A Letter From Dr. Holmes


IN 1874, I gathered all the facts that I could about the beginning of the Atlantic and published them in the Christian Union, now the Outlook. I derived my information from Mr. Lowell, Dr. Holmes, Mr. Underwood and others, and as Mr. Lowell had said that Dr. Holmes made the Atlantic, I sent what I had written to the Autocrat.

Dr. Holmes replied in a letter which seems to me to be so characteristic and so interesting that I venture to send it to the Contributors’ Club.

296 Beacon St.,
BOSTON, Oct. 29th, 1874.
MY DEAR SIR, — I have read your story of the birth of the Atlantic with great pleasure. It recalls many most agreeable times, scenes and persons, and leaves me cheerful as I rise from reading it, in spite of the reflection forced upon me of how many years have gone like the snow in which we left our footprints as we walked towards Harvard Square after the memorable supper at Porter’s.
The success of my papers was a surprise to me. I was, as you say in your paper, forty-eight years old, and felt that a new generation of writers and readers had grown up since I used to write for the Collegian, and the New England Magazine. I remembered what Johnson said of Goldsmith, that “he was a plant which flowered late ” — and Goldsmith was but forty-six years old when he died. I think, however, something was beginning to stir in me for expression before I felt the spur of this new stimulus. You will find in the North American for April, 1857, an article entitled “Mechanism of Vital Actions,” which had more thought in it than anything I had previously published. There is a poem also of the date of 1857, written for the meeting of the Alumni, which has I think more vivacity than my average ones. I remember Hillard’s meeting me and speaking of these two productions, different as they were, in a way that gave me great satisfaction. I think therefore the Atlantic came for my fruit just as it was ripe for gathering, but I never knew it was so until afterwards.
I thought you might like to know all this directly from me. It seems very strange to me, as I look back and see how everything was arranged for me, as if I had been waited for as patiently as Kepler said the Almighty had waited for him. But so the least seems sometimes to be cared for as anxiously as the greatest — “ are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall.”
If I had been the sparrow that fell in the earlier part of 1857, the world might have lost very little, but I should have carried a few chirps with me that I had rather have left behind me. I have had some hard things said of me since I began writing for the Atlantic. But the change in public opinion since 1857 is something astonishing, and the last time I saw myself alluded to, it was as being rather conservative in my tendencies. . . .
I have sent you a gossipy letter in reply to your note and the article that has so much interested me, but . . . I hope you will read it goodnaturedly.
Very truly yours,