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Oliver Wendell Holmes

At once a well-known and easily mistaken identity, this name has meaning for the literary, legal, and medical communities the world over. This page is offered as a starting point for those who would like to know more of the Oliver Wendell Holmeses, the family, and their works. A brief introduction will be useful. Let's start from a point just about two hundred years ago, with a minister of religion (who was also an author) named Abiel Holmes (1763-1837). His second wife, Sarah Wendell, and he had five children: Mary, Ann, Sarah, Oliver and John. This first Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), doubtless somewhat influenced by family precedent, became a physician. He also became a writer, and was much in demand as a speaker.

Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes married Amelia Lee Jackson when he was thirty. They had three children: Oliver Wendell, Jr. (1841-1935), Amelia Jackson Holmes, and Edward Jackson Holmes.

In 1875, Dr. Holmes was chosen to be the first President of the Boston Medical Library, remaining such until 1888 when he resigned primarily to meet his growing literary commitments. In the following year, Dr. Holmes gave nearly one thousand medical books to the Boston Medical Library, together with the shelving necessary to make them available to readers. His devotion was shared by his daughter, Mrs. Turner Sargent. She continued his generosity the next year with a bequest of a handsome sum of money to be paid over after the deaths of both the doctor and her brother, who was a judge. Dr. Holmes and his wife are interred in Cambridge at Mount Auburn Cemetery, where their monument can be seen. Reading about the Doctor is sure to be rewarding. He was a capable and energetic man of enormous capacity, and deeply interested in both science and the humanities. Dr. Holmes worked on a stereoscope, he introduced the use of the microscope into the medical curriculum and was interested in the Boston Microscopical Society. He must have been popular with his children and their friends: it's said he enjoyed free passes to Phineas Barnum's circus! Descriptions of his travels are absorbing. His poetry was often pleasant, and considerable of it was memorable as well: Old Ironsides", "The Chambered Nautilus" for example. So here, to help you along, are a few suggestions which should be useful to you either at your keyboard or in the library. In addition, partial bibliographies of each of the three Holmes authors mentioned above, are provided, along with a gallery of images relating to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The second Oliver (to be known as Wendell) also followed some family footsteps, but into law, later becoming the Chief Justice of Massachusetts' Supreme Court, and eventually a United States Supreme Court Associate Justice. Wendell, too, was known for his writing.

Some Relevant URLs
Dr. OWH Hymns
Dr. OWH Poems
Dr. OWH Quotes
HOLLIS (Harvard library catalog)

Selected Books & Articles About Dr. Holmes

Currier, Thomas Franklin A Bibliography of Oliver Wendell Holmes edited by Eleanor M. Tilton,
New York, New York University Press, 1953.

Published under the auspices of the Bibliographic Society of America. Comprehensive and detailed bibliography based on Harvard and Holmes collections, records of OWH's publisher (Houghton Mifflin and Company/Riverside Press), as well as holdings of the Boston Medical Library.

Morse, John T., Jr. Life and Letters of Oliver Wendell Holmes (2 vols),
Boston, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1896

Background, autobiographic material, and a very serviceable index.

Ticknor, Caroline (ed.) Dr. Holmes's Boston,
Boston, Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1915

Dr. Holmes' own descriptions of Boston as he know it, assembled, edited, illustrated and presented chronologically.

Ball, Donald Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
in The Practitioner 214:282-288 (February 1975).

Bowen, Catherine Drinker Yankee from Olympus: Justice Holmes and his Family,
Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1944.

A popular book by a well-known author. Provides a very readable account of the Holmes through the 1800's well into the 1900's. Good table of contents and index, chapter notes and a section on sources.

Dickson, David L. The Legacy of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes,
in J. Amer. Med. Assn. 208:97-101 (April 7, 1969).

Green, Robert M. Oliver Wendell Holmes: Anatomist, Autocrat, Poet,
in New England J. of Medicine 215:493-496 (September 10, 1936)

Halpert, Brenda The Legendary Dr. Holmes,
in Massachusetts Physician (March 1978) pp. 12-15.

Howe, M. A. DeWolfe Holmes of the Breakfast-Table,
London, Oxford University Press, 1939.

A smaller book with unusually good illlustrations and an excellent index. Howe had seen and heard Dr. Holmes in the late 1880's, and met him again later.

Hoyt, Edwin P. The Improper Bostonian: Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes,
New York, William Morrow and Company, 1979.

Illustrated lively account which includes numerous anecdotes, a chapter of notes, and a good index.

Tilton, Eleanor M. Amiable Autocrat: A Biography of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes,
New York, Henry Schuman, 1947.

Another extremely readable volume. Copious notes and index.

Weissmann, Gerald Round & About: Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes,
in Bostonia (July/August 1991) pp. 40-43.

Farlow, John M. The History of the Boston Medical Library,
Norwood, Massachusetts, Printed by the Plimpton Press, 1918.

A carefully written and nicely illustrated book which includes many details of the period of Dr. Holmes' association with the Library.

Garland, Joseph E. The Centennial History of the Boston Medical Library,
Boston, The Boston Medical Library, 1975.

Provides additional perspective concerning Dr. Holmes and his activities. Illustrated, with excellent notes and index.

Some Publications By/About the Holmes Family

The Reverend Abiel Holmes (1763-1837)

American Annals, or, a Chronological History of America [1492-1806](1805)
The Counsel of Washington (1800)
An Historical Sketch of the English Translations of the Bible (1815)
The History of Cambridge (1801)
The Life of Ezra Stiles
[President of Yale University] (1798)
A Memoir of the French Protestants (1826)
A Note on an Ancient Manuscript [Part of Governor Winthrop's Journal] (1816)
A Sermon, on the Freedom and Happiness of America (1795)

First Church (Cambridge) An Account of the Controversy in the First Parish Church in Cambridge 1827-29 [Rev. Holmes was Pastor], Boston, T.R. Marvin, 1829.

Jenks, William Memoir of the Rev. Abiel Holmes, D.D., LL.D., & C., 1838.

Tappan, David Sermons on Important Subjects, Boston, Hilliard and Lincoln & Edmands, 1807.

Selected Writings by Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

The Claims of Dentistry [address at Harvard Dental Department Commencement] (1872)
Complete Poetical Works (1908)
The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever (1843)
Dedication of the New Building and Hall of the Boston Medical Library
[address] (1878)
Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny (1891)
Homeopathy and its Kindred Delusions
[lectures] (1842)
Medical Essays 1842-1882 (1889)
The New Century and the New Building of the Harvard Medical School
[address] (1878)
Our Hundred Days in Europe (1887)
Over the Teacups (1891)
Pages from an Odd Volume of Life
[essays] (1883)
The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1884)
The Position and Prospects of the Medical Student (1844)
Principles of the Theory and Practice of Medicine (Marshall Hall) 1st Amer.Ed. (1839)
The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1883)
The Psychiatric Novels of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1943)
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1885)
Soundings from the Atlantic (1864)
The Stereoscope and Stereoscopic Photographs (c1898)
Wit & Humour; poems (1867)
The Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes (c1892-1896)

Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)

"Dedication of the New Hall of the Boston University School of Law Collected Legal Papers (1920)" (address).
Commentaries on American Law (James Kent, 12th ed) (1873)
Common Carriers and the Common Law (1879)
The Common Law (1881)
Law in Science and Science in Law
[paper read] (1899)
The Mind and Faith of Justice Holmes: [speeches, essays, letters, opinions] (1943)
Touched with Fir; Civil War Letters and Diary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr (1861-1864) (1946)

Novick, Sheldon M. (ed.) Collected Works of Justice Holmes: Complete Public Writing and Selected Judicial Opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1995- [5 vols].

Bowen, Catherine Drinker Yankee from Olympus: Justice Holmes and His Family,Boston; Little, Brown and Company, 1944.

Marke, Julius J. (ed.) The Holmes Reader; the life writings, speeches,...decisions, etc. Dobbs Ferry, NY, Oceana Publications, 1955.

Novick, Sheldon M. Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston; Little, Brown and Company, 1989.

Prepared by Dr. Adam G. N. Moore (30 May 98) agnm@massmed.org