This month the Librivox book club is listening to Literary Taste: How to form it, by Arnold Bennett.  In that book, among other things, he lists 339 works which he believes are essential to having a sound library. The obvious question was asked: how many of these books has Librivox recorded?  Can you grab your MP3 player and just download the whole of Arnold Bennett’s suggested library, and keep it in your pocket?

Bennett divides all of English Lit into three periods: this post covers the first period, which is up to Dryden, which is roughly the end of the Seventeenth Century.

Remember he doesn’t include works originally in other languages (and this includes the Bible) or works that are of interest mostly as they form part of a continuum that later disgorges a more skilled author. He admits to cheating here, because Utopia was in Latin, and he has excluded Newton and Bacon because they were in Latin. Librivox, at time of writing, has no Newton, and it has only limited Bacon:

So, the first 48 authors are listed below. The colour is black for no recording, orange for partial recording, and green for a complete recording.

PROSE WRITERS

Bede, Ecclesiastical History
Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d’Arthur (4 vols.) – two volumes complete
Sir Thomas More, Utopia
George Cavendish, Life of Cardinal Wolsey
Richard Hakluyt, Voyages (8 vols.)
Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity (2 vols.)
FRANCIS BACON, Works – various smaller pieces
Thomas Dekker, Gull’s Horn-Book
Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Autobiography
John Selden, Table-Talk
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
James Howell, Familiar Letters (3 vols.)
SIR THOMAS BROWNE, Religio Medici, etc.
Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Holy Dying (3 vols.)
Izaak Walton, Compleat Angler
JOHN BUNYAN, Pilgrim’s Progress
Sir William Temple, Essay on Gardens of Epicurus
John Evelyn, Diary (2 vols.)
Samuel Pepys, Diary (2 vols.)

Bennett further notes: “The principal omission from the above list is The Paston Letters, which I should probably have included had the enterprise of publishers been sufficient to put an edition on the market at a cheap price. Other omissions include the works of Caxton and Wyclif, and such books as Camden’s Britannia, Ascham’s Schoolmaster, and Fuller’s Worthies,whose lack of first-rate value as literature is not adequately compensated by their historical intereest.” None of the mentioned works have Librivox editions.

POETS.
Beowulf
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, Works – some pieces complete

Nicolas Udall, Ralph Roister-Doister
EDMUND SPENSER, Works: – The Faerie Queen, and some smaller works, complete.
Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde – one of his poems was, however, selected for a weekly poetry project.
Robert Greene, Tragical Reign of Selimus
Michael Drayton, Poems – two small pieces
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, Works – Faustus complete, Tamburlaine in progress, some smaller works.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Works – Many completed works
Thomas Campion, Poems – Two short works
Ben Jonson, Plays – some samples of his work.
John Donne, Poems (2 vols) – some samples of his work
John Webster, Cyril Tourneur, Plays Duchess of Malfi only.
Philip Massinger, Plays
Beaumont and Fletcher, Plays: a Selection. A tiny amount of Fletcher’s work, excepting possible Shakespeare collaborations.
John Ford, Plays
George Herbert, The Temple: Selections from this work have been recorded twice.
ROBERT HERRICK, Poems Small selections have been recorded.
Edmund Waller, Poems One poem recorded.
Sir John Suckling, Poems Four poems recorded
Abraham Cowley, English Poems
Richard Crashaw, Poems: One poem recorded
Henry Vaughan, Poems Four poems recorded
Samuel Butler  Hudibras Some other works recorded, but not this.
JOHN MILTON, Poetical Works: Some poems recorded
JOHN MILTON, Select Prose Works: Some prose recorded
Andrew Marvell, Poems: Some works recorded
John Dryden, Poetical Works: Two poems recoded
[Thomas Percy], Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: (2 vols.)
Arber’s “Spenser” Anthology
Arber’s “Jonson” Anthology
Arber’s “Shakspere” Anthology:
There were a number of brilliant minor writers in the seventeenth century whose best work, often trifling in bulk, either scarcely merits the acquisition of a separate volume for each author, or cannot be obtained at all in a modern edition. Such authors, however, may not be utterly neglected in the formation of a library. It is to meet this difficulty that I have included the last three volumes on the above list. Professor Arber’s anthologies are full of rare pieces, and comprise admirable specimens of the verse of Samuel Daniel, Giles Fletcher, Countess of Pembroke, James I., George Peele, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Sackville, Sir Philip Sidney, Drummond of Hawthornden, Thomas Heywood, George Wither, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir William Davenant, Thomas Randolph, Frances Quarles, James Shirley, and other greater and lesser poets.

I have included all the important Elizabethan dramatists except John Marston, all the editions of whose works, according to my researches, are out of print.

In the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods talent was so extraordinarily plentiful that the standard of excellence is quite properly raised, and certain authors are thus relegated to the third, or excluded, class who in a less fertile period would have counted as at least second-class.

SUMMARY OF THE FIRST PERIOD.

19 prose authors in 36 volumes. 

29 poets in 36 volumes.

Librivox score, as at time of writing:

4 works complete, 21 partial recordings.

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7 replies on “The Literary Taste Lists: how complete is Librivox? The Seventeenth Century

    1. It’d not really like a Facebook Challenge. 8)

      In my spare time, I record books into the public domain as part of Librivox. One of the books I read was “Literary Taste” in which the author suggests 323 books everyone should own and have read to be a fully functionally literate person. A bookclub on Librivox is listening to “Literary Taste” and so we were wonderinh which books were voxed and which weren’t. I suppose in future someone might come ot the post to see what books still need to be voxed, but I’m more interested to see how the communal interest of Librivox overlaps the views of a mainstream Victorian author about what is essential reading.

      I think more items will be voxed from later periods. LV does a good line in Shakespeare, but other than that, I think C19th works beat out C17th ones.

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  1. Francis Bacon wrote his essays and other works in English. Sir Thomas Browne probably the finest 17th century prose writer as his works are in various genre, autobiography, encyclopedia, essays, letters and scientific notes.

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  2. Timothy
    I am listening to Literary Taste now and really enjoying it. Makes me google some of the names and read their histories. Thanks for your reading. Where are the women? Anne

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    1. Arnold Bennett was sexist: from his perspective, great works were the preserve of dead men. He didn’t claim it was because women couldn’t write great stuff: just that, in his opinion, they hadn’t, all that often.

      Virginia Wolff’s reposte was that he’d been teased by a pretty girl when he was a baby and ignored by women since, because he was fat and jowly. I think she would have done better pointing out that some of the men on his list were women, or coming up with a counterlist, but she wanted to give him a serve, I presume. 8)

      Part of the problem is that he restricted his book to works written initially in English, and many great works by women were in Latin or French.

      So, they are missing because Bennett was sexist, to a degree that I wasn’t aware of when I recorded the book (indeed, even he hadn’t developed his thoughts on the matter when he wrote the book. His opinions on women and writing appear in a far later work.)

      For me, once you know that and take it into account, it still leaves parts of his text valuable. His passionate defence of literature and poetry are still convincing, even though he is wrong about women, wrong about people who wrote in Latin, Greek, Chinese, French, and so on.

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