I sent the message off and went on with the morning, but my mind kept going back to “
Now, I’m thinking. In my previous post, one the photos I posted was of the quote over the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office in the Capitol. As we wandered up and down the halls of that great old building, I saw many other quotes, also painted with elegance above the offices. But that was the only one that made me stop and snap a photo. We had limited time in the Capitol, so I didn’t want to hold the rest of the family – and our two gracious guides – up by shooting everything that attracted my attention. We would have been there for hours. Days, even.
But now, I’m thinking about why that particular quote stopped me in my tracks.
We consult no common oracle but the CONSTITUTION.”
Choate wrote those rather striking words as part of an oration, “The Importance of Illustrating New-England History by a Series of Romances like the Waverley Novels,” in which he discussed with eloquence and passion how much better the dryness of historical writings can be appreciated by their fictionalization. He focused on Sir Walter Scott’s “Waverly Novels,” which include “Ivanhoe,” but he also used the example of Greek history. Herodotus, the “father of history” gave us the facts of his times, Choate said, but it was Homer, a blind harper and storyteller, who gave us the beauty, imagination and day-to-day living details of Greek life in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.”
Choate went on to write about America’s history from his viewpoint about 150 years into it, and how by reading our history after it happens and written up by historians, we may learn dry facts, but there is little that touches us in our day-to-day lives in the dates, events and people we read about. Thus, his argument for the value of historical fiction – “romance” -- in which the writer, after researching exhaustively, writes a story set in times past which includes living, breathing characters, their emotions, their motivations, their clothes and food and even their laughter over a beer in a public house. The “romance” of history, he argues, is what makes it live in our minds today.
It was a fascinating read, Choate’s argument for romance in history. But it wasn’t until I’d nearly reached the end of the long document that I found, finally, the quote that appears above the Sergeant-at-Arms office in the Capitol. I was glad to find it. I wanted context.
He was once again contrasting the ancient world with his own
“It were good for us to remember that nothing which tends, however distantly, however imperceptibly, to hold these States together, is beneath the notice of a considerate patriotism. It were good to remember that some of the institutions and devices by which former confederacies have been preserved, our circumstances wholly forbid us to employ. The tribes of Israel and Judah came up three times a year to the holy and beautiful city and united in prayer and praise and sacrifice, in listening to that thrilling poetry, in swelling that matchless song, [they] celebrated the triumphs of their fathers by the Red Sea, at the fords of Jordan, and on the places of the field of Barak’s victory. But we have no feast of the Passover, or of the Tabernacles, or of the Commemoration. The States of
Heheh. I could be misunderstanding ol’ Choate, but I think this eloquent and thinking man liked the idea of a free press, and that Americans could know their history – in all of its facets -- for themselves and with immediacy, rather than hearing it only later as interpreted by others.
I wonder what Choate would think of the current predicament of the free press in
When I read the quote myself that day in the Capitol building, it struck me because it seems that we have built new temples, if not in the form of great buildings, then in the form of money and power, inhabited by a warlike and selfish god. And our leaders seem to have abandoned the oracle of the Constitution in favor of their own, often misguided and even mad, inner voices.
So, where do I find that “
Perhaps they don’t remember the nearly 231 years of history – living history -- that put all those marble columns in place around them.