The Harvard Classics: Download All 51 Volumes as Free eBooks

Open Culture

In addition to these options, Bartleby has digital texts of the entire collection of what they call “the most comprehensive and well-researched anthology of all time.” But wait, there’s more! Much more, in fact, since Eliot and his assistant William A. Neilson compiled an additional twenty volumes called the “Shelf of Fiction.” Read those twenty volumes—at fifteen minutes a day—starting with Henry Fielding and ending with Norwegian novelist Alexander Kielland at Bartleby.

What may strike modern readers of Eliot’s collection are precisely the “blind spots in Victorian notions of culture and progress” that it represents. For example, those three harbingers of doom for Victorian certitude—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—are nowhere to be seen. Omissions like this are quite telling, but, as Kirsch writes, we might not look at Eliot’s achievement as a relic of a naively optimistic age, but rather as “an inspiring testimony to his faith in the possibility of democratic education without the loss of high standards.” This was, and still remains, a noble ideal, if one that—like the utopian dreams of the Victorians—can sometimes seem frustratingly unattainable (or culturally imperialist). But the widespread availability of free online humanities certainly brings us closer than Eliot’s time could ever come.