Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Oliver Wendell
Holmes, Sr.

American Physician, Professor and Dean of Medical School at Harvard, Man of Letters, Poet and Author publishing "Breakfast Table" Essays

Author Quotes

A person is always startled when he hears himself seriously called an old man for the first time.

Life and language are alike sacred. Homicide and verbicide—that is, violent treatment of a word with fatal results to its legitimate meaning, which is its life—are alike forbidden.

Nothing is so common-place as to wish to be remarkable.

Little-minded people's thoughts move in such small circles that five minutes' conversation gives you an arc long enough to determine their whole curve.

Every calling is great when greatly pursued.

When in doubt, do it.

It is by little things that we know ourselves.

All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called "facts." They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain. Who does not know fellows that always have an ill-conditioned fact or two that they lead after them into decent company like so many bull-dogs, ready to let them slip at every ingenious suggestion, or convenient generalization, or pleasant fancy? I allow no "facts" at this table.

The flowering moments of the mind
drop half their petals in our speech.

Beware how you take away hope from any human being. Nothing is clearer than that the merciful Creator intends to blind most people as they pass down into the dark valley. Without very good reasons, temporal or spiritual, we should not interfere with his kind arrangements. It is the height of cruelty and the extreme of impertinence to tell your patient he must die, except you are sure that he wishes to know it, or that there is some particular cause for his knowing it. I should be especially unwilling to tell a child that it could not recover; if the theologians think it necessary, let them take the responsibility. God leads it by the hand to the edge of the precipice in happy unconsciousness, and I would not open its eyes to what he wisely conceals.

Beauty is the index of a larger fact than wisdom.

Whatever comes from the brain carries the hue of the place it came from, and whatever comes from the heart carries the heat and color of its birthplace.

Wisdom is the abstract of the past, but beauty is the promise of the future.

When a strong brain is weighed with a true heart, it seems to me like balancing a bubble against a wedge of gold.

What would be the state of the highway of life, if we did not drive our thought-sprinklers through them, with valve open, sometimes?

What a comfort a dull but kindly person is, to be sure, at times! A ground-glass shade over a gas lamp does not bring more solace to our dazzled eyes than such a one to our minds.

Unpretending mediocrity is good, and genius is glorious; but a weak flavor of genius in an essentially common person is detestable. It spoils the grand neutrality of a commonplace character, as the rinsings of an unwashed wine-glass spoil a draught of fair water.

There is no possible success without some opposition as a fulcrum; force is always aggressive, and crowds something or other, if it does not hit and trample upon it.

There is infinite pathos in unsuccessful authorship. The book that perishes unread is the deaf-mute of literature. The great asylum of Oblivion is full of such, making inaudible signs to each other in leaky garrets and unattainable dusty upper shelves.

There are those who hold the opinion that truth is only safe when diluted,--about one-fifth to four-fifths lies,--as the oxygen of the air is with its nitrogen. Else it would burn us all up.

There are many things which we can afford to forget which it is yet well to learn.

The smaller the calibre of mind, the greater the bore of a perpetually open mouth.

The sea drowns out humanity and time. It has no sympathy with either, for it belongs to eternity; and of that it sings its monotonous song forever and ever.

The more we examine the mechanism of thought, the more we shall see that the automatic, unconscious action of the mind enters largely into all its processes. Our definite ideas are stepping-stones; how we get from one to the other, we do not know; something carries us; we do not take the step.

The mind does not know what diet it can feed on until it has been brought to the starvation point.

Author Picture
First Name
Oliver Wendell
Last Name
Holmes, Sr.
Birth Date
Death Date

American Physician, Professor and Dean of Medical School at Harvard, Man of Letters, Poet and Author publishing "Breakfast Table" Essays