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JAMA 100 Years Ago
August 26, 2009

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

JAMA. 2009;302(8):905. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1161

To-morrow, August 29, 1909, marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of one whose name is probably more widely known than that of any other American physician. We refer to Oliver Wendell Holmes. The fact that the year 1809 saw the birth of four men of such varied genius as Gladstone, Tennyson, Darwin and Holmes has been frequently remarked. Dr. Holmes himself spoke of this circumstance in his “Hundred Days in Europe” in the following words: “It seems like an honor to have come into the world in such company, but it is more likely to provoke humility than vanity in a common mortal to find himself coeval with such illustrious personages”—a remark thoroughly characteristic of his breadth of spirit and not at all incompatible with the genial egotism appearing in many of his informal passages. The name of Dr. Holmes holds rather an unusual position in the annals of medicine and literature. There are great physicians who produced contributions to general literature, like Haller and Werlhof; and there are great writers who received a medical education, like Goldsmith and Keats; but the world has forgotten the literature of the former and the medicine of the latter. Dr. Holmes, however, belongs, with Sir Thomas Browne and “Rab's friend,” to that small group who must be remembered both as devoted physicians and as lovable authors, because their writings are charged with personality, and the experience of their profession went to the upbuilding of that personality.

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