Ten random public domain freebies #3
This is the third in a series. I’ve expanded the listings by including the opening* of the book, to replicate that feeling of opening a book and reading it a bit to see if you like it. If my random search returns a title from one of the previous posts, I’ll randomize again.
One of the things people say they miss when shopping online is that sense of random discovery you get in a physical store.
When you go online, you tend to search for something specific.
When you walk in a store, you never know what you’ll find. Heck, they might even have changed where the sections are.
That was especially true of used bookstores. I loved finding some obscure old title…the kind you couldn’t figure out how it ever got published in the first place.
Alternatively, maybe it was something that was clearly popular at one time.
The point is, you never quite knew what you’d see.
So, I decided to replicate that experience.
When you do a search at Amazon, you can only see 400** results.
to limit my search to free public domain titles, and to rank the results by popularity.
Next, I used
to find me ten random numbers from 1 to 400.
The books below are the results of that search…have fun wandering down the aisle!
#7. Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens
original publication: 1837
Originally serialized, later adapted for movies or TV more than 25 times, Oliver Twist is one of those books that has truly had a lasting impression on readers for generations.
TREATS OF THE PLACE WHERE OLIVER TWIST WAS BORN
AND OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDING HIS BIRTH
Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.
For a long time after it was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble, by the parish surgeon, it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all; in which case it is somewhat more than probable that these memoirs would never have appeared; or, if they had, that being comprised within a couple of pages, they would have possessed the inestimable merit of being the most concise and faithful specimen of biography, extant in the literature of any age or country.
by Charlotte Brontë
original publication: 1849
Brontë’s second novel after Jane Eyre, it has not had the sort of cultural impact of Dickens’ Twist, but was very popular in its day. I didn’t know this, but apparently, its how the name Shirley became common as a name for a woman (having been around as a name for men before that). Similar to the Dickens novel, it puts a human face on difficult social circumstances. In this case, it even involves questions of technology…machines replacing human workers.
Of late years an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good. But not of late years are we about to speak; we are going back to the beginning of this century: late years—present years are dusty, sunburnt, hot, arid; we will evade the noon, forget it in siesta, pass the midday in slumber, and dream of dawn.
If you think, from this prelude, that anything like a romance is preparing for you, reader, you never were more mistaken. Do you anticipate sentiment, and poetry, and reverie? Do you expect passion, and stimulus, and melodrama? Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool, and solid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning, when all who have work wake with the consciousness that they must rise and betake themselves thereto. It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting, perhaps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is resolved that the first dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic—ay, even an Anglo-Catholic—might eat on Good Friday in Passion Week: it shall be cold lentils and vinegar without oil; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.
#137: Thrilling Narratives of Mutiny, Murder and Piracy A weird series of tales of shipwreck and disaster, from the earliest part of the century to the present … escapes and heart-rending fatalities.
original publication: unknown
Interestingly, I didn’t find much about this one at all…not even a publication date. That’s the sort of quirky thing I might have expected to find in a used bookstore. :)
Shipwreck may be ranked among the greatest evils which man can experience. It is never void of danger, frequently of fatal issue, and invariably productive of regret. It is one against which there is the least resource, where patience, fortitude and ingenuity are in most cases, unavailing, except to protract a struggle with destiny, which, at length, proves irresistible.
But amidst the myriads unceasingly swallowed up by the deep, it is not by the numbers that we are to judge of the miseries endured. Hundreds may at once meet an instantaneous fate, hardly conscious of its approach, while a few individuals may linger out existence, daily in hope of succor, and at length be compelled to the horrible alternative of preying on each other for the support of life. Neither is it by the Narratives about to be given that we are to calculate on the frequency of shipwreck. It is an event that has been of constant occurrence since a period long anterior to what the earliest records can reach. In England it is calculated that about 5000 natives of the British Isles yearly perish at sea.
#145: Polly and the Princess
by Emma C. Dowd
original publication: 1917
WAFFLES AND DEWLAPS
The June Holiday Home was one of those sumptuous stations where indigent gentlewomen assemble to await the coming of the last train.
Breakfast was always served precisely at seven o’clock, and certain dishes appeared as regularly as the days. This was waffle morning on the Home calendar; outside it was known as Thursday.
The eyes of the “new lady” wandered beyond the dining-room and followed a young girl, all in pink.
“Who is that coming up the walk?”
Fourteen faces turned toward the wide front window.
Miss Castlevaine was quickest. Her answer did not halt the syrup on its way to her plate.
“That’s Polly Dudley.”
“Oh! Dr. Dudley’s daughter?”
#200: Elizabeth: the Disinherited Daughter
by Elizabeth Arnold Hitchock
original publication: unknown
THAT STRANGE LETTER.
It was in the latter part of the eighteenth century. The dwelling was a plain frame structure, spacious, and of the style of that day (the second story projecting a few inches beyond the first), and was kept painted as white as snow. It stood in the south suburb of the then little city of Middletown, Conn., between two hills on the right bank of the Connecticut River, at the bend called “the Cove.” The first break in the happy family circle was made by the departure of a daughter to another State to engage in teaching. Few letters were written in those days, and the postal service was a slow and small concern. But this absent school-teacher had written with much care and vivacity to the dear circle at home as regularly as the months came around. But now, for long, anxious weeks, no tidings from the absent one had reached that saddened home at the Cove. “Why don’t we get a letter from Betsey?” was often asked by the fond parents, the loving sisters, and thoughtful little brothers; but no satisfactory answer could be given.
The father would hasten to the city as often as “mail day” returned and watch for the ponderous stagecoach, but come back more moderately, with a shadow upon his countenance, and “No letter!” “No letter!” would deepen the sorrow of the circle. One day the son “Siah” was sent, and in an unusually short time was seen coming over the hill with a speed so unlike a disappointed lad that the watchful mother was “sure the dear boy had tidings.” Her lip trembled as she motioned to the father and called out, “Where’s Esther? Where’s Sam? Call ’em all in. Siah’s coming real fast; I guess he’s got a letter from Betsey!” “How he does ride!” says Hannah. “Dear fellow, I most know he’s got a letter!” “Yis, yis,” says little sharp-eyed Sam; “see, he holds suthin’ white higher’n his head.” Sure enough, on comes the rider, flourishing in his hand the long-looked-for message from the absent one!
#209: The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California To which is Added a Description of the Physical Geography of California, with Recent … from the Latest and Most Authentic Sources
by Brevet Colonel John C. Fremont
original publication: 1853
Fremont was an explorer, but also an important anti-slavery figure, and a noted senator.
Washington, March 1, 1843.
To Colonel J.J. Abert, Chief of the Corps of Top. Eng.
Sir: Agreeably to your orders to explore and report upon the country between the frontiers of Missouri and the South Pass in the Rocky Mountains, and on the line of the Kansas and Great Platte rivers, I set out from Washington city on the 2d day of May, 1842, and arrived at St. Louis by way of New York, the 22d of May, where the necessary preparations were completed, and the expedition commenced. I proceeded in a steamboat to Chouteau’s landing, about four hundred miles by water from St. Louis, and near the mouth of the Kansas river, whence we proceeded twelve miles to Mr. Cyprian Chouteau’s trading-house, where we completed our final arrangements for the expedition.
Bad weather, which interfered with astronomical observations, delayed us several days in the early part of June at this post, which is on the right bank of the Kansas river, about ten miles above the mouth, and six beyond the western boundary of Missouri. The sky cleared off at length and we were enabled to determine our position, in longitude 90° 25′ 46″, and latitude 39° 5′ 57″. The elevation above the sea is about 700 feet. Our camp, in the mean time, presented an animated and bustling scene. All were busily engaged in completing the necessary arrangements for our campaign in the wilderness, and profiting by this short stay on the verge of civilization, to provide ourselves with all the little essentials to comfort in the nomadic life we were to lead for the ensuing summer months. Gradually, however, every thing–the materiel of the camp–men, horses, and even mules–settled into its place; and by the 10th we were ready to depart; but, before we mount our horses, I will give a short description of the party with which I performed the service
#252: Polly of the Hospital Staff
by Emma C. Dowd
original publication: 1912
Another book in the Polly series. I can, again, imagine this in a used bookstore: “Look! Another one!”
The Cherry-Pudding Story
The June breeze hurried up from the harbor to the big house on the hill, and fluttered playfully past the window vines into the children’s convalescent ward. It was a common saying at the hospital that the tidal breeze always reached the children’s ward first. Sometimes the little people were waiting for it, ready with their welcome; but to-day there were none to laugh a greeting. The room was very quiet. The occupants of the little white cots had slept unusually long, and the few that had awakened from their afternoon naps were still too drowsy to be astir. Besides, Polly was not there, and the ward was never the same without Polly.
As the young nurse in charge passed noiselessly between the rows of beds, a small hand pulled at her apron.
“Ain’t it ‘most time for Polly to come?”
#337: Sermons on Various Important Subjects
by Andrew Lee
original publication: 1803
That thick darkness overspread the church after the irruptions of the northern barbarians, and the desolations which they occasioned in the Roman empire, is known and acknowledged. Those conquerors professed the religion of the conquered; but corrupted and spoiled it. Like the new settlers in the kingdom of Ephraim, they feared the Lord and served their own gods. In those corruptions antichristian error and domination originated. The tyranny of opinion became terrible, and long held human minds enslaved. Few had sentiments of their own. The orders of the vatican were received as the mandates of heaven. But at last some discerning and intrepid mortals arose who saw the absurdity and impiety of the reigning superstition, and dared to disclose them to a wondering world! Among those bold reformers, LUTHER, CALVIN, and a few contemporary worthies, hold a distinguished rank. Greatly is the church indebted to them for the light which they diffused, and the reformation which they effected. But still the light was imperfect. Dark shades remained. This particularly appeared in the dogmatism and bigotry of these same reformers, who often prohibited further inquiries, or emendations! They had differed from Rome, but no body must differ from them! As though the infallibility which they denied to another, had been transferred to themselves!
#372: An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African, Translated from a Latin Dissertation
by Thomas Clarkson
original publication: 1786
The slave trade in Britain was ended in 1807…more than half a century before the American Civil War. Clarkson was a campaigner in that cause.
When civilized, as well as barbarous nations, have been found, through a long succession of ages, uniformly to concur in the same customs, there seems to arise a presumption, that such customs are not only eminently useful, but are founded also on the principles of justice. Such is the case with respect to Slavery: it has had the concurrence of all the nations, which history has recorded, and the repeated practice of ages from the remotest antiquity, in its favour. Here then is an argument, deduced from the general consent and agreement of mankind, in favour of the proposed subject: but alas! when we reflect that the people, thus reduced to a state of servitude, have had the same feelings with ourselves; when we reflect that they have had the same propensities to pleasure, and the same aversions from pain; another argument seems immediately to arise in opposition to the former, deduced from our own feelings and that divine sympathy, which nature has implanted in our breasts, for the most useful and generous of purposes. To ascertain the truth therefore, where two such opposite sources of argument occur; where the force of custom pleads strongly on the one hand, and the feelings of humanity on the other; is a matter of much importance, as the dignity of human nature is concerned, and the rights and liberties of mankind will be involved in its discussion.
#379: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. I. (of 12)
by Edmund Burke
original publication: 1854
Whig was an Irish politician who supported the American Revolution, but opposed the French one.
A LETTER TO LORD ****.
Shall I venture to say, my lord, that in our late conversation, you were inclined to the party which you adopted rather by the feelings of your good nature, than by the conviction of your judgment? We laid open the foundations of society; and you feared that the curiosity of this search might endanger the ruin of the whole fabric. You would readily have allowed my principle, but you dreaded the consequences; you thought, that having once entered upon these reasonings, we might be carried insensibly and irresistibly farther than at first we could either have imagined or wished. But for my part, my lord, I then thought, and am still of the same opinion, that error, and not truth of any kind, is dangerous; that ill conclusions can only flow from false propositions; and that, to know whether any proposition be true or false, it is a preposterous method to examine it by its apparent consequences.
Well, there’s an interesting set! My guess is that we have some of these books in the top 400 because of the popularity of the movie Lincoln, and certainly, Fremont would make good “additional reading”. I always have great fun putting this together…I hope you have fun reading it, and find a good book or two out of it as well. Free free to let me know what you think by commenting on this post.
*I do exercise some discretion in choosing the “opening”. I may or may not skip the preface, for example
**Hey, they’ve increased the search results to 2,256! I still ran this one based on 400, but next time, we’ll have a chance for some less popular titles.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.