“Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race”

I forgot to mention it last week, but we’ve just passed 4,500 pages in Imaginative Literature in the Great Books Project. Not too shabby.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Othello by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 205-243)
  2. The Eternity of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 40-46; Part One, Chapter 10 of Summa Theologica)
  3. Of Pedantry” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 110-115)
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book II, Chapters 3-5 (GBWW Vol. 36, pp. 160-182)
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 253-265)
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapters 28-33 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 228-251)

Darwin is of lesser quality than Chaucer or Marcus Aurelius, but we need to start a new big work now that we have finished the other two. I’ve never read the Descent of Man before except for a couple of excerpts, so I’m interested to see whether the things I’ve heard of it are true.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. St_ceciliaCanterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Second Nun’s Prologue” through the End: I have to admit the alchemy story was a bit tedious. I also felt ripped off because Adler’s edition didn’t include the full text of the parson’s tale/sermon. It had also omitted Chaucer’s own prose section from earlier in the collection. Still, the second nun’s tale of St. Cecilia was good.
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book XII: Many more ruminations on death in this book. “Consider the shortness of life, the boundless abyss of time past and future, the feebleness of all matter.” The metaphor in the very last section of Nature as the playwright who puts each of us on (birth) and takes us off (death) stage is quite nice.
  3. “On Time” by John Milton: This poem reminds me of Donne’s “Death, Be Not Proud.” Just as Donne foresees the death of Death, Milton writes that time itself will end after consuming “each thing bad,” and then “Eternity shall greet our bliss.” I like the first line: “Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race.” 
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Introduction and Book II, Introduction and Chapters 1-2: In this book Smith begins an in-depth discussion of capital (“stock”). He goes into detail about the differences between “fixed capital” (machinery, commercial buildings, land improvements, and human skills) and “circulating capital” (clothing, food, and lodging that supports labor). The chapter on money reiterates at length the important point that money itself is not really wealth; it only represents the wealth (in the form of food, etc.) available to the person who possesses it.
  5. The Circulation of the Blood by William Harvey: This is actually two discourses, both of which are addressed to John Riolan, a contemporary of Harvey’s who had published at least one work containing disagreements with Harvey’s earlier writings. The two works contain many references to veins, valves, and the like, but I was able to make some sense of most of it. 
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapters 22-27: This section was a tad confusing for me. Chapter 22 deals with “mixed modes” and what Locke considers complex ideas. There was an interesting section on immaterial spirits and their capacity for motion (except for God, Who is infinite). Obviously there’s an apparent irony in such a section when Locke thinks we receive information only through the senses, but he does allow for revelation (through the senses).

I’ve managed to lose another day on the posting schedule this week thanks to a publishing deadline I’ve already missed and am trying to make up. I just hope I’ll be able to keep up the pace over the next seven days. Hang in there!

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About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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