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That Greece Might Still Be Free

William St Clair

5 The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe

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1The news from Greece was reported throughout Western Europe, usually two months late. There was no means of following events in detail and reports had often to be revised later. The reaction of the public in the different countries of Europe is difficult to judge. The means by which opinion could be expressed were few. Newspapers had small circulations and were often subject to censorship. Parliaments where they existed were not representative. In all countries only a small proportion of the population were concerned with political questions.

2It is clear, however, from the amount of writing on the Greek Revolution published in 1821 and 1822, that it roused intense interest in Britain, France, the Netherlands, the German states, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, and the United States. In Austria, Russia, and Italy the governments were even more authoritarian than elsewhere in Europe and the evidence for public interest in Greece harder to find. Yet it appears that in all countries where the classical tradition was strong, news of the Greek Revolution was eagerly sought.

  • 1 Many contemporary writers give examples of the transformation of the news, e.g. Aschling, Raybaud,(...)

3Virtually none of the news emanating from Greece was free of distortion. The Turks had no great concern with international opinion, but their version of events was adequately put over with the help of the Austrians. News from Greece came almost exclusively from the Europeanized Greeks who had gone to join the Revolution and even at source it contained an element of propaganda. By the time it had passed through the Ionian Islands or through the Greek colonies in Europe several weeks later it had undergone a further transformation to make it more acceptable to Europeans.1

4Even more distorting was the great burden of literary and historical allusions which everything Greek and Turkish carried with it. In the absence of real knowledge about the way of life, traditions, customs, and ideas of the Modern Greeks, the Europeans relied on their prejudices. Theories about the identity of the Ancient and Modern Greeks, about the nature of ’regeneration’, about the similarity in outlook between Western Christians and Eastern Christians are implicit in much of the writing. All of these worked in favour of the Greeks. Similarly, inherited ideas about the Turks worked against them.

5The notion that the Turks were a colourful backward people gradually being engulfed by a technologically superior Western civilization had not yet become general. Instead, older ideas that had lost their validity centuries before still held their power – that the Turks were a cruel, aggressive, barbarian race posing an active threat to Western civilization; and especially the idea that Christianity was bound to be in deadly conflict with Islam. Churchmen rediscovered and indulged an atavistic hatred against Turks and virulently demanded their expulsion or extirpation in the name of God. The features of Turkish life that were generally known had for centuries excited a fascinated horror: the Grand Seigneur in his Seraglio with his eunuchs, his harem, his slaves, and his janissaries; the custom of killing off one’s brothers; of seizing infants for training for the armies; the bastinado and other highly sophisticated Oriental tortures. Much of the Western image of the Grand Turk was out of date or inaccurate, but the romantic poets had given it a new lease of life. Every word that came to mind in talking of Turks – pasha, scimitar, ataghan, spahi, dervish, turban – carried a weight of dreadful associations.

6The official opinion of the powers on the Greek Revolution, pressed most strongly by Metternich and the Austrian Government, that the Sultan was the legitimate sovereign of the Greeks and that they were wrong to rebel against him, struck many people as hypocritical and cynical. Support for the Greek cause could be construed as disloyalty to the governments. It also meant, however, that political groups opposed to the governments for other reasons were tempted to embrace the Greek cause simply because the governments took a different view. The factors working in the Greek favour were overwhelming.

7From Easter 1821 throughout the whole of Europe men in many walks of life were touched with a passionate sympathy for the Greeks and a desire to help them. The long years of repetition by poets and travellers had spread the ideas of philhellenism wide and deep, and suddenly it changed its character from being an intellectual, mainly literary concept, to a practical programme. When all allowance is made for the distortion of the news, the political situation in Europe, and other favourable factors, it remains an astonishing phenomenon. No country was unaffected. It was a European movement, springing up spontaneously in every society where European civilization was valued. The same sentiments occurred independently to men all over the Western world and drove them to action. It is not necessary to take the view that everyone who reiterated the themes of philhellenism believed implicitly in his own rhetoric. Yet the uniformity of all discussion of the Greek cause is one of its most significant features. Even those who opposed the efforts of the supporters of the cause seldom questioned the basis of the argument but only the political expediency of applying it.

  • 2 Examiner, 2 July 1826, quoting Sismondi.
  • 3 Elster, Fahrten, pp. 219 ff., recalling a quotation from Goethe’s Faust.

8There were important differences between the aims of philhellenism in different countries, but they were marginal additions to the solid nucleus of ideas which were common to all. The cause of Greece touched a nerve in people who had previously regarded themselves as outside politics. Many when they joined the philhellenic movement did not even realize that they were performing a political act. The cause seemed to be above politics. The idealism of youth was engaged and, for once, in a cause with which their elders could sympathize. It was said that the Swiss peasants, on their weekly journey into town asked eagerly for the latest news from Nauplia and never went home without dropping their contribution in the collecting box.2 In the beer houses of Germany, it was said,3 men who were never known to have been interested in events outside their village, talked eagerly about the war.

  • 4 See Note 8 to Chapter 26.
  • 5 See Irmscher, Arnold, and Gaston Caminade, Les Chants des Grecs et le Philhellénisme de Wilhelm Mü (...)

9The exploits of the Greeks were extolled in verse. In France no less than nine books of philhellenic verse were published in 1821 and another eighteen in 1822.4 In Germany one poet, Wilhelm Müller, had a great success. His first book of Songs of the Greeks sold a thousand copies in six weeks in the autumn of 1821 and three more books of new songs followed shortly afterwards before the censor intervened.5 All over Western Europe and the United States newspapers and reviews published poems more or less in the style of Byron as well as selecting suitable passages from Byron’s works for quotation.

10The subject had an apparently irresistible attraction for conventional poets. It allowed them to combine rich romance about slaves, viziers, pashas, camels, jewels, harems, and all the splendour and mystery of the East with the older conventions about the Ancient Greek heroes. The two main themes, the comparison between the Ancient and Modern Greeks and the struggle of the Christians against the Moslems, were present in almost all the poems, but the number of variations which can be made on these two ideas and still retain the reader’s interest is limited. It is a measure of the receptiveness of the public that the demand for such poems continued unabated. Between 1821 and 1827 at least one hundred and twenty-eight separate books of philhellenic verses are known to have been published in France alone. The cause of the Greeks was a subject which stirred the feelings of many men who never attempted another poem in their lives. They felt that they must rise above everyday speech in dealing with this exciting, almost sacred subject.

11Few of the poems of 1821 and 1822 are worth recalling except as evidence of the state of public opinion. Only one major poet joined the fashion. Shelley’s Hellas, written in the autumn of 1821 and based on newspaper reports, contains in extreme form the ideas worked on by so many others. It epitomizes the deep sense of personal involvement in the Greek struggle which was so widely felt all over Europe. In the preface Shelley made the classic statement of philhellenism.

We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece. But for Greece... we might still have been savages and idolators… The human form and the human mind attained to a perfection in Greece which has impressed its image on those faultless productions whose very fragments are the despair of modern art, and has propagated impulses which cannot cease, through a thousand channels of manifest or imperceptible operation, to ennoble and delight mankind until the extinction of the race. The Modern Greek is the descendant of those glorious beings whom the imagination almost refuses to figure to itself as belonging to our kind, and he inherits much of their sensibility, their rapidity of conception, their enthusiasm, and their courage.

12In the drama itself all the other ingredients appear. The decay of Greece, the barbarism of the Turks, the hypocrisy of the governments. But the forces of evil are struck with terror when they see ’The panther, Freedom, fled to her old cover’. The final chorus is a paean for the longed-for regeneration:

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far.
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
Another Athens shall arise
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.

13It was only to be expected that the false news from Greece feeding the strong philhellenic tradition that already flourished should lead to demands for action. The cause of the Greeks seemed to be so overwhelmingly good and the reprisals of the Turks so obviously barbarous and cruel that admiration from afar was not enough. Surely the governments of the great powers of civilized Europe could do something to help the Greeks? And if the governments would do nothing, surely individuals could help?

14In France the interest was intense. The press, enjoying a precarious freedom, was split. On the one hand the voice of the liberals declared that the heroes of ancient Greece had arisen from the dead.

  • 6 Translated from Constitutionnel, 26 July 1821, quoted by Dimopoulos, p. 60.

If our voice could be heard, the barbarians who are massacring the Greeks, slaughtering priests, and prostituting Christian virgins to the frenzied soldiery, would soon be punished, annihilated, and driven back to the deserts of Africa and Asia; if our voice could be heard the standard of the Cross would fly over the roofs of Constantinople or over the Parthenon, and the Church of St. Sophia would soon be restored to its former use.6

15Other newspapers supporting the Government fulminated against the spirit of carbonarism having invaded the East.

16The flood of books of verse in favour of the Greeks was matched by the publication of numerous pamphlets in the same style making ever more extreme claims on their behalf. Thirty pamphlets appeared in France during the first two years of the war. Some were thoughtful political tracts by journalists and ecclesiastics, some were by students, some were anonymous, some were fabrications of appeals said to come from Greece itself and some repeated the grandiloquent manifestoes which the Greeks were so fond of propounding. Many were intended simply to put pressure on the French Government to change its policy of support for Metternich’s doctrine of legitimate sovereignty, and there was a good deal of discussion about French national interest – the chance of restoring French influence in the Levant, the danger of allowing the Russians to assume the leadership of the Greeks, and the possibility of new markets for French goods. Almost all the discussion however paid lip service at least to the clichés of philhellenism.

17M. de Pradt, for example, a former bishop who published a steady stream of pamphlets on international affairs (with four on the Greek War alone), caught the popular mood:

  • 7 Translated from de Pradt, De la Grèce dans ses Rapports avec l’Europe, Brussels, 1822.

Land of the arts and the sciences, mother of heroes, teacher of the Universe, at last after six centuries of slavery, you are raising the stone which barbarous hands had placed on your tomb to seal the entrance. O generous enterprise! What human soul could refuse to ally himself to your noble efforts, and would not offer you the tribute of his prayers in consolation for being unable to offer the help of his arm!7

18The professors were among the first to give a lead. Professors of Ancient Greek Literature in particular felt that they were well fitted to speak on Modern Greece, and professors of philosophy and theology were never far behind. Just as the cause of Greece inspired men to write poetry who never wrote another verse, so it inspired to political activity others who for the rest of their lives were content to have their opinions set by government and church.

19The professor of Greek literature at Strasbourg held a public meeting in July 1821 in support of the Greek cause at which he delivered a lecture on the services which the Ancient Greeks had given to civilization. The themes of his closing remarks were all familiar:

  • 8 J.-G. Schweighauser, Discours sur les Services que les Grecs ont rendus à la Civilisation, Paris, (...)

The Turks... have on several occasions threatened our own civilization with total destruction, and the Greeks have a proverb that wherever they put their feet the grass ceases to grow. This is the crushing yoke under which the motherland of civilization is now groaning. These men are the children of the heroes, the poets, the philosophers, the artists, to whom we owe our civilization. Because they wished to restore a nation, they are the prey to the most terrible massacres, they are in danger of having to flee over the seas with only the memory of their ancient glory and of their efforts to restore to their lands and islands the fruits which modern progress has perfected.
Could any sensitive and grateful man – especially the lover of letters and of the arts who owes to this country his most noble pleasures and sweetest inspiration – withhold his pity for the misfortunes that heap on them. Could any man suppress his desire to see reborn again in Greece the days of liberation of Marathon and Salamis, and if possible the blessed time when Plato listened to Socrates and when the songs of Homer and the choruses of Sophocles resounded through the court of Pericles and the temple of Phidias.8

20A demand soon developed for practical help to be sent to the Greeks. And since it was clear that the Government was not prepared to do anything to help, it was left to private initiative to make a contribution. The most obvious way of helping was to raise money for the purchase of arms. Numerous public meetings were held and subscriptions and collections taken. Committees in support of the Greek cause sprang up in many towns quite independently of one another. Professors, priests, and student leaders made collections and handed the money over to the local Greek communities for forwarding to Greece. It was a spontaneous and widespread movement of sympathy and charity even though in many places the response was short-lived.

  • 9 Giraud de la Clape, ex-étudiant en droit, Appel aux Français en faveur des Grecs, Paris, 1821.

21From the beginning the call was also made for volunteers to fight in the holy war. The proclamations of the Greeks themselves begged for help and they were soon being repeated in pamphlets. The Appeal to the French People, for example, which was published by ’an ex-student of law’ in October 18219 has all the themes of philhellenism. ’Can you,’ he asked the people of France, The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe 57 ’be the only people who will not help the descendants of Themistocles, Alcibiades, and Demosthenes? Can you allow your brothers in religion to be massacred? Are you no longer the descendants of the Crusading St. Louis?’ The Voice of Greece is made to declare: ’Men of France, do not be deaf to my prayer, arm yourselves, go and join my son [Hypsilantes]... My children will erect monuments to you, they will raise altars to you, their children will adore you and forever hold your names in the greatest veneration!’ The student’s answer to this appeal is clear: ’Let us form sacred battalions, let us arm ourselves with invincible weapons, let us march, and let us go and purge the earth of these barbarians just as long ago Hercules purged it of the monsters which were ravaging it’.

22The French student’s pamphlet contains all the elements that inspired volunteers all over Europe – the appeal to the Ancients, the appeal to Christianity, the appeal to be a latter-day crusader, the appeal to prospects of military advancement. The student reserves for his peroration a consideration which was distinctly French:

The Northern Powers no longer wait for us to advance. The perfidious Englishman trembles. But if, contrary to my expectation, he is bold enough to try and stop us, let us fall on him, and with the sword of God he will soon be crushed. Soon, as after the Pyramids, Marengo, and Austerlitz we will again come home in triumph.

23Many Frenchmen felt that, somehow, by promoting the cause of Greece, they would atone for the disgrace of Waterloo; that somehow the war in Greece would give an opportunity of reasserting the old glories of France, uniting Royalists, Bonapartists, Orleanists, Liberals and all the other disparate sections of Restoration France with the nationalism that had been so strong and so comforting during the war years. The element of anti-British feeling was to persist throughout the war.

24The French Government, from the beginning, took an ambivalent view of philhellenism. It could not help half believing that sending French volunteers to Greece must be in the French national interest, even if the Frenchmen concerned were those most bitterly opposed to the restored Bourbons. It calculated – correctly – that, despite their political views, Frenchmen would remain primarily Frenchmen. The French Government therefore was inclined to run several contradictory policies at the same time in the confident expectation that they could not all fail. It supported Metternich in theory and yet made little attempt to interfere with the help going to the Greeks; and it also gave help to the Turks, especially to the Sultan’s subject and ally, the Pasha of Egypt. At Marseilles, volunteers on their way to Greece with the connivance of the French authorities could see frigates being built in the shipyards for the Egyptians. The ambivalence of French policy became even more pronounced later.

  • 10 For the early philhellenic movements in Britain see Penn and Dakin.

25In Britain, which had at the time perhaps the most liberal political system and the most unrestrained press in Europe, the cause of the Greeks at first made less impression than elsewhere. An immense amount of writing sympathetic to the Greeks appeared in the newspapers and reviews, but suggestions that practical help should be sent met with little response. As elsewhere, the leadership of the movement was first taken up by scholars. Dr. Lemprière, the author of a dictionary of classical antiquities, began to campaign in the autumn of 1821 for a subscription to be raised to help the Greeks. A committee was formed and a few prominent men made a contribution, including Lords Lansdowne, Aberdeen, and Elgin, all famous for their collections of Greek sculpture. But only a few hundred pounds was collected and the committee was soon disbanded after a consignment of arms had been sent.10

26But when in the middle of 1822 news arrived of the massacres of Chios, interest revived. About a dozen pamphlets on the Greek cause were published in addition to a vigorous campaign by several newspapers. All the familiar philhellenic arguments were reiterated:

  • 11 Rev. T. S. Hughes, An Address to the People of England in the Cause of the Greeks, London, 1822.

Greece... that land, the fostering nurse of civilization, where the spirit of antiquity still seems to linger amidst its olive groves, its myrtle bowers, and the precious relics of its splendid edifices; where both sacred and profane history unite in forming the most interesting associations; where Socrates taught the lessons of his incomparable ethics, and a still greater than Socrates disclosed the mysteries of the ’unknown God’ to those that sat in darkness.11

27Much effort was expended in disputing the doctrine of the legitimacy of the Ottoman Government, in explaining the commercial advantages of helping the Greeks to independence, and in raising fears of allowing Russian and French influence to predominate.

  • 12 Thomas Lord Erskine, A Letter to the Earl of Liverpool on the Subject of the Greeks, London, 1822.

28’You are solemnly and indispensably bound’, wrote Lord Erskine in an open letter to the Foreign Secretary, ’by a duty paramount to that of a statesman, to make an instant effort to engage the nations in alliance with this country to overthrow the cruel dominion of unprincipled, incorrigible barbarians, over a Christian people struggling for freedom and independence’.12

  • 13 Address in behalf of the Greeks, Edinburgh, 1822.

29In much of the writing on behalf of the Greeks there lies the unspoken belief that Britain, as the most powerful country in the world, the victor of Waterloo, had only to give the word and the dreadful war could be brought to an end. An unattractive assumption of superiority pervades the appeals. It was said that the countries which did nothing to stop the massacres of the Greeks were themselves equally guilty with the Turks. When the Foreign Secretary in trying to defend British neutrality in Parliament remarked that there had been atrocities on both sides, he was branded as pro-Turkish. It was seriously argued on a number of occasions that it was the Turks not the Greeks who should be blamed for the massacre at Tripolitsa since the Greeks ’may justly impute to the oppression of their The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe 59 conquerors not only the degradation of their persons but the debasement of their minds’.13

  • 14 Rev. T. S. Hughes, Considerations upon the Greek Revolution, London, 1823.

30It is difficult to avoid the conclusion, in reading the English pamphlets, that the authors were more inspired by hatred of Turks and Moslems than by concern for the Greeks. They cheerfully demanded the wholesale expulsion of the millions of Turks settled in Europe. Thomas Hughes, a Church of England clergyman who had visited Greece before the Revolution and had written a book of travels, was perhaps the most violent, calling in two pamphlets for the extermination of ’the most weak, contemptible, vice-stained tyrants that ever polluted the earth on which they trod, vilifying and degrading the fairest part of the creation’. He quoted with approbation Lord Bacon’s opinion that whereas no nations are wholly alien one to another, there are some races whom it is a human duty to ’suppress’ since they ’have utterly degenerated from the laws of nature’ and ’have in their very body and frame of estate a monstrosity..., they are common enemies of mankind... disgraces and reproaches to human nature’.14

  • 15 Charles Brinsley Sheridan, Thoughts on the Greek Revolution, London, 1824.

31But the English pamphleteers were their own enemies. Far from encouraging the widespread sympathy for the Greeks, they put people off by their extremism. The one balanced pamphleteer of the Greek Revolution, Sheridan, included in his list of causes of the relative indifference of the British towards the Greeks at this time ’the language of their partisans’.15 Many men who would willingly have contributed money were ashamed to be allied with such unattractive purveyors of hatred. The sums raised in London were small and only a handful of volunteers set off to join the Greek army.

32In the United States, too, the philhellenic movement made a strong start in 1821. At the same time as the Appeal to the Nations of Europe was allegedly issued from ’the Spartan Headquarters’ at Calamata, another version was sent to the United States:

  • 16 Quoted in Booras, p. 159, and elsewhere.

To the Citizens of the United States: Having formed the resolution to live or die for Freedom we are drawn toward you by a just sympathy since it is in your land that Liberty has fixed her abode, and by you that she is prized as by our fathers... We esteem you nearer than the nations on our frontiers... Free and prosperous yourselves you are desirous that all men should share the same blessings; that all should enjoy those rights to which all are by nature equally entitled. It is you who first proclaimed these rights; it is you who have been the first again to recognize them in rendering the rank of men to the Africans degraded to the level of brutes... You will not assuredly imitate the culpable indifference or rather the long ingratitude of the Europeans. No. The fellow citizens of Penn, of Washington and of Franklin will not refuse their aid to descendants of Phocion and Thrasybulus or Aratus and Philopoemen.16*

33This Appeal was widely circulated in the United States at the instigation of Edward Everett, a professor at Boston. Although the reference to the ending of black slavery in some northern states drew attention to the uncomfortable fact that, in the United States, ’all men’ meant some white males.

34Yet among the sentiments which were common to philhellenic movements everywhere the Appeal identified and exploited a distinguishing national ingredient.

  • 17 Larrabee, p. 55.
  • 18 Ibid.

35The Americans, confidently secure, even smug, in their own constitutional liberty could not conceal a feeling of superiority towards the unhappier political systems of the European nations. Throughout the war the American supporters of the Greek cause tended to feel that they alone were fitted to teach the Greeks about true liberty. In July 1821, at a dinner of Americans in Paris at which Washington Irving and Lafayette were present, the toast was given: ’The land of Minerva, the birthplace of Arts, Poetry, and Freedom – civilizing her conquerors in her decline, regenerating Europe in her fall. May her sons rebuild in her clime the home of Liberty’.17 In 1824, at a benefit concert for the Greeks held in Cincinnati, an American general proclaimed, ’Humanity, policy, religion – all demand it. We must send our free-will offering. The Star-Spangled Banner must wave in the Aegean’.18

36But it was in Germany during the early years of the war that philhellenism made its greatest impact. The response to the cause of the Greeks was more widespread in Germany than in any other country; the passions aroused were more deeply felt; and, as proof of this, greater efforts were made to provide practical assistance. German philhellenism, like philhellenism elsewhere, consisted of the two or three simple ideas common to all philhellenic movement plus national additions.

37Nowhere in Europe was the classical tradition stronger. The enthusiasm for the Ancient Greeks in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had prepared the ground well. The political connotations of the classics were stronger than elsewhere because their impact was still recent. During the last years of the war against Napoleon a powerful idealistic and nationalist spirit had developed. The war had been fought for ’Freedom’, a concept of intoxicating freshness and one closely connected with the newfound Ancient Greeks. The ’Freedom’ had been mainly thought of as freedom from the foreign rule of the French, but many who took part in the last successful campaigns had dreamed of political freedom, of constitutional government, and they had been encouraged to do so by their leaders. The hopes of these liberals had been sadly disappointed in the years after Waterloo. In one German country after another a chilling authoritarianism reasserted itself. The political liberties were withdrawn, the promised constitutions never implemented or stripped of their meaning. Only in the small South German states did recognizably free institutions survive, and they were being steadily eroded. The Governments of Prussia and Austria, fearful of any sign of revolution, resorted to ever sterner measures to suppress the remnants of liberalism and so created a growing body of discontents. Most of the forty or so governments which composed the German Confederation agreed with the views of the two large countries, or were too weak to resist pressure to conform.

38The Germans knew less of the real conditions of Modern Greece than any of the other nationalities of Western Europe. Unlike the British and French, few of them had been taken to the Mediterranean by the wars. There were only a handful of travellers from Germany who made their way to Greece during the half century before the Revolution. Literary philhellenism, on the other hand, was there as elsewhere a well established genre. Kotzebue’s ’Ruins of Athens’ for example, to which Beethoven composed the music, is concerned with the theme of Minerva deserting the Parthenon to found a new temple of the Muses in Europe. Hölderlin’s Hyperion, which first appeared in 1797, was curiously prophetic. It was the story of a German going to fight in a Greek War against the Turks. To Hölderlin it was not so much Greece that was being ’regenerated’ as Germany in Greek dress. When the Greek Revolution broke out, this idea took on a new urgency. If the ’regeneration’ of Greece meant violent revolution would not the regeneration of Germany mean the same? The Governments of Austria and Prussia, which saw a potential jacobin in every man who questioned monarchical absolutism, could not ignore the connection. Liberals tended to be philhellenes and philhellenes to be liberals.

  • 19 For the politics of philhellenism in Prussia and elsewhere in Germany, see Irmscher.

39In the German states, as elsewhere, the philhellenic movement of 1821 and 1822 was mainly inspired in the universities, and it was partly for this reason that it aroused such suspicion in the governments. The students of Germany, conscious of having played a leading part in the expulsion of the French, had made themselves into an important political force on the return of peace. They had demanded constitutional liberty and unification of Germany and had established an organization of students’ unions covering the whole of Germany. In 1819, however, following the assassination by a student of Kotzebue, a Prussian minister whose name had become associated with reactionary policies (and incidentally the author of The Ruins of Athens), the Carlsbad decrees, applied all over the German Confederation, abolished the students’ national union, reinstituted strict censorship, and imposed a range of other measures against the universities. It was only to be expected that the governments would treat with suspicion any new political movement originating in the universities which could provide an opportunity for evading the Carlsbad decrees.19 Philhellenism, since it would provide an excuse for collecting money and for establishing connections all over the country, could perhaps be exploited for internal political purposes.

40At Easter 1821 the professor of philology at Leipzig in the Kingdom of Saxony, Wilhelm Traugott Krug, issued a pamphlet under the title Greece Regenerated, which questioned the official doctrine that the Greeks were wrong to revolt against their legitimate sovereign. It was hardly a novel idea but the pamphlet seems to have aroused a great deal of interest simply because a professor had dared to question the government on such an important matter of policy.

41Krug’s pamphlet was only the first of many professorial pronouncements all over Germany. The theology professor at Leipzig published a pamphlet called The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Europe. Yet another quotation of the familiar sentiments will show how universally they were being repeated all over Europe:

  • 20 From the English translation, The Cause of Greece, The Cause of Europe, published anonymously in L (...)

Would that the Greeks might rise from their political torpor, and with youthful vigour and glorious prospects re-enter the rank of European nations. This is the fervent wish of one who regards the event not only as a European but as a man and a Christian... The Greeks have a powerful demand both on our gratitude and compassion. Though more than two thousand years have elapsed since Greece flowered, the Greeks of the present day are yet descendants of those whose immortal works still delight and form our minds; the descendants of those whose wisdom and science have become the common property of the world.20

42Another Leipzig professor drew the parallel between the German and Greek Wars of Independence and hinted at the Germany he wanted to see. Remarks such as the following tended to reinforce the suspicion that the advocates of freedom for the Greeks had half their minds on the freedom of the Germans:

  • 21 Translated from Karl Iken, Hellenion, Leipzig, 1822.

We Germans see in the Greeks the image of ourselves. Our minds are taken back instinctively in an obscure way to the time when we were delivered from the French yoke... The politician cannot see without a feeling of longing, the Amphictyons meeting again, and the estates assembling and deliberating in the interests of Greece. Already he thinks he can hear the harmonious speech of a new Demosthenes, of an Aeschines, or of an Isocrates. One wonders into whose hands Greece will fall if by herself or with the aid of another power, she recovers her liberty. Whatever the prince who raises claims to the throne of Greece it must be desired that the people have a liberal constitution with a system of representative estates, after the model of the American or the English or the present Polish constitution.21

43Such sentiments were regarded as dangerously radical by the Austrian and Prussian Governments and all who took their lead from them.

44From the beginning, calls went out for volunteers to fight. In June 1821 a prominent politician made a speech in the parliament of the Grand Duchy of Hesse at Darmstadt saying that Germany would be oppressed by blood guilt if help was not sent to the Greeks. By August, in several of the smaller German states the call had been made. In Aschaffenburg in Bavaria Baron Dalberg announced that he was forming a Corps of Volunteers. In the imperial city of Hamburg the following notice was taken round from door to door:

  • 22 Quoted by Barth and Kehrig-Korn, p. 95.

Proclamation to the Youth of Germany. The fight for Religion, Life and Freedom calls us to arms! Humanity and Duty challenge us to hurry to the aid of our brothers, the noble Greeks, to risk our blood, our lives for the Sacred Cause! The reign of the Moslems in Europe is nearing its end; Europe’s most beautiful country must be freed, freed from the monsters! Let us throw our strength into the struggle! Seize your weapons, honourable youth of Germany, let us form a Greek-German Legion and soon bring support to our brothers! Officers with experience of service are ready to lead us! – God will be with us, for it is a sacred cause – the cause of Humanity – it is the fight for Religion, Life and Freedom, the fight against monsters! Our undertaking will be favoured by the Almighty. Then, victorious and crowned with glory, blessed by our Greek brothers and all Christendom and with the glorious knowledge that we have broken the chains of slavery of millions of our brothers, we shall see our German Fatherland again. Those interested should apply at once to Grosse Backerstrasse, No. 62, where they can find out more details. Deserters will not be accepted. A society will collect contributions for the support of this undertaking sacred to humanity. Hamburg, August 182122

45As everywhere, it was the professors who set the pace. Professor Thiersch in Munich had actually been admitted to the Greek secret conspiracy, the Friendly Society, in 1814. In August 1821 he issued a call for German volunteers which was published throughout Bavaria suggesting that the volunteers could be paid from the lands they captured from the Turks. In Leipzig Krug issued a second pamphlet declaring that to fight for the Greeks would be to obey the first commandment. His scheme for private help appeared to be thoughtful and practical.

  • 23 Translated from the second edition of Wilhelm Traugott Krug, Griechenlands Wiedesgeburt, Leipzig, (...)

The private help would take the following form. Individuals with experience of fighting should go to Greece with the express or tacit permission of their governments and should there join the ranks of those fighting. This would in itself be a considerable help, for the Greeks are especially short of experienced soldiers and leaders. In particular they have few officers trained in artillery and military engineering. There are in Germany, as in most European states, many men with experience of fighting, who are inactive and unemployed but who long for activity and employment, and since they do not find this at home and are dissatisfied with their lot they are a nuisance or even a danger to their governments. These men would like to go to Greece, partly for love of the Greek cause, partly for the chance to do something, partly also perhaps from other considerations which may be less worthy but are not necessarily wholly disreputable. They would like to go to Greece and help to increase the Greek fighting forces provided they are given the means to do so. Without assistance most of them cannot go as the writer knows from countless examples. For this reason I suggest that the private help should also, wherever governments permit, take the form of societies of those who are deeply in sympathy with the great cause. These societies should find means of supporting the cause and ascertain who is ready to go and fight. The societies should not simply collect money to help the volunteers but should also establish contacts in Greece itself in order to prepare a favourable reception for them; and to procure suitable appointments, either with the forces already in existence or by forming new forces... Obviously permission to go should not be given to men who are under age or who are lacking in military knowledge. There can therefore be no question of our students going.23

46At Gotha in Thuringia Professor Jacobs and at Heidelberg in Baden Professor Voss put themselves at the head of the movement. Even in Prussia itself, at Berlin, Professor Zeune started a collection. In Switzerland and in Denmark it was again the professors of classics and theology who led the call for a practical expression of the sympathy for Greece which was so universally felt.

47The Prussian Government had been prepared to tolerate philhellenism as long as it was mainly a literary theme or a subject for philosophical debate. The censor had allowed a good deal of sympathetic writing about the Greek Revolution within Prussia itself and even the Crown Prince had declared himself a supporter of the cause. But now there could be no disguising the political nature of the movement, dispersed and disorganized though it was. The Prussian Government took fright and decided to suppress this latest manifestation of liberal opposition. Permission was refused to circulate in Prussia any call for volunteers, and, as so often in German history, the professors caved in at the first touch of official pressure. Professor Krug was reprimanded by the Saxon Government, ordered to refrain from political activity, and his pamphlet was suppressed. Professor Zeune in Berlin was also reprimanded, and the money he had collected was confiscated and given to the poor fund. Throughout Prussia the censor tightened his grip. A query was submitted whether philhellenic poetry came within the terms of the ban as well as pamphlets. The answer came back that the Greek Revolution was inimical to the policy of Europe, the cause was being exploited for political purposes, and that poetry must be rigorously controlled.

48In September and October 1821 the Prussian Government, with help from the Austrians, began to whip the other governments of Germany into line. A sharp protest was delivered to the Bavarian Government for permitting the publication of Professor Thiersch’s manifesto. In other circumstances, their diplomatic note said, the best way of dealing with Thiersch’s pamphlet would have been to ignore it, but the heads of many young German students had been seized with the madness, it was an evil influence on youth, it was stirring up revolutionary sentiment, and Thiersch should not go unpunished. He was accused of a long list of treasonable offences, but especially for plotting revolution and consorting with revolutionaries abroad under the excuse of being interested in freeing the Greeks. The Bavarian Government did not prosecute Thiersch or even revoke his call but the effect was much the same as if they had. Many supporters of the Greeks were frightened off, others continued their activities but more discreetly.

49Most of the German governments agreed to follow the official Prussian and Austrian line and the professors obediently retracted what they had said about Greece. Zeune made a public statement in the newspapers that he could no longer be associated with receiving collections. Krug withdrew more graciously by issuing a third pamphlet which confined itself to asserting how united Europe was in the cause of the Greeks; the practical advice on how to help was deliberately omitted. Only in the smaller states of South West Germany did the supporters of the cause hold out. Baden, Württemberg, Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, and the imperial city of Frankfurt were disinclined to take orders from the authoritarian Prussians. In this small area of Germany, the philhellenic movement was permitted to grow and the committees of Darmstadt, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt found themselves thrust into a position of leadership.

50The Prussian ambassadors, reporting back to Berlin on their lack of success in these territories, drew an alarming picture of the philhellenic movement as a hotbed of revolution. Dalberg was described as a hypocrite with the name of humanity on his lips but revolution in his heart. From Frankfurt it was reported how the priests were inveigling women into the movement and preaching a crusade from the pulpit. The number of foreigners visiting the city was remarked on: the liberal banker Lafitte from Paris, a Frenchman travelling under a pseudonym who had been Robespierre’s secretary during the Terror and was now claiming to be a papier-mâché salesman, another known revolutionary posing as a wine merchant, Italians thought to be carbonari and so on. Frankfurt was said to be keeping the ashes of revolution alight.

51The results of the attempts to stop recruiting in Europe will be described later. The governments, however, had another important weapon besides suppression at home. It was decided to close the ports. Austria and its puppet governments in Italy put a stop to the exodus of expatriate Greeks from ports in their territories. The Pope co-operated by closing the ports in the Papal States. Only Marseilles, of all the ports of southern Europe, remained open owing to the ambivalent attitude of the French Government. From the autumn of 1821 young men from every corner of Europe, inspired by the rhetoric of professors and churchmen, packed their bags and set out for Marseilles, determined to play their part in the holy war for the regeneration of Greece.


1 Many contemporary writers give examples of the transformation of the news, e.g. Aschling, Raybaud, and Waddington. Sir William Gell published his Narrative of a Journey in the Morea in 1823 specifically to combat the false newspaper stories.

2 Examiner, 2 July 1826, quoting Sismondi.

3 Elster, Fahrten, pp. 219 ff., recalling a quotation from Goethe’s Faust.

4 See Note 8 to Chapter 26.

5 See Irmscher, Arnold, and Gaston Caminade, Les Chants des Grecs et le Philhellénisme de Wilhelm Müller, Paris, 1913.

6 Translated from Constitutionnel, 26 July 1821, quoted by Dimopoulos, p. 60.

7 Translated from de Pradt, De la Grèce dans ses Rapports avec l’Europe, Brussels, 1822.

The pamphlet literature published in Western Europe during the Greek War of Independence is huge. All but a tiny proportion of these works were intended to promote the Greek cause. A full bibliography is gradually being built. Copies of most of the titles are not to be found outside a handful of libraries and the sentiments of such works are predictably uniform. It might be useful, in any case, as an indication of public opinion, to have the following table of the numbers of pamphlets which are known to have been published in the three main European languages. I have included only political pamphlets and appeals published as separate works in their own right, excluding histories, memoirs, biographies, books of verse and articles in magazines and newspapers. When a pamphlet went into a second edition or was translated I have counted these as if they were new works. The great majority (except in England) had apparently one edition only, although one or two especially influential works went to as many as four editions. It is difficult to draw more than very general conclusions from the figures. The practice of conducting political argument by pamphlet was not equally developed in the countries concerned and they cannot be directly compared. In addition it is easier to be confident that the English and French figures are nearly complete, since many of these were printed for national distribution in London or Paris, than it is with respect to the German pamphlets, which were published independently for small circulation in several cities. Nevertheless, the figures do seem to illustrate a few points about the state of public opinion. They seem to confirm, for example, the success of the censor and the disillusionment with philhellenism in the German-speaking countries which occurred after the return of the early volunteers; and the astonishing revival of philhellenism which occurred in France alone in 1825 and 1826. They also seem to lend weight to the view that philhellenism was not as strong in England as in Continental Europe.

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8 J.-G. Schweighauser, Discours sur les Services que les Grecs ont rendus à la Civilisation, Paris, 1821.

9 Giraud de la Clape, ex-étudiant en droit, Appel aux Français en faveur des Grecs, Paris, 1821.

10 For the early philhellenic movements in Britain see Penn and Dakin.

11 Rev. T. S. Hughes, An Address to the People of England in the Cause of the Greeks, London, 1822.

12 Thomas Lord Erskine, A Letter to the Earl of Liverpool on the Subject of the Greeks, London, 1822.

13 Address in behalf of the Greeks, Edinburgh, 1822.

14 Rev. T. S. Hughes, Considerations upon the Greek Revolution, London, 1823.

15 Charles Brinsley Sheridan, Thoughts on the Greek Revolution, London, 1824.

16 Quoted in Booras, p. 159, and elsewhere.

17 Larrabee, p. 55.

18 Ibid.

19 For the politics of philhellenism in Prussia and elsewhere in Germany, see Irmscher.

20 From the English translation, The Cause of Greece, The Cause of Europe, published anonymously in London in 1821.

21 Translated from Karl Iken, Hellenion, Leipzig, 1822.

22 Quoted by Barth and Kehrig-Korn, p. 95.

23 Translated from the second edition of Wilhelm Traugott Krug, Griechenlands Wiedesgeburt, Leipzig, 1821.


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