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"Dont's" for Conversation

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
I 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, i…

How Ideas Originate

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 t…
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?

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 the…

Shakespeare Should Be Heard

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 li…

Cupid as a Shoemaker

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 MAYORand the EARL OF LINCOLN1
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

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 conclud…

Less Than Star Dust

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
[…]
68
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.
69
The infinites, the mean.—When we read too fast or too slowly, we understand nothing.
70
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

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…

Bargains in Wives

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 …

Old Stories Ever New

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, …

No Man Knows His Resting Place

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

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.)

Act III Scene III
Fürst.  The Viceroy here! Then we shall smart for this!  [Enter GESSLERon 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.  [FRIESSHARDTsteps 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 t…

At Thirty Scott Began to Write

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, kind…

Just Before the Gold Rush

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 import…

Food Profiteers 300 Years Ago

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…

He Worried About It

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 Transfere…

When Carthage Was Monte Carlo

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 …

Story of the First Dresses

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

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

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, Wh…

Once War Songs, Now Pious Prayers

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 CXXXVII An Experience of the Captivity
[1]   BY the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept,
When we remembered Zion. [2]   Upon the willows in the midst thereof
We hanged up our harps. [3]   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. [4]   How shall we sing Jehovah’s song
In a foreign land? [5]   If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her skill. [6]   Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I remember thee not;
If I prefer not Jerusalem
Above my chief joy. [7]   Remember, O Jehovah, against the children of Edom
The day of Jerusalem;
Who said, Rase it, ra…

Blind But Unconquered

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

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 return…

A Genius Needs Few Tools

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…

Costly Opinion on Divorce

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 und…

Gold or Glory?

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
SEVERUS.  FABIAN

  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

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 …

Journey Through a Hot Country

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.