Now featuring organization!

What is at the core of Western Tradition? For what paramount value did Socrates die drinking hemlock and Bacon die freezing chickens? Why, end-user convenience, of course! And so dig, if you will, this picture: all my entries organized by volume. I include the titles of the volumes, direct from great-grandfather's spines, in order to give you an idea of what the HC is all about -- an ingredient list, if you will, of the Five Foot Shelf's old-school intellectual muesli.

Volume 1: Franklin, Woolman, Penn
Volume 2: Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius
Volume 3: Bacon, Milton's Prose, Thos. Browne
Volume 4: Complete Poems In English, Milton
Volume 5: Essays and English Traits, Emerson
Volume 6: Poems and Songs, Burns
Volume 7: Confessions of St. Augustine, Imitation of Christ
Volume 8: Nine Greek Dramas
Volume 9: Letters and Treatises of Cicero and Pliny
Volume 10: Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
Volume 11: Origin of Species, Darwin
Volume 12: Plutarch's Lives
Volume 13: Aeneid, Virgil
Volume 14: Don Quixote Part I, Cervantes
Volume 15: Pilgrim's Progress, Donne & Herbert, Bunyan, Walton
Volume 16: The Thousand and One Nights
Volume 17: Folk-lore and Fable, Aesop, Grimm, Andersen
Volume 18: Modern English Drama (Warning: ends at Browning)
Volume 19: Faust, Egmont, etc. Doctor Faustus, Goethe, Marlowe
Volume 20: The Divine Comedy, Dante
Volume 21: I Promessi Sposi, Manzoni
Volume 22: The Odyssey, Homer
Volume 23: Two Years Before The Mast, Dana
Volume 24: On the Sublime, French Revolution, etc., Burke
Volume 25: Autobiography, etc., Essays and Address, J.S. Mill, T. Carlyle
Volume 26: Continental Drama
Volume 27: English Essays, Sidney to Macaulay
Volume 28: Essays English and American
Volume 29: Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin
Volume 30: Faraday, Helmholtz, Kelvin, Newcomb, etc. (Warning: sciency)
Volume 31: Autobiography, Benvenuto Cellini !!!
Volume 32: Lieterary and Philosophical Essays, Montaigne, Sainte Beuve, Renan, etc.
Volume 33: Voyages and Travels
Volume 34: French and English Philosophers, Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hobbes
Volume 35: Chronicle and Romance, Froissart, Malory, Holinshed
Volume 36: Machiavelli, More, Luther Or, "the one I took to college to save money and lost, thereby destroying the value of the set."
Volume 37: Locke, Berkeley, Hume Never again.
Volume 38: Harvey, Jenner, Lister, Pasteur
Volume 39: Famous Prefaces
Volume 40: English Poetry 1: Chaucer to Gray
Volume 41: English Poetry 2: Collins to Fitzgerald
Volume 42: English Poetry 3: Tennyson to Whitman
Volume 43: American Historical Documents
Volume 44: Sacred Writings 1
Volume 45: Sacred Writings 2
Volume 46: Elizabethan Drama 1
Volume 47: Elizabethan Drama 2
Volume 48: Thoughts and Minor Works, PascalVolume 49: Epic and Saga

Man, just typing these titles out brings back memories. Not of anything I read -- all that stuff has already gone right out of my head. But memories of doing the act of reading them: in the fine California sun of a morning, or while waiting for my daughter to finish her clarinet lesson. For the unemployed man with a mortgage, reading these books proved a great distraction from unmitigated terror. (Distraction from terror is probably the primitive origin of all philosophy and literature -- to help us forget that we have caught, or someday will catch, gangrene.)

And I realize how little I read of each book, how I only scratched the surface (to continue the gangrene metaphor). It's pretty humbling, even for a hardened dilettante like me. Not as humbling as reading my own writing would be, though. But that is a task I can happily leave to you.

And now it's really over

The press of work (office jobs suck) has prevented me from really engaging with the legacy of this project. In some ways, when thinking about it, I fold it into the general experience of my year of un- and under-employment, instead of evaluating it on its own terms. But I have to come to terms with it, and soon, because I promised I would write an essay about it for some anthology of Manly Men Writing Manly-ly About Masculine Things; I think they're looking for something lighter to contrast with pieces about failed love affairs and unexpected illness. I pitched my essay as a journal of a midlife crisis project -- the way other middle-aged guys train to run a marathon, or take to carpentry, I sat on my ass and read Burke. 5t suited me.

But the trouble I'm having is the Drawing Conclusions part. I think it's because I didn't start this or continue it, in order to draw conclusions-- or even, really, to learn anything. I wouldn't say that I'm smarter or wiser or better for the experience. I just did it because I thought it was a fun thing to do. If there's any wisdom I gained, it's that I have learned to accept myself as the kind of eccentric individual who thinks it's fun to read something written by one Dead White Guy and selected by another.

And I should say one other thing. In my cynical way, I was always aware of the Harvard Classics as a way for Collier's Publishing to make money off of free content by selling it as status to people like my great-grandfather. But we cynics are all idealists too; and I do believe in the tradition it represents. Not that we should sacralize it, or ignore everything outside of it, but these works are often useful and at times beautiful, and now, it's our turn to keep them meaningful. And so I'm most satisfied that I joined with you, my small but faithful readers, to play my part to shore these fragments against our ruin.