Read the list of one hundred books deemed ‘best worth reading’ by Sir John Lubbock (1834–1913), Principal of the Working-Men’s College in London from 1883 to 1899. The list was drawn up for a speech he made to that institution in 1887. It caused a stir, and was leapt upon by working-class readers all over the English-speaking world as a guide to a speedy self-education.
Lubbock, who became the first Baron Avebury, was himself from a privileged banking family, and educated at Eton. He was a reform-minded Liberal MP for Maidstone and subsequently for London University. Although he had not attended university himself, he was a prodigious polymath, specialising in archaeology and biological sciences.
In Lubbock’s List, the proportion of classical authors is remarkable. They include Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Augustine’s Confessions, Plato’s Apology, Crito and Phaedo, Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Anabasis, Demosthenes’ de Corona, Cicero’s De Officiis, De Amicitia, and De Senectute, Plutarch’s Lives, Homer, Hesiod, Virgil, Aeschylus’ Prometheus and Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus, Euripides’ Medea, Arisophanes’ Knights and Clouds, Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus’ Germania, and Livy.
In addition, two famous works on ancient history– Gibbon’s Decline and Fall and Grote’s History of Greece make it onto the list as necessary reading for any educated person, along with the most popular novel then in existence set in antiquity, Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii.
That is, more than a quarter of all the books are classical authors, and with the addition of books entirely addressed to classical antiquity, the proportion is about one third of the entire list. The classical riches on the working-class self-educator’s bookshelf after 1887 can in large measure be attributed to his ideal curriculum.