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[236] devoid of pedantry. Therefore it is not only delightful but stimulating; it continually makes the reader think for himself and turn back upon himself. Despite its acuteness, its liveliness, its briskness, its vivacity, it never lacks seriousness, without ever becoming ponderous.

It may be that Holmes does not attain to the high seriousness, the deep seriousness, of enduring philosophy; and it cannot be denied that there are pages here and there which are not as valid today as when they were written. It would be doing the Autocrat an ill-service to compare him with his remote and mighty predecessors Montaigne and Bacon. And it may be admitted that there is more or less warrant for the remark of John Burroughs, to the effect that Holmes always reminded him ‘of certain of our bird songsters, such as the brown thrasher or the cat-bird,whose performances always seem to imply a spectator and to challenge his admiration.’ Holmes seems ‘to write with his eye upon his reader, and to calculate the advance upon his reader's surprise and pleasure.’ To admit this would be only to acknowledge the truth of the French saying that every man has the defects of his qualities. But it cannot be admitted if it implies that Holmes was unduly self-conscious or affected or pretentious. In fact, much of the charm of the Autocrat is due to the entire absence of affectation and to the apparent spontaneity of the talk which pours so easily from his lips and which discloses so abundantly the winning personality of Holmes himself. ‘Every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it,’ so Stevenson has told us; and Holmes was fortunate in that his circular letter made a friend of every one who received it.

The qualities which give charm to Holmes's prose are those which please us also in his verse. He has left a dozen or a score of lyrics secure in the anthologies of the future. But he wrote too easily and he wrote too much to maintain a high average in the three hundred double-columned pages in which his complete poems are collected. No poet or prose man can take down to posterity a baggage wagon of his works, and he is lucky if he can save enough to fill a saddle-bag. Holmes's reputation as a poet will rise when his verses are winnowed and garnered into a thin volume of a scant hundred pages

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Oliver Wendell Holmes (8)
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