OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES





This is the physician and poet, not his son of the same name who was a Supreme Court Justice and famous in his own right. Very early on Dr. Holmes became my mentor and guide in the philosophy of medicine. Though his world-wide fame was based on his prose and poetry, he was an emminent leader in medicine. Many, too many--years ago I would often assign Holmes' "Medical Essays" to a medical student whose sharp edges of science needed some rounding-off. I have no longer the privelege of assigning anything to anybody, yet encourage any of you, especially any who may be physicians, to read the thoughts of a family doctor of the early 1800's.





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A misprint kills a sensitive author



Absolute, peremptory facts are bullies



Advised every literary man to have a

profession.



Afraid of books who have not handled

them from infancy



Age and neglect united gradually



Agreed on certain ultimata of belief



Algebraic symbols of minds which have

grown too weak



All his geese are swans



All men are bores, except when we want

them



All men love all women



All the forms of moral excellence,

except truth



All want to reach old age and grumble

when they get it



And now we two are walking the long

path in peace together



Another privilege of talking is to

misquote



Arc in the movement of a large

intellect



As I understand truth



As to clever people's hating each other



As a child, he should have tumbled

about in a library



Asked Solon what made him dare to be so

obstinate



Assume a standard of judgment in our

own minds



At the mercy of every superior mind



Audacious self-esteem, with good ground

for it



Automatic and involuntary actions of

the mind



Babbage's calculating machine



Be very careful to whom you trust one

of these keys



Beautiful effects from wit,--all the

prismatic colors



Been in the same precise circumstances

before



Behave like men and gentlemen about it,

if you know how.



Beliefs are rooted in human wants and

weakness, and die hard



Bells which small trades-people connect

with their shop-doors



Better for mankind,--and all the worse

for the fishes



Better too few words, from the woman we

love



Bewitching cup of self-quackery



Bill which will render pockets a

superfluity in your next suit



Blank checks of intellectual bankruptcy



Bowing and nodding over the music



Brain often runs away with the heart's

best blood



Brilliant flashes--of silence!



Brute beasts of the intellectual domain



Bury in it beliefs, doubts, dreams,

hopes, and terrors



But we must sail, and not drift, nor

lie at anchor.



But it was in talking of Life that we

came most nearly together



C'est le DERNIER pas qui co te



Called an old man for the first time



Character is distinctly shown at the

age of four months.



Cigar



Clairvoyance which sees into things

without opening them



Code of finalities is a necessary

condition of profitable talk



Cold shower-bath the world furnishes

gratis



Comfort is essential to enjoyment



Commerce is just putting his granite

foot upon them



Common sense, as you understand it.



Common sense was good enough for him



Compare the racer with the trotter



Conceit is just a natural thing to

human minds



Conceit has the virtue of making them

cheerful



Conclusion that he or she is really

dull



Conflicting advice of all manner of

officious friends



Consciousness of carrying a "settler"

in the form of a fact



Controversy



Conversation which is suggestive rather

than argumentative



Conversational fungi spring up most

luxuriantly



Conversational bully



Conversational blank checks or counters



Conversational soprano



Creative action is not voluntary at all



Crippled souls



Crow with a king-bird after him



Cut your climate to your constitution



Dangerous subjects



Demand for intellectual labor is so

enormous



Did I believe in love at first sight?



Didn't know Truth was such an invalid



Differ on the fundamental principles



Dishwater from the washings of English

dandyism



Disputing about remainders and

fractions



Do wish she would get well--or

something



Do you know how important good

jockeying is to authors?



Do you ever wonder why poets talk so

much about flowers?



Do not be bullied out of your common

sense by the specialist



Don't make your moral staple consist of

the negative virtues



Don't believe any man ever talked like

that in this world



Don't begin to pry till you have got

the long arm on your side



Don't ever think the poetry is dead in

an old man



Don't be in a hurry to choose your

friends



Doomed to the pangs of an undeceived

self-estimate



Dullest of teachers is the one who does

not know what to omit



Dulness is not commonly a game fish



Earned your money by the dose you have

taken



Easier to dispute it than to disprove

it



Easier to say this than to prove it



Educational factory



Elysian abandonment of a huge recumbent

chair.



Every person's feelings have a front-

door and a side-door



Extra talent does sometimes make people

jealous



Facts always yield the place of honor,

in conversation



Fall silent and think they are thinking



Few, if any, were ruined by drinking



Flash terms for words which truly

characterize their objects.



Fortune is the measure of intelligence



Fortune had left her, sorrow had

baptized her



Friendship authorizes you to say

disagreeable things



Gambling with dice or stocks



Gambling, on the great scale, is not

republican



Generalize the disease and

individualize the patient



Generally ruined before they became

drunkards



Genius in an essentially common person

is detestable



Gift of seeing themselves in the true

light



Give it an intellectual shake and hold

it up to the light



Give us the luxuries of life



Good for nothing until they have been

long kept and used



Good feeling helps society to make

liars of most of us



Good Americans, when they die, go to

Paris



Got his hand up, as a pointer lifts his

forefoot



Governed, not by, but according to laws



Grave without a stone where nothing but

a man is buried



Great silent-moving misery puts a new

stamp on us



Grow we must, if we outgrow all that we

love



Grow old early, if you would be old

long



Habit is a labor-saving invention



Habits are the crutches of old age



Half knowledge dreads nothing but whole

knowledge



Half-censure divided between the

parties



Hard it is for some people to get out

of a room



He did not know so much about old age

then as he does now



He that has once done you a kindness



He who is carried by horses must deal

with rogues



Height of art to conceal art



Her breathing was somewhat hurried and

high, or thoracic



Here lies buried the soul of the

licentiate Pedro Garcias



Hire logic, in the shape of a lawyer



Hold their outspread hands over your

head



Holes in all her pockets



Hoped he did deserve a little abuse

occasionally



Hopelessly dull discourse acts

inductively



How long will school-keeping take to

kill you?



Hung with moss, looking like bearded

Druids



Hydrostatic paradox of controversy



I always believed in life rather than

in books



I always break down when folks cry in

my face



I allow no "facts " at this table



I show my thought, another his



I tell my secrets too easily when I am

downhearted.



I love horses



I think I have not been attacked enough

for it



I never think I have hit hard unless it

rebounds



I replied with my usual forbearance



I am my own son, as it seems to me



I had not thought love was ever meant

for me.



I hate books



I have lived by the sea-shore and by

the mountains



I have taken all knowledge to be my

province



If so and so, we should have been this

or that



If they have run as well as they knew

how!



If I thought I should ever see the

Alps!



Il faut ne pas BRUTALISER la machine



In what direction we are moving



Incipit Allegoria Senectutis.



Infinite ocean of similitudes and

analogies



Insanity is often the logic of an

accurate mind overtasked



Insanity



Intellectual companions can be found

easily



Is this the mighty occan?--is this all?



It is by little things that we know

ourselves



It is pleasant to be foolish at the

right time



Judge men's minds by comparing with

mine



Keep his wit in the background



Key to this side-door



Knowledge and timber only useful when

seasoned



La main de fer sous le gant de velours



Laid the egg of the Reformation which

Luther hatched



Laughs at times at the grand airs

"Science" puts on



Law of the road with regard to handsome

faces



Leading a string of my mind's daughters

to market



Leap at a single bound into celebrity



Learn anything twice as easily as in my

earlier days



Leave your friend to learn unpleasant

truths from his enemies



Lecturer is public property



Let us cry!



Liability of all men to be elected to

public office



Life would be nothing without paper-

credit



Life is maintained by the respiration

of oxygen and of sentiment



Like taking the cat in your lap after

holding a squirrel



Listen to what others say about

subjects you have studied



Little great man



Little muscle which knows its

importance



Little narrow streaks of specialized

knowledge



Live on the reputation of the

reputation they might have made



Living in a narrow world of dry habits



Logic



Logicians carry the surveyor's chain

over the track



Long illness is the real vampyrism



Look through the silvered rings of the

arcus senilis!



Love must be either rich or rosy



Love is sparingly soluble in the words

of men



Love-capacity is a congenital endowment



Lying is unprofitable



Made up your mind to do when you ask

them for advice



Man of family



Man who means to be honest for a

literary pickpocket



Man is father to the boy that was



Man's and a woman's dusting a library



Man's first life-story shall clean him

out, so to speak



Mathematical fact



May doubt everything to-day if I will

only do it civilly



Meaningless blushing



Mechanical invention had exhausted

itself



Memory is a net



Men that know everything except how to

make a living



Men grow sweet a little while before

they begin to decay



Men of facts wait their turn in grim

silence



Men who have found new occupations when

growing old



Men that it weakens one to talk with an

hour



Men are fools, cowards, and liars all

at once



Might have hired an EARTHQUAKE for less

money!



Moralist and occasional sermonizer



Most of our common, working beliefs are

probabilities



Moved as if all her articulations were

elbow-joints



Much ashamed of some people for

retaining their reason



Must not read such a string of verses

too literally



Must sail sometimes with the wind and

sometimes against it



Must be weaned from his late suppers

now



Napoleon's test



Nature dresses and undresses them



Nature, who always has her pockets full

of seeds



Nearest approach to flying that man has

ever made



Neither make too much of flaws or

overstatements



Never forget where they have put their

money



No families take so little medicine as

those of doctors



No fresh truth ever gets into a book



No man knows his own voice



Nobody is so old he doesn't think he

can live a year



None of my business to inquire what

other persons think



Nutritious diet of active sympathetic

benevolence



Oblivion as residuary legatee



Oblivion's Uncatalogued Library



Odious trick of speech or manners must

be got rid of.



Oh, so patient she is, this

imperturbable Nature!



Old Age



Old age appear as a series of personal

insults and indignities



Old jokes are dynamometers of mental

tension



One very sad thing in old friendships



One whose patients are willing to die

in his hands



One doesn't like to be cruel,--and yet

one hates to lie



One that goes in a nurse may come out

an angel



One can generally tell these wholesale

thieves easily enough



Open patches where the sun gets in and

goes to sleep



Oracle



Original, though you have uttered it a

hundred times



Ought to produce insanity in every

well-regulated mind



Our brains are seventy-year clocks



Overrate their own flesh and blood



Painted there by reflection from our

faces



Passion never laughs



People in the green stage of millionism



People that make puns are like wanton

boys



Person is really full of information,

and does not abuse it



Personal incidents that call up single

sharp pictures



Physical necessity to talk out what is

in the mind



Picket-guard at the extreme outpost



Plagiarism



Pluck survives stamina



Poem must be kept and used, like a

meersehaum, or a violin



Poetry, instead of making one other

heart happy



Poetry of words is quite as beautiful

as that of sentences



Poor creature that does not often

repeat himself



Poverty is evidence of limited capacity



Power of human beings is a very

strictly limited agency



Power of music



Pretensions of presumptuous ignorance



Pride, in the sense of contemning

others



Probabilities



Project a principle full in the face of

obvious fact!



Provincial conceit, which some of us

must plead guilty to.



Pseudo-science



Pseudological inanity



Public itself, which insists on being

poisoned



Pun is primŸ facie an insult



Put coppers on the railroad-tracks



Qu'est ce qu'il a fait?  What has he

done?



Quackery and idolatry are all but

immortal



Question everything



Racing horses are essentially gambling

implements



Rapidity with which ideas grow old in

our memories



Rather meet three of the scowlers than

one of the smilers.



Rather longer than usual dressing that

morning



Regained my freedom with a sigh



Religious mental disturbances



Remarkably intelligent audience



Remarks like so many postage-stamps



Returning thanks after a dinner of many

courses



Ribbon which has strangled so many

false pretensions



Sad thing to be born a sneaking fellow



Saddle-leather is in some respects even

preferable



Saint may be a sinner that never got

down to "hard pan"



Saturation-point of each mind differs

from that of every other



Saying one thing about it and believing

another



Scientific certainty has no spring in

it



Scientific knowledge



Second story projecting



See if the ripe fruit were better or

worse



Self-assertion, such as free suffrage

introduces



Self-love is a cup without any bottom



Self-made men?



Self-unconsciousness of genius



Sense of SMELL



Sentenced to capital punishment for the

crime of living



"Sentimentality," which is sentiment

overdone



"Settler" in the form of a fact or a

revolver



Several false premises



Shake the same bough again



She who nips off the end of a brittle

courtesy



She always laughs and cries in the

right places



Shut out, not all light, but all the

light they do not want



Shy of asking questions of those who

know enough to destroy



SIN has many tools, but a lie is the

handle which fits them all



Single combats between dead authors and

living housemaids



Singular inability to weigh the value

of testimony



Six persons engaged in every dialogue

between two



Slow to accept marvellous stories and

many forms of superstition



Small potatoes always get to the

bottom.



Smiling at present follies



So long as a woman can talk, there is

nothing she cannot bear



So much woman in it,--muliebrity, as

well as femineity



So much must be pardoned to humanity



Society is a strong solution of books



Society of Mutual Admiration



Sold his sensibilities



Some people that think everything

pitiable is so funny



Some people think that truth and gold

are always to be washed for



Somebody had been calling him an old

man



Something she is ashamed of, or ought

to be



Something better than flowers; it is a

seed-capsule



Somewhere,-- somewhere,--love is in

store for them



Stages of life



Struggle with the ever-rising mists of

delusion



Stupidity often saves a man from going

mad



Style is the man



Sudden conviction that I had seen it

somewhere



Takes very little to spoil everything

for writer, talker, lover



Talk about those subjects you have had

long in your mind



Talk, to me, is only spading up the

ground for crops of thought



Talk without words is half their

conversation



Talkers who have what may be called

jerky minds



Talking with a dull friend affords

great relief



Talking is like playing on the harp



Talking is one of the fine arts



Talking shapes our thoughts for us



Tears that we weep inwardly with

unchanging features



Temptation of money and fame is too

great for young people



Tepid and unstimulating expression of

enthusiasm



Terrible smile



Thanklessness of critical honesty



That great procession of the UNLOVED



The house is quite as much the body we

live in



The schoolmistress had tried life, too



The Amen! of Nature is always a flower



The race that shortens its weapons

lengthens its boundaries



The year eighteen hundred and ever-so-

few



The way to argue down a vice is not to

tell lies about it



Their business is not a matter of

sympathy, but of intellect



There is no elasticity in a

mathematical fact



There is a higher law in grammar, not

to be put down



There is almost always at least one key

to this side-door



Think only in single file front this

day forward



Think of the griefs that die unspoken!



Third vowel as its center



This is the shortest way,--she said



This is one of those cases in which the

style is the man



Those who ask your opinion really want

your praise



Time is a fact



To trifle with the vocabulary



To pay up, to own up, and to shut up,

if beaten



Too late!---- "It might have been."----

Amen!



Travellers change their guineas, but

not their characters



Triumph of the ciphering hand-organ



True state of creative genius is allied

to reverie, or dreaming



Truth must roll, or nobody can do

anything with it



Truth is only safe when diluted



Truth's  sharp corners get terribly

rounded



Truths a man carries about with him are

his tools



Turn over any old falsehood



Unadorned and in plain calico



Undertakers



Unpacks and unfolds incidental

illustrations



Unpretending mediocrity is good



Virtually old when it first makes its

appearance



Virtue passed through the hem of their

parchment



Virtues of a sporting man



Vulgarism of language



Wait awhile!



Walls of that larger Inquisition which

we call Civilization



Want of ideas, want of words, want of

manners



We die out of houses, just as we die

out of our bodies



We always compare ourselves with our

contemporaries.



We are all theological students



We carry happiness into our condition



We don't read what we don't like



We never tell our secrets to people

that pump for them.



Wedded, faded away, threw themselves

away



Wedding-ring conveys a right to a key

to this side-door



Weeded their circle pretty well of

these unfortunates



What a satire, by the way, is that

machine



What are the great faults of

conversation?



Whether anything can be conscious of

its own flavor??



Whether gifted with the accident of

beauty or not



While she is silent, Nature is working

for her



Who is in advance of it or even with it



Wholesale professional dealers in

misfortune



Why authors and actors are ashamed of

being funny?



Why did I not ask? you will say



Will you take the long path with me?



Winning-post a slab of white or gray

stone



Wit knows that his place is at the tail

of a procession.



Wonder how my great trees are coming on

this summer.



World calls him hard names, probably



World has a million roosts for a man,

but only one nest.



Yes, I am a man, like another



Young man knows the rules, but the old

man knows the exceptions



Youth and age--something in the soul



If you wish to read the entire context of any of these quotations, select a short segment and copy it into your clipboard memory--then open the appropriate eBook and paste the phrase into your computer's find or search operation.


These quotations were collected from the works of Dr. Holmes by David Widger while preparing etexts for Project Gutenberg. Comments and suggestions will be most welcome.

--And many thanks for your persistence in reading all the way to the end of this page.        D.W.