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breakfast table

The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table (1858) is a collection of essays written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1857 and 1858. The author had written two essays with the same name which were published in the earlier The New England Magazine in November 1831 and February 1832, which are alluded to in a mention of an "interruption" at the start of the very first essay.

The essays take the form of a chiefly one-sided dialogue between the unnamed Author and the other residents of a New England boarding house who are known only by their profession, location at the table or other defining characteristics. The topics discussed range from an essay on the unexpected benefits of old age to the finest place to site a dwelling and comments on the nature of conversation itself. The tone of the book is distinctly Yankee and takes a seriocomic approach to the subject matter.

As befits Holmes' reputation as one of America's finest poets, each essay typically ends with a poem on the theme of the essay. There are also poems ostensibly written by the fictional disputants scattered throughout.

The Breakfast-Table Series

In addition to Autocrat, there are two further volumes in the series drawing on later essays along similar themes. They are, respectively, The Professor of the Breakfast-Table and The Poet at the Breakfast-Table.

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