If you have read “Over the Teacups” you’ll agree that Oliver Wendell Holmes was a remarkable man. We are obviously talking about Holmes Senior, who lived in Boston, graduated from Harvard, studied in France and was among the first doctors to discredit blood-letting.

At the tender age of 21 he wrote the poem that saved “Old Ironsides.” He was considered to be the best writer of his day. Years before Semmelweis was put in an insane asylum for suggesting that doctors should wash their hands, Holmes was ridiculed for espousing similar views on medical hygiene. A wise as well as worldly man, he ignored his critics.

Holmes presented his thoughts through the conversations of a mixed company sitting together at tea or at a breakfast table. Having characters converse at a table was a simple way to make abrupt transitions from one topic to another and tie them all together into a pleasing whole, much as you’d sew scraps of different colored cloth together into a patchwork quilt.

Although the characters around the Holmes table might change from day to day, often present were the mistress, an English girl, an American girl, a student, a professor, a politician and a musician.

Imagine Dr. Holmes writing today. He might populate his table with the same characters, but he’d have to leave out his Latin quotes and keep his One Hoss Shay from under the wheels of Boston taxi drivers.

This venerable sage sits down at a present day table and asks, “What do you think about clichés that are supposed to make you feel all warm and fuzzy?” I refer to the innocuous scraps of wisdom that are only one step above smiley faces and “Have a Nice Day.” For example, “May your joys be as bright as the morning.” You are likely to see something similar on birthday cards from your great-aunt. If you are lucky, she enclosed a five-dollar bill earmarked to buy new underwear.


The American girl, who keeps a diary that she will burn when she approaches 70, said, “I saw a quote from Wallace D. Wattles this morning and I think it is nice: ‘Do not be disturbed if you are alone.’ ”

The musician cleared his throat, but before he could speak the politician showed his teeth and said, “Every recent poll says I must agree with you voters. So – it’s OK to be alone. Alone, you are safer. The alternative might be a bear on your back steps.”

“If there’s a bear on your back steps, are you really alone?” asked the English girl. “And should you even tell the thing to go away if you’ve not been properly introduced?”

The professor said, “You are both correct, my young friends. And does not the word ‘disturbed’ have more than one meaning? The situation as presented here by a politician would probably be much clearer if elucidated by a logician or mathematician, both of whom could reduce bear, back steps and inhabitant to symbols or Euler’s circles.”

The student looked up from his iPhone 5s with the A7 chip and triumphantly announced, “There are 30,000 bears in Maine.” No one responded.

The American girl scribbled “Euler’s circles” in her diary and didn’t look up as she said, “When you feel deeply that a certain act is the right act, do it and have perfect faith that the consequences will be good.”


The reader will perhaps recognize this as a Wallace D. Wattles quote from his self-help book, “The Science of Being Great.” Thanks to the popularity of books like “God Wants You to Be Rich,” “Being Great,” which was originally published in 1910, is enjoying a strong revival.

Playing the devil’s advocate, the professor said, “When you feel deeply that a certain act is the right act, do it and have perfect faith that the consequences will be good – So you bomb Baghdad in the night, ostensibly to root out weapons of mass destruction, and thereby set in motion a war machine that made a lot of rich Americans much richer.”

“Speaking of bears,” said the student again, more empathetically than before, “Did you know that there are 30,000 of them in Maine? Most of the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting live near Portland and are from Massachusetts. Most of these experts on wildlife management have never even seen a bear. It must be true because I read it in a letter in the newspaper.”

“The wardens catch bears in huge culvert traps when they wander into Fryeburg,” said our Mistress as she looked at her watch and started to clear.

“They haul them up to Greenville and let them go. When the bears have exhausted the bird feeders in Greenville, the wardens catch them again and haul them back to Fryeburg. Some bears have more frequent-flier miles than my cousin on Chebeague who winters in Florida,” she added as she slightly raised her chin.

As he got up from the table the professor said, “Why don’t they drop off a few bears in Deering Oaks? Might there not be more educational value in seeing a bear tear the door off your parked car on Congress Street than you’d get in a year of ‘Animal Planet’?”

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:


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