Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Statues, Statues, Statues

Sooner or later we'll stop burdening future generations with statues of people we admire but they're bound to disapprove of.

The current vogue for statue-making dates back to the 18th century- that is to say to a time when we stopped believing in God and became humanists instead- transferring our admiration from god-men and saints to secular heroes.

Out goes the Virgin Mary, in come Clive of India and Mr Gladstone.

If we still believed in God we'd recognise all this incontinent statue making as idolatry.

(A French visitor to Britain in the years after the Great War noted the overplus of war memorials and remarked that the religion of the British appeared to be "the worship of dead soldiers.")

These days things move so fast that statues become contentious almost as soon as they go up. There are, for example, those who object to recently erected statues of Gandhi because Gandhi held racist views- which he did.

And lets not get started on Winston Churchill...

It's not as if the statues we put up had any great artistic merit.

There's currently a cull in progress. The statue of a man called Milligan has been quietly removed from outside the West India docks in East London. Milligan, of whom I'd never heard before today, was an unlovely looking chap in a wig- also a slaveowner. His claim to fame is that he founded the West India Docks to make himself richer. He'll go in a museum I suppose and not the water (which is a pity).

This removal of statues of forgotten minor figures is just nibbling at the edges. If we were entirely consistent (and sufficiently brave) we'd be renaming the capital of the United States and removing tons and tons of ornamental marble with the same name carved on it.

(George Washington was conflicted about slavery. He was born into a slave-owning culture and owned a farm that was worked by slaves. He expressed sympathy with the abolitionist cause- but always in private- and never did anything that might have hurt his political standing or his pocket. Jefferson- also a slave-owner- called him a hard man and the rumour goes that his slaves weren't unduly fond of him. Dr Johnson was less circumspect. "How is it" he wrote, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of n.....s?")

In advanced societies- of the kind we are beginning to glimpse- they don't have any statues. They see no need to make images of the God Within.

One of these days we're going to catch up with Moses.

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