Holmes, Oliver Wendell

Holmes, Oliver Wendell (1809 - 1894)


Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 29, 1809, Oliver Wendell Holmes proceeded to Phillips Academy and Harvard, from which he graduated in 1829. His first, most popular poem, written at 21, was "Old Ironsides." Like most of Holmes' poems, this was an occasional piece, prompted by some incident. After his degree, he studied in Boston, Harvard, and Paris medical schools before graduating with a Harvard M.D. in 1835. He published Poems the next year. His career then turned to medical writing and teaching with his appointment as a professor of anatomy at Dartmouth College in 1838, and firmed up when he became Parkman Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, and Dean, at Harvard Medical School in 1847. Holmes kept up his old love of literature, serializing his The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table in the Atlantic Monthly and then bringing it out as a book in 1858. This included what Holmes reasonably believed to be his best poems, "The Chambered Nautilus" and "The Deacon's Masterpiece, or the Wonderful `One-Hoss-Shay.'" Composition never prevented Holmes from literary criticism. In 1853 he delivered a dozen lectures on the English poets at the Lovell Institute in Boston, and in 1872 the third of his "Breakfast-Table" books was published, The Poet at the Breakfast-Table. Besides issuing enlarged editions of his 1836 Poems, he published four subsequent volumes, Songs in Many Keys (1862), Songs of Many Seasons (1875), The Iron Gate, and Other Poems (1880), and Before the Curfew and Other Poems (1887). He wrote three novels that took advantage of his medical knowledge. His collected poems came out from Cambridge in 1895. Holmes died in Boston on October 7, 1894. His marriage to Amelia Lee Jackson in 1840 produced three children, one of whom (his namesake) became a justice of the Supreme Court. See also

  • Currier, Thomas Franklin. A Bibliography of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Ed. Eleanor M. Tilton. New York: University Press, for the Bibliographical Society of America, 1953. Z 8414.3 .C8 Robarts Library.
  • Eleanor M. Tilton, Amiable Autocrat: A Biography of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (New York: Henry Schuman, 1947). PS 1981 T5 Robarts Library
Given Name
Oliver Wendell
Family Name
Birth Date
August 29, 1809
Death Date
October 7, 1894
  • Phillips Academy

  • B.A. Harvard University

  • M.D. Harvard University

  • University Professor

Literary Period
Literary Movement