« PreviousContinue »
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
bridge, Massachusetts, August 29, 1809. The old house in which he was born, still standing near the colleges, has a historic interest as having been the headquarters of General Artemas Ward, and of the Committee of Safety in the days just before the Revolution. Upon the steps of the house stood President Langdon of Harvard College, tradition says, and prayed for the men who, halting there a few moments, marched forward under Colonel Prescott's lead to throw up intrenchments on Bunker Hill on the night of June 16, 1775. Dr. Holmes's father carried forward the traditions of the old house, for he was Rev. Dr. Abiel Holmes whose American Annals was the first careful record of American history, written after the Revolution.
Born and bred in the midst of historic associa tions, Holmes had from the first a lively interest in American history and politics, and though pos. sessed of strong humorous gifts, has often turned his song into patriotic channels, while the current of his literary life has been distinctly American.
He began to write poetry when in college at Cambridge, and some of his best known early pieces, like Evening by a Tailor, The Meeting of the Dryads, The Spectre Pig, were contributed to the Collegian, an undergraduate journal, while he was studying law the year after his graduation. At this same time he wrote the well-known poem Old Ironsides, a protest against the proposed breaking up of the frigate Constitution ; the poem was printed in the Boston Daily Advertiser, and its indignation and fervor carried it through the country and raised such a popular feeling that the ship was saved from an ignominious destruction. Holmes shortly gave up the study of law, went abroad to study medicine and returned to take his degree at Harvard in 1836. At the same time he delivered a poem, Poetry, a Metrical Essay, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard, and ever since his profession of medicine and his love of literature have received his united care and thought. In 1838 he was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Phys.iology at Dartmouth College, but remained there only a year or two, when he returned to Boston, married and practised medicine. In 1847 he was made Parkman Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Medical School of Harvard College, a position which he still holds.
In 1857, when the Atlantic Monthly was established, Professor Lowell, who was asked to be editor, consented on condition that Dr. Holmes should be a regular contributor. Dr. Holmes at that time
was known as the author of a number of poems of grace, life, and wit, and he had published several professional papers and books, but his brilliancy as a talker gave him a strong local reputation, and Lowell shrewdly guessed that he would bring to the new magazine a singularly fresh and unusual power. He was right, for The Autocrat of the Breakfust-Table beginning in the first number unquestionably insured the Atlantic its early success. The readers of the day had forgotten that Holmes, twenty-five years before, had begun a series with the same title in Buckingham's New England Mag. azine, a periodical of short life, so they did not at first understand why he should begin his first article, “ I was just going to say, when I was in. terrupted.” From that time Dr. Holmes was a frequent contributor to the magazine, and in it appeared successively, The Autocrat of the BreakfastTable, The Professor at the Breakfast-Table, Elsie Venner, The Professor's Story, The Guardian Angel, The Poet at the Breakfast-Table, - prose papers, and stories with occasional insertion of verse ; here also have been printed the many poems which he has so freely and happily written for festivals and public occasions, including the frequent poems at the yearly meetings of his college class. The wit and humor which have made his poetry so well known would never have given him his high rank had they not been associated with an admirable art which makes every word necessary and felicitcus, and a generous nature which is quick to seize upon what touches a common life.
GRANDMOTHER'S STORY OF BUNKER
AS SHE SAW IT FROM THE BELFRY.
[This poem was first published in 1875, in connection with the centenary of the battle of Bunker Hill. The belfry could hardly have been that of Christ Church, since tradition says that General Gage was stationed there watching the battle, and we may make it to be what was known as the new Brick Church, built in 1721, on Hanover, corner of Richmond Street, Boston, rebuilt of stone in 1845, and pulled down at the widening of Hanover Street in 1871. There are many narratives of the battle of Bunker Hill. Frothingham's History of the Siege of Boston is one of the most comprehensive accounts, and has furnished material for many popular narratives. The centennial celebration of the battle called out magazine and newspaper articles, which give the story with little variation. There are not many disputed points in connection with the event, the principal one being the discussion as to who was the chief officer.]
'Tis like stirring living embers when, at eighty,
one remembers All the achings and the quakings of “the times
that tried men's souls”; When I talk of Whig and Tory, when I tell the
Rebel story, To you the words are ashes, but to me they 're
5 I had heard the muskets' rattle of the Apriı run
ning battle; Lord Percy's hunted soldiers, I can see their read
2. In December, 1776, Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense had so remarkable a popularity as the first homely expression of public opinion on Independence, began issuing a series of tracts called The Crisis, eighteen numbers of which appeared. The familiar words quoted by the grandmother must often have been heard and used by her. They begin the first number of The Crisis : “ These are the times that try men's souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but be that stands it xow, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
3. The terms Whig and Tory were applied to the two parties in England who represented, respectively, the Whigs political and religious liberty, the Tories royal prerogative and ecclesiastical authority. The names first came into use in 1679 in the struggles at the close of Charles II.'s reign, and continued in use until a generation or so ago, when they gave place to somewhat corresponding terms of Liberal and Conservative. At the breaking out of the war for Independence, the Whigs in England opposed the measures taken by the crown in the management of the American colonies, while the Tories supported the crown. The names were naturally applied in America to the patriotic party, who were termed Whigs, and the loyalist party, termed Tories. The Tories in turn called the patriots rebels.
5. The Lexington and Concord affair of April 19, 1775, when Lord Percy's soldiers retreated in a disorderly manner