FIFTEEN MINUTES A DAY
DECEMBER READING GUIDE
(Please proceed to the “Harvard Classics” under the section “Categories” on a daily basis)
When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail. . .
SHAKESPEARE (Vol. 40, p. 262)
1. Are Skeptics Faulty Thinkers?
Offhand we say a skeptic is one w h o doubts everything. But
does he? A n d are his doubts caused by too much learning, or too
little? Berkeley presents both sides of skepticism.
Read from Berkeley’s THREE DIALOGUES Vol. 37, pp. 189-199
2. Practical Jokes in King Arthur’s Day
Attacked in fun by two masked knights, Sir Galahad smote one
so that both horse and rider went down. Turning on the other
jester, he slashed open his helmet.
Read from THE HOLY GRAIL Vol. 35, pp. 128-134
3. Met the Gods of Ten Thousand Worlds
After three awesome messengers have issued three warnings, the
gods of ten thousand worlds decide who is to be the new Buddha.
Then the parents, the conception, the birth of the god-child demand
Read: THE BIRTH OF THE BUDDHA Vol. 45, pp. 603-612
4. The Queen Weds a Poor Stranger
AEneas and Dido, world-famous lovers, while hunting in the
forest, were trapped in a cave by a furious storm. There the
marriage between the proud African queen and the homeless
wanderer was completed.
Read from Virgil’s AENEID Vol. 13, pp. 152-162
5. Poems by an Artist’s Model
So beautiful that many painters sought her for a model—
Christina Rossetti, sister of the famous poet, Dante Rossetti, combined
with her unusual beauty a rare poetic sense.
(Christina Georgina Rossetti born Dec. 5, 1830.)
Read: CHRISTINA ROSSETTI’S POEMS Vol. 42, pp. 1181-1183
6. Moralizing as a Seductive Art
“The Vision of Mirza” and “Westminster Abbey,” first printed
in “The Spectator,” are examples of Addison’s wondrous gift
of expression. He leads us to higher realms.
(Last issue of “The Spectator” published Dec. 6, 1712.)
Read: Addison’s ESSAYS Vol. 27, pp. 73-80
7. What Cicero Least Expected
After being governor of Sicily, Cicero returned to Rome expecting
a hero’s welcome. When he asked what the Romans thought
of his recent achievements, he received an astounding answer.
(Cicero slain by Mark Antony’s soldiers, Dec. 7, 43 B. C.)
Read from Plutarch’s CICERO Vol. 12, pp. 222-231
8. Dream Women Shaped His Destiny
De Quincy imagined that three women were sent to him so that
he might know the depths of his soul. Real women could not
have wielded greater influence. It is fortunate that everyone does
not meet these weird women.
(Thomas De Quincy died Dec. 8, /S59.)
Read: LEVANA AND OUR LADIES OF SORROW. Vol. 27, pp. 319-325
9. Slavery’s Last Stand
By the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stringent laws were made to
prevent assistance being given to any slaves attempting to escape.
The antislavery answer to these laws was a perfection of the
Read: THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT Vol. 43, pp. 306-312
10. Benvenuto Boasts of Gallantry
T a k i n g offense at a soldier who made advances toward his
favorite lady, Cellini jumped from the window, knife in hand,
to avenge himself. This incident was recorded with characteristic
conceit by Cellini in his amazing diary.
Read from CELLINI’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY Vol. 31, pp. 62-72
11. The Most Dashing Figure in Athens
The handsome Alcibiades, cunning in politics, bold in war, was
the lion of Athenian society until he violated the secrets of a
mysterious religious cult. Then all outraged Athens united to
dash their idol to the ground.
Read from Plutarch’s ALCIBIADES Vol. 12, pp. 106-117
12. How the Glorious News was Carried to Aix
Three brave men began the heroic ride from Ghent to A i x . Only
one man arrived to tell the thrilling story of the tempestuous
ride. In one of his most bewitching poems, in lines that haunt
the memory, Browning retells the story.
(Robert Browning died Dec. 12, 1889,)
Read: BROWNING’S POEMS Vol. 42, pp. 1066-1068
13. To the South Seas with the Gallant Drake
A famous voyage was Sir Francis Drake’s around the world.
Drake’s crew, the first white men to visit many parts of the
world, received amazing receptions from the natives.
(Sir Francis Drake embarked for South Seas, Dec. 13, 1577.)
Read from DRAKE’S VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD Vol. 33, pp. 199-208
14. Pastoral Poems and Politics
The many-sided Marvell, who wielded a pen that was both
feared and courted, is seen at his best in stirring verse. “A
Garden,” “Prospect of Flowers,” with the “Horatian Ode upon
Cromwell,” show the power of his genius.
(Marvell entered Cambridge, Dec. 14, 1633.)
Read: MARVELL’S POEMS Vol. 40, pp. 370-379
15. Odysseus Talks with Ghosts
This is another of those marvelous and unforgetable tales of the
wandering Odysseus. T h e fantasy takes him into regions where
he discourses with deceased heroes.
Read from Homer’s ODYSSEY Vol. 22, pp. 145-153
16. How Man’s Courtship Differs from Animal’s
Beauty is an important factor in the attraction between man and
woman. It is knowing beauty that differentiates man from the
animals, which only require that their mates be of the same
Read from Burke’s THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL Vol. 24, pp. 37-48
17. Dies on the Eve of Her Son’s Conversion
The mother of St. Augustine prayed unceasingly for her son’s
conversion. The most touching, most soul-revealing writing St.
Augustine did is in the description of his mother’s death.
Read from CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE Vol. 7, pp. 150-160
18. For a Gentleman
Every schoolboy asks: “What’s the use of learning Latin?”
John Locke, one of the greatest educators of all time, maintains
that Latin is absolutely essential to a well-bred gentleman, and
Read from SOME THOUGHTS CONCERNING EDUCATION. .Vol. 37, pp. 136-145
19. Samson Finds a Champion
The mighty Samson was blinded while a captive of the
Philistines. He sought revenge—a revenge devastating and cosdy.
Milton, himself a giant of intellect, blind and imprisoned, wrote
of this sightless giant of other days.
(Milton released from prison, Dec. 19, 1660.)
Read: Milton’s SAMSON AGONISTES Vol. 4, pp. 444-459
20. Egypt Visited by the First Reporter
All phases of life were pictured by Herodotus in his history.
Like a modern newspaper reporter, he combines weird stories,
scandals, and battle accounts with descriptions of places, persons,
and sights about town.
Read from Herodotus’ AN ACCOUNT OF EGYPT Vol. 33, pp. 7-17
21. “Madam Bubble” Not to Be Discouraged
“Madam Bubble,” or this vain world, presented both herself and
her purse to the wayfarer. Repulsed and scorned, yet she serenely
flaunts her bribes enticingly before his bewildered eyes.
(John Bunyan made leader of Non-Conformist congregation, Dec. 21, 1671.)
Read from Bunyan’s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS Vol. 15, pp. 306-318
22. Rubbing Noses in New Zealand
Darwin, in exploring N e w Zealand, finds cannibalism, tattooing,
and many weird customs among the natives. Instead of shaking
hands, the salutation is by rubbing noses.
(Darwin visits New Zealand natives, Dec. 22, 1835.)
Read from Darwin’s VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 425-434
23. Saved from a Bonfire of Books
If all the books in the world were on fire, some men would risk
their lives to save certain priceless writings: the world’s classics.
Sainte-Beuve here tells why.
(Sainte-Beuve born Dec. 23, 1804.)
Read: Sainte-Beuve’s WHAT IS A CLASSIC? Vol. 32, pp. 121-133
24. Christmas Made a dull Day
Before the Reformation in England almost every third day was
a holy day. But the Puritans abolished all the holy days, even
Read from HOLINSHED’S CHRONICLES Vol. 35, pp. 266-270
25. The Christmas Story
Luke was a Greek physician, a man of culture, trained in the
best universities of the ancient world. He became imbued with
the spirit of Christ, and wrote the most beautiful story of the
birth and life of Jesus.
Read from the GOSPEL OF ST. LUKE Vol. 44, pp. 357-360
26. Silence Cost Her a Kingdom
Cordelia, daughter of old King Lear, could not convince her
father of her love for him. Afterward, when misfortunes made
h im accept her aid, he learned too late of her real devotion.
(“King Lear” presented at Queen Elizabeth’s court, Dec. 26, 1606.)
Read from Shakespeare’s KING LEAR Vol. 46, pp. 288-300
27. Million-Year-Old Islands
It was the new-old lands that Darwin visited on his voyage of
the “Beagle.” The strange specimens of prehistoric life he saw
there made the world gape and shudder.
(Charles Darwin begins voyage in the “Beagle,” Dec. 27, 1831.)
Read from Darwin’s VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE Vol. 29, pp. 376-389
28. Ho! for the Spanish Main!
Drake with a fleet of twenty-five ships and twenty-three hundred
men sets sail to plunder and lay waste Spain’s treasure hoards in
the N e w World. Gold and silver bar, nuggets and jewels awaited
the bold adventurers.
Read from DRAKE’S GREAT ARMADA Vol. 33, pp. 229-240
29. These Guests Outstayed Their Welcome
After twenty years’ absence, Odysseus returned home to find his
house filled with strangers rioting and wasting his treasure.
Crafty Odysseus, w i t h the aid of his son and the gods, devised a
bold plan to rid his home of the unwelcome guests.
Read from Homer’s ODYSSEY Vol. 22, pp. 296-309
30. Dana Meets a Tattooed Sailor
Dana’s description of the picturesque, pre-gold-rush California
is unique. While he was on the Pacific coast he met a British
sailor who was elaborately tattooed and of an unforgetable appearance
Read from Dana’s Two YEARS BEFORE THE MAST Vol. 23, pp. 77-86
31. Curiosity and Interest as Guides to Reading
The most unhappy man, Carlyle says, is the man w h o has no
real work—no interest in life. T o avoid this miserable state, he
advises faithful and diligent reading along the lines dictated by
curiosity and interest.
Read from Carlyle’s INAUGURAL ADDRESS Vol. 25, pp. 364-374
Basic unity of religions is strikingly revealed in the similarity between
the Ten Commandments of Moses and the Precepts of Buddha.
(See Reading Assignment for December 3rd.)
THE FOUNTAIN OF WISDOM FLOWS THROUGH BOOKS.