Saturday, August 8, 2009

Words to Live By

"To brag little, to lose well, to crow gently if in luck, to pay up, to own up, to shut up if beaten. These are the virtues of a sporting man."
I wish I could remember where I stumbled across that quote -- it was undoubtedly some online outdoor publication. But to me, it sums up more than my philosophy afield -- it's how I strive (sometimes successfully) to live my life.

The author is Oliver Wendell Holmes, the 19th century doctor, poet, and intellectual. He's probably more often than not known for his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a universally respected Supreme Court Justice.

Anyhow, this particular quote by the elder Holmes first appeared in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (don't you just love that name?). It was a series of essays that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly magazine 152 years ago. I've enjoyed reading the text, and I'm struck at how much it resembles a modern-day blog. No, really, it does -- stick with me here.

The essays recount conversations that Holmes had at breakfast with his boarding house table-mates. To protect the innocent and not-so-innocent, he refers to them by pseudonyms -- "the Schoolmistress," "the Professor," and so forth. And his topics veer wildly from religion to societal commentary to medicine to the outdoors to gambling (the latter is where my quote comes from). Very blog-like. And why not? Hell, John Quincy Adams is Twittering these days. I'd encourage you to peruse it -- the man's got a way with words.

None of this is meant to somehow compare my random noodlings to one of the preeminent thinkers of the 1800s. But it sure is interesting to realize that some old Boston fuddy-duddy in tintype really isn't all that different from me. As Ollie would say:

"A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times. It has come to you over a new route, by a new express train of association."

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