Nevertheless, I set forth all alone and tall of, spirit on the stormy ocean of the world, though I knew neither its safe ports nor its perilous reefs. First I visited peoples who exist no more. I went and sat among the ruins of Rome and Greece, those countries of virile and brilliant memory, where palaces are buried in the dust and royal mausoleums hidden beneath the brambles . . . I meditated on these monuments at every hour and through all the incidents of the day. Sometimes, I watched the same sun which had shone down on the foundation of these cities now setting majestically over their ruins; soon afterwards, the moon rose between crumbling funeral urns into a cloud-less sky, bathing the tombs in pallid light. Often in the faint, dream-wafting rays of that planet, I thought I saw the Spirit of Memory sitting pensive by my side . . . On the mountain peaks of Caledonia, the last bard ever heard in those wildernesses sang me songs which had once consoled a hero in his old age. We were sitting on four stones overgrown with moss; at our feet ran a brook, and in the distance the roebuck strayed among the ruins of a tower, while from the seas the wind whistled in over the waste land of Cona . . . And yet with all my effort what had I learned until then? I had discovered nothing stable among the ancients and nothing beautiful among the moderns. The past and present are imperfect statues — one, quite disfigured, drawn from the ruins of the ages and the other still devoid of its future perfection.
From François-René de Chateaubriand. René, The Continental Edition of World Masterpieces, Edited by Maynard Mack, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1966.