Today Martine and I went to the William S. Hart Ranch and Museum in Newhall. Around this time of year, the docents and other volunteers make the place all Christmassy. With the Grier Musser Museum yesterday, a visit to the Hart Museum today made it a real holiday weekend.
As I was watching a video of Hart’s Hell Hinges (1916) in the Ranch House, a somber thought came to me. Hart’s career lasted only about twelve years, from 1915 to 1927. How many people alive today remember him, have seen his films, or even know who he is? Hollywood does not even make Westerns more than once in a Blue Moon. The lovely house on a hill in Newhall, which Hart called La Loma de los Vientos (“The Hill of the Winds”), may fall into ruin because it commemorates the life of a silent movie star who is all but forgotten.
At the same time, I am reading Marcel Proust’s final volume of In Search of Lost Time series, Finding Time Again. In this book, Marcel finds his world has all but disappeared with the start of the First World War. At one point Marcel the narrator muses:
In short, fashionable society had become disenchanted with M. de Charlus, not because it had seen through, but because it had never begun to penetrate his uncommon intellectual worth. People thought him ‘pre-war,’ old-fashioned, because the very people who are least capable of assessing merit are the ones who, in order to classify people, are quickest to follow the dictates of fashion. They have not exhausted, nor even skimmed the surface of the men of merit in one generation, and suddenly they have to condemn them all en bloc, because now there is a new generation, with its new label, which they will not understand any better than the last.
As I watch Marcel working his way through a Paris, lit by floodlights, zeppelins, bi-plane fighters, and a young generation in charge that has seemingly sprouted out of nowhere. In the same way, I marvel at all the young people crossing the busy street while checking their e-mail or texting to their buds.
I should know better. Edmund Spenser said it all half a millennium ago when he wrote about mutability:
When I bethink me on that speech whilere,
Of Mutability, and well it weigh:
Me seems,that though she all unworthy were
Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet very sooth to say,
In all things else she bears the greatest sway.
Which makes me loathe this state of life so tickle,
And love of things so vain to cast away;
Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,
Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.
Then gin I think on that which Nature said.
Of that same time when no more Change shall be,
But steadfast rest of all things firmly stayed
Upon the pillars of Eternity,
That is contrare to Mutability:
For, all that moveth, doth in Change delight:
But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
O that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight.
As the year 2013 winds to a close, think for a moment of all the changes that sweeping your world away. I wouldn’t worry excessively about it, because the same winds of change will likewise sweep the fashions of the newest generation away. All the Ugg Boots, Jeggings, Razor Scooters, Smart Phones, and Google Glasses will go the way of suspenders, cowcatchers on locomotives, transistor radios, and pogo sticks. Right now, all these things are in the ascendent—but they won’t be for long.