That Remarkable Man Essay - Critical Essays

Edith Patterson Meyer


Meyer’s approach in That Remarkable Man is evident in the title itself. By Meyer’s account, Holmes as a boy was unremarkable. Meyer argues that the mature Justice Holmes was more a product of his experience in the Civil War than of his boyhood. It is, in fact, the man who joined the Union army and who explored the origins of the law that was remarkable. In sketching Holmes as a soldier and as an advocate for the rights of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Meyer is at her best. She illustrates Holmes’s successes well.

For example, Meyer argues convincingly that the Civil War was the primary influence in developing the personality and philosophy of Justice Holmes. She defines his philosophy in this manner: to accept doubts and disillusionments and an imperfect universe where struggle was natural; to sink his personality into something greater than himself; to find pleasure in duty; to respect honor, courage, and his fellow men, including his foes (“every man with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief”); to consider life “a profound and passionate thing,” and to find joy in living it.

This overview of Holmes’s philosophy encompasses the major themes of Meyer’s biography.

Meyer documents well that Holmes was ahead of his time in his philosophic approach to the history of law, and her tone is clearly one of deep admiration. Still, in many ways, the biography is a document of its times. It shows accurately a legal profession of white,...

(The entire section is 626 words.)