The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays by Morris R. Cohen

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

3
THREE GREAT JUDGES

1. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

IT IS NOT EASY for a grateful and admiring friend of justice Holmes to write objectively about his character and achievements. The attempt at a dispassionate analysis of his career seems bound to leave out the vital spark, his unique and outstanding personality, and at best to reduce him to the level of the one who is writing about him. But his own insistence that we view critically what we love and reverence, and the example of his unfailing courage, shame hesitation before an unpromising task. After all, Holmes's work has been before the public for several generations, his magnum opus was published more than fifty years ago, and we are bound to ask: What is his permanent or historic significance?

Holmes's life was in many respects a most apt illustration of the Hellenic ideal of the great-souled man who is a child of eudaimonia, or good fortune. All the gifts seemed to be his and well used. He was born into the New England intellectual aristocracy in that Golden Day when it still combined the Puritan discipline of plain living and high thinking with wide cosmopolitan interests and contacts, and he was favored with a brain and a body that enabled him to do a prodigious amount of concentrated work day after day without lessening his amazing and ever-youthful buoyancy.

____________________
The substance of this essay appeared in The New Republic, Vol. 82, p. 206 ( April 3, 1935).

-20-

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