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35 Inspiring Quotes by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Welcome to our collection of quotes by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Wikipedia Summary for Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (August 29, 1809 – October 7, 1894) was an American physician, poet, and polymath based in Boston. Grouped among the Fireside Poets, he was acclaimed by his peers as one of the best writers of the day. His most famous prose works are the "Breakfast-Table" series, which began with The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858). He was also an important medical reformer. In addition to his work as an author and poet, Holmes also served as a physician, professor, lecturer and inventor and, although he never practiced it, he received formal training in law.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Holmes was educated at Phillips Academy and Harvard College. After graduating from Harvard in 1829, he briefly studied law before turning to the medical profession. He began writing poetry at an early age; one of his most famous works, "Old Ironsides", was published in 1830 and was influential in the eventual preservation of the USS Constitution. Following training at the prestigious medical schools of Paris, Holmes was granted his Doctor of Medicine degree from Harvard Medical School in 1836. He taught at Dartmouth Medical School before returning to teach at Harvard and, for a time, served as dean there. During his long professorship, he became an advocate for various medical reforms and notably posited the controversial idea that doctors were capable of carrying puerperal fever from patient to patient. Holmes retired from Harvard in 1882 and continued writing poetry, novels and essays until his death in 1894.

Surrounded by Boston's literary elite—which included friends such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell—Holmes made an indelible imprint on the literary world of the 19th century. Many of his works were published in The Atlantic Monthly, a magazine that he named. For his literary achievements and other accomplishments, he was awarded numerous honorary degrees from universities around the world. Holmes's writing often commemorated his native Boston area, and much of it was meant to be humorous or conversational. Some of his medical writings, notably his 1843 essay regarding the contagiousness of puerperal fever, were considered innovative for their time. He was often called upon to issue occasional poetry, or poems written specifically for an event, including many occasions at Harvard. Holmes also popularized several terms, including Boston Brahmin and anesthesia. He was the father of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. of the Supreme Court of the United States.

red textile in close up photography

A man may fulfill the object of his existence by asking a question he cannot answer, and attempting a task he cannot achieve.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

yellow green leaf

June comes in with roses in her hand, but very often with a thick shawl on her shoulders, and a bad cold in her head.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

green mountain ]

Men do not quit playing because they grow old--they grow old because they quit playing.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

blue and white water surface

The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it with the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

black, purple, and orange basketball court beside concrete buildings at daytime

One's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

white textile in close up photography

Too young for love? Ah, say not so, While daisies bloom and tulips glow! June soon will come with lengthened day To practise all love learned in May.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

brown and gray brick wall

On every stem, on every leaf… and at the root of everything that grew, was a professional specialist in the shape of grub, caterpillar, aphis, or other expert, whose business it was to devour that particular part.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

green tree under blue sky during night time

The true essentials of a feast are only fun and feed.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

green grass field

Trouble makes us one with every human being in the world -- and unless we touch others, we're out of touch with life.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

blue parrot standing on brown tree branch

Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it -- but sail we must and not drift, nor lie at anchor.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

clear wine glass with red wine

October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

flat lay photography teacup on top of saucer

Knowledge like timber shouldn't be mush use till they are seasoned.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

green pine trees near mountain under blue sky during daytime

One flag, one land, one heart, one hand, One Nation evermore!

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

brown and gray stick

Don't be consistent but be simple true.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

elephants on green grass field during daytime

Every idea is an incitement... Eloquence may set fire to reason.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

clear wine glass with red wine

Don't you stay at home of evenings? Don you love a cushioned seat in a corner, by the fireside, with your slippers on your feet?

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

yellow sunflower in close up photography

A man of very moderate ability may be a good physician, if he devotes himself faithfully to the work.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.


withered tree surrounded with snow during daytime

To think great thoughts you must be heroes as well as idealists.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

red

The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

silhouette of person wearing cowboy hat during sunset

A person is always startled when he hears himself called old for the first time.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

yellow flower field near bare trees during daytime

The very aim and end of our institutions is just this: that we may think what we like and say what we think.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

yellow flowers

Pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in the world is done by children.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

red and yellow abstract painting

Nothing can be so perfect while we possess it as it will seem when remembered.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

brown mountain under starry sky

In walking, the will and the muscles are so accustomed to working together and performing their task with so little expenditure of force that the intellect is left comparatively free.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

bunch of tulips flower on wooden surface

All of us love companionship and sympathy; some of us may love them too much. All of us are more or less imaginative in our theology.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

rock formation surrounding by body of water

The longing for certainty ... is in every human mind. But certainty is generally illusion.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

yellow petaled flower screenshot

The world is always ready to receive talent with open arms. Very often it does not know what to do with genius.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.


selective focus photography of orange and beige butterfly on purple flowers

It is very lonely sometimes, trying to play God.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

person holding white ceramic cup with liquid

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

sunset

A man's mind stretched by a new idea, can never go back to its original dimensions.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

selective focus photography of red tulip

Why can't somebody give us a list of things that everybody thinks and nobody says, and another list of things that everybody says and nobody thinks.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

bare trees under blue sky

Yellow japanned buttercups and star-disked dandelions, just as we see them lying in the grass, like sparks that have leaped from the kindling sun of summer.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

grayscale photography of person on beach

Boston has opened and kept open, more turnpikes that lead straight to free thought and free speech and free deeds than any other city of live or dead men.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

We wish you a perfect day!