Friday, October 18, 2013

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens -- four dowager and three regnant -- and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunet, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splender never to be seen again.

That's the opening paragraph of Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, a superb history of the first few months of World War I. It is considered one of the finest pieces of writing of the 20th century.

I have been re-reading the book. I picked it up not merely because it's a remarkable work, or because her history is chock full of details like this which make history come alive. Rather, I picked it up because the book is like an old friend. Reassuring, comfortable, warming.

Some books, I find, I can read over and over again. Each time, they seem fresh and enticing. The challenge is still there, but it's like a mountain you've climbed before: Known, but still hard, still difficult, still requiring your full attention.

I go through periods in my life where I don't want to read new things. I want to re-read things I'd read a hundred times before.

I'm in one of these periods now. It being wrapped in a warm, very soft blanket, sitting in a warm room, ensconced and enclosed and secure.

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