The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

Pages 121 - 160


Kate Barron, Cecily Smith


Page 121

red claret – A name applied to "red wines imported from Bordeaux, generally mixed with Benicarlo or some full-bodied French wine" (OED)

"The sky is bright"- One song in a collection of secular melodies consisting of songs, glees, rounds, catches &c. The book of sheet music is arranged and harmonized for four voices by E. L. White, a teacher of the piano forte and organ.

White, Edward L., Benjamin Franklin Baker, and Lucien H. Southard. The Boston Melodeon. Boston: B. B. Mussey & Co., 1850. Print.

In 1872, Holmes wrote a poem entitled "Our Sweet Singer", a tribute to Rev. Joseph Angier, who had recently died, and read it at the annual meeting of his college class. "In this poem heaven is conceived to be not so much an angelic as a human abode, —a place in which we have memories of our earthly life and enjoy some of its innocent pleasures, a place where ‘Bonny Doon' and ‘The Sky is Bright' –which Angier used to sing with exquisite sweetness— may be sung without impropriety"

Piper, Rev. George F.. "Holmes and Whittier on Immortality." Christian Register 28 Mar. 1907: 348-349. Google Books. Web.

"Methinks in that refulgent sphere,
That knows not sun or moon,
An earth-born saint might long to hear,
One verse of ‘Bonny Doon'

Or walking through the streets of gold,
In heaven's unclouded light,
His lips recall the song of old,
And hum ‘The Sky is bright'"

Holmes, "Our Sweet Singer", lines 25-32

Byron about Santa Croce – George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) was an Anglo-Scottish poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement known for his works Don Juan, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and a short lyric poem entitled ‘She Walks in Beauty'. He is regarded as one of the greatest British poets.

The poem Holmes is referring to is one entitled ‘Santa Croce'.

"Furnish out creation" – Holmes is referring to a line from Lord Byron's ‘Santa Croce' in which he states, "

Boodle – "Crowd, pack, lot: as in the contemptuous ‘the whole boodle'" (OED)

Page 122

the "Northern Magazine" –

the Come-outers –

Page 123

the broad Garonne – A river in southwest France, rising in the central Pyrenees and flowing into the Atlantic by way of the estuary called the Gironde.

Page 124

the bride of Cana – In the Christian Bible, the story of the transformation of water into wine is the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The story goes that Jesus and his mother, the Virgin Mary, are invited to a wedding and Mary comes to Jesus and tells him that all of the wine is gone. Jesus asks the servants to bring him jugs of water and he performs the miracle of transforming them into wine so that there is an abundance of wine for the wedding party and all of their guests. John 2: 1-11.

wine of Galilee – In the Christian Bible, the story of the Marriage at Cana is that of the first miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John in which water is transformed into wine. John 2:1-11

Seven wise men of Boston – Meant to be a joke comparing the Seven Sages (of Greece) or Seven Wise Men to the wisest men of Boston. The Seven Sages (of Greece) or Seven Wise Men (Greek: , hoi hepta sophoi; c. 620 BCE-550 BCE) was the title given by ancient Greek tradition to seven early 6th century BCE philosophers, statesmen and lawgivers who were renowned in the following centuries for their wisdom.
(1) Cleobulus of Lindos: "Moderation is the best thing." He governed as tyrant of Lindos, in the Greek island of Rhodes, circa 600 BC.
(2) Solon of Athens: "Keep everything with moderation." Solon (c. 638–558 BC) was a famous legislator and reformer from Athens, framing the laws which shaped the Athenian democracy.
(3) Chilon of Sparta: "You should not desire the impossible." Chilon was a Spartan politician from the 6th century BC, to whom the militarization of Spartan society was attributed.
(4) Bias of Priene: "Most men are bad." Bias was a politician and legislator of the 6th century BC.
(5) Thales of Miletus: (c. 624 BC – c. 546 BC) Thales is the first well-known philosopher and mathematician. His advice, "Know thyself," was engraved on the front façade of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi.
(6) Pittacus of Mytilene(c. 640–568 BC), governed Mytilene (Lesbos) along with Myrsilus. He tried to reduce the power of the nobility and was able to govern with the support of the popular classes, whom he favoured. He famously said "You should know which opportunities to choose."
(7) Periander of Corinth (fl. 627 BC): he was the tyrant of Corinth in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. During his rule, Corinth knew a golden age of unprecedented stability. He was known saying "Be farsighted with everything."

Page 125

"He that has once done you kindness" - In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin Quote by Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography stated an old maxim he had learned, "He that has once done you kindness will be more ready to do you another".

Franklin, Benjamin, and Leonard Woods Labaree. The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964. Print.

my friend the Historian – John Lothrop Motely (1814-1877) American diplomat and historian best remembered for The Rise of the Dutch Republic, a remarkable work of amateur scholarship that familiarized readers with the dramatic events of the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule in the 16th century.

"Motley, John Lothrop". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. <>

"Good Americans, when they die" – A quote often misattributed to Holmes, but said of his good friend Thomas Gold Appleton (1812-1884) who was an American writer, artist and patron of fine arts. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was his brother-in-law after he married Appleton's sister Frances.

McCullough, David G.. The greater journey: Americans in Paris, 1830 - 1900. 1. ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

the hub of the solar system – Ie., The Boston State-House is the center of every Bostonian's world, and no one can change that. A ‘hub' is the "central solid part of a wheel from which the spokes radiate, and which rotates on (or with) the axle; the nave" while "tire" are the curved pieces of iron plate, called strakes or streaks, placed end to end or overlapping, with which cart and carriage wheels formerly shod (OED) Thus, Holmes is comparing the shape of the dome of the Boston State-House with that of the hub of a wheel and stating that one could not dismantle the hub of a wheel even if one had the tire straightened out into the shape of a crowbar.

Page 126

Cockneys – "A person born in the city of London" (OED)

Paris, the Court, the World -
"Hotel de l'Univers et des États Unis" – Literal translation: the Hotel of the Universe and the United States

"See Naples and die" – (Vedi Napoli e poi muori) – An Italian proverb variously ascribed to Goethe, meaning that when you have seen Naples you have seen everything and it is safe to die.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, and John Oxenford. Autobiography of Goethe truth and poetry relating to my life. S.l.: Floating Press, 2008. Print.

"Pactolian" – "Of or relating to the river Pactolus (now Sart Çay , in modern Turkey), formerly renowned for the gold which its sands contained. In later use: golden; lavish, copious." (OED) In reference to what I believe to be The Boston Daily Advertiser, in which Holmes' poems were published as well as other important news. This was the very first daily newspaper in Boston and remained the only daily newspaper for many years.

Page 127

little toad-eating cities – Small cities that fawn over the prettiest, most intellectual, etc. of their citizens.

he second story projecting – Colonial architecture that projects out on the second story.

Page 128

Pope's line –

A town in Massachusetts quotes a line from Pope's famous Essay on Man line from Pope's famed Essay on Man. Pope's Essay on Man is a poem published by Alexander Pope in 1734. It is a rationalist effort to use philosophy in order to "vindicate the ways of God to man".

"One stupdendous HULL" – They mispronounced whole and said Hull instead. Hull is the main body of the ship and therefore is similar to the world whole.

Page 129

Melbourne or San Francisco – These were two popular places for social outcasts to go to. They both had a lot of gold, so people had the promise of getting rich and leading a better life.

Vieuxtemps or Thalberg –

Henri Francois Joseph Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) was a Belgian composer and violinist. He occupies an important place in the history of the violin as a prominent exponent of the Franco-Belgian violin school during the mid-19th century.

Sigismond Thalberg (1812-1871) was a composer and one of the most distinguished virtuoso pianists of the 19th century.

Page 130

a frozen viper – The Farmer and the Viper is one of Aesop's Fables telling the story of a farmer who finds a viper freezing in the snow and takes pity on it, placing it within his coat. When the viper is revived, he bites the farmer who dies realizing it was his own fault. It has the moral that kindness to the evil will be met by betrayal and is the source of the idiom ‘to nourish a viper in one's bosom'.

Rackham, Arthur, and Vernon Stanley Jones. Aesop's fables. New York: Avenel Books, 1975. Print.

repeater – "A repeating watch or clock" (OED)

Page 131

a clod – Just as a clod takes all of the moisture and heat but never puts these things back into the soil around it, a person must not only let themselves be loved by others but must love others as well.

auto de fe –"A religious ceremony demonstrating commitment to Catholicism held by the Spanish or Portuguese Inquisition prior to the punishment of prisoners, such as blasphemers, bigamists, and witches, as well as heretics. hist. in later use" (OED)

Page 132

Hebrew patriarchs – "Each of the twelve sons of Jacob, traditionally regarded as ancestors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel" (OED)

ask in Abraham –

above Shakespeare – The Divinity student misunderstands the Autocrat. He believes that the Autocrat has said that there are many times when active minds find themselves to be thinking with a greater intellect than Shakespeare, when the Autocrat actually means that an active mind has the ability to get things out of the work of Shakespeare that are more intellectual than simply the words on the page.

growing lean – No one has ever withered away from hearing the story of Romeo & Juliet.

Desdemona was maligned – Desdemona is a character in William Shakespeare's play Othello. Desdemona is a Venetian beauty who enrages and disappoints her father, a Venetian senator, when she elopes with Othello, a man several years older than herself. When her husband is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the Republic of Venice, Desdemona accompanies him. There her husband is manipulated by his ensign lago into believing she is an adulteress, and in the last act, she is murdered by her spouse.

Page 133

Coleridge or Schlegel's reading –

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who with his friend William Wordsworth was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Lietaria. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. He coined many familiar words and phrases, including the celebrated suspension of disbelief. He was a major influence on Emerson and American transcendentalism.

"Coleridge, Samuel Taylor". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. <>

August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845) was a German poet, translator, critic and a foremost leader of German Romanticism. His translations of Shakespeare made the English dramatist's works into German Classics.

"Byron, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. <>

Page 134

trike in - "Of an eruption, disease: To disappear from the surface or the extremities with internal effects. Also, to drive (a disease, sweat) inwards" (OED)

automatic and involuntary actions – Holmes is referring to the psychological phenomenon of something that one has read or learned morphing over time to fit into one's own world and ideas. In his work Crime and Automatism, he states, "It is to a comparatively recent work, which treats of these subjects from a new point of view, namely, the study of the mental and moral conditions of individual criminals, that the reader's attention is now called".

Dr. Carpenter – William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885) was an English physician, invertebrate zoologist and physiologist. He was instrumental in the early stages of the unified University of London. He is considered one of the founders of the modern theory of the adaptive unconscious, a set of mental processes influencing judgment and decision making, in a way that is inaccessible to introspective awareness.

Page 135

a remote city – Paris. Oliver Wendell Holmes is mocking Bostonians of a certain type. He would not translate what he is writing because he might offend someone. This is similar to the way in which he is talking about racial discrimination in the United States as well as Calvinism.

thoracic – "Of, pertaining to, or contained in the thorax; pectoral" (OED)

The Autocrat is observing the schoolmistress' chest as she breathes. When one is attracted to someone else, their heart beats quickly and they might breathe quickly as well.

Habet? – I.e., "Does he have it?" (Is the Divinity Student smitten with love for the Schoolmistress?")

Page 138

tabullo – This is an ignorant pronunciation of the word tableau meaning, "A representation of the action at some stage in a play (esp. a critical one), created by the actors suddenly holding their positions" (OED). This was often performed as a game at house parties in the 18th century, similar to charades.

Paris or Pekin – Paris, France or Pekin, Illinois. These two cities are vastly different from one another and the people who live there are also very different, yet there is someone in every part of the world who will be influenced in the same way by a work such as The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.

Page 139

Whitefield – George Whitefield (1714-1770) was an English Anglican preacher who helped spread the Great Awakening in Britain, and especially in the British North American colonies. He was one of the founders of Methodism and of the evangelical movement generally. He became perhaps the best-known preacher in Britain and America in the 18th century, and because he traveled through all of the American colonies and drew great crowds and media coverage, he was one of the most widely recognized public figures in colonial America.

"Whitefield, George". Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. <>

"preached forty times" – Whitefield was a preacher who traveled throughout the American colonies and thus gave the same speech to many different audiences. The more he gave one speech the better and more refined it was and the better he was able to influence the people he was speaking to.

Page 140

special associations of young men – Because of the winter weather in the north of the United States, sports usually "hit a snag" and as a result, a number of sports clubs emerged at the beginning of the 1800s. "Sports such as basketball and volleyball were created as a result of these sports clubs, and by the late 1800s a number of sports clubs including religious based groups such as the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), an evangelical organization founded in London in 1844, emerged throughout the United States".

Delaney, Tim, and Tim Madigan. The The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009. Print.


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