When we survey human history, we experience also the wonder of the ancient, the immemorial. We look to a tombstone in a Roman cemetery and read the inscription, sponsa optima, the best of wives, and we feel the pull of kinship across the centuries. We look at the Arch of Titus and see, celebrated on its massive pillars, the destruction of Jerusalem and the raiding of the Temple, and we feel the prickle of astonishment, for those same Jews have returned, and the Roman Empire is long gone, and still there are men who would happily sweep them into the sea. We enter the great library of John Adams, and it feels like a chapel — it is meant to feel like a chapel — and we handle the books that he handled and see his history in the light of the history that he read, from which he learned so much about the persistence of human folly and ambition, and the tenuousness of liberty.
The study of the past is also, often, an exercise in humility.
p. 150, Life Under Compulsion. Anthony Esolen.
I like this quotation for several reasons. History has a transcendental effect on me, connecting me with the lives of men and women across the ages; this is particularly effective when one reads within a cultural tradition and can listen in on a conversation that has taken across over a span of centuries, as minds across the ages respond to one another. To be deep into history is to have one’s soul stilled; the excitements and fads of the present day don’t register as dramatically, don’t intrude on one’s mind the way they might on the person for whom the present is everything.. One can view a disruption not as the end of the world, but as a passing storm.