Category Archives: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers Now Available


Handwritten postcard from Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Etta Russell, June 1, 1897, from the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907.

The  Cambridge Room is pleased to announce that the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907 are now available to research. A curated selection of the papers have been digitized and made available here.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a writer, minister, colonel, abolitionist, and activist. He was born on December 23, 1823 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Louisa Storrow Higginson and Stephen Higginson Jr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson graduated from Harvard College in 1841 and from Harvard Divinity School in 1847. He then served as a preacher, first in Newburyport, where he was deemed too radical, and later at the Free Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. During this time, Higginson became increasingly active in abolitionist activity. He wrote and preached against slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War and was active in the Boston Vigilance Committee and the Underground Railroad. After supporting abolitionist settlers in Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he provided financial support to John Brown’s raid of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. During the Civil War, Higginson led the Higginson, Thomas Wentworth (Thomas Wentworth Higginson Papers, 1850-1907) Union’s first African-American regiment. He described his military service in the memoir Army Life in a Black Regiment.

After the Civil War, Higginson focused on writing, editing, and activism, living in Newport, Rhode Island, for about two decades before returning to Cambridge. As a writer, he published fiction, memoirs, and essays, working with publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and the Woman’s Journal. He wrote on issues such as women’s suffrage, temperance, and Reconstruction. Higginson was also an editor; he corresponded with Emily Dickinson and co-edited her poetry for publication after her death. Higginson served as a trustee of the Cambridge Public Library and was instrumental in establishing the collections of the Cambridge Room, the library’s archives and special collections. Higginson married Mary Channing in 1847. After her death in 1877, he married Mary Thacher in 1879. They had two daughters, Louisa, who died in infancy in 1880, and Margaret, born in 1881. Higginson died on May 9, 1911 in Cambridge and was buried in Cambridge Cemetery.

Collection Overview
This collection comprises letters written to and by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a manuscript of a portion of his book Cheerful Yesterdays, and pamphlets written by Higginson. The letters include discussion of Higginson’s time in England and work with the Cambridge Public Library. The manuscript contains the second chapter of Higginson’s memoir, Cheerful Yesterdays, “A Child of the College.” The pamphlets include speeches, sermons, reminiscences, and essays; topics covered include slavery and women’s suffrage.


It’s September – What Does O. W. Holmes Have to Say About it?

Oliver Wendell Homes in his library, May 1893


Scare could the parting ocean close,
Seamed by the Mayflower’s cleaving bow,
When o’er the rugged desert rose
The waves that tracked the Pilgrim’s plough.

Then sprang from many a rock-strewn field
The rippling grass, the nodding grain,
Such growths as English meadows yield
To scanty sun and frequent rain.

But when the fiery days were done,
And Autumn brought his purple haze,
Then, kindling in the slanted sun,
The hillsides gleamed with golden maize…

See how the softening Mother’s breast
Warms to her children’s patient wiles, –
Her lips by loving Labor pressed
Break in a thousand dimpling smiles.

From when the flushing bud of June
Dawns with its first auroral hue,
Till shines the rounded harvest-moon,
And velvet dahlias drink the dew.

From The Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook,September, The Thomas Wentworth Higginson Author Collection, The Cambridge Room.

From the Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook: April

Oliver Wendell Homes in his library, May 1893


The sunbeams, lost for half a year,
Slant through my pane their morning rays;
For dry northwesters cold and clear,
The east blows in its thin blue haze.

And first the snowdrop’s bells are seen,
Then close against the sheltering wall
The tulips horn of dusky green,
The peony’s dark unfolding ball.

The golden-chaliced crocus burns;
The long narcissus-blades appear;
The cone-beaked hyacinth returns
To light her blue-flamed chandelier.

The willow’s whistling lashes, wrung
By the wild winds of gusty March,
With sallow leaflets lightly strung,
Are swaying by the tufted larch.

The elms have robed their slender spray
With full-blown flower and embryo leaf;
Wide o’er the clasping arch of day
Soars like a cloud their hoary chief.
The spring has come.

From The Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook, April, The Thomas Wentworth Higginson Author Collection, The Cambridge Room.

From the Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook: November

Oliver Wendell Homes in his library, May 1893

As through the forest, disarrayed
By chill November, late I strayed,
A lonely minstrel of the wood
Was singing to the solitude :
I loved thy music, thus I said,
When o’er thy perch the leaves were spread ;
Sweet was thy song, but sweeter now
Thy carol on the leafless bough.
Sing, little bird ! thy note shall cheer
The sadness of the dying year….

The summer’s throbbing chant is done
And mut ethe choral antiphon ;
The birds have left the shivering pines
To flit among the trellised vines,
Or fan the air with scented plumes
Amid the love-sick orange-blooms,
And thou art here along, – alone,-
Sing, little bird ! the rest have flown….

Fast, fast the lengthening shadows creep,
The songless fowls half asleep,
The air grows chill, the setting sun
May leave thee ere thy song is done,
The pulse that arms thy breast grow cold,
Thy secret die with thee, untold :
The lingering sunset still is bright, –
Sing, little bird ! ‘t will soon be night.

From The Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook, An Old-Year Song, published in 1984.
The Thomas Wentworth Higginson Author Collection, The Cambridge Room.

From the Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook: October

Oliver Wendell Homes in his library, May 1893

“October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception…Two autumnal wonders have been much written about, and never yet reached, – the change of the forest leaves and Indian summer.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Seasons.

From The Oliver Wendell Holmes Yearbook, October 1, The Thomas Wentworth Higginson Author Collection, The Cambridge Room.