Lapas attēli

canny Yankee sense as in Ralph Waldo Emerson? Where is the man among the survivors who in beauty of person and brightness of intellect can rival James Russell Lowell? Where did we ever hear such rich flow of racy talk as from Oliver Wendell Holmes? I do not know why the last, but not the least, in this brilliant constellation impresses me as a great personality, rather than as a great poet. As a writer of verse, he is scarcely entitled to a place among the immortals. But as Oliver Wendell Holmes, the genial Autocrat, the novelist, the fanciful and versatile poet, the wit, the wag, the royal companion, i. e., in the totality of what he was, he seems to be safe from oblivion for some centuries to come. "Such were the men that New England produced in the nineteenth century," the future historian will say, and point to the splendid group, of which Oliver Wendell Holmes was the last.

Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.

I have no gift to write obituaries. None knew Dr. Holmes but to admire him for his rare wit and to love him for his lovable qualities. I hold with Wordsworth, who says in his "Essay on Epitaphs" that we do not willingly analyse the characters of those who have delighted and helped us, the admiration and the love they have made us feel; that these sentiments are abundant proofs of the worth which inspires them. (I quote from memory.)

W. H. Furness.

In animals, bird, beast, insect, bee, grasshopper, and fly, poets see images of mankind. Dr. Holmes found in a fish a symbol of the soul. He imported into literature the chambered nautilus from its navigation of faroff seas. With his scientific imagination he naturalized a foreign species for shores it never sailed to alive, and immortalized a frail creature in the amber of imperishable thought. It was fancied that men learned to build vessels from the nautilus, which means both a sailor and a ship. There is a spiritual lesson and motive from inspired verse. C. A. Bartol.

From the day when I read the first page of Dr. Holmes' work until now, he has seemed to me to carry to every mind and mood a sense of his benevolent presence like nothing else so

much as the call of a kind physician to the bedside of a child. In the constellation of American literary masters his light is the kindliest of all. It shone and must shine on through the generations as it shone from the first, with the soft, unvarying glow of a perfect human affection. We might reasonably fancy him beginning the utterances of a life beyond this in those words which, with such sweet and playful pretense of austerity so many years ago, he began the "Autocrat "—"I was just going to say, when I was interrupted.". G. W. Cable. NORTHAMPTON, 18th October, 1894.

In more than one recent notice of the life of Dr. Holmes I have observed that he was called "The last of our great poets." When over-zealous admirers applied the term "great" to the poet Bryant, the author of "The Fable for Critics" dryly observed:


"My friends, you endanger the life of your client By trying to stretch him up into a giant." "Great poets" are few and far between in a century. America has had but one (Lowell) in this of ours; England, not many. To make this claim for Holmes is to invite comparison and criticism with somewhat damaging results. A delightful author in verse or prose one may freely and gratefully acknowledge him to be, but hardly more, so far as his work in general is concerned. But in the series of poems called "Wind-clouds and Star-drifts" he comes more nearly to deserve the descriptive adjective "great" than elsewhere; but, alas! these are not the poems of his which his admirers are enthusiastic about. These they never read. Perhaps they will one day be read more than now, and certainly such a hymn as "O Love Divine," such an exquisite poem as "The Silent Melody," such others as "The Voiceless," "The Chambered Nautilus," "Homesick in Heaven," and "My Aviary," these we may hope will long endure, and for them we can but be sincerely thankful, whether their kindly author be called "great" or not.

CAMBRIDGE, October 19, 1894.

Oscar Fay Adams.

It is a remarkable characteristic of Dr. Holmes that he reveals himself so fully in his writings. In his poems, and especially in his "Autocrat," he reveals most thoroughly his

kaleidoscopic mind. The grave and the gay, the sober and the humorous, the scientific and the intensely human sides of his nature stand out so broadly that one needs no biography of him, except to fill in the comparatively unimportant matters of places and dates. He shows himself a man of wide reading, of an iron memory, of keen discrimination, of microscopic observation, of a sweet and genial spirit, of gracious sympathy and roystering joy. As it was said of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, "If you seek his monument, look around you"; so, if it is asked, "What kind of a man was Dr. Holmes, what was the character of his mind?"- the answer is, "Read his works and you will know." S. F. Smith.

[ocr errors]

His work was the sunlight of American literature. Frank L. Stanton.

Until he reached the age of forty-eight Oliver Wendell Holmes was known in literature only as a clever versifier, a writer of witty occasional poems and metrical essays. At that period he surprised the world of letters with his "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," the appearance of which was an event of distinct importance in our literary history. From that time to the end of his life, Dr. Holmes, — wit, poet, and social philosopher,- was a notable and greatly beloved figure in the mental vision of the English-speaking race. As a writer his position was unique; he apparently followed no model; and he leaves neither successors nor imitators. Noah Brooks.

CASTINE, Me., Oct. 20, 1894.

He was to me the prince of our humorists, the gentlest of our satirists, the gladdest of our singers. It is only the clay that has returned to its own. He lives with us and our children and children's children so long as time shall last. Charles King (Capt. U. S. Army).

Oliver Wendell Holmes illustrated, perhaps better than any of that remarkable circle of poets of whom he was the surviving member, the brightness and beauty of life in itself. To him there were no gloomy thoughts, no darkening shadows of coming or past woe. Sin and misery appealed most strongly to him, but he invariably saw Hope; and Despair, that stalks

through life making a tragedy of the common event to break the universal heart, had no claim upon his pen. He put the grim monster gently aside with an imperative farewell, and then went on to sing a dying hope to life, in the common heart of man.

O, gentle Autocrat! As one grows older in this sad world, one comes to see more and more thy wise teaching. And to say at last, He who leads us to the sunshine, and makes us to dwell in it, is a common benefactor.

Margaret Sidney.

O. W. H. (August 29, 1809.)

"How shall I crown this child?" fair Summer cried. ་་ May wasted all her violets long ago;

No longer on the hills June's roses glow,
Flushing with tender bloom the pastures wide.
My stately lilies one by one have died :
The clematis is but a ghost-and lo!

In the fair meadow-lands no daisies blow;
How shall I crown this Summer child?" she sighed.
Then quickly smiled. "For him, for him," she said,
"On every hill my golden-rod shall flame,

Token of all my prescient soul foretells.
His shall be golden song and golden fame-
Long golden years with love and honor wed-
And crowns, at last, of silver immortelles !


Julia C. R. Dorr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes loved all the world, and all the world loved him. I am sure that I voice the sentiment of the South in saying that he appealed to its people with a personality more vivid than any other writer of New England. As a prose writer he possessed, like Charles Lamb, the greatest of literary charms, the charm of personal revealment. Who but Lamb could have written the 66 Essays of Elia"? Who but Dr. Holmes "The Autocrat"? I cannot think of one and not recall the other. As a poet the dead singer is even more lovable. "The Last Leaf" has fluttered to the heart of the world, and the wind of forgetfulness shall blow in vain.


Samuel Minturn Peck.

I love to recall my last two glimpses of Dr. Holmes - one as he read, in a tone that suggested apology and appreciation, certain of his best-known poems; the other as he sat laughing and applauding the bubbling good humor of Rosina Vokes. I especially treasure a brief note he wrote me in his "calmer age," as to the

semi-spontaneous production of his "Old Ironsides " poem, in what he called his "fiery young days," and I remember, as characteristic of the man, the annual check sent by him in support of a certain well-intentioned, but scantily-supported, medical periodical - not because he had any use for the publication, but because he wanted to be "counted in" to help keep a good thing afloat, so he would write. Oliver Wendell Holmes may not have been great, in the sense of genius, nor immortal, as the world writes its narrowing record of fame; but the people will never let die his half-dozen masterpieces sung in mingling humor and pathos, nor forget the kindly autocratic ukases of America's laughing philosopher.

Elbridge S. Brooks.

[blocks in formation]

Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes is sure of a fourfold immortality:

As a physician, by his essay on the Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever, published in 1843, in the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery; whereby, like most reformers, he was exposed for a time to a storm of obloquy and abuse, though he lived to see the theory triumphantly vindicated.

As a poet, by "The Chambered Nautilus," which stands on the same plane as Wordsworth's great Ode.

As a humorist, by "The Last Leaf."

As a wit, by "The Deacon's One Hoss Shay." The wit of one generation is not the wit of another, and, undoubtedly, much of Dr.

Holmes' vers d'occasion will not be understood

a hundred years from now. But whatever may perish, these things are sure to live.

Those of us who knew the genial Autocrat still see him large: as a friend, as a man, as a poet, as a humorist, as a wit. He seemed one of the men who might live for ever. Hence the shock of his loss. Nathan Haskell Dole.

Dr. Holmes is sure of a permanent place in American literature as a novelist and essayist, the "Autocrat" and "Elsie Venner" being his greatest achievements. He is far and away the first of American wits; he has expressed Boston so consummately that his fame will endure as long as the State House stands on Beacon Hill (how ever changed); he will rank with Sir Thomas Browne and the two or three other doctors of medicine who have been also great physicians of the mind; and some twenty of his poems are too good to die from the memory of men while they continue to feel the beauty, the joy, and the sacredness of life.

Nicholas P. Gilman.

Editor of the Literary World, BOSTON.

I cannot find it in my heart to refuse your request to write a paragraph for the Holmes Memorial Number of your magazine, and yet it is almost impossible for me to express, in brief compass, my estimate of such a man as Oliver Wendell Holmes. Literally it may be said of him: :

"The light he leaves behind him lies
Upon the paths of men."

It would require greater condensation than I possess to gauge his power aright, or to weigh with critical precision the loss our literature has sustained. Too often we use the word genius without regard to its full meaning, but it seems to me an eminently appropriate word to apply to Dr. Holmes. The opulence and variety of his gifts were amazing, and he used them to the best advantage. He had greater versatility than any of his contemporaries, and in this respect he towered above them. was a poet, essayist, novelist, scientist, and wit; and, in these different branches, his success was merely a question of degree. For more than threescore years he assiduously cultivated "his broad mental acres, and reaped from them an abundant and beautiful harvest." As an


essayist and writer of humorous verse he has received, perhaps, his due meed of praise; but it seems to me that he has never been fully appreciated as a serious poet. Such pieces as "The Chambered Nautilus," "Old Ironsides," and "Dorothy Q." have had their share of recognition, but such a poem as "The Silent Melody" is seldom mentioned, even in literary circles. And yet, in my judgment, the pathos and melody of that lyric are imperishable. It is to be hoped that future critics will value aright the strength and sweetness of the poet who sang until the "curfew" bade him "cover up the fire."

My admiration of Dr. Holmes' character and my reverence for his genius are fitly expressed by these words of Hamlet:

"Take him all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.” William H. Hayne.

SUMMERVILLE, NEAR AUGUSTA, Ga., October 20, 1894.


It is difficult to speak briefly of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes without omitting much one would like to say. He was not our greatest writer in the Boston group of authors, but he was versatile beyond any one of them. All of his faculties and they were manyawake constantly. He was not a Homer, for the proverb says that even Homer would sometimes nod, while the fact with Dr. Holmes was that he never did. But he was more than an author, poet, and wit; he had a unique personality. He was a Brahmin by birth and instinct, and yet he was not the prisoner of his environment. He might and did prefer Boston to any part of the universe, as its centre or "hub," but he could maintain very easy and genial relations with other people than Bostonians.

One of his most notable books-" Mechanism in Morals "-I am sure not one in fifty of his admirers has ever read. It is a small, thin volume, full of the weightiest and wittiest discourse. I cannot think of any other American author who could have written it.

His "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table " expresses him at his best and roundest. but he has left his fluent and lambent touch on all that he wrote. His poetry is poured into forms that Pope and his contemporaries used, but these forms fitted best his genius. Much of his occasional verse, of which there was a large quan

tity, was written to be delivered; and Holmes lets us into his secret so far as to say that the human breath in elocution fits itself better to the octosyllabic verse and to forms related thereto than to any other. Though he wrote lyrics, to be sure, his muse was not lyrical in itself.

One thing about his poems is that they gave us always the latest news and often the latest science. These things, too, colored his prose. He made conversation in literature, tending to monologue, an immense instrument and a perennial delight. His thought was broad and liberating. His spirit, jocund often, was like Ariel's. Some of his mots require culture to understand, as when he said of Bishop Berkeley that "he thought tar water everything and the universe nothing." But the point, and glow, and felicity were never absent from them. His was a most wholesome personal and literary influence one that was felt, too, across the It will be a long time before we have another such Admirable Crichton to charm and honor us, and whose loss could be so much lamented. Foel Benton.


[ocr errors]

After the death of one whom we love, we can only try to convey our sense of loss by expressing our sense of obligation. But what one owes to an author whom one has loved from childhood contains so much of personal record, that it seems to be matter rather for private confession and meditation than public acknowledgment. And thus I feel that my inability to express what I would about Dr. Holmes is in itself the most adequate expression of my gratitude and affection to him. Grace King.

MANDEVILLE, La., October 22, 1894.

In no writer of our time, if we except Bulwer, can we discern so great a change-as years passed on-as in Dr. Holmes. As a poet-at first-only a delicate fancy marked his work, or an equally delicate wit. Later he touched deeper chords with reverent sentiment and an extraordinary happiness of epithet. It was as "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" that he first won popular sympathy. The title was fortunately chosen-for "Autocrat " he was by nature. But with the use of the word a certain consciousness came to him, and from that hour his sympathies broadened-he took more inter

[blocks in formation]

a deep and keen thinker, and in every way sympathized with modern rationalistic movements. The full measure of his intellectualism was by no means expressed in his poetry; and yet his finer lyrics have a lark-like quality almost unique. Others are far below these, though some of his "occasional" poems are the best that any one in any known time has ever written. Nothing that he did in verse will entitle him to be called great; not a little that he did in prose will entitle him to be called masterly. As a personality, a life, he seems to me the sane and wholesome and joyous perfection of contemporary human aim and achievement. As a man of letters he takes rank among the highest. As a wit, a humorist, whom can we place above him? I value beyond words the memory of talks held with him, and the gift of precious letters received from his gracious and graceful pen. Edgar Fawcett.

Dr. Holmes, as an essayist, will remain a permanent worthy of American literature. He was a natural Autocrat, in whom wit and wisdom were happily blended. As a poet, his work, while it possesses grace, humor, and charm, has not the highest imaginative quality. "The Chambered Nautilus" and "The One Hoss Shay" are his finest things in the lyric and homely-humorous veins respectively. But Holmes' serious verse, especially in its form, is of secondary importance, and was, in a sense, oldfashioned and restricted to the last. His work in fiction must not be overlooked in any just

estimate. "Elsie Venner" was a remarkable novel when it appeared over thirty years ago: it is still a noteworthy performance, in spite of the great advance since in the technique of fiction in the United States. Critical judgments on Dr. Holmes are peculiarly difficult, because of the social magnetism of the man, his unique place in the hearts of his contemporaries. Richard Burton.

Oliver Wendell Holmes was exceptionally fortunate in his life and in his death. As a literary artist, he was so singularly versatile that he has gained less fame, famous as he is, in any one branch of letters than he would have gained had his range been limited. As an author, speaking in the widest sense, he was spared, through his independent means, the trials and the hardships that so commonly beset his guild. Had he been compelled to live by his pen, he would probably have died before fifty, for he was the reverse of robust. Dr Holmes' cheerful, almost optimistic, spirit served him in place of vigorous health, and sustained his intellect and buoyancy to the very end. Although spoken of by British critics, with characteristic self-complacency, as having modelled himself on British writers, he was wholly American, and himself. Unquestionably a man of genius, he was at his highest as a humorist and social philosopher. His best work, I think, is the "Autocrat," as delightful as it is brilliant and original. But all his writings are a precious legacy to his Country and his epoch.

Junius Henri Browne.

NEW YORK, October 19th, 1894.

The death of Dr. Holmes is striking and significant, not only from the heaviness of the loss in the man, but from the fact that with him ends the most brilliant period which American letters has known. We cannot forget that he was the last survivor of the group of writers which first gave to this country a national and individual literature worthy the name. The men who remain are different in temper and different in aim. Emerson, Motley, Whittier, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Holmes, as compared with Aldrich, Howells, James, and still more, as compared with younger men, were lacking in cosmopolitanism. There is always evident in their work a disregard of any world

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »