Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke"

Today's crumb is a tribute to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935) who was wounded while fighting in the Civil War, but survived to serve as a justice on the United State Supreme Court from 1902 until 1932. Justice Holmes' opinions were often original and pithy, and are still quoted today. Here are some examples. "Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so."  "Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke." "Life is like painting a picture, not doing a sum." And my favorite, "Whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart."

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Unless you are a law student, many biographies of Holmes may be academic and tiresome. But one biography brings Justice Holmes out of legal terms into human terms. Published in 1944, this book for non-specialists is Yankee from Olympus by Catherine Drinker Bowen. She follows him from birth and boyhood in Boston through Harvard College and his service in the Civil War. Near the end, she recalls that after retiring in 1932 from three decades on the Supreme Court, Holmes was visited one morning by the newly elected President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR found Holmes, then 92, still in bed, reading a book. When asked what he was doing, Holmes told the President, "Improving my mind."

Bonus: Yankee from Olympus may not be available at your local library, but the full-text is available online. Just open the link below; then sweep your cursor right or left to turn the pages forward or backward. Prepare to enjoy a book you will cherish forever. https://archive.org/stream/yankeefromolympu011670mbp#page/n7/mode/2up

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