"Experiences," says Kenneth Clark at almost-75, "experiences are so different. And the cumulative effect of experience is that one is not an ideologue.
"Great ideologues always impose their ideas on one. Ideologues always have a great desire for power - for which I haven't got a fraction."
Kenneth Clark - Lord Clark of Saltwood to be precise - is asked if his indifference to the pursuit of power stems from the fact that he was born with it.
"Quite right. Quite right." He nods quickly, his cheeks the color of roast beef, almost rare; his suit just the gray you might expect. Kenneth Clark knows very well what the Americans want of him: the consummate Brit, vunerable emissary from the Old World bringing the soothing effects of "Civilisation" to the savage beast, television.
And so one approaches Kenneth Clark (it's unfair, but so is television) as if he had all the answers, as if he were the embodiment now that he is old, of everything that has gone before him. That is, as it happens, how his conversation flows, a long, languid ride through history recounted by a placid man. He was, never as he is the first to admit, a rebel.
Youth is not everything. Kenneth Clark became TV-famous, approachably famous in other words, at 68. "Quite a good age, really." He smiles, delighted with the late-blooming bouquet.
What Kenneth Clark likes about his fame is just what Dinah Shore and Liz Taylor and Donnie Osmond wait on: the adulation of their fams. Only Kenneth Clark likes it even more. There aren't, after all, a whole lot of art historians around who can boast the recognition factor of . . . say . . . Telly Savalas.
"So many people recognize me wherever I travel, and I love it," he says simply. "I don't have a dull moment: people to talk to. I'm told real celebrities find it a bit off-putting, but I feel strongly that people want to know life and learn about happiness. And knowing a little about history of art is a very good way of doing it."
And if there are those who feel that he has vulgarized what is, after all, a very rarefied discipline?
"I'm quite unrepentant," lord Clark replies crisply. "But of course I don't know what they say, really, I don't read newspaper oftern and I don't subscribe to a clipping service."
His expression alters not a whit as he enunciated these words, but there's something in his eyes - particularly when the word "newspaper" pops up - that grows slightly wintry. And yet, Kenneth Clark is not a snob. He insists on that. He finds, for instance, that the House of Lords "is a good deal of a bore." He doesn't care for pretensions.
"Oh not at all, I'm not a snob. I think being Scottish and my father not going on at all about grand people had a lot to do with that."
And what did his father do for a living?
"Oh nothing," says Kenneth Clark with a hint of a smile. "Well he said he worked for two years. But he inherited some money from his father who was a thread manufacturer, and who made quite a considerable fortune in the 19th century. My father frittered it away though on some bad investments.
"I was on only child and I had a very nice governess - very nice. Later she became Winston Churchill's curator."
He grows pensive, soting through these memories. Finally he says, half to himself, "But far from Folkestone" which is now inhabited by his son, the memner of Parliament. "We did also have a house on the west coast of Scotland, very beautiful, I loved it. But then it rains there. Too wet, Got fed up with it.
"And as I was them thinking always of Cezanne and the Provence, I wanted to get out of it. So we gave it up. And in a way it's a pity because there's a lovely 16-century castle on the estate. But it was firghtfully hard to get to. Frightfully."
Kenneth Clark speaks of his past analytically, as if there were nothing either extraordinary or ordinary in it But he must have come from an exceptional family. His father, for one thing, wanted him to become an artist.
"Oh he was longing for me to be an artist. He loved artists. But - " a barely perceptible shrug - "I was not good enough. I did do an awful lot of drawings, I recall, very early. And then at 21 I stopped entirely."
He adopts a curious, wondering tone. "I'm sorry in a way. But I could write, too, you see. And for and Englishman it's better to write than draw. Well, it suits the national temperament."
If he were any other place, the room would do a slow dissolve, and Kenneth Clark would be speaking in some charimingly appointed turn-of-the century drawing room. But non of this is necessary. Kenneth Clark is staying at the musty Sulgave Club, a place that suits him quite nicely, except that ther is no tea at this hour, and omission he laments almost as much as his new wife who is french. He is asked what period of history he would most like to live in. Kenneth Clark does not pause.
'The most agreeable period to live in . . . well, for someone with not too tender a conscience . . . Would be to have been young in the 1890s and to die before the 1914-18 war. A great many people were well-off then. Of course there were many poor.
"Still ther was reform in the air. So if you could assuage your conscience by going up with them, life could be extremely comfortable. An ideal time to live.
"Of course there would be a war. But war was not very, very menacing at that time. It came as a sort of a surprise."
He looks up mildly from his musings. "I din't know who really started that war.The Germans say it was the Russians."
He doesn't look as if he believes the Germans entirely. "Before the war, I remember we were all very frightened at the insolence of the Germans. We'd walk about the Riviera and get pushed off the sidewalk by the Germans. Yes, that happened to ne as a child, literally, I was pushed off the sidewalk. It really was a miracle they didn't win.
"The biggest loss in my television series is that I didn't say enough about the German romantics: Goethe, Kant, Schiller . . . I didn't say enough aboyt them. One reason I couldn't put it in is because it was absolutely impossible to illustrate it visually on television."
It is one of Lord Clark's seeming anomalies that he, so firmly rooted in what was, should be so keeply rooted in what was, should be so keenly aware of what will and will not fly on TV. By no means a product of the new technology, he was nonetheless coronated right on it - and that was no accident.
He's and old pro. "Strangely enough, I'd done 48 programs on television before 'Civilisation.' The first ones weren't at all good. I had to learn."
And - an extension of this seeming paradox, he reveled in the television experience.If he does chance to see an old segment from his series (as he did last week at Catholic University), he gets quite a kick out of it, thinking to himself, "I hope I really DO look like that."
But he doesn't - not entirely, Kenneth Clark looks a good deal more fragile since last we saw him. He moves slowly, his eyes graver than when they gazed into the camera's lens. He says he's optimist, but for all that, not quite as optimistic as he once was.
You ask him what will become of civilization - you can't help asking him, he seems to have a patent on it.
"Well, it all depends on you. That's a fact." He stares intently at the questioner. Civilization is back in the public domain.
"The United States," he continues earnestly, "has a heavy responsibility to maintain civilization. France, Italy - they're all going to go Marxist. Holland even. The United States of America has to bear the burden of it.
"You've got this wonderful intelligence - a result of the recent persecutions. A number of very intelligent people came over here, people whose genes were of a very high order.
"And so there's a huge difference - a huge difference - in America now. If you looked at the America of the 19th century, I'm sure it was rather rarefied. I'm sure one would have found it very philistine and rather daunting. But it has come out, hasn't it?"
Slowly he rises from the couch. "Had enough," Kenneth Clark says abruptly. "Haven't you had enough. I shall take, I think, a little walk.Do you know if there's a bookstore around here? Well, I was told there was a bookstore. Yes, around the corner . . ."