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OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), American writer and physician, whose wit and intellectual vitality are representative of cultivated Boston society of the era. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Holmes was educated at Harvard College. He also studied in Europe, and in 1836 he received a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and began to practice medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. From 1847 to 1882 he taught at Harvard Medical School. Holmes’s essay “The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever” (1843) advanced the use of aseptic techniques in obstetrics and surgery.

Holmes was one of the so-called Boston Brahmins, a circle of intellectually and socially cultivated Bostonians. His fame as a writer of light, witty verse and as a raconteur was purely local until 1857, when he began writing a series of papers, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, for The Atlantic Monthly. These essays, published in book form in 1858, achieved immediate popularity for their lively expression of ideas. Over the Teacups, another collection of The Atlantic Monthly essays, published when Holmes was 80 years old, shows the same wit and vitality.

Although Holmes was less successful as a novelist, his first novel, Elsie Venner (1861), achieved some measure of success. In this depiction of the New England character, Holmes attacked the stern Calvinistic dogmas (see Calvinism) of earlier days.

Many of Holmes’s poems became well known, including “Old Ironsides” (1830), “The Chambered Nautilus,” and “The Deacon’s Masterpiece; or, The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay” (both 1858). Other writings by Holmes include the essays Pages from an Old Volume of Life (1883) and the biography Ralph Waldo

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The International Society of Doctors in Literature, ISDL (formerly Confederation of Doctors in Literature, CODIL), is a non-governmental, non-political and non-profit organization committed to the promotion of literature and other creative endeavours among members of the noble profession of medicine. 

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