Horizon, Autumn 1967 (Part 2): Aristocrats and Upstarts


The picture above is captioned “Rasputin sits glowering amid a flock of upper-class ladies soon before his assassination in 1916” and it accompanies an article reinterpreting radically towards the positive Rasputin’s historical role. Not so much mad monk as charmingly randy egalitarian, according to the article, he often showed foresight and smarts, arguing against Russia’s involvement in WWI and managing to get the royal family to tone down their anti-Semitism, for example.  And to the significant extent he did operate, more along the traditional view, as a force for chaos or unreason (and clearly things ended badly for all concerned, to say the least), the article argues, it’s what those soft and somewhat dim aristocrats deserved anyway.

Some of the dynamics of the Rasputin story replay in several places in this issue: social upstarts (of various degrees of merit) experiencing varying degrees of punishment or reward for crossing power and class boundaries, all in the context of the indubitable charms of royalty and tradition.  My rather freely associative take on the Autumn 1967 issue of Horizon here continues, now examining the various manifestations of this dynamic is this issue that I’ve chosen as exemplary for examining Horizon generally and for examining my own impressions and memories of it.  I do this by tossing up here a related batch of images and some associations that come to mind; systematic analysis and coming to clean conclusions is neither aimed at nor accomplished.

One of the longer pieces in this issue surveys the Cecil family (various lords of Salisbury, lords of Exeter, and miscellaneous others) over the centuries.  Horizon offers an illustrated line of peerage (and do click for an enlarged view if you feel the need for this info):


We learn about their contributions to history, their ups and downs.  Mostly ups:
Even after the Cecil family had acquired wealth and station, they escaped the usual fate of pampered and overbred aristocrats; they neither completely squandered their estates nor wholly lost their virility.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (b. 1520) was the first to establish the family’s prestige:
 [o]f all the Cecils, the most realistic and deliberate, the most willing to operate in the shadows, and the most content to mask driving ambition behind the drudgery of bureaucratic detail… A passion for hard work, unswerving loyalty to the queen, and a innate sense of order in the handling of state and church affairs were the elements that transformed the son of a relatively minor government official and moderately well-to-do landowner into a master of the art of Tudor government.

In addition to this sort of commentary and the general historical overview, there are many reproductions of family members in ruffed collars and so forth.  We also get numerous pictures of their estates.  With William  partly responsible for dispatching Mary Queen of Scots, the family keeps her portrait by the mantle:

maryqos Final

However, Horizon cocks an eyebrow at the generation current at time of writing:
As for the present Marquis of Salisbury, he continues to support unpopular, possibly unrealistic causes.  in 1962 his lordship spoke of the new African Leaders as “men who are still only one generation removed from savagery, men without any inherited understanding of the hard facts of economics and without any of our tradition of tolerance—many of them avid only for political power.” It took a Cecil, secure in the knowledge that after four hundred and fifty years there is something to be said for the “hereditary principle,” to make such a statement, but he may have forgotten that one of the first and most successful of his line, William Cecil, was a new man without tradition, who was “avid only for political power.”

There are some smaller, more offhand, but relevant examples as well:
“The Early. Miserable Life of Charles Dickens” emphasizes the meritorious upstart side of the coin, describing his wretched 6 months as a 12 year old in a boot blacking factory:


And another crash by, this time, an upstart playing royal:
Palmrya seemed destined to endless prosperity, until Queen Zenobia, in a vainglorious attempt to create an empire, incurred the wrath of the Romans.  In A.D. 273 they razed the city and left it to the sands.  Zenobia’s portrait survives in a few of the coins she issued.


The psychosociomarketing interpretation of all these royals and upstarts (and this is affiliated to the Dwight Macdonald approach discussed a couple of posts back) might claim class anxieties in play by the readership, post-War nouveau-middle classers seeking some Old World intellectual justification, but not fully comfortable with it all, per Macdonald.  This is a bland and forced approach to my mind; plausible but grim and limited.   I don’t have a focused sociological dissection to offer instead or in supplement; however, I will note that there is something I myself find intuitively appealing about Horizon’s approach to this material.  Do keep in mind that Horizon is more an art catalogue than a text-oriented magazine such as the Atlantic.  All of these articles are thoroughly illustrated—I’ve only been able to give a small hint of this above.  At any rate, somehow the visual arts combined with the triumphs and dissipations of the aristocracy makes sense to me.  It feels like a flood of style and intensity.  Glamor and craft with a dynamic, conflict-ridden history behind it.  I find something Warholian about this approach to the wealthy, powerful, and glamorous.  As Warhol to Marilyn, Jackie O, and Elvis, so Horizon to these Old World nobles.  As they enshrine and replicate and elaborate their images, they dismantle.  They celebrate them and accept the thrill of proximity while coolly observing their decline.  Closest to this in particular might be the piece examining El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz.  An art history piece with almost nothing to say about the historical object of the painting, it is even for Horizon, copiously illustrated.  Numerous illustrations examine the painting in various levels of detail.  The discussion is largely about the craft involved, but there’s something striking about page after page of the pallid Count, with his ruffs and lace and inlaid armor making him the paradigmatic nobleman.


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Posted in art, history

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