Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Oliver Wendell Holmes is everywhere recognized as a great American. His life story has been depicted on the stage, fictionalized in a popular biography,' and majestically summarized in the Dictionary of American Biography by his successor and disciple. Every undergraduate knows of Holmes' wounds in three Civil War battles, his seminal lectures on The Common Law delivered at the Lowell Institute, his pioneer decisions in labor cases in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and his long and distinguished tenure as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. But the recital of his public offices does not disclose Holmes' contribution to the fundamental need of our society. For he was not in title or in fact the commander-in-chief of his own generation. He sought the joy of the thinker "who knows that ...men who never heard of him will be moving to the measure of his thought--the subtile rapture of a postponed power, which ...is more real than that which commands an army."