Quote of the Week: Edward Dowden, “True Conservatism – What is it?”

And you look backward into the darkness hoping to find your Past there. It is vanished: you cannot find it, and, I tell you, you will never find it that way. The Past is within us, not behind us: there is nothing behind us, – except vacancy, and the forlorn lapping over our last footprints of the bitter waves of time. But within us, there is the Past in its perfection, and not a jot or tittle shall pass away till all shall be fulfilled. I […] have all that ever happened in the solar system within me. It is not only the sap of the apple that Eve which circulates within my blood. All airs, and streams, and fruits, and odours of Eden could still be discovered in my composition by a skilled angelic analyst. All orgasms and satiates of nomad men, all gentler pleasures and sorrows of pastoral people, sweet extinct mythologies, lost secrets of Egyptian mages, fierce tyrannies of the bronze over the stone hatchets, kisses of lovers in primæval forests, splendid Babylonian adulteries, all buried sculptures, all forgotten music, all faded paintings, still exists within me. I am not far from paradise: Cain is still slaying Abel in my veins, and if I listen I hear within me what the morning stars sang together for joy.

If, then, I would conserve the Past and make it an active power, I must conserve and vitalise myself. The use of history, of precedents, of authority, of modals, – and the only use of these, – is to reinforce my best self, and bring it into play. My best self may happen to reside in the so-called Past, rather than in the Present: then the Past is more important to me than the Present; or the reverse may be the case; but the Past as Past, and the Present as Present, are nothing to me: my best self, wherever it may be found, is all in all.”

▪ Edward Dowden, “True Conservatism – What is it?” Contemporary Review volume 12 (Strahan & Co. Publishers, 1869) extract from page 271.

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