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Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)




By Oliver Wendell Holmes


ANOTHER decade has nearly closed since the above Preface was written. The Autocrat still finds readers, among the young as well as among the old. The children of my early readers were writing to me about my books, especially The Autocrat, as I mentioned in that other Preface. Now it is the grandchildren who are still turning to these pages, which I might well have thought would be voted old-fashioned, outworn, an unvalued bequest to posterity with Oblivion as residuary legatee. I have nothing of importance to add in the way of prefatory remarks. I can only repeat my grateful acknowledgments to the reading public at home and abroad for the hospitable manner in which my thoughts have been received. The expressions of personal regard, esteem, confidence, sympathetic affinity, may I not add affection, which this book has brought to me have become an habitual experience and an untiring source of satisfaction. I have thanked hundreds, yes, thousands, and many thousands of these kind correspondents, until my eyes have grown dim and I can no longer read many of their letters except through younger eyes. If my hand does not refuse to hold the pen or to guide it in the form of presentable characters, an occasional cramp of a little muscle which knows its importance and insists on having it recognized by striking, after its own fashion, is a hint that I must at length do what I have long said I ought to do, content myself with an encyclical of thanks and write no more letters except to a few relatives and intimates.

A single fact strikes me as worth mentioning. Ten years ago I said that there had been a feeling at the time when this book was written as if mechanical invention had exhausted itself. I referred in the Preface of 1882 to the new miracles of the telephone and of electric illumination. Since then a new wonder has been sprung upon us in the shape of the electric motor, which has already familiarized itself among us as a common carrier. It is not safe to speculate on what the last decade of the century may yet bring us, but it looks as if the wasted energies of the winds and the waters were to be converted into heat, light, and mechanical movement, in that mysterious form which we call electricity, so as to change the material conditions of life to an extent to which we can hardly dare to set limits. As to what social and other changes may accompany the altered conditions of human life in the coming era, it is safer to leave the question open to exercise the ingenuity of some as yet youthful, perhaps unborn Autocrat.

O. W. H.

BEVERLY FARMS, MASS., July 28, 1891