That was the touchstone for long-time Harvard president Charles Eliot in choosing what works to include in The Harvard Classics. Today, few college students read more than a minute fraction of the literature Eliot thought important; most read none at all.
Our latest Martin Center article is an abridgment of the introduction Eliot wrote for the 1910 edition.
“The best acquisition of a cultivated man,” Eliot wrote, “is a liberal frame of mind or way of thinking; but there must be added to that possession acquaintance with the prodigious store of recorded discoveries, experiences, and reflections which humanity in its intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization has acquired and laid up.”
Yes, but if Eliot were around to say that now, he’d incur the wrath of SJW types. Liberalism, in the sense in which Eliot used it, is regarded as a code word for oppression.
If you’d like to fill a five-foot shelf with beautiful volumes that happen to contain a great deal of enlightening reading, The Harvard Classics will do very nicely.