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Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Atlantic Essays, A plea for culture. (search)
en,--tolerated, protected, respected even, but without a vote. What we thus miss in literary culture may be best explained by showing the result of the universal political culture which we possess. It is often noticed that, while the leaders of public affairs in America are usually what are called self-made men, this is not the case with our literary leaders. Among first-class American writers, culture is usually in the second generation; they have usually tumbled about in a library, as Holmes says, in childhood; at all events, they are usually college-bred men. It has been remarked, for instance, that our eight foremost historians — assuming that this list comprises Prescott, Motley, Bancroft, Hildreth, Sparks, Ticknor, Palfrey, Parkman — were all college graduates, and indeed graduated at a single college. The choice of names may be open to question, but the general fact is undoubted. Now if it be true that there are fewer among us who rise from the ranks in literature than
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Atlantic Essays, A letter to a young contributor. (search)
e unkind friendliness of too early praise. It was Keats, the most precocious of all great poets, who declared that nothing is finer for purposes of production than a very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers. Yet do not be made conceited by obscurity, any more than by notoriety. Many fine geniuses have been long neglected; but what would become of us, if all the neglected were to turn out geniuses? It is unsafe reasoning from either extreme. You are not necessarily writing like Holmes because your reputation for talent began in college, nor like Hawthorne because you have been before the public ten years without an admirer. Above all, do not seek to encourage yourself by dwelling on the defects of your rivals: strength comes only from what is above you. Northcote, the painter, said, that, in observing an inferior picture, lie always felt his spirits droop, with the suspicion that perhaps he deceived himself and his own paintings might be no better than that; but the wor