and they returned to me in the garb of beggars. When I first saw them in this state, I knew them not; and, as soon as I recognized them, I exclaimed, How is it that ye are in this condition?—O our sister, they answered, thy inquiry now is of no use: the Pen hath written what God hath decreed.—I sent them, therefore, to the bath, and, having clad them in new apparel, said to them, O my sisters, ye are my elders, and I am young; so ye shall be to me in the places of my father and mother. The inheritance which I shared with you God hath blessed; partake then of its increase, for my affairs are prosperous; and I and ye shall fare alike.—I treated them with the utmost kindness, and during a whole year they remained with me, and enriched themselves by the money that I had given them; but after this period they said to me, It will be more agreeable to us to marry again, for we can no longer abstain from doing so.—O my sisters, I replied, ye have seen no happiness in marriage: a good husband in this age is rarely found, and ye have already had experience of the marriage-state. They, however, heeded not my words; but married against my consent: yet I gave them dowries from my own property, and continued to them my protection. They went to their husbands, and the latter, after they had resided with them a short time, defrauded them of all that they possessed, and, setting forth on a journey, left them destitute: so again they returned to me, and, in a state of nudity, implored my forgiveness, saying, Be not angry with us; for though thou art younger than we, thou hast more mature sense; and we promise thee that we will never again mention the subject of marriage. I replied, Ye are welcome, O my sisters; for I have no one dearer to me than yourselves:—and I received them, and treated them with every kindness, and we remained happily together for the space of a year.

A Genius Needs Few Tools

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Michael Faraday. From The Forces of Matter, Delivered before a Juvenile Auditory at the Royal Institution of Great Britain during the Christmas Holidays of 1859–60
Vol. 30, pp. 13-21 of The Harvard Classics

Two sticks, a table, and a pail were the commonplace implements used by Michael Faraday to demonstrate great scientific truths.
(Faraday sends "Experimental Researches" to Royal Society, Nov. 6, 1845.)

Lecture I.—The Force of Gravitation

  I want you now to understand the nature of the most simple exertion of this power of matter called weight or gravity. Bodies are heavy; you saw that in the case of water when I placed it in the balance. Here I have what we call a weight [an iron half cwt.]—a thing called a weight because in it the exercise of that power of pressing downward is especially used for the purposes of weighing; and I have also one of these little inflated India-rubber bladders, which are very beautiful although very common (most beautiful things are common), and I am going to put the weight upon it, to give you a sort of illustration of the downward pressure of the iron, and of the power which the air possesses of resisting that pressure; it may burst, but we must try to avoid that. [During the last few observations the lecturer had succeeded in placing the half cwt. in a state of quiescence upon the inflated India-rubber ball, which consequently assumed a shape very much resembling a flat cheese with round edges.] There you see a bubble of air bearing half a hundred-weight, and you must conceive for yourselves what a wonderful power there must be to pull this weight downward, to sink it thus in the ball of air.

Costly Opinion on Divorce

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Sir Thomas More

William Roper (1496-1578). The Life of Sir Thomas More.
Vol. 36, pp. 89-99 of The Harvard Classics

A divorce always means trouble for some one. So with Sir Thomas More when he refused to agree with King Henry over the king's separation. More was made to pay one of the highest prices ever paid for a difference of opinion.

In hoc signo vinces

FORASMUCH as Sir Thomas More, Knight sometime Lord Chancellor of England, a man of singular virtue and of a clear unspotted conscience, (as witnesseth Erasmus), more pure and white than the whitest snow, and of such an angelical wit, as England, he saith, never had the like before, nor never shall again, universally, as well in the laws of our Realm (a study in effect able to occupy the whole life of a man) as in all other sciences, right well studied, was in his days accounted a man worthy famous memory; I William Roper (though most unworthy) his son-in-law by marriage of his eldest daughter, knowing no one man that of him and of his doings understood so much as myself for that I was continually resident in his house by the space of sixteen years and more, thought it therefore my part to set forth such matters touching his life as I could at this present call to remembrance. Among which very many notable things not meet to have been forgotten, through negligence and long continuance of time, are slipped out of my mind. Yet to the intent the same shall not all utterly perish, I have at the desire of divers worshipful friends of mine, though very far from the grace and worthiness of them, nevertheless as far forth as my mean wit, memory and learning would serve me, declared so much thereof as in my poor judgment seemed worthy to be remembered.

Gold or Glory?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille (1606–1684). Polyeucte.
Vol. 26, pp. 87-97 of The Harvard Classics

Polyeucte, an Armenian noble, wanted to become a Christian. If he were baptized, he would have to give up his high position, his wealth and his pagan wife. Was the heavenly crown worth this sacrifice?

Act II


  SEV.  Let Felix bow to Jove and incense pour,—
I seek a dearer shrine, for I adore
Nor Jove, nor Mars, nor Fortune—but Pauline.
This fruit now ripening late my hand would glean:
You know, my friend, the god who wings my way,—
You know the only goddess I obey:
What reck the gods on high our sacrifice and prayer?
An earthly worship mine, sole refuge from despair!

Letters to an Emperor

Monday, 3 November 2014

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger (A.D. 62?–c.A.D. 113). Letters.
Vol. 9, pp. 404-406 of The Harvard Classics

Pliny sought the advice of the Emperor Trajan for dealing with the Christians who were alarmingly on the increase. He casually relates how he had tortured two Christians.

LVI. To the Emperor Trajan

UPON intimating, Sir, my intention to the city of Apemea, 1 of examining into the state of their public dues, their revenue and expenses, they told me they were all extremely willing I should inspect their accounts, but that no proconsul had ever yet looked them over, as they had a privilege (and that of a very ancient date of administering the affairs of their corporation in the manner they thought proper. I required them to draw up a memorial of what they then asserted, which I transmit to you precisely as I received it; though I am sensible it contains several things foreign to the question. I beg you will deign to instruct me as to how I am to act in this affair, for I should be extremely sorry either to exceed or fall short of the duties of my commission.

Note 1. A city in Bithynia. M.

Journey Through a Hot Country

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). The Divine Comedy.
Vol. 20, pp. 13-20 of The Harvard Classics

Dante recorded the awful scenes of a journey through the pits of the underworld, and wrote in such a vivid, realistic way that men tremble at the terrors depicted.

Inferno [Hell]
Canto III

ARGUMENT.—Dante, following Virgil, comes to the gate of Hell; where, after having read the dreadful words that are written thereon, they both enter. Here, as he understands from Virgil, those were punished who had passed their time (for living it could not be called) in a state of apathy and indifference both to good and evil. Then, pursuing their way, they arrive at the river Acheron; and there find the old ferryman Charon, who takes the spirits over to the opposite shore; which, as soon as Dante reaches, he is seized with terror, and falls into a trance.

Get updates by Email