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Legacy Library: Social Library (1793)

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Member: SocialLibrary1793

CollectionsYour library (281)


TagsReason (108), Memory (89), Imagination (84), Civil History and Biography (42), Miscellanies (36), Theology (34), Poetry and the Drama (31), Voyages and Travels (23), Arts and Manufactures (17), Works of Fiction (11) — see all tags

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About meIn 1793 the librarian of Harvard College, Thaddeus Mason Harris, published a short pamphlet, A Seleced [sic] Catalogue of some of the most esteemed Publications in the English Language. Proper to form a Social Library: with an introduction upon the choice of Books (Printed at Boston, by I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, Faust's Statue, No. 45, Newbury Street, 1793).

Harris (who must have been mortified at the typographical error in the first word on the title page!) opened the catalogue with some "Observations upon Books and Reading:

"The world is full of books, but there are multitudes which are so ill written that they are never worth any man's reading; and there are thousands more which may be good to their kind, yet are worth nothing when the month or year, or occasion is past for which they were written. Others may be valuable in themselves, for some special purpose, or in some peculiar science, but are not fit to be perused by any but those who are engaged in that particular science or business. To what use is it for a divine, or a physician, or a tradesman, to read over the huge volumes of reports of judged cases in the law? Or for a lawyer to learn Hebrew and read the Rabbines? It is of vast advantage for improvement of knowledge and saving time, for a person to have the most proper books for his reading recommended by a judicious friend."
[WATTS on the Improvement of the Mind, Chap. 9]

"Great variety of books, like great variety of meats, serve only first to pamper the appetite and then to confound it. A few STANDARD BOOKS, read with attention and digested with prudence, form the mind upon a regular system, and form the man a regular scholar."
[LAMONT, Sermons, p. 338]

Following these, an introduction:

I have remarked with pleasure the reviving taste for literature among the different classes of people throughout the State. And the number and improved condition of our schools and other seminaries of learning, and daily plans for forming private and social libraries, are evidences of its increase, and predictions of its more general diffusion. Books, of course, are in great demand, and eagerly read. But they have become so exceedingly numerous as to require uninterrupted attention, through more than the longevity of an antediluvian, to peruse them all. Indeed, it would be a vain attempt to collect or read all of those only that are really valuable. —Few persons, excepting professed students, can appropriate a large portion of their time to literary pursuits. Even the short space they would be willing to assign, is liable to be interrupted by the necessary avocations, and contracted by the unavoidable duties and cares of life. Since but few books can be perused by the generality of people, they should be those only which are most excellent. And Seneca's observation to his friend concerning books, is still worth noticing in our choice of a library: "non refert quam MULTOS, sed quam BONOS habeas;" (Epist. 45). It is not an object to have MANY, but GOOD ones. —So that the greatest caution is necessary in selecting those of established reputation from the many that are indifferent or useless.

"For the sake then of saving time, and of directing the judgment of the inexperienced, it becomes," says Mr. Knox (Essay, No. 174), "an useful attempt to suggest some general hints, which may tend to facilitate selection."

To address to the learned directions for choice of authors, or furnish a catalogue for the formation of their libraries, were no less presumptuous than superfluous. But people at distance in the country have but few opportunities for knowing the characters even of books which have been long in use; and still fewer for acquaintance with recent publicaions [sic]. And indeed, the generality of readers lie under many inconveniences in their choice, and find it extremely difficult to separate the most valuable compositions from the many worthless works among which they are crouded in the shops. —The pointing out a few to the notice of such, with a design to facilitate their enquiries, or abbreviate their labors, may, I presume, be ventured upon without arrogance, and prove equally useful and acceptable.

My situation has in some degree qualified me for this office. Surrounded by the largest collection of books in America, and having made it a constant practice to read all the English reviews, I have unavoidably become acquainted with the characters of literary productions now in repute. And in forming the catalogue now offered to the public, I have used my best knowledge and judgment. I recommend it as containing some of the most esteemed writers in the English language.

As it has been my endeavour to form a catalogue for a small and cheap library, intended to suit the tastes and circumstances of common readers, many valuable works, in the higher departments of science, have been intentionally omitted. And imperfect as the list may be found, in other respects, yet I trust it will appear that there are sufficient under each head to give a satisfactory and comprehensive (though in some instances very short) view of that particular department of knowledge.

I have deemed it convenient to arrange the books according to the subject of which they treat. This renders a catalogue perspicuous; and will be found of essential advantage to the reader, who will be pleased with seeing, at one view, the different authors upon the branch of knowledge he is prosecuting. The general delineation of human science, suggested by the immortal Bacon, and since illustrated and enlarged by the learned D'Alembert, of diving and sorting books into three classes, corresponding with the three great divisions of the mental faculties, memory, reason and imagination, has been adopted as the most rational and clear.

About my libraryHarris arranged the 281 titles in the Catalogue in the following way (links will take you to the books listed under that heading):

I. Sacred History
II. Ecclesiastical History
III. Civil History: Including Biography
IV. Natural History
V. Voyages and Travels
VI. Geography and Topography

I. Theology
II. Mythology
III. Ethics; or the Moral System in General
IV. Grammars, Dictionaries
V. Logic, Rhetoric and Criticism
VI. General and Local Politics
VII. Law
VIII. Metaphysics
IX. Arithmetic, Geometry and Algebra
X. Natural and Experimental Philosophy: Including Astronomy
XI. Chymistry
XII. Agriculture
XIII. Arts and Manufactures

I. Poetry and the Drama
II. Works of Fiction
III. The Fine Arts

Where a particular edition of a work has been identified in the Catalogue that edition has been added here (probably not surprisingly, many of those editions were published by the same firm who published the Catalogue). Where specific editions were not identified, a note to that effect was added in Comments.

GroupsLibraries of Early America

Real nameSocial Library (1793)

Favorite authorsNot set

Account typepublic, lifetime

URLs /profile/SocialLibrary1793 (profile)
/catalog/SocialLibrary1793 (library)

Member sinceAug 30, 2012

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