Should statues be pulled down? Of erstwhile slavers? Of British colonialists? Of Confederacy generals?
There is a neat, possible resolution to this controversial modern dilemma in an essay (Mobled King, 1911) by an English belletrist ... I will not insult your perspicacity by spelling out his name. He was inspired by the haunting sight, in Italy, of a statue of King Umberto I which, once erected, had never been unveiled.
"I had hoped that by this essay I might rid my mind of him. He is inexcutible, confound him! ...
"In my young days, I wrote a plea that all the statues in the streets and squares of London should be extirpated and, according to their materials, smashed or melted down. From an aesthetic standpoint, I went a trifle too far: London has a few good statues. From a humane standpoint, my plea was all wrong. Let no violence be done to the effigies of the dead. There is no disrespect in setting up a dead man's effigy and then not unveiling it. But there would be no disrespect, and there would be no violence, if the bad statues familiar to London were ceremoniously veiled, and their inscribed pedestals left just as they are ...
"Let an inventory be taken of those statues. Let it be submitted to Lord Rosebery, and he be asked to tick off all those statesmen, poets, philosophers and other personages about whom he would wish to orate. Then let the list be passed on to other orators, until every statue on it shall have its particular spokesman. Then let the dates for the various veilings be appointed. If there be four or five veilings every week, I conceive that the whole list will be exhausted in two years or so. And my enjoyment of the reported speeches will not be the less keen because I can so well imagine them ...
"Not, however, because those speeches will so edify and soothe me, nor merely because those veiled statues will make less uncouth the city I was born in, do I feverishly thrust on you my proposition. The wish in me is that posterity shall be haunted by our dead heroes even as I am by Umberto. Rather hard on posterity? Well, the prevision of its plight would cheer me in mine immensely."
"Priests are subtle", claims Max Beerbohm in a paragraph a little before this quotation. It is suggested that the problem of politically incorrect statues might be resolved by the Beerbohm procedure: "The statue has not been unveiled. But the statue has not been displaced."
This may be the statue MB saw - since unwrapped
So, what happened to "Nihil de mortuis nisi bonum"...?
Most likely not. The monument you reference is dated 1913. Mobled King was published in 1911.
They take statues down because they're of men who did some evil among the good, but they also take down or vandalize the statues of saints and heroes and beloved persons.
People who don't like statues should just go away, to towns that don't have them.
No guarantees - that’s why I wrote “may be” rather than “is”
Beerbohm wrote: “There, on the polished granite, was carved this legend: A UMBERTO Iø”
That’s an accurate transcription of the top two lines of lettering in the photograph, leaving open the possibility that the date (third line) was added at the time of the unveiling and dedication several years later.
It also leaves aside that the letters appear to be applied, not carved, and that the stone base is not now polished and may not have been even when it was new, a hundred and more years ago.
The location (Santa Margherita) is, however, consistent with the details in the essay.
'So, what happened to "Nihil de mortuis nisi bonum"...?"
Dead men file no writs, perhaps?
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