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BurtLaw's Justice Holmes
-  LawAndEverythingElse.Com  - Copyright (c) 2006 Burton Randall Hanson

Justice Holmes Links:
-- The Path of the Law, text of Justice Holmes' greatest essay, originally printed at 10 Harvard Law Review 457 (1897), reprinted here by Project Gutenberg.

-- BurtLaw on Mandatory Retirement of Judges, an essay written in 2000 by Burton Randall Hanson that draws in part on Justice Holmes' example in arguing against mandatory retirement of judges.

-- Speech delivered on Memorial Day, May 30, 1884, at Keene, N.H., before John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic ("In our youth our hearts were touched with fire").

-- Speech delivered on Memorial Day, May 30, 1895, at a Meeting Called by the Graduating Class of Harvard University ("The Soldier's Faith").

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), a biographical sketch of Justice Holmes' father by Horace E. Scudder, from the Riverside Edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes xi-xxi (1895), reprinted here by Eldritch Press..

-- "[The] law, wherein, as in a magic mirror, we see reflected, not only our own lives, but the lives of all men that have been! When I think on this magic theme, my eyes dazzle." Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "The Law" (1913) in The Occasional Speeches of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes 20, 21 (Mark DeWolfe Howe ed., 1962).

The unknown Holmes - or tap dancing & the law. By 1989 proclamation of #41, Geo. Sr., May 25th (the birthday of Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson) is Nat'l Tap Dance Day. You may have heard that Gene Kelly, one of the greatest tappers of all time, was a law school dropout. But you probably didn't know that Mr. Justice Holmes himself was a great tapper (see right). Indeed, pound for pound, in my book he was better than Kelly. Tap dance is an art form that is almost as neglected by the intelligensia as accordion playing. As Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy once asked derisively, "Who ever reviewed an accordion concert?" That is sad -- doubly so from a jurisprudential perspective, because it's quite possible that Holmes' nimbleness on the dance floor had more than a little to do with his nimbleness as a judge in tap dancing through the thicket that is the common law. A Holmes scholar we know said that once when the aged Holmes was in his cups ("Ah that I were 70 again!"), he revealed that during a mid-life crisis, when he was Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, he had dated a strikingly-attractive diminutive young tap dancer named Dolly, who had had professional aspirations. Holmes described her as being obsessed with "the dance," even during their most intimate moments in hourly-rate "no-tell" (a/k/a/ "hot sheet") love hotels in Boston's notorious "combat zone." "Clap," "dig ball," "double hop," and "catch," she would shout -- tap terms befuddling to us but recognizable to Holmes because of his tap-dancing background. Ultimately, Holmes said Dolly's obsessiveness with "the dance" and her insistence that he join her to form a team ("Dolly & Ollie") ruined their chance at happiness. "The law," he said to her, "is a jealous mistress, as jealous as the dance." I thought of this the other night as I was watching a video of the greatest film tap-dance sequence of all time. It's in the classic 1997 movie Gummo, in which noted actress Linda Manz plays the memorable role of "a mother who mourns for her dead husband by doing a tap dance in front of a mirror in the basement." As I watched it, I couldn't help but wondering what became of Dolly. Did she mourn Ollie's death in similar fashion? I suppose that was Ollie's secret ultimate daydream as he listened to dull, boring oral arguments, just as it's any red-blooded fellow's ultimate wish --  to wit, that after he's "gone," some former love, who said with doe eyes and a straight face that she had "always" loved him and "always would" love him, will go down into the basement of the house she shares with her third-rate third husband, an out-of-control paraphiliac, and, perhaps shedding a tear or two over "what might have been," tap dance fiendishly in front of a mirror for her old pal in "remembrance of things past." Whether or not that indeed was the good justice's wish, those of us who are lovers of the law should thank our lucky stars that Ollie didn't hit the road with Dolly. (05.24.2002)

Justice Holmes' Memorial Day speeches. In Minnesota our peripatetic justices of the supreme court self-admittedly make "hundreds" of "public appearances" around the state each year. Most of these appearances do not involve the giving of "speeches." That's probably a good thing, because, in my opinion, few judges these days are capable of giving a speech that anyone will remember longer than five minutes. The great Justice Holmes probably would have laughed at the thought of a judge making a "public appearance." But he did occasionally give a speech. He gave around 45 of them in his 50 years of combined service on the benches in Massachusetts and then, starting at age 60, in Washington, D.C. They are collected in a wonderful slim little volume that I own. Many of them are just a few lines long. They are almost all memorable.  Holmes gave two great Memorial Day speeches. The first, containing the famous line "In our youth our hearts were touched with fire," was delivered on Memorial Day, May 30, 1884, at Keene, NH. Excerpt:

"Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart  Such hearts--ah me, how many!--were stilled twenty years ago; and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year--in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life--there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier's grave...." More

The second, the "Soldier's Faith" speech, was delivered on May 30, 1895, at a gathering of the graduating class of Harvard University. "President Theodore Roosevelt's admiration for this speech was a factor in Holmes' nomination to the US Supreme Court." More

Announcement. We've finally gotten around to launching our new webzine/blawg: BurtLaw's The Daily Judge:

It is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, it is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert the reader to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things about "judges" that have interested us and that may interest the reader.

We don't promote our blawgs, but readers of this blog and of our affiliated political opinion blog, BurtonHanson.Com, may be interested in it. We don't think there is another blawg quite like it.