Estimated reading time: 2 minute(s)
The May 7, 1895 issue of Harper’s Round Table featured a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes written for his boyhood school, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts on the occasion of its 100th anniversary in 1878.
My first thought upon seeing the name “Oliver Wendell Holmes” was of the famous Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, who served on the court for nearly 30 years from December 1902 to January 1932. However, the time-frame did not make sense in light of the fact that the instant magazine was published in 1895, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr had not yet accomplished much of note by 1878. I discerned that the identity of “Oliver Wendell Holmes” in the article was not the then-soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice, but rather his father, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
(Little did Harper’s know in 1895 that posterity would benefit from affixing a “Sr” to the Oliver Wendell Holmes being referenced in the article.)
The article in question covered Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in some detail. The article prefaced Holmes’ poem as follows:
The present Gymnasium is the old school-house which Oliver Wendell Holmes attended in his boyhood, and which he has immortalized in his poem read at the centennial celebration in 1878.
You will find the gymnasium below:
Thus, when Holmes attended what was then known as Andover Academy, the gymnasium in the above picture was the school-house. His poem, delivered in 1878, was about his memories of that building as a young man (he would have been about 16 when he graduated from Andover in 1825).
Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1878 Poem For Phillips Academy Centennial
The morning came. I reached the classic hall. A clock face eyed me, staring from the wall. Beneath its hands a printed line I read— Youth is Life's Seed Time;' so the clock face said. Some took its counsel, as the sequel showed, Sowed their wild oats, and reaped as they had sowed. How all comes back—the upward slanting floor. The masters' thrones that flanked the master's door, The long outstretching alleys that divide The row of desks that stands on either side, The staring boys, a face to every desk, Bright, dull, pale, blooming, common, picturesque.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr (1878)