Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The roots of British autodidacticism

This is an interesting story about the history of elite education trickling down to the working class in 19th century Britain:
There were many cheap mass-market series of ‘classics for the masses’ in the 19th century, and organised working-class educators made full use of them. In London, the Working Men’s College became nationally famous under Sir John Lubbock, its principal between 1883 and 1899. Lubbock drew up a list of the 100 books it was most important for a working man to read. The proportion of classical authors is remarkable: Homer, Hesiod, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Plutarch’s Lives, Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Augustine’s Confessions, Plato’s Apology, Crito and Phaedo, Demosthenes’ De Corona, Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Anabasis, Cicero’s On Duties, On Friendship and On Old Age, Virgil, plays by all the tragedians, Aristophanes’ Knights and Clouds, Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus’ Germania, and Livy. In addition, two famous works on ancient history, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89) and George Grote’s A History of Greece (1846-56), make it on to the list as necessary reading for any educated person, along with the most popular novel then in existence set in antiquity, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). After 1887, the classical riches on the bookshelf of the working-class self-educator can, in large measure, be attributed to Lubbock’s ideal curriculum.

Yet the standout name in translated classics is the Everyman’s Library series, launched by Joseph Malaby Dent in 1906. Everyman’s printed 1,000 titles in its first 50 years. Forty-six are listed as ‘classical’ in genre – most standard works of Greek and philosophy, poetry and prose, from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (the first classical text released), through the dramatists and epic poets to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the 1,000th volume published.

Dent was the son of a Darlington painter-decorator who joined a Mutual Improvement Society and caught the literature bug. With his editor Ernest Rhys, he founded the Everyman label. Born into a middle-class family, Rhys began his working life as a coal engineer at Langley Park in County Durham, where he sought to enrich the lives of his co-workers. To the consternation of his conservative line manager, who considered mineworkers to be interested only in drinking and gambling, he established a library in a derelict worker’s cottage. Plato’s Republic was on the inaugural reading list.
It's a worthy legacy. It would be excellent indeed if we were able to do something similar with Castalia; even today one can educate oneself with an Everyman's Library. How many of us, with our expensive university diplomas, are truly as well-educated, or even as well-read, as those working men of yesteryear?

The list of Lubbock's 100 most important books can be reviewed here. It's interesting, as when I contemplate the 100 books selected by Franklin Library and published in the 1980s, there are considerably too many plays and more than a few books that don't even strike me as the best book by the author. When DH Lawrence and Walt Whitman make the list while Sun Tzu and Hermann Hesse don't, well, that just strikes me as hopelessly wrong.

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Blogger RedJack December 18, 2019 6:00 PM  

As a young child, my grandfather gave me some of that very list.

If as you say, Castilla can build this as a torch for the coming dark it is a worthy legacy.

Blogger Andy Evick December 18, 2019 6:09 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Iskander Magnus December 18, 2019 6:27 PM  

Truly a rich seam of treasure to be reworked by Castalia in due course. On the subject of Deluxe editions, how about an Ultra-super Deluxe edition printed on genuine Amalfi traditional pulp-mill paper (It's such a luxurious feel to the page) and bound in traditional fashion. There used to be a market for small wooden cabinets containing small (yeah even tiny) books of special content. I'd buy such a set of important small texts, containing things like, the key Christian Creeds, The Rule of St Benedidct, some choice portions of Pascal, the Confession of St Patrick, The Lord's Prayer + Beatitudes + 10 Commandments, The Latin text (with translation) of Dies Irae, The Libretto of Handel's Messiah.... you can easily think of other such... I'm thinking of a true heirloom of multum in parvo treasure...

Blogger Brett baker December 18, 2019 6:29 PM  

+1, but Core Civilization should be published first.

Blogger map December 18, 2019 6:30 PM  

None of this is surprising. Want to sample the high level of literacy the English public had in even the mid-19th century? Read Charles Dickens. Not A Christmas Carol, but Bleak House, his greatest work.

The language is astonishing in its beauty and complexity. Sentences that run for a paragraph in length, without grammatical errors and that sustain multiple ideas at once. He also gives you a description of the first social justice warrior: Mrs. Jellyby.

Telescopic Philanthropy

We were to pass the night, Mr. Kenge told us when we arrived in his room, at Mrs. Jellyby's; and then he turned to me and said he took it for granted I knew who Mrs. Jellyby was.

"I really don't, sir," I returned. "Perhaps Mr. Carstone—or Miss Clare—"

But no, they knew nothing whatever about Mrs. Jellyby. "In-deed! Mrs. Jellyby," said Mr. Kenge, standing with his back to the fire and casting his eyes over the dusty hearth-rug as if it were Mrs. Jellyby's biography, "is a lady of very remarkable strength of character who devotes herself entirely to the public. She has devoted herself to an extensive variety of public subjects at various times and is at present (until something else attracts her) devoted to the subject of Africa, with a view to the general cultivation of the coffee berry—AND the natives—and the happy settlement, on the banks of the African rivers, of our superabundant home population. Mr. Jarndyce, who is desirous to aid any work that is considered likely to be a good work and who is much sought after by philanthropists, has, I believe, a very high opinion of Mrs. Jellyby."

Mr. Kenge, adjusting his cravat, then looked at us.
"And Mr. Jellyby, sir?" suggested Richard.
"Ah! Mr. Jellyby," said Mr. Kenge, "is—a—I don't know that I can describe him to you better than by saying that he is the husband of Mrs. Jellyby."

"A nonentity, sir?" said Richard with a droll look.
"I don't say that," returned Mr. Kenge gravely. "I can't say that, indeed, for I know nothing whatever OF Mr. Jellyby. I never, to my knowledge, had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Jellyby. He may be a very superior man, but he is, so to speak, merged—merged—in the more shining qualities of his wife." Mr. Kenge proceeded to tell us that as the road to Bleak House would have been very long, dark, and tedious on such an evening, and as we had been travelling already, Mr. Jarndyce had himself proposed this arrangement. A carriage would be at Mrs. Jellyby's to convey us out of town early in the forenoon of to-morrow.

He then rang a little bell, and the young gentleman came in. Addressing him by the name of Guppy, Mr. Kenge inquired whether Miss Summerson's boxes and the rest of the baggage had been "sent round." Mr. Guppy said yes, they had been sent round, and a coach was waiting to take us round too as soon as we pleased.

"Then it only remains," said Mr. Kenge, shaking hands with us, "for me to express my lively satisfaction in (good day, Miss Clare!) the arrangement this day concluded and my (GOOD-bye to you, Miss Summerson!) lively hope that it will conduce to the happiness, the (glad to have had the honour of making your acquaintance, Mr. Carstone!) welfare, the advantage in all points of view, of all concerned! Guppy, see the party safely there."

"Where IS 'there,' Mr. Guppy?" said Richard as we went downstairs.

Blogger map December 18, 2019 6:30 PM  


Blogger map December 18, 2019 6:30 PM  

"No distance," said Mr. Guppy; "round in Thavies Inn, you know."

"I can't say I know where it is, for I come from Winchester and am strange in London."

"Only round the corner," said Mr. Guppy. "We just twist up Chancery Lane, and cut along Holborn, and there we are in four minutes' time, as near as a toucher. This is about a London particular NOW, ain't it, miss?" He seemed quite delighted with it on my account.

"The fog is very dense indeed!" said I.
"Not that it affects you, though, I'm sure," said Mr. Guppy, putting up the steps. "On the contrary, it seems to do you good, miss, judging from your appearance."
I knew he meant well in paying me this compliment, so I laughed at myself for blushing at it when he had shut the door and got upon the box; and we all three laughed and chatted about our inexperience and the strangeness of London until we turned up under an archway to our destination—a narrow street of high houses like an oblong cistern to hold the fog. There was a confused little crowd of people, principally children, gathered about the house at which we stopped, which had a tarnished brass plate on the door with the inscription JELLYBY.

"Don't be frightened!" said Mr. Guppy, looking in at the coach-window. "One of the young Jellybys been and got his head through the area railings!"

"Oh, poor child," said I; "let me out, if you please!"
"Pray be careful of yourself, miss. The young Jellybys are always up to something," said Mr. Guppy.

I made my way to the poor child, who was one of the dirtiest little unfortunates I ever saw, and found him very hot and frightened and crying loudly, fixed by the neck between two iron railings, while a milkman and a beadle, with the kindest intentions possible, were endeavouring to drag him back by the legs, under a general impression that his skull was compressible by those means. As I found (after pacifying him) that he was a little boy with a naturally large head, I thought that perhaps where his head could go, his body could follow, and mentioned that the best mode of extrication might be to push him forward. This was so favourably received by the milkman and beadle that he would immediately have been pushed into the area if I had not held his pinafore while Richard and Mr. Guppy ran down through the kitchen to catch him when he should be released. At last he was happily got down without any accident, and then he began to beat Mr. Guppy with a hoop-stick in quite a frantic manner.

Nobody had appeared belonging to the house except a person in pattens, who had been poking at the child from below with a broom; I don't know with what object, and I don't think she did. I therefore
supposed that Mrs. Jellyby was not at home, and was quite surprised when the person appeared in the passage without the pattens, and going up to the back room on the first floor before Ada and me, announced us as, "Them two young ladies, Missis Jellyby!" We passed several more children on the way up, whom it was difficult to avoid treading on in the dark; and as we came into Mrs. Jellyby's presence, one of the poor little things fell downstairs—down a whole flight (as it sounded to me), with a great noise.
Mrs. Jellyby, whose face reflected none of the uneasiness which we could not help showing in our own faces as the dear child's head recorded its passage with a bump on every stair—Richard afterwards said he counted seven, besides one for the landing—received us with perfect equanimity. She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if—I am quoting Richard again—they could see nothing nearer than Africa!

Blogger Solon December 18, 2019 6:41 PM  

I like Walt Whitman, but beating out The Art of War? I don't see it.

Blogger Al K. Annossow December 18, 2019 6:52 PM  

In good conscience I could not support the Everyman label. Aside from being white, the editor had been a COAL engineer. Now if he had been a WINDMILL engineer, I could at least consider it. But some books by N.K. Jemisin would have to be included. Sun Tzu is OK, but he has not been oppressed enough.

Weak humor aside, perhaps some books that include some basic STEM topics are worthwhile. STEM folks need literature; pseudo-literature folks need STEM.

Blogger Joe December 18, 2019 6:56 PM  

If you're not familiar with it, you might want to check out, The Childrens Encyclopedia by Arthur Mee.

Blogger Jack (LJCSOGHMOMAS) December 18, 2019 6:59 PM  

If you limited yourself to reading old Classics Illustrated comic books, you would still be better educated than 90% of university graduates today.

It's been mentioned before, but go look at collections of letters from soldiers during the American civil war. Their prose - the prose of ordinary men serving as grunts in the field - puts almost everything written today to shame.

Blogger Lovekraft December 18, 2019 7:01 PM  

youtuber Millenial Woes explained that the British enjoy and work well in a class society where each level is permitted to be proud of itself and somewhat antagonistic towards others. Rough and tumble but bred in the bone

o/t great read found at rantingly:

Blogger Ahărôwn December 18, 2019 7:04 PM  

An Everyman's library reprint or something similar? If the copyright is up, that sounds like a good idea - I would be open to something like that.

Of course, they couldn't be exclusively folio reprints, as that would defeat the entire concept.

Blogger Dwight House December 18, 2019 7:05 PM  

Picked up an original 1952 hardcover set of "The Great Books of the Western World", a 54 book set which contains a lot of the stand-outs listed, for about $50 on sale in a used book store. The books are clearly in the put-them-on-the-shelf-to-look-good-but-never-actually-read condition. I see complete copies every few months for around $100 to $200 used in local bookstores. Great value. And, unlike the Collier's Junior Classics series, newer editions mostly just add to the set, with minimal removals.

From the criticism section of Infogalactic's article ( ):

"The choice of authors has come under attack, with some dismissing the project as a celebration of dead European males, ignoring contributions of women and non-European authors."

I can think of few better endorsements.

Blogger Unknown December 18, 2019 7:11 PM  

Established a library in a derelict Coal miner cabin? Yeah it's a. big surprise that they established a World spanning Empire.

Blogger Sam Sutherland December 18, 2019 7:16 PM  

I always suspected that (some) ordinary people in the olden days were better educated than most of the people with whom I attended university, many of whom did not catch even the basic Biblical and Shakespearean allusions in the books we read. I wish I'd had a list of titles like VD provides here when I was younger!

Blogger Azure Amaranthine December 18, 2019 7:46 PM  

"How many of us, with our expensive university diplomas, are truly as well-educated, or even as well-read, as those working men of yesteryear?"

One in ten thousand is too generous. Next to nothing of that would be acquired in the necessary course of attainment of any diploma I'm aware of.

Blogger Bernard Brandt December 18, 2019 7:49 PM  

My late father, whom I venerate as a good and wise man, volunteered for the Army in 1941, and spent WWII in the Signal Corps, helping to rebuild the telephone system of Marseilles after the invasion at Normandy. He went on to become an electric engineer, and had a brilliant career. He remains one of the five smartest people I have ever met, and since my IQ pegged at 169 (Weschler), that is saying something.

I mention this because I remember growing up in Tulsa, and later in LaLa Land, cutting my teeth on his library, which was stocked with Everyman books, and many others besides. He was an accomplished autodidact, and he was kind enough to pass that bug on to me. I honor him for that.

My point in writing all this is that America, like Britain, is a nation of autodidacts, and often in spite of a semi-educated academia. And that every effort to provide anything like the Everyman Library is only the right thing to do.

Blogger Shane Bradman December 18, 2019 7:49 PM  

After finishing my finance major, I felt as though I hadn't learned a thing. I learn more from my own research and readings in a few months than I did in the whole 3 years of college.

Blogger cecilhenry December 18, 2019 8:20 PM  

A good education should automatically lead to and imply autodidacticism.

The internet age makes it easy to do like never before.

Blogger Sargent.matrim December 18, 2019 8:34 PM  

I'd support an Everyman's Library campaign.

Blogger tuberman December 18, 2019 8:58 PM  

Bring back Classic Comic Books.

Blogger George Phillies December 18, 2019 9:18 PM  

With respect to English education in the 19th and 20th centuries, readers might find of interest Correlli Barnett (former keeper of the Churchill Archives), in particular his Pride and Fall series (4 volumes), which give some perspective on how effective various measures were on the broad scale..

Blogger Newscaper312 December 18, 2019 9:21 PM  

I will never forgive DH Lawrence for the soul sucking abomination of Jude the Obscure, which my HS senior AP English teacher made us read in 1983. Basically a horrible story of repeated failure of a working class English kid as he grows up. Perfect for college prep kids, particularly boys with a bit of ambition.
Check the plot summary to see what I mean...

Blogger Bernard Brandt December 18, 2019 9:29 PM  


Just FYI, Newscraper313: The novel, 'Jude the Obscure' was written by Thomas Hardy, not D.H. Lawrence.

And I believe, if you will look at the infogalactic website, you will find that fact there as well. Cheers!

Blogger AaMcavoy December 18, 2019 9:48 PM  

I don't know enough to be able to actually do it, but I hope Castalia's list includes works that show the development of our society's unhealthy obsession with equality.

Blogger James G. December 18, 2019 11:45 PM  

I've read, in more than one place, that the British working class self-help movement and relative independence and autonomy is what inspired Gramsci et al to formulate Cultural Marxism.

The British would not have a proletarian revolution as long as they were religious, literate/well-read, economically self-sufficient, and had strong families. The best way to bring the British proles to the Revolution(tm) was to undermine those institutions that strengthened them: the Church, the Working Men's clubs, Friendly Societies and Co-operatives, and the family unit. Even the unions had their roots more in Methodism than socialism.

Whether or not that's what the Cultural Marxists really set out to do, it is what eventually happened. Anyone who observes this is quite clearly a conspiracy theorist.

Blogger map December 19, 2019 12:12 AM  

James G. wrote:The British would not have a proletarian revolution as long as they were religious, literate/well-read, economically self-sufficient, and had strong families. The best way to bring the British proles to the Revolution(tm) was to undermine those institutions that strengthened them: the Church, the Working Men's clubs, Friendly Societies and Co-operatives, and the family unit. Even the unions had their roots more in Methodism than socialism.

IOW, the British working class had all kinds of intermediary institutions in which to fit in: churches, clubs, families, societies, cooperatives, etc.

Gramsci decided that tearing down these institutions was necessary so that all there will be is a choice between the individual and the state.

Blogger Newscaper312 December 19, 2019 12:35 AM  

Mods, Cleanuo in Aisle 28-32!

@25 Brandt
DOH!, my bad. I'll blame it on being home with the flu.
My complaint about the sheer miserableness of the story still stands for 17 and 18 year olds.
I think I may have had to read DHL's Sons and Lovers, which is another miserable 'deep' story.

Anonymous Anonymous December 19, 2019 3:13 AM  

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for despising the works of Thomas Hardy. The self-pity and utter lack of self-awareness of the characters is grating. They all universally project the blame of the characters’ irresponsible behaviors onto the then powerful social institutions of the day rather than realizing the blame is owing to their all-around moral destitution. So many of the stereotypes injected into the formally educated’s brains today can be seen in its beginnings in Hardy’s work. They’re useful to read for historical trend seeking and getting a sense of the beginning of our current state. The only half decent work is Far from the Madding Crowd which is refreshingly devoid of the misery wallowing and has social criticisms that aren’t so melodramatic and nonsensical.

In any case, a return of such collections is essential. I had a few years of homeschooling and learned more when left to my own autodidact devices. Nonetheless, I suppose to Hardy’s credit, the contempt the establishment colleges had for my homeschooling/autodidact nature was palpable, at which point it became more a matter of manipulating the system based on oppression metrics, which apparently trumps the distrust they had for me based on my education. I learned pretty much nothing in college but did acquire that all important piece of paper to open the gateway into the guild of white collar work.

Blogger David Stanley December 19, 2019 3:42 AM  

Imagine what would be possible if "young Englishmen now a'bed" read G.H.Henty or a modern equivalent instead of the alphabet people's misery memoirs....

Blogger Karen took the Kids December 19, 2019 4:35 AM  

Another potential project worth supporting along with Core Civilization.

Blogger Section 8A December 19, 2019 6:29 AM  

The first page of Beatrix Potter's "The Tales of the Flopsy Bunnies" has the word 'soporific'. This, along with the fact that "The Last of the Mohicans" was a bestseller in the early 1800's, is yet more evidence that we have become a nation of ill-read simpletons. "Last of the Mohicans" would send a Harvard graduate into a defensive crouch, with one hand being used to clean the soiled shorts.

Having discovered John Taylor Gatto 15 years ago changed everything for me as a reader and as an instructor. It also exposed the dark underbelly of the Controllers of the Narrative via "School".

Blogger bramley December 19, 2019 6:45 AM  

There's never a good reason to read DH Lawrence, unless it's to prime oneself against flim-flammery.

I have heard it said that up until the late 19th century most educated people had all read the same books, there was a canon with which everybody was familiar, in other words a shared culture, and such was the uniformity of learning that references to classics could enter everyday usage and were well understood. English vernacular language alone borrows hundreds of phrases introduced from literary sources, showing just how much our daily life was infused with the cultural. My grandmother uses phrases all the time that have no relevance to modern life, but come from old poems and works that were popular in the past, long before her time, and with which i only became familiar with after looking them up on-line. I don't think she could even tell where she heard them first, and would certainly have no familiarity with the original source, but the verbal transmission has kept the verse alive. A library of 1000 books is enough to last forever if well chosen, and endurance is a sure indicator of worth.

Blogger plishman December 19, 2019 8:01 AM  

Does the common use of what now would be called 'run-on sentences' indicate that people of yesteryear had greater memory and attention spans than is usual now?

Blogger Critias December 19, 2019 9:45 AM  

Can someone help me, I'm making a list of the books on that list, about a third down is something called 'The Sheking'. Does anyone know what that is?

Seems a bit hard to get copies for some of the works.

Blogger Vespasian December 19, 2019 10:36 AM  

I'm currently reading through Peter Gay's "The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism," and in chapter 1, "The Useful and Beloved Past," he details the ways in which the philosophes of the 18th c. (Voltaire, Gibbon, Diderot, Kant, etc.) looked to antiquity and the classic writings of Rome and Greece as a means of fueling and justifying their attacks on Christianity. On page 58, after detailing Gibbon's personal conversion to Enlightenment ideals, Gay writes: "The dramatic moment on the Capitol confirmed for Gibbon what he, like the other philosophes, had always felt: that classicism was a bridge thrown across the swamp of the Christian millennium; with a bold stroke of the imagination, he, like they, repudiated the recent past to fashion his ideals from a past remote only in time."

As it takes time for the ideas of "the elites" to work their way down to the masses, as I read this account, I couldn't help but think that rather than this being solely a means of 'lifting up' the working class man through education in the classics, that perhaps it was also meant to bring the to the working man the foundational works that transformed the thinking of the philosophes of a century before; a transformation that saw them first abandon and then attack Christianity in all its forms.

Is it possible that this spreading out to the masses the works of antiquity a means of instilling Enlightenment thought and its subsequent repudiation of Christianity that had taken hold in the upper classes a century earlier, in the minds of the working classes?

Anonymous Anonymous December 19, 2019 11:29 AM  

@37 - I'd say a little bit of yes and a little bit of no. Yes, in that historically that is the main and probably only driver of any elite distributing any type of knowledge, regardless of the ideology they have. But no in the sense that they already did that for the middle classes & autodidact lower classes more or less in the 1800s and early 1900s and for the peasantry, it took little more than a change of popular culture products to redirect them and while in preindustrial days it would take an act of centuries to alter the peasantry from their ways, their industrial serfdom makes control over their beliefs nowadays seemingly instantaneous by historical standards. The problem with pushing Enlightenment works these days for that same purpose, though, is that even "elites" aren't monoliths and change over time with differing factions resisting on differing points. Back in the Enlightenment, the thinkers were speaking in a linguistic framework and culture of a Christian world; they spoke in opposition to it but nonetheless spoke in its terms and therefore almost incidentally continued to keep its memory. These days, though, the linguistic framework has neared its final stages of shifting out of that Christian world, with the old terms either being deleted, turned into curse words/regulated & condemned speech like Old English common words were turned into curse words merely by virtue of being English rather than Norman - or if the words are retained having their histories forgotten. Bringing back the old Enlightenment works would suddenly reintroduce people to all those old frameworks while also opening the inquiring mind to start reading the retorts and resistances of the elites back then that still defended Christianity. It would simply bring back old issues. I think these days, though, they tend to push the works of those that are speaking purely in the linguistic framework of the world they want today, one entirely dechristianized - like the works of Derrida or Foucault. If the new generation knows literally nothing of the old world and the memory of it is dwindling enough in its distribution to the common man, it makes more sense for them to simply not bring it back to the foreground. They may revisit some old things but only on their very strict terms and with specific repurposing motives; for example, a relation attended a top 10 undergraduate university and had a course where they read Paradise Lost - except without ever reading any manner of Biblical or religious literature as supplementary material or even reference to further understand what it is Milton was talking about. As apparently few of the students had any cultural upbringing in a Christian milieu except for the aspects they considered mythological, almost all of its meaning went entirely over their heads, and it in turn was read purely as one would read Gilgamesh without ever cracking open a book on the Akkadians - a pleasant poem with interesting fantastical themes.

Blogger Ominous Cowherd December 19, 2019 12:18 PM  

plishman wrote:Does the common use of what now would be called 'run-on sentences' indicate that people of yesteryear had greater memory and attention spans than is usual now?
Memory and attention spans? Both are reduced by low IQ and brain damage from drugs. Dummies and stoners can't handle two ideas at once.

When I took my first college English course I got low grades at first, for bad grammar. I asked the engineering department secretary what was wrong, and she told me that my average sentence length was over 30 words, and most people weren't going to be able to track that long. She told me my grammar was correct.

The department secretary told me that sentences should be about 5 to 15 words long, and paragraphs should have about 3 to 7 sentences. The English grad student who was grading my papers was a Boomer stoner, and not very bright. Writing short, choppy, childish sentences got me much higher grades.

Blogger Kirk Parker December 19, 2019 3:15 PM  

Iskander Magnus,

I understand the attraction of such paper, but given several of the possible futures facing us, I'd recommend Vox putting his paper-selection (and ink-selection) efforts more into the archival-quality direction.

Blogger Up from the pond December 19, 2019 3:27 PM  

How many workers read those books? Aristotle's Ethics and Politics are pretty hard to crack.

Adam Smith said, "The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations . . .generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become."

It is very likely that the "workers' libraries" gathered dust while a large majority of workers continued to do their 12-hour shifts and use their few "off" hours for more rewarding activities such as gambling, breeding, and sleeping.

It is a cherished evergreen conceit of people possessing an IQ greater than 120 that what the Mass Man ought to do to improve his lot is read books. For all the intelligence of these bright people, they never grasp that not everyone is like them. They project their odd, bookish selves into the environment of the Mass Man and then wonder, "How would I escape this terrible fate of having to work with my hands? Of course! I would read Thucydides!" That this strategy sometimes works for the rare intelligent individual among the masses is enough for bright dummies to feel justified in basing public policy on it, a disaster (e.g., Common Core, the ultimate panacea of word-thinkers).

It's an open question whether most people should be taught to read at all. They certainly should not vote.

Blogger Daniel Heneghan December 19, 2019 4:56 PM  

>>How many of us, with our expensive university diplomas, are truly as well-educated, or even as well-read, as those working men of yesteryear?

1 in 50,000.

Blogger Macs December 19, 2019 7:23 PM  

I can confirm that even working-men can gain from Aristotle's Ethics. I used to carry a small pocket version wherever I went, until it got stolen. No idea why someone would steal a book on ethics, but I guess they needed it anyhow...

Blogger Meng Greenleaf December 19, 2019 7:35 PM  

This reminded me of "A Manual of Logic" by Henry Joseph Turrell (1870). He includes an exstensive list of authors who's work should accompany the book (from page 117).

Also, "Picture Logic" by Alfred James Swinburne (1896) is an interesting book written to connect logic to the everyday man. It's archived here:(

A Guide to Syllogism (1832) by Charles Wesley attempts to clearly articulate Term Logic.

(any of these books can be found archived)

Blogger Daniel Heneghan December 19, 2019 8:34 PM  

>>Does the common use of what now would be called 'run-on sentences' indicate that people of yesteryear had greater memory and attention spans than is usual now?

Likely. Our forebears, even of just 100-200 years ago, were on average more intelligent than we are.

Blogger Daniele Grech Pereira December 20, 2019 7:27 AM  

Thatis what I call a reading list. Very intersting, about these education societies in the past. Most people now just care about drinking beer.

Blogger James G. December 20, 2019 10:43 AM  

@Up from the pond:
"It is very likely that the "workers' libraries" gathered dust while a large majority of workers continued to do their 12-hour shifts and use their few "off" hours for more rewarding activities such as gambling, breeding, and sleeping."

According to The Welfare State We're In by James Bartholomew, many of the British Workingmen's Clubs would regularly hire Oxbridge dons to give lectures, and would host events to help people improve in general.

The Friendly Societies, which were the main source of social insurance for workers, had behavioural requirements on men and their families in order to continue to be part of those schemes. The Friendly Societies pretty much disappeared when Churchill and Lloyd George introduced universal social security in the state pension.

And I believe there was a 95% literacy rate, thanks to the churches and economic need, when they introduced compulsory education in Britain. ISTR reading that Britain now has about an 80-85% literacy rate.

According to a few accounts I've read, British working class oiks of the period were better behaved than we would like to think.

Blogger Kiwi December 20, 2019 1:54 PM  

It always puzzled me that my family got to where they are, as some, to put it politely, behave in a questionably uneducated manner. Although evidence was low on the ground, logically I knew there had to be well tuned brains in the past.

This type of library mentioned, that and mingling with the well educated, is close to the answer. Old books from England litter our second hand stores, and after a quick look at my relatives writings, it's obvious as to the level of education previously here. It's actually still here, kept safe in those books and even more so in our museums. You just have to look.

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