The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes
Scanned and proofed by David Price
The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
THE AUTOCRAT'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
THE interruption referred to in the first sentence of the first of
these papers was just a quarter of a century in duration.
Two articles entitled "The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" will be
found in the "New England Magazine," formerly published in Boston
by J. T. and E. Buckingham. The date of the first of these
articles is November 1831, and that of the second February 1832.
When "The Atlantic Monthly" was begun, twenty-five years
afterwards, and the author was asked to write for it, the
recollection of these crude products of his uncombed literary
boyhood suggested the thought that it would be a curious experiment
to shake the same bough again, and see if the ripe fruit were
better or worse than the early windfalls.
So began this series of papers, which naturally brings those
earlier attempts to my own notice and that of some few friends who
were idle enough to read them at the time of their publication.
The man is father to the boy that was, and I am my own son, as it
seems to me, in those papers of the New England Magazine. If I
find it hard to pardon the boy's faults, others would find it
harder. They will not, therefore, be reprinted here, nor as I
But a sentence or two from them will perhaps bear reproducing, and
with these I trust the gentle reader, if that kind being still
breathes, will be contented.
- "It is a capital plan to carry a tablet with you, and, when you
find yourself felicitous, take notes of your own conversation." -
- "When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary.
The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as that of sentences.
The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their fhape and
luftre have been given by the attrition of ages. Bring me the
fineft fimile from the whole range of imaginative writing, and I
will fhow you a fingle word which conveys a more profound, a more
accurate, and a more eloquent analogy." -
- "Once on a time, a notion was ftarted, that if all the people in
the world would fhout at once, it might be heard in the moon. So
the projectors agreed it fhould be done in juft ten years. Some
thousand fhip-loads of chronometers were diftributed to the
selectmen and other great folks of all the different nations. For
a year beforehand, nothing else was talked about but the awful
noise that was to be made on the great occafion. When the time
came, everybody had their ears so wide open, to hear the universal
ejaculation of BOO, - the word agreed upon, - that nobody spoke
except a deaf man in one of the Fejee Islands, and a woman in
Pekin, so that the world was never so ftill fince the creation." -
There was nothing better than these things and there was not a
little that was much worse. A young fellow of two or three and
twenty has as good a right to spoil a magazine-full of essays in
learning how to write, as an oculist like Wenzel had to spoil his
hat-full of eyes in learning how to operate for cataract, or an
ELEGANT like Brummel to point to an armful of failures in the
attempt to achieve a perfect tie. This son of mine, whom I have
not seen for these twenty-five years, generously counted, was a
self-willed youth, always too ready to utter his unchastised
fancies. He, like too many American young people, got the spur
when he should have had the rein. He therefore helped to fill the
market with that unripe fruit which his father says in one of these
papers abounds in the marts of his native country. All these by-
gone shortcomings he would hope are forgiven, did he not feel sure
that very few of his readers know anything about them. In taking
the old name for the new papers, he felt bound to say that he had
uttered unwise things under that title, and if it shall appear that
his unwisdom has not diminished by at least half while his years
have doubled, he promises not to repeat the experiment if he should
live to double them again and become his own grandfather.