Document Type



Holmes-Cohen Correspondence, 9 Journal of the History of Ideas 3 (1948)


"To have known Holmes," wrote Morris R. Cohen soon after the death of America's great jurist, "was to have had a revelation of the possibilities of . . . human personality. His conversation and bearing were like rare music that lingers in one's memory. One is fortunate to hear some reverberating echo of it. It is the function of the great biographer to catch such echoes, and from conversations, letters, and scattered writings reconstruct some idea of the original integrated life."' In this reconstructing of a life that is gone, yet still so much with all of us who value thought and freedom of thought, the corre- spondence between Justice Holmes and Professor Cohen may serve as a clue to a part of the great judge's mind that has not often been revealed or noticed. To most of his biographers Holmes has been the Great Olympian. Yet this is perhaps the least admirable and the least distinctive of his qualities. It is easy for judges to assume divinity. The few inches of altitude that separate judges on the bench from former colleagues at the bar may easily assume the proportions of Mt. Olympus if gazed at intently for prolonged periods. What is distinctive about Justice Holmes is that he never lost ' a childish curiosity about the universe. I ' Resisting the common judicial assumption

Date of Authorship for this Version



biography, Justice Holmes, Professor Cohen