It’s another Great Books Monday here at the Western Tradition, where we are deep into several classics of Western civilization. Fortunately, I’ve managed to keep a couple of short works in the weekly reading lists for the more casual visitors to the site.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapter XIV* (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 67-80)
- The Histories of Herodotus, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 124-159)
- “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 261-268)
- Federalist #37-38 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 117-125; Antifederalist responses are here)
- The Elements of Euclid, Book XI (GGBW Vol. 10, pp. 301-337)
- “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 512-524)
*The GGB set contains only 117 pages of excerpts from Robinson Crusoe. I plan to read the whole novel, but this week it doesn’t make any difference; all of Chapter XIV is in Adler’s excerpts.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters XI-XIII: That footprint! I can hardly imagine a more dramatic way for Defoe to reintroduce Crusoe to human society. And I can’t remember from my last reading what happened to the people on the Spanish ship that wrecked, so I’m actually reading this with a sense of suspense again. It’s great fun.
- The Histories of Herodotus, Book III: This book is read much more seldom than Books I and II; I know I read it years ago, but I remembered very little of it. Cambyses was a real stinker, and he had his own brother murdered for nothing in a vain attempt to avoid the fulfillment of a prophetic dream. Shades of Oedipus here, incest and all.
- “Two Friends” by Guy de Maupassant: Confession: before last week I’d never read anything by Maupassant. I’ve had a book of his stories in French on my shelf since 1998 in the hopes that I would one day acquire enough of the language to read it in a non-tortuous way. I may have to short-circuit the process and go to translations, because this story was really good. Even though it’s short, I felt as though I was starting to know these two guys, and then the dehumanizing imperative of war took over.
- Federalist #30-36: I found it interesting that Hamilton justified an unlimited power of taxation for the central government by arguing that it might need to launch an offensive war for reasons of state. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the idea that the people might not want any such thing and that withholding an unlimited taxing power might be a good way to prevent one. His argument for “all governments can do X by virtue of their being governments” was a bit scary, too.
- The Elements of Euclid, Book X, Part III: The website I found selling a reader’s guide to the book noted that Book X was the “least accessible” section of the Elements. No argument from me. I’m going to have to start a list of works to return to when I have more time to devote to them. I anticipate it will take me 20 hours or more to slog through this book with a high degree of comprehension. For now, I’ll say “adieu” to it and look forward to Book XI.
- “Immortality” by Sir Thomas Browne: Even though I’m a specialist in 17th-century British history, I never encountered Browne in graduate school. This selection is a great one to group with Hazlitt’s essay on the feeling of immortality in youth, or Cicero’s work on old age. Where Browne trumps the others is in the Christian hope he extends to the reader after noting the futility of trying to preserve one’s name on earth (are you listening, Achilles?).
I apologize for getting this post up late; I ended up having to reschedule a conference with a graduate student for this morning, and that slowed me down. With temps in the high 90s here in Alabama, I think coffee shops and air-conditioned lobbies will be good places to read this week. I hope you find one as well.