Dr. Oliver Wendall Holmes, 1809-1894

[Mentioned in The People's Idea of God, pp. 5, 6]

Today more is known about Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes as a writer than as a physician. But during his 35 years of teaching at Harvard Medical School, the first 5 years of which he was also Dean of the School, he was probably the most popular lecturer. Speaking without notes, he quickened his students' interest with illustrations and diagrams, and his own vivacity enlivened the subject matter. As one student said, "You went in to his hour tired, and you came out refreshed." Conservative by nature, he nevertheless was progressive in his medical views, always including some instruction in microscopy and being violently opposed to the excessive use of drugs.

Dr. Holmes, who called Boston the "hub" of the universe, lived all his life either in Cambridge or Boston, with the exception of the year he attended Phillips Andover Academy and the 2 years he studied medicine in Paris. From the windows of his home on the river side of Charles Street and later from his Beacon Street home, his family could watch him expertly handling his own shell on the Charles. That sport and his passion for measuring great trees were his only recreational activities.

From boyhood he found his greatest pleasure in association with people and in writing. His poem "Old Ironsides," published the year after his graduation from Harvard, saved the frigate "Constitution" from destruction and brought his name before the public. He continued to write, and after he returned from Paris he published his collected poems. In 1857 when the launching of a new magazine was being discussed, James Russell Lowell consented to be its editor on condition that Dr. Holmes be a regular contributor.

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Signs of the Times
February 11, 1956

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