Sunday, August 16, 2009

From "The Marble Faun"

Miriam's View of the Precipice:

. . . "I fancy," remarked Miriam, "that every person takes a peep into it in moments of gloom and despondancy; that is to say, in moments of deepest insight."
"Where is it then, asked Hilda. "I never peeped into it."
"Wait and it will open for you," replied her friend. "The chasm was merely one of the orifices of that pit of blackness that lies beneath us, everywhere. The firmest substance of human happiness is but a thin crust spread over it, with just reality enough to bear up the illusive stage scenery amid which we tread. It needs no earthquake to open the chasm. A footstep, a little heavier than ordinary, will serve; and and we must step very daintily, not to break through the crust at any moment. By and by we inevitably sink! It was a foolish piece of heroism in Curtius to precipitate himself there, in advance; for all Rome, you see, has been swallowed up in that gulf, in spite of him. The Palace of the Caesars has gone down thither, with a hollow rumbling sound of its fragments! All the temples have tumbled into it; and thousands of statues have been thrown after! All the armies and the triumphs have marched into the great chasm, with their martial music playing, as they stepped over the brink. All the heroes, the statesmen, and the poets! All piled upon poor Curtius, who thought to have saved them all! I am loath to smile at the self-conceit of that gallant horseman, but cannot well avoid it." . . .

. . . "Not soon, I am afraid," acquiesced the sculptor." "You are right, excellent Tomaso; the world is sadder now!"
And in truth, while our friend smiled at these wild fables, he sighed in the same breath to think how the once genial earth produces, in every successive generation, fewer flowers than used to gladden the preceding ones. Not that the modes and seeming possibilities of human enjoyment are rarer in our refined and softened era,--on the contrary, they never before were nearly so abundant,--but that mankind are getting so far beyond the childhood of their race that they scorn to be happy any longer. A simple and joyous character can find no place for itself among the sage and somber figures that would put his unsophisticated cheerfulness to shame. the entire system of man's affairs, as at present established, is built up purposely to exclude the careless and happy soul. the very children would upbraid the wretched individual who should endeavor to take life and the world as--what we might naturally suppose them meant for--a place of opportunity and enjoyment.
It is the iron rule in our day to require an object and a purpose in life. It makes us all parts of a complicated scheme of progress, which can only result in our arrival at a colder and drearier region than we were born in. It insists in everybody's adding somewhat--a mite, perhaps, but earned by incessant effort--to an accumulated pile of usefulness, of which the only use will be to burden our posterity with even heacier thoughts and more inordinate labor than our own. No life now wanders like an unfettered stream; there is a mill wheel for the tiniest rivulet to turn. We go all wrong, by too strenuous a resolution to go all right. . .