Whose idea was it to put an infinite number of monkeys to work on The Massachussets Institute of Technology's web server? It was a great move if the Shakespeare archive is anything to go by. It may not have taken a lot of imagination to decide to put the great man's entire works on-line, but it's an impressive feat none the less. This should perhaps be a slight source of shame because it's based outside Britain but that's another story. The best things about this site are the text searches which can be carried out at high speed. Does the phrase "Ides of March" show up in any of his plays except Julius Caesar? No. How many times does "pound of flesh" appear in The Merchant of Venice? 18 times. Now you know.
Slightly closer to the present day - indeed so much that some of the work is still legally protected - are the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Although all the stories are out of copyright in Britain, the 12 short stories published after 1919 are still protected in the US, which means that they are unavailable on this site. Although the chore of reading dense text off a computer screen has become less gruelling over recent years, it can still be a chore to wade through long stories. But if `free' is your thing, this site is still difficult to beat. It also contains many original illustrations from the Strand magazine where the stories were originally published, as well as links to other Sherlock Holmes sites.
THE BEST OF THE REST www.r3.org/intro.html HH
A page devoted entirely to Shakespeare's Richard III.
promo.net/pg HHH Project Gutenberg is a hugely ambitious attempt to get as much out-of- copyright literary work on to the Internet as possible. The site isn't particularly user-friendly but the sheer scale and ambition of the project is incredibly impressive.
MIT again showing what can be achieved with some organisation and ambition. This contains, amongst a host of literary classics, The Odyssey, The Illiad and the complete works of Aesop.
Superb archive of short stories. Plenty of nuggets for casual browsers.
An excellent collection of classic works from HG Wells through to Virginia Woolf.