The Sixth Foot

Dr Eliot designed the Harvard Classics as a “portable university” for the common man of 1910, whose formal education had more often than not ended at grade school. With an open mind and steady diligence, said Eliot, a dedicated reader would profit greatly from the Classics provided he read them well.

To read well, says Dr Adler, is to analyze, understand, judge, compare with other books, and finally to create something new. This last refers to a new idea, one not to be found in any of the books individually. The reader, ideally, becomes a writer. Thus the discourse between writers and readers grows and contributes, to use Adler’s term, to the “Great Conversation.”

Eliot’s collection is a good vehicle for Adler’s comparative approach. In his introduction, Eliot himself says that there are many ways to read the Classics, but focuses on one: to contrast the ideas of authors writing at different times and places. The Harvard Classics are not merely an assortment of great books, but a deliberate selection carefully cross-indexed with the self-guided education of its readers in mind. 

For Eliot, the purpose of the series was to “develop and foster in many thousands of people a taste of serious reading of the highest quality, outside of the Harvard Classics as well as within them.” Adler’s method demands we go further. 
Eliot was constrained by a self-imposed limit:  that his portable university fit on a five-foot shelf. For Adler, the best way to appreciate the Classics (and every book they lead to)  is to add, each of us for ourselves, a sixth foot.

The Sixth Foot is the collective name for the posts found on this blog. Of each book, the Sixth Foot will ask, and try to answer: Why is it worthwhile? What can we learn from it? How does it fit in the canon and where does it lead us? 

I hope my posts encourage your comments. So continues the conversation.

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