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The Reader, by Alexander Ver Huell, c. 1880

About Us

The Ex-Classics project was founded in 2000 to fill an unmet need.  When reading the blurb etc. to a book by Charles Dickens or Charlotte Bronte, say, we would often come across sentences like "Favourite reading included . . ."  If  it's good enough for them, it's good enough for us. So off we go to the library or bookshop, to be met first with blank stares and then with the information that the book has been out of print for decades. Our first two books were Gil Blas and Hudibras, which are prime examples of this This web site is dedicated to rescuing these works from obscurity and making them available online, both for reading directly, and for downloading.

Book of the Month -- March 2021

The Poems of John Skelton

Portrait of John Skelton

John Skelton (1460?-1529) is a poet whose works have hovered on the edge of the canon, never being forgotten or lacking advocates, but never making it into the schools. Robert Graves thought him better than Milton. Stanley Fish, now the Grand Old Man of American Literary Criticism (and proud to be the model for David Lodge's Morris Zapp) published a book-length study of Skelton in 1965, and more recently, Helen Cooper, professor of English at Cambridge, called him "one of the great figures of English poetry."

In his early days, he was very highly regarded as a scholar and received the laurel crown from both Oxford and Cambridge universities. He was ordained a priest, and appointed by King Henry VII as tutor to his son Henry who became Henry VIII. He was appointed rector of the village of Diss in Norfolk, but spent little time there, being mostly a courtier to King Henry. His irregular life, including having a wife when this was strictly forbidden, involved him in constant conflict with his bishop, and was also the source of many amusing but probably apocryphal stories. He was also very quarrelsome, and his attacks on Cardinal Wolsey resulted in jail time, and eventually forced him to seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, where he stayed, unable to leave, for the last few years of his life.

Though he could be lyrical, as in Philip Sparrow and The Garland of Laurel, there can be no doubt that his principal talent was for satire and vituperation. His victims ranged from safe targets like the Scots and the women customers of a pub in Leatherhead, Surrey, to the highest in the land, especially Cardinal Wolsey.


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Max Adeler contemplating the Patent Office Report, by Arthur B. Frost

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