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Oliver Wendell Holmes (from Literary Friends and Acquaintance)   By: (1837-1920)

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In "Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Portrait of a Literary Icon," William Dean Howells takes readers on an insightful journey through the life and works of an exceptional American writer and physician, Oliver Wendell Holmes. Howells seamlessly combines biographical information, personal anecdotes, and critical analysis to paint a vivid portrait of Holmes as both a man and an author.

One of the most impressive aspects of this book is Howells' ability to capture the essence of Holmes' wit and intellectual prowess. Through his anecdotes and excerpts from Holmes' writings, we get a glimpse into the mind of a man who combined a sharp intellect with a unique sense of humor. Howells masterfully conveys the way in which Holmes infused his works with a delightful blend of satire, social commentary, and brilliant observations.

Furthermore, Howells excels at contextualizing Holmes' writings within the social and historical backdrop of his time. By discussing the cultural and intellectual climate in which Holmes wrote, he helps readers understand the lasting impact and relevance of his works. Whether he is exploring Holmes' opinions on the American Civil War or his critiques of the medical profession, Howells provides a rich and detailed analysis that brings Holmes' literary contributions to life.

One of the book's strongest attributes is the sheer depth of Howells' research. Drawing from a wide range of sources, including letters and personal correspondence, he presents a comprehensive and well-rounded portrayal of Holmes. Yet, while the book is undoubtedly well-researched, there are moments when the narrative meanders and delves into minutiae that might have been better left out. In these instances, the reader may become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information.

Despite this minor flaw, "Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Portrait of a Literary Icon" remains an invaluable resource for anyone interested in American literature, history, and culture. Howells' exceptional prose and thorough exploration of Holmes' life and works make this book a compelling and illuminating read. Whether you are a long-time admirer of Holmes or new to his writings, Howells' engaging style and insightful analysis will undoubtedly deepen your appreciation for the man and his contributions to literature.

First Page:


by William Dean Howells


Elsewhere we literary folk are apt to be such a common lot, with tendencies here and there to be a shabby lot; we arrive from all sorts of unexpected holes and corners of the earth, remote, obscure; and at the best we do so often come up out of the ground; but at Boston we were of ascertained and noted origin, and good part of us dropped from the skies. Instead of holding horses before the doors of theatres; or capping verses at the plough tail; or tramping over Europe with nothing but a flute in the pocket; or walking up to the metropolis with no luggage but the MS. of a tragedy; or sleeping in doorways or under the arches of bridges; or serving as apothecaries' 'prentices we were good society from the beginning. I think this was none the worse for us, and it was vastly the better for good society.

Literature in Boston, indeed, was so respectable, and often of so high a lineage, that to be a poet was not only to be good society, but almost to be good family. If one names over the men who gave Boston her supremacy in literature during that Unitarian harvest time of the old Puritanic seed time which was her Augustan age, one names the people who were and who had been socially first in the city ever since the self exile of the Tories at the time of the Revolution... Continue reading book >>

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