Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court

By G. Edward White | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
3
THE PRACTICAL
STRUGGLE OF LIFE:
BECOMING A LAWYER
AND A JUDGE

“If I survive the war,” Holmes had written in his autobiographical sketch for the 1861 Harvard class album, “I expect to study law as my profession or at least for a starting point.” The phrase reflected more than a young person’s uncertainty about the future. In 1861 many of Holmes’s contemporaries simply studied law as “a starting point” to something else. It was common in the 18th and 19th centuries for men—not women—to study law as part of their general education. Law was an established profession by the time Wendell Holmes entered Harvard Law School in 1864, but it was also a gentlemanly pursuit.

The Boston to which Holmes returned in 1864, and which would serve as his home for the remainder of the 19th century, was already taking on signs of changing from a seaport town to an urban metropolis. As a boy Holmes had remembered being able to stand near his house and look out over the waterfront, where the constant activity of ships signaled that most commercial traffic in the area took place on water. Huge horse-chestnut trees lined the streets and the Boston Common, a grassy area of public land originally laid out in the 17th century. Public buildings were

-35-

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Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Prologue- the 90Th-Birthday Address 7
  • Chapter 1 - The Family Legacy 13
  • Chapter 2 - Our Hearts Were Touched with Fire- The Civil War Years 25
  • Chapter 3 - The Practical Struggle of Life- Becoming a Lawyer and a Judge 35
  • Chapter 4 - The Quiet Years 57
  • Chapter 5 - A More Important and More Visible Court 69
  • Chapter 6 - A New and Solemn Volume Opens 79
  • Chapter 7 - An Unlikely Reformer 94
  • Chapter 8 - The Yankee from Olympus 106
  • Chapter 9 - Toward Melancholy- The Retirement Years 126
  • Epilogue 138
  • Chronology 143
  • Further Reading 145
  • Index 147
  • Acknowledgments 151
  • Picture Credits 153
  • Text Credits 155
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