"Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?" cried he, keeping up the
earnest tone of his preceding conversation. "It lies upon the Present
like a giant's dead body In fact, the case is just as if a young giant
were compelled to waste all his strength in carrying about the corpse
of the old giant, his grandfather, who died a long while ago, and only
needs to be decently buried. Just think a moment, and it will startle
you to see what slaves we are to bygone times,--to Death, if we give
the matter the right word!"
"But I do not see it," observed Phoebe.
"For example, then," continued Holgrave: "a dead man, if he happens to
have made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own; or, if he die
intestate, it is distributed in accordance with the notions of men much
longer dead than he. A dead man sits on all our judgment-seats; and
living judges do but search out and repeat his decisions. We read in
dead men's books! We laugh at dead men's jokes, and cry at dead men's
pathos! We are sick of dead men's diseases, physical and moral, and die
of the same remedies with which dead doctors killed their patients! We
worship the living Deity according to dead men's forms and creeds.
Whatever we seek to do, of our own free motion, a dead man's icy hand
obstructs us! Turn our eyes to what point we may, a dead man's white,
immitigable face encounters them, and freezes our very heart! And we
must be dead ourselves before we can begin to have our proper influence
on our own world, which will then be no longer our world, but the world
of another generation, with which we shall have no shadow of a right to
interfere. I ought to have said, too, that we live in dead men's
houses; as, for instance, in this of the Seven Gables!"
"And why not," said Phoebe, "so long as we can be comfortable in them?"
"But we shall live to see the day, I trust," went on the artist, "when
no man shall build his house for posterity. Why should he? He might
just as reasonably order a durable suit of clothes,--leather, or
guttapercha, or whatever else lasts longest,--so that his
great-grandchildren should have the benefit of them, and cut precisely
the same figure in the world that he himself does. If each generation
were allowed and expected to build its own houses, that single change,
comparatively unimportant in itself, would imply almost every reform
which society is now suffering for. I doubt whether even our public
edifices--our capitols, state-houses, court-houses, city-hall, and
churches,--ought to be built of such permanent materials as stone or
brick. It were better that they should crumble to ruin once in twenty
years, or thereabouts, as a hint to the people to examine into and
reform the institutions which they symbolize."