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Curiosity and Interest as Guides to Reading

Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881). Inaugural Address at Edinburgh. Vol. 25, pp. 364-374 of The Harvard Classics
The most unhappy man, Carlyle says, is the man who has no real work - no interest in life. To avoid this miserable state, he advises faithful and diligent reading along the lines dictated by curiosity and interest.

  It remains, however, practically a most important truth, what I alluded to above, that the main use of Universities in the present age is that, after you have done with all your classes, the next thing is a collection of books, a great library of good books, which you proceed to study and to read. What the Universities can mainly do for you,—what I have found the University did for me, is, That it taught me to read, in various languages, in various sciences; so that I could go into the books which treated of these things, and gradually penetrate into any department I wanted to make myself master of, as I found it suit me.

Dana Meets a Tattooed Sailor

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1815–1882). Two Years before the Mast. Vol. 23, pp. 77-86 of The Harvard Classics
Dana's description of the picturesque, pre-gold-rush California is unique. While he was on the Pacific coast he met a British sailor who was elaborately tattooed and of an unforgetable ap­pearance and personality.

Chapter XIII Trading—A British Sailor
THE NEXT day, the cargo having been entered in due form, we began trading. The trade-room was fitted up in the steerage, and furnished out with the lighter goods, and with specimens of the rest of the cargo; and M——, a young man who came out from Boston with us, before the mast, was taken out of the forecastle, and made supercargo’s clerk. He was well qualified for the business, having been clerk in a counting-house in Boston. He had been troubled for some time with the rheumatism, which unfitted him for the wet and exposed duty of a sailor on the coast. For a week or ten days all was life on board. The people came off to look and…

These Guests Outstayed Their Welcome

Homer (fl. 850 B.C.). The Odyssey. Vol. 22, pp. 296-309 of The Harvard Classics
After twenty years' absence, Odysseus returned home to find his house filled with strangers rioting and wasting his treasure. Crafty Odysseus, with the aid of his son and the gods, devised a bold plan to rid his home of the unwelcome guests.

The killing of the wooers.

THEN Odysseus of many counsels stripped him of his rags and leaped on to the great threshold with his bow and quiver full of arrows, and poured forth all the swift shafts there before his feet, and spake among the wooers:
  ‘Lo, now is this terrible trial ended at last; and now will I know of another mark, which never yet man has smitten, if perchance I may hit it and Apollo grant me renown.’
  With that he pointed the bitter arrow at Antinous. Now he was about raising to his lips a fair twy-eared chalice of gold, and behold, he was handling it to drink of the wine, and death was far from his thoughts. For who among men at feast …

Ho! for the Spanish Main!

Captain Walter Bigges, Drake's Great Armada. Vol. 33, pp. 229-240 of The Harvard Classics
Drake with a fleet of twenty-five ships and twenty-three hundred men sets sail to plunder and lay waste Spain's treasure hoards in the New World. Gold and silver bar, nuggets and jewels awaited the bold adventurers.


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 …

Million-Year-Old Islands

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882).  The Voyage of the Beagle. Vol. 29, pp. 376-389 of The Harvard Classics
It was the new-old lands that Darwin visited on his voyage of the "Beagle." The strange specimens of prehistoric life he saw there made the world gape and shudder. (Charles Darwin begins voyage in the "Beagle," Dec. 27, 1831.)

Chapter XVII
Galapagos Archipelago—The whole Group Volcanic—numbers of Craters—Leafless Bushes—Colony at Charles Island—James Island—Salt-lake in Crater—Natural History of the Group—Ornithology, curious Finches—Reptiles—Great Tortoises, habits of Marine Lizard, feeds on Sea-weed—Terrestrial Lizard, burrowing habits, herbivorous—Importance of Reptiles in the Archipelago—Fish, Shells, Insects—Botany—American Type of Organization—Differences in the Species or Races on different Islands—Tameness of the Birds—Fear of Man, an acquired Instinct

SEPTEMBER 15th.—This archipelago consists of ten principal islands, of which five exceed the others in s…

Silence Cost Her a Kingdom

William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of King Lear. Vol. 46, pp. 288-300 of The Harvard Classics
Cordelia, daughter of old King Lear, could not convince her father of her love for him. Afterward, when misfortunes made him accept her aid, he learned too late of her real devotion. ("King Lear" presented at Queen Elizabeth's court, Dec. 26, 1606.)

Act IV Scene IV
[The same. A tent]
Enter, with drum and colours, CORDELIA, Doctor, and Soldiers
Cor.  Alack, ’tis he! Why, he was met even now As mad as the vex’d sea, singing aloud, Crown’d with rank fumiter and furrow-weeds, With hardocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers, Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow In our sustaining corn. A sentry send forth; Search every acre in the high-grown field, And bring him to our eye. [Exit an Officer.] What can man’s wisdom In the restoring his bereaved sense? He that helps him take all my outward worth. Doct.  There is means, madam. Our foster-nurse of nature is repose, The which he la…

The Christmas Story

The Gospel According to Luke. Vol. 44, pp. 357-360 of The Harvard Classics
(Christmas Day.) Luke was a Greek physician, a man of culture, trained in the best universities of the ancient world. He became imbued with the spirit of Christ, and wrote the most beautiful story of the birth and life of Jesus.


[1]     NOW it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the 1 world should be enrolled. [2]   This was the first enrolment made when Quirinius was governor of Syria. [3]   And all went to enrol themselves, every one to his own city. [4]   And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; [5]   to enrol himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child. [6]   And it came to pass, while they were there, the days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. [7]   And she bro…

Christmas Made a Dull Day

Holinshed's Chronicles: A Description of Elizabethan England. Vol. 35, pp. 266-270 of The Harvard Classics
Before the Reformation in England almost every third day was a holy day. But the Puritans abolished all the holy days, even Christmas.

Chapter V Of the Ancient and Present Estate of the Church of England [1577, Book II., Chapter 5; 1585, Book II., Chapter 1.]
  I would set down two or three more of the like instruments passed from that see unto the like end, but this shall suffice, being less common than the other, which are to be had more plentifully.
  As for our churches themselves, bells and times of morning and evening prayer remain as in times past, saving that all images, shrines, tabernacles, rood-lofts, and monuments of idolatry are removed, taken down, and defaced, only the stories in glass windows excepted, which, for want of sufficient store of new stuff, and by reason of extreme charge that should grow by the alteration of the same into white panes throughout the rea…

Saved from a Bonfire of Books

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869), What is a Classic?. Vol. 32, pp. 121-133 of The Harvard Classics
If all the books in the world were on fire, some men would risk their lives to save certain priceless writings: the world's classics. Sainte-Beuve here tells why. (Sainte-Beuve born Dec. 23, 1804.)

A DELICATE question, to which somewhat diverse solutions might be given according to times and seasons. An intelligent man suggests it to me, and I intend to try, if not to solve it, at least to examine and discuss it face to face with my readers, were it only to persuade them to answer it for themselves, and, if I can, to make their opinion and mine on the point clear. And why, in criticism, should we not, from time to time, venture to treat some of those subjects which are not personal, in which we no longer speak of some one but of some thing? Our neighbours, the English, have well succeeded in making of it a special division of literature under the modest title of “Essays.” It i…

Rubbing Noses in New Zealand

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882). The Voyage of the Beagle. Vol. 29, pp. 425-434 of The Harvard Classics
Darwin, in exploring New Zealand, finds cannibalism, tattooing, and many weird customs among the natives. Instead of shaking hands, the salutation is by rubbing noses. (Darwin visits New Zealand natives, Dec. 22, 1835.)

Chapter XVIII
  But their persons and houses are filthily dirty and offensive: the idea of washing either their bodies or their clothes never seems to enter their heads. I saw a chief, who was wearing a shirt black and matted with filth, and when asked how it came to be so dirty, he replied, with surprise, “Do not you see it is an old one?” Some of the men have shirts; but the common dress is one or two large blankets, generally black with dirt, which are thrown over their shoulders in a very inconvenient and awkward fashion. A few of the principal chiefs have decent suits of English clothes; but these are only worn on great occasions.

"Madam Bubble" Not to Be Discouraged

John Bunyan (1628–1688). The Pilgrim’s Progress. Vol. 15, pp. 306-318 of The Harvard Classics
"Madam Bubble," or this vain world, presented both herself and her purse to the wayfarer. Repulsed and scorned, yet she serenely flaunts her bribes enticingly before his bewildered eyes. (John Bunyan made leader of Non-Conformist congregation, Dec. 21, 1671.)

The Second Part
  So they came upon to another; and presently Stand-fast said to old Honest,Ho Father Honest, are you there? Ay, said he, that I am, as sure as you are there. Right glad am I, said Mr Stand-fast, that I have found you on this Road. And as glad am I, said the other, that I espied you upon your Knees. Then Mr Stand-fast blushed, and said, But why, did you see me? Yes, that I did, quoth the other, and with my heart was glad at the sight. Why, what did you think? said Stand-fast. Think, said Old Honest, what should I think? I thought we had an honest man upon the Road, and therefore should have his Company by and b…

Egypt Visited by the First Reporter

Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), An Account of Egypt: Being the Second Book of His Histories Called Euterpe. Vol. 33 pp. 7-17 of The Harvard Classics
All phases of life were pictured by Herodotus in his history. Like a modern newspaper reporter, he combines weird stories, scandals, and battle accounts with descriptions of places, persons, and sights about town.

WHEN Cyrus had brought his life to an end, Cambyses received the royal power in succession, being the son of Cyrus and of Cassandane the daughter of Pharnaspes, for whose death, which came about before his own, Cyrus had made great mourning himself and also had proclaimed to all those over whom he bore rule that they should make mourning for her: Cambyses, I say, being the son of this woman and of Cyrus, regarded the Ionians and Aiolians as slaves inherited from his father; and he proceeded to march an army against Egypt, taking with him as helpers not only the other nations of which he was ruler, but also those of the Hellenes over w…

Samson Finds a Champion

John Milton. (1608–1674), Samson Agonistes. Vol. 4, pp. 444-459 of The Harvard Classics
The mighty Samson was blinded while a captive of the Philistines. He sought revenge - a revenge devastating and costly. Milton, himself a giant of intellect, blind and imprisoned, wrote of this sightless giant of other days. (Milton released from prison, Dec. 19, 1660.)

Into the common prison, there to grind Among the slaves and asses, thy comrades, As good for nothing else, no better service With those thy boisterous locks; no worthy match For valour to assail, nor by the sword Of noble warrior, so to stain his honour, But by the barber’s razor best subdued. Sams. All these indignities, for such they are From thine, these evils I deserve and more, Acknowledge them from God inflicted on me Justly, yet despair not of his final pardon, Whose ear is ever open, and his eye Gracious to re-admit the suppliant; In confidence whereof I once again Defy thee to the trial of mortal fight, By combat to decide who…

For a Gentleman

John Locke (1632–1704). Some Thoughts Concerning Education. Vol. 37, pp. 136-145 of The Harvard Classics
Every schoolboy asks: "What's the use of learning Latin?" John Locke, one of the greatest educators of all time, maintains that Latin is absolutely essential to a well-bred gentleman, and explains why.

  § 162. As soon as he can speak English, ’tis time for him to learn some other language. This no body doubts of, when French is propos’d. And the reason is, because people are accustomed to the right way of teaching that language, which is by talking it into children in constant conversation, and not by grammatical rules. The Latin tongue would easily be taught the same way, if his tutor, being constantly with him, would talk nothing else to him, and make him answer still in the same language. But because French is a living language, and to be used more in speaking, that should be first learned, that the yet pliant organs of speech might be accustomed to a due formatio…

Dies on the Eve of Her Son's Conversion

Saint Augustine. (354–430). The Confessions of St. Augustine. Vol. 7, pp. 150-160 of The Harvard Classics
The mother of St. Augustine prayed unceasingly for her son's conversion. The most touching, most soul-revealing writing St. Augustine did is in the description of his mother's death.

The Ninth Book
  Brought up thus modestly and soberly, and made subject rather by Thee to her parents, than by her parents to Thee, so soon as she was of marriageable age, being bestowed upon a husband, she served him as her lord; and did her diligence to win him unto Thee, preaching Thee unto him by her conversation; by which Thou ornamentedst her, making her reverently amiable, and admirable unto her husband. And she so endured the wronging of her bed as never to have any quarrel with her husband thereon. For she looked for Thy mercy upon him, that believing in Thee, he might be made chaste. But besides this, he was fervid, as in his affections, so in anger: but she had learnt not to resi…

How Man's Courtship Differs from Animal's

Edmund Burke (1729–1797). On the Sublime and Beautiful. Vol. 24, pp. 37-48 of The Harvard Classics
Beauty is an important factor in the attraction between man and woman. It is knowing beauty that differentiates man from the animals, which only require that their mates be of the same species.

The Final Cause of the Difference Between the Passions Belonging to Self-Preservation and Those Which Regard the Society of the Sexes
THE FINAL cause of the difference in character between the passions which regard self-preservation, and those which are directed to the multiplication of the species, will illustrate the foregoing remarks yet further; and it is, I imagine, worthy of observation even upon its own account. As the performance of our duties of every kind depends upon life, and the performing them with vigour and efficacy depends upon health, we are very strongly affected with whatever threatens the destruction of either: but as we are not made to acquiesce in life and health, the simple …

Odysseus Talks with Ghosts

Homer (fl. 850 B.C.). The Odyssey. Vol. 22, pp. 145-153 of The Harvard Classics
This is another of those marvelous and unforgetable tales of the wandering Odysseus. The fantasy takes him into regions where he discourses with deceased heroes.

Book XI
Odysseus, his descent into hell, and discourses with the ghosts of the deceased heroes.

‘NOW when we had gone down to the ship and to the sea, first of all we drew the ship unto the fair salt water and placed the mast and sails in the black ship, and took those sheep and put them therein, and ourselves too climbed on board, sorrowing, and shedding big tears. And in the wake of our dark-prowed ship she sent a favouring wind that filled the sails, a kindly escort,—even Circe of the braided tresses, a dread goddess of human speech. And we set in order all the gear throughout the ship and sat us down; and the wind and the helmsman guided our barque. And all day long her sails were stretched in her seafaring; and the sun sank and all the ways we…

Pastoral Poems and Politics

Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), Selected Poetry. Vol. 40, pp. 370-379 of The Harvard Classics
The many-sided Marvell, who wielded a pen that was both feared and courted, is seen at his best in stirring verse. "A Garden," "Prospect of Flowers," with the "Horatian Ode upon Cromwell," show the power of his genius. (Marvell entered Cambridge, Dec. 14, 1633.)

A Garden
SEE how the flowers, as at parade, Under their colours stand display’d: Each regiment in order grows, That of the tulip, pink, and rose. But when the vigilant patrol Of stars walks round about the pole, Their leaves, that to the stalks are curl’d Seem to their staves the ensigns furl’d. Then in some flower’s belovèd hut Each bee, as sentinel, is shut, And sleeps so too; but if once stirr’d, She runs you through, nor asks the word. O thou, that dear and happy Isle, The garden of the world erewhile, Thou Paradise of the four seas Which Heaven planted us to please, But, to exclude the world, did guard With…

To the South Seas with the Gallant Drake

Francis Pretty, Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World. Vol. 33, pp. 199-208 of The Harvard Classics
A famous voyage was Sir Francis Drake's around the world. Drake's crew, the first white men to visit many parts of the world, received amazing receptions from the natives. (Sir Francis Drake embarked for South Seas, Dec. 13, 1577.)


The FAMOUS VOYAGE of SIR FRANCIS DRAKE into the South Sea, and therehence about the whole Globe of the Earth, begun in the year of our Lord 1577.

THE 15. DAY of November, in the year of our Lord 1577, Master Francis Drake, with a fleet of five ships and barks, 1 and to the number of 164 men, gentlemen and sailors, departed from Plymouth, giving out his pretended voyage for Alexandria. But the wind falling contrary, he was forced the next morning to put into Falmouth Haven, in Cornwall,where such and so terrible a tempest took us, as few men have seen the like, and was indeed so vehe…

How the Glorious News was Carried to Aix

Robert Browning (1812–1889), Selected Poetry. Vol. 42, pp. 1066-1068 of The Harvard Classics
Three brave men began the heroic ride from Ghent to Aix. Only one man arrived to tell the thrilling story of the tempestuous ride. In one of his most bewitching poems, in lines that haunt the memory, Browning retells the story. (Robert Browning died Dec. 12, 1889.)

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ [16—]
I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he; I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three; ‘Good speed!’ cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew; ‘Speed!’ echoed the wall to us galloping through; Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest, And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

The Most Dashing Figure in Athens

Plutarch (A.D. 46?–c.A.D. 120). Plutarch’s Lives. Vol. 12, pp. 106-117 of The Harvard Classics
The handsome Alcibiades, cunning in politics, bold in war, was the lion of Athenian society until he violated the secrets of a mysterious religious cult. Then all outraged Athens united to dash their idol to the ground.

ALCIBIADES, as it is supposed, was anciently descended from Eurysaces, the son of Ajax, by his father’s side; and by his mother’s side from Alcmæon. Dinomache, his mother, was the daughter of Megacles. His father, Clinias, having fitted out a galley at his own expense, gained great honor in the sea fight at Artemisium, and was afterwards slain in the battle of Coronea, fighting against the Bœotians. Pericles and Ariphron, the sons of Xanthippus, nearly related to him, became the guardians of Alcibiades. It has been said not untruly that the friendship which Socrates felt for him has much contributed to his fame; and certain it is, that, though we have no account fro…

Benvenuto Boasts of Gallantry

Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Autobiography. Vol. 31, pp. 62-72 of The Harvard Classics
Taking offense at a soldier who made advances toward his favorite lady, Cellini jumped from the window, knife in hand, to avenge himself. This incident was recorded with characteristic conceit by Cellini in his amazing diary.

I SHALL be obliged to digress a little from the history of my art, unless I were to omit some annoying incidents which have happened in the course of my troubled career. One of these, which I am about to describe, brought me into the greatest risk of my life. I have already told the story of the artists’ club, and of the farcical adventures which happened owing to the woman whom I mentioned, Pantasilea, the one who felt for me that false and fulsome love. She was furiously enraged because of the pleasant trick by which I brought Diego to our banquet, and she swore to be revenged on me. How she did so is mixed up with the history of a young man called Luigi Pulci, who had …

Slavery's Last Stand

Fugitive Slave Act (1850) Vol. 43, pp. 306-312 of The Harvard Classics
By the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stringent laws were made to prevent assistance being given to any slaves attempting to escape. The antislavery answer to these laws was a perfection of the "Underground Railroad."

[The Fugitive Slave Act was part of the group of measures known collectively as the “Compromise of 1850.” By this compromise, the antislavery party gained the admission of California as a free state; and the prohibition of slave-trading in the District of Columbia. The slavery party, on the other hand, besides concessions with regard to Texas, gained this act, which, however, by its stringency did much to rouse abolitionist sentiment in the North.]

Dream Women Shaped His Destiny

Thomas De Quincey (1885-1859). Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow. Vol. 27, pp. 319-325 of The Harvard Classics
De Quincy imagined that three women were sent to him so that he might know the depths of his soul. Real women could not have wielded greater influence. It is fortunate that everyone does not meet these weird women. (Thomas De Quincy died Dec. 8, 1859.)

OFTENTIMES at Oxford I saw Levana in my dreams. I knew her by her Roman symbols. Who is Levana? Reader, that do not pretend to have much leisure for very much scholarship, you will not be angry with me for telling you. Levana was the Roman goddess that performed for the new-born infant the earliest office of ennobling kindness,—typical, by its mode, of that grandeur which belongs to man everywhere, and of that benignity in powers invisible which even in pagan worlds sometimes descends to sustain it. At the very moment of birth, just as the infant tasted for the first time the atmosphere of our troubled planet, it was laid on the gr…