Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Anthony Lewis, aristocracy, Aubrey Menen, Bigness, Charles James Fox, Coal mining, Duchess of Devonshire, Elizabeth Taylor, England, English Aristocracy, Frederic V. Grunfeld, Fulham, George Stubbs, Georgiana, Gladiators, J.H. Plumb, James Rosenquist, Johann Zoffany, Landed gentry, LBJ Library, Leptis Magna, Libya, Lord Rokeby, Michael Young, Muammar Gaddafi, New York 1965 Blackout, New York Times, Oil tankers, Parthenon, Pruitt-Igoe, seventeenth-century England, Sir John Lade, Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, Thomas Gainsborough, William Sharp
This issue’s cover shows a detail from Thomas Gainsborough’s 1748 painting Mr and Mrs Andrews:
It illustrates ‘Lordly Pleasures’, J.H. Plumb’s article describing the way of life of the 18th century English landed gentry. Including vignettes about such individualists as Charles James Fox, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Lord Rokeby, and Sir John Lade, he concludes:
But their most important legacy, perhaps, was what they prized most – their freedom to be themselves. Few societies until modern times have given such freedom to individuals. The old feudal concepts of the role of aristocracy had broken down in the revolutionary years of seventeenth-century England, and by the time aristocracy re-established its social status, it had freed itself from traditional patterns of behaviour. True, it still possessed power, still regarded itself as the natural companion of royalty, still retained a patriarchal attitude to the tenants of its estates, but there was no fixed image of itself. Individualism – the hallmark of a bourgeois society – combined with aristocratic confidence, allowed every variety of human temperament to flourish untrammelled. What they desired they sought, and fortunately, they were literary, scholarly, artistic, and scientific as well as frivolous. Their passion for a well-groomed countryside changed the face of England; their love of building adorned it with an extraordinary architectural heritage; their mania for collecting endowed England with an incomparable artistic heritage; their addiction to sport enriched the world. And of all societies until our own, the aristocracy of eighteenth century England was the most permissive. Theirs was the pursuit of happiness.
Horizon caption: ‘On a floating pleasure barge, the numerous kinsmen of William Sharp (topmost figure), surgeon to George III, hold a musical party on the Thames opposite Fulham, now an unfashionable London neighbourhood.’
Also in this issue:
‘An Inquiry into Bigness’ is a special section dealing with the American belief that ‘Bigger is Better’. Anthony Lewis writes that:
Most of us have been brought up to believe that bigness brings efficiency in business and government. The result is that most of us in advanced societies are, in the words of Dr Michael Young, a British sociologist, ‘surrounded and controlled by impersonal, remote bodies – giant states, giant trade unions, giant corporations.’
But now the belief in bigness is being challenged on all sides. Too many ordinary people…have suffered the frustration of trying to correct the mistakes of some huge anonymous body, a company or a government. Or they have assumed that large organizations are needed to run the infrastructure of society and then found, as New Yorkers have, that the telephone system does not work and the electricity goes off.
What could be called a philosophical school of smallness is developing…
Some examples of bigness:
When the picture was first exhibited, the catalog, in deference to the censor, listed it simply as a Shipwreck Scene. But no-one had to be told who these men were, or of what disaster the victims. The shipwreck of the frigate Medusa had precipitated a great political scandal, which the government of Louis XVIII had vainly tried to suppress. People saw it as far more than just a maritime disaster: it was symptomatic of everything that was wrong with the Bourbon Restoration and the émigré officials who flocked back to France after the fall of Napoleon.
In the end it was the artist who triumphed over the documentarian. His central problem was the ancient and perpetually novel one of how to transform reality into art…
After many experiments he fixed on the critical moment that describes the horror and at the same time offers the promise of salvation (There are, for that matter, a great many allusions to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection as the baroque painters envisaged them.) This is the psychological instant when hope and despair are evenly balanced; it is almost as though he had wanted to illustrate, not the iron law of Darwin, but Das Prinzip Hoffnung, the ‘Hope principle,’ which the philosopher Ernst Bloch has identified as one of the great themes of nineteenth-century social thought.
I would recommend that any student of the past save up Leptis Magna to the last. As a sight, as an experience, there is nothing to equal it: it satisfies completely. The Parthenon is very fine, but coming back to it, time and again over the years, I find its very perfection boring. After twenty years of looking at the ruins of Rome, I have come to agree with the most ignorant tourist – they are sadly battered. Leptis Magna is perfect. It has splendour; it is as complete as any reasonable man could wish for; the restorers have been happily hampered by political convulsions and lack of funds; and above all, you can walk in its ruins for days on end, as I have done, and see nobody. I say this now, and I am only too aware that, in a decade, I could sound ridiculous.
As it turned out Libya would remain isolated for many years.