The Pocket University

The Pocket University, Double, Page & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1925. (1st ed., 1917)

This set of 23 volumes, each about 4×6″, has amused me to no end. I started with only Volume XXIII, The Guide to Daily Reading (Lyman Abbott, Asa Don Dickinson, general editors) in 2013. Generally I just looked up the names, works, and events listed in calendar fashion in The Guide. But in April, 2020 I bought a complete set and started working through each day. I think I stopped in August or September of that year.

It’s from Abbott’s Preface to The Guide, “Books for Study and Reading,” that one of my favorite quotes comes.

There are three services that books may render in the home: they may be ornaments, tools, or friends.

Six of the 23 volumes are devoted to the works of a dozen men (all six edited by Perry Bliss). I must say, how Lincoln and Lamb came to be in the same volume is a mystery that I’m sure the editors carried to their graves. Following that, the various genres (again, each with its own editor) are presented.

Volume numberFeatured author / Genre
IThackeray and Ruskin
IICarlyle and Macaulay
IIIHawthorne and Irving
IVPoe and De Quincey
VLincoln and Lamb
VIWebster and Franklin
VIIAmerican Wit and Humor
VIIIAmerican Wit and Humor
VIXAmerican Wit and Humor
XPoetry Ballads Old and New
XIPoetry Idyls and Stories
XIIPoetry Lyrics
XIIIPoetry Odes, Sonnets, and Epigrams
XIVPoetry Descriptive and Reflective Verse
XVPoetry Elegies and Hymns
XVIAutobiography Greatest Americans and Soldiers, Explorers
XVIIAutobiography Writers and Actors
XXIIIThe Guide to Daily Reading

What was most interesting was how many well-known authors there were from a hundred years whose names I didn’t even recognize. For example, three of four readings for November 6 are by Holman F. Day, who was born on that date in 1865. And of course, just when I think an author has been lost, I do a search and discover I’m just ignorant. He was a poet and newspaper editor from Maine and some of his work is still available. A quick read of one of his poems from Up From Maine: Stories of Yankee Life Told in Verse suggests a New England variant on “The Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Riley.

Volume XVII Autobiography Writers and Actors, has several letters written by Edwin Booth, a well-known actor in the mid- to late-1800s. Until I was directed to them by The Guide, I had no idea John Wilkes had a brother.

Lots to be learned or remembered as we follow The Guide to Daily Reading through the Pocket University. Starting tomorrow!