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By Joseph Glantz


Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes was born August 29, 1809 in Cambridge Massachusetts and died October 7, 1894 in Cambridge too. Trained as a physician he is best known for his poetry and for being the father of the noted United States Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Old Ironsides is his most noted poem.

So what makes America great?
Even in common people, conceit has the virtue of making them cheerful; the man who thinks his wife, his baby, his house, his horse, his dog, and himself severally unequalled, is almost sure to be a good-humored person, though liable to be tedious at times. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)

Is patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel or something to be admired? 
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky; 
(Old Ironsides. 9/16/1830. (Written 1 1830 in response to reports that the U.S.S. Constitution was to be scrapped. Generally credited with arousing public sentiment sufficient to save the ship, which remains a commissioned ship of the U.S. Navy to this day. –Wikipedia.org)

Any advice for this economy?
Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)

The Internet?
Knowledge—it excites prejudices to call it science—is advancing as irresistibly, as majestically, as remorselessly as the ocean moves in upon the shore. (The Poet at the Breakfast Table; 1872)

Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man's upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground-floor. (The Poet at the Breakfast Table)

The theater shows two masks, a crier and a smiler. What’s your take on these masks?
Laughter and tears are meant to turn the wheels of the same machinery of sensibility; one is wind-power, and the other water-power; that is all. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.)

The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a deal longer. (The Professor at the Breakfast Table; 1859)

Why I didn’t get in to Harvard?
Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked. Good mental machinery ought to break its own wheels and levers, if anything is thrust among them suddenly which tends to stop them or reverse their motion. A weak mind does not accumulate force enough to hurt itself; stupidity often saves a man from going mad. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)

Can you simplify that for me, I didn’t get into Harvard?
Knowledge and timber shouldn't be much used, till they are seasoned. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)

Pete and Repeat are in a boat. Pete falls out. Who’s left? Again, I didn’t get into Harvard?
He must be a poor creature that does not often repeat himself. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)

Your son, Oliver, went on to be one of America’s most notable Supreme Court Justices. What did you teach him?
There isn't a text in the Bible better worth keeping always in mind than that one, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' (Elsie Venner; 1859)

Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)

And why didn’t he go into politics?
You may set it down as a truth which admits of few exceptions, that those who ask your opinion really want your praise, and will be contented with nothing less. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table)

And what do you think of lawyers?
You can hire logic, in the shape of a lawyer, to prove anything that you want to prove. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.)

We always like to ask a few questions about writing, if possible. 
So, what’s the essence of good writing?
A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new and express train of associations (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table)

In other words?
I talk half the time to find out my own thoughts, as a school-boy turns his pockets inside out to see what is in them. One brings to light all sorts of personal property he had forgotten in his inventory. (The Poet at the Breakfast Table.)

Being a poet?
Poets are never young, in one sense. Their delicate ear hears the far-off whispers of eternity, which coarser souls must travel towards for scores of years before their dull sense is touched by them. A moment's insight is sometimes worth a life's experience. (The Professor at the Breakfast Table. 1859)

What do you think your son, the Justice, might say about words?
A pun does not commonly justify a blow in return. But if a blow were given for such cause, and death ensued, the jury would be judges both of the facts and of the pun, and might, if the latter were of an aggravated character, return a verdict of justifiable homicide (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table)

What do you say of your critics?
What a blessed thing it is, that Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left! (The Professor at the Breakfast Table)

And the variant of writing – conversation?
Why can't somebody give us a list of things that everybody thinks and nobody says, and another list of things that everybody says and nobody thinks? (The Professor at the Breakfast Table)

The key to life?
Storms, thunders, waves!
Howl, crash, and bellow till ye get your fill;
Ye sometimes rest; men never can be still
But in their graves. 
(Daily Trials; 1871)

And how should we prepare for, well, where you are? 
I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it— but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. (The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. 1858)
Copyright 2016 Joseph Glantz