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The Harvard Classics, vol. 28: Essays English and American

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When Charles William Eliot assembled The Harvard Classics—more commonly known as The Five-Foot Shelf and later the Shelf of Fiction—he gathered this epic collection of key works which he thought would best represent “the progress of man… from the earliest historical times to the close of the nineteenth century.” God reveals himself through history and literature—through the thoughts of philosophers, the characters of great fiction, and the cadences of poetic verse. These classics are vital tools for study and ministry, because they cultivate the life of the mind and reveal the intricacies of human nature.

  • Essays: English and American
The Harvard Classics provided the general reader with a great storehouse of standard works in all the main departments of intellectual activity. To this storehouse the Lectures now open the door. Through the Lectures the student is introduced to a vast range of topics, under the guidance of distinguished professors. The Five-Foot Shelf, with its introductions, notes, guides to reading, and exhaustive indexes, may claim to constitute a reading course unparalleled in comprehensiveness and authority.

—William Allan Nelson, Editor-in-Chief, Webster's New International Dictionary, 1934

The Lecture Series on the contents of The Harvard Classics ought to do much to open that collection of literary materials to many ambitious young men and women whose education was cut short by the necessity of contributing in early life to the family earnings, or of supporting themselves...It will certainly promote the accomplishment of the educational object I had in mind when I made the collection.

—Charles W. Eliot, President, Harvard University, 1869

  • Title: The Harvard Classics, vol. 28: Essays English and American
  • Editor: Charles William Eliot
  • Series: The Harvard Classics
  • Publisher: P. F. Collier & Son
  • Pages: 488
Charles William Eliot

Charles W. Eliot (1834–1926) was selected as Harvard’s president in 1869 and served for 40 years, the longest term as president in the university’s history. Eliot graduated from Harvard in 1853 and in 1958 was appointed to assistant professor of mathematics and chemistry.

Eliot left Harvard in 1863 and traveled Europe for nearly two years, studying the educational systems of the Old World. After returning home in 1865, Eliot accepted the position of professor of analytical chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He published his ideas about reforming American higher education in a compelling two-part article in The Atlantic Monthly, the nation’s leading journal of opinion.

In 1869, Harvard had found itself in a crisis of short-term presidents and languishing curriculum, so it turned to Charles W. Eliot. Under his leadership, Harvard began to expand the range of courses offered, permitting undergraduates with unrestricted choice in selecting their courses of study. The university soon became a center for advanced scientific and technological research.

Eliot assembled The Harvard Classics, more commonly known as “The Five-Foot Shelf” and the “Shelf of Fiction,” as a way to gather a collection of works that would best represent “the progress of man.”


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