Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Clara Ingram Judson’s Mr. Justice Holmes narrates the life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., from his boyhood to his death at the age of ninety-three after thirty years of service as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. The book’s early chapters emphasize young Holmes’s sense of his country’s revolutionary origins, as reflected in his grandparents’ stories. Chapters covering Holmes’s early adulthood describe his student years at Harvard University, where his philosophical interests began to emerge, and his service for three years with the Massachusetts Volunteers during the Civil War. Later chapters recount his decision to enter law school and his subsequent work as a legal scholar, teacher, judge, and Supreme Court justice.

The account of Holmes’s life is set against a background of contemporary historical events—the Dred Scott case, the Civil War, the rise of industrial capitalism, and the American labor movement. With one exception, the background notes are interspersed briefly, with no authorial interpretation of their effect on Holmes’s development. The exception is Judson’s account of the Civil War. Holmes was wounded three times before he turned twenty-three, and his scrapes with death, together with the killing that he observed, apparently marked him permanently, making him even more inclined than he had been before to focus his life work on matters that he took to be fundamentally important.


(The entire section is 479 words.)