Archive for December, 2010
King George III suffered from porphyria, a condition which led to frequent periods of indisposition and madness. The disease also led to a tendency for history to view the King as something of an object of bemused derision, yet he presided over one of the most imaginative periods Britain has ever seen. Today, as we swing back and forth between cultural austerity and elevation of the mediocre in the interests of standardising values, we have all but forgotten how to appreciate some of the greater moments in history for more than their politics and public success.
On the one hand, the King battled with colonial delusion and frustration, and on the other, he was astute enough to build an impressive library and art collection, to sponsor the construction of some of Herchel’s telescopes and to back the expeditions of botanical and zoological discovery engineered by Sir Joseph Banks. His reign presided over the works of the Romantic poets and the great Gothic Revival. His interests extended from agriculture to architecture and from scientific exploration to literature, book collections and the visual arts. Scientific discussion and recording merged with art and discourse of a less concrete nature to make us think again about the grey areas beyond our boxed world.
An atmosphere of this type, where art and science merge, is not a given. It cannot be forced or even, on occasion, actively encouraged. More often it grows, and develops out of conversations which cannot help themselves. Perhaps it is time we began to appreciate in its own right the thin line between madness and sanity, a love of both chaos and order, so that we can see history in terms of its imaginative legacy, not just its political failures.