The first volume in the Harvard Classics is actually pretty good. It consists of three works:
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin , by Benjamin Franklin
- Journal, by John Woolman
- Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn
All were actually fairly readable from my perspective although I enjoyed the writing of Franklin the most and Woolman the least with Penn being somewhere in the middle.
Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography covers essentially the first half of his life as he passed away before he could finish writing it. He is very modest and actually matter of fact in relating the events of his life. He also has a very witty writing style that is very fun to read. Franklin was essentially a self-made man although you don’t really get that from his writing. It is clear that he was very shrewd and a heck of a businessman to go from runaway apprentice to one of the leading men of the colony in a short span of time. What is even more astonishing is that he was also self-taught having only two years of formal schooling when he was 8 and 9 and teaching himself everything through a love of reading and then reading essentially everything he could get his hands on.
John Woolman was a Quaker minister who traveled extensively throughout the colonies in the middle years of the eighteenth century before dying in 1772 on a voyage to England. I found this work to be somewhat difficult to read. It is essentially a diary he kept for his own consumption so it is quite short on details. It does touch on his opposition to slavery and he explains the logic of his opposition quite well and compellingly I think. He also goes to some length to explain his disdain for worldly things which is nothing less than one would expect from a Quaker preacher at the beginning of the Great Awakening. What makes the Journal difficult to read the very stilted way he writes for the most part. Ther are parts that are good but it mostly reads like exactly what it is, a travelogue of where he went and how long it took him to get there.
William Penn’s book is both profound and entertaining at the same time. It is essentially a list of proverbs and words of wisdom he put together himself about a very large variety of subjects from marriage to passion and everything in between. It is not something to read cover to cover at one sitting but is better digested by reading it in small chunks and thinking about what he says. He makes some pretty good points that don’t always jump out immediately.
I am pleasantly surprised so far in the reading of the Harvard Classics. I am pretty sure I wont feel this way when I get to the volumes of poetry but I am determined to plow my way through all of them. They would not have retained there fame for over a century if they were not worth reading.