October 16, 2021

"It might be supposed that a melancholy man would here make acquaintance with a grim philosophy."

"He should learn to bear patiently his individual griefs, that endure only for one little lifetime, when here are the tokens of such infinite misfortune on an imperial scale, and when so many far landmarks of time, all around him, are bringing the remoteness of a thousand years ago into the sphere of yesterday. But it is in vain that you seek this shrub of bitter sweetness among the plants that root themselves on the roughness of massive walls, or trail downward from the capitals of pillars, or spring out of the green turf in the palace of the Caesars. It does not grow in Rome; not even among the five hundred various weeds which deck the grassy arches of the Coliseum. You look through a vista of century beyond century,—through much shadow, and a little sunshine,—through barbarism and civilization, alternating with one another like actors that have prearranged their parts: through a broad pathway of progressive generations bordered by palaces and temples, and bestridden by old, triumphal arches, until, in the distance, you behold the obelisks, with their unintelligible inscriptions, hinting at a past infinitely more remote than history can define. Your own life is as nothing, when compared with that immeasurable distance; but still you demand, none the less earnestly, a gleam of sunshine, instead of a speck of shadow, on the step or two that will bring you to your quiet rest. How exceedingly absurd!"

Wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in "The Marble Faun," one of my favorite books, in a passage that I'm reading this morning because — as you know if you are reading this blog chronologically — I am studying the word "bestridden."

9 comments:

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Oh no. I must be reading this wrong! I didn’t even know you were “studying the word ‘bestridden.’”

Howard said...

Best ridden or be stridden.

Howard said...

For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may conclude that there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of this physical enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, – no prospect of an end.

(Hutton, [1795]

Lazarus said...

If I were reading chronologically from bottom to top I would probably only have gotten as far as 2006 by now.

Is it really going to be one of those days?

Wilbur said...

Lordy, I had to read The Marble Faun for some English or Lit class in high school or junior college. If you like innumerable 500-word descriptive passages, then it's the book for you. Hawthorne was a great writer, but that book was a slog.

Kevin said...

The horse was bestridden from the saddle.

mikee said...

I associate "bestride" with "like a Colossus," for reasons that have been lost to memory, but which probably include "The Forbin Project" and early reading about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And no, X-Men played no part in this phrasing.

Lem said...

...but still you demand, none the less earnestly, a gleam of sunshine, instead of a speck of shadow

Hawthorne destroys Althouse sunrise photography ;)

Ann Althouse said...

"Lordy, I had to read The Marble Faun for some English or Lit class in high school or junior college. If you like innumerable 500-word descriptive passages, then it's the book for you. Hawthorne was a great writer, but that book was a slog."

It's not a good book to be forced to read.