Page:Studies of a Biographer 2.djvu/199

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187
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES

and tact, which can, as he held, only be produced in two or three generations lifted above squalor and the hardening influences of coarse manual labour. In literature, therefore, he was naturally a purist; he was simply disgusted when it was proposed to make a literary declaration of independence by introducing broad jokes in slang suited to a western backwood-man. He shuddered at the thought of a possible President of the Republic saying 'häow' instead of 'what,' or 'urritation' for irritation. Some lovely woman, he hopes, will playfully withdraw the knife which the great man is about to use as a fork, or sacrifice herself by imitating his use of the implement—'how much harder than to plunge it into her bosom like Lucretia!' The true canons of good literature, as of good behaviour, are founded upon the eternal laws of good sense and good feeling: and therefore a revolt against them is not the way to independence, but to degeneration. Holmes, of course, maintained that refinement was compatible with democracy, and that a thorough American might also be the most polished of gentlemen. But he had the keenest contempt for the confusion of mere eccentricity with originality, or the theory that man gains real self-