That Remarkable Man Essay - Critical Context

Edith Patterson Meyer

Critical Context

Meyer’s biography, though currently out of print, is available in many elementary school and high-school libraries. It fills a space in biography that few other books can—that of legal history and philosophy. Law, not traditionally a popular topic for young readers, comes to life in the passion that Holmes felt for it and for the principles that guide it. For example, Holmes believed that doctrines strayed from their true meaning because people do not remember their history and origins. He broke ground in law by advocating change when laws no longer made sense in the light of their history and origin. He believed that ideas were more important than things. Holmes’s biography, which is easily within the grasp of young readers, illustrates American values and awakens readers to the history and origins of legal thought. In this sense, Meyer’s biography pays tribute to the values and goals of Justice Holmes.

Meyer succeeds both in her sketch of Holmes as a teacher at Harvard and her sketch of Holmes as a son in perpetual competition with his famous father. She also argues convincingly that Holmes valued self-improvement, goal setting, and risk taking. He was willing to consider new ideas, to make new friends, and to try new activities. He was willing to stand against powerful friends with whom he disagreed, even at the risk of losing their respect or friendship, as Meyer illustrates in her account of Holmes’s disagreement with the president. The strengths of Meyer’s biography make it a worthwhile addition to readings in biography for young people.