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The moon above the eastern wood
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, M.D.
Born AUG. 29, 1809, CAMBRIDGE, Mass.
Popular writer of prose and poetry. Author of "Autocrat of the Breakfast
Table,” “Elsie Venner," and "The Guardian Angel." Poems in two volumes.
EXTRACT FROM POETRY: A METRICAL ESSAY.
SOME prouder Muse, when comes the hour at last,
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high ;
That banner in the sky.
And burst the cannon's roar:
Shall sweep the clouds no more!
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe, When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below, No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee: The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea !
Oh! better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave: Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave. Nail to the mast her holy flag;
Set every threadlbare sail ; And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!
THE LAST LEAF.
With his cane.
They say, that in his prime,
Cut him down,
Through the town.
But now he walks the streets,
Sad and wan;
“ They are gone!"
The mossy marbles rest
In their bloom;
On the tomb.
My grandmamma has said, -
Long ago, —
That he had a Roman nose,
In the snow.
But now his nose is thin,
Like a staff;
In his laugh.
I know it is a sin
At him here;
Are so queer!
And, if I should live to be
In the spring,
Where I cling.
ESTRACT FROM THE AUTOCRAT OF THE BREAKFAST-T'ABLE.
I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula : 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression atb=c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists, until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.
They all stared. There is a divinity-student lately come among us, to whom I commonly address remarks like the above, allowing him to take a certain share in the conversation, so far as assent or pertinent questions are involved. He abused his liberty on this occasion by presuming to say that Leibnitz had the same observation. “No, sir," I replied, " he has not. But he said a mighty good thing about mathematics, that sounds something like it; and you found it, not in the original, but quoted by Dr. Thomas Reid. I will tell the company what he did say, one of these days.”
- If I belong to a Society of Mutual Admiration? — I blush to say that I do not at this present moment. I once did, however. It was the first association to which I ever heard the
term applied, — a body of scientific young men in a great foreign city who admired their teacher, and, to some extent, each other. Many of them deserved it: they have become famous since. It amuses me to hear the talk of one of those beings described by Thackeray
“Letters four do form his name” –
about a social development which belongs to the very noblest stage of civilization. All generous companies of artists, authors, philanthropists, men of science, are, or ought to be, Societies of Mutual Admiration. A man of genius, or any kind of superiority, is not debarred from admiring the same quality in another, nor the other from returning his admiration. They may even associate together, and continue to think highly of each other. And so of a dozen such men, if any one place is fortunate enough to hold so many. The being referred to above assumes several false premises. First, That men of talent necessarily hate each other. Secondly, That intimate knowledge or habitual association destroys our admiration of persons whom we esteemed highly at a distance. Thirdly, That a circle of clever fellows, who meet together to dine and have a good time, have signed a constitutional compact to glorify themselves, and to put down him and the fraction of the human race not belonging to their number. Fourthly, That it is an outrage that he is not asked to join them.
Here the company laughed a good deal; and the old gentleman who sits opposite said, “That's it! that's it!”
I continued; for I was in the talking vein. As to clever people’s hating each other, I think a little extra talent does sometimes make people jealous. They become irritated by perpetual attempts and failures, and it hurts their tempers and dispositions. 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 wineglass spoil a draught of fair water. No wonder the poor fellow we spoke of, who always belongs to this class of slightly-flavored mediocrities, is puzzled and vexed by the strange sight of a dozen men of capacity working and playing together in harmony. He and his fellows are always fighting. With them, familiarity naturally breeds contempt. If they ever praise each other's bad drawings, or broken-winded novels, or spavined verses, nobody ever supposed it was from admiration : it was simply a contract between themselves and a publisher or dealer.
If the Mutuals have really nothing among them worth admiring, that alters the question. But, if they are men with noble powers and qualities, let me tell you, that, next to youthful love and family affections, there is no human sentiment better than that which unites the Societies of Mutual Admiration. And what would literature or art be without such associations ? Who can tell what we owe to the Mutual Admiration Society of which Shakspeare, and Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher, were members ? or to that of which Addison and Steele formed the center, and which gave us “ The Spectator"? or to that where Johnson and Goldsmith and Burke and Reynolds and Beauclerc and Boswell, most admiring among all adinirers, met together? Was there any great harm in the fact that the Irvings and Paulding wrote in company ? or any unpardonable cabal in the literary union of Verplanck and Bryant and Sands, and as many more as they chose to associate with them?
The poor creature does not know what he is talking about when he abuses this noblest of institutions. Let him inspect its mysteries through the knot-hole he has secured, but not use that orifice as a mediuin for his popgun. Such a society is the crown of a literary metropolis : if a town has not material for it, and spirit and good feeling enough to organize it, it is a mere caravansary,— fit for a man of genius to lodge in, but not to live in. Foolish people hate and dread and envy such an association of men of varied powers and influence because it is lofty, serene, impregnable, and, by the necessity of the case, exclusive. Wise ones are prouder of the title M. S. M. A. than of all their other honors put together.
- 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 which 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. What! because bread is good and wholesome and necessary and nourishing, shall you thrust a crumb into my windpipe while I am talking? Do not these muscles of mine represent a hundred loaves of bread ? and is not my thought the abstract of ten thousand of these crumbs of truth with which you would choke off my speech ?
The above remark must be conditioned and qualified for the vulgar mind. The reader will of course understand the precise amount of seasoning which must be added to it before he adopts it as one of the axioms of his life. The speaker disclaims all responsibility for its abuse in incompetent hands. ]
This business of conversation is a very serious matter. There are men that it weakens one to talk with an hour more than a day's fasting would do. Mark this that I ain going to say; for