Posts Tagged ‘Collier Junior Classics’

Floral books 3

“To be…a chuser of books! And to be having any one’s improvement in view in her choice!” So marvels Jane Austen’s good heroine, Fanny Price, as she rhapsodizes about the opportunities to improve oneself by being a renter…“a chuser [sic] of books” from a circulating library.

Agreed.  To read the writings of the world’s great thinkers and to read the great literature of the western world is to understand the genesis and progression of modern philosophy, religions, language, and science; to observe constants in human nature; to learn from those who have preceded us, both of the truths they illustrated and the errors of which they theorized; it is to see the glory of God reflected in his image bearers as they display their God-given abilities of reason and thought as well as language, spiritual understanding and creativity.

A similar enthusiasm to Fanny’s goal of self-improvement and an accompanying desire to continue to learn new things all my life, if the Lord gives me capacity, is reflected in two items on my biblio-dream list (which is several steps removed from a wish list).  There are several “classics” collections out there (i.e. Barnes and Noble’s for one) and any number of those titles might be on my wish list, but because of their price, these two collections wait on my dream list—the Harvard Classics and the Yale Shakespeare, 40-volume set.


Harvard Classics

Collier's Junior ClassicsThe Harvard Classics collection is a 51-volume set (above) published by P.F. Collier.  I suspect Collier modeled his own Collier’s Junior Classics after the Harvard Classics.  These beloved Junior Classics (mostly abridged classics) presently stand erect on my bookshelf and bring back good, warm, childhood memories.

The Harvard anthology was originally called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf and its authors read like a character list from Lost.  According to Wikipedia, Harvard University President, Charles W. Eliot (1869 – 1909), averred that “the elements of a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five-foot shelf (originally he had said a three-foot shelf).”

To be a collector of books is both a blessing and a curse as it is very difficult for a collector to satisfy himself only with the volumes he’s likely to read.  Not only must the covers match but the set must be complete.  It does not matter if the title is the only thing that will be read of some volumes (i.e. volume 30 for me); the set must have all the volumes in order to be completely worthwhile.

Also, half the fun of collecting books in my opinion is the vision of their faded, but matching covers, beautifully aligned together on one’s bookshelf. For the little less compulsive though, for those whom the bookshelf vision is not a driving force, Bartleby.com provides the Harvard Classics free online and this may be where I myself will have to begin.

What riches do the Harvard Classics contain?  Check it out—

Great Books of the Western WorldEncyclopædia Britannica seems to have used the Harvard Classics as a springboard for their Great Books of the Western World collection, published in 1952. Wikipedia tells us that University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler collaborated to develop a course, “generally aimed at businessmen, for the purpose of filling in gaps in education, to make one more well-rounded” and familiar with the great ideas of the past three millennia.  Hutchins clearly saw the finished work as something much more though, calling the collection an “act of piety.”  He said, “Here are the sources of our being. Here is our heritage. This is the West. This is its meaning for mankind.”

Because the Harvard Classics were published in 1909, they necessarily omit most 20th century works.  The Great Books were criticized for the same reason.  So in 1990, Encyclopædia Britannica published a second edition which added and subtracted from some of the volumes of the previous edition and added 6 more volumes of material covering the 20th century.

There are many overlapping works and authors in the Harvard Classics and The Great Books, but for my money, I am drawn more to the body of titles in the Harvard Classics.  Although the second edition of the Great Books offers Alexis de Tocqueville and Calvin’s Institutes, I am not persuaded by the addition of the 20th century material; much of the subject matter covered in these titles is just unalluring to me.   Also, since many of these works are still in the realm of modern discourse, it is likely one has already brushed up against the truly great ones in his reading of current events or casual discussions or school assignments.  No, my choice would be the Harvard Classics above either edition of the Great Books.

Yale Shakespeare

Yale Shakespeare

The 2nd collection on my Dream List is the Yale Shakespeare, 40-volume set.  I ran across an incomplete set of these beautiful, perfectly-sized books with their pale blue covers and gilt lettering in a local antique store. I continue to enjoy the idea of a complete set adorning my bookshelf, standing at the ready whenever a comedy or a tragedy might be required.

The 40 volumes of the Yale Shakespeare include:

  • Shakespeare of Stratford (which I take to be a biography);
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets;
  • “Venus and Adonis, “Lucrece,” and the Minor Poems;
  • All’s Well That Ends Well;
  • As You Like It;
  • The Comedy of Errors;
  • King Henry the Fourth (part I);
  • King Henry the Fourth (part II);
  • King Henry the Sixth (part I);
  • King Henry the Sixth (part II);
  • King Henry the Sixth (part III);
  • The Life of Henry the Fifth;
  • The Life and Death of King John;
  • The Life of King Henry the Eighth;
  • The Life of Timon of Athens;
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost;
  • Measure for Measure;
  • The Merchant of Venice;
  • The Merry Wives of Windsor;
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream;
  • Much Ado About Nothing;
  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre;
  • The Taming of the Shrew;
  • The Tempest;
  • The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra;
  • The Tragedy of Coriolanus;
  • The Tragedy of Cymbeline;
  • The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark;
  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar;
  • The Tragedy of King Lear;
  • The Tragedy of King Richard, the Second;
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth;
  • The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice;
  • The Tragedy of Richard the Third;
  • The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet;
  • The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus;
  • The Tragedy of Troilus and Cressida;
  • Twelfth Night (or What you Will);
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona;
  • The Winter’s Tale

In closing, I share the encouragement of C.S. Lewis to seek the great writers in their own words.  He wrote,There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books…The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.

“The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Lewis continued, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

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