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'k Best of tlie WotM^s Classics .



484 B.C. — 200 A.D.









With an Introduction, Biographical and Explanatory
Note^, etc., , , , o . ,.


Vol. I



Copyright, 1909, by


[Printed in the United States of America]




_ Ever since civilized man has had a literature

*^ he has apparently sought to make selections from

5J it and thus put his favorite passages together in

{^ a compact and convenient form. Certain it is,

« at least, that to the Greeks, masters in all great

arts, we owe this habit. They made such col-

^ lections and named them, after their pleasant

^ imaginative fashion, a gathering of flowers, or

§ what we, borrowing their word, call an anthology.

^ So to those austere souls who regard anthologies

. as a labor-saving contrivance for the benefit of

. persons who like a smattering of knowledge and

^ are never really learned, we can at least plead in

"? mitigation that we have high and ancient author-
|- ity for the practise. In any event no amount of
5 scholarly deprecation has been able to turn man-
kind or that portion of mankind which reads
books from the agreeable habit of making volumes
of selections and finding in them much pleasure,



as well as improvement in taste and knowledge.
With the spread of education and with the great
increase of literature among all civilized nations,
more especially since the invention of printing
and its vast multiplication of books, the making
of Tolumes of selections comprizing what is best
in one's own or in many literatures is no longer
a mere matter of taste or convenience as with the
Greeks, but has become something little short of
a necessity in this world of many workers, com-
paratively few scholars, and still fewer intelligent
men of leisure. Anthologies have been multiplied
like all other books, and in the main they have
done much good and no harm. The man who
thinks he is a scholar or highly educated because
he is familiar with what is collected in a well-
chosen anthology, of course, errs gi'ievously.
Such familiarity no more makes one a master
of literature than a perusal of a dictionary makes
the reader a master of style. But as the latter
pursuit can hardly fail to enlarge a man's vocab-
ulary, so the former adds to his knowledge, in-
creases his stock of ideas, liberalizes his mind
and opens to him new sources of enjoyment.
The Greek habit was to bring together selec-


tions of verse, passages of especial merit, epi-
grams and short poems. In the main their ex-
ample has been followed. From their days dowm
to the ' ' Elegant Extracts in Verse ' ' of our grand-
mothers and grandfathers^ and thence on to our
own time with its admirable "Golden Treasury"
and '^ Oxford Handbook of Verse," there has been
no end to the making of poetical anthologies and
apparently no diminution in the public appetite
for them. Poetry indeed lends itself to se-
lection. Much of the best poetry of the
world is contained in short poems, complete in
themselves, and capable of transference bodily
to a volume of selections. There are very few
poets of whose quality and genius a fair idea
can not be given by a few judicious selections.
A large body of noble and beautiful poetry, ©f
verse which is " a joy forever, ' ' can also be given
in a very small compass. And the mechanical
attribute of size, it must be remembered, is very
important in making a successful anthology, for
an essential quality of a volume of selections is
that it should be easily portable, that it should
be a book which can be slipt into the pocket and
readily carried about in any wanderings whether


near or remote. An anthology which is stored
in one or more huge and heavy volumes is prac-
tically valueless except to those who have neither
books nor access to a public library, or who think
that a stately tome printed on calendered paper
and "profusely illustrated" is an ornament to
a center-table in a parlor rarely used except on
solemn or ofiSeial occasions.

I have mentioned these advantages of verse for
the purposes of an anthology in order to show the
diflBeulties which must be encountered in making
a prose selection. Very little prose is in small
parcels which can be transferred entire, and
therefore with the very important attribute of
completeness, to a volume of selections. From
most of the great prose writers it is necessary
to take extracts, and the chosen passage is broken
off from what comes before and after. The fame
of a gTeat prose writer as a rule rests on a book,
and really to know him the book must be read
and not merely passages from it. Extracts give
no very satisfactory idea of ''Paradise Lost" or
*'The Divine Comedy," and the same is true of
extracts from a history or a novel. It is possible
by spreading prose selections through a series of


small volumes to overcome the mechanical dif-
ficulty and thus make the selections in form
what they ought above all things to be — com-
panions and not books of reference or table
decorations. But the spiritual or literary problem
is not so easily overcome. What prose to take
and where to take it are by no means easy ques-
tions to solve. Yet they are well worth solving,
so far as patient effort can do it, for in this
period of easy printing it is desirable to put in
convenient form before those who read examples
of the masters which will draw us back from
the perishing chatter of the moment to the lit-
erature which is the highest work of civilization
and which is at once noble and lasting.

Upon that theory this collection has been
formed. It is an attempt to give examples from
all periods and languages of Western civilization
of what is best and most memorable in their
prose literature. That the result is not a com-
plete exhibition of the time and the literatures
covered by the selections no one is better aware
than the editors. Inexorable conditions of space
make a certain degi'ee of incompleteness inevi-
table when he who is gathering flowers traverses


so vast a garden, and is obliged to confine the re-
sults of his labors within such narrow bounds.
The editors are also fully conscious that,
like all other similar collections, this one
too will give rise to the familiar criticism and
questionings as to why such a passage was
omitted and such another inserted; why this
writer was chosen and that other passed by. In
literature we all have our favorites, and even
the most catholic of us has also his dislikes if
not his pet aversions. I will frankly confess that
there are authors represented in these volumes
whose writings I should avoid, just as there are
certain towns and cities of the world to which,
having once visited them, I would never willingly
return, for the simple reason that I would not
Toluntarily subject myself to seeing or reading
what I dislike or, which is worse, what bores
and fatigues me. But no editor of an anthology
must seek to impose upon others his own tastes
and opinions. He must at the outset remember
and never afterward forget that so far as pos-
sible his work must be free from the personal
equation. He must recognize that some authors
ifho may be mute or dull to him have a place


in literature, past or present, sufficiently assured
to entitle them to a place among selections which
are intended above all things else to be represen-

To those who wonder why some favorite bit of
their own was omitted while something else for
which they do not care at all has found a place
I can only say that the editors, having supprest
their own personal preferences, have proceeded
on certain general principles which seem to be
essential in making any selection either of verse
or prose which shall possess broader and more
enduring qualities than that of being a mere
exhibition of the editor's personal taste. To
illustrate my meaning: Emerson's "Parnassus"
is extremely interesting as an exposition of the
tastes and preferences of a remarkable man of
great and original genius. As an anthology it
is a failure, for it is of awkward size, is ill
arranged and contains selections made without
system, and which in many cases baffle all at-
tempts to explain their appearance. On the
other hand, Mr. Palgrave, neither a very re-
markable man nor a great and original genius,
gave us in the first ''Golden Treasury" a eollec-


tion which has no interest whatever as reflecting
the tastes of the editor, but which is quite perfect
in its kind. Barring the disproportionate amount
of Wordsworth which includes some of his worst
things — and which, be it said in passing, was due
to Mr, Palgrave's giving way at that point to
his personal enthusiasm — the "Golden Treas-
ury" in form, in scope, and in arrangement, as
well as in almost unerring taste, is the best model
of what an anthology should be which is to be
found in any language.

Returning now to our questioner who misses
some favorite and finds something else which
he dislikes, the only answer, as I have just said,
is that the collection is formed on certain gen-
eral principles, as any similar collection of the
sort must be. This series is called "The Best of
the World 's Classics, ' ' and ' ' classics ' ' is used not
in the narrow and technical sense, but rather in
that of Thoreau, who defined classics as "the
noblest recorded thoughts of mankind." There-
fore, the first principle of guidance in selection is
to take examples of the great writings which have
moved and influenced the thought of the world,
and which have preeminently the quality of "high


seriousness" as required by Aristotle. This test
alone, however, would limit the selections too
closely. Therefore the second principle of choice
is to make selections from writers historically
important either personally or by their writings.
The third rule is to endeavor to give selections
which shall be representative of the various
literatures and the various periods through which
the collection ranges. Lastly, and this applies,
of course, only to passages taken from the writers
of England and the United States, the effort has
been to give specimens of the masters of English
prose, of that prose in its development and at
its best, and to show, so far as may be, what
can be accomplished with that great instrument,
and what a fine style really is as exhibited in
the best models. Everything contained in these
volumes is there in obedience to one at least of
these principles, many in obedience to more than
one, some in conformity to all four.

No one will become a scholar or a master of
any of the great literatures here represented by
reading this collection. Literature and scholar-
ship are not to be had so cheaply as that. Yet
is there much profit to be had from these little


volumes. They contain many passages which merit
Dr. Johnson's ^ne saying about books: "That
they help us to enjoy life or teach us to endure it. "
To the man of letters, to the man of wide read-
ing, they will at least serve to recall, when far
from libraries and books, those authors who have
been the delight and the instructors of a lifetime.
They will bring at least the pleasures of memory
and that keener pleasure which arises when we
meet a poem or a passage of prose which we
know as an old and well-loved friend, remote
from home, upon some alien page.

To that larger public whose lives are not spent
among books and libraries, and for whose delecta-
tion such a collection as this is primarily in-
tended, these volumes rightly read at odd times,
in idle moments, in out-of-the-way places, on
the ship or the train, offer much. They will
bring the reader in contact with many of the
gi-eatest intellects of all time. They contain
some of the noblest thoughts that have passed
through the minds of our weak and erring race.
There is no man who will not be the better, for
the moment at least, by reading what Cicero
says about old age, Seneca about death, and


Socrates about love, to go no further for ex-
amples than to

"The glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome."

Moreover, the bowing acquaintance which can be
formed here may easily offer attractions which
will lead to a close and intimate friendship, with
all that the word implies in the case of a great
author or a great book. It seems to me, for ex-
ample, as if no one who read here the too brief
extracts from Erasmus or from Cervantes, to take
at random two writers widely separated in
thought, could fail to pursue the acquaintance
thus begun, so potent are the sympathetic charm,
the wit, the wisdom and the humor cf both these
great men. There is, at least, variety in these
little volumes, and while many things in them may
not appeal to us, they may to our neighbors. That
which ''is dumb to us may speak to him."

Again, let it be noticed that there is much more
than the "high seriousness" which is the test
of the greatest prose as of the finest poetry.
Humor and pathos, tragedy and comedy, all find
their place and glimpses of the pageant of human


history flit through the pages. It would seem
as if it were impossible to read extracts from
Thueydides and Tacitus and Gibbon and not long
to go to their histories and learn all that could
be said by such men about the life of man upon
earth, about Athens and Rome and the rise and
fall of empires. Selections are unsatisfjdng and
the better they are the more unsatisfying they
become. But this is in reality their great merit.
They have much beauty in themselves, they
iawaken pleasant memories, they revive old de-
lights, but, above all, if rightly read they open
the gates to the illimitable gardens whence all
the flowers which have here been gathered may
be found blooming in radiance, unplucked and
unbroken and rooted in their native soil.

The most important part of the collection is
that which gives selections from those writers
whose native tongue is English. No translation
even of prose can ever quite reproduce its original,
and as a rule can not hope to equal it. There
are many translations, notably the Elizabethan,
which are extremely fine in themselves and mem-
orable examples of English prose. Still they are
not the original writings. Something escapes in


the translation into another tongue, an impal-
pable something which can not be held or trans-
mitted. The Bible stands alone, a great literary
monument of the noblest and most beautiful
English, which has formed English speech and
become a part of the language as it is of the
thought and emotion of the people who read
"King James' " version in all parts of the globe.
Yet we know that the version which the people,
so fortunnte in its possession, wisely and ab-
solutely decline to give up in exchange for any
revision is neither an accurate nor a faithful re-
production of its original. Therefore, putting
aside the English Bible as wholly by itself, it
may be safely said that the soul of a language
and the beauties of style which it is capable of
exhibiting can only be found and studied in the
productions of writers who not only think in
the language in which they write, but to whom
that speech is native, the inalienable birthright
and heritage of their race or country. In such
writers we get not only the thought, the humor,
or the pathos, all that can be transferred in a
translation, but also the pleasure to the ear akin
to music, the sense of form, the artistic grati-



fication ■whieli form brings, all those attributes
which are possible in the highest degree to those
only to whom the language is native.

For these reasons, as will be readily under-fcf
stood, in making selections from those writers ju,
whose native tongue is English, specimens hav(],i[,
been given of all periods from the earliest tim<
and occasionally of authors who would not other ^y
wise find a place in such a collection, for th' ijjjy
purpose of tracing in outline the developmen.,
of English prose and the foi'mation of an Englis
style which, like all true and great styles, i
peculiar to the language and can not be repro^.-.
duced in any other. This is not the place, no
would it be feasible within any reasonable limit
to narrate the history of English prose. But i
these selections it is possible to follow its gradua
advance from the first rude and crude attempt
through the splendid irregularities of the fifteent
and sixteeenth centuries to the establishment of
standard of style in the eighteenth and thene
onward to the modifications and changes in th
standard which extend to our own time.

The purpose of this collection is not didacti<
If it were it would be a school-hook and nc




ID tie

00! (.;


n anthology in the Greek sense, where the first
trinciple was to seek what was of literary value,
rtistie in expression, and noble in thought. Yet
he mere bringing together of examples of prose
rom the writings of the great masters of style
an not but teach a lesson never more needed
han now.
I do not mean by this to suggest imitation of
ny writer. Nothing is more dangerous, espe-
ially when the style of the writer imitated is.pe-
■"'' uliar and strongly marked. That which is
'aluable and instructive is the opportunity given
lere for a study of fine English styles, and in this
pay to learn the capabilities of the language and
he general principles which have governed the
)roduction of the best English prose. We have
u the English language an unequaled richness of
rocabulary far surpassing in extent that of any
)ther tongue. It possesses a great literature and
i body of poetry unrivaled in modern times. It is
lot only one of the strongest bonds of union in
:he United States, but it is the language in
??hich our freedom was won and in which our
listory and our laws are written. It is our
greatest heritage. To weaken, corrupt or de-


prave it would be a misfortune without parallel
to our entire people. Yet we can not disguise
from ourselves the fact that the fertility of the
printing-press, the multiplication of cheap mag-
azines, and the flood of printed words poured
out daily in the newspapers all tend strongly in
this direction. This is an era of haste and hurry
stimulated by the great inventions which have
changed human environment. Form and style
in any art require time, and time seems the one
thing we can neither spare nor wisely economize.
Yet, in literature above all arts, to abandon
form and style is inevitably destructive and
entails misfortunes which can hardly be esti-
mated, for loose, weak and vulgar writing is a
sure precursor of loose, weak and vulgar think-
ing. If form of expression is east aside, form
in thought and in the presentation of thought
is certain to follow. Against all this the fine
English prose amply represented in these selec-
tions offers a silent and convincing protest to
every one who will read it attentively.

We can begin with the splendid prose of the
age of Elizabeth and of the seventeenth century.
It is irregular and untamed, but exuberant and


brilliant, rich both in texture and substance. We
find it at its height in the strange beauties of
Sir Thomas Browne, in the noble pages of Mil-
ton, stiff with golden embroidery, as Macaulay
says, and in the touching and beautiful sim-
plicity of Bunyan's childlike sentences. Thence
we pass to the eighteenth century, when English
prose was freed from its involutions and ir-
regularities and brought to uniformity and to
a standard. The age of Anne gave to English
prose balance, precision and settled form. There
have been periods of greater originality, but the
eighteenth century at least lived up to Pope's
doctrine, set forth in the familiar line:

*'What oft was thought but ne'er so well
exprest. ' '

As there is no better period to turn to for
instruction than the age of Anne, so, if we must
choose a single writer there is no better master to
be studied than Swift. There have been many
great writers and many fine and beautiful styles
since the days of the terrible Dean of St. Pat-
rick's, from the imposing and finely balanced
sentences of Gibbon to the subtle delicacy of


Hawthorne and the careful finish of Robert Louis
Stevenson. But in Swift better than in any one
writer can we find the lessons which are so sorely-
needed now. He had in the highest degree force,
clearness and concentration all combined with a
marvelous simplicity. Swift 's style may have
lacked richness, but it never failed in taste.
There is not a line of false fine-writing in all his
books. Those are the qualities which are so
needed now, simplicity and clearness and a
scrupulous avoidance of that would-be fine wri-
ting which is not at all fine but merely vulgar
and insincere.

The writing in our newspapers is where reform
is particularly needed. There are great journals
here and there which maintain throughout a care-
ful standard of good and sober English. Most
of them, unhappily, are filled in the news columns
at least with a strange jargon found nowhere
else, spoken by no one and never used in daily
life by those who every night furnish it to the
compositors. It is happily compounded in about
equal parts of turgid fine writing, vulgar jaunti-
ness and indiscriminate slang.

I can best show my meaning by example. A


writer in a newspaper wished to state that a man
who had once caused excitement by a book of
temporary interest and who, after the days of his
notoriety were over, lived a long and checkered
career, had killed himself. This is the way he
said it :

His life's work void of fruition and dissipated
into emptiness, his fondest hopes and ambitions
crumbled and scattered, shunned as a fanatic,
and unable to longer wage life's battle, Hinton
Rowan Helper, at one time United States consul
general to Buenos Ayres, yesterday sought the
darkest egress from his woes and disappoint-
ments — a suicide's death.

In an unpretentious lodging-house in Pennsyl-
vania avenue, near the Capitol, the man who as
much, if not more than any other agitator, is
said to have blazed the way to the Civil War,
the writer who stirred this nation to its core
by his anti-slavery philippics, and the promoter
with the most gigantic railroad enterprise pro-
jected in the history of the world, was found
gript in the icy hand of death. The brain which
gave birth to his historic writings had willed the
stilling of the heart which for three-quarters of
a century had palpitated quick and high with
roseate hopes.

That passage, taken at hazard from a news-
paper, is intended, I think, to be fine writing of
an imposing and dramatic kind. Why could not


the writer have written it, a little more care-
fully perhaps, but still in just the language which
he would have used naturally in describing the
event to Lis wife or friend? Simply stated, it
would have been far more solemn and impressive
than this turgid, insincere account with its large
words, its forced note of tragedy and its split
infinitive. Let me put beneath it another de-
scription of a death-bed:

The blood and spirits of Le Fevre, which were
waxing cold and slow, and were retreating to
their last citadel, the heart — rallied back, — the
film forsook his eyes for a moment, — he looked
up wishfully into my Uncle Toby's face, — then
cast a look upon his boy, — and that ligament, fine
as it was, — was never broken.

Nature instantly ebbed again, — the film re-
turned to its place, — the pulse fluttered, — stopt,
— went on, — throbbed, — stopt again, — moved, —
stopt, — shall I go on? No.

This famous passage is neither unintentional
sentiment nor unaffected pathos. The art is
apparent even in the punctuation. The writer
meant to be touching and pathetic and to awaken
emotions of tenderness and pity and he succeeded.
The description is all he meant it to be. The ex-
tract from the newspaper arouses no emotion,


unless it be resentment at its form and leaves us

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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeThe best of the world's classics, restricted to prose (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 18)