Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Holmes As Correspondent


G. Edward White

First Page



This Article explores the function of letter writing in the life of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. I argue that letter writing was a by-product of an effort by Holmes to compartmentalize his life into professional ("my work") and domestic ("my wife") spheres, a compartmentalization that had its constraining effects. Because of this compartmentalization, a series of pursuits to which Holmes was attracted, ranging from speculation in the realms of literature and philosophy to flirtations with attractive women, were relegated implicitly to secondary stature, causing strain. In this context, letter writing functioned as a release for Holmes: a release from the routine of judicial duties and the obligations of provincial Boston, official Washington,and his reclusive wife. But letter writing also served as a confirmation and reinforcement of the compartmentalization scheme.