Oliver Wendell Holmes
0 comment Wednesday, November 19, 2014 |
Oliver Wendell Holmes, physician, author, critic, and poet, was born on August 29, 1809, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Most of us, in earlier decades, read his poems in school, notably 'Old Ironsides' a patriotic poem about the frigate Constitution, which had defeated the British ship Guerriere in the War of 1812. When Holmes read a newspaper story indicating that the ship was to be dismantled, he was moved to write the poem.
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;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;--
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;--
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the God of storms,--
The lightning of the gale!
The poem was credited with saving the ship, which has been preserved and can be seen in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
Holmes, (who is often confused by later generations with his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who was a Supreme Court Justice,) also wrote many prose pieces, notably a series called the Breakfast Table series, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly.
Here are a few quotes from Holmes:
The very aim and end of our institutions is that we may think what we like and say what we think."
"A page of history is worth a pound of logic."
"I value a man mainly for his primary relations with truth, as I understand truth, - not for any secondary artifice in handling his ideas." - The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table
"Language is a solemn thing," which "grows out of life - out of its agonies and ecstasies, its wants and its weariness. Every language is a temple, in which the soul of those who speak it is enshrined." - The Professor at the Breakfast Table
"The one great thought" that the American "inherits as his national birthright; free to form and express his opinions on almost every subject, and assured that he will soon acquire the last franchise which men withhold from men, - that of stating the laws of his spiritual being and the beliefs he accepts without hindrance except from clearer views of truth." - The Professor at the Breakfast Table
If a person "chooses to vote for the Devil, that is his lookout; - perhaps he thinks the Devil is better than the other candidates; and I don't doubt he's often right, Sir!" - The Professor at the Breakfast Table

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