Description

    Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 1896 Letter Signed Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "The Great Dissenter" (1841-1935), was serving as a Justice of the Massachusetts State Supreme Court (1882-1902) when he wrote this letter. It was written during a period when he spent nearly all of his time serving the court, sitting on the bench and writing decisions. By the time Holmes had been appointed Chief Justice of that bench (September 12, 1899), he had written about a thousand decisions. Holmes considered his ability "to think under fire-to think for action upon which the great interests depend" his forte. He was appointed Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902, serving on the Court from 1902-1932. This letter was written to Lady Clare Castletown of County Cork, Ireland, whom Holmes had met while abroad. Holmes biographer Sheldon Norvick hints at a romantic liaison between the two. Even if that were the case, the feelings of Holmes for Lady Castletown, so obvious in this letter, did not destroy his more than half century of marriage (1872-1929) to Fanny Bowditch (Dixwell) Holmes, who is buried beside him. Autograph letter signed, "O H," 3 1/2 pages, 8" x10". Boston, September 17, 1896. Holmes had originally written "16" as the date; he crossed off the "16" and handwrote "17", the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, which he discusses in this letter to Lady Castletown. On letterhead of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Accompanied by original envelope, addressed by Holmes to: "The Lady Castletown of Upper Assory, (crossed out: Doneraile Court, Doneraile, Co.Cork) Ireland, Castle Barnard, Bandon/Co Cork." Postmarked Boston, Mass., September 18, 1896. In part: "My heart gave a jump when I saw the corner of your letter in my box 10 minutes ago... At this moment I ought to be writing a decision and you interfere with my duties! Sadly - which I presume will give you pleasure... Today (I got my date wrong) is the anniversary of the battle of Antietam at which '96/'62 34 years ago! I was shot through the neck and had a close squeak for missing Doneraile. This morning (and many others) at a little after 7 I was thinking she is perhaps now in the conservatory. It is 12 in their premature Country - possibly she is remembering a party that once sat there with her. Oh my friend I don't want to uproot you - on the contrary - nor could I if I tried. (I wonder how one tries!) I even, when I permit myself a departure from teetotalism as my drink order Irish whiskey in memory of Doneraile!... As a fact of natural history we see that man is driven to action, action means the affirmation of the world of ends, and so the framing of ideals...I shall assume that you won't be bored by anything that interests me enough to make me write it down - as I hope you really believe about in the [illegible]. The mere fact that it is you writing makes it interesting, yet even beyond that, mock modest one! It is thus that at least until we have got accustomed to each other, and perhaps always, the thing one is looking for is assurance and reassurance that there has been no change, that one is still as dear as ever or a little more so (you are) but the suspense of rational discourse is an agreeable titillation if the other comes later in sufficient quantity. How much do you want? I have a large stock on hand drawn fresh daily from the heart. Oh if I could see you if only for an hour - already confidence has grown so much. Is it not so? What do you mean by speaking as if it was no good? Is it no good to know it - and to know that soon and again and again we will read new words of delight? Away foolish woman, you know better. Really I must leave and do a little duty.... I hope you don't carry an Irish characteristic too far. I mean that of thinking me a curly headed boy one day and a blackhearted monster the next... I am quite aware that what I said above as to ideals etc. is not strictly responsive to yours. The complex generally means uncertain views as to the relations between the sexes - but I thought it worth saying and it expressed the dominant aspect in my mind... To return to your letter for a moment I think the conflict of the two sexes is due in great part to the fact that what we love and reverence is determined by our earliest associations. Then comes reason and inward war....here at home with you looking at me and your eyes breaking all over your face....I wonder how old you are. I have but a slim idea.. Oh dear maiden with rose scented hair. I wonder if you knew how it delights me? But then one wonders about so many things." He ends with, "I think of you enormously." Lightly creased, folds. One-half inch tear at right margin of first page touches one word. Light stain and light ink transference at lower margin of verso of integral leaf, which is also lightly soiled. Overall, fine condition. Envelope is lightly creased and soiled. Vertical stain touches three words of writing. Two items. Accompanied by COA from PSA/DNA.

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