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That Greece Might Still Be Free

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William St Clair

17 ’To Bring Freedom and Knowledge to Greece’

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1The small caucus of ambitious men who directed the activities of the London Greek Committee took the grand view of their responsibilities. Whereas Greek Societies on the Continent had modestly and hopefully proclaimed their aim as to assist in the liberation of Greece from the Turks, the British Philhellenes felt no such limitation on their imagination. The fact that their political base was so narrow never caused them to hesitate or to doubt the correctness of their programme. Greece must be established as an independent nation state, they had no doubt of that. But the Greece they wanted to see was not so much some vague regeneration of Ancient Hellas as a practical example of the political principles of Jeremy Bentham. Philhellenism was to be an experiment in practical utilitarianism.

  • 1 Blaquiere to Hobhouse from Marseilles, 27 March 1823. British Museum Additional Manuscripts 36, 46 (...)

2The first concern of the Committee was to send military help. Discussions and preparations began almost immediately after the Committee was set up in the middle of 1823. As always, Blaquiere was well to the fore with his own ideas. Although the avowed purpose of his visit to Greece was to discover what kind of aid would be most useful, it is clear that he had already made up his mind before he set out. ’A train of artillery’, he suggested to Hobhouse, ’some old sergeants versed in the organization of light troops, and a few hospital supplies might give a new and immediate turn to the war if sent out at once’.1 Byron too had not been slow in putting forward his own suggestions to the Committee, suggestions which were remarkably like Blaquiere’s.

  • 2 Byron to Bowring 12 May 1823. Quoted in Thomas Moore: Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, London, (...)

3’The principal material wanted by the Greeks appears to be first, a park of field artillery – light and fit for mountain service; secondly gunpowder; thirdly, hospital or medical stores’. Byron also gave his views on the proposal that a cadre of a regular brigade should be established. ’A small body of good officers, especially artillery; an engineer with quantity (such as the Committee might deem requisite) of stores, of the nature which Captain Blaquiere indicated as most wanted, would, I should conceive, be a highly useful accession’.2 None of these ideas could be regarded as far-fetched or impracticable. On the contrary, the proposed spending of the Committee’s few thousand pounds was the obvious way of trying to make an impact with scanty resources, so obvious indeed that it had been thought of and tried out before. Neither the Committee nor Byron ever realized fully that their own remedy for Greece was simply the mixture as before, the mixture administered unsuccessfully by the German and Swiss Societies, the mixture which, at the very time Blaquiere and Byron were prescribing it, was resulting in the deaths of the young men of the German Legion in the disease-infested streets of Nauplia.

  • 3 See Note 1 to Chapter 15.

4Among the members of the London Greek Committee there was only one man who had any experience of the war in Greece. Thomas Gordon of Cairness,3 who had sailed to Greece at the outbreak of the Revolution in 1821 with his own ship and his own store of weapons, had served as Chief of Staff to Hypsilantes at the time of the siege of Tripolitsa. He had left shortly afterwards, mainly as a result of illness, but had kept in touch with the situation ever since. Surprisingly, he had managed to keep on good personal terms with all the Greek leaders and at least one formal request had been made to him by the Greek Government to return. He maintained a correspondence with men all over Europe who were interested in the Greek cause or had recent information, and several distressed Philhellenes made the long journey to Aberdeenshire to beg from him. In later life he was to write a magnificent history of the Greek Revolution which still astonishes by its accuracy and judgement. Gordon was one of the few Philhellenes who really could have helped Greece. He was rich, independent, well-connected, and experienced. He knew the country and the people and he knew the Turks even better. He was a proven soldier and spoke both Greek and Turkish (as well as several European languages) with fluency. He never doubted the justice of the Greek cause, even after witnessing some of the worst massacres of the war, but he was no romantic. It was decided soon after the Committee was formed that Gordon should be in command of any expedition they should send to Greece.

  • 4 Parry is one of the best of the contemporary accounts. He was assisted in writing his book by Thom (...)

5Soon afterwards Gordon submitted a memorandum with his suggestions on the best way of helping the Greeks. A straight handing over of the money he said, although welcome to the Greeks, would be injudicious and would prove an apple of discord; sending out an armed European force, although the most efficacious method, could only be contemplated if the Committee had at least £30,000 at its disposal. As a practical scheme Gordon made two complementary proposals. A small body of artificers should be sent with all the necessary tools and equipment in order to provide Greece with an arsenal to manufacture and repair guns, muskets, and ammunition. In addition, a brigade of light artillery should be equipped and sent to Greece. Gordon recommended that, apart from the cost of the arsenal and a few draught-animals for the guns, all the Committee’s funds should be devoted to providing light artillery and artillerymen. His proposal had been thoroughly considered and costed in detail. He had already, at his own expense, engaged a former employee of Woolwich Arsenal, William Parry,4 to draw up the necessary plans. Studies had been made of the guns best suited to Greek conditions, the supporting equipment and ammunition they would need, and the proper complement of artillerymen. Parry had even started to recruit provisionally about fifty veteran artillerymen and artificers, who would man the repair facility and the artillery brigade. In putting the scheme to the Committee Gordon proposed to pay one third of the total cost out of his own pocket if the Committee agreed to pay the remainder. It was a generous offer and a bold scheme. In the capable hands of Gordon it might possibly have succeeded, but in essentials the scheme resembled the disastrous project of the German Legion which had been equally well planned and well equipped.

6The scheme was never put into effect. Gordon withdrew his offer to command the expedition and then his offer to pay a third of the cost, although he handed over free a few guns that he had already bought. In the long weeks of discussion between Gordon and the other leading members of the Committee the great difference of outlook between them became increasingly clear. The fulsome reports by Blaquiere of the conditions in Greece which were circulated by Bowring contrasted sharply with the information Gordon was receiving from his own sources. The confidence of the Committee that the Greeks would be delighted to accept their help and advice was contradicted by his own experience. But the main difference was over priorities. The Committee decided not to spend its money on the scheme suggested by Gordon but to send the arsenal without the artillery. Ten small mountain guns were bought in addition to a howitzer and larger guns donated by Gordon, but no crews of artillerymen were provided. They wanted the rest of the money to spend on other schemes aimed at the long-term regeneration of the country which will be described later. The conflict of opinion was between, on the one hand, the practical soldier who saw the first priority as helping to win the war against the Turks, and on the other, the doctrinaire Benthamites who prided themselves on taking the long view. Gordon’s decision to withdraw was not caused by pique or by fear of being overshadowed by Lord Byron (whose intention to go to Greece had just been reported), but by a genuine belief that he could not be useful in the circumstances. He repeated his willingness ’to make every sacrifice’ and he promised to go to Greece as soon as he saw the prospect of making a contribution to the success of the cause.

7As a result, the expedition prepared, by the British Philhellenes was unbalanced from the start. It was a civilian organization without a military force to serve and without a proper command. There were men to repair the guns but no men to use them. The whole conception rested on a misapprehension about the state of civil organization and military discipline in Greece. The Committee treated the expedition like a technical working party being sent as a reinforcement to a British military base overseas, assuming that all the necessary facilities already existed at the destination.

  • 5 William Gill, E. Fowke, James Grubb, W. Watson, J. M. Hodges, Robert Lacock, James Hampton, and Ri (...)

8Apart from the fundamental lack of balance the expedition was well prepared. The items of direct military value consisted of twelve guns, 61 barrels of gunpowder, and various quantities of shot and shell. There was a store of medical supplies and equipment and a set of musical instruments for a military band – an item for which all philhellenic societies had an irresistible predilection. As for the arsenal, besides Parry who had supervised operations at Woolwich, eight other skilled men were engaged,5 one of each trade needed in an arsenal, a clerk, a foreman of cartridge makers, a founder, a tinman, a smith, a turner, a wheelwright, and a carpenter. The list of tools, materials and instruments which accompanied them is astonishing for its variety and its comprehensiveness. Nothing was too great or too small to be dispensed with. Everything, it appeared, had been thought of. An entirely self-sufficient little factory was to be exported. The list of items runs for three pages in familiar military language ranging from furnace, blast, to iron bars, round; iron bars, flat; wheels, spare; tarpaulins, gun; and hammers, claw.

9The expedition set sail from Gravesend in the Ann in November 1823. All the preparations had been made openly and the purpose for which the arms were being bought was well publicized. As if to emphasize the acquiescence of the British Government, the expedition was allowed to sail in a vessel which was also carrying stores to the British forces in Malta and the Ionian Islands. The authorities at London, Malta and Corfu were fully aware of the illegal purpose of the expedition but they had been instructed not to interfere unless they were officially informed on oath. There was a scare at Malta when one of the artificers, an Irishman, in a drunken quarrel aboard, threatened himself to inform the authorities, but he was dissuaded. The fiction was successfully maintained that the British authorities knew nothing of the destination of the arms and the soldiers. The Ann reached Greece in December 1823.

10As it turned out, this was the only expedition which the London Greek Committee sent to Greece. But the establishment of a new centre of philhellenism led to a renewal of the flow of individual volunteers to Greece which had almost entirely ceased at the end of 1822. Blaquiere had been firmly advised on his own visit to Greece to discourage the sending of soldiers to Greece to add to the ranks of miserable wretches still subsisting there. But the Committee could not bear to refuse to give letters of introduction to the eager men who again began to step forward. Everyone who wanted to go to Greece now made his way in the first place to London. At first there was only a trickle. Doctors specially recruited by the Committee, unemployed military men from the Continent, former Philhellenes who wanted to give Greece a second chance. The Committee found itself being offered advice by self-appointed experts. Bellier de Launay, a dismissed Prussian subaltern who had made a brief visit to Greece in one of the early expeditions from Marseilles, now appeared in London as a Colonel, a Marquis, and a Knight of the Order of Minerva. When news arrived in Europe and America of Byron’s intention to go to Greece, more volunteers stepped forward. A new episode of practical philhellenism began.

11To be their principal agent in Greece the Committee chose a man of very different stamp from any who had ventured to Greece hitherto. The Honourable Leicester Stanhope, C.B., eldest son of the Earl of Harrington, was a lieutenant-colonel in the British Army. He was both an effective administrator and, at the same time, a doctrinaire Benthamite. Many of the Benthamites were speechifiers, literary men, thinkers, remote from reality, men who never really expected to see their theories realized in practice. Stanhope was as politically committed as any, ready always to defend his political theories in the face of the most recalcitrant of facts. And yet, perhaps because he always greatly underestimated the difficulties of carrying out his plans, he had remarkable practical success. His single-minded concentration on applying the principles of Jeremy Bentham to the regeneration of Greece was one of the strangest manifestations of philhellenism.

  • 6 Hon. Leicester Stanhope, Press in India, London, 1823, p. 193.

12Stanhope’s enthusiasm ranged over the whole spectrum of Benthamite doctrine and in Greece he was to try his energy in many fields. But there was one political principle which appealed to him above all the others – the freedom of the press. Stanhope believed in the absolute desirability of a free press with a passion bordering on monomania. Before he embraced the cause of Greece he had devoted much of his recent effort to trying to establish newspapers in India and had published a book on the subject. It was no doubt a laudable aim but Stanhope consistently damaged a good cause by grotesque overstatement. If a free press were to be established in India, he wrote, ’morals will be improved, superstition and castes destroyed, women enfranchised and religion purified, the laws will be ameliorated, justice better administered, and cruelties prevented; slavery will be abolished, maladministration, seditions and wars checked, and invasions baffled; while the agriculture, trade and resources of the state will increase’.6

13Stanhope’s appointment emphasized the doctrinaire character of the London Greek Committee. Although, as a soldier himself, he recognized that there was a military problem to be solved – the winning of the war – he himself was much more interested in the longer-term objectives. The regeneration of Greece, the old cry of the German professors, took on a new meaning when adopted by the English. Consignments of bibles were to be dispatched to Greece to convert the Greeks to the English version of Christianity, or as it was generally put, to combat the superstition of the Greek Church. A system of public education was to be established in Greece on the pattern introduced in England by Joseph Lancaster – books, maps, mathematical instruments to equip the first classrooms were included among the stores sent with Parry’s expedition.

14Most important of all, the Committee decided to send printing presses to Greece with a view to establishing newspapers and so creating the informed public opinion necessary for the health of political liberty. Nothing could more clearly exemplify the supreme confidence of the Benthamites both in their political theories and in their practical abilities than their plans to start newspapers in the barbarous and anarchic conditions of Greece. Stanhope saw these printing presses as the most powerful weapon which the Greeks could possess against the Turks.

15In the autumn of 1823 he left England in company with Bellier de Launay to establish himself in Greece as the appointed agent of the London Greek Committee. The British Government, despite his commission in the British Army, made no move to stop him in accordance with their policy of helping British influence in Greece.

16On the way Stanhope decided to call on the Swiss and South German Greek Societies about whose existence the London Committee had heard, with a view, as he himself put it, ’to establish an efficient system of cooperation without shackling our efforts’. Stanhope met representatives of the Greek Societies at Darmstadt, Zürich, Berne, and Geneva. He also met Capodistria and other prominent overseas Greeks. Everywhere he was courteously received as the representative of a powerful new philhellenic organization through whose efforts the loan which would rejuvenate Greece’s fortunes was to be organized.

17It would be fascinating to know what the solid burghers and pastors of the German and Swiss Societies made of the aristocratic, republican, slightly eccentric English officer who unexpectedly arrived among them accompanied by the absurd Colonel Marquis Bellier de Launay (whose pretensions impressed none of his own countrymen) in the autumn of 1823. Although Stanhope was seeking their co-operation, it was clear that their own period of pre-eminence was over; that the torch of philhellenism had now passed from the Germans and Swiss to the British. Stanhope felt no immodesty in taking the initiative.

18One cannot help feeling sympathetic to the worthy men of the Societies. For nearly two years, when the cause of the Greeks was neglected in England, they had painstakingly collected subscriptions. In the face of the consistent opposition of the great Continental governments, they had raised huge sums of money, far more than was ever achieved by the London Greek Committee. Theirs had been no short-lived spurt of enthusiasm performed for a mixture of philanthropic and nationalistic motives, but a thorough and sustained effort based on a deeply-held belief in their debt to the Ancient Greeks and in their duty as Christians.

19When Stanhope visited the Societies they were near the end of their resources. They were confused and perplexed and had suffered a series of shocks which had severely tested their courage and their charity. It will be remembered that, after the Societies had dispatched the German Legion to Greece in December 1822, the port of Marseilles had been closed and the Societies were unable to send further volunteers to Greece. But in the meantime another call on their philhellenism had appeared. As a result of the efforts of the English Quakers, the Austrian authorities decided to allow a large party of Greek refugees to cross the Austrian territories from Russia where they had taken refuge at the beginning of the Revolution. These refugees were penniless and, as ’rebels’, politically untouchable. Many died of hunger, cold, and misery during their long trek across Eastern Europe, but one hundred and sixty reached the Austrian frontier in safety. They were thrown on the mercy of private charity and, as usual, it was the Swiss who were expected to be the conscience of Europe. The Greek Societies of Switzerland and South Germany somehow managed to raise the money to feed and clothe the refugees and arrange for them to be conveyed in parties to the Morea. It was an astonishing feat and it had strained the resources and the enthusiasm of the donors almost to breaking point.

20The Societies were denied even the comfort of being thanked for their efforts. Throughout 1823 the flood of disillusioned volunteers had returned from Greece cursing the Societies and demanding money. Then in the middle of the year Sergeant Kolbe of the German Legion unexpectedly arrived back at Darmstadt. Kolbe, as has been related earlier, had been chosen by the survivors of the Legion to return to Germany to tell the Societies of the harsh unwelcoming reception they had suffered in Greece and to ask for money to pay for their passage home.

21At the time when Stanhope was paying his visits, the Societies were still undecided about how to react to this painful news. Until Kolbe arrived they had been under the impression that the Legion was operating in Greece under ’Baron Kephalas of Olympus’ according to the terms of the contract drawn up by the Societies. Even now they only knew a part of the story. Kolbe had left the Legion when it seemed to be breaking up. Since he had left Greece, the Legion had sunk from misery to misery and had by now ceased to exist as an organized force; many of its members were dead, others were reduced to beggary in the streets of Nauplia, and many more were scattered over the Eastern Mediterranean trying to beg their way home.

22Stanhope discussed with the Societies what should be done about the German Legion. One of the leaders of the Darmstadt Society, Stanhope reported to Bowring, ’complained much of the conduct of the Greek Government towards the German corps: the Capitani, he said, were jealous of them; they had been left inactive and destitute of all succour. The German and Swiss Committees had, in consequence, come to a resolution to order the Legion home unless the Greek government would supply them with the means of subsistence’. To the self-assured English Colonel this was defeatist talk. The only reason for recalling the Legion, he declared, would be lack of funds and there was now no danger of that since the London Greek Committee had money and a loan was in the offing. Moreover, said the Colonel, the Societies had been wrong to send troops in the first place, and the Greeks were wise to be jealous of the interference of foreigners. ’So far from wishing to curb this spirit,’ he advised, ’it should be fostered as calculated to root in the public mind a hatred of foreign dominion’. If the men of the Darmstadt Greek Society had been able to see at that moment what the ’wise jealousy’ of the Greeks had done to the German Legion, they could perhaps have punctured his doctrinaire arrogance. But, in the false belief that the Legion was still operating in Greece, they decided to co-operate with Stanhope and to set up a Committee in Greece to control the Legion’s activities consisting of one German and one Swiss member.

23Stanhope, however, was never much interested in such short-term problems as the winning of the Greek War of Independence. ’The grand object of the Committee’, he declared at Berne, ’is to give freedom and knowledge to Greece’. At Zürich he expanded on this theme:

To communicate knowledge to the Greeks was an object the Committee had near at heart. From this source spring order, morality, freedom and power. The venerable Bentham, with a spirit of philanthropy as fervent, and a mind as vast as ever, had employed his days and nights in contemplating and writing on the Constitution of Greece, and in framing for her a body of rational laws, the most useful of human offerings. The mighty power of the press of England had been exerted in favour of Greece.

24On his Continental tour Stanhope collected ideas from everyone he met and bombarded the London Committee with his suggestions. The Swiss and United States systems of government, he decided, would be the most suitable for Greece, being at the same time democratic, republican, and unmilitaristic. For national defence, he suggested an army on the Swiss pattern was all that was needed: 60,000 reservists, consisting of military academies, staff, artillery, engineers, infantry, and sharp-shooters, who would be exercised for one month only per year. Stanhope obtained books on the subject for sending to Greece. The system of control of public expenditure adopted by the Canton of Geneva would, he suggested, be easily transferred to Greek conditions – again books were obtained. Books were also obtained on the legal system of Geneva, ’the nearest approximation to the system of Bentham that has yet been accomplished’. The cultivation of the silk worm should, he suggested, be introduced in Greece; museums and record offices should be established; Greece could be used as a colony for settling British ’superfluous population’.

25’I found the Committees very much irritated against the Capitani and the people of Greece’, he wrote to Bowring. ’It was my business to show them that a people long enslaved could not be all virtuous’. Stanhope, with his touchingly optimistic view of human nature, believed that the captains could be induced to co-operate with his Benthamite policies if only he had the opportunity of talking to them. He was also ready to believe the suggestion that the captains would be persuaded to obey the Government ’by the latter acting virtuously and deserving the confidence of the people’.

26The Societies had learnt something from their two painful years of abortive philhellenic efforts. They had learnt the hard way that the facts of Modern Greece did not fit easily with their own predilections. Unfortunately, it was not a lesson that Stanhope was prepared to accept, and the portmanteau of preconceptions which he carried with him was heavier than that of any German philhellenic professor.

27In reading the streams of advice which he poured out on his journey across Europe it is difficult to remember that this man who knew all the answers had never been in Greece or within a thousand miles of the country at any time in his life.

Notes

1 Blaquiere to Hobhouse from Marseilles, 27 March 1823. British Museum Additional Manuscripts 36, 460 f. 24.

2 Byron to Bowring 12 May 1823. Quoted in Thomas Moore: Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, London, 1830, ii, pp. 655 ff.

3 See Note 1 to Chapter 15.

4 Parry is one of the best of the contemporary accounts. He was assisted in writing his book by Thomas Hodgskin. See my note, ‘Postscript to The Last Days of Lord Byron’, Keats-Shelley Journal, 1970.

5 William Gill, E. Fowke, James Grubb, W. Watson, J. M. Hodges, Robert Lacock, James Hampton, and Richard Brownbill.

6 Hon. Leicester Stanhope, Press in India, London, 1823, p. 193.

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