22 June 2021

Cecil Rhodes

The (North) front of Oriel College which faces the High Street includes a statue of Cecil Rhodes, who gave an astronomical sum of money to build it. 

Until the current agitation for its removal began, I doubt if one among 100,000 who passed it knew whom it represented, and what his significance was. This is because it is very high up indeed; you can't really see it unless you cross the road. Even then, if you look at it for long, you will get neck-ache. If Oriel College (this is one current suggestion) puts an 'interpretative plaque' at eye level to foster historical understanding, it will probably cause many deaths as the tourists step out into the road so as to be able to look up at it. And, of course, millions who would otherwise never have heard of Rhodes ... will have heard of him!!

I am puzzled that it was ever allowed to be built. You see, that Front of Oriel also has statues of two Kings of the Yewkay ... and they are lower down than Rhodes ... pretty well beneath his feet! To a Monarchist, British Imperialist, instinct, this, surely, is plain weird.

Also weird (although a trifle more erudite ... bear with me) is the pair of columns, one on each side of Rhodes. They are what is sometimes called Salomonic, because in the 1630s they were thought to have been the sort of columns which graced the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem (cf e.g. S Peter's Rome ... the Raffaele cartoons ...). So they speak powerfully of God Present; of the Holy Place where the Name of God dwells in power.

And that is why, almost opposite Rhodes, Salomonic columns frame the Porch of the University Church of S Mary. In fact, they are framing a crowned statue of the Theotokos holding in her arms God Incarnate.

So the statue of Rhodes, framed as if he were God, gazes nonchalantly down and across at the statue of Mary and Jesus placed on S Mary's Church in the 1630s ... a gesture which appeared on the Puritan indictment of the Anglican Archbishop Laud, which cost him his neck.

As a Christian devoted to the Dogma that Jesus of Nazareth is God Enfleshed, I rather object to the architectural humiliation inflicted on my God by British Ultra-imperialists who so placed and so glorified a little man as unworthy as Rhodes.

So would I join the campaign to remove Rhodes? On balance, I think not. Once we start hauling down the statues of objectionable persons, there would be no end to it. By keeping such a weird and improper statue in place, perhaps we are providing some sort of protection for the other statues up and down our land which do now, or might in the future, express ideas which a ruling cultural tendency might at any moment decide to find objectionable.

One additional detail. The statue is accompanied by a chronogram. That is, an inscription in Latin in which, if you count up all the letters (C, D, I, L, M, V, X) which in Latin can have a numerical value, you get a total which will, in most cases, turn out to be that of a year.

It would seem massively illogical to remove a statue honouring Rhodes, while leaving an inscription ... honouring Rhodes!!

Unless, of course, the intention would be to demonstrate a repudiation by Modern Oxford of (1) the capacity to read Classical Languages and (2) the capacity to perform simple mathematical addition up to 1,911.

In 1957, a highly Oxoniolatrous writer, Dacre Balsdon, a Mods don, referred to "the horror of the Rhodes Building of Oriel ... Here, without doubt is the ugliest mark which the [twentieth] century has ... left on Oxford architecture."

But, if matters were left to me, I would not vote for its removal or even its 'adjustment'. I would leave Rhodes in place as a risible symbol of the Apotheosis of the Absurd.


Grant Milburn said...

"If the reader can imagine Mr. Cecil Rhodes submitting to be horsewhipped by a Boer in St. Paul's Cathedral, as an apology for some indefensible death incidental to the Jameson Raid, he will form but a faint idea of what was meant when Henry II was beaten by monks at the tomb of his vassal and enemy."

G. K. Chesterton.

Catherina of Siena said...

Most interesting to read a British Oxford-scholar, ex-Anglican (?) defense for keeping the statue of Cecil John Rhode "intact" in your illustrious town.

I happen to agree with you, dear Father.
I somehow "like" you a great deal. (Just a woman, you know, don't take me seriously.)I agree with from an historical point of view. Not because I admire - from A-Z - your proud (or just natural humanly loyal?) Britishness, in my little life as an Afrikaner female in South Africa, someone who happens to be still alive in 2021.(Deo gracias...). I just "like" you, for some reason. Probably to do with your sense of history.

You do know of course that your 19th century Empire's hands, including those of Cecil John Rhodes, are not totally clean when it comes to robbing the freedom of other countries, including the property held by my Dutch ancestors, who worked their behinds off over ten decades or so (?) to build a farm "next to" Cape Town, today a suburb of Cape Town on which Mr Rhodes' statue (and the University of Cape Town) stood until recently when it was pulled down by basically communist agitators - NOT Afrikaners, by the way. No, we "Boere" kept the statue of Rhodes at the University of Cape Town etcetera. He bought/took over my ancestral farm. He (and his countrymen) tried to take over the entire South Africa. So, his triumphal statue was kept and guarded not because we loved that man. But to remind us of the facts of human history. And sometimes the victors bring also some good?!

Our black countrymen/women here, who greedily snatch at the Rhodes bursaries as though it belongs to them by right (LOL), and who populate your venerable Oxford-town, are shaming even Afrikaners. We have been robbed as well, dear Father, by your people, don't make a mistake about this. My grandmother survived your British concentration camps, by pure grace; thousands actually died there in the aftermath of your British empire's greediness for gold and diamonds.

Shame on your nation Father; (not on you!) and shame on my Afrikaner nation who was so traumatised and down-trodden after that Second "Boer" War that my ancestors swore: "never again!" and then, after a while, started repeating what had happened to us under the great British Empire.

"Apartheid" was one of the outcomes of that terrible trauma in which Rhodes really also played a role, dear Father.

Still: I am only a music historian and an ex- choral director. The historical - the life-"stories and trajects of human beings on our planet should not be extinguished with mindless behaviour like iconoclasm of statues and much else.
At present it is mostly the "people of colour" in SA who exhibit total amnesia about their own history before a white man even set foot here. They greedily grab the scholarships provided by your country and here, but forget about the murderous history of African tribes and "nations" across many centuries.

So, please fight for your Rhodes statue and others, even if he was in a certain way a real thief. I've forgiven the guy. Too many skeletons in my own people's cupboard. We have to keep our statues and "stuff". For our own and our children's "education"!

All the best, Father. Hope your eyes are better. Mine growing worse by the day. And I am only 77.

Peter said...

No culture/colour/creed has a franchise on grief/hatred/remembrance.

American Piskie said...

A small lapsus, Father. Dacre Balsdon was Exeter's Ancient History tutor: his Mods colleagues were successively Eric Barbour, Mervyn Jones, Arthur Adkins, Michael Reeve. And as Oswyn Murray recently pointed out, tongue in cheek, how appropriate that the College has honoured him by setting his statue high on the College roof looking down on the Broad.