Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Self-Education by Reading

April 24, 2023
The following is a letter to the editor: 
Charles Eliot was President of Harvard from 1869 to 1909, a period of 40 years. During this time, he implemented a number of reforms that transformed the university from a backwater divinity school into one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.
Charles Eliot believed that a person could gain a first-class education from a book collection. He argued that the best way to acquire knowledge was to read widely across a variety of subjects, and he believed that Harvard Classics could provide the necessary foundation for a solid liberal arts education. He also argued that reading these books would help cultivate a person’s intelligence and imagination, as well as provide an understanding of the great works of literature and philosophy.
Eliot created the Harvard Classics in 1909 which consists of 51 volumes of classic works from a variety of genres, including fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, philosophy, religion, and science. It includes works from ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment period. It features works by some of the world’s most influential authors, including Plato, Augustine, Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton, Voltaire, Darwin, and Twain.
Charles Eliot chose the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as the first book in the Harvard Classics because he saw Franklin as a model of the self-made and self-educated man who exemplified the American ideals of hard work, thrift, and self-improvement. Eliot also admired Franklin for his creative and practical approaches to problem-solving and business.
The Harvard Classics were published by P.F. Collier & Son. An estimated 2 million sets were published between 1909 and 1917.
The collection can still be readily found on the internet. I bought a pristine 110-year-old 51-volume set. for $350. You can acquire the entire set including the fiction collection (total of 180 books) on Kindle from Amazon for free.
Eliot said, “Teach students how to think not what to think.”
Educators today should relearn that lesson.
– Phil Gallagher, Burlington Public Library trustee

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