Journey through “Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf.” This massive collection, designed to provide the elements of a liberal education, was compiled by distinguished Harvard University president Charles Eliot in the early 1900s. Packed with the essential works of the Western classical tradition, the Harvard Classics collection remains one of the most comprehensive and well-researched anthologies of all time—a must-have library for students and lovers of the classics.
“The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such” (Page 17)
“I revered our Theology, and aspired as much as any one to reach heaven: but being given assuredly to understand that the way is not less open to the most ignorant than to the most learned, and that the revealed truths which lead to heaven are above our comprehension, I did not presume to subject them to the impotency of my Reason; and I thought that in order competently to undertake their examination, there was need of some special help from heaven, and of being more than man.” (Pages 9–10)
“The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellencies, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it.” (Page 5)
“Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.” (Page 5)
Charles William Eliot (1834–1926) served as president of Harvard University for 40 years, helping to shape the struggling provincial college into a premier American research university. Eliot graduated from Harvard in 1853, and was appointed tutor in mathematics in 1854, before becoming assistant professor of mathematics and chemistry. Eliot left Harvard in 1863 and traveled in Europe for nearly two years, studying the educational systems of the Old World. He took an interest in every aspect of institutional operation, from curriculum and methods of instruction, to physical arrangements and custodial services. But his particular concern was with the relation between education and economic growth.
Returning home in 1865, Eliot accepted an appointment as professor of analytical chemistry at the newly-founded Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1869, he published a two-part article with his ideas about reforming American higher education in The Atlantic Monthly, catching the attention of Harvard businessmen trying to pull the university out of a crisis of short-term presidents and languishing curriculum. Eliot was quickly elected as the youngest president in Harvard’s history. Under his leadership, Harvard began to expand the range of courses offered, permitting undergraduates with unrestricted choice in selecting their courses of study. This enabled them to discover their “natural bents” and pursue them into specialized studies. The university soon became a center for advanced scientific and technological research. During his presidency, the university extended its facilities with laboratories, libraries, classrooms, and athletic facilities. Eliot was able to attract the support of major donors from among the nation’s growing plutocracy, making it the wealthiest private university in the world.