The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table

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Cosimo, Inc., 1 Νοε 2005 - 340 σελίδες
You may set it down as a truth which admits of few exceptions, that those who ask your opinion really want your praise, and will be contented with nothing else.-from The Autocrat of the Breakfast TableA superb example of a literary form that has long since fallen into disuse, this seriocomic one-sided conversation with the dictatorial "autocrat" was originally published in segments in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1857 and 1858. The unnamed speaker offers an entertainingly rambling series of observations on everything from the odd things that children believe to the unexpected benefits of old age, from the divide between the creative and the scholarly to a recommendation for drinking as a vice. An insightful and frequently hilarious discourse on American civic life, this is a forgotten classic of playful liberal intellectualism.OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES (1809-1894) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and educated at Harvard. Though he trained as a physician, he is best known for his verse, and was one of the most beloved poets of the 19th century. A regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, he also wrote novels. After his death, his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (August 29, 1809 - October 7, 1894) was an American physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author based in Boston. A member of the Fireside Poets, his peers acclaimed him 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. Holmes was a professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard College for 35 years. His literary fame came relatively early when in 1830 he published a few lines of verse in a Boston newspaper in which he objected to the dismantling of the frigate Constitution, which had served its nation victoriously in the Tripolitan War and the War of 1812. The poem, "Old Ironside," was a great success, both for Holmes as a poet and in saving the frigate. However, his medical studies left Holmes little leisure for literature for the next 25 years. That changed, however, with the publication of an animated series of essays in the newly founded Atlantic Monthly in 1857 and 1858, and afterwards published in book form as The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858). Not only did these essays help secure the magazine's success, but also brought Holmes widespread popularity. Holmes as an essayist has been compared with all of the great writers in that genre, from Michel de Montaigne to Charles Lamb, but his compositions are closer to conversational than to formal prose. Later volumes---The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860), The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1872), and Over the Teacups (1891)---extend the autocrat's delightfully egotistical talks, mainly of Boston and New England, in which Holmes was, by turns, brilliantly witty and extremely serious. During these same years, he also wrote three so-called medicated novels: Elsie Venner (1861), The Guardian Angel (1867), and A Mortal Antipathy (1885). Though undistinguished as literary documents, they are important early studies of that "mysterious borderland which lies between physiology and psychology," and they demonstrate that Holmes was advanced in his conception of the causes and progress of neuroses and mental disease. Holmes died quietly after falling asleep in the afternoon of Sunday, October 7, 1894. As his son, the U. S. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote, "His death was as peaceful as one could wish for those one loves. He simply ceased to breathe." Holmes's memorial service was held at King's Chapel and overseen by Edward Everett Hale. Holmes was buried alongside his wife in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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