Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up.”

“Beware how you take away hope from any human being.”

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

“You make me chuckle when you say that you are no longer young, that you have turned twenty-four. A man is or may be young to after sixty, and not old before eighty.”

“This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.”

“A child’s education should begin at least one hundred years before he is born.”

“Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body.”

“We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.”

“It seems to me that at this time we need education in the obvious more than the investigation of the obscure.”

“The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.”

“To be 70 years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be 40 years old.”

“A new and valid idea is worth more than a regiment and fewer men can furnish the former than command the latter.”

“Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke.”

“The rule of joy and the law of duty seem to me all one.”

“I have no respect for the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.”

“I despise making the most of one’s time. Half of the pleasures of life consist of the opportunities one has neglected.”

“For I say unto you in all sadness of conviction that to think great thoughts you must be heroes as well as idealists. Only when you have worked alone / when you have felt around you are a black gulf of solitude more isolating than that which surrounds the dying man, and in hope and despair have trusted to your own unshaken will / then only can you gain the secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten men who have never heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought / the subtle rapture of postponed power, which the world knows not because it has no external trappings, but which to his prophetic vision is more real than that which commands an army. And if this joy should not be yours, still it is only thus you can know that you have done what lay in you to do / can say that you have lived, and be ready for the end.”

“There is no friend like an old friend who has shared our morning days, no greeting like his welcome, no homage like his praise.”

“You commit a sin of omission if you do not utilize all the power that is within you. All men have claims on man, and to the man with special talents, this is a very special claim. It is required that a man take part in the actions and clashes of his.”

“I confess that altruistic and cynically selfish talk seem to me about equally unreal. With all humility, I think whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, infinitely more important than the vain attempt to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. If you want to hit a bird on the wing you must have all your will in focus, you must not be thinking about yourself, and equally, you must not be thinking about your neighbor; you must be living with your eye on that bird. Every achievement is a bird on the wing.”

“On the whole, I am on the side of the unregenerate who affirms the worth of life as an end in itself, as against the saints who deny it.”

“Most of the things we do, we do for no better reason than that our fathers have done them or our neighbors do them, and the same is true of a larger part than what we suspect of what we think.”

“The riders in a race do not stop when they reach the goal. There is a little finishing canter before coming to a standstill. There is time to hear the kind voices of friends and say to oneself, ‘The work is done.’”

“The great act of faith is when a man decides he is not God.”

“Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have had enough of it.”

“The only prize much cared for by the powerful is power.”

“Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so.”

“What I wouldn’t give to be seventy again!”

“Men must turn square corners when they deal with the Government.”

“Any two philosophers can tell each other all they know in two hours.”

“Young man, the secret of my success is that an early age I discovered that I was not God.”

“Don’t be ‘consistent,’ but be simply true.”

“A man is usually more careful of his money than of his principles.”

“Carve every word before you let it fall.”

“Life is action and passion; therefore, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of the time, at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

“The chief end of a man is to frame general ideas – and… no general idea is worth a damn.”


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