Robert Teeter's Great Books Lists offers transcriptions of most of the "great books" lists published since they become common in the late Nineteenth Century. Moreover, his page for what has been deemed the earliest list, Sir John Lubbock's, links to W B Carnochan's article, 'Where Did Great Books Come From Anyway?', published in the Stanford Humanities Review in 1998. This article clarifies the complicated publishing history of Lubbock's list, makes note of another list not included at Teeter's site, and provides the context for the inchoate rise of these kinds of lists, which would not reach their peak of influence until after the Second World War with Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins's set The Great Books of the Western World.
As Carnochan relates, Lubbock included a shorter list in a lecture at the Working Men's College in London, January 1886; this list, "sorted into categories," was included in the Pall Mall Gazette dated January 11. Several lists constructed in response to Lubbock's followed in the same periodical [see 9 September post]. In turn, Lubbock's lecture and a longer List of 100 Books were published in the February issue of the Contemporary Review as 'On the Pleasure of Reading'. Having photo-copied the article from that U K publication (which stopped printing new issues at the end of 2012--they're hoping to continue online), I've found that the "complete" list actually had 98 entries. (No matter how you count these complex entries, I cannot fathom how the author or editors came up with the tally of 100 unless one of them miscounted at some point.) The use of the word, entry, is better because, as I noted in an earlier post, no matter if the list creator calls it a list of books, he is often not listing books, but rather poems, essays, and short stories originally published in periodicals or anthologies; and sometimes he lists multiple books for a single number in the list. For example, "Shakespeare" appears in Lubbock's Contemporary Review list at one place, while two Dickens novels appear in another. Three essays by Pope occupy a place, as do "Scott's novels."
Teeter's site transcribes an 1896 version of Lubbock's list.
His list also makes note of works that were deleted and added for a
version of the list included in the 1930 edition of Lubbock's book The
Pleasures of Life.
Later, I will try to find the 1930 version of the list [alas... see 4 September post] (indeed, all the "great books" lists) for a post at this blog so that the number of entries is clearly presented alongside the number of novels, poems, essays, etc., as well as the number of entries that consist only of authors' names or vague collections of works, such as Bacon's essays, and excerpts, such as "The Koran (portions of)."