The Harvard Classics, originally known and marketed as Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf of Books, is a 50-volume series of classic works from world literature, important speeches, and historical documents compiled and edited by Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot. Eliot believed that a careful reading of the series and by following the included 11 reading plans in Volume 50 would offer a reader, in the comfort of home, the benefits of a liberal education, entertainment and counsel of history’s greatest creative minds. The 50 volumes were first printed in 1909 (first 25 volumes) and 1910 (next 25 volumes), and the collection was subsequently expanded when the Lectures on The Harvard Classics was added in 1914 and Fifteen Minutes a Day – The Reading Guide in 1916.
The initial marketing success of The Harvard Classics was due, in part, to the branding offered by Eliot and Harvard University. Buyers of these sets were apparently attracted to the claims that reading the books would provide a liberal education by following the included reading plan and using the General Index containing upwards of 76,000 subject references. Collier advertised The Harvard Classics in many magazines in the U.S. including Collier’s and McClure’s and offered to send a pamphlet to prospective buyers (and to get leads for its salesmen). The pamphlet, entitled Fifteen Minutes a Day – A Reading Plan, is a 64-page booklet that describes the benefits of reading, gives the background on the book series, and includes many statements by Eliot about why he undertook the project. In the pamphlet, Eliot states:
My aim was not to select the best fifty, or best hundred, books in the world, but to give, in twenty-three thousand pages or thereabouts, a picture of the progress of the human race within historical times, so far as that progress can be depicted in books. The purpose of The Harvard Classics is, therefore, one different from that of collections in which the editor’s aim has been to select a number of best books; it is nothing less than the purpose to present so ample and characteristic a record of the stream of the world’s thought that the observant reader’s mind shall be enriched, refined and fertilized. Within the limits of fifty volumes, containing about twenty-three thousand pages, my task was to provide the means of obtaining such knowledge of ancient and modern literature as seemed essential to the twentieth-century idea of a cultivated man. The best acquisition of a cultivated man is a liberal frame of mind or way of thinking; but there must be added to that possession acquaintance with the prodigious store of recorded discoveries, experiences, and reflections which humanity in its intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization has acquired and laid up.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is the traditional name for the unfinished record of his own life written by Benjamin Franklin from 1771 to 1790; however, Franklin himself appears to have called the work his Memoirs. Although it had a tortuous publication history after Franklin’s death, this work has become one of the most famous and influential examples of an autobiography ever written.
Franklin’s account of his life is divided into four parts, reflecting the different periods at which he wrote them. There are actual breaks in the narrative between the first three parts, but Part Three’s narrative continues into Part Four without an authorial break.
In the “Introduction” of the 1916 publication of the Autobiography, editor F. W. Pine wrote that Franklin’s biography provided the “most remarkable of all the remarkable histories of our self-made men” with Franklin as the greatest exemplar.
The Journal of John Woolman
The Journal of John Woolman is an autobiography by John Woolman which was published posthumously in 1774 by Joseph Crukshank, a Philadelphia Quaker printer. Woolman’s journal is one of the longest continually published books in North America since it has never been out of print.
The Journal adds to his other published works and gives greater evidence to his character as he discusses ideas of anti-slavery and anti-materialism as well as discussing power’s ability to corrupt. The work also discusses God’s divine power and goodness for all on the earth.
The work has remained in print due to its focus on making life simple and the hopeful message of God’s divine goodness. Woolman is one of the first early American writers besides John Smith who is not a Puritan. Puritans were the most prevalent writers in Early America, and it was during the time of this publication that writing began to move away from being by only Puritan authors. Woolman’s writing is at the forefront of this transition.
Fruits of Solitude by William Penn
Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections and Maxims is a 1682 collection of epigrams and sayings put together by the early American Quaker leader William Penn. Like Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack the work collected the wisdom of pre-Revolutionary USA.
The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo by Plato
The Apology of Socrates, written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, is a Socratic dialogue of the speech of legal self-defense which Socrates spoke at his trial for impiety and corruption in 399 BC. Specifically, the Apology of Socrates is a defense against the charges of “corrupting the youth” and “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel” to Athens (24b). Among the primary sources about the trial and death of the philosopher Socrates (469–399 BC), the Apology of Socrates is the dialogue that depicts the trial, and is one of four Socratic dialogues, along with Euthyphro, Phaedo, and Crito, through which Plato details the final days of the philosopher Socrates.
Crito is a dialogue that was written by Plato. It depicts a conversation between Socrates and his wealthy friend Crito of Alopece regarding justice (δικαιοσύνη), injustice (ἀδικία), and the appropriate response to injustice after Socrates’ imprisonment, which is chronicled in the Apology. In Crito, Socrates believes injustice may not be answered with injustice, personifies the Laws of Athens to prove this, and refuses Crito’s offer to finance his escape from prison. The dialogue contains an ancient statement of the social contract theory of government. In contemporary discussions, the meaning of Crito is debated to determine whether it is a plea for unconditional obedience to the laws of a society. The text is one of the few Platonic dialogues that appear to be unaffected by Plato’s opinions on the matter; it is dated to have been written around the same time as the Apology.
Phaedo, also known to ancient readers as On The Soul, is one of the best-known dialogues of Plato’s middle period, along with the Republic and the Symposium. The philosophical subject of the dialogue is the immortality of the soul. It is set in the last hours prior to the death of Socrates, and is Plato’s fourth and last dialogue to detail the philosopher’s final days, following Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito. One of the main themes in the Phaedo is the idea that the soul is immortal. In the dialogue, Socrates discusses the nature of the afterlife on his last day before being executed by drinking hemlock. Socrates has been imprisoned and sentenced to death by an Athenian jury for not believing in the gods of the state (though some scholars think it was more for his support of “philosopher kings” as opposed to democracy) and for corrupting the youth of the city. By engaging in dialectic with a group of Socrates’ friends, including the two Thebans, Cebes, and Simmias, Socrates explores various arguments for the soul’s immortality in order to show that there is an afterlife in which the soul will dwell following death. Phaedo tells the story that following the discussion, he and the others were there to witness the death of Socrates.
The Golden Sayings by Epictetus
The Golden Sayings of Epictetus is one of three key texts, along with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Seneca’s Letters From A Stoic, from which we know the philosophy of Stoicism. Epictetus (50-130 AD) primarily taught about the philosophy of happiness and virtue. To Epictetus, external happenings were determined by fate, and were therefore beyond human control. He believed that people could accept whatever happened to them in a calm and unemotional manner if they recognized that certain things were not under their control. Even though fate played a role in events, Epictetus still believed that individuals were responsible for their own actions. Although he was born into slavery and endured a permanent physical disability, Epictetus maintained that all people are free to control their lives and to live in harmony with nature. We will always be happy, he argued, if we learn to desire that things should be exactly as they are.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Meditations (lit. ’things to one’s self’) is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova (modern-day Hron) and the second book was written at Carnuntum.
It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published. The work has no official title, so “Meditations” is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs.
Essays, Civil and Moral and New Atlantis by Francis Bacon
Essayes: Religious Meditations. Places of Perswasion and Disswasion. Seene and Allowed (1597) was the first published book by the philosopher, statesman and jurist Francis Bacon. The Essays are written in a wide range of styles, from the plain and unadorned to the epigrammatic. They cover topics drawn from both public and private life, and in each case the essays cover their topics systematically from a number of different angles, weighing one argument against another. While the original edition included 10 essays, a much-enlarged second edition appeared in 1612 with 38. Another, under the title Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, was published in 1625 with 58 essays. Translations into French and Italian appeared during Bacon’s lifetime. In Bacon’s Essay, “Of Plantations” published in 1625, he relates planting colonies to war. He states that such plantations should be governed by those with a commission or authority to exercise martial law.
New Atlantis is an incomplete utopian novel by Sir Francis Bacon, published posthumously in 1626. It appeared unheralded and tucked into the back of a longer work of natural history, Sylva sylvarum (forest of materials). In New Atlantis, Bacon portrayed a vision of the future of human discovery and knowledge, expressing his aspirations and ideals for humankind. The novel depicts the creation of a utopian land where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit” are the commonly held qualities of the inhabitants of the mythical Bensalem. The plan and organization of his ideal college, Salomon’s House (or Solomon’s House), envisioned the modern research university in both applied and pure sciences.
Areopagitica and Tractate of Education by John Milton
Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England is a 1644 prose polemic by the English poet, scholar, and polemical author John Milton opposing licensing and censorship. Areopagitica is among history’s most influential and impassioned philosophical defenses of the principle of a right to freedom of speech and expression. Many of its expressed principles have formed the basis for modern justifications.
The tractate Of Education was published in 1644, first appearing anonymously as a single eight-page quarto sheet. Presented as a letter written in response to a request from the Puritan educational reformer Samuel Hartlib, it represents John Milton’s most comprehensive statement on educational reform, and gives voice to his views “concerning the best and noblest way of education”. As outlined in the tractate, education carried for Milton a dual objective: one public, to “fit a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war”; and the other private, to “repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to be like Him, as we may the nearest by possessing our soul of true virtue”.
Religio Medici by Sir Thomas Browne
Sir Thomas Browne (1605 – 1682) was an English polymath and author of varied works which reveal his wide learning in diverse fields including science and medicine, religion and the esoteric. His writings display a deep curiosity towards the natural world, influenced by the scientific revolution of Baconian enquiry and are permeated by references to Classical and Biblical sources as well as the idiosyncrasies of his own personality. Although often described as suffused with melancholia, Browne’s writings are also characterized by wit and subtle humor, while his literary style is varied, according to genre, resulting in a rich, unique prose which ranges from rough notebook observations to polished Baroque eloquence.
Religio Medici (The Religion of a Doctor) by Sir Thomas Browne is a spiritual testament and early psychological self-portrait. Published in 1643 after an unauthorized version was distributed the previous year, it became a European best-seller which brought its author fame at home and abroad.
John Milton (1608 – 1674) was an English poet and intellectual who served as a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under its Council of State and later under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a time of religious and political instability, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667). Written in blank verse, Paradise Lost is widely considered to be one of the greatest works of literature ever written.
Writing in English and Latin, he achieved international renown within his lifetime; his celebrated Areopagitica (1644), written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship, is among history’s most influential and impassioned defenses of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. His desire for freedom extended into his style: he introduced new words (coined from Latin and Ancient Greek) to the English language, and was the first modern writer to employ unrhymed verse outside of the theatre or translations.
William Hayley’s 1796 biography called him the “greatest English author”, and he remains generally regarded “as one of the pre-eminent writers in the English language”, though critical reception has oscillated in the centuries since his death (often on account of his republicanism). Samuel Johnson praised Paradise Lost as “a poem which…with respect to design may claim the first place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind”, though he (a Tory and recipient of royal patronage) described Milton’s politics as those of an “acrimonious and surly republican”. Poets such as William Blake, William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy revered him.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882), who went by his middle name Waldo, was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States.
Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature”. Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. considered to be America’s “intellectual Declaration of Independence.”
Emerson wrote most of his important essays as lectures first and then revised them for print. His first two collections of essays, Essays: First Series (1841) and Essays: Second Series (1844), represent the core of his thinking. They include the well-known essays “Self-Reliance”, “The Over-Soul”, “Circles”, “The Poet”, and “Experience.” Together with “Nature”, these essays made the decade from the mid-1830s to the mid-1840s Emerson’s most fertile period. Emerson wrote on a number of subjects, never espousing fixed philosophical tenets, but developing certain ideas such as individuality, freedom, the ability for mankind to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and the surrounding world. Emerson’s “nature” was more philosophical than naturalistic: “Philosophically considered, the universe is composed of Nature and the Soul.” Emerson is one of several figures who “took a more pantheist or pandeist approach by rejecting views of God as separate from the world.”
He remains among the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and his work has greatly influenced the thinkers, writers and poets that followed him. “In all my lectures,” he wrote, “I have taught one doctrine, namely, the infinitude of the private man.” Emerson is also well known as a mentor and friend of Henry David Thoreau, a fellow transcendentalist. in 1867, he was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society.
Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), also known familiarly as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet and various other names and epithets, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is in English and a light Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland. He also wrote in standard English, and in these writings his political or civil commentary is often at its bluntest.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV.
As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) “Auld Lang Syne” is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and “Scots Wha Hae” served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include “A Red, Red Rose”, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, “To a Louse”, “To a Mouse”, “The Battle of Sherramuir”, “Tam o’ Shanter” and “Ae Fond Kiss”.
The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Confessions is an autobiographical work by Saint Augustine of Hippo, consisting of 13 books written in Latin between AD 397 and 400. The work outlines Saint Augustine’s sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. Modern English translations of it are sometimes published under the title The Confessions of Saint Augustine in order to distinguish the book from other books with similar titles. Its original title was Confessions in Thirteen Books, and it was composed to be read out loud with each book being a complete unit.
Confessions is generally considered one of Augustine’s most important texts. It is widely seen as the first Western Christian autobiography ever written (Ovid had invented the genre at the start of the first century AD with his Tristia), and was an influential model for Christian writers throughout the Middle Ages. Professor Henry Chadwick wrote that Confessions will “always rank among the great masterpieces of western literature.”
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis
The Imitation of Christ is a Christian devotional book by Thomas à Kempis, first composed in Medieval Latin (as De Imitatione Christi) c. 1418–1427. It is a handbook for spiritual life arising from the Devotio Moderna movement, of which Kempis was a member.
The Imitation is perhaps the most widely read Christian devotional work next to the Bible, and is regarded as a devotional and religious classic. Its popularity was immediate, and it was printed 745 times before 1650. Apart from the Bible, no book had been translated into more languages than the Imitation of Christ at the time.
The text is divided into four books, which provide detailed spiritual instructions: “Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life”, “Directives for the Interior Life”, “On Interior Consolation” and “On the Blessed Sacrament”. The approach taken in the Imitation is characterized by its emphasis on the interior life and withdrawal from the world, as opposed to an active imitation of Christ by other friars. The book places a high level of emphasis on the devotion to the Eucharist as a key element of spiritual life.
Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Furies, and Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
Aeschylus (525/524 – 456/455 BC) was an ancient Greek author of Greek tragedy, and is often described as the father of tragedy. Academics’ knowledge of the genre begins with his work, and understanding of earlier Greek tragedy is largely based on inferences made from reading his surviving plays. According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in the theatre and allowed conflict among them. Before this, characters interacted only with the chorus.
Only seven of his estimated seventy to ninety plays have survived. There is a long-standing debate regarding the authorship of one of these plays, Prometheus Bound. Some believe that his son Euphorion wrote it. Fragments from other of Aeschylus’ plays have survived in quotations, and more continue to be discovered on Egyptian papyrus. These fragments often give further insights into Aeschylus’ work. He was probably the first dramatist to present plays as a trilogy. His Oresteia is the only extant and ancient example. At least one of his plays was influenced by the Persians’ second invasion of Greece (480–479 BC). This work, The Persians, is one of very few classical Greek tragedies concerned with contemporary events, and the only one extant. The significance of the war against Persia was so great to Aeschylus and the Greeks that Aeschylus’ epitaph commemorates his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon while making no mention of his success as a playwright. Despite this, Aeschylus’s work – particularly the Oresteia – is generally acclaimed by modern critics and scholars.
Oedipus the King and Antigone by Sophocles
Sophocles (497/6 – 406/5 BC) is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than, or contemporary with, those of Aeschylus; and earlier than, or contemporary with, those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus. For almost fifty years, Sophocles was the most celebrated playwright in the dramatic competitions of the city-state of Athens which took place during the religious festivals of the Lenaea and the Dionysia. He competed in thirty competitions, won twenty-four, and was never judged lower than second place. Aeschylus won thirteen competitions, and was sometimes defeated by Sophocles; Euripides won four.
The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, though each was part of a different tetralogy (the other members of which are now lost). Sophocles influenced the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor (attributed to Sophocles by Aristotle; to Aeschylus by Themistius), thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights.
Hippolytus and The Bacchae by Euripides
Euripides (480 – 406 BC) was a tragedian of classical Athens. Along with Aeschylus and Sophocles, he is one of the three ancient Greek tragedians for whom any plays have survived in full. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him, but the Suda says it was ninety-two at most. Of these, eighteen or nineteen have survived more or less complete (Rhesus is suspect). There are many fragments (some substantial) of most of his other plays. More of his plays have survived intact than those of Aeschylus and Sophocles together, partly because his popularity grew as theirs declined—he became, in the Hellenistic Age, a cornerstone of ancient literary education, along with Homer, Demosthenes, and Menander.
Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance. He also became “the most tragic of poets”, focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown. He was “the creator of…that cage which is the theatre of Shakespeare’s Othello, Racine’s Phèdre, of Ibsen and Strindberg,” in which “imprisoned men and women destroy each other by the intensity of their loves and hates”. But he was also the literary ancestor of comic dramatists as diverse as Menander and George Bernard Shaw.
His contemporaries associated him with Socrates as a leader of a decadent intellectualism. Both were frequently lampooned by comic poets such as Aristophanes. Socrates was eventually put on trial and executed as a corrupting influence. Euripides chose a voluntary exile in old age, dying in Macedonia. But recent scholarship casts doubt on ancient biographies of Euripides. For example, it is possible that he never visited Macedonia at all, or, if he did, he might have been drawn there by King Archelaus with incentives that were also offered to other artists.
The Frogs by Aristophanes
Aristophanes (446 – 386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme Kydathenaion, was a comic playwright or comedy-writer of ancient Athens and a poet of Old Attic Comedy. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These provide the most valuable examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy and are used to define it, along with fragments from dozens of lost plays by Aristophanes and his contemporaries.
Also known as “The Father of Comedy” and “the Prince of Ancient Comedy”, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes’ play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates, although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher.
Aristophanes’ second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was denounced by Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis. It is possible that the case was argued in court, but details of the trial are not recorded and Aristophanes caricatured Cleon mercilessly in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights, the first of many plays that he directed himself. “In my opinion,” he says through that play’s Chorus, “the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all.” The Frogs is a comedy written by Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus in Athens, in 405 BC and received first place.
On Friendship, On Old Age, and Letters by Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 BC) was a Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during the political crises that led to the establishment of the Roman Empire. His extensive writings include treatises on rhetoric, philosophy and politics, and he is considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order, and served as consul in 63 BC.
His influence on the Latin language was immense. He wrote more than three-quarters of surviving Latin literature from the period of his adult life, and it has been said that subsequent prose was either a reaction against or a return to his style, not only in Latin but in European languages up to the 19th century. Cicero introduced into Latin the arguments of the chief schools of Hellenistic philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary with neologisms such as evidentia, humanitas, qualitas, quantitas, and essentia, distinguishing himself as a translator and philosopher.
Though he was an accomplished orator and successful lawyer, Cicero believed his political career was his most important achievement. It was during his consulship that the second Catilinarian conspiracy attempted to overthrow the government through an attack on the city by outside forces, and Cicero suppressed the revolt by summarily and controversially executing five conspirators. During the chaotic latter half of the 1st century BC marked by civil wars and the dictatorship of Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return to the traditional republican government. Following Caesar’s death, Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony in the ensuing power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was proscribed as an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate and consequently executed by soldiers operating on their behalf in 43 BC after having been intercepted during an attempted flight from the Italian peninsula. His severed hands and head were then, as a final revenge of Mark Antony, displayed on the Rostra.
Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited for initiating the 14th-century Renaissance in public affairs, humanism, and classical Roman culture. According to Polish historian Tadeusz Zieliński, “the Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity.” The peak of Cicero’s authority and prestige came during the 18th-century Enlightenment, and his impact on leading Enlightenment thinkers and political theorists such as John Locke, David Hume, Montesquieu and Edmund Burke was substantial. His works rank among the most influential in European culture, and today still constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for the writing and revision of Roman history, especially the last days of the Roman Republic.
Letters by Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo (61 – 113), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him.
Pliny the Younger wrote hundreds of letters, of which 247 survive, and which are of great historical value. Some are addressed to reigning emperors or to notables such as the historian Tacitus. Pliny served as an imperial magistrate under Trajan (reigned 98–117), and his letters to Trajan provide one of the few surviving records of the relationship between the imperial office and provincial governors.
Pliny rose through a series of civil and military offices, the cursus honorum. He was a friend of the historian Tacitus and might have employed the biographer Suetonius on his staff. Pliny also came into contact with other well-known men of the period, including the philosophers Artemidorus and Euphrates the Stoic, during his time in Syria.
Adam Smith (1723 – 1790) was a Scottish economist, philosopher as well as a moral philosopher, a pioneer of political economy, and a key figure during the Scottish Enlightenment, also known as ”The Father of Economics” or ”The Father of Capitalism”. Smith wrote two classic works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter, often abbreviated as The Wealth of Nations, is considered his magnum opus and the first modern work of economics. In his work, Adam Smith introduced his theory of absolute advantage.
Smith studied social philosophy at the University of Glasgow and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was one of the first students to benefit from scholarships set up by fellow Scot John Snell. After graduating, he delivered a successful series of public lectures at the University of Edinburgh, leading him to collaborate with David Hume during the Scottish Enlightenment. Smith obtained a professorship at Glasgow, teaching moral philosophy and during this time, wrote and published The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In his later life, he took a tutoring position that allowed him to travel throughout Europe, where he met other intellectual leaders of his day.
Smith laid the foundations of classical free market economic theory. The Wealth of Nations was a precursor to the modern academic discipline of economics. In this and other works, he developed the concept of division of labor and expounded upon how rational self-interest and competition can lead to economic prosperity. Smith was controversial in his own day and his general approach and writing style were often satirized by writers such as Horace Walpole.
First published in 1776, The Wealth of Nations offers one of the world’s first collected descriptions of what builds nations’ wealth, and is today a fundamental work in classical economics. By reflecting upon the economics at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the book touches upon such broad topics as the division of labor, productivity, and free markets.
On the Origin of Species (or, more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature by Charles Darwin that is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Darwin’s book introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. The book presented a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution. Darwin included evidence that he had collected on the Beagle expedition in the 1830s and his subsequent findings from research, correspondence, and experimentation.
Various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed to explain new findings in biology. There was growing support for such ideas among dissident anatomists and the general public, but during the first half of the 19th century the English scientific establishment was closely tied to the Church of England, while science was part of natural theology. Ideas about the transmutation of species were controversial as they conflicted with the beliefs that species were unchanging parts of a designed hierarchy and that humans were unique, unrelated to other animals. The political and theological implications were intensely debated, but transmutation was not accepted by the scientific mainstream.
The book was written for non-specialist readers and attracted widespread interest upon its publication. As Darwin was an eminent scientist, his findings were taken seriously and the evidence he presented generated scientific, philosophical, and religious discussion. The debate over the book contributed to the campaign by T. H. Huxley and his fellow members of the X Club to secularize science by promoting scientific naturalism. Within two decades there was widespread scientific agreement that evolution, with a branching pattern of common descent, had occurred, but scientists were slow to give natural selection the significance that Darwin thought appropriate. During “the eclipse of Darwinism” from the 1880s to the 1930s, various other mechanisms of evolution were given more credit. With the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s and 1940s, Darwin’s concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection became central to modern evolutionary theory, and it has now become the unifying concept of the life sciences.
Plutarch (AD 46–after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo. He is known primarily for his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of illustrious Greeks and Romans, and Moralia, a collection of essays and speeches. Upon becoming a Roman citizen, he was named Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus.
Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch’s Lives, is a series of 48 biographies of famous men, arranged in pairs to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, probably written at the beginning of the second century AD. The surviving Parallel Lives comprises 23 pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman of similar destiny, such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, or Demosthenes and Cicero. It is a work of considerable importance, not only as a source of information about the individuals described, but also about the times in which they lived.
Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC – 19 BC), usually called Virgil or Vergil in English, was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He wrote three of the most famous poems in Latin literature: the Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. A number of minor poems, collected in the Appendix Vergiliana, are sometimes attributed to him as well.
Virgil is traditionally ranked as one of Rome’s greatest poets. His Aeneid has been considered the national epic of ancient Rome since the time of its composition. Modeled after Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Aeneid follows the Trojan refugee Aeneas as he struggles to fulfill his destiny and reach Italy, where his descendants Romulus and Remus were to found the city of Rome. Virgil’s work has had wide and deep influence on Western literature, most notably Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which Virgil appears as the author’s guide through Hell and Purgatory.
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It comprises 9,896 lines in dactylic hexameter. The first six of the poem’s twelve books tell the story of Aeneas’s wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the poem’s second half tells of the Trojans’ ultimately victorious war upon the Latins, under whose name Aeneas and his Trojan followers are destined to be subsumed.
The hero Aeneas was already known to Greco-Roman legend and myth, having been a character in the Iliad. Virgil took the disconnected tales of Aeneas’s wanderings, his vague association with the foundation of Rome and his description as a personage of no fixed characteristics other than a scrupulous pietas, and fashioned the Aeneid into a compelling founding myth or national epic that tied Rome to the legends of Troy, explained the Punic Wars, glorified traditional Roman virtues, and legitimized the Julio-Claudian dynasty as descendants of the founders, heroes, and gods of Rome and Troy. The Aeneid is widely regarded as Virgil’s masterpiece and one of the greatest works of Latin literature.
The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, or just Don Quixote, is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It was originally published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. Considered a founding work of Western literature, it is often labeled “the first modern European novel” and many authors consider it to be the one of the greatest novels ever written. Don Quixote also holds the distinction of being the second most-translated book in the world, after the Bible.
The plot revolves around the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his mind and decides to become a knight-errant (caballero andante) to revive chivalry and serve his nation, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote’s rhetorical monologues on knighthood, already considered old-fashioned at the time. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story.
The book had a major influence on the literary community, as evidenced by direct references in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844), Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1897), as well as the word quixotic and the epithet Lothario; the latter refers to a character in “El curioso impertinente” (“The Impertinently Curious Man”), an intercalated story that appears in Part One, chapters 33–35. The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer cited Don Quixote as one of the four greatest novels ever written.
When first published, Don Quixote was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution, it was better known for its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and seen as disenchanting. In the 19th century, it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell “whose side Cervantes was on”. Many critics came to view the work as a tragedy in which Don Quixote’s idealism and nobility are viewed by the post-chivalric world as insane, and are defeated and rendered useless by common reality. By the 20th century, the novel had come to occupy a canonical space as one of the foundations of modern literature.
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come is a 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan. It is regarded as one of the most significant works of religious, theological fiction in English literature. It has been translated into more than 200 languages, and has never been out of print. It appeared in Dutch in 1681, in German in 1703 and in Swedish in 1727. The first North American edition was issued in 1681. It has also been cited as the first novel written in English.
Bunyan began his work while in the Bedfordshire county prison for violations of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which prohibited the holding of religious services outside the auspices of the established Church of England. Early Bunyan scholars such as John Brown believed The Pilgrim’s Progress was begun in Bunyan’s second, shorter imprisonment for six months in 1675, but more recent scholars such as Roger Sharrock believe that it was begun during Bunyan’s initial, more lengthy imprisonment from 1660 to 1672 right after he had written his spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.
The Lives of Donne and Herbert by Izaak Walton
Izaak Walton (1593 – 1683) was an English writer. Best known as the author of The Compleat Angler, he also wrote a number of short biographies including one of his friend John Donne. They have been collected under the title of Walton’s Lives. Walton also made significant contributions to seventeenth-century life-writing throughout his career. His leisurely labors as a biographer seem to have grown out of his devotion to angling. It was probably as an angler that he made the acquaintance of Sir Henry Wotton, but it is clear that Walton had more than a love of fishing and a humorous temper to recommend him to the friendship of the accomplished ambassador.
At any rate, Wotton, who had intended to write the life of John Donne, and had already corresponded with Walton on the subject, left the task to him. Walton had already contributed an elegy to the 1633 edition of Donne’s poems, and he completed and published the life, much to the satisfaction of the most learned critics, in 1640. Sir Henry Wotton dying in 1639, Walton undertook his life also; it was finished in 1642 and published in 1651 as a preface to the volume Reliquiae Wottonianae. His life of Hooker was published in 1665, and his biography of George Herbert in 1670, the latter coinciding with a collected edition of Walton’s biographical writings, The Lives of Dr. John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Mr. Richard Hooker, Mr. George Herbert (1670, 1675). His life of Bishop Robert Sanderson appeared in 1678. All these subjects were endeared to the biographer by a certain gentleness of disposition and cheerful piety; three of them at least—Donne, Wotton and Herbert—were anglers. Walton studied these men’s lives in detail, and provides many insights into their character.
One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English-language edition (c. 1706–1721), which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.
The work was collected over many centuries by various authors, translators, and scholars across West, Central and South Asia, and North Africa. Some tales themselves trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Egyptian, Indian, Persian, and Mesopotamian folklore and literature. In particular, many tales were originally folk stories from the Abbasid and Mamluk eras, while others, especially the frame story, are most probably drawn from the Pahlavi Persian work Hezār Afsān (lit. A Thousand Tales), which in turn relied partly on Indian elements.
What is common to all the editions of the Nights is the initial frame story of the ruler Shahryār and his wife Scheherazade and the framing device incorporated throughout the tales themselves. The stories proceed from this original tale; some are framed within other tales, while others are self-contained. Some editions contain only a few hundred nights, while others include 1,001 or more. The bulk of the text is in prose, although verse is occasionally used for songs and riddles and to express heightened emotion. Most of the poems are single couplets or quatrains, although some are longer.
Some of the stories commonly associated with the Arabian Nights—particularly “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”—were not part of the collection in its original Arabic versions but were added to the collection by Antoine Galland after he heard them from the Syrian Maronite Christian storyteller Hanna Diab on Diab’s visit to Paris. Other stories, such as “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor”, had an independent existence before being added to the collection.
Fables by Aesop
Aesop’s Fables, or the Aesopica, is a collection of fables credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. Of diverse origins, the stories associated with his name have descended to modern times through a number of sources and continue to be reinterpreted in different verbal registers and in popular as well as artistic media.
The fables originally belonged to the oral tradition and were not collected for some three centuries after Aesop’s death. By that time a variety of other stories, jokes and proverbs were being ascribed to him, although some of that material was from sources earlier than him or came from beyond the Greek cultural sphere. The process of inclusion has continued until the present, with some of the fables unrecorded before the Late Middle Ages and others arriving from outside Europe. The process is continuous and new stories are still being added to the Aesop corpus, even when they are demonstrably more recent work and sometimes from known authors.
Manuscripts in Latin and Greek were important avenues of transmission, although poetical treatments in European vernaculars eventually formed another. On the arrival of printing, collections of Aesop’s fables were among the earliest books in a variety of languages. Through the means of later collections, and translations or adaptations of them, Aesop’s reputation as a fabulist was transmitted throughout the world.
Initially the fables were addressed to adults and covered religious, social and political themes. They were also put to use as ethical guides and from the Renaissance onwards were particularly used for the education of children. Their ethical dimension was reinforced in the adult world through depiction in sculpture, painting and other illustrative means, as well as adaptation to drama and song. In addition, there have been reinterpretations of the meaning of fables and changes in emphasis over time.
Children’s and Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Grimms’ Fairy Tales, originally known as the Children’s and Household Tales, is a German collection of fairy tales by the Grimm brothers or “Brothers Grimm”, Jacob and Wilhelm, first published on 20 December 1812. The first edition contained 86 stories, and by the seventh edition in 1857, had 210 unique fairy tales.
The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called “Children’s Tales”, they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter. Many changes through the editions – such as turning the wicked mother of the first edition in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel (shown in original Grimm stories as Hänsel and Grethel) to a stepmother, were probably made with an eye to such suitability. Jack Zipes believes that the Grimms made the change in later editions because they “held motherhood sacred”. They removed sexual references—such as Rapunzel’s innocently asking why her dress was getting tight around her belly, and thus naively revealing to the witch Dame Gothel her pregnancy and the prince’s visits—but, in many respects, violence, particularly when punishing villains, was increased.
The Grimms believed that the most natural and pure forms of culture were linguistic and based in history. The work of the Brothers Grimm influenced other collectors, both inspiring them to collect tales and leading them to similarly believe, in a spirit of romantic nationalism, that the fairy tales of a country were particularly representative of it, to the neglect of cross-cultural influence. Among those influenced were the Russian Alexander Afanasyev, the Norwegians Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, the English Joseph Jacobs, and Jeremiah Curtin, an American who collected Irish tales. There was not always a pleased reaction to their collection. Joseph Jacobs was in part inspired by his complaint that English children did not read English fairy tales; in his own words, “What Perrault began, the Grimms completed”.
W. H. Auden praised the collection during World War II as one of the founding works of Western culture. The tales themselves have been put to many uses. Adolf Hitler praised them as folkish tales showing children with sound racial instincts seeking racially pure marriage partners, and so strongly that the Allies of World War II warned against them; for instance, Cinderella with the heroine as racially pure, the stepmother as an alien, and the prince with an unspoiled instinct being able to distinguish. Writers who have written about the Holocaust have combined the tales with their memoirs, as Jane Yolen in her Briar Rose.
Tales by Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875), in Denmark usually called H.C. Andersen, was a Danish author. Although a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems, he is best remembered for his fairy tales.
Andersen’s fairy tales, consisting of 156 stories across nine volumes and translated into more than 125 languages, have become culturally embedded in the West’s collective consciousness, readily accessible to children, but presenting lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity for mature readers as well. His most famous fairy tales include “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Nightingale,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, “The Red Shoes”, “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Match Girl,” and “Thumbelina.” His stories have inspired ballets, plays, and animated and live-action films. One of Copenhagen’s widest and busiest boulevards, skirting Copenhagen City Hall Square at the corner of which Andersen’s larger-than-life bronze statue sits, is named “H. C. Andersens Boulevard.”
All for Love by John Dryden
John Dryden (1631 – 1700) was an English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was appointed England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668. He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden. Romanticist writer Sir Walter Scott called him “Glorious John”.
All for Love; or, the World Well Lost, is a 1677 heroic drama by John Dryden which is now his best-known and most performed play. It is a tragedy written in blank verse and is an attempt on Dryden’s part to reinvigorate serious drama. It is an acknowledged imitation of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and focuses on the last hours of the lives of its hero and heroine.
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (1751 – 1816) was an Irish satirist, a politician, a playwright, poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He is known for his plays such as The Rivals, The School for Scandal, The Duenna and A Trip to Scarborough. He was also a Whig MP for 32 years in the British House of Commons for Stafford (1780–1806), Westminster (1806–1807), and Ilchester (1807–1812). He is buried at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His plays remain a central part of the canon and are regularly performed worldwide. The School for Scandal is a comedy of manners written by Sheridan. It was first performed in London at Drury Lane Theatre on 8 May 1777.
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy by Oliver Goldsmith, first performed in London in 1773. The play is a favorite for study by English literature and theatre classes in the English-speaking world. It is one of the few plays from the 18th century to have retained its appeal and is regularly performed. The play has been adapted into a film several times, including in 1914 and 1923. Initially the play was titled Mistakes of a Night and the events within the play take place in one long night. In 1778, John O’Keeffe wrote a loose sequel, Tony Lumpkin in Town.
The Cenci by Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Cenci, A Tragedy, in Five Acts (1819) is a verse drama in five acts by Percy Bysshe Shelley written in the summer of 1819, and inspired by a real Italian family, the House of Cenci (in particular, Beatrice Cenci). Shelley composed the play in Rome and at Villa Valsovano near Livorno, from May to August 5, 1819. The work was published by Charles and James Ollier in London in 1819. The Livorno edition was printed in Livorno, Italy by Shelley himself in a run of 250 copies. Shelley told Thomas Love Peacock that he arranged for the printing himself because in Italy “it costs, with all duties and freightage, about half of what it would cost in London.” Shelley sought to have the play staged, describing it as “totally different from anything you might conjecture that I should write; of a more popular kind… written for the multitude.” Shelley wrote to his publisher Charles Ollier that he was confident that the play “will succeed as a publication.” A second edition appeared in 1821, his only published work to go into a second edition during his lifetime.
The play was not considered stageable in its day due to its themes of incest and parricide, and was not performed in public in England until 1922, when it was staged in London. In 1886 the Shelley Society had sponsored a private production at the Grand Theatre, Islington, before an audience that included Oscar Wilde, Robert Browning, and George Bernard Shaw. Though there has been much debate over the play’s stageability, it has been produced in many countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and the United States.
A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon by Robert Browning
Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) was an English poet and playwright whose dramatic monologues put him among the foremost Victorian poets. His poems are noted for irony, characterization, dark humor, social commentary, historical settings and challenging vocabulary and syntax. His career began well, but shrank for a time. The long poems Pauline (1833) and Paracelsus (1835) were acclaimed, but in 1840 Sordello was seen as willfully obscure. His renown took over a decade to return, by which time he had moved from Shelleyan forms to a more personal style. In 1846 Browning married the older poet Elizabeth Barrett and went to live in Italy. By her death in 1861 he had published the collection Men and Women (1855). His Dramatis Personae (1864) and book-length epic poem The Ring and the Book (1868–1869) made him a leading British poet. He continued to write prolifically, but his reputation today rests mainly on his middle period. By his death in 1889, he was seen as a sage and philosopher-poet who had fed into Victorian social and political discourse. Societies for studying his work formed in his lifetime and survived in Britain and the United States into the 20th century.
Manfred by Lord Byron
Manfred: A dramatic poem is a closet drama written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Gothic fiction.
Byron commenced this work in late 1816, only a few months after the famous ghost-story sessions with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley that provided the initial impetus for Frankenstein. The supernatural references are made clear throughout the poem.
Manfred was adapted musically by Robert Schumann in 1852, in a composition entitled Manfred: Dramatic Poem with Music in Three Parts, and later by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in his Manfred Symphony. Friedrich Nietzsche was inspired by the poem’s depiction of a super-human being to compose a piano score in 1872 based on it, “Manfred Meditation”.
Faust, Part 1, Egmont, and Hermann and Dorothea by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832) was a German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, and amateur artist. His works include plays, poetry, literary and aesthetic criticism, and treatises on botany, anatomy, and colour. He is considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era.
Goethe took up residence in Weimar in November 1775 following the success of his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). He was ennobled by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl August, in 1782. He was an early participant in the Sturm und Drang literary movement. During his first ten years in Weimar, Goethe became a member of the Duke’s privy council, sat on the war and highway commissions, oversaw the reopening of silver mines in nearby Ilmenau, and implemented a series of administrative reforms at the University of Jena. He also contributed to the planning of Weimar’s botanical park and the rebuilding of its Ducal Palace.
Goethe’s first major scientific work, the Metamorphosis of Plants, was published after he returned from a 1788 tour of Italy. In 1791 he was made managing director of the theatre at Weimar, and in 1794 he began a friendship with the dramatist, historian, and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, whose plays he premiered until Schiller’s death in 1805. During this period Goethe published his second novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; the verse epic Hermann and Dorothea, and, in 1808, the first part of his most celebrated drama, Faust. His conversations and various shared undertakings throughout the 1790s with Schiller, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Johann Gottfried Herder, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and August and Friedrich Schlegel have come to be collectively termed Weimar Classicism.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer named Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship one of the four greatest novels ever written, while the American philosopher and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson selected Goethe as one of six “representative men” in his work of the same name (along with Plato, Emanuel Swedenborg, Montaigne, Napoleon, and Shakespeare). Goethe’s comments and observations form the basis of several biographical works, notably Johann Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe (1836).
Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe, also known as Kit Marlowe (1564 – 1593), was an English playwright, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. Modern scholars count Marlowe among the most famous of the Elizabethan playwrights; based upon the “many imitations” of his play Tamburlaine, they consider him to have been the foremost dramatist in London in the years just before his mysterious early death. Some scholars also believe that he greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was baptised in the same year as Marlowe and later succeeded him as the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright. Marlowe was the first to achieve critical notoriety for his use of blank verse, which became the standard for the era. His plays are distinguished by their overreaching protagonists. Themes found within Marlowe’s literary works have been noted as humanistic with realistic emotions, which some scholars find difficult to reconcile with Marlowe’s “anti-intellectualism” and his catering to the taste of his Elizabethan audiences for generous displays of extreme physical violence, cruelty, and bloodshed.
The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is an Elizabethan tragedy by Christopher Marlowe, based on German stories about the title character Faust. It was written sometime between 1589 and 1592, and may have been performed between 1592 and Marlowe’s death in 1593. Two different versions of the play were published in the Jacobean era several years later. The powerful effect of early productions of the play is indicated by the legends that quickly accrued around them—that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance, “to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators”, a sight that was said to have driven some spectators mad.
The Divine Comedy is a long Italian narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered to be the pre-eminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. It helped establish the Tuscan language, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.
The narrative takes as its literal subject the state of the soul after death and presents an image of divine justice meted out as due punishment or reward, and describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven. Allegorically the poem represents the soul’s journey towards God, beginning with the recognition and rejection of sin (Inferno), followed by the penitent Christian life (Purgatorio), which is then followed by the soul’s ascent to God (Paradiso). Dante draws on medieval Roman Catholic theology and philosophy, especially Thomistic philosophy derived from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Consequently, the Divine Comedy has been called “the Summa in verse”. In Dante’s work, the pilgrim Dante is accompanied by three guides: Virgil (who represents human reason), Beatrice (who represents divine revelation, theology, faith, and grace), and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (who represents contemplative mysticism and devotion to Mary the Mother). Erich Auerbach said Dante was the first writer to depict human beings as the products of a specific time, place and circumstance as opposed to mythic archetypes or a collection of vices and virtues; this along with the fully imagined world of the Divine Comedy, different from our own but fully visualized, suggests that the Divine Comedy could be said to have inaugurated modern fiction.
The work was originally simply titled Comedìa, Tuscan for “Comedy”, later adjusted to the modern Italian Commedia. The adjective Divina was added by Giovanni Boccaccio, due to its subject matter and lofty style, and the first edition to name the poem Divina Comedia in the title was that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce, published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de’ Ferrari.
Alessandro Francesco Tommaso Antonio Manzoni (1785 – 1873) was an Italian poet, novelist and philosopher. He is famous for the novel The Betrothed (Italian: I promessi sposi) (1827), generally ranked among the masterpieces of world literature. The novel is also a symbol of the Italian Risorgimento, both for its patriotic message and because it was a fundamental milestone in the development of the modern, unified Italian language. Manzoni also contributed to the stabilization of the modern Italian language and helped to ensure linguistic unity throughout Italy. He was an influential proponent of Liberal Catholicism in Italy. His work and thinking has often been contrasted with that of his younger contemporary Giacomo Leopardi by critics.
The Betrothed (Italian: I promessi sposi) is an Italian historical novel by Alessandro Manzoni, first published in 1827, in three volumes, and significantly revised and rewritten until the definitive version published between 1840 and 1842. It has been called the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language. Set in northern Italy in 1628, during the years of Spanish rule. It is also noted for the extraordinary description of the plague that struck Milan around 1630.
The novel deals with a variety of themes, from the illusory nature of political power to the inherent injustice of any legal system; from the cowardly, hypocritical nature of one prelate (the parish priest don Abbondio) and the heroic sainthood of other priests (the friar Padre Cristoforo, the cardinal Federico Borromeo), to the unwavering strength of love (the relationship between Renzo and Lucia, and their struggle to finally meet again and be married). The novel is renowned for offering keen insights into the meanderings of the human mind.
I promessi sposi was made into an opera of the same name by Amilcare Ponchielli in 1856 and by Errico Petrella in 1869. There have been many film versions of I promessi sposi, including I promessi sposi (1908), The Betrothed (1941), The Betrothed (1990), and Renzo and Lucia, made for television in 2004. A “modern opera” version, called The Betrothed Lovers, was written and produced by Michele Guardi with music by Pippo Flora, and first performed in 2010. In May 2015, at a weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked engaged couples to read the novel for edification before marriage.
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is one of the oldest extant works of literature still read by contemporary audiences. As with the Iliad, the poem is divided into 24 books. It follows the Greek hero Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his journey home after the Trojan War. After the war itself, which lasted ten years, his journey lasts for ten additional years, during which time he encounters many perils and all his crewmates are killed. In his absence, Odysseus is assumed dead, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must contend with a group of unruly suitors who compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage.
The Odyssey was originally composed in Homeric Greek in around the 8th or 7th century BCE and, by the mid-6th century BCE, had become part of the Greek literary canon. In antiquity, Homer’s authorship of the poem was not questioned, but contemporary scholarship predominantly assumes that the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed independently, and the stories themselves formed as part of a long oral tradition. Given widespread illiteracy, the poem was performed by an aoidos or rhapsode, and more likely to be heard than read.
Crucial themes in the poem include the ideas of nostos (“return”), wandering, xenia (“guest-friendship”), testing, and omens. Scholars still reflect on the narrative significance of certain groups in the poem, such as women and slaves, who have a more prominent role in the epic than in many other works of ancient literature. This focus is especially remarkable when considered beside the Iliad, which centres the exploits of soldiers and kings during the Trojan War.
The Odyssey is regarded as one of the most significant works of the Western canon. The first English translation of the Odyssey was in the 16th century. Adaptations and re-imaginings continue to be produced across a wide variety of mediums. In 2018, when BBC Culture polled experts around the world to find literature’s most enduring narrative, the Odyssey topped the list.
Richard Henry Dana Jr. (1815 – 1882) was an American lawyer and politician from Massachusetts, a descendant of a colonial family, who gained renown as the author of the classic American memoir Two Years Before the Mast. Both as a writer and as a lawyer, he was a champion of the downtrodden, from seamen to fugitive slaves and freedmen.
While an undergraduate at Harvard College, Dana had an attack of the measles which affected his vision. Thinking it might help his sight, Dana left Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn on the brig Pilgrim. He returned to Massachusetts two years later, aboard the Alert (which left California sooner than the Pilgrim). He kept a diary throughout the voyage, and, after returning, he wrote a recognized American classic, Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840.
Two Years Before the Mast is a memoir by the American author Richard Henry Dana Jr., published in 1840, having been written after a two-year sea voyage from Boston to California on a merchant ship starting in 1834. A film adaptation under the same name was released in 1946.
Two Years Before the Mast was “conceived as a protest and written to improve the lot of the common sailor”. The literary style provides a concrete description of a seaman’s life to serve as a practical guide, and not as an adventure novel. His unpolished, laconic style achieved a literary quality, however, that influenced novelist Herman Melville, according to American essayist Wright Morris.
On Taste, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections on the French Revolution, and A Letter to a Noble Lord by Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) was an Irish statesman, economist, and philosopher. Born in Dublin, Burke served as a member of parliament (MP) between 1766 and 1794 in the House of Commons of Great Britain with the Whig Party after moving to London in 1750. Burke was a proponent of underpinning virtues with manners in society and of the importance of religious institutions for the moral stability and good of the state. These views were expressed in his A Vindication of Natural Society. He criticized the actions of the British government towards the American colonies, including its taxation policies. Burke also supported the rights of the colonists to resist metropolitan authority, although he opposed the attempt to achieve independence. He is remembered for his support for Catholic emancipation, the impeachment of Warren Hastings from the East India Company, and his staunch opposition to the French Revolution.
In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke asserted that the revolution was destroying the fabric of good society and traditional institutions of state and society and condemned the persecution of the Catholic Church that resulted from it. This led to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig Party which he dubbed the Old Whigs as opposed to the pro–French Revolution New Whigs led by Charles James Fox. In the 19th century, Burke was praised by both conservatives and liberals. Subsequently in the 20th century, he became widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.
A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful is a 1757 treatise on aesthetics written by Edmund Burke. It was the first complete philosophical exposition for separating the beautiful and the sublime into their own respective rational categories. It attracted the attention of prominent thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant.
Autobiography and On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill (1806 – 1873), usually cited as J. S. Mill, was an English philosopher, political economist, Member of Parliament, and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to social theory, political theory, and political economy. Dubbed “the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century”, he conceived of liberty as justifying the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control.
Mill was a proponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by his predecessor Jeremy Bentham. He contributed to the investigation of scientific methodology, though his knowledge of the topic was based on the writings of others, notably William Whewell, John Herschel, and Auguste Comte, and research carried out for Mill by Alexander Bain. He engaged in written debate with Whewell. A member of the Liberal Party and author of the early feminist work The Subjection of Women, Mill was also the second Member of Parliament to call for women’s suffrage after Henry Hunt in 1832.
On Liberty is a philosophical essay by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill. Published in 1859, it applies Mill’s ethical system of utilitarianism to society and state. Mill suggests standards for the relationship between authority and liberty. He emphasizes the importance of individuality, which he considers prerequisite to the higher pleasures—the summum bonum of utilitarianism. Furthermore, Mill asserts that democratic ideals may result in the tyranny of the majority. Among the standards proposed are Mill’s three basic liberties of individuals, his three legitimate objections to government intervention, and his two maxims regarding the relationship of the individual to society.
On Liberty was a greatly influential and well-received work. Some classical liberals and libertarians have criticized it for its apparent discontinuity with Utilitarianism, and vagueness in defining the arena within which individuals can contest government infringements on their personal freedom of action. The ideas presented in On Liberty have remained the basis of much political thought. It has remained in print since its initial publication. A copy of On Liberty is passed to the president of the British Liberal Democrats as a symbol of office.
Characteristics, Inaugural Address at Edinburgh, and Sir Walter Scott by Thomas Carlyle
Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) was a Scottish historian, satirical writer, essayist, translator, philosopher, mathematician, and teacher. In his book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History (1841), he argued that the actions of the “Great Man” play a key role in history, claiming that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men”. Other major works include The French Revolution: A History, 3 vols (1837) and The History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great, 6 vols (1858–65).
His 1837 history of The French Revolution was the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities, and remains popular today. Carlyle’s 1836 Sartor Resartus is a notable philosophical novel. A noted polemicist, Carlyle coined the term “the dismal science” for economics, in his essay “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question”, which satirically advocated for the reintroduction of slavery to the West Indies to highlight his perceived hypocrisy of British abolitionists’ indifference to domestic child-labour and slave-like working conditions in contemporary factories. He also wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Carlyle had once lost his faith in Christianity while attending the University of Edinburgh, later adopting a form deism or “restatement” of Christianity, according to Charles Frederick Harrald “a Calvinist without the theology”. In mathematics, he is known for the Carlyle circle, a method used in quadratic equations and for developing ruler-and-compass constructions of regular polygons.
Life is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Life Is a Dream is a Spanish-language play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. First published in 1636, in two different editions, the first in Madrid and a second one in Zaragoza. Don W. Cruickshank and a number of other critics believe that the play can be dated around 1630, thus making Calderón’s most famous work a rather early composition. It is a philosophical allegory regarding the human situation and the mystery of life. The play has been described as “the supreme example of Spanish Golden Age drama”. The story focuses on the fictional Segismundo, Prince of Poland, who has been imprisoned in a tower by his father, King Basilio, following a dire prophecy that the prince would bring disaster to the country and death to the King. Basilio briefly frees Segismundo, but when the prince goes on a rampage, the king imprisons him again, persuading him that it was all a dream.
The play’s central themes are the conflict between free will and fate, as well as restoring one’s honor. It remains one of Calderón’s best-known and most studied works, and was listed as one of the 40 greatest plays of all time in The Independent. Other themes include dreams vs. reality and the conflict between father and son. The play has been adapted for other stage works, in film and as a novel.
Polyeucte by Pierre Corneille
Polyeucte is a drama in five acts by French writer Pierre Corneille. It was finished in December 1642 and debuted in October 1643. It is based on the life of the martyr Saint Polyeuctus (Polyeucte).
The drama is set in ancient Armenia (in a city, Melitene, which is in present-day Turkey) during a time when Christians were persecuted there under the Roman Empire. Polyeucte, an Armenian nobleman, converts to Christianity to the great despair of his wife, Pauline, and of his father-in-law, Felix. Despite them, Polyeucte becomes a martyr, causing Pauline and Felix to finally convert as well. There is also a romantic subplot: the Roman Severus is in love with Pauline and hopes she will be his after the conversion of Polyeucte. However, she chooses to stay at the side of her husband. Before dying, Polyeucte entrusts Severus with Pauline.
Polyeucte is one of the last 17th-century French dramas with a religious subject—Corneille did also write Théodore in 1645 and Racine wrote Esther (1689) and Athalie (1691), but these were not meant for public performance. Later playwrights were not as willing to mix religious and worldly themes.
One act of the opera was performed under the auspices of the Carthage Institute in the ancient Roman theatre at Carthage, Tunisia in 1906, making it the first modern performance to have taken place in that historic space (which had functioned as an active theatre from ca. AD 150 to AD 439 and was only unearthed in 1904).
Phèdre by Jean Racine
Jean Racine, baptized Jean-Baptiste Racine (1639 – 1699), was a French dramatist, one of the three great playwrights of 17th-century France, along with Molière and Corneille, and an important literary figure in the Western tradition. Racine was primarily a tragedian, producing such “examples of neoclassical perfection” as Phèdre, Andromaque, and Athalie. He did write one comedy, Les Plaideurs, and a muted tragedy, Esther for the young.
Racine’s plays displayed his mastery of the dodecasyllabic (12 syllable) French alexandrine. His writing is renowned for its elegance, purity, speed, and fury, and for what American poet Robert Lowell described as a “diamond-edge”, and the “glory of its hard, electric rage”. Racine’s dramaturgy is marked by his psychological insight, the prevailing passion of his characters, and the nakedness of both plot and stage. Phèdre is a French dramatic tragedy in five acts written in alexandrine verse by Jean Racine, first performed in 1677 at the theatre of the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris.
With Phèdre, Racine chose once more a subject from Greek mythology, already treated by Greek and Roman tragic poets, notably by Euripides in Hippolytus and Seneca in Phaedra. As a result of an intrigue by the Duchess of Bouillon and other friends of the aging Pierre Corneille, the play was not a success at its première on 1 January 1677 at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, home of the royal troupe of actors in Paris. Indeed, a rival group staged a play by the now forgotten playwright Nicolas Pradon on an almost identical theme. After Phèdre, Racine ceased writing plays on secular themes and devoted himself to the service of religion and the king until 1689, when he was commissioned to write Esther by Madame de Maintenon, the morganatic second wife of Louis XIV.
Tartuffe by Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622 – 1673), known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright, actor and poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the French language and world literature. His extant works include comedies, farces, tragicomedies, comédie-ballets, and more. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed at the Comédie-Française more often than those of any other playwright today. His influence is such that the French language is often referred to as the “language of Molière”
Tartuffe, or The Impostor, or The Hypocrite, first performed in 1664, is one of the most famous theatrical comedies by Molière. The characters of Tartuffe, Elmire, and Orgon are considered among the greatest classical theatre roles.
Minna von Barnhelm by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 – 1781) was a German writer, philosopher, dramatist, publicist and art critic, and an outstanding representative of the Enlightenment era. His plays and theoretical writings substantially influenced the development of German literature. He is widely considered by theatre historians to be the first dramaturg in his role at Abel Seyler’s Hamburg National Theatre.
Minna von Barnhelm or the Soldiers’ Happiness is a lustspiel or comedy by the German author Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. It has five acts, was begun in 1763 and completed in 1767 – its author put the year 1763 on the official title page, presumably to emphasize that the recent Seven Years’ War plays a major part in the play, which is set on 22 August 1763. It is one of the most important comedies in German literature. It was first performed in 1767 by the Hamburg National Theatre, where Lessing worked as a dramaturg.
William Tell by Friedrich von Schiller
William Tell is a drama written by Friedrich Schiller in 1804. The story focuses on the legendary Swiss marksman William Tell as part of the greater Swiss struggle for independence from the Habsburg Empire in the early 14th century. Gioachino Rossini’s four-act opera Guillaume Tell was written to a French adaptation of Schiller’s play.
The play was written by Friedrich Schiller between 1803 and 1804, and published that year in a first edition of 7,000 copies. Since its publication, Schiller’s William Tell has been translated into many languages.
Friedrich Schiller (who had never been to Switzerland, but was well informed, being a historian) was inspired to write a play about the legendary Swiss marksman William Tell by his wife Lotte, who knew the country from her personal experience. After his friend, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, had returned from his second journey to the Lake of Lucerne in 1779, Schiller started collecting sources.
Most of Schiller’s information about the history of the Swiss confederation is drawn from Aegidius Tschudi’s Chronicon Helveticum (‘Swiss Chronicle’), Johannes von Müller’s History of the Swiss Confederation, as well as two chronicles of Petermann Etterlin and Johannes Stumpf.
The Defense of Poesy by Sir Philip Sidney
On Shakespeare by Ben Jonson
On Bacon by Ben Jonson
Of Agriculture by Abraham Cowley
The Vision of Mirza by Joseph Addison
Westminster Abbey by Joseph Addison
The Spectator Club by Sir Richard Steele
Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation by Jonathan Swift
A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding by Jonathan Swift
A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet by Jonathan Swift
On the Death of Esther Johnson [Stella] by Jonathan Swift
The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters by Daniel Defoe
The Education of Women by Daniel Defoe
Life of Addison, 1672-1719 by Samuel Johnson
Of the Standard of Taste by David Hume
Fallacies of Anti-Reformers by Sydney Smith
On Poesy or Art by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen by William Hazlitt
Deaths of Little Children by Leigh Hunt
On the Realities of Imagination by Leigh Hunt
On the Tragedies of Shakespeare by Charles Lamb
Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow by Thomas De Quincey
A Defense of Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Machiavelli by Thomas Babington Macaulay
Jonathan Swift by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman
The Study of Poetry by Matthew Arnold
Sesame and Lilies by John Ruskin
John Milton by Walter Bagehot
Science and Culture by Thomas Henry Huxley
Race and Language by Edward Augustus Freeman
Truth of Intercourse and Samuel Pepys by Robert Louis Stevenson
On the Elevation of the Laboring Classes by William Ellery Channing
The Poetic Principle by Edgar Allen Poe
Walking by Henry David Thoreau
Abraham Lincoln and Democracy by James Russell Lowell
The Voyage of the Beagle is the title most commonly given to the book written by Charles Darwin and published in 1839 as his Journal and Remarks, bringing him considerable fame and respect. This was the third volume of The Narrative of the Voyages of H.M. Ships Adventure and Beagle, the other volumes of which were written or edited by the commanders of the ships. Journal and Remarks covers Darwin’s part in the second survey expedition of the ship HMS Beagle. Due to the popularity of Darwin’s account, the publisher reissued it later in 1839 as Darwin’s Journal of Researches, and the revised second edition published in 1845 used this title. A republication of the book in 1905 introduced the title The Voyage of the “Beagle”, by which it is now best known.
Beagle sailed from Plymouth Sound on 27 December 1831 under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy. While the expedition was originally planned to last two years, it lasted almost five—Beagle did not return until 2 October 1836. Darwin spent most of this time exploring on land (three years and three months on land; 18 months at sea). The book is a vivid travel memoir as well as a detailed scientific field journal covering biology, geology, and anthropology that demonstrates Darwin’s keen powers of observation, written at a time when Western Europeans were exploring and charting the whole world. Although Darwin revisited some areas during the expedition, for clarity the chapters of the book are ordered by reference to places and locations rather than by date.
Darwin’s notes made during the voyage include comments hinting at his changing views on the fixity of species. On his return, he wrote the book based on these notes, at a time when he was first developing his theories of evolution through common descent and natural selection. The book includes some suggestions of his ideas, particularly in the second edition of 1845.
The Forces of Matter and The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) was an English scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis. Although Faraday received little formal education, he was one of the most influential scientists in history. It was by his research on the magnetic field around a conductor carrying a direct current that Faraday established the basis for the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. Faraday also established that magnetism could affect rays of light and that there was an underlying relationship between the two phenomena. He similarly discovered the principles of electromagnetic induction and diamagnetism, and the laws of electrolysis. His inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices formed the foundation of electric motor technology, and it was largely due to his efforts that electricity became practical for use in technology.
As a chemist, Faraday discovered benzene, investigated the clathrate hydrate of chlorine, invented an early form of the Bunsen burner and the system of oxidation numbers, and popularized terminology such as “anode”, “cathode”, “electrode” and “ion”. Faraday ultimately became the first and foremost Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, a lifetime position.
Faraday was an excellent experimentalist who conveyed his ideas in clear and simple language; his mathematical abilities, however, did not extend as far as trigonometry and were limited to the simplest algebra. James Clerk Maxwell took the work of Faraday and others and summarized it in a set of equations which is accepted as the basis of all modern theories of electromagnetic phenomena. On Faraday’s uses of lines of force, Maxwell wrote that they show Faraday “to have been in reality a mathematician of a very high order – one from whom the mathematicians of the future may derive valuable and fertile methods.” The SI unit of capacitance is named in his honor: the farad.
Albert Einstein kept a picture of Faraday on his study wall, alongside pictures of Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell. Physicist Ernest Rutherford stated, “When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and of industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.”
On the Conservation of Force and Ice and Glaciers by Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821 – 1894) was a German physicist and physician who made significant contributions in several scientific fields. The largest German association of research institutions, the Helmholtz Association, is named after him.
In physiology and psychology, he is known for his mathematics of the eye, theories of vision, ideas on the visual perception of space, color vision research, and on the sensation of tone, perception of sound, and empiricism in the physiology of perception.
In physics, he is known for his theories on the conservation of energy, work in electrodynamics, chemical thermodynamics, and on a mechanical foundation of thermodynamics.
As a philosopher, he is known for his philosophy of science, ideas on the relation between the laws of perception and the laws of nature, the science of aesthetics, and ideas on the civilizing power of science.
The Wave Theory of Light and The Tides by Lord Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, (1824 – 1907) was an Irish-British mathematical physicist and engineer born in Belfast. Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow for 53 years, he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He received the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1883, was its President 1890–1895, and in 1892 was the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords.
Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honor. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) was known prior to his work, Kelvin is known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degrees Celsius or −459.67 degrees Fahrenheit. The Joule–Thomson effect is also named in his honor.
He worked closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also had a career as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor, which propelled him into the public eye and ensured his wealth, fame and honor. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he was knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He had extensive maritime interests and was most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which previously had limited reliability.
He was ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows near his laboratory at the University of Glasgow’s Gilmorehill home at Hillhead.
The Extent of the Universe by Simon Newcomb
Simon Newcomb (1835 – 1909) was a Canadian–American astronomer, applied mathematician, and autodidactic polymath. He served as Professor of Mathematics in the United States Navy and at Johns Hopkins University. Born in Nova Scotia, at the age of 19 Newcomb left an apprenticeship to join his father in Massachusetts, where the latter was teaching.
Though Newcomb had little conventional schooling, he completed a BSc at Harvard in 1858. He later made important contributions to timekeeping, as well as to other fields in applied mathematics, such as economics and statistics. Fluent in several languages, he also wrote and published several popular science books and a science fiction novel.
Geographical Evolution by Sir Archibald Geikie
Sir Archibald Geikie (1835 – 1924) was a Scottish geologist and writer. Geikie wrote a biography of Edward Forbes (with G Wilson), and biographies of his predecessors Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (two volumes, 1875) and Sir Andrew Crombie Ramsay (1895). His book Founders of Geology consists of the inaugural course of lectures (founded by Mrs George Huntington Williams) at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, delivered in 1897.
In 1897 he issued a Geological Map of England and Wales, with Descriptive Notes. In 1898 he delivered the Romanes Lectures, which was published under the title of Types of Scenery and their Influence on Literature. The study of physical geography in Great Britain improved largely due to his efforts. Among his works on this subject is The Teaching of Geography (1887). His other books include Scottish Reminiscences (1904) and Landscape in History and other Essays (1905). His Birds of Shakespeare was published in 1916.
Benvenuto Cellini (1500 – 1571) was an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, draftsman, soldier, musician, and artist who also wrote poetry and a famous autobiography. He was one of the most important artists of Mannerism. He is remembered for his skill, in such pieces as the Cellini Salt Cellar and Perseus with the Head of Medusa.
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started in the year 1558 at the age of 58 and ended abruptly just before his last trip to Pisa around the year 1563 when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his singular career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions, and delights, written in an energetic, direct, and racy style; as one critic wrote “Other goldsmiths have done finer work, but Benvenuto Cellini is the author of the most delightful autobiography ever written.” Cellini’s writing shows a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. He even writes in a complacent way of how he contemplated his murders before carrying them out.
Parts of his tale recount some extraordinary events and phenomena; such as his stories of conjuring up a legion of devils in the Colosseum, after one of his mistresses had been spirited away from him by her mother; of the marvelous halo of light which he found surrounding his head at dawn and twilight after his Roman imprisonment, and his supernatural visions and angelic protection during that adversity; and of his being poisoned on two separate occasions.
The autobiography was translated into English by Thomas Roscoe, by John Addington Symonds, by Robert H.H. Cust and Sidney J.A. Churchill (1910), and by Anne Macdonell. It has been considered and published as a classic, and commonly regarded as one of the more colorful autobiographies (certainly the most important autobiography from the Renaissance).
Essays by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533 – 1592), also known as Lord of Montaigne, was one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight. His massive volume Essais contains some of the most influential essays ever written.
Montaigne had a direct influence on Western writers including Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Edward Gibbon, Virginia Woolf, Albert Hirschman, William Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Henry Newman, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Alexander Pushkin, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stefan Zweig, Eric Hoffer, Isaac Asimov, Fulton Sheen and possibly, on the later works of William Shakespeare.
During his lifetime, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, “I am myself the matter of my book”, was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne came to be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt that began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, “Que sçay-je?” (“What do I know?”, in Middle French; now rendered as Que sais-je? in modern French).
Montaigne and What is a Classic? by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804 – 1869) was a French literary critic. He was born in Boulogne, educated there, and studied medicine at the Collège Charlemagne in Paris (1824–27). In 1828, he served in the St Louis Hospital. Beginning in 1824, he contributed literary articles, the Premier lundis of his collected Works, to the newspaper Globe, and in 1827 he came, by a review of Victor Hugo’s Odes et Ballades, into close association with Hugo and the Cénacle, the literary circle that strove to define the ideas of the rising Romanticism and struggle against classical formalism.
Sainte-Beuve published collections of poems and the partly autobiographical novel Volupté in 1834. His articles and essays were collected the volumes Port-Royal and Portraits littéraires. During the rebellions of 1848 in Europe, he lectured at Liège on Chateaubriand and his literary circle. He returned to Paris in 1849 and began his series of topical columns, Causeries du lundi (‘Monday Chats’) in the newspaper, Le Constitutionnel. When Louis Napoleon became Emperor, he made Sainte-Beuve professor of Latin poetry at the Collège de France, but anti-Imperialist students hissed him, and he resigned.
After several books of poetry and a couple of failed novels, Sainte-Beuve began to do literary research, of which the most important publication resulting is Port-Royal. He continued to contribute to La Revue contemporaine. Port-Royal (1837–1859), probably Sainte-Beuve’s masterpiece, is an exhaustive history of the Jansenist abbey of Port-Royal-des-Champs, near Paris. It not only influenced the historiography of religious belief, i.e., the method of such research, but also the philosophy of history and the history of esthetics.
One of Sainte-Beuve’s critical contentions was that, in order to understand an artist and his work, it was necessary to understand that artist’s biography. Marcel Proust took issue with this notion and repudiated it in a set of essays, Contre Sainte-Beuve (“Against Sainte-Beuve”). Proust developed the ideas first voiced in those essays in À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).
The Poetry of the Celtic Races by Ernest Renan
Joseph Ernest Renan (1823 – 1892) was a French Orientalist and Semitic scholar, expert of Semitic languages and civilizations, historian of religion, philologist, philosopher, biblical scholar and critic. He wrote influential and pioneering historical works on the origins of early Christianity, and espoused popular political theories especially concerning nationalism and national identity. Renan is credited as being among the first scholars to advance the now-discredited Khazar theory, which held that Ashkenazi Jews were descendants of the Khazars, Turkic peoples who had adopted Jewish religion and migrated to Western Europe following the collapse of their khanate.
Within his lifetime, Renan was best known as the author of the enormously popular Life of Jesus (Vie de Jésus, 1863). Renan attributed the idea of the book to his sister, Henriette, with whom he was traveling in Ottoman Syria and Palestine when, struck with a fever, she died suddenly. With only a New Testament and copy of Josephus as references, he began writing. The book was first translated into English in the year of its publication by Charles E. Wilbour and has remained in print for the past 145 years. Renan’s Life of Jesus was lavished with ironic praise and criticism by Albert Schweitzer in his book The Quest of the Historical Jesus.
Renan argued Jesus was able to purify himself of “Jewish traits” and that he became an Aryan. His Life of Jesus promoted racial ideas and infused race into theology and the person of Jesus; he depicted Jesus as a Galilean who was transformed from a Jew into a Christian, and that Christianity emerged purified of any Jewish influences. The book was based largely on the Gospel of John, and was a scholarly work. It depicted Jesus as a man but not God, and rejected the miracles of the Gospel. Renan believed by humanizing Jesus he was restoring to him a greater dignity. The book’s controversial assertions that the life of Jesus should be written like the life of any historic person, and that the Bible could and should be subject to the same critical scrutiny as other historical documents caused controversy and enraged many Christians, and Jews were enraged because of its depiction of Judaism as foolish and absurdly illogical and for its insistence that Jesus and Christianity were superior.
Renan was a great worker. At sixty years of age, having finished the Origins of Christianity, he began his History of Israel, based on a lifelong study of the Old Testament and on the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, published by the Académie des Inscriptions under Renan’s direction from the year 1881 till the end of his life. The first volume of the History of Israel appeared in 1887; the third, in 1891; the last two posthumously. As a history of facts and theories, the book has many faults; as an essay on the evolution of the religious idea, it is (despite some passages of frivolity, irony, or incoherence) of extraordinary importance; as a reflection of the mind of Renan, it is the most lifelike of images. In a volume of collected essays, Feuilles Détachées, published also in 1891, we find the same mental attitude, an affirmation of the necessity of piety independent of dogma. During his last years, he received many honors, and was made an administrator of the Collège de France and grand officer of the Legion of Honor. Two volumes of the History of Israel, his correspondence with his sister Henriette, his Letters to M. Berthelot, and the History of the Religious Policy of Philippe-le-Bel, which he wrote in the years immediately before his marriage, all appeared during the last eight years of the 19th century.
The Education of the Human Race by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729 – 1781) was a German writer, philosopher, dramatist, publicist and art critic, and an outstanding representative of the Enlightenment era. His plays and theoretical writings substantially influenced the development of German literature. He is widely considered by theatre historians to be the first dramaturg in his role at Abel Seyler’s Hamburg National Theatre.
The Enlightenment ideas to which Lessing held tight were portrayed through his “ideal of humanity,” stating that religion is relative to the individual’s ability to reason. Nathan the Wise is considered to be the first example of the German “literature of humanity”. As a child of the Enlightenment he trusted in a “Christianity of Reason”, which oriented itself by the spirit of religion. He believed that human reason (initiated by criticism and dissent) would develop, even without help by a divine revelation. In his writing The Education of Humankind he extensively and coherently lays out his position.
The idea of freedom (for the theatre against the dominance of its French model; for religion from the church’s dogma) is his central theme throughout his life. Therefore, he also stood up for the liberation of the upcoming middle and upper class from the nobility making up their minds for them. In his own literary existence he also constantly strove for independence. But his ideal of a possible life as a free author was hard to keep up against the economic constraints he faced. His project of authors self-publishing their works, which he tried to accomplish in Hamburg with C. J. Bode, failed.
Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man by Friedrich von Schiller
Johann Christoph Friedrich (von) Schiller (1759 – 1805) was a German playwright, poet, and philosopher. During the last seventeen years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller developed a productive, if complicated, friendship with the already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They frequently discussed issues concerning aesthetics, and Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish works he left as sketches. This relationship and these discussions led to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. They also worked together on Xenien, a collection of short satirical poems in which both Schiller and Goethe challenge opponents of their philosophical vision.
A pivotal work by Schiller was On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters, first published 1794, which was inspired by the great disenchantment Schiller felt about the French Revolution, its degeneration into violence and the failure of successive governments to put its ideals into practice. Schiller wrote that “a great moment has found a little people”; he wrote the Letters as a philosophical inquiry into what had gone wrong, and how to prevent such tragedies in the future. In the Letters he asserts that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by first touching their souls with beauty, an idea that is also found in his poem Die Künstler (The Artists): “Only through Beauty’s morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge.”
On the philosophical side, Letters put forth the notion of der sinnliche Trieb / Sinnestrieb (“the sensuous drive”) and Formtrieb (“the formal drive”). In a comment to Immanuel Kant’s philosophy, Schiller transcends the dualism between Formtrieb and Sinnestrieb with the notion of Spieltrieb (“the play drive”), derived from, as are a number of other terms, Kant’s Critique of the Faculty of Judgment. The conflict between man’s material, sensuous nature and his capacity for reason (Formtrieb being the drive to impose conceptual and moral order on the world), Schiller resolves with the happy union of Formtrieb and Sinnestrieb, the “play drive,” which for him is synonymous with artistic beauty, or “living form.” On the basis of Spieltrieb, Schiller sketches in Letters a future ideal state (a utopia), where everyone will be content, and everything will be beautiful, thanks to the free play of Spieltrieb.
Schiller’s focus on the dialectical interplay between Formtrieb and Sinnestrieb has inspired a wide range of succeeding aesthetic philosophical theory, including notably Jacques Rancière’s conception of the “aesthetic regime of art,” as well as social philosophy in Herbert Marcuse. In the second part of his important work Eros and Civilization, Marcuse finds Schiller’s notion of Spieltrieb useful in thinking a social situation without the condition of modern social alienation. He writes, “Schiller’s Letters … aim at remaking of civilization by virtue of the liberating force of the aesthetic function: it is envisaged as containing the possibility of a new reality principle.”
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785; also known as the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals, and the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals) is the first of Immanuel Kant’s mature works on moral philosophy and remains one of the most influential in the field. Kant conceives his investigation as a work of foundational ethics—one that clears the ground for future research by explaining the core concepts and principles of moral theory, and showing that they are normative for rational agents.
Kant purposes to lay bare the fundamental principle of morality and show that it applies to us. Central to the work is the role of what Kant refers to as the categorical imperative, the concept that one must act only according to that precept which he or she would will to become a universal law. He provides a groundbreaking argument that the rightness of an action is determined by the principle that a person chooses to act upon. This stands in stark contrast to the moral sense theories and teleological moral theories that dominated moral philosophy at the time of Kant’s career.
The Groundwork is broken into a preface, followed by three sections. Kant’s argument works from common reason up to the supreme unconditional law, in order to identify its existence. He then works backwards from there to prove the relevance and weight of the moral law. The book is famously obscure, and it is partly because of this that Kant later, in 1788, decided to publish the Critique of Practical Reason.
Byron and Goethe by Giuseppe Mazzini
Giuseppe Mazzini (1805 – 1872) was an Italian politician, journalist, activist for the unification of Italy and spearhead of the Italian revolutionary movement. His efforts helped bring about the independent and unified Italy in place of the several separate states, many dominated by foreign powers, that existed until the 19th century. An Italian nationalist in the historical radical tradition and a proponent of social-democratic republicanism, Mazzini helped define the modern European movement for popular democracy in a republican state.
Mazzini’s thoughts had a very considerable influence on the Italian and European republican movements, in the Constitution of Italy, about Europeanism and more nuanced on many politicians of a later period, among them American president Woodrow Wilson and British prime minister David Lloyd George as well as post-colonial leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, Kwame Nkrumah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sun Yat-sen.
An account of Egypt from The Histories by Herodotus
The Histories of Herodotus is considered the founding work of history in Western literature. Written in 430 BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Greece, Western Asia and Northern Africa at that time. Although not a fully impartial record, it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs. Moreover, it established the genre and study of history in the Western world (despite the existence of historical records and chronicles beforehand).
The Histories also stands as one of the earliest accounts of the rise of the Persian Empire, as well as the events and causes of the Greco-Persian Wars between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. Herodotus portrays the conflict as one between the forces of slavery (the Persians) on the one hand, and freedom (the Athenians and the confederacy of Greek city-states which united against the invaders) on the other. The Histories was at some point divided into the nine books that appear in modern editions, conventionally named after the nine Muses.
Germany by Tacitus
Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56 – 120) was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. He lived in what has been called the Silver Age of Latin literature, and has a reputation for the brevity and compactness of his Latin prose, as well as for his penetrating insights into the psychology of power politics.
The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors (69 AD). These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus, in 14 AD, to 70 AD in the First Jewish–Roman War of 66–73. There are substantial lacunae in the surviving texts, including a gap in the Annals that is four books long.
Tacitus’ other writings discuss oratory (in dialogue format, see Dialogus de oratoribus), Germania (in De origine et situ Germanorum), and the life of his father-in-law, Agricola, the general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain, mainly focusing on his campaign in Britannia (De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae).
Sir Francis Drake Revived by Philip Nichols
Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 1596) was an English explorer, sea captain, privateer, naval officer, and politician. Drake is best known for his circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, from 1577 to 1580. This included his incursion into the Pacific Ocean, until then an area of exclusive Spanish interest, and his claim to New Albion for England, an area in what is now the American state of California. His expedition inaugurated an era of conflict with the Spanish on the western coast of the Americas, an area that had previously been largely unexplored by Western shipping.
Elizabeth I awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581 which he received on the Golden Hind in Deptford. In the same year he was appointed mayor of Plymouth. As a vice admiral, he was second-in-command of the English fleet in the victorious battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. After unsuccessfully attacking San Juan, Puerto Rico, he died of dysentery in January 1596.
Drake’s exploits made him a hero to the English, but his privateering led the Spanish to brand him a pirate, known to them as El Draque. King Philip II of Spain allegedly offered a reward of 20,000 ducats for his capture or death, about £6 million (US$8 million) in modern currency.
Sir Francis Drake’s Famous Voyage Round the World by Francis Pretty
Francis Pretty was a Suffolk gentleman, diarist, sailor, and man-at-arms, who wrote detailed accounts of two separate circumnavigation of the globe, first with Sir Francis Drake (1577-1580) and later with Thomas Cavendish (1588). Due to the dubious legality of these expeditions, accounts were officially suppressed; the earliest unofficial accounts were published in Dutch by Emanuel van Meteren who purchased both diaries and mixed elements of one with the other. Excerpts of both diaries were also included in Richard Hakluyt’s 1582 and 1589 treatises on British explorations of North America, before he published the Cavendish diary in its entirety in 1600. While Pretty is often credited for the account of Drake’s circumnavigation, the Haklyut Society has established that this is a mis-attribution.
Drake’s Great Armada by Captain Walter Bigges
Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Voyage to Newfoundland by Edward Haies
The Discovery of Guiana by Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh, (1552 – 1618) also spelled Ralegh, was an English statesman, soldier, spy, writer, poet, explorer, and landed gentleman. One of the most notable figures of the Elizabethan era, he played a leading part in English colonization of North America, suppressed rebellion in Ireland, helped defend England during the Spanish Armada and held political positions under Elizabeth I.
Raleigh was born to a Protestant family in Devon, the son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne, and a cousin of Sir Richard Grenville and younger half-brother of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Little is known of his early life, though in his late teens he spent some time in France taking part in the religious civil wars. In his 20s he took part in the suppression of rebellion in the colonization of Ireland; he also participated in the siege of Smerwick. Later, he became a landlord of property in Ireland and mayor of Youghal in East Munster, where his house still stands in Myrtle Grove. He rose rapidly in the favor of Queen Elizabeth I and was knighted in 1585. He was granted a royal patent to explore Virginia, paving the way for future English settlements. In 1591, he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen’s permission, for which he and his wife were sent to the Tower of London. After his release, they retired to his estate at Sherborne, Dorset.
In 1594, Raleigh heard of a “City of Gold” in South America and sailed to find it, publishing an exaggerated account of his experiences in a book that contributed to the legend of “El Dorado”. After Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, Raleigh was again imprisoned in the Tower, this time for being involved in the Main Plot against King James I, who was not favorably disposed towards him. In 1616, he was released to lead a second expedition in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, men led by his top commander ransacked a Spanish outpost, in violation of both the terms of his pardon and the 1604 peace treaty with Spain. Raleigh returned to England and, to appease the Spanish, he was arrested and executed in 1618.
Discourse on Method by René Descartes
Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences is a philosophical and autobiographical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. It is best known as the source of the famous quotation “Je pense, donc je suis” (“I think, therefore I am”, or “I am thinking, therefore I exist”), which occurs in Part IV of the work. A similar argument, without this precise wording, is found in Meditations on First Philosophy (1641), and a Latin version of the same statement Cogito, ergo sum is found in Principles of Philosophy (1644).
Discourse on the Method is one of the most influential works in the history of modern philosophy, and important to the development of natural sciences. In this work, Descartes tackles the problem of skepticism, which had previously been studied by other philosophers. While addressing some of his predecessors and contemporaries, Descartes modified their approach to account for a truth he found to be incontrovertible; he started his line of reasoning by doubting everything, so as to assess the world from a fresh perspective, clear of any preconceived notions.
The book was originally published in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Later, it was translated into Latin and published in 1656 in Amsterdam. The book was intended as an introduction to three works: Dioptrique, Météores and Géométrie. La Géométrie contains Descartes’s initial concepts that later developed into the Cartesian coordinate system. The text was written and published in French rather than Latin, the latter being the language in which most philosophical and scientific texts were written and published at that time. Most of Descartes’ other works were written in Latin.
Together with Meditations on First Philosophy, Principles of Philosophy and Rules for the Direction of the Mind, it forms the base of the epistemology known as Cartesianism.
Letters on the English by Voltaire
Letters on the English (or Letters Concerning the English Nation) is a series of essays written by Voltaire based on his experiences living in England between 1726 and 1729 (though from 1707 the country was part of the Kingdom of Great Britain). It was published first in English in 1733 and then in French the following year, where it was seen as an attack on the French system of government and was rapidly suppressed.
A revised edition appeared in English in 1778 as Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais (Philosophical Letters on the English). Most modern English editions are based on the one from 1734 and typically use the title Philosophical Letters, a direct translation of that version’s title.
In some ways, the book can be compared with Democracy in America by Alexis De Tocqueville, in how it flatteringly explains a nation to itself from the perspective of an outsider, as Voltaire’s depictions of aspects of English culture, society and government are often given favorable treatment in comparison to their French equivalents.
On the Inequality among Mankind and Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, also commonly known as the “Second Discourse”, is a 1755 work by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau first exposes in this work his conception of a human state of nature, broadly believed to be a hypothetical thought exercise and of human perfectibility, an early idea of progress. He then explains the way in which, in his view, people may have established civil society, and this leads him to conclude that private property is the original source and basis of all inequality.
Emile, or On Education is a treatise on the nature of education and on the nature of man written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered it to be the “best and most important” of all his writings. Due to a section of the book entitled “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar”, Emile was banned in Paris and Geneva and was publicly burned in 1762, the year of its first publication. During the French Revolution, Emile served as the inspiration for what became a new national system of education.
The work tackles fundamental political and philosophical questions about the relationship between the individual and society—how, in particular, the individual might retain what Rousseau saw as innate human goodness while remaining part of a corrupting collectivity. Its opening sentence: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man”.
Rousseau seeks to describe a system of education that would enable the natural man he identifies in The Social Contract (1762) to survive corrupt society. He employs the novelistic device of Emile and his tutor to illustrate how such an ideal citizen might be educated. Emile is scarcely a detailed parenting guide but it does contain some specific advice on raising children. It is regarded by some as the first philosophy of education in Western culture to have a serious claim to completeness, as well as being one of the first Bildungsroman novels.
Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, commonly referred to as Leviathan, is a book written by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and published in 1651 (revised Latin edition 1668). Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan. The work concerns the structure of society and legitimate government, and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory. Written during the English Civil War (1642–1651), it argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign. Hobbes wrote that civil war and the brute situation of a state of nature (“the war of all against all”) could be avoided only by strong, undivided government.
Chronicles by Jean Froissart
Froissart’s Chronicles (or Chroniques) are a prose history of the Hundred Years’ War written in the 14th century by Jean Froissart. The Chronicles open with the events leading up to the deposition of Edward II in 1326, and cover the period up to 1400, recounting events in western Europe, mainly in England, France, Scotland, the Low Countries and the Iberian Peninsula, although at times also mentioning other countries and regions such as Italy, Germany, Ireland, the Balkans, Cyprus, Turkey and North Africa.
For centuries the Chronicles have been recognized as the chief expression of the chivalric culture of 14th-century England and France. Froissart’s work is perceived as being of vital importance to informed understandings of the European 14th century, particularly of the Hundred Years’ War. But modern historians also recognize that the Chronicles have many shortcomings as a historical source: they contain erroneous dates, have misplaced geography, give inaccurate estimations of sizes of armies and casualties of war, and may be biased in favour of the author’s patrons.
The Holy Grail by Sir Thomas Malory
Le Morte d’Arthur (originally spelled Le Morte Darthur, ungrammatical Middle French for “The Death of Arthur”) is a 15th-century Middle English prose reworking by Sir Thomas Malory of tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table—along with their respective folklore. In order to tell a “complete” story of Arthur from his conception to his death, Malory compiled, rearranged, interpreted and modified material from various French and English sources. Today, this is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Many authors since the 19th-century revival of the legend have used Malory as their principal source.
Written in prison, Le Morte d’Arthur was first published in 1485 at the end of the medieval English era by William Caxton, who changed its title from the original The Whole Book of King Arthur and of His Noble Knights of the Round Table. Until the discovery of the Winchester Manuscript in 1934, the 1485 edition was considered the earliest known text of Le Morte d’Arthur and that closest to Malory’s original version. Modern editions under various titles are inevitably variable, changing spelling, grammar and pronouns for the convenience of readers of modern English, as well as sometimes abridging or revising the material.
A Description of Elizabethan England by William Harrison
William Harrison (1534 – 1593) was an English clergyman, whose Description of England was produced as part of the publishing venture of a group of London stationers who produced Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577 and 1587). His contribution to Holinshed’s work drew heavily on the earlier work of John Leland.
Harrison is best known for his Description of England, first published in 1577 as part of Holinshed’s Chronicles, and reissued in revised form in 1587. This work enumerated England’s geographic, economic, social, religious and political features and represents an important source for historians interested in life in Elizabethan England. He gathered his facts from books, letters, maps, the notes of John Leland, and conversations with antiquaries and local historians like his friends John Stow and William Camden. He also used his own observation, experience and wit, and wrote in a conversational tone without pedantry, which has made the work a classic. The result is a compendium of Elizabethan England during the youth of William Shakespeare. “No work of the time contains so vivid and picturesque a sketch,” was the assessment of The Cambridge History of English and American Literature.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
The Prince is a 16th-century political treatise written by Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli as an instruction guide for new princes and royals. The general theme of The Prince is of accepting that the aims of princes – such as glory and survival – can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends. From Machiavelli’s correspondence, a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus (Of Principalities). However, the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death. This was carried out with the permission of the Medici pope Clement VII, but “long before then, in fact since the first appearance of The Prince in manuscript, controversy had swirled about his writings”.
Although The Prince was written as if it were a traditional work in the mirrors for princes style, it was generally agreed as being especially innovative. This is partly because it was written in the vernacular Italian rather than Latin, a practice that had become increasingly popular since the publication of Dante’s Divine Comedy and other works of Renaissance literature. The Prince is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy, especially modern political philosophy, in which the “effectual” truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. It is also notable for being in direct conflict with the dominant Catholic and scholastic doctrines of the time, particularly those concerning politics and ethics.
Although it is relatively short, the treatise is the most remembered of Machiavelli’s works, and the one most responsible for bringing the word “Machiavellian” into usage as a pejorative. It even contributed to the modern negative connotations of the words politics and politician in Western countries. In subject matter, it overlaps with the much longer Discourses on Livy, which was written a few years later. In its use of near-contemporary Italians as examples of people who perpetrated criminal deeds for politics, another lesser-known work by Machiavelli to which The Prince has been compared is the Life of Castruccio Castracani.
The Life of Sir Thomas More by William Roper
William Roper (1496 – 1578) was an English lawyer and member of Parliament. The son of a Kentish gentleman, he married Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas More. He wrote a highly regarded biography of his father-in-law. His biography of Sir Thomas More was written during the reign of Mary I nearly twenty years after More’s death, but was not printed until 1626, when it became a primary source for More’s earliest biographers because of Roper’s intimate knowledge of his father-in-law.
Utopia by Sir Thomas More
Utopia (Latin: Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia, “A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia”) is a work of fiction and socio-political satire by Thomas More (1478–1535), written in Latin and published in 1516. The book is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social, and political customs. Many aspects of More’s description of Utopia are reminiscent of life in monasteries.
The story is written from the perspective of More himself. This was common at the time, and More uses his own name and background to create the narrator. The book is written in two parts: “Book one: Dialogue of Council,” and “Book two: Discourse on Utopia.” The first book is told from the perspective of More, the narrator, who is introduced by his friend Peter Giles to a fellow traveler named Raphael Hythloday, whose name translates as “expert of nonsense” in Greek. In an amical dialogue with More and Giles, Hythloday expresses strong criticism of then-modern practices in England and other Catholicism-dominated countries, such as the crime of theft being punishable by death, and the over-willingness of kings to start wars.
Book two has Hythloday tell his interlocutors about Utopia, where he has lived for five years, with the aim of convincing them about its superior state of affairs. Utopia turns out to be a socialist state. Interpretations about this important part of the book vary. Gilbert notes that while some experts believe that More supports socialism, others believe that he shows how socialism is impractical. The former would argue that More used book two to show how socialism would work in practice. Individual cities are run by privately elected princes and families are made up of ten to sixteen adults living in a single household. It is unknown if More truly believed in socialism, or if he printed Utopia as a way to show that true socialism was impractical. More printed many writings involving socialism, some seemingly in defense of the practices, and others seemingly scathing satires against it. Some scholars believe that More uses this structure to show the perspective of something as an idea against something put into practice. Hythloday describes the city as perfect and ideal. He believes the society thrives and is perfect. As such, he is used to represent the more fanatic socialists and radical reformists of his day. When More arrives he describes the social and cultural norms put into practice, citing a city thriving and idealistic. While some believe this is More’s ideal society, some believe the book’s title, which translates to “Nowhere” from Greek, is a way to describe that the practices used in Utopia are impractical and could not be used in a modern world successfully. Either way, Utopia has become one of the most talked about works both in defense of socialism and against it.
The Ninety-Five Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and On the Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
The Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences is a list of propositions for an academic disputation written in 1517 by Martin Luther, professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. Retrospectively considered to signal the birth of Protestantism, this document advances Luther’s positions against what he saw as the abuse of the practice of clergy selling plenary indulgences, which were certificates believed to reduce the temporal punishment in purgatory for sins committed by the purchasers or their loved ones. In the Theses, Luther claimed that the repentance required by Christ in order for sins to be forgiven involves only inner contrition, and that sacramental confession is unnecessary. He argued that indulgences led Christians to avoid true repentance and sorrow for sin, believing that they could forgo it by obtaining an indulgence. These indulgences, according to Luther, discouraged Christians from giving to the poor and performing other acts of mercy, which he attributed to a belief that indulgence certificates were more spiritually valuable (despite the fact that indulgences were granted for such actions). Though Luther claimed that his positions on indulgences accorded with those of the Pope, the Theses challenge a 14th-century papal bull stating that the pope could use the treasury of merit and the good deeds of past saints to forgive temporal punishment for sins. The Theses are framed as propositions to be argued in debate rather than necessarily representing Luther’s opinions, but Luther later clarified his views in the Explanations of the Disputation Concerning the Value of Indulgences.
Luther sent the Theses enclosed with a letter to Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, on 31 October 1517, a date now considered the start of the Reformation and commemorated annually as Reformation Day. Luther may have also posted the Ninety-five Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church and other churches in Wittenberg, in accordance with University custom, on 31 October or in mid-November. The Theses were quickly reprinted and translated, and distributed throughout Germany and Europe. They initiated a pamphlet war with the indulgence preacher Johann Tetzel, which spread Luther’s fame even further. Luther’s ecclesiastical superiors had him tried for heresy, which culminated in his excommunication in 1521. Though the Theses were the start of the Reformation, Luther did not consider indulgences to be as important as other theological matters which would divide the church, such as justification by faith alone and the bondage of the will. His breakthrough on these issues would come later, and he did not see the writing of the Theses as the point at which his beliefs diverged from those of the Roman Catholic Church.
To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation is the first of three tracts written by Martin Luther in 1520. In this work, he defined for the first time the signature doctrines of the priesthood of all believers and the two kingdoms. The work was written in the vernacular language German and not in Latin.
On the Freedom of a Christian, sometimes also called “A Treatise on Christian Liberty” (November 1520), was the third of Martin Luther’s major reforming treatises of 1520, appearing after his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (August 1520) and the work Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520). The work appeared in a shorter German and a more elaborate Latin form. There is no academic consensus whether the German or the Latin version was written first. The treatise developed the concept that as fully forgiven children of God, Christians are no longer compelled to keep God’s law to obtain salvation; however, they freely and willingly serve God and their neighbors. Luther also further develops the concept of justification by faith. In the treatise, Luther stated, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
Some Thoughts Concerning Education by John Locke
Some Thoughts Concerning Education is a 1693 treatise on the education of gentlemen written by the English philosopher John Locke. For over a century, it was the most important philosophical work on education in England. It was translated into almost all of the major written European languages during the eighteenth century, and nearly every European writer on education after Locke, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, acknowledged its influence.
In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke outlined a new theory of mind, contending that the gentleman’s mind was a tabula rasa or “blank slate”; that is, it did not contain any innate ideas. Some Thoughts Concerning Education explains how to educate that mind using three distinct methods: the development of a healthy body; the formation of a virtuous character; and the choice of an appropriate academic curriculum.
Locke wrote the letters that would eventually become Some Thoughts for an aristocratic friend, but his advice had a broader appeal since his educational principles suggested anyone could acquire the same kind of character as the aristocrats for whom Locke originally intended the work.
Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists by George Berkeley
Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, or simply Three Dialogues, is a 1713 book on metaphysics and idealism written by George Berkeley. Taking the form of a dialogue, the book was written as a response to the criticism Berkeley experienced after publishing A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.
Three important concepts discussed in the Three Dialogues are perceptual relativity, the conceivability/master argument and Berkeley’s phenomenalism. Perceptual relativity argues that the same object can appear to have different characteristics (e.g. shape) depending on the observer’s perspective. Since objective features of objects cannot change without an inherent change in the object itself, shape must not be an objective feature.
In 1709, Berkeley published his first major work, An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision, in which he discussed the limitations of human vision and advanced the theory that the proper objects of sight are not material objects, but light and color. This foreshadowed his chief philosophical work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), which, after its poor reception, he rewrote into the Three Dialogues (1713).
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a book by the Scottish empiricist philosopher David Hume, published in English in 1748. It was a revision of an earlier effort, Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, published anonymously in London in 1739–40. Hume was disappointed with the reception of the Treatise, which “fell dead-born from the press,” as he put it, and so tried again to disseminate his more developed ideas to the public by writing a shorter and more polemical work.
The end product of his labors was the Enquiry. The Enquiry dispensed with much of the material from the Treatise, in favor of clarifying and emphasizing its most important aspects. For example, Hume’s views on personal identity do not appear. However, more vital propositions, such as Hume’s argument for the role of habit in a theory of knowledge, are retained.
This book has proven highly influential, both in the years that would immediately follow and today. Immanuel Kant points to it as the book which woke him from his self-described “dogmatic slumber.” The Enquiry is widely regarded as a classic in modern philosophical literature.
The Oath of Hippocrates
The Hippocratic Oath is an oath of ethics historically taken by physicians. It is one of the most widely known of Greek medical texts. In its original form, it requires a new physician to swear, by a number of healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. The oath is the earliest expression of medical ethics in the Western world, establishing several principles of medical ethics which remain of paramount significance today. These include the principles of medical confidentiality and non-maleficence. As the seminal articulation of certain principles that continue to guide and inform medical practice, the ancient text is of more than historic and symbolic value. Swearing a modified form of the oath remains a rite of passage for medical graduates in many countries, and is a requirement enshrined in legal statutes of various jurisdictions, such that violations of the oath may carry criminal or other liability beyond the oath’s symbolic nature.
Journeys in Diverse Places by Ambroise Paré
Ambroise Paré (1510 – 1590) was a French barber surgeon who served in that role for kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. He is considered one of the fathers of surgery and modern forensic pathology and a pioneer in surgical techniques and battlefield medicine, especially in the treatment of wounds. He was also an anatomist, invented several surgical instruments, and was a member of the Parisian barber surgeon guild.
In his personal notes about the care he delivered to Captain Rat, in the Piémont campaign (1537–1538), Paré wrote: Je le pansai, Dieu le guérit (“I bandaged him and God healed him”). This epitomizes a philosophy that he used throughout his career. These words, inscribed on his statue in Laval, are reminiscent of the Latin adage medicus curat, natura sanat.
On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey
Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (Latin for “An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings”), commonly called De Motu Cordis, is the best-known work of the physician William Harvey, which was first published in 1628 and established the circulation of blood throughout the body. It is a landmark in the history of physiology, with Harvey combining observations, experiments, measurements, and hypotheses in an extraordinary fashion to arrive at his doctrine. His work is a model of its kind and had an immediate and far-reaching influence on Harvey’s contemporaries; Thomas Hobbes said that Harvey was the only modern author whose doctrines were taught in his lifetime.
In De motu cordis, Harvey investigated the effect of ligatures on blood flow. The book also argued that blood was pumped around the body in a “double circulation”, where after being returned to the heart, it is recirculated in a closed system to the lungs and back to the heart, where it is returned to the main circulation.
The Three Original Publications on Vaccination Against Smallpox by Edward Jenner
Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) was an English physician and scientist who pioneered the concept of vaccines including creating the smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine. The terms vaccine and vaccination are derived from Variolae vaccinae (smallpox of the cow), the term devised by Jenner to denote cowpox. He used it in 1798 in the long title of his Inquiry into the Variolae vaccinae known as the Cow Pox, in which he described the protective effect of cowpox against smallpox.
In the West, Jenner is often called “the father of immunology”, and his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human”. In Jenner’s time, smallpox killed around 10% of the population, with the number as high as 20% in towns and cities where infection spread more easily. In 1821, he was appointed physician extraordinary to King George IV, and was also made mayor of Berkeley and justice of the peace. A member of the Royal Society, in the field of zoology he was the first person to describe the brood parasitism of the cuckoo. In 2002, Jenner was named in the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Britons.
The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever is an essay written by Oliver Wendell Holmes which first appeared in The New England Quarterly Journal of Medicine in 1843. It was later reprinted in the “Medical Essays” in 1855. In just under 12,000 words Holmes argues forcefully and convincingly that the rampant infection killing women within a few days of childbirth was caused mainly through infection spread by their birth attendants. He also laid down well-thought out and easy to execute behaviors through which the spread of infection could be contained.
On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery by Joseph Lister
Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery is a paper regarding antiseptics written by Joseph Lister in 1867. Even before the work of Pasteur on fermentation and putrefaction, Lister had been convinced of the importance of scrupulous cleanliness and the usefulness of deodorants in the operating room; and when, through Pasteur’s researches, he realized that the formation of pus was due to bacteria, he proceeded to develop his antiseptic surgical methods. The immediate success of the new treatment led to its general adoption, with results of such beneficence as to make it rank as one of the great discoveries of the age.
Scientific Papers by Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895) was a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization. His research in chemistry led to remarkable breakthroughs in the understanding of the causes and preventions of diseases, which laid down the foundations of hygiene, public health and much of modern medicine. His works are credited to saving millions of lives through the developments of vaccines for rabies and anthrax. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern bacteriology and has been honored as the “father of bacteriology” and as the “father of microbiology” (together with Robert Koch, and the latter epithet also attributed to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek).
Pasteur was responsible for disproving the doctrine of spontaneous generation. Under the auspices of the French Academy of Sciences, his experiment demonstrated that in sterilized and sealed flasks, nothing ever developed; and, conversely, in sterilized but open flasks, microorganisms could grow. For this experiment, the academy awarded him the Alhumbert Prize carrying 2,500 francs in 1862.
Pasteur is also regarded as one of the fathers of germ theory of diseases, which was a minor medical concept at the time. His many experiments showed that diseases could be prevented by killing or stopping germs, thereby directly supporting the germ theory and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization. Pasteur also made significant discoveries in chemistry, most notably on the molecular basis for the asymmetry of certain crystals and racemization. Early in his career, his investigation of tartaric acid resulted in the first resolution of what is now called optical isomers. His work led the way to the current understanding of a fundamental principle in the structure of organic compounds.
Scientific Papers by Charles Lyell
Sir Charles Lyell (1797 – 1875) was a Scottish geologist who demonstrated the power of known natural causes in explaining Earth’s history. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology (1830–33), which presented to a wide public audience the idea that Earth was shaped by the same natural processes still in operation today, operating at similar intensities. The philosopher William Whewell termed this gradualistic view “uniformitarianism” and contrasted it with catastrophism, which had been championed by Georges Cuvier and was better accepted in Europe. The combination of evidence and eloquence in Principles convinced a wide range of readers of the significance of “deep time” for understanding the Earth and environment.
Lyell’s scientific contributions included a pioneering explanation of climate change, in which shifting boundaries between oceans and continents could be used to explain long-term variations in temperature and rainfall. Lyell also gave influential explanations of earthquakes and developed the theory of gradual “backed up-building” of volcanoes. In stratigraphy his division of the Tertiary period into the Pliocene, Miocene, and Eocene was highly influential. He incorrectly conjectured that icebergs may be the impetus behind the transport of glacial erratics, and that silty loess deposits might have settled out of flood waters. His creation of a separate period for human history, entitled the ‘Recent’, is widely cited as providing the foundations for the modern discussion of the Anthropocene.
Building on the innovative work of James Hutton and his follower John Playfair, Lyell favored an indefinitely long age for the Earth, despite evidence suggesting an old but finite age. He was a close friend of Charles Darwin, and contributed significantly to Darwin’s thinking on the processes involved in evolution. As Darwin wrote in On the Origin of Species, “He who can read Sir Charles Lyell’s grand work on the Principles of Geology, which the future historian will recognize as having produced a revolution in natural science, yet does not admit how incomprehensibly vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume.” Lyell helped to arrange the simultaneous publication in 1858 of papers by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace on natural selection, despite his personal religious qualms about the theory. He later published evidence from geology of the time man had existed on Earth.
“Title, Prologue and Epilogues to the Recuyell of the Histories of Troy“, by William Caxton
“Epilogue to Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers“, by William Caxton
“Prologue to Golden Legend“, by William Caxton
“Prologue to Caton”, by William Caxton
“Epilogue to Aesop”, by William Caxton
“Proem to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales“, by William Caxton
“Prologue to Malory’s King Arthur”
“Prologue to Virgil’s Eneydos“, by William Caxton
“Dedication of the Institutes of the Christian Religion” by John Calvin
“Dedication of the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies” by Nicolaus Copernicus
“Preface to the History of the Reformation in Scotland“, by John Knox
“Prefatory Letter to Sir Walter Raleigh on The Faerie Queene“, by Edmund Spenser
“Preface to the History of the World” by Sir Walter Raleigh
“Prooemium, Epistle Dedicatory, Preface, and Plan of the Instauratio Magna, etc.”, by Francis Bacon
“Preface to the Novum Organum“, by Francis Bacon
“Preface to the First Folio Edition of Shakespeare’s Plays” by Heminge and Condell
“Preface to the Philosophiae Naturalis Pricipia Mathematica“, by Sir Isaac Newton
“Preface to Fables, Ancient and Modern“, by John Dryden
“Preface to Joseph Andrews“, by Henry Fielding
“Preface to the English Dictionary“, by Samuel Johnson
“Preface to Shakespeare”, by Samuel Johnson
“Introduction to the Propylaen“, by J.W. von Goethe
“Prefaces to Various Volumes of Poems”, by William Wordsworth
“Appendix to Lyrical Ballads“, by William Wordsworth
“Essay Supplementary to Preface”, by William Wordsworth
“Preface to Cromwell“, by Victor Hugo
“Preface to Leaves of Grass“, by Walt Whitman
“Introduction to the History of English Literature“, by H.A. Taine
- Geoffrey Chaucer
- “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”
- The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
- Traditional Ballads
- “The Douglas Tragedy”
- “The Twa Sisters”
- “Babylon; or, The Bonnie Banks o Fordie”
- “Hind Horn”
- “Lord Thomas and Fair Annet”
- “Love Gregor”
- “Bonny Barbara Allan”
- “The Gay Goss-Hawk”
- “The Three Ravens”
- “The Twa Corbies”
- “Sir Patrick Spence”
- “Thomas Rymer and the Queen of Elfland”
- “Sweet William’s Ghost”
- “The Wife of Usher’s Well”
- “Hugh of Lincoln”
- “Young Bicham”
- “Get Up and Bar the Door”
- “The Battle of Otterburn”
- “Chevy Chase”
- “Johnie Armstrong”
- “Captain Car”
- “The Bonny Earl of Murray”
- “Kinmont Willie”
- “Bonnie George Campbell”
- “The Dowy Houms o Yarrow”
- “Mary Hamilton”
- “The Baron of Brackley”
- “Bewick and Grahame”
- “A Gest of Robyn Hode”
- “The Old Cloak”
- “Jolly Good Ale and Old”
- Sir Thomas Wyatt
- “A Supplication”
- “The Lover’s Appeal”
- Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
- “Complaint of the Absence of Her Lover”
- “The Means to Attain Happy Life”
- George Gascoigne
- “A Lover’s Lullaby”
- Nicholas Breton
- “Phillida and Coridon”
- “A Sweet Lullaby”
- “The Unfaithful Shepherdess”
- Anthony Munday
- “Beauty Bathing
- Richard Edwardes
- “Amantium Irae”
- Sir Walter Raleigh
- “His Pilgrimage”
- “The Lie”
- “What Is Our Life”
- Sir Edward Dyer
- “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is”
- John Lyly
- “Cupid and Campaspe”
- “Spring’s Welcome”
- Sir Philip Sidney
- “A Dirge”
- “A Ditty”
- “Loving in Truth”
- “Be Your Words Made, Good Sir, of Indian Ware”
- “To Sleep”
- “To the Moon”
- Thomas Lodge
- “Rosalind’s Madrigal”
- George Peele
- “Paris and none”
- Robert Southwell
- “The Burning Babe”
- Samuel Daniel
- “Beauty, Time, and Love Sonnets”
- “To Sleep”
- Michael Drayton
- “To the Virginian Voyage”
- “Love’s Farewell”
- Henry Constable
- Edmund Spenser
- “A Ditty”
- “Perigot and Willie’s Roundelay”
- “What Guile Is This?”
- “Fair Is My Love”
- “So Oft as I Her Beauty do Behold”
- “Rudely Thou Wrongest My Dear Heart’s Desire”
- “Like as the Culver, on the Bared Bough”
- William Habington
- “To Roses in the Bosom of Castara”
- “Nox Nocti Indicat Scientiam”
- Christopher Marlowe
- “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”
- “Her Reply” (Written by Sir Walter Raleigh)
- Richard Rowlands
- “Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby”
- Thomas Nashe
- “In Time of Pestilence”
- William Shakespeare
- “O Mistress Mine”
- “Under the Greenwood Tree”
- “A Lover and His Lass”
- “Ophelia’s Song”
- “Where the Bee Sucks”
- “Take, O Take”
- “A Madrigal”
- “Amiens’ Song”
- “Dawn Song”
- “Dirge of Love”
- “Fidele’s Dirge”
- Sonnets 18, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 54, 55, 57, 60, 64, 65, 66, 71, 73, 87, 90, 94, 97, 98, 104, 106, 107, 109, 110, 111, 116, 129, 146, 148.
- Robert Greene
- Richard Barnfield
- “The Nightingale”
- Thomas Campion
- “Follow your Saint”
- “When to Her Lute Corinna Sings”
- “Follow thy Fair Sun”
- “Turn All thy Thoughts to Eyes”
- “Integer Vitae”
- Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
- “A Passion of my Lord of Essex”
- Sir Henry Wotton
- “Elizabeth of Bohemia”
- “Character of a Happy Life”
- Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford
- “A Renunciation”
- Ben Jonson
- “Simplex Munditiis”
- “The Triumph”
- “The Noble Nature”
- “To Celia”
- “A Farewell to the World”
- “A Nymph’s Passion”
- “Epitaph on Elizabeth L. H.”
- “On Lucy, Countess of Bedford”
- “An Ode to Himself”
- “Hymn to Diana”
- “On Salathiel Pavy”
- “His Supposed Mistress”
- “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare and What He Hath Left Us”
- John Donne
- “The Funeral”
- “A Hymn to God the Father”
- “Valediction, Forbidding Mourning”
- “The Dream”
- “Sweetest Love, I do not Go”
- “Lover’s Infiniteness”
- “Love’s Deity”
- “Stay, O Sweet”
- “The Blossom”
- “The Good Morrow”
- “Present in Absence”
- Joshua Sylvester
- “Love’s Omnipresence”
- William Alexander, Earl of Stirling
- “To Aurora”
- Richard Corbet
- “Farewell, Rewards and Fairies”
- Thomas Heywood
- “Pack, Clouds, Away”
- Thomas Dekker
- “Country Glee”
- “Cold’s the Wind”
- “O Sweet Content”
- Francis Beaumont
- “On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey”
- “Master Francis Beaumont’s Letter to Ben Jonson”
- John Fletcher
- “Aspatia’s Song”
- John Webster
- “Call for the Robin-Redbreast”
- “O Waly, Waly”
- “Helen of Kirconnell”
- “My Love in Her Attire”
- “Love Not Me”
- William Drummond
- “Saint John Baptist”
- “Human Folly”
- “The Problem”
- “To His Lute”
- “For the Magdalene”
- “Content and Resolute”
- “Alexis, Here She Stayed; Among These Pines”
- “Summons to Love”
- George Wither
- “I Loved a Lass”
- “The Lover’s Resolution”
- William Browne (?)
- “On the Countess Dowager of Pembroke”
- Robert Herrick
- “A Child’s Grace”
- “The Mad Maid’s Song”
- “To the Virgins”
- “To Dianeme”
- “A Sweet Disorder”
- “Whenas in Silks”
- “To Anthea who may Command Him Any Thing”
- “To Daffodils”
- “To Blossoms”
- “Corinna’s Maying”
- Francis Quarles
- “An Ecstasy”
- George Herbert
- “The Elixir”
- “The Collar”
- “The Flower”
- “Easter Song”
- “The Pulley”
- Henry Vaughan
- “Beyond the Veil”
- “The Retreat”
- Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban
- James Shirley
- “The Glories of our Blood and State”
- “The Last Conqueror”
- Thomas Carew
- “The True Beauty”
- “Ask Me No More”
- “Know, Celia”
- “Give Me More Love”
- Sir John Suckling
- “The Constant Lover”
- “Why So Pale and Wan”
- Sir William D’Avenant
- “Dawn Song”
- Richard Lovelace
- “To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars”
- “To Althea from Prison”
- “To Lucasta, Going Beyond the Seas”
- Edmund Waller
- “On a Girdle”
- “Go, Lovely Rose!”
- William Cartwright
- “On the Queen’s Return from the Low Countries”
- James Graham, Marquis of Montrose
- “My Dear and Only Love”
- Richard Crashaw
- “Wishes for the Supposed Mistress”
- “Upon the Book and Picture of the Seraphical Saint Teresa”
- Thomas Jordan
- “Let Us Drink and Be Merry”
- Abraham Cowley
- “A Supplication”
- “Cheer Up, My Mates”
- “On the Death of Mr. William Hervey”
- Alexander Brome
- “The Resolve”
- Andrew Marvell
- “A Garden”
- “The Picture of Little T. C. in a Prospect of Flowers”
- “Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland”
- “Song of the Emigrants in Bermuda”
- “Thoughts in a Garden”
- “Love Will Find Out the Way”
- “Phillada Flouts Me”
- Earl of Rochester
- “Epitaph on Charles II”
- Sir Charles Sedley
- John Dryden
- “Song to a Fair Young Lady, Going Out of the Town in the Spring”
- “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day”
- “Alexander’s Feast”
- “On Milton”
- Matthew Prior
- “To a Child of Quality”
- “The Dying Adrian to His Soul”
- Isaac Watts
- “True Greatness”
- Lady Grisel Baillie
- “Werena My Heart Licht I Wad Dee”
- Joseph Addison
- Allan Ramsay
- John Gay
- “Love in Her Eyes Sits Playing”
- “Black-Eyed Susan”
- Henry Carey
- “Sally in our Alley”
- Alexander Pope
- “On a Certain Lady at Court”
- An Essay on Man
- Ambrose Philips
- “To Charlotte Pulteney”
- Colley Cibber
- “The Blind Boy”
- James Thomson
- “Rule, Britannia”
- “To Fortune”
- Thomas Gray
- “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”
- “Hymn to Adversity”
- “Ode on the Spring”
- “The Progress of Poesy”
- “The Bard”
- “Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude”
- “On a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes”
- George Bubb Dodington, Lord Melcombe
- “Shorten Sail”
- William Collins
- “Ode Written in MDCCXLVI”
- “The Passions”
- “To Evening”
- George Sewell
- “The Dying Man in His Garden”
- Alison Rutherford Cockburn
- “The Flowers of the Forest”
- Jane Elliot
- “Lament for Flodden”
- Christopher Smart
- “A Song to David”
- “Willy Drowned in Yarrow”
- John Logan
- “The Braes of Yarrow”
- Henry Fielding
- “A Hunting Song”
- Charles Dibdin
- “Tom Bowling”
- Samuel Johnson
- “On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet”
- “A Satire”
- Oliver Goldsmith
- “When Lovely Woman Stoops”
- “The Deserted Village”
- “The Traveller; or, A Prospect of Society”
- Robert Graham of Gartmore
- “If Doughty Deeds”
- Adam Austin
- “For Lack of Gold”
- William Cowper
- “Loss of the Royal George”
- “To a Young Lady”
- “The Poplar Field”
- “The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk”
- “To Mary Unwin”
- “To the Same”
- “Boadicea: An Ode”
- “The Castaway”
- “The Shrubbery”
- “On the Receipt of My Mother’s Picture Out of Norfolk”
- “The Diverting History of John Gilpin”
- Richard Brinsley Sheridan
- “Drinking Song”
- Anna Laetitia Barbauld
- Isobel Pagan
- “Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes”
- Lady Anne Lindsay
- “Auld Robin Gray”
- Thomas Chatterton
- “Song from Ælla”
- Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne
- “The Lond o’ the Leal”
- “He’s Ower the Hills that I Lo’e Weel”
- “The Auld House”
- “The Laird o’ Cockpen”
- “The Rowan Tree”
- “Wha’ll be King but Charlie?”
- “Charlie Is My Darling”
- Alexander Ross
- “Wooed and Married and A'”
- John Skinner
- Michael Bruce
- “To the Cuckoo”
- George Halket
- “Logie o’ Buchan”
- William Hamilton of Bangour
- “The Braes of Yarrow”
- Hector MacNeil
- “I Lo’ed Ne’er a Laddie but Ane”
- “Come Under My Plaidie”
- Sir William Jones
- “An Ode”
- “On Parent Knees a Naked New-born Child”
- Susanna Blamire
- “And Ye Shall Walk in Silk Attire”
- Anne Hunter
- “My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair”
- John Dunlop
- “The Year, That’s Awa'”
- Samuel Rogers
- “A Wish”
- “The Sleeping Beauty”
- William Blake
- “The Tiger”
- “Ah! Sun-flower”
- “To Spring”
- “Reeds of Innocence”
- “Auguries of Innocence”
- “Nurse’s Song”
- “Holy Thursday”
- “The Divine Image”
- John Collins
- Robert Tannahill
- “Jessie, the Flower o’ Dunblane”
- “Gloomy Winter’s Now Awa'”
- William Wordsworth
- “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”
- “My Heart Leaps Up”
- “The Two April Mornings”
- “The Fountain”
- “Written in March”
- “Nature and the Poet”
- “Ruth: Or the Influence of Nature”
- “A Lesson”
- “Yarrow Unvisited”
- “Yarrow Visited”
- “Yarrow Revisited”
- “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”
- “The Daffodils”
- “To the Daisy”
- “To the Cuckoo”
- “The Green Linnet”
- “Written in Early Spring”
- “To the Skylark”
- “The Affliction of Margaret”
- “Simon Lee the Old Huntsman”
- “Ode to Duty”
- “She Was a Phantom of Delight”
- “To the Highland Girl of Inversneyde”
- “The Solitary Reaper”
- “The Reverie of Poor Susan”
- “To Toussaint L’Ouverture”
- “Character of the Happy Warrior”
- “Resolution and Independence”
- “We Are Seven”
- “The Inner Vision”
- “By the Sea”
- “Upon Westminster Bridge”
- “To a Distant Friend”
- “We Must Be Free or Die”
- “England and Switzerland”
- “On the Extonction of the Venetian Republic”
- “London, MDCCCII”
- “The Same”
- “When I Have Borne”
- “The World is Too Much With Us”
- “Within King’s College Chapel, Cambridge”
- “Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon”
- “Composed at Neidpath Castle, the Property of Lord Queensbury”
- “Admonition to a Traveller”
- “To Sleep”
- “The Sonnet”
- William Lisle Bowles
- “Dover Cliffs”
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- “Kubla Khan”
- “Youth and Age”
- “Hymn Before Sunrise, in the Vale of Chamouni”
- “Dejection: an Ode”
- Robert Southey
- “After Blenheim”
- “The Scholar”
- Charles Lamb
- “The Old Familiar Faces”
- “On an Infant Dying as Soon as Born”
- Sir Walter Scott
- “The Outlaw”
- “To a Lock of Hair”
- “Jock of Hazeldean”
- “Eleu Loro”
- “A Serenade”
- “The Rover”
- “The Maid of Neidpath”
- “Gathering Song of Donald the Black”
- “Border Ballad”
- “The Pride of Youth”
- “Lucy Ashton’s Song”
- “Hunting Song”
- “Bonny Dundee”
- “Datur Hora Quieti”
- “Here’s a Health to King Charles
- “Harp of the North, Farewell!”
- James Hogg
- “When the Kye Comes Hame”
- “The Skylark”
- “Lock the Door, Lariston”
- Robert Surtees
- “Barthram’s Dirge”
- Thomas Campbell
- “The Soldier’s Dream”
- “To the Evening Star”
- “Ode to Winter”
- “Lord Ullin’s Daughter”
- “The River of Life”
- “To the Evening Star”
- “The Maid of Neidpath”
- “Ye Mariners of England”
- “Battle of the Baltic”
- J. Campbell
- “Freedom and Love”
- Allan Cunningham
- “Hame, Hame, Hame”
- “A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea”
- George Gordon, Lord Byron
- “Youth and Age”
- “The Destruction of Sennacherib”
- “Elegy on Thyrza”
- “When We Two Parted”
- “For Music”
- “She Walks in Beauty”
- “All for Love”
- “To Augusta”
- “Epistle to Augusta”
- “Maid of Athens”
- “Fare Thee Well”
- The Prisoner of Chillon
- “On the Castle of Chillon”
- “Song of Saul, Before His Last Battle”
- “The Isles of Greece”
- “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year”
- Thomas Moore
- “The Light of Other Days”
- “Pro Patria Mori”
- “The Meeting of the Waters”
- “The Last Rose of Summer”
- “The Harp that Once Through Tara’s Halls”
- “A Canadian Boat-Song”
- “The Journey Onwards”
- “The Young May Moon”
- “At the Mid Hour of Night”
- Charles Wolfe
- “The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
- “Hymn of Pan”
- “Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples”
- “I Fear Thy Kisses”
- “Lines to an Indian Air”
- “To a Skylark”
- “Love’s Philosophy”
- “To the Night”
- “Ode to the West Wind”
- “Written Among the Euganean Hills, North Italy”
- “Hymn to the Spirit of Nature”
- “A Lament”
- “A Dream of the Unknown”
- “The Invitation”
- “The Recollection”
- “To the Moon”
- “A Widow Bird”
- “To a Lady, with a Guitar”
- “One Word is Too Often Profaned”
- “Ozymandias of Egypt”
- “The Flight of Love”
- “The Cloud”
- “Stanzas–April, 1814”
- “Music, When Soft Voices Die”
- “The Poet’s Dream”
- “The World’s Wanderers”
- James Henry Leigh Hunt
- “Jenny kiss’d Me”
- “Abou Ben Adhem”
- John Keats
- “The Realm of Fancy”
- “Ode on the Poets”
- “The Mermaid Tavern”
- “Happy Insensibility”
- “Ode to a Nightingale”
- “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
- “Ode to Autumn”
- “Ode to Psyche”
- “Ode on Melancholy”
- “The Eve of St. Agnes”
- “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”
- “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”
- “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”
- “To Sleep”
- “The Human Seasons”
- “Great Spirits Now on Earth are Sojourning”
- “The Terror of Death”
- “Last Sonnet”
- Walter Savage Landor
- “Rose Aylmer”
- “Twenty Years Hence”
- “Proud Word You Never Spoke”
- “Corinna to Tanagra, from Athens”
- “Mother, I Cannot Mind My Wheel”
- “Well I Remember”
- “No, My Own Love”
- “Robert Browning”
- “The Death of Artemidora”
- “‘Do You Remember Me?'”
- “For an Epitaph at Fiesole”
- “On Lucretia Borgia’s Hair”
- “On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday”
- “To My Ninth Decade”
- “Death Stands Above Me”
- “On Living Too Long”
- Thomas Hood
- “Fair Ines”
- “The Bridge of Sighs”
- “The Death Bed”
- “Past and Present”
- Sir Aubrey de Vere
- Hartley Coleridge
- “She Is Not Fair”
- Joseph Blanco White
- “To Night”
- George Darley
- “The Loveliness of Love”
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, Lord Macaulay
- “The Armada”
- “A Jacobite’s Epitaph”
- Sir William Edmondstoune Aytoune
- “The Refusal of Charon”
- Hugh Miller
- “The Babie”
- Helen Selina, Lady Dufferin
- “Lament of the Irish Emigrant”
- Charles Tennyson Turner
- “Letty’s Globe”
- Sir Samuel Ferguson
- “The Fair Hills of Ireland”
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- “A Musical Instrument”
- “Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1-44”
- “The Sleep”
- Edward Fitzgerald
- “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam of Naishápúr”
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- “The Lady of Shalott”
- “Sweet and Low”
- “Tears, Idle Tears”
- “Blow, Bugle Blow”
- “Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead”
- “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal”
- “O Swallow, Swallow”
- “Break, Break, Break”
- “In the Valley of Cauteretz”
- “Vivien’s Song”
- “Enid’s Song”
- “Locksley Hall”
- “Morte D’Arthur”
- “The Lotos-Eaters”
- “You Ask Me, Why”
- “Love Thou Thy Land”
- “Sir Galahad”
- “The Higher Pantheism”
- “Flower in the Crannied Wall”
- “The Charge of the Light Brigade”
- “The Revenge”
- “To Virgil”
- “Crossing the Bar”
- Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton
- William Makepeace Thackray
- “The End of the Play”
- Charles Kingsley
- “Airly Beacon”
- “The Sands of Dee”
- “Youth and Old”
- “Ode to the North-east Wind”
- J. Wilson
- “The Canadian Boat Song”
- Robert Browning
- “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”
- The Lost Leader
- Home-thoughts, from Abroad
- “Home-thoughts, from the Sea”
- “Parting at Morning”
- “The Lost Mistress”
- “The Last Ride Together”
- “Pippa’s Song”
- “You’ll Love Me Yet”
- “My Last Duchess”
- “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church”
- “Evelyn Hope”
- “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”
- “The Patriot”
- “The Grammarian’s Funeral”
- “Andrea del Sarto”
- “One Word More”
- “Abt Volger”
- “Rabbi Ben Ezra”
- Dedication of The Ring and the Book
- Emily Brontë
- Last Lines
- “The Old Stoic”
- Robert Stephen Hawker
- “And Shall Trelawny Die?”
- Coventry Patmore
- William (Johnson) Cory
- “Mimnermus in Church”
- Sydney Dobell
- “The Ballad of Keith of Ravelston”
- William Allingham
- “The Fairies”
- George Mac Donald
- “That Holy Thing”
- Edward, Earl of Lytton
- “The Last Wish”
- Arthur Hugh Clough
- “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth”
- “The Stream of Life”
- “In a London Square”
- “Qua Cursum Ventus”
- “Where Lies the Land”
- Matthew Arnold
- “The Forsaken Merman”
- “The Song of the Callicles”
- “To Marguerite”
- “Rugby Chapel”
- “Memorial Verses”
- “Dover Beach”
- “The Better Part”
- “Worldly Place”
- “The Last Word”
- George Meredith
- “Love in the Valley”
- Alexander Smith
- Charles Dickens
- “The Ivy Green”
- Thomas Edward Brown
- “My Garden”
- James Thomson (B.V.)
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti
- “The Blessed Damozel”
- “The Kings Tragedy”
- “Heart’s Hope”
- “Genius in Beauty”
- “Silent Noon”
- “Heart’s Compass”
- “Her Gifts”
- Christina Georgina Rossetti
- “In the Round Tower at Jhansi”
- William Morris
- “The Defence of Guenevere”
- Prologue of The Earthly Paradise
- “The Nymph’s Song to Hylas”
- “The Day Is Coming”
- “The Days That Were”
- John Boyle O’Reilly
- “A White Rose”
- Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy
- Robert Williams Buchanan
- Algernon Charles Swinburne
- Chorus from “Atalanta”
- “The Garden of Proserpine”
- “A Match”
- “A Forsaken Garden”
- William Ernest Henley
- “Margaritæ Sorori”
- “England, My England”
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- “In the Highlands”
- “The Celestial Surgeon”
- William Cullen Bryant
- “Robert of Lincoln”
- “Song of Marion’s Men”
- “The Past”
- “To a Waterfowl”
- “The Death of Lincoln”
- Edgar Allan Poe
- “The Haunted Palace
- “To Helen”
- “The Raven”
- “The Bells”
- “To My Mother”
- “For Annie”
- “Annabel Lee”
- “The Conqueror Worm”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “The Apology”
- “Give All to Love”
- “Concord Hymn”
- “The Humble-Bee”
- “The Problem”
- “Boston Hymn”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- “A Psalm of Life”
- “The Light of Stars”
- “Hymn to the Night”
- “Footsteps of Angels”
- “The Wreck of the Hesperus”
- “The Village Blacksmith”
- “The Rainy Day”
- “The Day is Gone”
- “The Bridge”
- “The Building of the Ship”
- “My Lost Youth”
- “The Fiftieth Birthday of Agassiz”
- “The Children’s Hour”
- “Paul Revere’s Ride”
- “Killed at the Ford”
- John Greenleaf Whittier
- “The Eternal Goodness”
- “Randolph of Roanoke”
- “Massachusetts to Virginia”
- “Barclay of Ury”
- “Maud Muller”
- “The Barefoot Boy”
- “Skipper Ireson’s Ride”
- “The Pipes at Lucknow”
- “Barbara Frietchie”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes
- “The Chambered Nautilus”
- “Old Ironsides”
- “The Last Leaf”
- James Russell Lowell
- “The Present Crisis”
- “The Pious Editor’s Creed”
- “The Courtin'”
- “Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration”
- Sidney Lanier
- “The Marshes of Glynn”
- “The Revenge of Hamish”
- “How Love Looked for Hell”
- Bret Harte
- “The Reveille”
- Walt Whitman
- “One’s Self I Sing”
- “Beat! Beat! Drums!”
- “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night”
- “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”
- “Ethiopia Saluting the Colors”
- “The Wound Dresser”
- “Give me the Splendid Silent Sun”
- “O Captain! My Captain!”
- “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”
- “Prayer of Columbus”
- “The Last Invocation”
“The Voyages to Vinland” (c. 1000)
“The Letter of Columbus to Luis de Sant Angel Announcing His Discovery” (1493)
“Amerigo Vespucci’s Account of His First Voyage” (1497)
“John Cabot’s Discovery of North America” (1497)
“First Charter of Virginia” (1606)
“The Mayflower Compact” (1620)
“The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” (1639)
“The Massachusetts Body of Liberties” (1641)
“Arbitrary Government Described and the Government of the Massachusetts Vindicated from that Aspersion”, by John Winthrop (1644)
“The Instrument of Government” (1653)
“A Healing Question”, by Sir Henry Vane” (1656)
“John Eliot’s “Brief Narrative” (1670)
“Declaration of Rights” (1765)
“The Declaration of Independence” (1776)
“The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence” (1775)
“Articles of Confederation” (1777)
“Articles of Capitulation, Yorktown” (1781)
“Treaty with Great Britain” (1783)
“Constitution of the United States” (1787)
“The Federalist”, Nos. 1 and 2 (1787)
“Opinion of Chief Justice Marshall, in the Case of McCulloch vs. the State of Maryland” (1819)
“Washington’s First Inaugural Address” (1789)
“Treaty with the Six Nations” (1794)
“Washington’s Farewell Address” (1796)
“Treaty with France (Louisiana Purchase)” (1803)
“Treaty with Great Britain (End of War of 1812)” (1814)
“Arrangement as to the Naval Force to Be Respectively Maintained on the American Lakes” (1817)
“Treaty with Spain (Acquisition of Florida)” (1819)
“The Monroe Doctrine” (1823)
“Webster-Ashburton Treaty with Great Britain” (1842)
“Treaty with Mexico (1848)
“Fugitive Slave Act” (1850)
“Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address” (1861)
“Emancipation Proclamation” (1863)
“Haskell’s Account of the Battle of Gettysburg”
“Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address” (1863)
“Proclamation of Amnesty” (1863)
“Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby” (1864)
“Terms of Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox” (1865)
“Lee’s Farewell to His Army” (1865)
“Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address” (1865)
“Proclamation Declaring the Insurrection at an End” (1866)
“Treaty with Russia (Alaska Purchase)” (1867)
“Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands” (1898)
“Recognition of the Independence of Cuba” (1898)
“Treaty with Spain (Cession of Porto Rico and the Philippines)” (1898)
“Convention Between the United States and the Republic of Panama” (1904)
The Sayings of Confucius
The Analects (meaning “Selected Sayings”), also known as the Analects of Confucius, is an ancient Chinese book composed of a large collection of sayings and ideas attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his contemporaries, traditionally believed to have been compiled and written by Confucius’s followers. It is believed to have been written during the Warring States period (475–221 BC), and it achieved its final form during the mid-Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). By the early Han dynasty the Analects was considered merely a “commentary” on the Five Classics, but the status of the Analects grew to be one of the central texts of Confucianism by the end of that dynasty.
During the late Song dynasty (960–1279 AD) the importance of the Analects as a philosophy work was raised above that of the older Five Classics, and it was recognized as one of the “Four Books”. The Analects has been one of the most widely-read and studied books in China for the last 2,000 years, and continues to have a substantial influence on Chinese and East Asian thought and values today.
Confucius believed that the welfare of a country depended on the moral cultivation of its people, beginning from the nation’s leadership. He believed that individuals could begin to cultivate an all-encompassing sense of virtue through ren, and that the most basic step to cultivating ren was devotion to one’s parents and older siblings. He taught that one’s individual desires do not need to be suppressed, but that people should be educated to reconcile their desires via rituals and forms of propriety, through which people could demonstrate their respect for others and their responsible roles in society.
Confucius taught that a ruler’s sense of virtue was his primary prerequisite for leadership. His primary goal in educating his students was to produce ethically well-cultivated men who would carry themselves with gravity, speak correctly, and demonstrate consummate integrity in all things.
The Book of Job
The Book of Job is a book of the Hebrew Bible. It addresses the problem of theodicy, meaning why God permits evil in the world, through the experiences of the eponymous protagonist. Job is a wealthy and God-fearing man with a comfortable life and a large family; God, having asked Satan (lit. “the accuser”) for his opinion of Job’s piety, decides to take away Job’s wealth, family and material comforts, following Satan’s accusation that if Job were rendered penniless and without his family, he would turn away from God. The book is found in the Ketuvim (“Writings”) section of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and is the first poetic book in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Scholars are generally agreed that it was written between the 7th and 4th centuries BCE.
The Book of Psalms
The Book of Psalms (lit. “praises”), commonly referred to simply as Psalms, the Psalter or “the Psalms”, is the first book of the Ketuvim (“Writings”), the third section of the Tanakh, and a book of the Christian Old Testament. The title is derived from the Greek translation, psalmoi, meaning “instrumental music” and, by extension, “the words accompanying the music”. The book is an anthology of individual Hebrew psalms, with 150 in the Jewish and Western Christian tradition and more in the Eastern Christian churches. Many are linked to the name of David, but modern scholarship rejects his authorship, instead placing the composition of the psalms to various authors writing between the 9th and 5th centuries BCE.
Ecclesiastes; Or, The Preacher
Ecclesiastes, written c. 450–200 BCE, is one of the Ketuvim (“Writings”) of the Hebrew Bible and one of the “Wisdom” books of the Christian Old Testament. The title commonly used in English is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Kohelet. An unnamed author introduces “Kohelet” as the son of David and does not use his own voice again until the final verses, where he gives his own thoughts and summarizes the statements of “Kohelet”; the main body of the text is ascribed to Kohelet himself.
Kohelet proclaims that all human actions are hevel, “vapor” or “breath”, meaning “insubstantial”, “vain”, or “futile”, since the lives of both wise and foolish people all end in death. While Kohelet clearly endorses wisdom as a means for a well-lived earthly life, he is unable to ascribe eternal meaning to it. In light of this perceived senselessness, he suggests that human beings should enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work, which are gifts from the hand of God. The book concludes with the injunction to “Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. Since every deed will God bring to judgment, for every hidden act, be it good or evil”.
The Gospel According to Luke
The Gospel according to Luke, also called the Gospel of Luke, or simply Luke, tells of the origins, birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Together with the Acts of the Apostles, it makes up a two-volume work which scholars call Luke–Acts; together they account for 27.5% of the New Testament.
The combined work divides the history of first-century Christianity into three stages, with the gospel making up the first two of these – the arrival among men of Jesus the Messiah, from his birth to the beginning of his earthly mission in the meeting with John the Baptist followed by his earthly ministry, Passion, death, and resurrection (concluding the gospel story per se). Most modern scholars agree that the main sources used for Luke were (a) the Gospel of Mark, (b) a hypothetical sayings collection called the Q source, and (c) material found in no other gospels, often referred to as the L (for Luke) source.
The author is anonymous; the traditional view that it was Luke the Evangelist, the companion of Paul, is still occasionally put forward, but the scholarly consensus emphasizes the many contradictions between Acts and the authentic Pauline letters. The most probable date for its composition is around AD 80–110, and there is evidence that it was still being revised well into the 2nd century.
The Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles, often referred to simply as Acts, or formally the Book of Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; it tells of the founding of the Christian church and the spread of its message to the Roman Empire.
Acts and the Gospel of Luke make up a two-part work, Luke–Acts, by the same anonymous author, usually dated to around 80–90 AD, although some experts now suggest 90–110. The first part, the Gospel of Luke, tells how God fulfilled his plan for the world’s salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah. Acts continues the story of Christianity in the 1st century, beginning with the ascension of Jesus to Heaven. The early chapters, set in Jerusalem, describe the Day of Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit) and the growth of the church in Jerusalem. Initially, the Jews are receptive to the Christian message, but later they turn against the followers of Jesus. Rejected by the Jews, the message is taken to the Gentiles under the guidance of the Apostle Peter. The later chapters tell of Paul’s conversion, his mission in Asia Minor and the Aegean, and finally his imprisonment in Rome, where, as the book ends, he awaits trial.
Luke–Acts is an attempt to answer a theological problem, namely how the Messiah of the Jews came to have an overwhelmingly non-Jewish church; the answer it provides is that the message of Christ was sent to the Gentiles because the Jews rejected it. Luke–Acts can also be seen as a defense of (or “apology” for) the Jesus movement addressed to the Jews: the bulk of the speeches and sermons in Acts are addressed to Jewish audiences, with the Romans serving as external arbiters on disputes concerning Jewish customs and law. On the one hand, Luke portrays the followers of Jesus as a sect of the Jews, and therefore entitled to legal protection as a recognized religion; on the other, Luke seems unclear as to the future God intends for Jews and Christians, celebrating the Jewishness of Jesus and his immediate followers while also stressing how the Jews had rejected God’s promised Messiah.
The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, usually referred to as First Corinthians or 1 Corinthians is a Pauline epistle of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The epistle is attributed to Paul the Apostle and a co-author named Sosthenes, and is addressed to the Christian church in Corinth. Scholars believe that Sosthenes was the amanuensis who wrote down the text of the letter at Paul’s direction. It addresses various issues that had arisen in the Christian community at Corinth and it is composed in a form of Koine Greek.
The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, commonly referred to as Second Corinthians or in writing 2 Corinthians, is a Pauline epistle of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The epistle is attributed to Paul the Apostle and a co-author named Timothy, and is addressed to the church in Corinth and Christians in the surrounding province of Achaea, in modern-day Greece.
Hymns of the Christian Church
- Hymns based on Psalms
- Psalms XIX
- Psalms XXIII
- Psalms LXXII
- Psalms XC
- Psalms C
- Psalms CIV
- Greek hymns
- Gloria in Excelsis—Shepherd of Tender Youth
- The Day is Past and Over
- The Day of Resurrection
- Art Thou Weary?
- Latin hymns
- Te Deum Laudamus
- Veni Creator Spiritus
- Hie Breve Vivitur
- Urbs Sion Aurea
- Jesu, Dulcis Memoria—Jesu, Dulcedo Cordium
- Dies Iræ, Dies Illa
- Stabat Mater
- Adeste Fideles
- O Deus, Ego Amo Te
- Modern hymns
- A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
- Now Thank We All Our God
- Be Not Dismayed—In Temptation
- Christmas Hymn
- Light Shining out of Darkness
- The Future Peace and Glory of the Church
- Early Piety
- The Holy Trinity
- Epiphany—Sun of my Soul, Thou Savior Dear
- Abide with Me
- Pillar of cloud
- Nearer, My God, to Thee
- My Faith Looks Up to Thee
- A Sun-Day Hymn
- The Pilgrims of the Night
- Let There Be Light
Buddhist Writings, Translated and Annotated by Henry Clarke Warren
- The Buddha
- The story of Sumedha
- The birth of the Buddha
- The attainment of Buddhaship
- First events after the attainment
- The Buddha’s daily habits
- The death of the Buddha
- The Doctrine
- Questions which tend not to edification
- There is no ego
- The middle doctrine
- Fruitful and barren karma
- Good and bad karma
- Rebirth is not transmigration
- Death’s messengers
- The Devoted Wife
- The hare-mark in the moon
- The way of purity
- The conversion of animals
- Love for animals
- Sariputta and the two demons
- The summum bonum
- The Trance of Cessation
- The attainment of nirvana
- The Order
- The Admission and Ordination Ceremonies
- The Mendicant Ideal
- “And Hate Not His Father and Mother”
- The Story of Visakha
The Bhagavad Gita (lit. “The Song of God”), often referred to as the Gita, is a 701-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata (chapters 23–40 of Bhishma Parva), dated to the second century BCE. It is considered to be one of the main holy scriptures for Hinduism.
The Gita is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna, an avatar of Lord Vishnu. At the start of the Dharma Yuddha (righteous war) between Pandavas and Kauravas, Arjuna is filled with moral dilemma and despair about the violence and death the war will cause in the battle against his own kin. He wonders if he should renounce and seeks Krishna’s counsel, whose answers and discourse constitute the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna counsels Arjuna to “fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) duty to uphold the Dharma” through “selfless action”. The Krishna–Arjuna dialogues cover a broad range of spiritual topics, touching upon ethical dilemmas and philosophical issues that go far beyond the war Arjuna faces.
Numerous commentaries have been written on the Bhagavad Gita with widely differing views on the essentials. According to some, Bhagavad Gita is written by Lord Ganesha which was told to him by Vyasa. Vedanta commentators read varying relations between Self and Brahman in the text: Advaita Vedanta sees the non-dualism of Atman (soul) and Brahman (universal soul) as its essence, whereas Bhedabheda and Vishishtadvaita see Atman and Brahman as both different and non-different, while Dvaita Vedanta sees dualism of Atman (soul) and Brahman as its essence. The setting of the Gita in a battlefield has been interpreted as an allegory for the ethical and moral struggles of the human life.
The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about dharma, theistic bhakti, and the yogic ideals of moksha. The text covers jñāna, bhakti, karma, and rāj yogas (spoken of in the 6th chapter) incorporating ideas from the Samkhya-Yoga philosophy. The Bhagavad Gita is the best known and most famous of Hindu texts, with a unique pan-Hindu influence. The Gita‘s call for selfless action inspired many leaders of the Indian independence movement including Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi; the latter referred to it as his “spiritual dictionary”.
Chapters from the Koran, Translated and Annotated by E. H. Palmer
The Meccan surahs are, according to the timing and contextual background of supposed revelation (asbāb al-nuzūl), the chronologically earlier chapters (suwar, singular sūrah) of the Qur’an. The traditional chronological order attributed to Ibn Abbas became widely accepted following its adoption by the 1924 Egyptian standard edition. The Meccan chapters are believed to have been revealed anytime before the migration of the Islamic prophet Muhammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina (Hijra). The Medinan surahs are those supposed revelations that occurred after the move.
Meccan surahs are typically shorter than Medinan surahs, with relatively short verses (āyāt), and mostly come near the end of the Qur’an. (As a general rule, the chapters of the Qur’an are ordered from longest to shortest.) Most of the chapters containing Muqatta’at are Meccan.
The Madni Surahs (Surah Madaniyah) or Madani chapters of the Quran are the latest 28 Surahs that, according to Islamic tradition, were revealed at Medina after Muhammad’s hijrat from Mecca. Community was larger and more developed, as opposed to their minority position in Mecca.
The Medinan Surahs occur mostly at the beginning and in the middle of the Qur’an (but are said to be the last revealed suras chronologically), and typically have more and longer ayat (verses). Due to the new circumstances of the early Muslim community in Medina, these surahs more often deal with details of moral principles, legislation, warfare (as in Surah 2, al-Baqara), and principles for constituting and ordering the community. They also refer more often to the community with “O people!” and at times directly address Muhammad or speak of him as “an agent acting in combination with the divine persona: ‘God and his messenger’ (Q 33:22).”
The division of surahs into ‘Meccan surahs’ and ‘Medinan surahs’ is primarily a consequence of stylistic and thematic considerations, which Theodor Noldeke used to develop his famous chronology of the Qur’anic suras. Classification of the surahs into these periods is based upon factors such as the length of the verse and the presence or absence of certain key concepts or word (e.g. al-Rahman as name of God).
Edward the Second by Christopher Marlowe
The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer, known as Edward II, is a Renaissance or Early Modern period play written by Christopher Marlowe. It is one of the earliest English history plays, and focuses on the relationship between King Edward II of England and Piers Gaveston, and Edward’s murder on the orders of Roger Mortimer.
Marlowe found most of his material for this play in the third volume of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587). Frederick S. Boas believes that “out of all the rich material provided by Holinshed” Marlowe was drawn to “the comparatively unattractive reign of Edward II” due to the relationship between the King and Gaveston. Boas elaborates, “Homosexual affection … has (as has been seen) a special attraction for Marlowe. Jove and Ganymede in Dido, Henry III and his ‘minions’ in The Massacre, Neptune and Leander in Hero and Leander, and all akin, although drawn to a slighter scale, to Edward and Gaveston.” Boas also notes the existence of a number of parallels between Edward II and The Massacre at Paris, asserting that “it is scarcely too much to say that scenes xi–xxi of The Massacre are something in the nature of a preliminary sketch for Edward II.” Marlowe stayed close to the account but embellished it with the character of Lightborn (or Lucifer) as Edward’s assassin.
Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon” (or simply “the Bard”). His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, three long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. They also continue to be studied and reinterpreted.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. Sometime between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. At age 49 (around 1613), he appears to have retired to Stratford, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive; this has stimulated considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, his sexuality, his religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known works between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were primarily comedies and histories and are regarded as some of the best work produced in these genres. He then wrote mainly tragedies until 1608, among them Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, all considered to be among the finest works in the English language. In the last phase of his life, he wrote tragicomedies (also known as romances) and collaborated with other playwrights.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy in his lifetime. However, in 1623, two fellow actors and friends of Shakespeare’s, John Heminges and Henry Condell, published a more definitive text known as the First Folio, a posthumous collected edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that included all but two of his plays. The volume was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Jonson presciently hailed Shakespeare in a now-famous quote as “not of an age, but for all time”.
The Shoemaker’s Holiday by Thomas Dekker
The Shoemaker’s Holiday or the Gentle Craft is an Elizabethan play written by Thomas Dekker. The play was first performed in 1599 by the Admiral’s Men, and it falls into the subgenre of city comedy. The story features three subplots: an inter-class romance between a citizen of London and an aristocrat, the ascension of shoemaker Simon Eyre to Lord Mayor of London, and a romance between a gentleman and a shoemaker’s wife, whose husband appears to have died in the wars with France.
The play is a “citizen” drama, or a depiction of the life of members of London’s livery companies, and it follows in Dekker’s style of depicting everyday life in London. The events of the play occur during the reign of King Henry VI, though also hinting at the reign of Henry V. Henry V succeeded his father, Henry IV, as leader of England following Henry IV’s death in 1413 at the age of 26. He is best known for securing the French crown and for his depiction in Shakespeare’s plays Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V. Dekker uses this correlation in The Shoemaker’s Holiday, as an English king appears in scenes 19 and 21; however, he is only identified as “The King” in the speech prefix in the first printed edition of the play.
The Alchemist by Ben Jonson
The Alchemist is a comedy by English playwright Ben Jonson. First performed in 1610 by the King’s Men, it is generally considered Jonson’s best and most characteristic comedy; Samuel Taylor Coleridge believed that it had one of the three most perfect plots in literature. The play’s clever fulfilment of the classical unities and vivid depiction of human folly have made it one of the few Renaissance plays (except the works of Shakespeare) with a continuing life on stage, apart from a period of neglect during the Victorian era.
Philaster by Beaumont and Fletcher
Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding is an early Jacobean era stage play, a tragicomedy written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. One of the duo’s earliest successes, the play helped to establish the trend for tragicomedy that was a powerful influence in early Stuart-era drama.
The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
The Duchess of Malfi (originally published as The Tragedy of the Dutchesse of Malfy) is a Jacobean revenge tragedy written by English dramatist John Webster in 1612–1613. It was first performed privately at the Blackfriars Theatre, then later to a larger audience at The Globe, in 1613–1614.
Published in 1623, the play is loosely based on events that occurred between 1508 and 1513 surrounding Giovanna d’Aragona, Duchess of Amalfi (d. 1511), whose father, Enrico d’Aragona, Marquis of Gerace, was an illegitimate son of Ferdinand I of Naples. As in the play, she secretly married Antonio Beccadelli di Bologna after the death of her first husband Alfonso I Piccolomini, Duke of Amalfi.
The play begins as a love story, when the Duchess marries beneath her class, and ends as a nightmarish tragedy as her two brothers undertake their revenge, destroying themselves in the process. Jacobean drama continued the trend of stage violence and horror set by Elizabethan tragedy, under the influence of Seneca. The complexity of some of the play’s characters, particularly Bosola and the Duchess, and Webster’s poetic language, have led many critics to consider The Duchess of Malfi among the greatest tragedies of English renaissance drama.
A New Way to Pay Old Debts by Philip Massinger
A New Way to Pay Old Debts (c. 1625, printed 1633) is an English Renaissance drama, the most popular play by Philip Massinger. Its central character, Sir Giles Over-reach, became one of the more popular villains on English and American stages through the 19th century.
The play illustrates the hardening of class distinctions that characterized the early Stuart era, leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War. In Elizabethan plays like The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599), it was acceptable and even admirable that a young nobleman marry a commoner’s daughter; other plays of the era, like Fair Em (c. 1590) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (c. 1597–9), share this liberal attitude toward social mobility through marriage. In A New Way to Pay Old Debts, in contrast, Lord Lovell would rather see his family line go extinct than marry Over-reach’s daughter Margaret, even though she is young, beautiful, and virtuous. In Act IV, scene i, Lovell specifies that his attitude is not solely dependent on his loathing of the father’s personal vices, but is rooted in class distinction. Lovell rejects the idea of his descendants being “one part scarlet” (aristocratic) and “the other London blue” (common).
Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer and Catholic theologian. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen. Pascal’s earliest mathematical work was on conic sections; he wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of 16. He later corresponded with Pierre de Fermat on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science. In 1642, while still a teenager, he started some pioneering work on calculating machines (called Pascal’s calculators and later Pascalines), establishing him as one of the first two inventors of the mechanical calculator.
He also worked in the natural and applied sciences, where he made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Following Galileo Galilei and Torricelli, in 1647, he rebutted Aristotle’s followers who insisted that nature abhors a vacuum. Pascal’s results caused many disputes before being accepted. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method.
In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism. Following a religious experience in late 1654, he began writing influential works on philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées, the former set in the conflict between Jansenists and Jesuits. The latter contains Pascal’s Wager, known in the original as the Discourse on the Machine, a probabilistic argument for God’s existence. In that year, he also wrote an important treatise on the arithmetical triangle. Between 1658 and 1659, he wrote on the cycloid and its use in calculating the volume of solids. Throughout his life, Pascal was in frail health, especially after the age of 18; he died just two months after his 39th birthday.
The Pensées (“Thoughts”) is a collection of fragments written by the French 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal’s religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life’s work. It represented Pascal’s defense of the Christian religion, and the concept of “Pascal’s wager” stems from a portion of this work. The Pensées is the name given posthumously to fragments that Pascal had been preparing for an apology for Christianity, which was never completed. That envisioned work is often referred to as the Apology for the Christian Religion, although Pascal never used that title.
Although the Pensées appears to consist of ideas and jottings, some of which are incomplete, it is believed that Pascal had, prior to his death in 1662, already planned out the order of the book and had begun the task of cutting and pasting his draft notes into a coherent form. His task incomplete, subsequent editors have disagreed on the order, if any, in which his writings should be read. Those responsible for his effects, failing to recognize the basic structure of the work, handed them over to be edited, and they were published in 1670. The first English translation was made in 1688 by John Walker. Another English translation by W. F. Trotter was published in 1958. The proper order of the Pensées is heavily disputed.
Beowulf is an Old English epic poem in the tradition of Germanic heroic legend consisting of 3,182 alliterative lines. It is one of the most important and most often translated works of Old English literature. The date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars; the only certain dating is for the manuscript, which was produced between 975 and 1025. Scholars call the anonymous author the “Beowulf poet”. The story is set in pagan Scandinavia in the 6th century. Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by the monster Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel’s mother attacks the hall and is then defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland (Götaland in modern Sweden) and becomes king of the Geats. Fifty years later, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is mortally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants cremate his body and erect a tower on a headland in his memory.
The Song of Roland
The Song of Roland is an 11th-century epic poem (chanson de geste) based on Roland and the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne. It is the oldest surviving major work of French literature and exists in various manuscript versions, which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity from the 12th to 16th centuries.
The date of composition is put in the period between 1040 and 1115: an early version beginning around 1040 with additions and alterations made up until about 1115. The final text has about 4,000 lines of poetry. The epic poem is the first and, along with The Poem of the Cid, one of the most outstanding examples of the chanson de geste, a literary form that flourished between the 11th and 16th centuries and celebrated legendary deeds.
The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel
Togail Bruidne Dá Derga (The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel) is an Irish tale belonging to the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. It survives in three Old and Middle Irish recensions, it is part of the Book of Dun Cow. It recounts the birth, life, and death of Conaire Mór son of Eterscél Mór, a legendary High King of Ireland, who is killed at Da Derga’s hostel by his enemies when he breaks his geasa. It is considered one of the finest Irish sagas of the early period, comparable to the better-known Táin Bó Cúailnge.
The theme of gathering doom, as the king is forced through circumstances to break one after another of his taboos, is non-Christian in essence, and no Christian interpretations are laid upon the marvels that it relates. In its repetitions and verbal formulas the poem retains the qualities of oral transmission. The tone of the work has been compared with Greek tragedy.
The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
The Völsunga saga (often referred to in English as the Volsunga Saga or Saga of the Völsungs) is a legendary saga, a late 13th-century poetic rendition in Old Norse of the origin and decline of the Völsung clan (including the story of Sigurd and Brynhild and destruction of the Burgundians). It is one of the most famous legendary sagas, and an example of a “heroic saga” that deals with Germanic heroic legend. The saga covers themes including the power struggles among Sigurd’s ancestors; Sigurd’s killing of the dragon Fafnir; and the influence of the cursed ring Andvaranaut.
The Nibelungenlied, translated as The Song of the Nibelungs, is an epic poem written around 1200 in Middle High German. Its anonymous poet was likely from the region of Passau. The Nibelungenlied is based on an oral tradition of Germanic heroic legend that has some of its origin in historic events and individuals of the 5th and 6th centuries and that spread throughout almost all of Germanic-speaking Europe. Parallels to the German poem from Scandinavia are found especially in the heroic lays of the Poetic Edda and in the Völsunga saga.
The Nibelungenlied was the first heroic epic put into writing in Germany, helping to found a larger genre of written heroic poetry. The poem’s tragedy appears to have bothered its medieval audience, and very early on a sequel was written, the Nibelungenklage, which made the tragedy less final. The poem was forgotten after around 1500, but was rediscovered in 1755. Dubbed the “German Iliad“, the Nibelungenlied began a new life as the German national epic. The poem was appropriated for nationalist purposes and was heavily used in anti-democratic, reactionary, and Nazi propaganda before and during the Second World War. Its legacy today is most visible in Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, which, however, is mostly based on Old Norse sources. In 2009, the three main manuscripts of the Nibelungenlied were inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in recognition of their historical significance. It has been called “one of the most impressive, and certainly the most powerful, of the German epics of the Middle Ages.”
Songs from The Elder Edda
The Poetic Edda is the modern name for an untitled collection of Old Norse anonymous poems, which is distinct from the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson. Several versions exist, all primarily of text from the Icelandic medieval manuscript known as the Codex Regius, which contains 31 poems. The Codex Regius is arguably the most important extant source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends. From the early-19th century onwards it has had a powerful influence on later Scandinavian literatures – not only through its stories, but also through the visionary force and the dramatic quality of many of the poems. It has also become an inspiring model for many later innovations in poetic meter, particularly in Nordic languages, offering many varied examples of terse, stress-based metrical schemes that lack any final rhyme but instead use alliterative devices and strongly-concentrated imagery. Poets who have acknowledged their debt to the Codex Regius include Vilhelm Ekelund, August Strindberg, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ezra Pound, Jorge Luis Borges, and Karin Boye.
- The Editor’s Introduction to the Harvard Classics
- Reader’s Guide to the Harvard Classics
- Class I
- The History of Civilization
- Race and Language
- Ancient Egypt
- The East in Patriarchal Time
- Ancient Greece: Legendary
- Ancient Greece: Historic
- Ancient Rome: Republican
- Ancient Rome: Imperial
- Germanic Peoples in Primitive Times
- Ireland in Primitive Times
- The Early Christian Church
- The Mohammedan East
- The Middle Ages
- The Renaissance
- Modern Europe
- Religion and Philosophy
- Christian: Primitive and Medieval
- Christian: Modern
- Modern Philosophers
- Montaigne … Huxley
- Hippocrates … Geikie
- Plutarch … American Historical Documents
- Voyages and Travels
- Herodotus … Emerson
- Criticism of Literature and the Fine Arts
- Caxton … Stevenson
- The History of Civilization
- Class II
- Biography and Letters
- Plutarch … Stevenson
- Narrative Poetry and Prose Fiction
- Homer … Lanier
- Class I
- An Index of the First Lines of Poems, Songs and Choruses, Hymns and Psalms
- General Index
- Chronological Index