Home  »  Familiar Quotations  »  Oliver Wendell Holmes 1809-1894 John Bartlett

John Bartlett (1820–1905). Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. 1919.

Oliver Wendell Holmes 1809-1894 John Bartlett

    Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
  Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
  That banner in the sky.
          Old Ironsides.
    Nail to the mast her holy flag,
  Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
  The lightning and the gale!
          Old Ironsides.
    The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
    In their bloom;
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
    On the tomb.
          The last Leaf.
    I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
    At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
    Are so queer!
          The last Leaf.
    Thou say’st an undisputed thing
  In such a solemn way.
          To an Insect.
    And silence, like a poultice, comes
  To heal the blows of sound.
          To an Insect.
    You think they are crusaders sent
  From some infernal clime,
To pluck the eyes of sentiment
  And dock the tail of Rhyme,
To crack the voice of Melody
  And break the legs of Time.
          The Music Grinders.
    And since, I never dare to write
  As funny as I can.
          The Height of the Ridiculous.
    Little I ask; my wants are few,
  I only want a hut of stone,
(A very plain brownstone will do,)
  That I may call my own. 1 
    When the last reader reads no more.
          The last Reader.
    The freeman casting with unpurchased hand
The vote that shakes the turrets of the land.
          Poetry, a Metrical Essay.
    And when you stick on conversation’s burrs,
Don’t strew your pathway with those dreadful urs.
          A rhymed Lesson. Urania.
    Wake in our breast the living fires,
The holy faith that warmed our sires;
Thy hand hath made our nation free;
To die for her is serving Thee.
          Army Hymn.
    Thine eye was on the censer,
  And not the hand that bore it.
          Lines by a Clerk.
    Where go the poet’s lines?
  Answer, ye evening tapers!
Ye auburn locks, ye golden curls,
  Speak from your folded papers!
          The Poet’s Lot.
    A few can touch the magic string,
  And noisy Fame is proud to win them;
Alas for those that never sing,
  But die with all their music in them!
          The Voiceless.
    O hearts that break and give no sign
  Save whitening lip and fading tresses!
          The Voiceless.
    Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
          The chambered Nautilus.
    One flag, one land, one heart, one hand,
  One Nation evermore!
          Voyage of the good Ship Union.
    His home! the Western giant smiles,
  And twirls the spotty globe to find it;
This little speck, the British Isles?
  ’T is but a freckle,—never mind it.
          A good Time going.
    But Memory blushes at the sneer,
  And Honor turns with frown defiant,
And Freedom, leaning on her spear,
  Laughs louder than the laughing giant.
          A good Time going.
    You hear that boy laughing?—you think he’s all fun;
But the angels laugh, too, at the good he has done;
The children laugh loud as they troop to his call,
And the poor man that knows him laughs loudest of all.
          The Boys.
    Good to the heels the well-worn slipper feels
  When the tired player shuffles off the buskin;
A page of Hood may do a fellow good
  After a scolding from Carlyle or Ruskin.
          How not to settle it.
    Lean, hungry, savage anti-everythings.
          A modest Request.
    Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day?
          The Deacon’s Masterpiece.
    A general flavor of mild decay.
          The Deacon’s Masterpiece.
    It went to pieces all at once—
All at once and nothing first,
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
          The Deacon’s Masterpiece.
    The brightest blades grow dim with rust,
  The fairest meadow white with snow.
          Chanson without Music.
    When lawyers take what they would give
And doctors give what they would take.
          Latterday Warnings.
    Fame is the scentless sunflower, with gaudy crown of gold;
But friendship is the breathing rose, with sweets in every fold.
          No Time like the old Time.
    God reigneth. All is well. 2 
          Hymn at the Funeral Services of Charles Sumner.
      One unquestioned text we read,
All doubt beyond, all fear above;
Nor crackling pile nor cursing creed 3 
  Can burn or blot it—God is love.
          What we all think.
    If we are only as the potter’s clay
Made to be fashioned as the artist wills,
And broken into shards if we offend
The eye of Him who made us, it is well.
      A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. i.
      Everybody likes and respects self-made men. It is a great deal better to be made in that way than not to be made at all.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. i.
      Put not your trust in money, but put your money in trust.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. ii.
      Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. vi.
      There is that glorious epicurean paradox uttered by my friend the historian, 4 in one of his flashing moments: “Give us the luxuries of life, and we will dispense with its necessaries.” To this must certainly be added that other saying of one of the wittiest of men: 5 “Good Americans when they die go to Paris.”
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. vi.
      Boston State-house is the hub of the solar system. You could n’t pry that out of a Boston man if you had the tire of all creation straightened out for a crow-bar.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. vi.
      The axis of the earth sticks out visibly through the centre of each and every town or city.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. vi.
      The world’s great men have not commonly been great scholars, nor its great scholars great men.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. vi.
      Knowledge and timber should n’t be much used till they are seasoned.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. vi.
      The hat is the ultimum moriens of respectability.
          The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table. viii.
      To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.
          On the Seventieth Birthday of Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1899).
      I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.
          Lecture, Harvard Medical School. 6 
Note 1.
Goldsmith: The Hermit.
“Man wants but little here below

  Nor wants that little long”;
’T is not with me exactly so
  But ’t is so in the song. [back]
Note 2.
Browning: Pippa Passes. God’s in his heaven—
  All’s right with the world. [back]
Note 3.
Browning: Paracelsus. God! Thou art love! I build my faith on that. [back]
Note 4.
John Lothrop Motley.
  Said Scopas of Thessaly, “We rich men count our felicity and happiness to lie in these superfluities, and not in those necessary things.”—Plutarch: On the Love of Wealth. [back]
Note 5.
Thomas Gold Appleton (1812–1884). [back]
Note 6.
Bishop William Crosswell Doane (1832–1913): Lines on Homeopathy.

Stir the mixture well
  Lest it prove inferior,
Then put half a drop
  Into Lake Superior.

Every other day
  Take a drop in water,
You ’ll be better soon
  Or at least you oughter. [back]