18th Century, 18th century England, 1956, 9/11, Cambridge, Childhood, Christ’s College, Horizon, Hungarian Revolution, J.H. Plumb, Minoru Yamasaki, New York, Richard Allestree, Russia, Siberia, Solidarity, Stephen Vizinczey, The Towering Inferno, Thomas Meehan, Tim Severin, Twin Towers, World Trade Center, Yermak
This issue’s cover illustrates an article by J.H. Plumb about ‘The Commercialization of Childhood’ in 18th century England:
A letter from the editor about Plumb explains his pivotal role at Horizon:
Twice a year, or oftener, a human gale descends upon HORIZON, blowing out the cobwebs, banging open the shutters, and whirling us about with cheerful but quite unmerciful vigor. The gale, by name, is J.H. Plumb, Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, professor of modern English history, and, as the Times Literary Supplement recently put it, “the most famous living English historian.”…
His work began with a typical Plumbian question. That is, Dr Plumb seized something that everyone had taken for granted and asked how it came to be…
As the novelist C.P. Snow has said of J.H. Plumb: “No other historian can convey so vividly the feeling for how men breathe, eat, breed, enjoy themselves, go about their business, hope, worry and die.
Plumb writes about how in the eighteenth-century, ‘picture books, playthings and educational gimcracks became a thriving business, a trend that has continued from that time to this’:
A new attitude towards children developed in England during the eighteenth century, an attitude that spread as easily to Boston, New York, and Philadelphia as it did to Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow. It was a gentler and more sensitive approach to children, one that was part of a wider change in social attitudes: a growing belief that nature was inherently good, not evil, and what evil there was derived from man and his institutions. The dominant attitude towards children in the seventeenth century had been autocratic, even ferocious: “The new borne babe,” Richard Allestree wrote in 1658, “is full of the stains and pollutions of sin which it inherits from our first parents through their loins.”
…Of two hundred manuals on child rearing prior to 1700, only three, those by Plutarch, Matteo Palmieri, and Jacopo Sadoleto, did not recommend that fathers beat their children.
Shocking as the September 11, 2001 attacks were, the Twin Towers themselves were never loved. They used ‘bearing-wall construction’ rather than the conventional ‘cage’, allowing large amounts of open floor space:
With bearing-wall construction, however, you pay an aesthetic price: each floor must be exactly the same size as the floor beneath it. The inevitable result is a box – in the case of the WTC towers, a pair of giant cigarette cartons. With bearing-wall construction, there can be none of the graceful setbacks and spires that distinguish such old-time New York skyscrapers as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.
In addition, the windows could only be twenty-two inches wide and spaced two feet apart. The walls were ‘a standing monument to architectural boredom.’ He quotes the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable calling it ‘the ultimate Disneyland…blockbuster…General Motors Gothic’. He calls the WTC ‘an aluminum-sided disaster’. He interviews people who work there (most of them unhappy) and concludes it is ‘no place to have to work’:
For those whose offices are in the towers, especially on the upper floors, working in the WTC is radically different from working anywhere else. In the first place many of them admit to being nagged by a constant fear of fire – what the Port Authority casually refers to as “The Towering Inferno” syndrome. For the most part, the fear is irrational, for the WTC is constructed entirely of fireproof materials. On the other hand, the WTC has already had a major fire, on February 13, 1975, when a blaze set by a disgruntled cleaning person on the eleventh floor of the North Tower caused more than a million dollars’ worth of damage. What burned, however, wasn’t the building itself but drapes, carpets and furnishings, although the heat of the fire did blow out windows and cause some minor structural damage. Luckily, no-one was injured and the fire didn’t spread to any other floors, but it nevertheless proved that the towers were somewhat less fireproof than the Port Authority had been claiming. And it did little to ease the minds of those plagued by the fear of being trapped in a towering inferno.
Employees also claimed to have felt the buildings swaying – Tom DiNatale, an architect on the sixtieth floor of the South Tower says, “When the wind is blowing I find myself feeling that I’m walking uphill. And when I sense that the building has stopped swaying, I actually find myself sliding backward on my heels”
Tim Severin, the British explorer who became famous in the 70s and 80s by sailing in the footsteps of St Brendan, Sindbad, Jason and Ulysses, writes in ‘How Siberia Was Won’ about Yermak, who ‘ranks right up there with Columbus’ but was unknown in the West:
If explorers are evaluated by the size of the territories they won for their countries and by how long their countries managed to hold those territories, then the most successful European explorer in history was a sixteenth-century brigand-adventurer by the name of Yermak. It was Yermak who made Russia an oriental power, thereby changing the map of Asia in his time. His explorations beyond the Ural Mountains started a train of events that was to add one-tenth of the world’s land surface to the Russian Empire.
From the point of view of the present, the relevance of the Hungarian revolution is that there is certain to be another one – and for the same reason why the French and the Americans couldn’t win in Vietnam: there is just no way that people are going to be content to be ordered around and have their lives run by foreigners.
As it turned out, it would be Poland where the next revolution would start.