If you aren’t following along with the readings I’m posting each Monday, let me tell you that you are missing out on some great stuff. Here are the selections for the upcoming week:
- “The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway (Vol. 2, pp. 169-177)
- “Letter to Horace Greeley” by Abraham Lincoln (Vol. 6, pp. 756-757)
- “The Making of Americans” by Jean de Crèvecouer (Vol. 6, pp. 546-559; excerpted from Letters From an American Farmer; stop reading at the paragraph which ends, “Thus Europeans become Americans.”)
- “Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen” by William Hazlitt (Vol. 5, pp. 284-295)
- “Michael Faraday” by John Tyndall (Vol. 8, pp. 8-28; Chapters 1-3 of Faraday as a Discoverer)
- The Enchiridion by Epictetus (Vol. 10, pp. 236-254)
Now for some remarks on last week’s readings:
- “Of Truth” by Francis Bacon: This is the first of many Bacon essays we’ll be reading this year. Bacon can pack a lot of food for thought into a few words. Here his musing on the progression of the creation week (light of sense→light of reason→illumination of Spirit) is striking. Quoting Montaigne, he says that liars are strange people; they’re unwilling to present the truth to men, but are willing to flout God’s command.
- “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” by Mark Twain: I promise that the irony of juxtaposing Bacon’s essay with Twain’s story did not occur to me when I made the reading selections for the week. If, as Bacon says, “clear and round dealing is the honour of man’s nature,” then the town of Hadleyburg befell the worst fate possible to a community. Leave it to Twain to make a story about the fall into temptation unsettling yet humorous at the same time. The section where Richards racks his brains to remember what service he might have performed to Goodson is pure gold.
- The English Bill of Rights (1689): Reading this serves as a useful reminder that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution did not fall from the sky.
- “My First Play” by Charles Lamb: I confess I had never read anything by Lamb before last week, but I am very glad to make his acquaintance; he is an outstanding essayist. I found the final section where he discusses his jadedness upon returning to the theater as a teenager poignant.
- “The March to the Sea” by Xenophon: If you have ever been unclear on why Western civilization has always looked to the Greeks as one of the primary sources of its traditions, please read this selection. It is an amazing account of how an army stranded in enemy territory, its officers having been murdered during treaty negotiations, maintained discipline and marched hundreds of miles towards allied lands, enduring constant attacks and extreme weather along the way. If you’re not tempted to shout “The sea! The sea!” along with the Greeks when they catch sight of it, there may be something wrong with you! Yet even in the midst of this harrowing account, we find humor; witness the exchange between Xenophon and Chirisophus on the comparative (de)merits of the Spartans and Athenians.
- “The Sacred Beetle” by Jean-Henri Fabre: I never thought that fifteen pages about dung beetles could hold my attention, but Fabre’s enthusiasm for his subjects is a bit infectious, and his anthropomorphizing the animals is highly entertaining.
I haven’t exactly been inundated with comments on these posts, although I know some of you are reading along with me. Please chime in and share your thoughts on whichever ones of these selections you’re making the effort to read!
[This post is part of my seven-year plan to read through the Gateway to the Great Books and Great Books of the Western World sets. The original post describing the plan is here.]