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A THOUSAND HOURS OF ENTERTAINMENT
WITH THE WORLD'S GREAT WRITERS
BY JOHN L. STODDARD
CHICAGO AND BOSTON
GEO. L. SHUMAN & CO.
A PROFITABLE use of the great realm of literature, whose confines constantly grow more remote, was never more essential than it is to-day.
The spread of education has enlarged the reading public to such huge proportions, that its choice of books decides the character and conduct of unnumbered millions. To read omnivorously and without discernment gives one mental indigestion. To choose poor, frivolous material impoverishes thought. To read too little starves the soul. Hence in the sphere of letters to discriminate and to select is of the first importance. The recognition of this process is not new.
is not new. Selections from the world's best writings are as old as literature itself. The sacred books of all religions are but compilations of the choicest utterances of their priests and prophets. Even the contents of our Christian Bible were selected out of many books, whose claims to be admitted to the scriptural canon were for centuries contested. In secular writings also there have always been attempts to winnow out the worthless, and retain the good. The famous libraries of antiquity, from the enormous Alexandrian collection to the private literary treasures of such men as Atticus and Cicero, were not promiscuous accumulations of all sorts of manuscripts. If for no other reason, careful choice among the classics and limited quotations from the best were rendered necessary by the scarcity of books.
While manuscripts were rare, and when the labor of transcribing them was irksome and expensive, it was the part of wisdom and economy to make selections. But such survivals of the fittest in our day spring from a far more powerful motive than economy. Human capacity is limited. No man, however longlived and industrious, can absorb more than a fraction of the literary output of the race; and now that this accumulated mass, - already so immense, -receives on the average every year ten thousand new books from Great Britain and America alone, the need of some eclecticism is imperative. The classic name for such a compilation is Anthology, which signified originally a collection of flowers. From this its meaning was quite naturally extended to include the flowers of literature. Many anthologies have been published since the first selection of four thousand poems made by Meleager of Gadara two millenniums ago, yet the compiler of the “Stoddard Library” would fain believe that there is room for still another, planned and constructed for a definite class of readers. He has not aimed to offer in these volumes either an encyclopedia of literature or a history of letters. Their pages have, designedly, no essays on the growth of national literatures, or critical analyses of any of the masterpieces mentioned. They have no extracts from such ancient, almost unknown, authors, as are interesting only to the literary expert. All these are, in their place, both valuable and instructive, and the effort to combine them with a large amount of entertaining reading is commendable. It is, however, possible that an anthology, less comprehensive in its scope and therefore less voluminous and didactic, will meet a genuine want among the rank and file of book lovers and readers, who still believe that works of genius were not written to be analyzed, but to be enjoyed. The author's plan has been to make a carefully selected library of literature, comprised in a small number of attractive volumes, which may be helpful to the average American family. This work, in fact, is specially designed to make it possible for those who have a fair amount of culture, and desire more, to own,-and hence to read with pleasure and advantage at any moment when they wish to do so, - a goodly portion of the best that men have ever thought and written. It is not meant to be a substitute for all the literary treasures found within our public libraries, or for the special books of reference needed by professional men. But it is hoped that it may find a valued place among the volumes of those intimate collections which form the joy and pride of every soulful home. As such, it may assist the reader to use with more advantage the great public libraries, as well as to add wisely to the contents of his own.