Have you ever dug a ditch? John Adams did. This is how he described it when, at age 15, John told his father he was done with Latin and education in general.
John’s father, a farmer and outdoorsman, however, wanted his son to study Latin to prepare for Harvard College. When John protested, his father replied: “Well, John, if Latin-grammar does not suit you, you may try ditching, perhaps that will; my meadow yonder needs a ditch, and you may put by Latin and try that.”
Young John looked forward to the “delightful change,” only to discover after a day and a half of hard, backbreaking work that he preferred Latin to labor after all. But he felt too humiliated to admit this to his father.
Finally, at nightfall,“toil conquered pride, and I told my father, one of the severest trials of my life, that, if he chose, I would go back to Latin grammar. He was glad of it; and if I have since gained any distinction, it has been owing to the two days’ labor in that abominable ditch.” (Diggins, John Patrick. John Adams. Henry Holt & Company, 2003.)
Perhaps you are like me. I too learned early in life that my occupation would not be digging ditches, and likewise, my father used to warn me about neglecting an education. And as a young man, the days of higher education seemed too distant in the future to warrant much worry. Perhaps you are like me in that way too.
Or perhaps now you look at your current stage of life and feel that the time is past.
Too soon, too late. Are either of these two things actually true?
Never Too Soon, Never Too Late
Years ago I was lunching with two youthful scholars where we discussed all the educational opportunities and potential that lay before them. I enthusiastically explained, Why wait to go to Harvard? You can get that liberal arts education now! You can access the world of Harvard electronically!
What I was introducing them to, as I have done for you, is The Harvard Classics. These precious texts can be accessed by PDF or via audio. One could theoretically listen to them for as little as 15-minutes a day as a way to begin. An entire Harvard education can be had in bites.
The Harvard Classics Mapped Out Just For you
The creators at myharvardclassics.com knew that The Harvard Classics as compiled by Dr. Charles W. Eliot was a treasure to the world. But they also knew that the collection of writings could be daunting to approach for many people. Here is what they have to say:
The Harvard Classics are a collection of the most important books, scientific writings, philosophical arguments, poems, fiction, drama, political theory, pivotal speeches and sacred texts from the entire range of human intellectual activity. The Harvard Classics are the works of 302 of the greatest minds whose writings and discoveries are the foundation for all human knowledge today. You will be certain to cover most of the readings you were supposed to read in high school and college but did not get around to. Finally able to check those off your to do list. The Harvard Classics were designed to give all the elements of a general university or liberal education at home in one year with 15 minutes of diligent reading a day using an exclusive reading schedule. The mission of The Harvard Classics is to provide the means of obtaining such knowledge of ancient and modern literature as deemed essential to be a cultivated person.
Charles Eliot developed selections from the 50 volumes for reading 15 minutes a day individually or with your children ages 12 and older. Dr. Eliot chose many stories, poems, tales, plays arranged for maturing children and adults. These books were once the curriculum of a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts from Harvard! The education offered there today pales in comparison to the richness and beauty of this classical journey.
Take a look at some of these timeless treasures.
Volume 1 - Benjamin Franklin, John Woolman, William Penn Volume 2 - Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius Volume 3 - Bacon, Milton's Prose, Thomas Browne Volume 4 - Milton, Complete Poems in English Volume 5 - Emerson, Essays and English Traits Volume 6 - Robert Burns, Poems and Songs Volume 7 - The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Imitation of Christ Volume 8 - Nine Greek Dramas Volume 9 - Letters and Treatises of Cicero and Pliny Volume 10 - Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations Volume 11 - Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species Volume 12 - Plutarch's Lives Volume 13 - Virgil, Aeneid Volume 14 - Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part I Volume 15 - Pilgrim's Progress, Donne and Herbert, Walton Volume 16 - The Thousand and One Nights Volume 17 - Folk-Lore and Fable: Aesop, Grimm, Andersen Volume 18 - Modern English Drama Volume 19 - Faust, Egmont, etc., Goethe, Doctor Faustus, Marlowe Volume 20 - Dante, The Divine Comedy Volume 21 - Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi Volume 22 - Homer, The Odyssey Volume 23 - Dana, Two Years Before the Mast Volume 24 - Burke, On the Sublime, French Revolution, etc. Volume 25 - J. S. Mill and Thomas Carlyle Volume 26 - Continental Drama Volume 27 - English Essays, Sidney to Macaulay Volume 28 - Essays, English and American Volume 29 - Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle Volume 30 - Scientific Papers: Faraday, Helmholtz, Kelvin, Newcomb, etc. Volume 31 - Cellini, Autobiography Volume 32 - Montaigne, Sainte-Beuve, Renan, etc. Volume 33 - Voyages and Travel Volume 34 - Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hobbes Volume 35 - Froissart, Malory, Holinshed Volume 36 - Machiavelli, More, Luther Volume 37 - Locke,Berkeley,Hume Volume 38 - Scientific Papers: Harvey, Jenner, Lister, Pasteur Volume 39 - Famous Prefaces Volume 40 - English Poetry I Volume 41 - English Poetry II Volume 42 - English Poetry III Volume 43 - American Historical Documents Volume 44 - Sacred Writings I Volume 45 - Sacred Writings II Volume 46 - Elizabethan Drama I Volume 47 - Elizabethan Drama II Volume 48 - Blaise Pascal, Thoughts and Minor Works Volume 49 - Epic and Saga Volume 50 - Introduction, Reader's Guide, Indexes Volume 51 - Lectures
Use this Reading Guide 15 minutes a day and become a cultivated scholar with all the elements of a liberal education in one year!
You can begin here https://www.myharvardclassics.com/
An Opportunity to Learn
The education imparted by these books is one of the best liberal arts educations in the world. Can you spare 15-minutes per day while you drive, or in the evenings, over lunch, or a break time?
I am not affiliated with this organization, but I have used this as a convenient way to learn. The cost of $45 per year seems very modest for such a superior educational opportunity.
Image attribution: The Lowell House at Harvard University, Carrie, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons