1.06.2010

A Timely Summary

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Earth's Holocaust," a bunch of people get so sick of the world as they have known it that they decide to set it aflame. They pile on "yesterday's newspapers, last month's magazines, and last year's withered leaves." Once the flame is going, they pile on other combustibles: "all the rubbish of the Herald's Office; the blazonry of coat-armor; the crests and devices of illustrious families; pedigrees that extended back... into the mist of the dark ages."

Then arrives a "gray-haired man, of stately presence, wearing a coat from the breast of which some star, or other padge of rank, seemed to have been forcibly wrenched away." Hawthorne reports that the man had the demeanor "of one who had been born to the idea of his own social superiority, and had never felt it questioned, till that moment."

As the smoke rises, Hawthorne reports, "the multitude of plebeian spectators set up a joyous shout, and clapt their hands with an emphasis that made the welkin echo. That was their moment of triumph, achieved after long ages, over creatures of the same clay and same spiritual infirmities, who had dared to assume the privileges due only to Heaven's better workmanship."

Then the gray man steps forward:

"People," cried he, gazing at the ruin of what was dearest in his eyes, with grief and wonder, but, nevertheless, with a degree of stateliness--"people, what have you done! This fire is consuming all that marked your advance from barbarism, or that could have prevented your relapse thither."

The old man says more in this direction before he is interrupted by the masses: "Let him thank his stars that we have not flung him into the same fire!"

And so it goes...

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