At times the ambitious ends
of life have made it seem to me lonely, but it
has not been. I have the companionship of dear
friends who have helped to keep alive the fire in
my heart. If I could think that I had sent a
spark to those who come after I should be ready
to say Goodbye.
We cannot live our dreams.
We are lucky enough if we can give a sample of
our best, and if in our hearts we can feel that
it has been nobly done.
The end of life is life.
Life is action, the use of one's powers. And to
use them to their height is our joy and duty, so
it is the one end that justifies itself...more
complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a
fuller and richer life. They mean more life. Life
is an end in itself, and the only question as to
whether it is worth living is whether you have
enough of it....
Life is a roar of bargain
and battle, but in the very heart of it there
rises a mystic spiritual tone that gives meaning
to the whole. It transmutes the dull details into
romance. It reminds us that our only but wholly
adequate significance is as parts of the
unimaginable whole. It suggests that even while
we think that we are egotists we are living to
ends outside ourselves.
No man has earned the right
to intellectual ambition until he has learned to
lay his course by a star which he has never
seento dig by the divining rod for springs
which he may never reach.... Make your study
heroic, for to think great thoughts you must be
heroes as well as idealists. Only when you have
worked alonewhen you have felt around you a
black gulf of solitude more isolating than that
which surrounds the dying man, and in hope and in
despair have trusted to your own unshaken
willthen only will you have achieved...
It seems to me that the
rule for serving our fellow men, and, so far as
we may speculate our hope upon that awful theme,
the rule for fulfilling the mysterious ends of
the universethat beginning of
self-sacrifice and of holinessis to do
one's task with one's might. If we do that, I
think we find that our motives take care of
themselves. We find that what may have been begun
as a means becomes an end in itself; that
self-seeking is forgotten in labors which are the
best contribution that we can make to mankind;
that our personality is swallowed up in working
to ends outside ourselves.
Special thanks to Brian
Pohanka for providing the quotations on this
See Memorial Day for Oliver
Wendell Holmes's 1884 address at Keene, N.H., to
veterans of John Sedgwick Post No.4, Grand Army
of the Republic.
Born in Boston in
1841, Oliver Wendell Holmes was named after his
father, the physician and writer. Holmes
graduated from Harvard College, then enlisted as
with the 20th Massachusetts Infantry, better
known as the "Harvard Regiment." Thrice
wounded in the line of duty, Holmes served in the
regiment as Lieutenant, Captain and Brevet
Colonel, then as aide-de-camp on the staff of
General Horatio Wright of the Sixth Corps.
Following the war, Holmes practiced law in Boston
and was a lecturer on common law at the Lowell
Institute in Boston. As a member of the
Massachusetts Supreme Court, Holmes was an
associate justice, then chief justice. He served
as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
from 1902 through 1932. Holmes passed away in
1935; his resting place is at Arlington National
Cemetery in Virginia.
Black and white images of
Holmes courtesy of Brian Pohanka. Photo of
Holmes's gravesite by DLO.