Why did he not shoot himself? Of course, he is an eminent art historian, and so there are aesthetic considerations. Colors might clash, and then once the trigger is pulled one has absolutely no control over the patterns those colors might leave on carpet and wall. Still, modern science has provided us with an amplitude of civilized instruments for one's happy dispatch. There are pills and potions, and there remains the old heave-ho into the Thames, pockets filled with lead, "Das Kapital" strapped to the waist.
Apparently, England's Mr. Anthony Blunt will take no such course of action. Blunt, knighted in 1956 and stripped of his knighthood last month, was on Nov. 15 exposed as the "fourth man" in the Burgess-Maclean-Philby spy ring. He had been a renowned member of the English establishment, the queen's own art curator, a Cambridge graduate who for 40 years enjoyed all the benefits and confidence of English society. Now he admits to having made "an appalling mistake," to wit: he became a Soviet "talent scout" at Cambridge. During the war, he sedulously carried documents from his lofty position in Britain's counterintelligence agency, M15, to the progressives over at the Soviet Embassy. And in 1951 he was back in contact with the Soviets, apparently assisting his friend Guy Buress in absconding to Mother Russia. Now, does he feel any shame? After dishonoring friends in the highest realms of English life and betraying his country to one of the most barbarous regimes of the century, is he remorseful? Not at all.
On Nov. 20 he held a "news conference" in the comfortable surroundings of the board room of the London Times. There, with four carefully selected journalists and before repairing to a lovely lunch of smoked trout, veal, cheese, fruit salad and wine, Blunt deigned to answer questions. He also brought a carefully worded apologia. It was a very civilized affair. Through it all no trace of shame was detectable -- not even remorse. Rather, this honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, explained his years of treason augustly and sanctimoniously, somewhat as though he were explaining a life devoted to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or to the promotion of vegetarianism and all the arcane uplift that goes with it.
"in the mid-1930s it seemed to me and to many of my contemporaries that the Communist Party and Russia constituted the only firm bulwark against facism," asserts Blunt, a man whose life and work had revealed so little interest in politics that his closest friends doubted he had any politics whatever. How did he come to such a carefully calculated political position? And his perception of the Soviets as the staunch bulwark against facism -- was it wobbled by the Hitler-Stalin pact, the purge trails or Orwell's reports on the Spanish Civil War? Apparently not; he served his Soviet friends loyally throughout the war.
"This was a case of political conscience against loyalty to country. I chose conscience....i could not denounce my friends," declares the highminded Blunt. But, of course, in betraying his country he betrayed any friend living there who felt loyalty to its government and to its ideals. Who were his friends? One was Burgess, his fellow traitor. Blunt describes him as "one of the most remarkable, most brillant and, making a distinction, one of the most intelligent people i have ever known." London's Spectator puts it differently: "Burgess was a drunken rake, a homosexual with a voracious appetite for the gutter."
Some will find Blunt's words very reassuring. No one was killed during the war as a result of his services to the Soviets, he has said. Well, Blunt has been described as one of England's greatest scholars; he ought to know. When it comes to indiscretions of the sort committed by Blunt on behalf of progress and enlightenment, there ia an entire subculture of civilized people on both of the Atlantic willing to let bygones by bygones.
The self-righteousness of Blunt's apologia, his imperturbable hauteur -- those who know and love the Hiss saga are familiar with the phenomenon. Nor should we be surprised that various of his sleek and well-born friends are tearfully extending their condolences. Soon he will be back in their elegant dining rooms. There will, lamentably, be difficult moments. Does one mention Mrs. Thatcher? Is Solzhenitsyn a sore subject? Should one put in a good word for socialist realism?
Yet there is something troubling about this case. Here is a man who devoted his whole life to the singularly elevated subject of beauty. Neverhteless, he betrayed his country and his culture, as Malcolm Muggeridge observes,"to help advance the power and influence of the most ruthless,Philistine and materialistic autocracy the world has ever known." It is as though a lover of antique furniture fell in love with a termite. What is there in Blunt's life that will explain his"appalling mistake"?