“Shall we never, never get rid of this Past?” cried he, keeping up the earnest tone of the previous 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 an old dead 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 what slaves we are 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 happen to have made a will, disposes of wealth no longer his own; or, if he dies 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 whith which 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 gutta-percha, or whatever else lasts the 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 their 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 every twenty years, or thereabouts, as a hint to the people to examine into and reform the institutions which they symbolize.”
“How you hate everything old!” said Phoebe, in dismay. “It makes me dizzy to think of such a shifting world!”
“I certainly love nothing mouldy,” answered Holgrave. “Now, this old Pyncheon house! Is it a wholesome place to live in, with its black shingles, and the green moss that shows how damp they are? —its dark, low-studded rooms?—its grime and sordidness, which are the crystallizations on its walls of the human breath that has been drawn and exhaled here in discontent and anguish? The house ought to be purified with fire,—purified till only its ashes remain!”
“The why do you live in it?” asked Phoebe, a little piqued.
“Oh, I am pursuing my studies here; not in books however,” replied Holgrave. “The house, in my view, is expressive of that odious and abominable Past, with all of its bad influences, against which I have just been declaiming. I dwell in it for a while, that I may know better how to hate it.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, House of the Seven Gables, (170-172)