bark. A small ship; in earlier times, a general term for
all sailing vessels of small size, e.g. fishing-smacks, xebecs,
pinnaces; in modern use, applied poetically or rhetorically to
any sailing vessel (OED)
as the chaff in the stroke the flail. In early agriculture grains particularly wheat were
threshed by hand. The threshing process consisted of beating
the grain with a flail. The outer shell of the kernel called
the chaff would be separated and blown away in the wind. In Holmes'
metaphor the spray is light like the chaff and carried by the
wind. Compare to Psalm 1 "The ungodly are not so: but are
like the chaff which the wind driveth away" (KJE)
beacon. A lighthouse or other conspicuous object placed
upon the coast or at sea, to warn vessels of danger or direct
their course. (OED)
Religious mental disturbances. Holmes is implicitly denouncing
the orthodox Calvinist theology that dominated religious life
in Boston. Holmes cannot explicitly criticize Calvinist doctrine
because the orthodox churches of Boston maintained large congregations
and held considerable influence. Holmes opposed Calvinism not
on a logical level but attacking the results that orthodox Calvinist
theology had brought upon the world.
In the Canons of Dort, Calvin published his five points from
which the theology springs. He describes the status of mankind
as utterly depraved because of the original sin. However a limited
elect are given Gods mercy and redeemed. Because of God's omniscient
foreknowledge who will be saved and who will be damned is already
known and hence immutable. Calvinist predetermination is a very
strong position that has survived many attempts to attack the
position logically. In a passage in his essay on Jonathan Edwards,
a powerful New England clergyman known for his unflagging devotion
to Calvinism as well as intense moving sermons, Holmes writes
"Faintings, convulsions utter prostration, trances, visions
like those of delirium tremens, were common occurrences. Children
went home from the religious meetings crying aloud through the
streets. Some lost their reason; not enough Edwards says to cause
alarm, unless we are disposed to gather up all we can to darken
the work and set it forth in frightful colors." (Jonathan
Edwards an Essay) Holmes saw the destructive power of that Calvinist
theology could exert. To Holmes no matter how perfect the logic
behind the belief may be any set of beliefs that can so negatively
impact people must be shunned and combated.
Somerville. The site of Mclean hospital, a mental asylum.
The hospital was founded in the relatively new style of "moral
treatment" of patients. (Mclean.harvard.edu)
Fakir. Properly an indigent person, but specially applied
to a Mahommedan religious mendicant, and then loosely, and inaccurately,
to Hindu devotees and naked ascetics. (OED)
Monk. A man (in early use also, occas.: a woman) who lives
apart from the world and is devoted chiefly to contemplation
and the performance of religious duties, living either alone
or, more commonly, as a member of a particular religious community.
Deacon. In Congregational churches, one of a body of officers
elected to advise and assist the pastor, distribute the elements
at the communion, administer the charities of the church, and
attend to its secular affairs. (OED) Holmes mentions these three
types of religious figures to show that the clergy are equally
as likely to go insane when pressed with certain religious dogmas.
42: Non compotes- Latin and short for Non compotes mentis a legal
term meaning "a person of unsound mind" (OED). The
law would not hold people of unsound mind accountable for their
43: Vulcanized India rubber- Natural Rubber is the coagulated
latex of certain trees which forms a highly elastic and flexible
substance (OED) The vulcanization process turns the raw rubber
from a soft and malleable substance to hard and tough polymer.
Holmes uses the vulcanization process as a metaphor for the transformation
of a young and rosy maid into a hard and tough woman.
43: "The poor gentleman"- The Autocrat writes draws
heavily on his experience as a public lecturer in this section.
Holmes toured as a lecturer between the years of 1851 and 1856.
In the early years of Holmes stayed relatively close to Boston.
He would lecture to medical students in the morning and private
audiences in the evening. Holmes would later travel further to
lecture in New York and out west in Kentucky. At the time lecturing
was a profitable enterprise for men of letters as well as seen
as a way to spread knowledge with the public. Obviously the ideals
of lecturing and the reality of the "performance did not
line up as often as Holmes shares in this section. For more information
on Holmes' lecture career see the chapter "lyceum lecture"
in E.M. Tilton's biography of Holmes, The Amiable Autocrat.
43: announced as a public performer- Meaning Holmes' lecture
audiences equated his educational lectures to the performances
of actors and entertainers.
43: Buffos- A comic actor, a singer in a comic opera. (OED)
43: From prudential considerations- The Autocrat is announced
as such a talented comic entertainer that he must restrain his
act so that the audience don't "split their sides"
or injure themselves from laughter.
43: Ulysses- The Latin name of the Greek Odysseus of homer's
odyssey. Odysseus takes ten years to return from the Trojan War
and encountered many fantastical islands on his journey as well
as hardships that rob him of his twelve ships and his men. The
Autocrat is exaggerating when he compares his lecture circuit
to the journeys of Odysseus but he wants to convey the feeling
of hardships that he experienced on his own journeys.
43: Histrionic- Theatrical or dramatic in character or style;
esp. excessively theatrical, melodramatic, stagy. Also: characterized
by pretence or deceit. (OED)
44: Private theatricals- A play or performance put on in a house
rather than a public stage (OED). In the following passage the
Autocrat compares the amateur performances in the country to
ostensibly similar performances in Boston ("our metropolis").
44: Lyceum hall- An institution in which popular lectures are
delivered on literary and scientific subjects. (OED)
44: Stage hero and heroines- i.e. Professional actors and actresses.
These professional actors generally had a reputation for ranting
and other debased behavior
45: Caesuras and cadence- Both are terms in formal poetry, Caesuras
being pauses in the line and cadence being the rhythm of the
45: Iambic trimeter brachycatalectic- The Iambic trimeter brachycatalectic
is a meter consisting of three pairs of two feet but is missing
the last syllable. It is known as heroic meter and is styled
after epic poetry. Holmes jokes about the meter as part of the
larger joke the melodramatic retellings of love in these types
45: A Prologue? - The joke is that Holmes is writing a prologue
to a play he has never seen based only on tropes and themes that
45: A brandy peach: i.e. peach brandy. Peach brandy is light
in color like the maidens "hueless" cheeks
45: A Green Baize: A coarse woollen stuff, having a long nap,
now used chiefly for linings, coverings, curtains. (OED) The
green baize is fake stage grass. Holmes is juxtaposing the melodrama
of the production with the cheap and unrealistic props and scenery.
45: (Canvas) trees- Like the baize grass the canvas trees are
46: The world without- As in the world outside the play. Despite
the harsh realities in the physical world in the world of the
play love must triumph
46: Lords of Creation- The Autocrat is making fun off the conception
that men are indeed the lords of creation when they are captivated
so easily by women
46: when you're out of school- Holmes is joking that men are
only the "masters of the world" after they leave school
and until then they are under direct control of women who served
as school teachers.
46: Magic bracelet- ? (!)
46: Headsman's trade- One who beheads; an executioner. (OED)
46: Falchion- A broad sword more or less curved with the edge
on the convex side. In later use and in poetry: A sword of any
46: Pikes armor- i.e. scales, the light reflects off the headsman's
sword like light reflects of the scales of a fish in a river.
46: His snuff box- A box for holding snuff, A preparation of
powdered tobacco for inhaling through the nostrils, usually small
enough to fit in a pocket (OED) On a literal level the snuff
causes the condemned to sneeze which forces his masterfully cut
head to fall off. The snuff box is also a reference to Sir Plume
in Pope's the Rape of the Lock who carries a snuff box and is
undone by a pinch of snuff. The reference to The Rape of the
Lock identifies the Holmes' prologue with the comedic mockery
of the epic style in which Pope's work is written.
47: Burns- Robert burns (1759-1796), national poet of Scotland
who wrote lyrics and songs in the Scottish dialect of English.
He was also famous for his amours and his rebellion against orthodox
religion and morality. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
47: "Scots wha hae"- A poem written by Robert Burns
about Scottish national pride. The poem is written in a Scottish
dialect of English and bemoans the subjugated state of Scotland.
47: Edward chain and slavery- The last two lines of the second
stanza of Burn's "Scots Wha Hae" read: "See approach
proud Edward's pow'r/Chains and slaverie!" Holmes is joking
that it would have been a tragic mistake to amend the line.
47: A teetotaler- One who abstains (esp. one who pledges himself
to abstain) from the use of any intoxicating liquor; a total
abstainer. (OED) The temperance movement campaigned to eliminate
the sale of alcohol in America and started to gain support in
this time period. In the northeast the temperance movement was
based in moralist sentiment and saw alcohol as a destroyer of
and disrupter of households. The Temperance movement was ultimately
successful and passed the 18th amendment in 1921 which prohibited
the commercial sale of alcohol.
48: Sugar of lead- certain compounds resembling sugar in form
or taste (OED)
48: strychnine- A highly poisonous vegetable alkaloid, C21H22N2O2,
obtained chiefly from Strychnos Nux-vomica and other plants of
the same genus. It is used in medicine as a stimulant and tonic.
(OED) Holmes's supposed teetotaler juxtaposes actual positions
such as strychnine and ratsbane (rat poison) with supposed poisons
like whiskey and beer.
48: The tyrant- i.e. Alcohol. Temperance campaigners of the time
compared alcohol to a tyrant that controlled its imbiber's lives.
48: Sydney Smith- Sydney Smith (1771-1845) one of the foremost
English preachers of his day, and a champion of parliamentary
reform. He was ordained by the Church of England and attended
lectures at the University of Edinburgh. Smith co-founded the
Edinburgh Review and wrote articles for the periodical. Through
his writings he perhaps did more than anyone else to change public
opinion regarding Roman Catholic emancipation. Smith was also
famous for his wit and charm. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
48: The surgical operation- reference to a line by Sydney Smith
line in Lady Holland's Memoir "It requires a surgical operation
to get a joke well into a Scotch understanding."
48: North Briton- i.e. Scotland
49: Fourth proof rectified impression- These are all terms associated
with the final stages of the printing process. The Autocrat cites
the technical publishing terms to impress the importance of authors
maintaining a presence on the work through the entire publishing
process. This also prevents senseless editorial changes that
can seriously impact the meaning of the work.
49: Calc'lates- U.S. colloq. To think, opine, suppose, reckon';
to intend, purpose.(OED) The Autocrat is not speaking against
women who think, opine etc. rather he is speaking against women
who calc'lates rather than calculates. Holmes is very particular
about the proper use of language and the perceptions that proper
and improper speech can impart. For a use of calc'late in use
see page 304.
49: Obeys the moon- Holmes means that the Atlantic is a monthly
49: Luniversery- i.e. the time each month that the Atlantic is
49: Felis Catus- the Latin taxonomic nomenclature for a domestic
49: Linn. - Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and explorer
who was the first to frame principles for defining genera and
species of organisms and to create a uniform system for naming
them. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
50: A single ray- i.e a single ray of light. Holmes is using
Newton's experiments with light and prisms as a metaphor to describe
the effects of wit. Newton took a completely darkened room and
opened a small slit to admit light into the room. The light was
then passed through a prism and split into its component colors.
So to the consciousness that is in wit is diffracted into its
component parts when spoken in conversation.
50: Never as fair as it is in daylight- Here Holmes reminds the
audience that for all the benefit that wit can convey on a subject
it is not a substitute for the subject itself. The ray of wit
splits and focuses these messages but the subject itself is more
than only discussion.
50: Yellow hair Iris- in Virgil's Aeneid, Dido falls in love
with the Aeneas. Thinking her beloved dead Dido resolves to kill
herself on a pyre of all of Aeneas's possessions. Though she
is topped from immolating herself she falls upon one of Aeneas's
swords mortally injuring herself in the process. She does not
die and lies in pain on the ground. The goddess Juno takes pity
on Dido's pain and sends Iris her messenger to end her life.
Dido finally ends when Iris cuts a lock of Juno's golden hair.
Holmes uses the metaphor to show that a sudden action or movement
can end the charm of conversation.
50: Infelix Dido- Holmes is alluding to the convention of Homeric
epithets found in epic poetry. In order to fill the complex meter
in which epic poetry is written the writers devise long lists
of epithets that fit the meter for that particular line. Beyond
being a useful metric tool the heroic epithet also allowed the
essential characteristic of the character to be highlighted.
For example see "swift footed Achilles and "grey eyed
Athena". The Homeric convention was used in Virgil's Aeneid
and later Milton's paradise lost. In this instance Virgil is
highlighting the unhappy character of Dido in her story.
51: Amour-propre- French: Self-love. The term
or a variation of it has been used by a host of moral writers
to describe the barrier of introspection. Self-love blinds people
from seeing their own character flaws. The moral essayist Samuel
Johnson, who had profound impact on Holmes, writes at length
on the problems caused by self-love in The Rambler essays.
51: Story of archbishop and Gil Blas- Gil Blas de Santillane
was the protagonist of the French picaresque novel of the same
name. He was a trickster character who could almost always escape
any dilemma through clever wit or charm.
The particular story Holmes references opens with hero Gil Blas
in the employ of the Archbishop transcribing his sermons. When
asked about the homilies he is transcribing Gil Blas flatters
the archbishop and gains his trust. The archbishop tasks Gil
Blas with speaking honestly about his sermons and homilies and
warning him if he should ever start to falter. After the archbishop
suffers a fit of apoplexy his sermons decline in quality. Gil
Blas resolves not to tell the archbishop but is forced to answer
when the archbishop asks what the people think of his most recent
sermon. Gil Blas answers honestly that the most recent sermon,
though excellent, was not of the same quality as the archbishops
earlier sermons. The archbishop tells Gil Blas that he is sure
that he is still as capable ever and fires Gil Blas.
The Autocrat mentions this story to show the power of self-love.
Even though the Arch Bishop tasked Gil Blas with speaking honestly
his self-love shut prevented him from taking the criticism.
51: Ready made from Disraeli- Holmes is referring to Isaac Disraeli,
the British writer not his more famous son Benjamin Disraeli,
the British politician. Disraeli (1766-1848) began his writing
career writing pieces for The Wit Magazine. His most famous work
Curiosities of Literature is a compilation of anecdotes about
prominent writers and publishers of the day. (Encyclopedia of
British Writers, 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries). Holmes is using
Disraeli as an example of wit that lesser critics seek to become
by stealing witticisms rather developing their own.
51: Belabored me in his feeble way- i.e. gave a negative review.
The Autocrat is putting down petty critics of his work by noting
that they frequently don't have their own accomplishments or
indeed do not even write their own witticisms. These critics
will never be able to significantly impact the works or reputation
of the Autocrat.
51: Pillory- A device for punishment, usually consisting of a
wooden framework mounted on a post, with holes or rings for trapping
the head and hands, in which an offender was confined so as to
be subjected to public ridicule, abuse, assault, etc.; punishment
of this kind. Now hist. (OED)
52: Esprit- Sprightliness, vivacious wit in conversation or composition.
(OED) The table of "men of esprit" hearkens back to
the discussion of the "Mutual Admiration Societies"
and particularly the Saturday club discussed on page 2.
52: Diminished fifths and flat sevenths- Chords [in music theory]
known for their tonal ambiguity and dissonance (Oxford Encyclopedia
52: Twinned octaves- Two notes exactly an octave apart. Octaves
became the basis of modern music because of their natural consonance.
(Oxford Encyclopedia of Music) Holmes compares rigid thought
to octaves and by doing so shows that rigidly proper music and
speech do not take advantage of the full range of experiences
that can be shared
53: Professional ruffian- i.e. an actor who specializes in playing
rough or disreputable characters
53: Voce di petto- literally a "chest voice" meaning
a deep voice
53: Falstaff's nine men in buckram- In Shakespeare's Henry IV
part 2, The character Falstaff recounts the story of how he was
assaulted by "Two men in Buckram" (Buckram-A kind of
coarse linen or cloth stiffened with gum or paste. [OED]) Over
the course of the story the number of men Falstaff is assaulted
by increases until he is assaulted by eleven men in buckram clothes.
The term "Men in Buckram" has since come to mean nonexistent
people. The Autocrats reference both shows the audiences reaction
to The Autocrats statement as incredulous while also referencing
the number of non-physical people in John and Thomas's conversation.
53: A platform balance -a weighing machine with a platform on
which the object to be weighed is placed. (OED) Holmes mentions
a scale to mean that only one of the three Johns is physically
there and that the other two exist as perceptions by others.
54: A rare vegetable, little known in boarding houses- Peaches
were rare in boarding houses to their expensive costs and as
the Autocrat shows us elsewhere the boarding house does not have
a particularly large budget for food especially luxury fruits.
54: The breaking of the seedling tulip- Seedling tulips contain
thousands of seeds of all of which will germinate and grow into
the same tulip as the parent tulip. However of these one will
be colored differently than the others. The different colored
tulip will then produce tulips of its hue when it reaches maturity.
By comparing humans to tulips the Autocrat shows both the rarity
of geniuses and the legacy they leave behind.
54: The Seckel pear- Seckels are believed by many to be the only
truly American variety of pear in commercial production. Unlike
other varieties developed in the U.S. from a cross or bud sport
of other European cultivars, Seckels are thought to have originated
as a wild seedling near Philadelphia. They were discovered in
the early 1800's. (Pear Bureau Northwest)
55: Old story books bound over again- Holmes means that lives
of most people are similar if not identical. Even though each
life looks unique the day to day life of humanity had changed
little through the age
55: Millionaires old mother-i.e. Mother Nature who is rich with
a multitude of experiences.
55: Musk deer- A solitary, shy animal which lives in mountainous
regions from Siberia to the Himalayas. It has large ears, a very
short tail, no antlers and a musk pod on its abdomen. The musk
from this organ is valued for use in perfumes and soaps (Encyclopedia
55: Civet cat- A long bodied short legged carnivorous of the
family viverridae. Rather Catlike in appearance they have thickly
furred tails, small ears and pointed snouts. Civets are usually
solitary and live in tree hollows among rocks and in similar
places coming out to forage at night. The anal glands of the
civet open under the tail into a large pouch in which greasy,
muck-like secretion accumulates. The secretion of the lesser
oriental civet or rasse and of the oriental and African civets
is employed commercially in the manufacture of perfume. (Encyclopedia
55: Eloquently silent animal- Holmes is referring to a skunk
but talks around it due to the impolite nature of the animal.
55: Carlyle's famous "characteristics" article- The
article that Holmes refers to deals with the unconscious nature
of genius. Carlyle posits that geniuses never know that they
are in fact geniuses. Holmes uses the metaphor of the odorous
animals as well as Carlyle's characteristics article to suggest
that his readers may be genius but you are so used to being themselves
that they don't realize they are a geniuses.
55: Notion- Chiefly N. Amer. Small wares, esp. cheap, useful
articles. (OED) Holmes is making a pun on one of the many definitions
of the word notion in relation to the Atlantic. He is soliciting
submissions from his readership and defending the paper from
detractors who would call the paper cheap.
56: Champion of the Heavy Weights- A professional boxer weighing
over 12 st. 7 lb.  (OED)
56: "Mug"- A face, esp. an unattractive one. (OED)
Holmes compares the ugly face of the face of the heavyweight
boxer to the inelasticity of scientific fact. The metaphor hinges
on the fact that the ugly appearance does not actually reflect
the true manner of what is contained beneath it. In the case
of the heavy weight the boxer may be a well-mannered person and
in the case of the
56: Certain noted institutions at south Boston- The Autocrat
is referring to the Boston Lunatic Asylum. The Asylum was well
known at the time for the human treatment of its patients. In
his visit to America Charles Dickens described the institution
as "admirably conducted on those enlightened principles
of conciliation and kindness," (American Notes for General
56: Idiot school-A hospital for the mentally ill or mentally
and intellectually disabled. (OED) Holmes is using the insanity
of the inmates as a clear counterexample to man's statement that
man is a rational being.
57: "Thou that reign'st in this bosom"- originally
a German folk song called "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen"
that was translated to English the English lyrics are as follows:
"Thou thou reign'st in this bosom;
There, There hast thou thy throne;
Thou, Thou knowest that I love thee,
Am I not fondly thine own?
Yes Yes Yes Yes
Am I not fondly thine own?
Then then ev'n as I love thee;
Say say wilt thou love me?
Thoughts thoughts tender and true love
Yes Yes Yes Yes
Say wilt thou cherish for me?
Speak speak love, I implore thee,
say say Hope ,may be thine,'
Thou, thou knowst that I love thee
Say but that thou wilt be mine
Yes Yes Yes yes
Say but that thou wilt be mine"
(Boston Glee Book 1839)
57: Having never studied it anywhere but in Paris- Holmes studied
medicine extensively in Paris in the 1830s. The medical courses
taught at La Charité were exclusively in French. Unlike
many foreign students studying medicine in Paris at the time,
Holmes had no difficulty with the French language. Through his
time studying in Paris Holmes transitioned to using French as
his primary language and took medical case notes in French rather
than his native English. In a letter to his parents from Paris
Holmes would write "French is almost a second mother tongue
to me" For more information on Holmes' studies in Paris
see "Oliver Wendell Holmes in Paris" (Dowling)
57: An Alsacian teacher: i.e. a native of the Alsace region of
France. The "awkwardness" arises from the minor dialectical
differences between Holmes Parisian French and the Alsacian French
59: Histoire Naturelle des bêtes-literally "A natural
history of Ruminant Animals and Rodents, two legged and Other"
Natural History: the branch of knowledge that dealt with all
natural objects, animal, vegetable, and mineral (obs.) (OED)
Ruminant: An animal that chews the cud; (Zool., also with capital
initial) any of a group of artiodactyl mammals, including cattle,
sheep, camels, and deer, that have a large compartment in the
gut (the rumen), anterior to the true stomach, in which food
(esp. cellulose) is partially digested by bacteria and from which
it is returned to the mouth for further chewing. (OED) The joke
is that there are no two legged ruminants and as well as no ruminating
rodents. The title suggests that the work is a satire of certain
types of people.
59: Great Pedlington with notes and additions- In this time period
American publishers would essentially steal British books and
republish them in America with "notes and additions".
59: Shelf 13 division c etc. - Founded in 1848, by an act of
the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, the Boston Public
Library was the first large free municipal library in the United
States. The library was opened to the public on March 20, 1854
and contained approximately 16,000 volumes (Boston Public Library).
Here Holmes is showing the power of a public library and also
drawing his readership in. By placing such a text in a physical
location he encourages his Boston readership to search out the
book and to his readers outside of Boston he shows the power
immense power that libraries can have as repositories of human
59: Duodecimo-The size of a book, or of the page of a book, in
which each leaf is one-twelfth of a whole sheet, also fig. Applied
to a person or thing of minute or diminutive size. (OED) Holmes
is joking with his readers that even the novel that everyone
has the capability to write will only fill three small volumes.
Holmes is suggesting that once the universal banality of everyday
life is swept away there are limited unique experiences that
can be shared.
59: Bound herbaria- A collection of dried plants systematically
arranged; a hortus siccus. Also, a book or case contrived for
keeping such a collection; the room or building in which it is
kept. (OED) Holmes uses the herbaria as a metaphor for explaining
why life so much more than just a written recording of it. While
strictly speaking the herbaria is accurate and shows the details
of the plants detailed within it misses the larger experience
of nature and the feelings it can evoke.
60: Alluvial waste-Of soil, silt, or other material: carried
by and deposited from flowing water (OED) The Autocrat is comparing
the story of people lives to a stream. The stream will mostly
contain rocks and silt but will also contain a nugget or two
60: Cradling-To nurture, shelter, or rear in infancy, or in the
earliest stage. (OED) Holmes is joking that the writing process
is own that needs to be nurtured and taken care of to be brought
to publishable maturity.
[Chris Chan, pages 61-80]
61: show up "To expose (a person's faults, ignorance,
misdeeds, etc)" (OED).
61: native "Inherent, innate"
62: All our failures
are lifted from
our bruised shoulders, and fall, like Christian's pack, at the
feet of that Omnipotence A reference to John Bunyan's
Pilgrim's Progress (1678), an allegory in which the protagonist
Christian undertakes a pilgrimage to the Celestial City in an
effort to rid himself of his "pack" or "burden,"
i.e., his awareness of his sins. After numerous travails and
failed attempts to remove his pack, Christian manages to relieve
himself at last upon sight of the cross at the walls of Salvation.
62: read with a mark i.e., to read
using a bookmark.
62: Entre nous "Between us"
63: taking off big wigs and professional gowns
i.e., deflating self-important personages such as judges,
who would have been easily recognizable via their elaborate dress
("big wigs and professional gowns").
63: disembalming and unbandaging of all literary
mummies A reference to the numerous translations of ancient
Egyptian texts, which were written in hieroglyphics, into modern
languages. These translations were made possible by the discovery
of the Rosetta Stone a slab with text inscribed in hieroglyphics,
Demotic (an alternate ancient Egyptian script), and Ancient Greek
in 1795 by Napoleonic forces during the French expedition
to Egypt. In the decades that followed, "Egyptology"
flourished into a subject of considerable interest among Western
scholars (annotation list).
63: octavo "A size of page traditionally
produced by folding a standard printing sheet three times to
form a section of eight leaves" (OED); here, a book or text
written in such a size. As is the case here, the word is "sometimes
[used] with the implication of popular appeal or cheapness"
63: missal "A Roman Catholic book
of devotions, esp. when illuminated [i.e. adorned with
brilliant colors, metallic pigments, etc']" (OED).
63: take, to wife: Used both in the
context of marriage, and in reference to chess a pawn
that advances to the opponent's end of the board may be promoted
into a queen.
63: plebeian "Commonplace
63: "put him through" i.e.,
"To carry [him] through (successfully)" (OED).
63, footnote: Saturday Club A group
established in 1855 of renowned Boston intellectuals, writers,
scientists, and scholars, so named because they met regularly
on Saturdays to discuss various matters of social and intellectual
interest. Notable members included Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
Swiss natural historian Louis Agassiz, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and
historian John Lothrop Motley.
64: a dozen ringing intelligences, each answering
to some chord of the macrocosm The Saturday Club's members
engaged in a wide variety of intellectual pursuits, ranging from
history and literature to philosophy and the sciences.
64: the equatorial zone of the system is soothed
by well-studied artifices i.e. the stomach is replete
with good food and wine, with "equatorial" connoting
the girth of someone who is full (annotation list).
64: apprehensions Views or opinions
"entertained upon any subject" (OED).
64: medius lectus lit. "middle
couch" (Latin): the seat or couch in a Roman tricilinium,
or sitting room, reserved for guests. The medius lectus was flanked
by two other courches named the lectus summus, which was placed
to the left, and the lectus imus, which was placed to the right
and which served as the seat of the host.
64: professional mortars A mortar is
"a short piece of artillery
used to discharge missiles,
in later use esp. explosive shells, at high angles" (OED).
64: bon-bons "A lozenge or other
confection made of sugar" (OED); figuratively, celebratory
or happy occasions, gifts, presents, etc.
65: "The trail of the serpent is over
them all!" Thomas Moore, "The Veiled Prophet
of Khorassan," Lalla Rookh (1817). The Autocrat quotes the
line to recognize how many of his observations, metaphors, and
other figures of speech have been borrowed from his own lectures.
65: cleaving the green waters of the Back
Bay In June 1857, Holmes and his family moved into a new
residence at 21 Charles Street, which overlooked the Charles
River. The location not only afforded him the opportunity to
row out on the river every morning in his boats, but also influenced
his later writings on the pleasures and benefits of rowing (Tilton
238); see also pp. 167-170. Thirteen years later, when Holmes
moved once again to a new home on Beacon Street, he campaigned
in support of land reclamation in the Back Bay; the current neighborhood
of the same name was successfully established in 1871 on the
reclaimed land (Tilton 304).
65: Provincial blue-noses i.e. Rowing
shells (or small boats) manned by crews from rural areas. Holmes
could also be punning on the term "blue-nose," which
can refer to either a schooner (in the original sense) or a derogatory
term for Presbyterians (OED), whose religious roots lie in the
Calvinist tradition from which he sought to distance his own
65: Metropolitan boat clubs Rowing
associations from Boston and Cambridge (annotation list).
65: the characters above referred to
That is, "[a]ll lecturers, all professors, all schoolmasters"
as mentioned previously.
65: Beacon Street door plate in August
i.e., the brass plate is covered with dust (annotation list).
Holmes himself would move to a new residence on Beacon Street
in November 1870; see previous note on Back Bay, p. 65.
66: quiet batrachians i.e., frogs.
66: less elevated order of reptilia
Reptiles that, in contrast to the "quiet batrachians,"
make loud noises, possibly crocodiles and alligators (annotation
66: what is going on India A reference
to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, during which sepoys (Indian
soldiers who served the British) mutinied against the British
East India Company. The rebellion spread across central India,
and rebel forces tortured and murdered women, children, and British
soldiers, prompting the British government to directly intervene.
The mutiny was finally suppressed in 1859, and the government
promptly installed direct rule over India via the newly established
66: a dark-skinned, inferior, but still "Caucasian"
race In the emergent "racial science" of the
19th century, Indians were classified with Europeans as "Caucasian"
66: Dele "destroyed" (Latin),
with echoes of the Roman senator Cato the Elder's (234-149 BCE)
warning to the Roman Republic: "Carthago delenda est"
(lit. Carthage must be destroyed). Rome defeated Carthage (now
present-day Tunis in Tunisia) in the Punic Wars and destroyed
the city in 146 BCE.
66: Homeric heroes The heroes of the
ancient Greek poet Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Such figures were frequently characterized as being descendants
of the immortal Greek gods, yet nevertheless possessed mortal
flaws; a well-known example is Achilles of the Iliad.
66: themes Compositions or "exercise[s]
written on a given subject" (OED).
66: melas oinos As the Autocrat proceeds
to explain, this term refers to the ancient Greek and later Roman
practice of watering one's wine; oinos is Greek for "wine."
67: melasses i.e., molasses, a major
import from the Caribbean and used to produce rum in England
throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (annotation list).
67: Webster Noah Webster, Jr. (1758-1843),
American lexicographer best known for his work An American Dictionary
of the English Language (1828), which would serve as one of the
fundamental standard-bearers for modern American English spelling
67: Cotton Mather New England Puritan
minister (1663-1728) and author of the Magnalia Christi Americana
("The Glorious Works of Christ in America," 1702),
which details the rise and spread of Puritanism throughout New
England from 1620 to 1698. Mather's writings exerted a strong
influence on New England's spiritual and cultural development,
and he drew on Biblical texts to account for contemporary American
events and issues.
67: antiquaries An antiquary is a "student
of early history" (OED), particularly of classical Greek
and Roman antiquity; here the term refers more generally to scholars
who study historical records. Throughout the Autocrat, Holmes
carried on a running argument against critics who chose to overlook
the literary merit of texts in favor or pointing out factual
or philological mistakes and inconsistencies (annotation list).
67: barn-door-fowl flights A reference
to Alexander Pope's Dunciad (1728), a withering satire of leading
British critics, intellectuals, and politicians, in which the
owl is figured as the symbol of intellectual stupidity or "dulness."
(Holmes and his educated readers would have been very familiar
with the texts of Pope and his contemporaries.) The implication
here is that the findings of the "small antiquaries"
are of little intellectual substance or quality to the broader
academic community (annotation list).
67: "Notes and Queries" A
scholarly journal first published in 1849 in London by William
Thoms, "Notes and Queries" was intended as a means
of academic exchange among scholars of literature, history, genealogy,
and other factual knowledge. Its early issues featured "Notes"
(miscellaneous findings, statistics, and quirks on any number
of topics) and "Queries" (which consisted of both questions
submitted by readers and scholarly responses to such questions).
Though the Autocrat pokes fun at its contents, Holmes nevertheless
read "Notes and Queries" diligently, and it features
prominently in several of his other essays (annotation list;
see also pp. 281-284).
67: triremes "An ancient galley
(originally Greek, afterwards also Roman) with three ranks of
oars one above another, used chiefly as a ship of war" (OED).
The comparison here is to the three-volume works of antiquarian
research published by Historical Societies; such volumes would
have been of very little general interest (annotation list).
67: Amines (?)
67: parasitical literature That is,
secondary sources. The Autocrat compares lazy writers who compose
historical works by sifting through other reported findings to
who pick up [their] grains of native-grown
food with a bodkin."
67: bodkin "A short pointed weapon;
a dagger" (OED).
67: Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(1749-1832), prolific German writer of verse poetry, drama, and
literary and aesthetic criticism. His philosophical writings
exerted a strong influence on the writings of later German and
Swiss thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and Ludwig
Wittgenstein, whereas his literary works most notably
his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and his closet
drama Faust (1808) spearheaded the Romantic movement in
Germany and the rest of Europe, particularly in England and France.
67: "made a Golgotha" i.e.
created a "heap of skulls" amounting to useless information
of no intellectual substance (annotation list). In Hebrew, "Golgotha"
roughly translates to the "place of skulls;" its English
equivalent, "Calvary," refers to the site beyond the
walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.
67: "Oak Hall" Name of a
clothing business founded by George W. Simmons in the 1830s in
Boston. "Oak Hall" became renowned for its ready-made
clothes, a feature that the Autocrat draws upon here in his claim
that his verses, like a "coat" from the Bostonian clothing
company, are not meant for any particular person or occasion
but nevertheless "will suit somebody."
67: family-man i.e., a man of noble
or high-ranking lineage. See also pp 20-22.
67: compages "A whole formed by
the compaction or juncture of parts, a framework or system of
conjoined parts" (OED).
69: the gray-haired boys i.e., other
members of Holmes' Harvard Class of 1829 (annotation list); also
referred to by the Professor as simply "the boys" (120).
69: dipped toast French toast, or any
dry bread that has been dipped in water or milk before serving.
70: some Doctor of Divinity A play
on the word "damned," which would have been spelled
out as "dd" in Holmes' time so as to preserve
propriety; hence the "two letters before the word good'"
that the correspondent has included in his suggestion to the
Autocrat (annotation list).
70, footnote: valerian A medicinal
plant exploited for its sedative properties and used in the treatment
of hysteria. Its effects are purportedly equivalent to those
of catnip to cats.
71: roseate "Rosy; happy"
71: Proserpina that actually cut the yellow
hair A reference to the ancient Greek myth in which the
goddess Hera (or "Here"; Roman equivalent Juno) sent
Iris (Roman equivalent Proserpina) to cut a lock of hair from
Dido, Queen of Carthage, such that the latter would die and her
soul would thus be set free.
71: Madame d'Enfer Roughly, "the
first lady of Hell" (French).
71: bathycolpian An alternate form
of "bathukolpian," meaning "deep-bosomed"
71: "Oceanic Miscellany" (?)
71: "Waft us home the message"
From the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell's (1777-1844) "The
Pleasures of Hope" (1799): "O Star-eyed Science! Hast
though wandered there, / To waft us home the message of despair?"
72: certain German physiologists by the name
of Weber A possible reference to the brothers Ernst Heinrich
Weber (1795-1878) and Eduard Weber (1806-1871), both of whom
extensively studied human sensation and perception.
72: Leviathan, or "Great Eastern"
The SS Great Eastern was an iron steam ship designed by
the British enginner Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859). At
the time of its launch in 1858, it was the largest ship built
in the world with a length of 692 ft (211 m) and a beam
of 82 ft (25 m) and could carry up to 4,000 passengers
around the world without refueling. The ship was finally scrapped
72: Primrose household The Autocrat
refers here to a scene in Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith's The
Vicar of Wakefield (1768), in which the wealthy Primrose family
arranges to have their family portrait rendered by a professional
painter. The envisioned piece has the daughter Sophia rendered
as a "shepherdess, with as many sheep as the pastor could
put in for nothing" (Ch. 16); the other members are to be
similarly depicted in ornate, decadent, and often bizarre dress
73: cheroot "A ciagr made in Southern
India or Manila," distinguished from other cigars by the
fact that its "two extremities [are] cut off square"
74: evanescent "That quickly vanishes
or passes away; having no permanence" (OED).
74: Day and Martin British boot blacking
company first founded in 1770 in London.
74: Dr. Wigan's doctrine of the brain's being
a double organ In his essay "Duality of the Mind"
(1844), Dr. Arthur Wigan (d. 1847) proposed that the brain consists
of two interrelated "organs" or hemispheres, with the
phenomenon of recognition arising as a result of the initial
failure of one hemisphere of the brain to translate sensory perceptions
to the other hemisphere. Wigan incorrectly hypothesized, however,
that recognition only occurs when the mind is "exhausted"
or lacking in energy.
74: hangs fire That is, hesitates or
is "slow in acting" (OED).
75: Bulwer's novels Edward Bulwer-Lytton,
1st Baron Lytton (1803-1873), English politician and writer whose
poems, plays, and novels were immensely popular in Britain.
75: Mr. Olmsted Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), American
journalist who later earned widespread fame as a landscape architect,
designing New York City's Central Park (1858) and Prospect Park
(1867), among other places. Olmsted devoted much of his journalism
to investigating the South's slave-driven economy, which he ardently
attacked for its economic and moral degradation of Southern civility.
75: reddening litmus-paper, and blushing cheeks
i.e., the Autocrat's early experiments in chemistry coincided
with his emerging interest in girls near his age (annotation
75: eheu! "Alas!" (Latin)
75: "Soles occidere et redire possunt"
"Suns may set and yet rise again" (Latin), from
"Catulllus 5" by the Latin poet Catullus (ca. 84
ca. 54 BCE).
76: ohne phosphorgeruch "without
phosphorus odor" (German).
76: "gambrel-roofed" Describes
a two-sided roof with two slopes (one shallow, the other steep)
on each side. The original Harvard Hall (c. 1677, burned 1766)
at Harvard University is the first-known structure in America
constructed with a gambrel roof, but the description is also
of great personal significance as Holmes' boyhood home shared
this architectural feature as well (annotation list).
76: swarthy "Black or blackish;
76: grenadier-like rows i.e., the "seedling
onions" are arranged in a very orderly fashion, akin to
the formation of grenadiers in combat.
Names of various herbs and flowers, with "everlasting"
and "immortelle" referring to the same herb. Asphodel
is a liliaceous (i.e. lily-like) flower mostly native to southern
Europe, and has been associated with immortality, a suggestion
also carried by the other two names.
76: mummied Pharaoh See note on Egyptology
on p. 63.
77: pugil "A small handful, or
a large pinch, of something" (OED).
77: rappee "A coarse snuff made
from dark strong-smelling tobacco leaves, and originally obtained
by rasping [i.e. scraping or scoring] a piece of tobacco"
77: Tonka-bean "The black, fragrant,
almond-shaped seed of a large leguminous tree
Guyana, and adjacent regions, used for scenting snuff, and as
an ingredient in perfumes" (OED).
77: I made the manual sign The Autocrat
mimics the motion of "taking a pinch," used by someone
who wishes to partake of the snuff (annotation list).
78: Trois Frères The Trois Frères
Provencaux, a notable Parisian restaurant where Holmes and his
fellow medical school colleagues dined regularly on Sundays.
This group of weekly diners constituted the Société
d'Observation Medicale ("Society of Medical Observation"),
which Holmes describes earlier as "a body of scientific
young men in a great foreign city" (6).
78: Scotch-plaided snuff-box Snuff
was typically stored in small air-tight containers known as snuff
boxes in order to prevent their contents from drying and thus
losing their potency. In this case, the "snuff-box"
is decorated with a Scottish plaid design.
78: Lundy-Foot, Chambertin, Clos Vougeot
Lundy-Foot is a variety of snuff; Chambertin and Clos Vougeot
are red burgundies produced in the French villages of Gevrey-Chambertin
and Vougeot, respectively. As noted literary scholar William
C. Dowling notes, Holmes' inclusion of distinctly French items
throughout the Autocrat invites his wider audience into the Parisian
environment he inhabited as a medical student, "thus permitting
them to gaze beyond the narrow bounds of New England culture
to a wider horizon" (117).
78: slumbering in its straw cradle
The wines would have been stored in straw caskets.
78: kine The plural form of "cow,"
now archaic (OED).
78: strophes In traditional Greek lyric
poetry, a "series of lines forming a system, the metrical
structure of which is repeated in a following system called the
78: sharp little milk-teeth i.e., children
too young to have lost their first set of teeth, for whom "apples"
would have been a special treat (annotation list).
78: Byron's line about "striking the
electric chain" "A flower the wind
the ocean which shall wound, / Striking the electric chain
wherewith we are darkly bound." George Gordon, Lord Byron,
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1818).
78: the folio Shakespeare A copy of
a Shakespearean play "in folio," i.e., "in the
form of a full-sized sheet folded once" (OED). Although
folio sizes varied greatly depending on the size of the paper
used, the implication here is that the "folio Shakespeare"
would have been a substantially large book, with a page of height
of at least 15 inches (38 cm).
79: Christmas pastry A possible equivalent
to an English Christmas cake or fruitcake. The tradition of baking
Christmas cakes dates back to roughly the 16th century, when
the English ate their cakes on Christmas Eve after having fasted
the day before.
79: George the Second Hanoverian monarch
(1683-1760) who presided over Great Britain during most of the
French and Indian War (1754-1763); the historical allusions that
follow refer to events and personalities dating to this period.
79: the elder Pitt is coming into power
William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) was a British Whig statesman
who oversaw Britain's involvement in the French and Indian War.
He later served as Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1766
to 1778 and notably supported the American colonies' movement
toward independence from Great Britain.
79: General Wolfe Major General James
Peter Wolfe (1727-1759) commanded British forces in North America
during the French and Indian War and oversaw the eventual defeat
of the French at the Battle of Quebec in 1759, the same battle
in which he was killed.
79: and over the Channel they are pulling
the Sieur Damiens to pieces On January 5, 1757, French
civil servant Robert-François Damiens attempted a failed
assassination of King Louis XV. Damiens was apprehended, tortured,
and summarily executed by drawing and quartering in which
his four limbs were simultaneously pulled apart by horses
on March 28 of that year.
79: Hirams and Jonathans and Jonases
Common "Yankee" names for young men who hailed from
New England (annotation list).
79: Fort William Henry A former British
fort at the southern end of Lake George in New York, Fort William
Henry became notorious as the site where Indian soldiers tortured
stationed British troops following a successful siege by the
French in 1757. The fort was destroyed by the French soon after
the siege, but a replica was constructed in the 1950s.
79: I was thinking said he
who was king of England when this old pie was baked: John's comment
is a jibe against the landlady's poverty and her low social status,
and the Autocrat proceeds to rebuke him sharply on p. 80.
79: cela va sans dire "That goes
without saying" (French).
79: bolted "Sifted" (OED).
The preceding "ground" is used as the past tense of
80: stillicidium "A morbid dropping
or trickling" (OED); i.e. tears, but with the implication
of false over overdramatically "self-conscious sentiment."
80: imps of the boarding-house Inferno
i.e., boarders who "torture" the landlady like little
devils or "imps" in Hell (annotation list).
80: "Quoiqu'elle soit très solidement
montée, il faut ne pas BRUTALISER la machine"
"Although it is solidly made, the machine should not be
treated brutally" (French; annotation list).