Probably it started in football. Back in the nineties some chauvinistic Eli declared that his team contained the eleven greatest players, in the country. Then Walter Camp caught the idea, and now his All-American football team is a national institution. But the passion for "all-stars" has spread far beyond the confines of athletics alone; picking the five best this and the ten best that has become the favorite occupation of the intelligentsia. Periodicals are flooded with lists innumerable of the five greatest Americans, the ten greatest novels, and Vanity Fair has even drawn up a list of the ten dullest literary classics!
President Emeritus Eliot compiled recently a list of the ten greatest educators: Aristotle, Galen, Da Vinci, Milton, Shakespeare, Locke, Kant, Bacon, Newton, and Emerson. Of course, his list, like any other, will reap a whirlwind of comment and criticism. Where, for example, is Goethe, Homer, Beethoven, Tolstoy, perhaps, and Rousseau?
But the very criticism such lists arouse is their chief merit. No mere human could possibly make them completely and finally satisfactory: the men and movements of past times are too complex to be thus neatly pigeonholed. But such lists do serve to promote thought and lead to a re-examination and clarification of modern ideas and standards.