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Great Courses
Teaching that engages the mind

Great Writers:
Their Lives and Works
Professor John B. Fisher
Rollins College


John B. Fisher
B.A., Harvard University
Rollins College Alumni Lecturer in
History and Literature

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John B. Fisher, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University, has taught
history, art, and literature at the prep-school and college levels. His participation
in the world of education has also included service as a trustee of Mount
Holyoke College, Mercyhurst College, and The Dana Hall Schools. For the past
twelve years, he has lectured to capacity audiences at Rollins College and on
other campuses. This lecture series has been identified by the press as "the bestattended, longest-running within memory in Central Florida." On the occasion of
the tenth anniversary of these programs on history, art, and literature, he received
letters of greeting and commendation from the presidents of Harvard, Yale, and
Princeton Universities; Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of England; Sir John
Gielgud; Mrs. Anwar Sadat; and many others.
Poetry is used by permission of the publishers and trustees of Amherst College
from the Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, the Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; copyright(c)1951, 1955,
1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
From The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by T.H. Johnson; copyright(c)
1929, 1935 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi; copyright(c) renewed 1957, 1963 by
Mary L. Hampson. By permission of Little, Brown & Co., Boston.
From The Vintage Mencken by H.L. Mencken, edited by Alistair Cooke;
copyright(c) 1955 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York. Recorded by permission
of the publisher.



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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner
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embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, send complete
description of intended use to The Teaching Company/Rights and Permissions,
7405 Alban Station Court, Suite A-107, Springfield, VA 22150, USA.

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Table of Contents

Great Authors: Their Lives and Works

Great Writers: Their Lives and Works

Purpose of the Course

This course is designed to visit with some of the world's great authorsand in so
doing, to bring their works to those unfamiliar with them and to remind those
already acquainted with them, but who haven't read these works in years, of the
delight that will be theirs in doing so again. Gertrude Stein put it well when she
said, "With me familiarity doesn't breed contempt; it only breeds more
familiarity." The passage of time has confirmed, and even enhanced, the
reputation of each of these writers. Their sensitivity, their perceptions, and their
unrivaled use of language have been of great benefit to the world. All of them
endure because of a special talent.

Instructor Biography
Purpose of this Course
Lecture 1
Oscar WildeThe Tragic Genius
Lecture 2
Beatrix PotterNonpareil
Lecture 3
H.L. MenckenOccasional Curmudgeon
Lecture 4
Robert Burns"Our Rabbie"
Lecture 5
Maurice MaeterlinckThe Multitalented
Lecture 6
Victor HugoThe Gallic Giant
Lecture 7
St. AugustineA Saint for All Centuries
Lecture 8
Emily DickinsonThe Belle of Amherst
Lecture 9
Ulysses S. GrantThose Memorable Memoirs
Lecture 10
Dr. Samuel JohnsonWords, Words, Words
Lecture 11
PlutarchThat Dramatic Philosopher
Lecture 12
Alfred, Lord TennysonEngland's National Treasure
Selected Bibliography


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Lecture Objectives:
To acquaint or reacquaint lovers of history and literature with the lives and
works of some of the most notable writers in the Western world.
To evaluate how the personal experiences of these writers relate to their literary
To identify and assess each writer's style and technique, and to compare his or
her works with other writings of the period.
To estimate the writer's influence upon his or her time and the subsequent course
of literature.
To impart to the listener and reader more appreciation for the persuasive power
of literature.

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Lecture 1
Oscar Wilde-The Tragic Genius (1854-1900)
Scope: This lecture will include a selective review of the triumphant yet
tortured life of the Irish-English genius Oscar Wilde. Wilde's writings
provide a trenchant commentary on the social conventions of the
Victorian era. As we shall see in the lecture, he mastered several literary
forms in the course of his short life: fiction, drama, fairy tales, and
social criticism.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Discuss the virtuosity of Wilde, the thinker and writer.

Describe the turbulent Victorian world in which he lived.


Appraise the scope of his talent in prose, poetry, drama, and social


Early Wilde
A. Wilde was born in 1854; his father was an eminent eye and ear surgeon,
his eccentric mother a Protestant Irish nationalist.
B. His education was impeccablethe Portora School, Trinity College,
and Oxford University. At Oxford he received a rare "double-first."
C. He set out for London and had an immediate impact on the metropolis.
A striking and garish figure, he quickly became the subject of a play
and an opera.

II. The American Tour

A. Goaded by actress/friend Sarah Bernhardt, Wilde undertook a lecture
tour of America. When asked about the ocean crossing, he responded
that the Atlantic was a "disappointment."
B. Though the tour lasted ten months, Wilde never complained of fatigue.
He was soft-spoken, well mannered, and never malicious.
C. Wilde met many of the celebrities of the age: Oliver Wendell Holmes,
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis,
Henry James. He received $11,000 for the tour, a sizable sum for a
literary trip matched in our annals only by the tours of Bernhardt and
Charles Dickens.

III. Marriage and London

A. Wilde married and had two sons, one of whom died in World War I.
B. Wilde came to know both sides of Industrial-Age London: the proud
metropolis of an empire and the home to dreadful suffering and poverty.
C. The eminent London dandy captured the ambivalence of the city when
he described a lady of the night loitering beneath a gaslight as having
"lips aflame and heart of stone."
IV. A Range of Writings
A. During a three-year period that began in 1892, Wilde wrote a string of
fine plays, including The Importance of Being Earnest. His plays were
generally popular, but he suffered a few flops, such as The Duchess of
B. His prose was of a high quality. Such works as The Picture of Dorian
Gray and The Soul of Man Under Socialism demonstrate his mastery of
forms from fiction to political reportage.
C. Wilde is perhaps best known for his eminently quotable wit:
1. "The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is
that the caprice lasts a little longer."
2. "Private information is the principle source of almost every large
3. "A cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of
V. A Tragic End
A. The Marquess of Queensbury, perhaps the least-liked man in London,
accused Wilde of being a sodomist. Wilde brought suit for libel, lost the
case, and eventually was convicted and served a two-year sentence in
Reading prison.
B. At Reading, Wilde wrote "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" and De
Profundis, the latter a wise contemplation on the nature of life.
C. Upon his release, Wilde went to Paris where, cadging food and drink,
he led the life of an impoverished artist.
D. He suffered considerable pain in his final months. He died in 1900 and
was eventually interred in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

D. On leaving the country, Wilde remarked that in America the old doubt
everything, the middle-aged accept everything, the young know
everythingand are anxious to share it with everyone.

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Lecture 2
VI. A Judgment
A. Wilde was a flawed genius, but a genius still. He was a complex man of
paradoxes, but a thinker of tremendous wit, intellect, and sensitivity.

Beatrix Potter -Nonpareil (1866-1943)

B. Now he is beyond whatever scandal he knew in his own life. We should

honor him for his literary achievement, not the disrepute that marred his
later years.

Scope: This lecture will include a review of Beatrix Potter's unusual

upbringing, a visit to her extraordinary imagination, and an assessment
of her artistic and literary talents. We will examine her artistic
renderings of fungi and insects for one of the foremost scientific
publications in Britain and then consider the widespread influence of
her fanciful narratives and inspired illustrations for children.

Topics for Further Exploration:


Explain how Wilde's life was affected by his travels.


Contrast Wilde's character with that of the typical Victorian gentleman.

ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:

1. Describe the milieu of the Victorian age in which Potter lived.

Explain how her education and personal life influenced her artistic


Identify the general themes and story lines of Potter's best-known tales.


Discuss possible interpretations of her stories for children as morality

tales or social commentary.


A. Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 to middle-class parents who
treated her with strange indifference.
B. Raised in part by a Calvinist nurse, she spent much time reading the
King James Bible and the Waverley novels of Sir Walter Scott.
C. Beatrix was writing hymns before her teens. She also developed other
interests, such as collecting bats, snakes, salamanders, and foxes in
order to stuff them and draw their likenesses.
D. She was shy and never mixed with others, though she never admitted to
feeling lonely. John Millais told her parents he would like to paint her;
they denied his request, saying, "She'll become egotistical."

II. Coming Into Flower

A. In early adulthood, Potter began painting in watercolors, continuing to
lead a reclusive life except for making the annual family trip to the
seashore and the Lake District.
B. She did some remarkable paintings of fungi during this period. She also
wrote a paper on fungi, which the Linnaean Society deemed worthy of
publication. However, the Society wouldn't allow her to read the paper
at an official meeting because she was a woman.
C. Poller had many literary interests, both high and low.
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She memorized six of Shakespeare's playseven though she wasn't

convinced that William Shakespeare was their true author.


She loved any report in the London Times concerning animals, an

early hint of her future career.

C. In the final analysis, Potter inspires a heartfelt response in both children

and adults. She wrote her own testament in her journal: "What heaven
can be more real than to retain the spirit world of childhood?"
Topics for Further Exploration:

III. Influences and Character

A. Her greatest influence may have been her grandfather, a well-read
businessman who won and lost several fortunes.
B. From 1881 to 1897 Potter kept a remarkable journal composed of tiny
words that formed a secret code. The code wasn't cracked by scholars
until 1952.


Discuss whether the attitude of Potter's parents is best described as

indifference or benign neglect.


Identify the qualities of Potter's work that appeal to adults as well as to


C. She was also an omnivorous reader of art history, critiquing Raphael on

his knowledge of horses and daring to call a supposed Da Vinci
painting a forgery.
IV. The Breakthrough: Peter Rabbit
A. In 1893 she wrote a letter to a boy in which she mentioned a certain
rabbit. Seven years later, Peter Rabbit, the book, appeared.
B. Six publishers turned her down; so on her own she had 200 copies
printed before a publisher finally accepted the manuscript.
C. Supervising the size and color of the printing, she insisted on a volume
that could easily be held by little hands.
D. Several other successes followed: The Tailor of Gloucester, The Tale of
Squirrel Nutkin, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. As always, her parents

V. Life Changes
A. In spite of her parents' disapproval, Potter married her publisher in
1905, only to watch him die of anemia shortly thereafter.
B. That same year she bought Hilltop Farm in the Lake District and put
some of the land from the farm in the National Trust.
C. She married againthis time a realty lawyer; her parents objected
again. Taking up permanent residence with her husband at Hilltop,
Potter made her full declaration of independence.
VI. A Final Assessment
A. Potter is identified by many as the writer/artist who has pleased children
more than any other over the years. Seven million copies of her tales are
sold annually.
B. In 1943 she came down with bronchitis and passed away. The Herald
Tribune called her "an artist with words and with brush."

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Lecture 3
H.L. Mencken Occasional Curmudgeon (1880-1956)
Scope: This lecture will trace the literary output of H.L. Mencken, from the
acidic social and political commentary of his journalism to the
remarkable scholarship of his The American Language. One of the
great treasures of American scholarship, The American Language has
never been matched for its informative, instructive, and amusing
account of the origins and usage of the American language.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Discuss the literary, social, and political atmosphere in which Mencken
developed as a celebrity and a writer.

Explain the relationship between his journalistic and scholarly



Describe his relationship with a number of the leading political and

religious figures of his day.


Early Years
A. Mencken was born in Baltimore in 1880, the son of a tobacconist.
B. At age nine he read Huckleberry Finn', "the most stupendous event of
my entire life," he later called it.
C. At nineteen he went to work for the Baltimore Herald, the beginning of
a long and fruitful career as a journalist.
D. In 1916 he went to Germany as a war correspondent. He also covered
the Cuban Revolution, his improbable account becoming part of
standard reference material on the subject.

II. Mencken the Writer

A. Mencken immersed himself in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and
George Bernard Shaw. His columns soon took on a unique tone,
assaulting the vanity of politicians, professors, and preachers alike.

D. His standard response to an angry correspondent was, "You may be

right. Faithfully yours, Mencken."
III. Main Events
A. Mencken married Sarah Hart, a woman who proved to be an ideal mate
and companion.
B. He covered the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee, which wrestled with
the question of whether evolution should be taught in public schools.
Mencken's reports depicted the fall of William Jennings Bryan, the
politician/prosecutor who left the trial "a poor mountebank."
C. A believer in Jefferson's aristocracy of talent and virtue, Mencken
regarded with foreboding the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his
New Deal.
D. His scathing reports of the 1948 Democratic convention drew the ire of
some. His description of a black orator as having "the complexion of a
good ten-cent cigar" led some to demand his expulsion from the
IV. The American Language and A Mencken Chrestomathy
A. Mencken's three-volume The American Language is one of the greatest
scholarly achievements of the century, tracing the evolution of our
language from Indie to Greek, Latin, German, English, and, finally,
B. A Mencken Chrestomathy, a collection of his literary pieces, was also a
great success and has been reprinted many times since 1960.
V. Later Days and Reconciliations
A. Once Mencken retired, ministers came to him to protest his
antireligious writings. Almost invariably they went away reassured.
B. His long-standing feud with Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, also
cunic to an end when Sinclair paid him a visit.
C. In I(M8 a stroke left Mencken unable to read or write, though he lived
until 1956.
1), I le was a gentleman, a scholar, and an occasional curmudgeon. He was,
ubovc all, a master craftsman of journalism.

B. His writing began appearing in magazines. He and George Nathan

began editing The Smart Set in 1920, a best-selling magazine with a
satirical, trendy appeal.
C. Mencken was nothing if not prolific: He wrote over 100,000 letters,
kept a voluminous diary, and wrote an autobiography that ran to three

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Topics for Further Exploration:


Lecture 4

Explain why Mencken would have felt threatened by the administration

of Franklin Roosevelt.
Describe the role that journalism played in shaping Mencken's
legendary wit.

Robert Burns-"Our Rabbie" (1759-1796)

Scope: This lecture will follow the course of Robert Burns's short but
productive writing career from both a personal and a literary
perspective. We will examine his rise from humble beginnings, his
subsequent fall from grace during a period of dissolution, and his
stature as one of the great "songsters" of the Western tradition.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Explain the sources of Burns's lyrical abilities as a poet.

Describe the span of his poetry in terms of its form and content.


Estimate the importance of larger political events in shaping Burns's



Comin' Thro' the Rye

A. Robert Burns is sometimes familiarly known as "Robbie" Burns, or-in
Scotland-as "Rabbie."
B. His many songs and poems come straight from the heart; a true
songster, at least half of his titles are indeed songs.
C. The Russians would say their greatest literary hero is Pushkin; the
Scottish might say the same of Burns. He is the very spirit of the
country whose conflict with England was a tradition.

II. "Rabbie's" Early Development

A. Burns was born in 1759 in a two-room cottage. His father was a
landscaper; his mother was a crooner and storyteller who taught him
much of his country's oral tradition.
B. Though Burns had only three years of school, he was hardly unlettered.
He had an early love for histories of Hannibal and William Wallace and
developed one of the most graceful cursive hands of his time.
III. A Rhymester in and out of Favor
A. Burns's first volume of poems, published locally, was reprinted in
Edinburgh when he was twenty-seven, and it became a smash hit. He
quickly earned a reputation as a man of great charm and unusual
empathy for his fellow human beings.
B. I iis early prosperity soon gave way to a dissolute, rakish period marked
by uncharacteristic cynicism.

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Lecture 5

C. Burns finally settled down, marrying Jean Armour, with whom he luul
several children, including two sets of twins. An excise tax collector by
profession, Burns fathered at least twelve illegitimate children.
D. In his thirties, Burns advocated many principles championed by the
French Revolution, thus alienating many of his friends. He was socially
ostracized, his health soon weakened, and he died of angina pectoris at
age thirty-seven.
IV. The Burns Oeuvre
A. Burns had the gift for making music with words. He may not have had
the ecstatic vision of William Blake, but no poet since Geoffrey
Chaucer had such gay poetic humor as did Burns.
B. His bequest to us is a rich one, including such poems as "To Mary in
Heaven," "The Banks of Doon," "My Heart's in the Highlands," "Flow
Gently, Sweet Afton," and "Auld Lang Syne."
C. His work has great varietyranging from a description of a boisterous
Saturday night to a tender love song to a depiction of the natural world
around him.
D. From his modest origins, how could such a poet develop? Burns was a
fount of genius, and genius sometimes just "happens."
Topics for Further Exploration:

Describe the darker side of Burns the man and discuss whether this
aspect is ever manifested in his poetry.


Explain why the French Revolution would have appealed to a young

man from Scotland.

Maurice Maeterlinck-The Multitalented (1862-1949)

Scope: This lecture will discuss Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian poetdramatist, essayist, and scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for
literature in 1911. We will emphasize the virtuosity of the man and the
scholar and consider his ability to analyze the natural world in spiritual
terms that speak to the common reader.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:


Identify the various literary genres in which Maeterlinck earned his


*?*> 2.

Describe the qualities that make him both a scientist and a teacher of
the spiritual.

i 3.

Outline his description of social organization in The Life of the Bee and
infer its application to human society.


A. Born in 1862, Maeterlinck was encouraged to read by his bourgeois
parents. He was later trained by Jesuits, an experience he referred to as
"seven years of remarkable tyranny."
B. After unsuccessfully practicing law, he self-published a book of poetry
at age twenty-seven.
C. I lis first published play, Princess Milaine, sold a grand total of thirteen
copies. However, it was extravagantly praised by a leading critic and
became an overnight sensation.
D. After a long association with actress Georgette LeBlanc, he married
Renec Dahon, thirty-five years his junior and an eternal delight.

II. The Plays

A. Many consider Maeterlinck the eminent playwright of his time. Claude
Debussy adapted one of his plays for an opera suggestive of the days of
King Arthur.


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I lis second play, Monna Vanna, reveals the influence of Robert

Itiowning. A later triumph, The Bluebird, was an allegory that
icpresented his dramatic apogee.


I ,i'NNt'i plays Ibllowed-TTze Betrothal, Mary Magdalene, and others-that

'd mystical views connecting this world to a future one.

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III. Prose Works

A. Maeterlinck's prose works were written at the same time as his drama
and poetry. They are typified by their rich content and masterful
B. His first book of essays, The Treasure of the Humble, is imbued with a
spiritual tone that reflects on the mystery of the commonplace.

Topics for Further Exploration:

1. Give examples from Maeterlinck's work of instances in which the
author combines the spiritual and natural worlds.

Explain why Maeterlinck is largely forgotten by students and teachers

of literature today.

C. Wisdom and Destiny is an exposition of the marvels of nature; The

Buried Temple, for its part, was published to rave reviews.
D. Other booksThe Double Garden, The Great Secret, Our Eternity
illuminate the rapport of men and women with the natural and
IV. Maeterlinck and the Bee: Predecessors
A. Maeterlinck devoted three decades of his life to studying the daily life
of the bee. His absorbing book, The Life of the Bee, draws from studies
of the insect that began in antiquity, although he acknowledged the
much later contributions of Reaumur to the literature.
B. One of the most fascinating students of bees was Francois Hubert, who,
though blind, devoted most of his life to studying them. His New
Observation of Bees (1789) is a treasure-trove of information.
Maeterlinck drew on Hubert's book for his own work.
V. The Lifestyle of the Bee: Poetry in Motion
A. Maeterlinck described the spirit of the hive: Bees are impelled by the
future, not the present.
B. He delineated the roles of the workers (barren females) and the drones
C. Maeterlinck commented on the bigger picture as well: the succession of
the new queen, the importance of cleanliness in the hive, the
engineering soundness of the hive's construction, and not least, bees'
strange fear of smoke.
D. Maeterlinck observed that human intellect is not the proper judge of
beeswe think too much of the present. Bees, in fact, obey principles
that are hopelessly beyond our comprehension.
E. Concluding that bees and ants are the most effective of all living
creatures, Maeterlinck's volume is readable both as a piece of scientific
analysis and as a bona fide work of literature.


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E. With the death of his nineteen-ygar-old daughter, Hugo turned from

lush romanticism to philosophical and social reflections. This was the
dividing point in Hugo's life, the literary line between "before and
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Lecture 6
Victor Hugo-The Gallic Giant (1802-1885)
Scope: This lecture will include an examination of Victor Hugo's writings and
his ,ardent advocacy
of social reform, a~ passion-tfiat feevider$ in almost
every line of his works. A staunch defender, of-individual liberties,
Hugo exercised a considerable influence, on the political beliefs and
literary trends of his'age.

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Discuss the role of the French Revolution in shaping Hugo's literary and
political ideals.


A. Hugo was born in Besancon, France, in 1802, a sickly boy sustained by

the obstinacy of his mother.
B. He went to school in Paris; his teacher was a defrocked priest by tfyg,,,/j
name of Father La Riviere who introduced him to a wide range of
C. Like Maeterlinck, Hugo was a masterful observer of nature and learned
many a valuable lesson in the family garden.


A; s PWHshetf rM!$62, Le$ Misefable'sWas a compendium of Hugo's life

and ttoliticai beliefs.*^> r - )s ^ ^ .^HO

s,C. The hero, Jeaa y^Ljean, encounters both good and evil. Throughout the
novel, Hugo expresses his indignation and recommendations in what
amounts to a powerful political message of timeless interest.

IV. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Assess the effect of extended exile on Hugo's life and work.




B. Having worked on the novel for thirty years, he hoped the story would
be sociological in scope, grappling with issues like poverty, injustice,
persecution, and imprisonment.





ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:

'' 1. Illustrate, with exariiplds, how Hugo's social conscience was revealed in
his works.

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HI. Les Miserabl^q

A. Though an earlier novel of Hugo's, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is

no less important than Les Miserables in the author's oeuvre.
B. The sometimes melodramatic story is set in the fifteenth century. It is a
tale of criminality, unrequited love, unabashed greed, and medieval
grandeur in which all story lines lead to the cathedral on Paris's Isle de
la Cite.
Topics for Further Exploration:




' ;


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Explain the enormous popularity of the recent musical based on Les


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Conclude whether Hugo's well-developed social conscience is typical of

contemporary novelists.

II. Protest and Reaction

A. By age sixteen, his poems had received critical attention. At twenty, he
saw the publication of his poems and ballads to widespread acclaim.
B. Born during the Napoleonic years, Hugo's awareness of the French
Revolution was keen. Socially conscious, often angry, Hugo saw war as
the primary source of political and social inequities.
C. Hugo was exiled by Napoleon III for his political beliefs. After twenty
years he returned to France as a national hero.
D. Even while in exile he continued to write poetry, however. His volumes
during this period included The Legend of the Centuries,
Contemplations, and Song of Streets and Woods.





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Lecture 7
St. AugustineA Ssmt for AB Centuries 1354-430)
Scope: This lecture will explain the various reasons for St. Augustine's
enormous effect on Christian doctrine and his popularity with the public
at large. We will examine the frankness and clarity of thought that
characterize the work of the Bishop of Hippo before considering his
devotion to the idea that the message of Jesus the Nazarene be applied
to a sinful world.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Describe the religious environment of the Roman Empire in which
Augustine lived.

Explain the central message of his Confessions and its role in the
development of the literary genre of autobiography.


Compare and contrast the two cities depicted in The City of God.


"Oh Lord, Make Me PureBut Not Yet"

III. Writings: An Overview

A. Though the Vandals sacked Hippo at the end of Augustine's life, his
own writings survived the attack.
B. His best-known book may well be The Confessions, a strikingly frank
autobiography that chronicles the fleshly sins of his youth but also
expresses a yearning for faith.
C. The City of God, a later tome and eloquent vindication of Christ,
expresses the principal tenets of his beliefs without openly criticizing
other faiths.
IV. The Confessions
A. Since 400 A.D., The Confessions has been one of the best-sellers of
world literature. It offers the universal therapy of love to the needy
B. In this book Augustine analyzes the anxieties and disappointmentsof
the human condition. He describes his sins not for the sake of titillation,
but to show the gravity of what he forsook.
C. "Love, and then do whatever you wish," he wrote, not as an invitation
to crime but as the expression of a resilient faith in God.
V. The City of God

A. Bom in 354 A.D., Augustine was reared by a devout Catholic mother

arid inspired by local priests in the area of what is now northern Algeria.

A. In The City of God, Augustine divides the world into two camps: one of
self-love (earthly) and the other of God (heavenly).

B. Trained as a rhetorician, Augustine was an early believer in

Manichaeaism, a faith that dramatized the struggle between light and
dark and the continuous war between good and evil.

B. He began the book in 413, just after Rome fell to barbarian invaders,
and didn't complete it for thirteen years.

C- At the age of thirty-three, he was converted to Christianity by Ambrose,

the bishop of Milan. "Oh Lord, make me pure-but not yet" was how
Augustine described his early character in his famous Confessions.
II. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

C. Like The Confessions, The City of God is also an autobiography, but

this time the subject is the whole Christian church.
D. Augustine was not just one of the world's greatest theologians and
writers, he was one of the great souls in the history of the human race as

A. Before the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had known

prosperous years in which an effective civil administration was
successfully established.
B. Rome required two things of its subjects and citizens: to keep the peace
and to pay taxes.
C. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313, the
Mediterranean world was a theological arena beset with controversies
between Christians and competitor sects such as the Manichaeans and
D. Augustine was made bishop of Hippo, in Africa, in 396. His name was
to become a byword for compassion and profound theological learning,

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Topics lor I' in HUT Kxploration:


Lecture 8

( l i v e examples of famous autobiographies whose style and content may

derive from Augustine's Confessions.

,-,, ^,.. .
Explain how Augustine functioned as a transitional figure between the
pagan and medieval worlds. ^ = $ ? ,\-< :,<.,-\ ii>./-> ?*

Emily DickinsonThe Beile of Amherst (1830-1886)

Scope: This lecture will consider the life, personality, and unique talent of the
reclusive Emily Dickinson. We will examine the literary sources of her
work, the original metrical style of her verse, and some of the reasons
for her "exile" from the outside world.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Explain the social customs and beliefs that may have determined the
course of Dickinson's life.

Identify the characteristics that make her poetry such a novelty of the
late nineteenth century.


Describe the spiritual and intellectual basis for her depiction of nature.


Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

A. Born into a well-to-do Massachusetts family in 1830, Emily Dickinson
was never encouraged to do anything beyond the domain of house and
B. She excelled at Amherst Academy prep school and later attended
Mount Holyoke Seminary, though she never completed her studies at
the latter school.
C. Emily was expected to prepare for marriage and domesticity; publishing
poetry wasn't a part of that world. Fewer than a dozen of her poems
were published in her lifetime-and none of those were published with
her consent.

II. Breaking Away

A. Her male friends were few:
1. Benjamin Newton, who worked for her father, advised her to take
her talent seriously.
2. She regarded, at least for a time, the Reverend Charles Wadsworth
of Philadelphia as her dearest friend.
3. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Boston writer, was an
encouraging correspondent even though he didn't recognize her
genius as a poet.
B. The age was replete with great writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry
David Thoreau, Robert Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow, all of whom must have been some inspiration.

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(', The ('Ivil Ww I'limc and went, though it hardly touched Dickinson in

Lecture 9

I), hoi the final twenty-five years of her life, she was secluded from

Ulysses S. GrantThose Memorable Memoirs


III. An Extraordinary Abundance

A. Dickinson's poetry touches strong religious notes. She objected to the
harsh, invisible God that was the Puritan divinity of old.
B. She wrote about nature with great elanof fields, streams, and
mountains; her virtuosity of perception was rarely rivaled.
C. The 1,775 poetic gems that she left us demonstrate her undisputed
talent for fashioning paradox, modulating meter, and managing intricate
4D. Critic Van Wyck Brooks has described her as "anything but frail...[she]
often had a flower in her hand."

Scope: This lecture will consider how the career of Ulysses S. Grant rose and
fell against the backdrop of the conflicts of the mid-nineteenth century.
We will examine his justly famed Memoirsa series of recollections
about the war, its personalities, and its impact on the author's character
as he made his way on the long road from personal failure to military
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
|.,1. Assess Grant's contribution to the genre of military memoirs.

Describe the nature of Grant's character and how that character

contributed to Union success in the Civil War.


Discuss Grant's various failures and how he overcame them.

IV. The Poems

A. Why didn't Dickinson want her poems published? It may be that she
feared being asked to edit them, finding the thought of tampering with
her creations impossible.
B. There is a touch of divinity in many of her poems: "The bee is not ;
afraid of me," "Because I could not stop for death," "A narrow fellow in
the grass," "There is no frigate like a book."
C. Intriguing, beguiling, Dickinson left us a priceless heritage. Where^
others may have glowed, she was incandescent.


Early Years
A. Born in 1822 on a farm in Ohio, Grant opened his memoirs as follows:
"My family is American and has been for generations."
B. He went to a small rural school until the age of seventeen and then
gained admittance to West Point.
C. At the military academy he ranked twenty-fourth in a class of 219. "A
military life held no charm for rne," he later wrote.

Topics for Further Exploration:


Describe Dickinson's relationship with nature and whether that

relationship was typical of her time.



Conclude whether Dickinson's seclusion ultimately hampered or |

inspired her poetry.

D. When war broke out with Mexico in 1846, he played a dutiful but
undistinguished role in a conflict he felt was ill-advised.
E. In 1848 he married Julia Dent; and so began an enduring love story.
II. The Decline and Rise of U.S. Grant
A. After Mexico, Grant's life took a depressing turn. In the decade that
followed the war, he failed as a farmer, clerk, and peddler.
B. In 1861 he was appointed commander of an infantry regiment, thus
assuming what would become a historic role in the impending Civil
C. Grant's formula for victory amounted to a single-minded determination
to win. He would not divulge his ultimate plans to outsiders, and he was
denounced in the press for his secrecy.


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I), ( limit's empathy lor others extended to enlisted soldiers and even
horses. This quality, above all, made him a formidable writer.
I I I . The War Years
A. In his writing, Grant expressed strong opinions on a number of matters:
Joshua Chamberlain's heroism at Gettysburg, William Sherman's march
to the sea, the horrid affair of bloodhounds and runaway slaves.
B. At Appomattox, Grant felt particular empathy for General Lee,
recalling in his Memoirs that their conversation was so pleasant, the
author almost forgot why they were meeting.

Lecture 10
Dr. Samuel Johnson-Words, Words, Words (1709-1784)
Scope: This lecture will examine the personal qualities of Samuel Johnson that
prepared him for the massive undertaking of compiling the first
English-language dictionary. We will also consider the crucial role that
James Boswell played in bringing to life the character and endeavors of
Dr. Johnson for future generations, and will assess the literary work of
both men.

IV. The Presidency and Beyond

A. Grant served two terms in the White House and was perhaps the most
ill-suited man to ever occupy the Oval Office. Not personally stained by
corruption, he presided over an unsavory administration.

ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:

1. Explain the position of Johnson and Boswell in the literary world of
eighteenth-century Britain.

B. Grant composed his Memoirs entirely by hand during a single year of

his retirement. He was paid $450,000 for the book and died two weeks
after he finished.


Appraise Johnson's reputation as one of the foremost wits in English

literary annals.


Explain the enduring influence of Johnson's Dictionary of the English

Language on the subsequent development of lexicography.

C. The direct style and astonishing detail of the Memoirs have garnered
warm praise for the author. The factual but moving account of men in
time of conflict is as readable as a novel.
D. Though many criticize Grant, he never did more or less than he
promised: "to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." His
Memoirs stand as his enduring monument to a life of private failure and
public success.
Topics for Further Exploration:


Mr. Boswell
A. We might know very little about the compiler of the first
comprehensive English dictionary if it weren't for The Life of Dr.
Samuel Johnson, written by James Boswell.
B. Born in Edinburgh, Boswell, the son of a judge, studied law even
though his first loves were literature and politics.


Identify the characteristic that contributed most to Grant's military


C. At age twenty-three, he first met Johnson, though it would take many

years for them to establish a close relationship.


Explain whether Grant's lack of training as a writer was a boon or a

hindrance to the Memoirs.

D. In 1768 he wrote a historical account of Corsica that was

enthusiastically praised by both Dr. Johnson and Benjamin Franklin.

His later works, Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides and The Life of Dr.
Samuel Johnson, were also successes, revealing him to be a writer of
considerable depth and range. (The Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson is
widely hailed as the finest biography ever written.)

II. Boswell and the Bear

A. Storing up notes on Johnson since 1763, Boswell published his
biography in 1791, which was instantly acclaimed.
B. Though Boswell's wife described the uncouth Johnson as a "bear," her
husband spent many hours with him engaged in rapt conversation.

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( '. Bos we 1 1 persuaded Johnson to accompany him on trips to Scotland, an

unusual accomplishment given Johnson's professed hatred of the place.
I). By the time Bos well published The Life of Johnson, his subject had
been dead for seven years.
HI. Dr. Johnson
A. Johnson was born of modest circumstances in Lichfield, the son of a
bookseller. He went to Oxford but was unable to complete his studies
for want of money.

Topics for Further Exploration:
1. Compare and contrast the spirit of Johnson's Dictionary with Mencken's
The American Language.

Explain what Johnson's reaction to Robert Burns would likely have


B. He turned to writing as a career. As he told Boswell, "No man but a

blockhead ever writes anything but for money."
C. His early literary efforts consisted of essays done for the Birmingham
Journal and a translation of Voyage to Abyssinia from the French.
D. The goddess of fortune struck: he married the widow Elizabeth Porter
in 1735, who became the most helpful of companions until her death in
. Johnson later contributed essays, poems, and parliamentary reports to

Gentleman's Magazine. He started the periodical The Rambler, it

folded after two years.
IV. The Dictionary
A. Published in 1755, Johnson's Dictionary was the fruit of eleven years'
labor and has since become a milestone in the history of lexicography.
B. Though hoping for the patronage of Lord Chesterfield while compiling
the dictionary, Johnson was snubbed by his lordship and later blasted
Chesterfield with one of his patented steely retorts.
C. Johnson compiled the dictionary using Elizabethan English as his final
point of reference, a bow to the magical spell of Shakespeare's and
Marlowe's tongue.
D. Though there are errors in the dictionary, the definitions for many
words-club, essay, oats, pension, pirate, to name a few-are classic.
V. A Final Reckoning

A. The Johnson we know comes in large part from Boswell. The Scotsman
quotes the English curmudgeon on several counts:
1. "Much may be made of a Scotsman, provided he be caught young."
2. "A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs."
3. "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."
B. As Boswell concludes, "the more his character is considered, the more
he will be regarded by the present age and by posterity with admiration
and reverence."

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Lecture 11
Plutarch-That Dramatic Philosopher (c. 46-C.120)
Scope: This lecture will summarize Plutarch's portrayals of memorable Greek
and Roman notables in his most famous book, The Parallel Lives. We
will consider various dimensions of the author as gleaned from his
character, his many writings, and his later admirers.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Explain the origin and structure of Plutarch's Lives.

Describe the Roman era in which Plutarch lived.


Identify many of the great writers subsequent to Plutarch who borrowed

from him freely.


The Storyteller

B. Not a formal scholar, Plutarch hoped to inspire his readers by making

connections between their lives and the lives of his heroes.
( ] . Plutarch was more interested in character than in history. He recounts,
for example, Julius Caesar bewailing the fact that Alexander the Great
had conquered the known world, while the poor Roman at the same age
was forced to declare, "I have done nothing."
D. Plutarch's anecdotesabout figures that range from the cranky
Themistocles to the republican leaders of Romeare timeless.
IV. Plutarch and His Borrowers
A. Plutarch's writings are the origin of many common phrasesfrom
"Eureka!," as cried by Archimedes to "Pyrrhic victory," and the story of
Alexander cutting "the Gordian knot."
B. Plutarch's contributions to Shakespeare are manifold. The playwright
drew heavily from Plutarch's writings for his plays set in the ancient
V. Plutarch's Legacy

A. Among the greatest storytellers of history was Plutarch, author of the

famous Lives. He lived by the dictum of the oracle of Delphi: "Know
thyself and nothing to excess."

A. Plutarch's testament was simple: "Will not the good man consider every
day a festival?" and "We should ever be filled with good cheer and

B. Plutarch was born about 46 A.D. in Greece and died about 120. He
lived during the Pax Romana, a period marked by general happiness
and prosperity in the Roman Empire.

B. His enduring appeal lies in his knowledge of history, his deft portraits
of character, and his infectious humor.

C. In Athens, Plutarch became a student of Ammonius, whose

acquaintances were the inspiration for Plutarch's first book, Table Talk.
II. Life in Rome
A. Plutarch traveled to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Italy; and he spent several
years in Rome, where he lectured in Greek.
B. During his years in Rome he wrote Moralia, a tome that advocated,
among other things, equal opportunity for women and the enjoyment of
everyday life. He also wrote compendiums of philosophy and practical

(!. Historian Edward Gibbon defined history as a series of crimes,

misfortunes, and follies. Plutarch said, instead, that life is wonderful-if
only we will let it be so.
Topics for Further Exploration:

Conclude whether Plutarch's notion of biography was realistic or naive.


Surmise what kind of heroic figures Plutarch might have chosen to

write about in the twentieth century.

C. He was convivial but went his own way; contemporaries such as

Juvenal and Tacitus did not even mention him in their accounts of
contemporary Rome.
III. The Parallel Lives
A. While in Rome, Plutarch decided to write a book that compared the
heroes of Greece and Rome. He chose twenty-three from each culture in
order to offer the reader a series of exemplary figures.


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1996 The Teaching Company Limited Partnership


Lecture 12
Alfred, Lord Tennyson England's National Treasure
Scope: This lecture will consider the life and works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
starting with the somber influences of his early years that conditioned
his later life and writing. We will consider the range of his poetic and
dramatic work, taking note of the many honors he was awarded and the
unusual figure he cut in Victorian England.
ObjectivesUpon completion of this lecture, the listener should be able to:
1. Define the elements in Tennyson's writing that give it such enduring

Assess his stature as a lyrical poet.


Describe the difficulties he overcame before attaining the position of

poet laureate.

III. A Formidable Career

A. In 1842 Tennyson published "Morte d'Arthur," the poem that would
later inspire Idylls of the King.
B. "Ulysses" soon followed, inspired more by Dante than by Homer.
C. With "Locksley Hall," Tennyson proved he was more than just a
rhymester. The colorful imagery and profundity of thought in this poem
mark him as a prophet of things to come.
IV. Ups and Downs
A. Near financial disaster and an emotional breakdown, Tennyson was
hounded by melancholy and hypochondria in his later years.
B. Though writers Thomas Carlyle and William Thackeray introduced him
to a wider circle, Tennyson could not play the social butterfly.
C. In 1850 he was declared poet laureate of England, a post he held for
forty years. In the same year he published "In Memoriam," his eulogy
for Arthur Hallam.
V. A Life in Review


Early Troubles, Early Success

A. Tennyson was born into a troubled family with an epileptic strain. His
father was a clergyman; his mother, who bore nineteen children, died
when Tennyson was very young.
B. Tennyson enrolled in grammar school and wrote his first rhyming lines
at the age of eight. He later went to Cambridge where he won a
university prize for his poem "Timbuctoo."

A. Tennyson was a dramatist as well as a poet; several of his plays were

successes, though none are produced today.
B. He declined knighthood from Benjamin Disraeli, but accepted it when
offered by William Gladstone. Queen Victoria praised his work.
(!. Stricken with influenza and gout, Tennyson died in 1892. His spirit
endures in a poem that was his personal favorite, "Crossing the Bar."
Topics for Further Exploration:

C. His work's first appearance in print was in a book copublished with

Frederick Tennyson, Poems by Two Brothers.


Describe what Tennyson's attitude might have been toward his

contemporary, Oscar Wilde.

D. Tennyson developed a friendship with Arthur Hallam that what was to

prove a moving relationship for both. Tennyson would write "In
Memoriam" as a tribute to his friend's premature death.


Explain why the ancient stories of King Arthur so appealed to


II. The Character of the Man

A. Tennyson was a big, swarthy, shuffling man with long, dark hair.
Nearsighted, he fixed on the world with a remote gaze and cut a striking
figure among his more staid contemporaries.
B. In 1833 his Poems, Chiefly Lyrical received negative reviews, save a
laudatory one from philosopher John Stuart Mill. The general reception
did not deter him.
C. After one unrequited passion, Tennyson became engaged to Emily
Sellwood, but waited seventeen years before marrying her.

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1996 The Teaching Company Limited Partnership


Selected Bibliography
The works listed here represent just a fraction of the works by and about the
authors featured in this lecture series. These volumes happen to be the lecturer's
favorites, but you are encouraged to seek out others. Most, if not all, of the
books cited with older copyright dates should be available in public or university
libraries. Many have been reprinted. These writers produced classics; you should
have no problem finding your favorites. Enjoy.

LECTURE 3: H.L. MenckenOccasional Curmudgeon (1880-1956)

Essential Readings
Hobson, Fred C. H.L. Mencken, A Life. New York: Random House, 1994.
Days of H.L. Mencken-Happy Days, Newspaper Days, Heathen Days. New
York: Dorset Press, 1987.
Strongly Recommended Readings

LECTURE 1: Oscar WildeThe Tragic Genius (1854-1900)

The Diary of H.L. Mencken. New York: Random House, 1989.

Essential Readings

Mencken, H.L. A Mencken Chrestomathy. New York: Random House,


The Works of Oscar Wilde. London: Collins Press, 1963.

Suggested Readings

Ellman, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1988.

Mencken, H.L. The American Language. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,

Strongly Recommended Readings

Wilde, Three Plays. London: Master Playwrights, 1981.
Wilde, Oscar. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" and "De Profundis." In The
Works of Oscar Wilde. London: Collins Press, 1963.

New Mencken Letters. New York: Dial Press, 1977.

LE< J U R E 4: Robert Bur ns"OurRabbie" (1759-1796)

Suggested Readings

I Essential Readings

The Poems and Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde. New York: Modern Library,

The Poetical Works of Robert Burns. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Wilde, Oscar. "The Soul of Man Under Socialism." In The Works of Oscar
Wilde. London: Collins Press, 1963.
LECTURE 2: Beatrix PotterNonpareil (1866-1943)
Essential Readings
The Tales of Beatrix Potter (The Little Books). London: Frederick Warne &
Co., Ltd., 1945.
Lane, Margaret. The Tale of Beatrix Potter. London: Leicester, Ulverscroft,

Strongly Recommended Readings

I ,indsay, Maurice. Robert Burns, The Man, His Work, His Legend. London:
St. Martin's London, 1979.
Jen tier, Michael. Scotland Through the Ages. London: 1987.
LECTURE 5: Maurice Maeterlinck1 he Multitalented (1862-1949)
Essential Readings
Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Life of the Bee. New York: Dodd, Mead Co.,

Strongly Recommended Readings

Strongly Recommended Readings

Beatrix Potter's Art. New York: Viking, 1989.

Maeterlinck, Maurice. Mystic and Dramatist. Washington, DC: Institute for

the Study of Man, 1984.

Suggested Readings
Briggs, Asa. A Social History of England. New York: Viking, 1984.

Suggested Readings
Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Blue Bird. New York: Dodd, Mead Co., I 1 )11.
Pelleas and Melisande. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1941.
Maeterlinck, Maurice. Wisdom and Destiny. Washington, DC: Institute for
the Study of Man, 1984.


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LECTURE 6: Victor HugoThe Gallic Giant (1802-1885)

Memoirs & Selected Letters, Literary Classics of the United States. New
York: Library of America, 1990.

Essential Readings

Strongly Recommended Readings

Maurois, Andre. Olympio, The Life of Victor Hugo. New York: Harper &
Bros., 1956.

McFeely, W.S. Grant, A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1981.

Strongly Recommended Readings

Haseltine, William B. U.S. Grant, Politician. New York: Dodd, Mead &
Co., 1935.

Hugo, Victor. Les Miserahles

. Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

Suggested Readings

LECTURE 10: Dr. Samuel Johnson-

The Dramatic Works of Victor Hugo. New York: Athanaeum Society, 1909.

Words, Words, Words (1709-1784)

Suggested Readings

Essential Readings

Pelham, Edgar, and Squair, John, eds. The Poetry of Victor Hugo. New
York: Ginn & Co., 1911.

Boswell, James. The Life of Dr. SamuelJohnson. New York: Modern

Library, 1945.

LECTURE 7: St. AugustineA Saint for All Centuries (354-430)

Essential Readings
Confessions of St. Augustine. New York: Modern Library, 1949.

Suggested Readings
Pearson, Hesketh. Johnson & Boswell, The Story of Their Lives. New York:
Harper & Bros., 1958.
U< TURE 11: Plutarch-

St. Augustine. The City of God. New York: Modern Library, 1950.

That Dramatic Philosopher (c. 46-c. 120)

Suggested Readings

I Essential Readings

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Selected Writings and Life. New York:
Paulist Press, 1984.

Plutarch. Plutarch's Lives. Translated by Arthur Hugh Clough. New York:

Modern Library, 1864.

LECTURE 8: Emily DickinsonThe Belie of Amherst (1830-1886)

Essential Readings
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown & Co.,

Suggested Readings
Hiii row, Reginald Hayes. Plutarch and His Age and Times. Bloomington,
Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1967.
LKCTURE 12: Alfred, Lord TennysonEngland's National Treasure (1809-1892)

Strongly Recommended Readings

Essential Readings

Bianchi, Martha Dickinson, ed. The Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924.

Stouge, G.R., ed. The Poetical Works of Tennyson. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin, 1974.

Suggested Readings

Suggested Readings

Farr, Judith. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard

Press, 1992.

Martin, Robert Bernard. Tennyson, The Unquiet Heart. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1980.

LECTURE 9: Ulysses S. GrantThose Memorable Memoirs (1822-1885)

Essential Readings


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1996 The Teaching Company Limited Partnership



Great Writers:
Their Lives and Works
Lecture 1:
Lecture 2:
Lecture 3:
Lecture 4:
Lecture 5:
Lecture 6:
Lecture 7:
Lecture 8:
Lecture 9:
Lecture 10:
Lecture 11:
Lecture 12:

Oscar WildeThe Tragic Genius

Beatrix PotterNonpareil
H.L. MenckenOccasional Curmudgeon
Robert BurnsOur Rabbie
Maurice MaeterlinckThe Multi-talented
Victor HugoThe Gallic Giant
St. AugustineA Saint for All Centuries
Emily DickinsonThe Belle of Amhersl
Ulysses S. GrantThose Memorable Memoirs
Dr. Samuel JohnsonWords, Words, Words
PlutarchThat Dramatic Philosopher
Alfred, Lord TennysonEngland's National Treasure


Course No.


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