December 14, 2012
On the first Sunday in March of 1931, about 500 people gathered in Langdell Hall at Harvard Law School to listen to a CBS Radio broadcast by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the ambitious, egotistical Civil War veteran and Harvard graduate (A.B. 1861, LL.B. 1866) who pioneered the concept of legal realism. The law was “a practical weapon,” Holmes believed, and legal cases are best judged according to realities rather than abstractions.
The radio address celebrated Holmes’ 90th birthday, one of many moments of adulation that spring that amused and pleased him — so much praise, he said, even though “self is so near vanishing.”
Holmes should not have worried about his “self” vanishing. He remained a household name after his death. He was the first Supreme Court judge to merit a biographical movie (“The Magnificent Yankee,” in 1950). Besides being a judicial pioneer, his many aphorisms outlived him. One is especially apt today: “I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.”
Now there is another reason to remember the fiercely mustachioed Holmes: the Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Digital Suite, which went live on the Web Tuesday, the culmination of years of teamwork at the Harvard Law School Library (HLSL). …