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Showing posts from February, 2020

Spoke Latin First

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Proficient in Latin even before he knew his own tongue, Montaigne received an unusual education. His whole life was spent in storing up his choice thoughts for our profit and pleasure. (Michel de Montaigne born Feb. 28, 1533.)
Vol. 32, pp. 29-40 of The Harvard Classics

Of the Institution and Education of Children
To the Ladie Diana of Foix, Countesse of Gurson

I NEVER knew father, how crooked and deformed soever his sonne were, that would either altogether cast him off, or not acknowledge him for his owne: and yet (unlesse he be meerely besotted or blinded in his affection) it may not be said, but he plainly perceiveth his defects, and hath a feeling of his imperfections. But so it is, he is his owne. So it is in my selfe. I see better than any man else, that what I have set downe is nought but the fond imaginations of him who in his youth hath tasted nothing but the paring, and seen but the superficies of true learning: whereof he hath retained but a generall a…

Poet Apostle of Good Cheer

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)
"Tell me not in mournful numbers, life is but an empty dream..." "Stars of the summer night! Far in yon azure deeps--" So begin poems that have charmed and cheered thousands. (Longfellow born Feb. 27, 1807.)
Vol. 42, pp. 1264-1280 of The Harvard Classics

A Psalm of Life What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist
TELL me not, in mournful numbers,   Life is but an empty dream! For the soul is dead that slumbers,   And things are not what they seem.

A David Who Side-stepped Goliath

Victor Hugo
Hugo was insulted by the most powerful critics in France. He put into the preface of a play "his sling and his stone" by which others might slay "the classical Goliath." (Victor Hugo born Feb. 26, 1802.)
Vol. 39 pp. 337-349 of The Harvard Classics

Preface to Cromwell
1 THE DRAMA contained in the following pages has nothing to commend it to the attention or the good will of the public. It has not, to attract the interest of political disputants, the advantage of the veto of the official censorship, nor even, to win for it at the outset the literary sympathy of men of taste, the honour of having been formally rejected by an infallible reading committee.

Punished for Too Sharp a Wit

Daniel Defoe
The brilliant wit and cutting satire of Defoe made for him friends and enemies - but mostly enemies. So piercing and two-edged was "The Shortest-Way with Dissenters" that he was fined, imprisoned and pilloried. ("The Shortest-Way with Dissenters" censored, Feb. 25. 1703.)
Vol.. 27, pp. 133-147 of The Harvard Classics

The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church
SIR ROGER L’ESTRANGE tells us a story in his collection of Fables, of the Cock and the Horses. The Cock was gotten to roost in the stable among the horses; and there being no racks or other conveniences for him, it seems, he was forced to roost upon the ground. The horses jostling about for room, and putting the Cock in danger of his life, he gives them this grave advice, “Pray, Gentlefolks! let us stand still! for fear we should tread upon one another!”

Lights and Shadows of Milton

John Milton. (1608–1674).  Complete Poems.
In a superb poem, Milton bids Loathed Melancholy begone to some dark cell. He calls for the joys of youth and vows eternal faith with them. (John Milton marries his third wife, Elizabeth Marshall, Feb. 24, 1662.)
Vol. 4, pp. 30-38 of The Harvard Classics

Pepys' Nose for News

Robert Louis Stevenson
Gossipy, witty Pepys had a curiosity that made him famous. He knew all the news of court and street. Stevenson, who never put his pen to a dull subject, writes of Pepys. (Samuel Pepys born Feb. 23, 1632.)
Vol. 28, pp. 285-292 of The Harvard Classics

Samuel Pepys
IN two books a fresh light has recently been thrown on the character and position of Samuel Pepys. Mr. Mynors Bright has given us a new transcription of the Diary, increasing it in bulk by near a third, correcting many errors, and completing our knowledge of the man in some curious and important points. We can only regret that he has taken liberties with the author and the public. It is no part of the duties of the editor of an established classic to decide what may or may not be “tedious to the reader.” The book is either an historical document or not, and in condemning Lord Braybrooke Mr. Bright condemns himself. As for the time-honored phrase, “unfit for publication,” without being cynical, we may regard…

An Ode for Washington's Birthday

Robert Burns (1759–1796).  Poems and Songs.
(George Washington born Feb. 22, 1732.) Burns asks for Columbia's harp, and then sings of liberty. He bewails the sad state of the land of Alfred and Wallace which once championed liberty, and now fights for tyranny.
Vol. 6, pp. 492-494 of The Harvard Classics

466. Ode for General Washington’s Birthday

NO Spartan tube, no Attic shell,   No lyre Æolian I awake; ’Tis liberty’s bold note I swell,   Thy harp, Columbia, let me take! See gathering thousands, while I sing, A broken chain exulting bring,   And dash it in a tyrant’s face, And dare him to his very beard, And tell him he no more is feared—   No more the despot of Columbia’s race! A tyrant’s proudest insults brav’d, They shout—a People freed! They hail an Empire saved.

Does Football Make a College?

John Henry Newman
Just what makes a university? A group of fine buildings? A library? A staff of well-trained teachers? A body of eager students? A winning football team? Cardinal Newman defines the prime functions of a university.
Vol. 28, pp. 31-39 of The Harvard Classics

The Idea of a University. I. What Is a University?

IF I were asked to describe as briefly and popularly as I could, what a University was, I should draw my answer from its ancient designation of a Studium Generale, or “School of Universal Learning.” This description implies the assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot;—from all parts; else, how will you find professors and students for every department of knowledge? and in one spot; else, how can there be any school at all? Accordingly, in its simple and rudimental form, it is a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter. Many things are requisite to complete and satisfy the idea embodied in this description; b…

Voltaire Observes the Quakers

François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778). Letters on the English.
Because the early Quakers shook, trembled, and quaked when they became inspired - they received the title of "Quakers." This sect attracted the keen-minded Voltaire, who made interesting notes on them during his visit to England.
Vol. 34, pp. 65-78 of The Harvard Classics

Letter I—On the Quakers
I WAS of opinion that the doctrine and history of so extraordinary a people were worthy the attention of the curious. To acquaint myself with them I made a visit to one of the most eminent Quakers in England, who, after having traded thirty years, had the wisdom to prescribe limits to his fortune and to his desires, and was settled in a little solitude not far from London. Being come into it, I perceived a small but regularly built house, vastly neat, but without the least pomp of furniture. The Quaker who owned it was a hale, ruddy complexioned old man, who had never been afflicted with sickness because he had alw…

Earthly Experience of a Chinese Goddess

Buddhist Writings
The thousandth celestial wife of the Garland God slipped and fell to earth, where she took mortal form and served as an attendant in a temple. Death finally released her and she went back to heaven to tell her lord of the ways of men.
Vol. 45 pp. 693-701 of The Harvard Classics

The Devoted Wife Translated from the Dhammapada, and from Buddhaghosa’s comment
While eagerly man culls life’s flowers, With all his faculties intent, Of pleasure still insatiate— Death comes and overpowereth him.
“WHILE eagerly man culls life’s flowers.” This doctrinal instruction was given by The Teacher while dwelling at Svatthi, and it was concerning a woman called Husband-honorer. The affair began in the Heaven of the Suite of the Thirty-three.

Lasting Peace with Great Britain

American Historical Documents, 1000–1904
All Americans should know this treaty which finally inaugurated an era of peace and good understanding with England. For aver a hundred years this peace has been unbroken. (Treaty with Great Britain proclaimed Feb. 18. 1815.)
Vol. 43. pp. 255-264 of The Harvard Classics

Treaty with Great Britain (End of War of 1812) (1814)
[This treaty brought to a close the “War of 1812.”]
Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, Concluded at Ghent, December 24, 1814; Ratification Advised by Senate, February 16, 1815; Ratified by President; February 17, 1815; Ratifications Exchanged at Washington, February 17, 1815; Proclaimed, February 18, 1815.

Death His Curtain Call

Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière (1622–1673).  Tartuffe.
While acting in one of his own plays, Molière was suddenly stricken and died shortly after the final curtain. He took an important role in "Tartuffe" which introduces to literature a character as famous as Shakespeare's Falstaff.
Vol. 26, pp. 199-217 of The Harvard Classics

Social Circles Among Ants

Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882). Origin of Species.
Ants have slaves who work for them. These slaves make the nests, feed the master ants, tend the eggs, and do the moving when a colony of ants migrate. Darwin minutely describes the habits and lives of the industrious ants and their marvelous social organization - a wonder to mankind.
Vol. 11, pp. 264-268 of The Harvard Classics

VIII. Instinct Special Instincts
Slave-making instinct.—This remarkable instinct was first discovered in the Formica (Polyerges) rufescens by Pierre Huber, a better observer even than his celebrated father. This ant is absolutely dependent on its slaves; without their aid, the species would certainly become extinct in a single year. The males and fertile female do no work of any kind, and the workers or sterile females, though most energetic and courageous in capturing slaves, do no other work. They are incapable of making their own nests, or of feeding their own larvæ. When the old nest is found inconvenient, …

The World Well Lost?

John Dryden (1631–1700).  All for Love.
The romantic and heedless loves of Antony and Cleopatra figure prominently in history, literature, and drama. Dryden made a fascinating play from the story of Antony, who sacrificed the leadership of Rome, reputation, and life itself for love of the Egyptian queen, who followed him in death. (Mark Antony offers Cæsar crown at Rome, Feb. 15, 44 B. C.)
Vol. 18, pp. 53-69 of The Harvard Classics

Act III
At one door enter CLEOPATRA, CHARMION, IRAS, and ALEXAS, a Train of Egyptians: at the other ANTONY and Romans. The entrance on both sides is prepared by music; the trumpets first sounding on ANTONY’S part: then answered by timbrels, etc., on CLEOPATRA’S. CHARMION and IRAS hold a laurel wreath betwixt them. A Dance of Egyptians. After the ceremony, CLEOPATRA crowns ANTONY.
 Ant.  I thought how those white arms would fold me in, And strain me close, and melt me into love; So pleased with that sweet image, I sprung forwards, And added all my strength to ev…