William Hosley’s political preferences cannot be deduced from his multitudinous work-a-day affairs. That is because the past is larger than politics. The state really should get on its knees and thank God for Mr. Hosley, who is to Connecticut what Ansel Adams and Teddy Roosevelt were to national preservation sites. Mr. Hosley is the founder and creator of "Creating Sense of Place For Connecticut," a Facebook community of like-minded preservationists, historians and history buffs.
Preservationists must sometimes tire of being asked and re-asked the question, “Why should anything be preserved?” What has the past to do with me? Am I not a child of the future, a child of incessant change?
William Faulkner answered the question dramatically in his novel Absalom, Absalom, in which Mr. Faulkner retold history in a rather novel (pun intended) way. The book itself shows the hold the past has on the present, and nearly everyone who credits Mr. Faulkner with the aphorism “The past is not over; it is not even past” mistakenly traces the aphorism to that book. Faulkner scholars more properly point to another Faulkner work, Requiem For A Nun, a sequel to yet another novel, Sanctuary.
Faulkner came closest to defining the pull the past has on the present and future when he was asked by a student at the University of Virginia why he wrote long sentences. Here is Mr. Faulkner’s answer:
“Also, to me, no man is himself; he is the sum of his past. There is no such thing really as “was” because the past IS. It is a part of everyman, every woman and every moment. And so a man, a character in a story at any moment of action, is not just himself as he is then. He is all that made him, and the long sentence is an attempt to get his past and possibly his future into the instant in which he does something.”
Men carry their past around inside them precisely in the way Aeneas, the chief figure in Virgil’s Aeneid, carries his father on his shoulders from burning Troy – towards Rome, the shining and as yet featureless future. The past is father to the man. And as a determinant of human action, it is more alive – more causative -- than many other springs of human action. This alone would account or Mr. Hosley’s drive: His sense that place and nature, if not sacred, is at least fatherly. Like Aeneas, we should preserve the past from armies of the night because it has made us what we are, and we owe to it the kind of affection a son owes to his father or a daughter to her mother. In the spirit of Mr. Faulkner, we might say a place is never just a place; it is the wellspring of human action, which occurs at the very center of our being, the place where “was” struggles with and overcomes “is,” an inchoate, featureless dot in time, more a stage of human action than the drama itself. When men and women gaze into the dark well of their own souls and ask themselves the question” Who am I?” they will find, more often than not, that they are has-beens.
Mr. Hosley has worked tirelessly to sell Connecticut to Connecticut and the world. During his tenure at "Creating Sense of Place for Connecticut,” Mr. Hosley has unearthed a goldmine of Connecticut sites that otherwise would have been lost even to nutmeggers who have lived here their entire lives. This kind of selfless activity ought to be acknowledged and praised. In his case, the struggle is its own reward. His endeavor is ambitious: nothing less that the re-presentation of the past to those fortunate few of us who remain in the present.
Generously bestrewing compliments, G. K. Chesterton once said of tradition – by which he meant a living history informed by the past:
“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
Here is Mr. Hosley warming up to the great love of his life: