Selections from What Book?

One time, a couple of decades ago, a friend of mine took the covers and title page off a book, and showed it to a college English professor. Below, I present two excerpts from the book, followed by the conclusions of the professor, and the identity of the book.

Washington Irving. 1783-1859.

Columbus was a man of great and inventive genius. The operations of his mind were energetic, but irregular; bursting forth, at times, with that irresistible force which characterizes intellect of such an order. His ambition was lofty and noble, inspiring him with high thoughts and an anxiety to distinguish himself by great achievements. He aimed at dignity and wealth in the same elevated spirit with which he sought renown; they were to rise from the territories he should discover, and be commensurate in importance.

His conduct was characterized by the grandeur of his views and the magnanimity of his spirit. Instead of ravaging the newly-found countries, like many of his cotemporary discoverers, who were intent only on immediate gain, he regarded them with the eyes of a legislator; he sought to colonize and cultivate them, to civilize the natives, to build cities, introduce the useful arts, subject everything to the control of law, order, and religion, and thus to found regular and prosperous empires. That he failed in this was the fault of the dissolute rabble which it was his misfortune to command, with whom all law was tyranny and all order oppression.

He was naturally irascible and impetuous, and keenly sensible to injury and injustice; yet the quickness of his temper was counteracted by the generosity and benevolence of his heart. The magnanimity of his nature shone forth through all the troubles of his stormy career. Though continually outraged in his dignity, braved in his authority, foiled in his plans, and endangered in his person by the seditions of turbulent and worthless men, and that, too, at times when suffering under anguish of body and anxiety of mind enough to exasperate the most patient, yet he restrained his valiant and indignant spirit, and brought himself to forbear, and reason, and even to supplicate. Nor can the reader of the story of his eventful life fail to notice how free he was from all feelings of revenge, how ready to forgive and forget on the least sign of repentance and atonement. He has been exalted for his skill in controlling others, but far greater praise is due to him for the firmness he displayed in governing himself... -- pp. 192-93, about halfway through the book.

Song of the Greek Bard
Lord Byron, 1788-1824


The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
  Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,--
  Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.

The Scian and the Teian muse,
  The hero's harp, the lover's lute,
Have found the fame your shores refuse;
  Their place of birth alone is mute
To sounds which echo further west
Than your sires' "Islands of the Blest."

The mountains look on Marathon,
  And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
  I dreamed that Greece might still be free;
For, standing on the Persian's grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

A king sat on the rocky brow
  Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
  And men in nations,--all were his!
He counted them at break of day,--
And when the sun set, where were they?

And where are they? And where art thou,
  My country? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now,--
  The heroic bosom beats no more!
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine?

Must we but weep o'er days more blest?
  Must we but blush? Our fathers bled.
Earth! render back from out thy breast
  A remnant of our Spartan dead!
Of the three hundred, grant but three,
To make a new Thermopylæ!...
-- pp. 205-06.

The college professor asked my friend, "That is a college English literature text, is it not?"

To which my friend replied, "No, that is a Sixth Grade McGuffey Reader." Copyright 1879, 1921.

If you think that your children go to excellent schools, and that there is no reason to homeschool them, then just remember these examples. No matter how excellent their schools, they will not get anything comparable to this. Even if the schools had managed to bring the students to a level of literacy that would permit them to read and profit from a book such as this, you can rest assured that some of the material is too politically incorrect to be taught. And yet, this is our literary heritage! And remember likewise that it was not uncommon for students to do dramatic recitations of poems such as this with great vocal expression, for their parents.

And you can choose to expose your children to these readers at home! Enough said?