Notable speeches: ‘Law and the Court’ by US Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

There are a great number of obscure yet wonderful speeches delivered in many tongues through the ages. For the public benefit I’ve decided to post a select few in the public domain to broaden the mind of the curious reader.

The following was delivered by a then famous personage, and probably the most erudite judge in US history, on the occasion of a private dinner honouring his achievements.

Law and the Court 

by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1858-1968

Speech at a dinner of the Harvard Law School Association of New York on February 15, 1913.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen:

Vanity is the most philosophical of those feelings that we are taught to despise. For vanity recognizes that if a man is in a minority of one we lock him up, and therefore longs for an assurance from others that one’s work has not been in vain. If a man’s ambition is the thirst for a power that comes not from office but from within, he never can be sure that any happiness is not a fool’s paradise – he never can be sure that he sits on that other bench reserved for the masters of those who know. Then too, at least until one draws near to seventy, one is less likely to hear the trumpets than the rolling fire of the front. I have passed that age, but I still am on the firing line, and it is only in rare moments like this that there comes a pause and for half an hour one feels a trembling hope. They are the rewards of a lifetime’s work.

But let me turn to more palpable realities – to that other visible Court to which for ten now accomplished years it has been my opportunity to belong. We are very quiet there, but it is the quiet of a storm centre, as we all know. Science has taught the world scepticism and has made it legitimate to put everything to the test of proof. Many beautiful and noble reverences are impaired, but in these days no one can complain if any institution, system, or belief is called on to justify its continuance in life. Of course we are not excepted and have not escaped. Doubts are expressed that go to our very being. Not only are we told that when Marshall pronounced an Act of Congress unconstitutional he usurped a power that the Constitution did not give, but we are told that we are representatives of a class – a tool of the money power. I get letters, not always anonymous, intimating that we are corrupt. Well, gentlemen, I admit that it makes my heart ache. It is very painful, when one spends all the energies of one’s soul in trying to do good work, with no thought but that of solving a problem according to the rules by which one is bound, to know that many see sinister motives and would be glad of evidence that one was consciously bad. But we must take such things philosophically and try to see what we can learn from hatred and distrust and whether behind them there may not be some germ of inarticulate truth.

The attacks upon the Court are merely an expression of the unrest that seems to wonder vaguely whether law and order pay. When the ignorant are taught to doubt they do not know what they safely may believe. And it seems to me that at this time we need education in the obvious more than investigation of the obscure. I do not see so much immediate use in committees on the high cost of living and inquiries how far it is due to the increased production of gold, how far to the narrowing of cattle ranges and the growth of population, how far to the bugaboo, as I do in bringing home to people a few social and economic truths. Most men think dramatically, not have and how much go without; that thus the final competition is between the objects of desire, and therefore between the producers of those objects; that when we oppose labor and capital, labor means the group that is selling its product and capital all the other groups that are buying it. The hated capitalist is simply the mediator, the prophet, the adjuster according to his divination of the future desire. If you could get that believed, the body of the people would have no doubt as to the worth of law.

That is my outside thought on the present discontents. As to the truth embodied in them, in part it cannot be helped. It cannot be helped, it is as it should be, that the law is behind the times. I told a labor leader once that what they asked was favor, and if a decision was against them they called it wicked. The same might be said of their opponents. It means that the law is growing. As law embodies beliefs that have triumphed in the battle of ideas and then have translated themselves into action, while there still is doubt, while opposite convictions still keep a battle front against each other, the time for law has not come; the notion destined to prevail is not yet entitled to the field. It is a misfortune if a judge reads his conscious or unconscious sympathy with one side or the other prematurely into the law, and forgets that what seem to him to be first principles are believed by half his fellow men to be wrong. I think that we have suffered from this misfortune, in State courts at least, and that this is another and very important truth to be extracted from the popular discontent. When twenty years ago a vague terror went over the earth and the word socialism began to be heard, I thought and still think that fear was translated into doctrines that had no proper place in the Constitution or the common law. Judges are apt to be naif, simple-minded men, and they need something of Mephistopheles. We too need education in the obvious — to learn to transcend our own convictions and to leave room for much that we hold dear to be done away with short of revolution by the orderly change of law. 

I have no belief in panaceas and almost none in sudden ruin. I believe with Montesquieu that if the chance of a battle — I may add, the passage of a law—has ruined a state, there was a general cause at work that made the state ready to perish by a single battle or law. Hence I am not much interested one way or the other in the nostrums now so strenuously urged. I do not think the United States would come to an end if we lost our power to declare an Act of Congress void. I do think the Union would be imperiled if we could not make that declaration as to the laws of the several States. For one in my place sees how often a local policy prevails with those who are not trained to national views and how often action is taken that embodies what the Commerce Clause was meant to end. But I am not aware that there is any serious desire to limit the Court’s power in this regard. For most of the things that properly can be called evils in the present state of the law I think the main remedy, as for the evils of public opinion, is for us to grow more civilized.

If I am right it will be a slow business for our people to reach rational views, assuming that we are allowed to work peaceably to that end. But as I grow older I grow calm. If I feel what are perhaps an old man’s apprehensions, that competition from new races will cut deeper than working men’s disputes and will test whether we can hang together and can fight; if I fear that we are running through the world’s resources at a pace that we cannot keep; I do not lose my hopes. I do not pin my dreams for the future to my country or even to my race. I think it probable that civilization somehow will last as long as I care to look ahead — perhaps with smaller numbers, but perhaps also bred to greatness and splendor by science. I think it not improbable that man, like the grub that prepares a chamber for the winged thing it never has seen but is to be — that man may have cosmic destinies that he does not understand. And so beyond the vision of battling races and an impoverished earth I catch a dreaming glimpse of peace.

The other day my dream was pictured to my mind. It was evening. I was walking homeward on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Treasury, and as I looked beyond Sherman’s Statue to the west the sky was aflame with scarlet and crimson from the setting sun. But, like the note of downfall in Wagner’s opera, below the sky line there came from little globes the pallid discord of the electric lights. And I thought to myself the Gotterdammerung will end, and from those globes clustered like evil eggs will come the new masters of the sky. It is like the time in which we live. But then I remembered the faith that I partly have expressed, faith in a universe not measured by our fears, a universe that has thought and more than thought inside of it, and as I gazed, after the sunset and above the electric lights there shone the stars.

notable speeches – John W. Foster’s “Indiana Soldiers’ Monument”

During the dawn of the 20th century a bold, and from a modern perspective very curious, speech was made at Indianapolis by a then famous American military man, politican, and diplomat who was active from the Civil War era right up to the time of the speech. John W. Foster was the ancestor of several quite significant historical figures, notably being the grandfather of Allen Dulles and John Foster Dulles. Among other historically important stations he was the chief outside legal representative of the Qing Imperial court during the final years of the Empress Dowager, of the major American interests in the UK, U.S. Ambassador to Spain, Russia, and Mexico, and one of the main figures advancing the growth of the state of Indiana. Although the events recollected have since faded away into the sands of time I believe there are some valuable insights in this speech. The full transcript is made from a book in the public domain.


Some years after the close of the Civil War the Legislature of Indiana determined to erect a monument at Indianapolis, “designed to glorify the heroic epoch of the Republic and to commemorate the valor and fortitude of Indiana’s Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Rebellion and other wars.”

The corner-stone of this monument was laid in 1887 with appropriate services, including an oration by President Ben- jamin Harrison. It was completed and dedicated In 1902. It stands upon a terrace 1 10 feet in diameter, with a foundation of 69 by 53 feet, the height of the monument from the street level is 284 feet, and is crowned by a Victory statue of 38 feet. On subordinate pedestals occupying positions in the four segments are bronze statues of Governor Morton, Governor Whitcomb, General William Henry Harrison, and General George Rogers Clark. It is claimed to be the largest and most expensive soldiers’ monument in the United States, and one of the grandest achievements of architectural and sculptural art in the world.

The dedication services on the completion of the monument were held on May 15, 1902, attended by military and civic delegations from all parts of the State, parades, salutes, dedica- tion exercises, and Illuminations, occupying the entire day and evening. The dedication address follows.

Address of John W. Foster, delivered at the Dedication of Soldiers’ Monument, at Indianapolis May 15, 1902

Mr. Chairman, Governor Durbin, Comrades and Fellow Citizens: We are gathered to-day inspired by mingled feelings of joy and sadness, of pride and sorrow. To the generation who have come upon the stage of public life since the scenes were enacted which are glorified in this noble monument, it may well be an occasion of exultation, for they see only the blessings conferred upon the State and Nation by the deeds of the heroic dead whose memory we are assembled to honor. But to those of us who were their comrades in service, there arises the sad recollection of the carnage of battle and the wasting experience of the hospital. While the stirring notes of martial music, the booming of cannon, and the waving of flags awaken the enthusiasm and the patriotic pride of the people, there are many mothers and widows to whom this brilliant scene is but the reopening of the fountain not yet dried up by two score years of weeping.

It is for no idle purpose I recall the solemn phase of the pageantry of these dedication exercises, for it cannot fail to impress more deeply upon us the debt we owe to the men for whom this magnificent memorial has been raised.

It commemorates the sacrifice of twenty-five thousand men — Indiana’s contribution to the cause of the Union. A fearful price this Nation paid for its life. A veritable army is this, larger than any gathered under Washington or Scott. In those dark days, when our comrades were pouring out their life’s blood on a hundred battlefields, when new calls were made for more men to fill the depleted ranks, when the scales hung trembling between success and failure, it seemed sometimes as if the State could not endure the fearful slaughter. But the triumph of the right came at last. And time has healed the scars of war. We can now look back upon the scene as one only of heroic deeds.

It was highly appropriate that on the apex of this shaft there should be placed the emblem of Victory. Never in the history of human warfare has there been a triumph more significant of blessing to mankind. The Goddess of Victory crowns this monument, but it is not in exultation over a fallen foe. I thank God that in the dedication services today there is no feeling of bitterness toward the men who fought against our dead comrades. We rejoice to know that they are loyal citizens with us of a common country. We must not, however, belittle the sacrifice of our honored dead. Right, humanity, and progress were on the side of the Union armies, and it was chiefly for this reason we have reared this noble pile of bronze and marble.

What the victory they gained signifies to this Nation, to this continent, and to all peoples, has been so often, so exhaustively, and so eloquently told, that I hesitate to even allude to it. But my observation in foreign lands has so forcibly impressed on me one of the inestimable blessings which has been secured to us and to future generations by the triumph of the Union arms, that I deem this a fitting occasion to call it to mind.

Scarcely second in importance to the maintenance of republican government in its purity and vigor and the extirpation of slavery, are the reign of peace and deliverance from standing armies, which the unbroken Union guarantees to us and to our children. It requires no vivid imagination to conceive of some of the results which would have followed a division of the states — a frontier lined with fortifications, bristling with cannon and garrisoned by a hostile soldiery; conscription and taxa- tion such as had never been known before; constant alarms of war; and political and international complications which would have put an end to our boasted American policy and Monroe Doctrine.

One of the things which most attracts the attention of foreigners who visit our shores is the absence of soldiers about our public buildings, in our cities, and along the thoroughfares of commerce. And those who have never seen our country can scarcely realize that it is possible to carry on a government of order and stability without a constant show of military force. In all the nations of Europe it has been for so many generations the continous practice to maintain standing armies, that it is considered a necessary and normal part of the system of political organizations. The existence of rival and neighboring nations, constantly on the alert to protect themselves from encroachment on their territory and to maintain their own integrity, and the recent advances in military science and war-like equipment, have caused a great increase in the armies, enormously enlarged the expenditures, and compelled a rigorous enforcement of the most exacting and burdensome term of service; until to-day, in this high noon of Christian civilization, Europe is one vast military camp, and, with such tension in the international relations, that the slightest incident may set its armies in battle array — the merest spark light the fires of war and envelop the continent, if not the whole world, in the conflagration.

Germany and France maintain an army on a peace footing of about a half-million of men each, Russia of three quarters of a million, and other Continental powers armies of relatively large proportions. The term of military service required in each is from three to four years. To support these enormous burdens the nations of Europe have imposed upon their inhabitants the most oppressive taxation, and, besides, have multiplied their public debts to the utmost extent of their national credit. But great as these exactions are, they are as nothing compared to the heavy demands made for the personal military service of the people. To take from the best energies of every young man’s life from three to four years, just at the time when he is ready to lay the foundations of his career and establish his domestic relations, is a tax which can scarcely be estimated in money value, and is a burden upon the inhabitants so heavy and so irritating that they stagger under its weight and would rebel against it, did they dare resist the iron tyranny of military rule.

Thanks to the soldiers who fought triumphantly for the maintenance of our Union of States, and that there might continue to be one great and supreme nation on this continent, we are released from this curse of a large standing army, we are free from its burdensome taxation and debt, our young men are permitted to devote the flower of their lives to useful industry and domestic enjoyment, and our free institutions are not menaced by military oppression. To conquer a peace such as the world has not heretofore seen, and to secure a reign of prosperity and plenty which no other people of the present or the past has enjoyed, did the men of Indiana fight and die.

We are here to honor the soldier and the sailor; but it is well to recall that ours is not a warlike people, and I pray God they never may be. An event which greatly attracted the attention of Europe was that when our Civil War was over the vast armies of near two millions of men quietly laid down their arms and, without outlawry or marauding, retired to their homes to renew their peaceful avocations. They had not become professional soldiers. They were citizens of a great republic, and felt their responsibilities as such.

In all, our foreign wars have occupied less than five years in a period of one hundred and twenty of our independence. Our greatest achievements as a nation have been in the domain of peace. The one aggressive war in which we have been engaged was that with Mexico, and it was the unrighteous cause of slavery which led us to depart from the line of justice in that instance. It is to be hoped that no evil influence or ambition will ever again lead us into acts of unjustifiable aggression. In the Spanish War, I think I speak the sentiment of the great majority of my countrymen when I say, it was a feeling of humanity which occasioned that conflict. It brought with it results which we could not anticipate and which many of our people lament. It has led to the expulsion of Spain and its bad system of government from this hemisphere, certainly not an untoward event. If it was a desire to benefit our fellow men that led us into that contest, I feel sure the same spirit will control our conduct toward the millions of people on the other side of the globe whom the fortunes of war have so unexpectedly brought into our dominion.

We are proud of the record which our country has made in the settlement of disputes with foreign nations by the peaceful method of arbitration. It is possible that all matters of difference cannot be adjusted in that way, but it offers a remedy which commends itself to the lover of peace and good-will among men, and it is our boast that we have resorted to it more often than any other nation.

It is not incumbent on me to give any account of this structure, so perfect in art, so appropriate in design, embracing all arms of the military service on land and sea. I must, however, as a comrade of those whose fame it perpetuates, bear cheerful testimony to the generosity of a grateful people, who have reared this costly column. It is in keeping also with the munificence of the Federal Government in all that relates to the memory and the welfare of those who fought to secure the Union of these States. In the National Capital and throughout the land, in every city, and in almost every town, there are monuments to the Union soldiers, and the important battlefields have been turned into public parks consecrated to the Nation’s dead.

And no government has been so liberal in its provisions for the surviving veterans. Listen to a few eloquent figures. At the close of the War for the Union our national debt amounted to the stupendous sum of $2,700,000,000. And yet there has been paid out of the National Treasury, since that date, for pensions an amount equal to that sum. Before the Spanish War the pension roll amounted to two fifths of the entire expenses of the Government, and it is even now, with the large increase of both the civil and military list, one fourth of the total. The payments on this account for the last year were about $140,000,000. There are now on the roll, nearly forty years after the war, 997,735 pensioners. Of the amount paid out, the pensioners from Indiana receive $10,291,000 every year, and the Indian- ians on the list number 66,974. The two great martial nations of Europe are France and Germany, but their expenditures for military pensions are only one fifth and one sixth of ours. In addition to these unparalleled disbursements, vast sums have been expended for the establishment and maintenance of Soldiers’ Homes in various parts of the country. Surely the old soldier cannot charge his Government with ingratitude.

This day constitutes the culmination of the history of Indiana. This imposing monument, peerless of its kind among the nations, the gift of a rich and prosperous Commonwealth, the testimonial of a grateful people to the men who gave their lives to save the Union and perpetuate free institutions, stands today, with the quaternion of soldiers and statesmen about it, a memorial of past achievement, an evidence of present accomplishment in government, society, and industry, an assurance of future prosperity and happiness. It was a wise discernment of the memorable epochs in the history of the State which cause to be associated with this central monument the statues of the two soldiers and the two statesmen who adorn this artistic Circle.

Of all the soldiers who were famous in the War of the Revolution, few have rendered more imperishable services to the country than General George Rogers Clark. I have not the time to dwell upon his military career. You recall the repeated journeys he made across the mountains from his Kentucky home to implore the Revolutionary authorities to furnish him the means to save the great Northwest to the new nation. The story of his voyage down the Ohio with a mere handful of resolute patriots, his capture of Kaskaskia, his marvelous march in the dead of winter to the assault and capture of Vincennes, are among the most thrilling narratives of that heroic struggle; yet history has failed to give him due credit for his great achievement. But for his expedition, it is safe to say that the Northwest would have remained British territory, and Indiana would today be a crown colony or a Canadian province, rather than a free commonwealth of an independent people. Had the United States been confined in its territorial extent to the Atlantic seaboard, as our ally France wished it to be, the young republic might have survived as a shriveled and sickly nation under the guardianship of France; but the vast expansion to the Northwest, across the Mississippi, to the Pacific Coast, and to the Islands of the Orient never could have taken place. As we look upon that dashing figure, moulded in bronze, let us not forget the great debt we and all this Nation owe to the intrepid soldier who conquered the Northwest.

The second period of the history of Indiana is fitly represented by General William Henry Harrison, the territorial Governor and the defender of the frontier. He stands for the men who laid the foundations of our government and society, and freed the territory from the ruthless savage.

In Governor Whitcomb we have a typical Indlanian of the early period of statehood. A farmer’s son, he had his share, as a boy and young man, of the privations of frontier life, the Herculean labor of clearing away the forests, and bringing the land under cultivation. At the same period of time Indiana was nurturing another young man in like experience and labors of frontier life —that matchless American, Abraham Lincoln. In this era of abounding prosperity and luxurious living, we are too apt to forget that they rest upon the tolls and trials of our fathers. Whitcomb showed the stuff of which he was made by supporting himself at school and college by his own manual labor. He filled many public offices with usefulness and honor, and had the distinction of occupying the gubernatorial chair during the Mexican War, in which Indiana soldiers did their full share toward the victories which gained for us the wide domain stretching to the Pacific.

For the fourth period of the history of Indiana, which records the contest for the preservation of the Union, there could be but one man whose statue should be a companion piece to this superb monument. No soldier, no citizen, no man high or low, could take rank in point of heroic service, of tireless labors, of commanding influence, of exposure to dangers, of courage, self- denial and suffering, with Oliver P. Morton. He was a man endowed with rare intellectuality, and made a high place for himself in the Nation as a statesman, but to the people of Indiana, and especially to the old soldiers, he will be remembered as the Great War Governor.

It is fitting that the name of another son of Indiana should be mentioned on this occasion. His statue is not in this Circle, but will soon adorn another portion of this beautiful capital. When the corner-stone of this edifice was laid thirteen years ago he took part in the exercises, and, but for his untimely death, would doubtless have been called to occupy my place in this day’s dedication. Benjamin Harrison has the distinction of being one of the first to inspire this great undertaking now so happily consummated. He himself was a gallant soldier and would have rejoiced to participate in this pageant. In every department of public and private life he did his work well, and we are proud to honor him as President and citizen.

It is a pleasing service to thus recall the names of some of our public men. I heartily believe in State pride. I believe in local attachments. The associations which cluster about the home are the dearest and the best. If we as Indianians have not, in times past, been as conspicuous as some of our neighbors for our State pride, it was not because we loved Indiana less, but the Union more; and since we have forever settled the question of State rights, I see no reason why we should not on all proper occasions and with the vehemence of domestic loyalty exalt our State, and boast of its resources, its merits, and its memories. Among these there are none which constitute a nobler heritage or awaken more enthusiastic pride than the services and attainments of our public men.

I have not dwelt at any length upon the wonderful prosperity which our country is now enjoying, as one of the direct results of the preservation of the Union. We all rejoice in our present high and honorable position among the nations of the earth, and we may well look forward to a continuance of this era of peace and prosperity. But in the day of our exaltation we should remember that no people of the earth have proved to be indestructible as a nation. Every country may carry within itself the seeds of its own dissolution. We need not revert to the history of Rome, Greece, Egypt, or Assyria to learn of the decay and death of empires. The archaeologist tells us that in the territory covered by the State of Indiana, there once existed, at a period so remote that no legend of them remained among the aborigines at the discovery by Columbus, a great and powerful people who built populous cities, were possessed of a high grade of military science, were advanced in the arts, founded dynasties, had an educated priesthood, and were of a heroic frame.

I have not time to moralize upon this, but I venture a few practical suggestions which may appeal to us as citizens of a great nation whose prosperity and happiness we desire may continue through all time. If we would realize this expectation we must have an honest government. Federal, State, and local. I have given the figures which show the enormous expenditures for pensions. It is common rumor that this sum has been swelled by perjury and fraud. Every faithful soldier who receives a pension from the Government justly regards it as a badge of honor. He should watch with jealous care that no deserter, no skulker, no unworthy camp-follower, through the cunning of dishonest claim agents, should have the same badge of honor. So, also, bribery and corruption in our public and municipal bodies, may soon destroy the foundations of our national life. All good citizens should denounce and combine to punish every attempt at corruption.

As we should have an honest government, so we should have a pure government. I have spoken of State pride. Alore than once I have been made to blush when away from home to hear the charge that the elections in Indiana were sometimes corrupt. I trust I may entertain the hope that there is exaggeration in this, and that our errors of the past no longer exist. It is a sure sign of national decay in a republican government, when the fountain head of power, the ballot, becomes corrupt.

While we must have an honest and pure government to insure the perpetuation of our institutions, we should also have an efficient government. And this I think can best be brought about by the universal application of the system of competi- tive civil service. I know that many an Indiana politician has mocked at it as the dream of the idealist, but it is the only democratic method of filling the offices where all applicants stand upon a common level, and the only way of securing the best results in administration.

I have entered upon a fruitful theme, but must not pursue it further. I have suggested three points which seem appropriate for our consideration today, when we are gathered to honor the soldiers who died that our country might live. We owe it to them to so act as citizens that they shall not have offered up their lives in vain. Let us cherish their memory, and in our day and generation do what we can to perpetuate for the people in the ages to come the blessings of free institutions among men. Should we thus prove true to our trust, this imposing memorial, so patriotic in design, and so perfect in execution, will stand in future years as a testimonial, not only to the fallen heroes of the war, but also to the faithful citizens, who handed down unimpaired their heritage of republican government to mankind.

Below is his record of military service that seems to back up his claims:


War Department

The Adjutant-General’s Office

Statement of the Military Service of

John W. Foster

Lieutenant-Colonel, Twenty-fifth Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and Colonel, Sixty-fifth and One Hundred and Thirty-sixth Regiments, Indiana Volunteer Infantry

The records show that John W. Foster was mustered into serv ice August 19, 1861, as major, Twenty-fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to serve three years. He was subsequently commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the regiment and is recognized by the War Department as having been in the military service of the United States as of that grade and organization from April 30, 1862. He was mustered out of service as lieutenant-colonel to date August 24, 1862, to accept promotion. He was mustered into service as colonel, Sixty-fifth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to date August 24, 1862, to serve three years. He was in command of the District of Western Kentucky, Department of Ohio, with headquarters at Henderson, Kentucky, in October and November, 1862, and in March, April, and May, 1863, but the records do not show either the date on which he assumed command or the date on which he was relieved therefrom. From August 21, 1863, to September 5, 1863, and from September 7, 1863, to October 18, 1863, he was in command of the Second Brigade, Fourth Division, Twenty-third Army Corps. The designation of the brigade was changed to the Fourth Brigade, same division, October 18, 1863, Colonel Foster remaining in command to November 3, 1863. This brigade was assigned to the Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Ohio, Novem- ber 3, 1863, and Colonel Foster commanded the Second Brigade of that division from November 3 to November —, 1863, and he commanded the Second Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Ohio, from November —, 1863, to January —, 1864, exact dates not shown. He was honorably discharged March 12, 1864, as colonel, upon tender of resignation.

The records further show that John W. Foster was mustered into service as colonel. One Hundred Thirty-sixth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, May 23, 1864, to serve one hundred days, and that he was mustered out of service with the regiment as colonel September 2, 1864, at Indianapolis, Indiana.

In the operations February 12-16, 1862, resulting in the capture of Fort Donelson, Tennessee, Major Foster was com- mended by his brigade commander for “the fearless and energetic manner” in which he discharged his duties. His conduct was said to be “worthy of the highest commendation.”

At the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, April 6-7, 1862, the command of his regiment devolved upon Major Foster on the first day. The brigade commander, in his official report of that battle, stated with reference to Major Foster as follows: “The command devolved on Major Foster, who proved himself every way worthy of it. He was active, brave, and energetic, inspiring his men with courage and confidence. His worthy example was felt by all around him.”

Official statement furnished to Hon. John W. Foster, 1323 Eighteenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., October 13, 191 5.

By authority of the Secretary of War:

P. C. Marth


In charge of office

Samuel Johnson’s fascinating epistolary writing, ‘The Rambler No. 42’

Note that this is likely a fictional letter written by himself instead of an actual reader, from

Originally published August 11, 1750, revised in 1756

A later editor added the title ‘The misery of a modish lady in solitude’

Mihi tarda fluunt ingrataque tempora.

Horace. liber primus I. Epistle 1. 15.

How heavily my time revolves along.




I am no great admirer of grave writings, and therefore very frequently lay your papers aside before I have read them through; yet I cannot but confess that, by slow degrees, you have raised my opinion of your understanding, and that, though I believe it will be long before I can be prevailed upon to regard you with much kindness, you have, however, more of my esteem than those whom I sometimes make happy with opportunities to fill my tea-pot, or pick up my fan. I shall therefore chuse you for the confidant of my distresses, and ask your counsel with regard to the means of conquering or escaping them, though I never expect from you any of that softness and pliancy, which constitutes the perfection of a companion for the ladies: as, in the place where I now am, I have recourse to the mastiff for protection, though I have no intention of making him a lap-dog.

My mamma is a very fine lady, who has more numerous and more frequent assemblies at her house than any other person in the same quarter of the town. I was bred from my earliest infancy in a perpetual tumult of pleasure, and remember to have heard of little else than messages, visits, playhouses, and balls; of the awkwardness of one woman, and the coquetry of another; the charming convenience of some rising fashion, the difficulty of playing a new game, the incidents of a masquerade, and the dresses of a court-night. I knew before I was ten years old all the rules of paying and receiving visits, and to how much civility every one of my acquaintance was entitled; and was able to return, with the proper degree of reserve or of vivacity, the stated and established answer to every compliment; so that I was very soon celebrated as a wit and a beauty, and had heard before I was thirteen all that is ever said to a young lady. My mother was generous to so uncommon a degree as to be pleased with my advance into life, and allowed me, without envy or reproof, to enjoy the same happiness with herself; though most women about her own age were very angry to see young girls so forward, and many fine gentlemen told her how cruel it was to throw new chains upon mankind, and to tyrannize over them at the same time with her own charms, and those of her daughter.

I have now lived two-and-twenty years, and have passed of each year nine months in town, and three at Richmond; so that my time has been spent uniformly in the same company, and the same amusements, except as fashion has introduced new diversions, or the revolutions of the gay world have afforded new successions of wits and beaux. However, my mother is so good an economist of pleasure, that I have no spare hours upon my hands; for every morning brings some new appointment, and every night is hurried away by the necessity of making our appearance at different places, and of being with one lady at the opera, and with another at the card-table.

When the time came of settling our schemes of felicity for the summer, it was determined that I should pay a visit to a rich aunt in a remote county. As you know the chief conversation of all tea-tables, in the spring, arises from a communication of the manner in which time is to be passed till winter, it was a great relief to the barrenness of our topicks, to relate the pleasures that were in store for me, to describe my uncle’s seat, with the park and gardens, the charming walks and beautiful waterfalls; and every one told me how much she envied me, and what satisfaction she had once enjoyed in a situation of the same kind.

As we are all credulous in our own favour, and willing to imagine some latent satisfaction in any thing which we have not experienced, I will confess to you, without restraint, that I had suffered my head to be filled with expectations of some nameless pleasure in a rural life, and that I hoped for the happy hour that should set me free from noise, and flutter, and ceremony, dismiss me to the peaceful shade, and lull me in content and tranquillity. To solace myself under the misery of delay, I sometimes heard a studious lady of my acquaintance read pastorals, I was delighted with scarce any talk but of leaving the town, and never went to bed without dreaming of groves, and meadows, and frisking lambs.

At length I had all my clothes in a trunk, and saw the coach at the door; I sprung in with ecstasy, quarrelled with my maid for being too long in taking leave of the other servants, and rejoiced as the ground grew less which lay between me and the completion of my wishes. A few days brought me to a large old house, encompassed on three sides with woody hills, and looking from the front on a gentle river, the sight of which renewed all my expectations of pleasure, and gave me some regret for having lived so long without the enjoyment which these delightful scenes were now to afford me. My aunt came out to receive me, but in a dress so far removed from the present fashion, that I could scarcely look upon her without laughter, which would have been no kind requital for the trouble which she had taken to make herself fine against my arrival. The night and the next morning were driven along with inquiries about our family; my aunt then explained our pedigree, and told me stories of my great grandfather’s bravery in the civil wars, nor was it less than three days before I could persuade her to leave me to myself.

At last economy prevailed; she went in the usual manner about her own affairs, and I was at liberty to range in the wilderness, and sit by the cascade. The novelty of the objects about me pleased me for a while, but after a few days they were new no longer, and I soon began to perceive that the country was not my element; that shades, and flowers, and lawns, and waters, had very soon exhausted all their power of pleasing, and that I had not in myself any fund of satisfaction, with which I could supply the loss of my customary amusements.

I unhappily told my aunt, in the first warmth of our embraces, that I had leave to stay with her ten weeks. Six only yet are gone, and how shall I live through the remaining four? I go out and return; I pluck a flower, and throw it away; I catch an insect, and when I have examined its colours set it at liberty; I fling a pebble into the water, and see one circle spread after another. When it chances to rain, I walk in the great hall, and watch the minute-hand upon the dial, or play with a litter of kittens, which the cat happens to have brought in a lucky time.

My aunt is afraid I shall grow melancholy, and therefore encourages the neighbouring gentry to visit us. They came at first with great eagerness to see the fine lady from London; but when we met, we had no common topick on which we could converse; they had no curiosity after plays, operas, or musick: and I find as little satisfaction from their accounts of the quarrels or alliances of families, whose names, when once I can escape, I shall never hear. The women have now seen me, know how my gown is made, and are satisfied; the men are generally afraid of me, and say little, because they think themselves not at liberty to talk rudely.

Thus I am condemned to solitude; the day moves slowly forward, and I see the dawn with uneasiness, because I consider that night is at a great distance. I have tried to sleep by a brook, but find its murmurs ineffectual; so that I am forced to be awake at least twelve hours, without visits, without cards, without laughter, and without flattery. I walk because I am disgusted with sitting still, and sit down because I am weary with walking. I have no motive to action, nor any object of love, or hate, or fear, or inclination. I cannot dress with spirit, for I have neither rival nor admirer. I cannot dance without a partner; nor be kind or cruel, without a lover.

Such is the life of Euphelia; and such it is likely to continue for a month to come. I have not yet declared against existence, nor called upon the destinies to cut my thread; but I have sincerely resolved not to condemn myself to such another summer, nor too hastily to flatter myself with happiness. Yet I have heard, Mr. Rambler, of those who never thought themselves so much at ease as in solitude, and cannot but suspect it to be some way or other my own fault, that, without great pain, either of mind or body, I am thus weary of myself: that the current of youth stagnates, and that I am languishing in a dead calm, for want of some external impulse. I shall therefore think you a benefactor to our sex, if you will teach me the art of living alone; for I am confident that a thousand and a thousand ladies, who affect to talk with ecstasies of the pleasures of the country, are in reality, like me, longing for the winter, and wishing to be delivered from themselves by company and diversion.

I am, Sir, Yours,


Due to the changing fashions over time even the greatest writers certainly no longer write like this anymore!

If you are likewise fascinated after reading I would highly recommend reading his other essays, freely accessible online. Note that it’s likely most, if not all, his ‘reader letters’ were actually fictional letters.

Nonetheless still impressive 270 years later.

A further analysis of Johnson’s epistles can be found here, JSTOR Arts & Sciences VII, paywalled.