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[Illustration: HENRY CABOT LODGE]


_of the_






_Associate Editor_

With an Introduction, Biographical and
Explanatory Notes, etc.


Vol. I






* * * * *

The Best of the World's Classics



484 B.C. - 200 A.D.

* * * * *


Ever since civilized man has had a literature he has apparently sought
to make selections from 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
collections 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 authority for the
practise. In any event no amount of scholarly deprecation has been
able to turn mankind 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 volumes
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, comparatively 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 grievously. 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
vocabulary, so the former adds to his knowledge, increases his stock
of ideas, liberalizes his mind and opens to him new sources of

The Greek habit was to bring together selections of verse, passages
of especial merit, epigrams and short poems. In the main their example
has been followed. From their days down to the "Elegant Extracts in
Verse" of our grandmothers 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 selection. 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,
of 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
practically 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 official

I have mentioned these advantages of verse for the purposes of an
anthology in order to show the difficulties 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
great 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 difficulty and thus make the
selections in form what they ought above all things to be - companions
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 questions 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 literature which is
the highest work of civilization and which is at once noble and

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 complete 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 degree of incompleteness
inevitable when he who is gathering flowers traverses so vast a
garden, and is obliged to confine the results 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
voluntarily 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 possible his work must be free from the personal equation. He must
recognize that some authors who 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 representative.

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 attempts to explain their
appearance. On the other hand, Mr. Palgrave, neither a very remarkable
man nor a great and original genius, gave us in the first "Golden
Treasury" a collection 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 Treasury" 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 general 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." Therefore, 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 scholarship 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 fine 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 reading, 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 delectation such a collection as this is
primarily intended, 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 greatest
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 examples 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 example, 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 of 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 Thucydides
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
unsatisfying 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 awaken pleasant memories, they revive old
delights, 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
memorable examples of English prose. Still they are not the original
writings. Something escapes in the translation into another tongue,
an impalpable something which can not be held or transmitted. 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 fortunate in its possession, wisely
and absolutely decline to give up in exchange for any revision is
neither an accurate nor a faithful reproduction 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 gratification which 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 understood, in making selections
from those writers whose native tongue is English, specimens have been
given of all periods from the earliest time and occasionally of
authors who would not otherwise find a place in such a collection, for
the purpose of tracing in outline the development of English prose and
the formation of an English style which, like all true and great
styles, is peculiar to the language and can not be reproduced in any
other. This is not the place, nor would it be feasible within any
reasonable limits to narrate the history of English prose. But in
these selections it is possible to follow its gradual advance from the
first rude and crude attempts through the splendid irregularities of
the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to the establishment of a
standard of style in the eighteenth and thence onward to the
modifications and changes in that standard which extend to our own

The purpose of this collection is not didactic. If it were it would be
a school-book and not an anthology in the Greek sense, where the
first principle was to seek what was of literary value, artistic in
expression, and noble in thought. Yet the mere bringing together of
examples of prose from the writings of the great masters of style can
not but teach a lesson never more needed than now.

I do not mean by this to suggest imitation of any writer. Nothing is
more dangerous, especially when the style of the writer imitated is
peculiar and strongly marked. That which is valuable and instructive
is the opportunity given here for a study of fine English styles, and
in this way to learn the capabilities of the language and the general
principles which have governed the production of the best English
prose. We have in the English language an unequaled richness of
vocabulary far surpassing in extent that of any other tongue. It
possesses a great literature and a body of poetry unrivaled in modern
times. It is not only one of the strongest bonds of union in the
United States, but it is the language in which our freedom was won and
in which our history and our laws are written. It is our greatest
heritage. To weaken, corrupt or deprave 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 magazines, 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 estimated, for loose, weak and vulgar writing is a sure
precursor of loose, weak and vulgar thinking. If form of expression is
cast 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 selections 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 Milton, stiff with golden embroidery, as Macaulay says, and
in the touching and beautiful simplicity of Bunyan's childlike
sentences. Thence we pass to the eighteenth century, when English
prose was freed from its involutions and irregularities 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. Patrick'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 writing 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
careful 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
jauntiness 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 disappointments - a
suicide's death.

In an unpretentious lodging-house in Pennsylvania 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 projected 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 newspaper, 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 carefully perhaps, but still
in just the language which he would have used naturally in describing
the event to his 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 description 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 returned to its
place, - the pulse fluttered, - stopt, - went
on, - throbbed, - stopt again, - moved, - stopt, - shall I go on?

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
extract from the newspaper arouses no emotion, unless it be
resentment at its form and leaves us cold and unmoved. The other is
touching and pitiful. Observe the manner in which Sterne obtains his

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