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Oliver Wendell Holmes Biography
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Oliver Wendell Holmes
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HOLMES was born at Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 29, 1809, and died October 7, 1894.

At the age of twenty he graduated at Harvard University, then took up the study of law. This study, however, was soon abandoned for medicine. He studied in Europe for a short time, and took his degree as doctor of medicine at Cambridge, in 1836. Two years later he was appointed to the chair of Anatomy and Physiology in Dartmouth College. This position he held till 1847, when he accepted a similar position at Harvard, which he held till 1892. All of his literary work was performed in addition to the labors of a continuous professorship in college of about forty-seven years.

Holmes' literary tastes were early indicated by his comic and satiric verse contributed to "The Collegian." These were excellent of their kind. In his early works, the mirth so often outweighed the sentiment as to lessen the promise and the self-prediction of his being a poet indeed. While many of his youthful stanzas are serious and elegant, those which approach the feeling of true poetry are in celebration of companionship and good cheer. He seemed to exemplify what Emerson was wont to preach, that there is honest wisdom in song and joy. He contributed numerous pieces to American periodicals, and in 1836 collected his poems into a volume. His life was not marked by any noted events, but it was like the steady movement of a great river. It grew broader and deeper in each mile of its progress. "Holmes was a shining instance of one who did solid work as a teacher and practitioner, in spite of his success in literature." "Poetry," a metrical essay, was followed by "Terpsichore," a poem; in 1846, "Urania," in 1850, "Astreea," "The Balance of Allusions," a poem. These poems were first delivered before college and literary societies.

Though the most direct and obvious of the Cambridge group, the least given to subtleties, he was our typical university poet; the minstrel of the college that bred him, and within whose liberties he taught, jested, sung, and toasted, from boyhood to what in common folk would be old age. Alma Mater was more to him than to Lowell or Longfellow, and not until he came into her estate could Harvard boast a natural songster as her laureate. Two centuries of acclimation, and some experience of liberty, probably were needed to germinate the fancy that riots in his measures. Before his day, moreover, the sons of the Puritans hardly were ripe for the doctrine that there is a time to laugh, that humor is quite as helpful a constituent of life as gravity or gloom. Provincial-wise, they at first had to receive this in its cruder form, and relished heartily the broad fun of Holmes' youthful verse. Their mirth-maker soon perceived that both fun and feeling are heightened when combined. The poet of 'The Last Leaf' was among the first to teach his countrymen that pathos is an equal part of true humor; that sorrow is lightened by jest, and jest redeemed from coarseness by emotion, under most conditions of this our evanescent human life."

Turning his attention to prose, he published, in 1858, "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," a series of light and genial essays full of fancy and humor, which has been successful both in the New and Old World. It appears that this work was planned in his youth; but we owe to his maturity the experience, drollery, proverbial humor, and suggestion that flow at ease through its pages. Little was too high or too low for the comment of this down-east philosopher. A kind of attenuated Franklin, he viewed things and folks with the less robustness, but with keener distinction and insight. His pertinent maxims are so frequent that it seems, as was said of Emerson, as if he had jotted them down from time to time and here first brought them to application; they are apothegms of common life and action, often of mental experience, strung together by a device to original as to make the work quite a novelty in literature. The Autocrat holds an intellectual tourney at a boarding-house table; there, jousts against humbug and stupidity, gives light touches of knowledge, sentiment, illustration, coins here and there a phrase destined to be long current, nor forgets the poetic duty of providing a little idyl of human love and interest.

This was followed by "The Professor at the Breakfast Table," and later by "The Poet at the Breakfast Table." "The Professor" is written somewhat in the manner of Sterne, yet without much artifice. The story of Iris is an interwoven thread of gold. The poems in this book are inferior to those of the Autocrat, but its author here and there shows a gift of drawing real characters; the episode of the Little Gentleman is itself a poem,--its close very touching, though imitated from the death scene in Tristram Shandy. "The Poet at the Breakfast Table," written some years after, is of a more serious cast than its predecessors, chiefly devoted to Holmes' peculiar mental speculations and his fluent gossip on books and learning. He makes his rare old pundit a liberal thinker, clearly of the notion that a high scholarship leads to broader views.

Between the second and third of the "Autocrat" series, appeared, in 1861, "Elsie Venner," and in 1868, "The Guardian Angel," two excellent novels. Then, in 1872, he published "Mechanism in Thought and Morals." He is also author of a valuable medical work, and of numerous essays and poems of value.

When the civil war broke out, this conservative poet, who had taken little part in the agitation that preceded it, shared in every way the spirit and duties of the time. None of our poets wrote more stirring war lyrics during the conflict; none was more national so far as loyalty, in a Websterian sense, to our country and her emblem is concerned. He always displayed the simple, instinctive patriotism of the American minute-man. He may or may not have sided with his neighbors, but he was for the nation. His pride was not of English, but of long American descent.

Than Holmes, no one has written a greater number of short beautiful poems, that are on every tongue. When a noted American ship was declared unseaworthy, and about to be abandoned, our poet came forward with a magnificent poem, entitled "Old Ironsides," that gave that fine old ship a half century of preservation.

But he gave us some of the best thoughts. Many of his sayings must stand among the finest specimens of American wit and humor; and his writings, as a whole, will always be classed among the best of their kind. In his prose works we are constantly delighted by the frequent occurrence of the most brilliant and original thoughts. He will always stand in the temple of American literature, among the most brilliant and popular writers.

Biography from: http://www.2020site.org/poetry/index.html
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