Top 50+Oliver Wendell Holmes Quotes


Who is Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the son of writer, educator and doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes, fought on the Union side in the American Civil War for three years. In 1864, he began attending Harvard Law School and later taught as a professor. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Holmes to the U.S. Supreme Court. Holmes retired in 1931, at the age of 91.

Born on March 8, 1841, in Boston, Massachusetts, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. served on the U.S. Supreme Court for nearly 30 years. He grew up in affluent surroundings as the son of the famed author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes. His mother, Amelia Lee Jackson, was a supporter of the abolitionist movement.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Quotes

1. I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.

2. The young man knows the rules but the old man knows the exceptions.

3. Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked.

4. I have no respect for the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.

5. The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are going.

6. A child’s education should begin at least 100 years before he was born.

7. The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.

8. The man of action has the present, but the thinker controls the future.

9. We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire.

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

11. Don’t flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become.

12. If I had a formula for bypassing trouble, I wouldn’t pass it around. Wouldn’t be doing anybody a favor. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don’t say embrace trouble. That’s as bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say, meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it.

13. We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.

14. Every calling is great when greatly pursued.

15. We must think things not words, or at least we must constantly translate our words into the facts for which they stand, if we are to keep to the real and the true.

16. Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer.

17. To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.

18. The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.

19. I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.

20. A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

21. We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win, we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluable, we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.

22. We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible. You cannot educate a man wholly out of superstitious fears which were implanted in his imagination, no matter how utterly his reason may reject them.

23. For I say to you in all the sadness of conviction, that to think great thoughts you must be heroes as well as idealists. Only when you have worked alone – when 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 will – then only will you have achieved. Thus only can you gain the secret isolated joy of the thinker, who knows that, a hundred years after he is dead and forgotten, men who have never heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought – the subtle rapture of a postponed power, which the world knows not because it has no external trappings, but which to his prophetic vision is more real than that which commands an army.

24. The first requirement of a sound body of law is, that it should correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong.

25. Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke.

26. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

27. Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideoologues, dogmatists, and bullies–people who think that their rigtness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to suscribe to their particular ideology, dogma or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!

28. I believe that there are no innate, intrinsic differences among a human being , a baboon or a grain of sand.

29. Young man, the secret of my success is that at an early age I discovered that I was not God.

30. Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at birth. Eloquence may set fire to reason.

31. Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge.

32. Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so.

33. Between two groups of people who want to make inconsistent kinds of worlds, I see no remedy but force.

34. A goose flies by a chart the Royal Geographic Society could not improve.

35. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

36. 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.

37. Every man has a right to do what he wills, provided he interferes not with a like right on the part of his neighbors.

38. I detest a man who knows that he knows.

39. A man who called everyone a damn fool is like a man who damns the weather. He only shows that he is not adapted to his environment, not that the environment is wrong.

40. But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.

41. We have to choose, and for my part I think it a less evil that some criminals should escape than that the government should play an ignoble part.

42. The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving.

43. Academic life is but half life it is a withdrawal from the fight to utter smart things that cost you nothing except the thinking them from a cloister.

44. Most of the things we do, we do for no better reason than that our fathers have done them or our neighbors do them, and the same is true of a larger part than what we suspect of what we think.

45. The petitioner may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman.

46. We are very quiet there, but it is the quiet of a storm centre.

47. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

48. Law, being a practical thing, must found itself on actual forces. It is quite enough, therefore, for the law, that man, by an instinct which he shares with the domestic dog, and of which the seal gives a most striking example, will not allow himself to be dispossessed, either by force or fraud, of what he olds, without trying to get it back again. Philosophy may find a hundred reasons to justify the instinct, but it would be totally immaterial if it should condemn it and bid us surrender without a murmur.

49. I have never heard anyone profess indifference to a boat race. Why should you row a boat race? Why endure long months of pain in preparation of a fierce half hour, or even six minutes, that will leave you all but dead? Does anyone ask the question? Is there anyone who would not go through all its costs, and more, for the moment when anguish breaks into triumph – or even for the glory of having nobly lost? Is life less than a boat race? If a man will give all the blood in his body to win the one, will he not spend all the might of his soul to prevail in the other?

50. The rational study of law is still to a large extent the study of history. History must be a part of the study, because without it we cannot know the precise scope of rules which it is our business to know.

51. The very minute a thought is threatened with publicity it seems to shrink towards mediocrity.

52. If my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. Its my job.

53. Life is an end in itself, and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have had enough of it.

54. [A] constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory, whether of paternalism and the organic relation of the citizen to the State or of laissez faire. It is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States. . . . [T]he word liberty in the Fourteenth Amendment is perverted when it is held to prevent the natural outcome of a dominant opinion, unless it can be said that a rational and fair man necessarily would admit that the statute proposed would infringe fundamental principles as they have been understood by the traditions of our people and our law.

55. Leaving the criminal law on one side, what is the difference between the liability under the mill acts or statutes authorizing a taking by eminent domain and the liability for what we call a wrongful conversion of property where restoration is out of the question. In both cases the party taking another man’s property has to pay its fair value as assessed by a jury, and no more. What significance is there in calling one taking right and another wrong from the point of view of the law?

56. If one of two or more joint wrongdoers has to pay all the damages, he cannot recover contribution from his fellows.

57. The prophecies of what the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious, are what I mean by the law.

58. The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.

59. I do not know the meaning of the universe. But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creed, there is one thing I do not doubt and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan or campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.

60. Most of my time is spent in doing as well as I can the work immediatekt at hand. One hopes that by doing quietly and with parade as solid work as one can when one is occupied, on makes the best contribution possible to one’s state.


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