History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


1226301

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

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Testy letter by the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table:

“ . . . my engagements force me to decline the very numerous invitations to undertake lesser tasks

which seem slight to those who propose them but mean interruption and fatigue to the writer . . . .

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 18091894.  Physician and poet.  Manuscript Letter Signed, O. W. Holmes, two pages, with integral leaf attached, 5” x 6”, [Boston, Massachusetts], January 4, [1892].  With original mailing envelope.

Holmes sends an unusually crusty letter declining an invitation from the Womenʼs Christian Temperance Union in Cleveland, Ohio.  He writes to WCTU Treasurer Mary Ingham, complaining about his own “fatigue”and slamming her own sense of self-importance.  In full:  “I regret that my engagements force me to decline the very numerous invitations to undertake lesser tasks which seem slight to those who propose them but mean interruption and fatigue to the writer whose time is already too fully occupied.  /  Yours very truly . . . .”

By the time he wrote this letter, the venerable Holmes, the author of “Old Ironsides” and “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” was 82 years old.  His wife of 48 years, Amelia, who had struggled with an illness that had made her an invalid for months, had died in 1888.  Two of his three children had also died—Edward Jackson Holmes in 1884 and Amelia Jackson Holmes in 1889.  Holmes suffered from failing eyesight and a feeling that he was becoming antiquated.  He noted that he had outlived most of his friends, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and James Russell Lowell.  “I feel like my own survivor,” he said.  “We were on deck together as we began the voyage of life. . . Then the craft which held us began going to pieces.”

Like Holmes, who was a professor at Harvard Medical School for 35 years, Ingham (1832–1923) was a college professor.  She served as professor of French and belles-lettres at Ohio Wesleyan College for Women and later served as assistant principal at Norwalk North Grammar School and Rockwell School of Cleveland. Ingham retired from teaching in 1886. In 1870, she co-inaugurated the Womenʼs Foreign Missionary in northern Ohio.  She was also involved with the WCTU and served as its national treasurer 18741875.  In 1882, she co-founded the Cleveland School of Art, which later  became the Cleveland Institute of Art, and served as the secretary of its board of directors 18841894.

This is a beautiful letter.  It is in very fine condition, and we would grade it as extra fine were it not for one horizontal mailing fold.  The letter is written on the front of the first leaf and the back of the integral leaf, so it could be unfolded for display.  The accompanying mailing envelope has two 1887 blue 1˘ Benjamin Franklin stamps.  It bears a frontal postmark from Boston and an incomplete postmark from Cleveland on the back.  It is lightly soiled and is in fine condition.

Unframed.

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$195.00

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