Climbing the Cathedral of Learning to get to the Harvard Classics

I recently learned that the Harvard Classics, a 51-volume set of classic writings first published in 1909, are now available for free download as ebooks. This isn’t really news, but was just something that appeared on my radar.

What relevance such an ancient collection has today is an interesting question, especially in light of the fact that a century ago the concept of what was of interest in the history of the “world” was fairly narrow, but not something I’m discussing right now.

I had a hunch where I could find a physical copy of the Harvard Classics. I tested my hunch:



I have seen this type of material (including, of course sets of encyclopedias) in many places, including personal homes: dusty, hardly opened volumes handed down generation after generation, perhaps, or acquired at bargain prices from library or garage sales.

But most interesting to me is seeing it in public places. In particularly, I suddenly had the suspicion (or unconscious memory) that the 36th floor of the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt, which has book shelves of many old books, might have the Harvard Classics.

Climbing the Cathedral


So I used my curiosity to stop by the Cathedral of Learning near lunch time and climb to the 36th floor, a curious form of exercise I hadn’t engaged in for quite some time, maybe almost a year by now. I took off my shoes and socks and jacket, and stuffed them in my backpack before beginning the ascent. I am currently out of shape and started feeling nauseous probably around the 25th floor, but made it to the top:


There they were, the Harvard Classics!


Physically old books have a durability and charm to them. Here’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, a book I actually acquired by accident at age 9 along with many others but never really read (I tried but it was too confusing, despite the illustrations):


A note on the “elevator modernization project”

After I climb to the top of the Cathedral of Learning, I have to choose whether to take an elevator down, and this time was no exception.

It turned out that an elevator appeared quickly before I had to decide whether to just walk down 36 floors, so I hopped in with some other people.

I heard a lot of complaints about elevator waits thanks to elevators being out of service. People talked about waiting fifteen to twenty minutes before giving up sometimes.

I kept my mouth shut about the fact that it only takes far less time to either ascend or descend the entire Cathedral on the stairs; this is not a nation of walkers, and everyone has personal reasons not to take the stairs. There are many good reasons to improve accessibility between all the floors of the Cathedral for all people, and I have found the elevators unreliable.

Getting back to the bottom, I saw a sign that explained the situation: there is an “elevator modernization project” in progress to try to considerably improve the elevator situation:



I found the Harvard Classics where I expected to find them! I will continue to climb the Cathedral in the future to see what other oldies exist up there. I am particularly interested in encyclopedias and “world history” books, having seen some really old ones in the past that were fascinating in either their short-sighted parochial nature or in their far-sighted prophetic correctness. I will report on what I find that might be particularly noteworthy.

comments powered by Disqus