Vanderbilt Law Review


Saul Touster

First Page



What appears here is part of a longer psychological study of Holmes which takes as points of focus, or rather of entree, four of his life choices: his enlistment in the Union forces while still in college in 1861, his entrance into law school in 1864, his decision to give up a law professorship at Harvard in 1882 in favor of the Massachusetts bench, and finally, his move to Washington and the Supreme Court in 1902. In a sense this last was not a choice. There were not the clear alternatives before him as there were in the first three--he was more chosen than chooser. Still, it had all the consequences and feeling of a life choice--the tearing away from the old,the embarking on the new--and, as I read the event, it was the product of his other choices, the assault on the summit of a mountain which at each point in his life Holmes committed himself to climb. And, of course, even a chosen man can choose to say no. In these pages I have used Holmes's enlistment as a focus for his entire Civil War experience, thereby hoping to reveal what Holmes brought into the war and what he brought out of it. We will, I think, find in this experience the sources of Holmes's world-view, of those attitudes and feelings that come to dominate his life.