a middle-aged man, next to a half-finished obelisk

"The months that followed were hard for Melville. He tried valiantly to secure appointment as a U.S. consul in Florence, Italy, but never stood a chance. In March, he even traveled to Washington to advance his cause, and waited in a very long line to shake the hands of the new president. He was possibly the worst self-promoter of all time, and said nothing to Lincoln, though he admired him (“Old Abe is much better looking [than] I expected & younger looking. He shook hands like a good fellow — working hard at it like a man sawing wood at so much per cord”). Later in the visit, he sat in the park opposite the White House, “sunning myself on a seat,” and noticed that the shrubbery was starting to bud. Then he tried to get into the Washington Monument and failed. He was a middle-aged man, next to a half-finished obelisk, with no idea where he or his country were headed."

Ted Widmer, NYT, "Misgivings," http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/misgivings/