June 23: The Most Depressing Reading In The World

Too much studying will make you turn green (I have heard)

When I was in college, and feeling pretty proud of my promise, which I was assured was great, I happened to be assigned Mill's Autobiography, and it was this sentence where I first saw my place and was put in it: "I have no remembrance of the time when I began to learn Greek. I have been told that it was when I was three years old."

Damn! But wait, there's more:
I learnt no Latin until my eighth year. [punk! -- ed.] At that time I had read, under my father’s tuition, a number of Greek prose authors, among whom I remember the whole of Herodotus, and of Xenophon’s Cyropædia and Memorials of Socrates; some of the lives of the philosophers by Diogenes Laertius; part of Lucian, and Isocrates ad Demonicum and Ad Nicoclem....From my eighth to my twelfth year the Latin books which I remember reading were, the Bucolics of Virgil, and the first six books of the Æneid; all Horace except the Epodes; the Fables of Phædrus; the first five books of Livy (to which from my love of the subject I voluntarily added, [emphasis added for exasperation -- ed.] in my hours of leisure, the remainder of the first decade); all Sallust; a considerable part of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; some plays of Terence; two or three books of Lucretius; several of the Orations of Cicero, and of his writings on oratory; also his letters to Atticus, my father taking the trouble to translate to me from the French the historical explanations in Mongault’s notes. In Greek I read the Iliad and Odyssey through; one or two plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, though by these I profited little; all Thucydides; the Hellenics of Xenophon; a great part of Demosthenes, Æschines, and Lysias; Theocritus; Anacreon; part of the Anthology; a little of Dionysius; several books of Polybius; and lastly Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which, as the first expressly scientific treatise on any moral or psychological subject which I had read, and containing many of the best observations of the ancients on human nature and life, my father made me study with peculiar care, and throw the matter of it into synoptic tables.
Your science fair diorama with the erupting volcano is looking worse and worse, isn't it? (Don't feel bad, though; I didn't even do that.) But it wasn't all a grind there in the Mill household, Father Mill knew how to switch things up:
It was no part however of my father’s system to exclude books of amusement, though he allowed them very sparingly. Of such books he possessed at that time next to none, but he borrowed several for me; those which I remember are the Arabian Nights, Cazotte’s Arabian Tales, Don Quixote, Miss Edgeworth’s “Popular Tales,” and a book of some reputation in its day, Brooke’s Fool of Quality.
One can almost hear the sound of Father Mill's gritting teeth as he allows his lad to ruin himself by reading Don Quixote.

But the worst part is, having read this passage in college and realizing that I was a terrible scholar, now I read it and realize I'm a terrible father. Why don't I make my kids read Quintilian? Why do I tell them about the 1959 "Go-Go" White Sox, when I wouldn't know Xenophon if he suddenly re-animated and went on a book tour? And why are the Harvard Classics people making anyone read this passage? Why make us feel worse -- why would anyone have the Harvard Classics if they weren't insecure enough as it is?

If it weren't for the last paragraph of this chapter, where he talks about how clumsy he is (and which is not included in the reading), the whole thing would be a total wash.

I hate nerds.