Version classiqueVersion mobile

That Greece Might Still Be Free

 | 
William St Clair

19 The Byron Brigade

Texte intégral

1By his first ceremonial appearance at Missolonghi in his scarlet uniform Byron had indicated that he saw his role in Greece as a military one. Before he had left the Ionian Islands he had even set about hiring a private army. The Albanian Suliotes had been spared by the Turks after Mavrocordato’s disastrous expedition into Epirus in 1822 on condition that they went into exile. Byron now engaged to pay them to return to Greece to fight again. Soon he had a force of several hundred wild undisciplined Albanians on his pay roll at Missolonghi although, as was pointed out, only a proportion were genuine Suliotes, the others being unashamedly mercenaries pursuing the main trade for which their nation was distinguished.

2Byron would go riding in the plain outside Missolonghi at the head of this motley army, no doubt imagining himself as a future conquering hero. The rest of the day he spent in a kind of military headquarters which he had set up in a house near the shore, holding long inconclusive conferences about military plans. The room was festooned with all kinds of weapons to give the proper atmosphere.

3It was here on 22 January 1824 that he composed the strange untypical poem ’On this day I complete my thirty-sixth year’, some of whose verses express so well the conflicting motives that had brought him to Greece:

’Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move;
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
174 That Greece Might Still Be Free
If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here: – up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!
Seek out – less often sought than found,
A soldier’s grave – for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest

4Byron’s military plan seems to have been that Napier or Gordon or some other British professional soldier should take command of the Suliotes, of the Philhellenes in Greece, and of the artillery sent with Parry, and attack the fortresses still in Turkish hands – in particular Naupactus, Patras, and the Castles of Roumeli and the Morea. As philhellenic schemes went it was perhaps more promising than most, but that is to say little. As it was, the scheme never made any progress, for all the constitutent parts turned out to be failures.

5Byron, like Stanhope, believed when he arrived in Missolonghi that the German Legion was still operating in the Morea. In his conversations with Napier in the Ionian Islands there had been talk of taking command of ’the corps of 200 Germans’. One of the first tasks therefore was to send Kolbe to Nauplia to tell the Legion that, although he had obtained money at Darmstadt to pay for their return, it was the wish of the Societies that they should go to Missolonghi and join the efforts of the British Philhellenes.

6Kolbe returned to Missolonghi on 14 January with the news that out of the hundreds of Germans who had come to Greece in 1822, including the 115 or so men of the German Legion, only twenty-six remained. All the rest had set off for home or had died. The British Philhellenes watched with horror as the survivors straggled into Missolonghi, drawn and debilitated by a year of disappointment, starvation, disease, grief, and despair. Most of these men were only too glad to have the chance of going home but a few elected to stay. In addition a steady stream of new Philhellenes had begun to appear, attracted to Greece by the news of Lord Byron’s expedition. Byron decided to provide pay for any officer who appeared with the object of building up a cadre on which a Greek regular force could be based. The news had an electrifying effect. Men began to appear from elsewhere in Greece, from the Ionian Islands, and from Western Europe anxious for commissions in Lord Byron’s brigade. All roads led to Missolonghi. Almost all the Europeans who were still at large in Greece arrived to enjoy the hitherto unknown sensation of being paid.

  • 1 Gamba, p. 157.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 201.

7Ten Germans who had been in Greece for two years became a personal bodyguard.1 And, as Count Gamba records, every day there were offers of service from some foreigner or other. ’Thus we had them of all nations – English, Scotch, Irish, Americans, Germans, Swiss, Belgians, Russians, Swedes, Danes, Hungarians and Italians. We were a sort of crusade in miniature’.2 For a few weeks the atmosphere resembled that in Corinth in May 1822 when the original Battalion of Philhellenes was being formed. Life was pleasant and undemanding; food and wine were cheap and the comradeship good; there were next to no duties. But there were few links with 1822. A whole generation of Philhellenes had come and gone since then and only a few remained. The unabashed Baron Friedel von Friedelsburg was still wandering round with his lithographic press on his back, still impressing nobody (but charming everybody) with his fantastic claims to nobility and importance. There were a few men who had come in the early expeditions from Marseilles: Meyer a Swiss pharmacist who had married a Greek, Treiber a German doctor who had been at Peta, Komarones a Hungarian exile (now called Cameron), Bellier de Launay still posing as a Marquis, the younger Fels, a Saxon, who had come to avenge his brother killed at Peta, Jarvis, the rough American from Hamburg. There were also von Dittmar, who had led the sedition of the German Legion against Kephalas, and Humphreys, who had been with Gordon at the fall of Tripolitsa in October 1821 and was now again in Greece seeking an antidote to boredom.

  • 3 There were at least two Philhellenes called Sass. According to the ships’ lists Adolph Sass came i (...)

8Adolph von Sass,3 a Swede, had had a remarkable history. He was one of that large class from whom many Philhellenes were drawn, men who had served in the Napoleonic wars long enough to realize that they were talented soldiers and then were suddenly dismissed at the coming of peace. Since soldiering was the only trade he knew, he had come to Greece as a volunteer in one of the expeditions from Marseilles in 1822 and had for a time joined the German Legion. But when the Legion broke up, Sass like so many others, tried to make his way home across the islands of the Aegean. A fellow Philhellene saw him in the Frank hospital at Smyrna. When he recovered he set out for Crete but the vessel in which he had taken passage was captured by the Turks. Sass was beaten and tortured and subjected to the usual unspecified because unmentionable Eastern insults. He was taken to Cairo and sold as a slave but was ransomed by an English traveller who also gave him money to go home. But no sooner did he reach Sweden than he hastened to London where he was given a letter of commendation and passage money to return to Greece.

  • 4 Dakin, British and American Philhellenes, sets out most of the information that can be gleaned abo (...)

9Of the British who had arrived in Greece,4 most of whom were now congregating at Missolonghi, a few names are known: Blackett, Hyler, Lypton, Hesketh, Tindall, Whitcombe, Winter, Hamilton Browne, Trelawny, Finlay, Millingen. Some are little more than names but it is clear that they included the usual soldiers of fortune and retired officers in search of employment, familiar from earlier periods. But enough can be pieced together to show that a new species of Philhellene had now made its appearance in Greece which was to become increasingly common in 1824 and 1825 – the romantic Byronist. Men began to make their way to Greece as a direct result of hearing that Byron had gone there. They were romantics, but most Philhellenes had a touch of romanticism in them. The feature which distinguished this new species was that their main impetus came from reading Byron’s poetry, the poetry which Byron himself no longer composed or admired. They were thus more Byronic than Byron, trying to find in Greece the exoticism which they loved, thinking they were copying Byron but actually behaving in a way which Byron himself never did.

10Edward John Trelawny who had come with Byron from Genoa represented the extreme of this type of philhellenism. It is difficult to avoid the feeling in looking at some periods of his long and flamboyant career that he was simply a fantasist who liked the company of the famous. In Greece he saw himself in the role of one of the heroes of Byron’s tales to whom the prospect of violence and sensuality in oriental surroundings seemed justification enough for going to war.

11A more complex character was George Finlay who set out for Greece as soon as he heard that Byron was going. Finlay was a romantic through and through and the papers about his early days are full of Byronic sentiments, some in Byronic verse, about ’the cause of freedom’, ’heroes and deeds like Leonidas and Salamis’, and ’eternal glory’. To his dying day Finlay was immensely proud that he had met Byron and conversed with him and that Byron had remarked on how he resembled the young Shelley. But as he became aware of the true situation in Greece, Finlay began to be ashamed of his romanticism. He fought against this strange force in his character with ever greater vigour until, by the end of his life, Finlay chose to appear crusty and cynical rather than tolerate even a suspicion that he sympathized with romantic philhellenism. Finlay’s philhellenism developed in a way which Byron’s might if he had lived. After a short initial romantic phase he somehow combined an apparent contempt for the Greeks with an overpowering interest in everything about them. Having quickly shed all his youthful illusions, he nevertheless devoted the remainder of his long life to Greece and to writing its history.

  • 5 * Finlay says (1824) that it was safer to ride from Athens to Missolonghi than from London to Edinb (...)
  • 6 * Poe himself says that he failed to reach Greece but went to St. Petersburg. This is also imaginar (...)

12The romantic Byronists – as I have called them – were on the whole much more interested in playing a theatrical role than in fighting the Turks. And since the captains were now being exceedingly polite and attentive to foreigners, particularly English, it was possible to enjoy the sensation of being a Philhellene while being in reality a tourist.*5 We now find British volunteers appearing in Greece who reverted to the role of travelling gentlemen (entitled to protection from the Turks as soon as there was any prospect of danger). Others were more journalists than soldiers. The Philhellenes of 1821 and 1822, whose love of fighting was a chief motivation, would have despised their lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, to maintain one’s beliefs and enjoy the sensation of being a romantic Byronist in the stark conditions of Greece – even without fighting – was a taxing business. Since a large measure of imagination was required even to go to Greece, some added a dash more and invented their philhellenic adventures after a quick trip into Greece from the safety of the Ionian Islands, or after a few trips ashore from the comfort of a British warship. The logical conclusion of romantic Byronism was of course not to bother to go to Greece at all but to supply the whole sensation from imagination. Edgar Allan Poe, sa fervent admirer of Byron, is the most famous of this last group. Despite his attempts to put about the story that he set out ’without a dollar on a quixotic expedition to join the Greeks then struggling for liberty’, it is known that he got no nearer than Boston, Massachusetts.*6

  • 7 Larrabee, pp. 145 f.

13All the hopes of the Philhellenes of Lord Byron’s Brigade, old and new, were centred on the expedition which had been dispatched by the London Greek Committee. William Parry with his artificers, his cannon, his gunpowder and his equipment for building an arsenal arrived amid great excitement in February 1824. Poor Parry suffered from overbilling. He had been a competent technician in Woolwich arsenal and Deptford dockyard and, as such, he had been selected by Gordon. But during the long interval between his announced departure from London and his arrival in Greece his reputation grew. He was credited with powers given to no man. He was the inventor of the Congreve rocket, he was a genius with artillery, he would provide the ’infernal fires’ with which Byron, the Suliotes7, and the Byron Brigade would batter down the Turkish fortresses. Much of this was simply Byron’s habitual banter and exaggeration but many seem to have believed it.

14The man who arrived in command of the London Committee’s long-awaited expedition was hardly the type they expected. First of all he was a civilian but he was also unashamedly not a gentleman. He was blunt, uneducated, only partially literate, violent of temper, and overfond of strong spirits. Even so, he seems to have had more commonsense than all the sophisticated characters who were at Missolonghi in early 1824. Reading the numerous accounts of these exciting days one sometimes gets the impression that Parry was the only normal man among dozens of neurotics, men smothered in humbug and men desperately trying to find a compensation in philhellenism for some psychological inadequacy.

  • 8 Maitland to Colonial Secretary, Colonial Office Records, CO. 136/1086 f 379.

15As so often in the past, the Philhellenes surrounding Byron who composed the Byron Brigade were not quite what they claimed. Of the four who boasted titles – Friedel, Bellier de Launay, Gilman, and Quass – perhaps not one was genuine. Trelawny’s stories about his past life contained more fantasy than truth. Hamilton Brown claimed to have been dismissed from a post in the Ionian Islands for his philhellenic sympathies but had in fact committed the serious offence of passing official information to a member of the Opposition in Parliament.8 ’Doctor’ Meyer had been expelled from university before graduating. And, as so often in the past, dignity and honour were words always on their lips. Duels were arranged on abstruse points of protocol. Many of the Philhellenes, including von Dittmar and Finlay, refused to serve under Parry. When Kindermann, a Prussian officer, came to Byron to give up his commission Byron tried to dissuade him. ’He joked him not a little on the quarterings of his German escutcheon, and on the folly of introducing his prejudices into a country like Greece’, but to no avail. Byron himself, of course, although an untypical Philhellene in some ways, was also distinguished by his punctilious sense of rank.

16Among the strange international concourse of vain, prickly, and unbalanced men who formed the Byron Brigade, Lord Byron and William Parry struck up an unusual but sincere friendship. To the disgust of the well-bred officers and the romantic Byronists, Byron himself preferred the company and advice of the rough artisan. The two men enjoyed one another’s company, they found they could laugh together at the cant and hypocrisy with which they were surrounded. Parry’s past is obscure and, as with his comrades in the Byron Brigade, his claims to have done this or that do not bear too close an examination. But there was no doubt that he had knocked about a bit and he could tell stories of a way of life from which Byron had been totally shut off. He also had a fund of droll anecdotes about his experiences with Jeremy Bentham and the members of the London Greek Committee when the expedition was being prepared. The rapport between Lord Byron and Captain (subsequently Major) Parry, the military Commander of the Byron Brigade, was perfect; but it did not advance the cause. Byron began to take Parry’s advice on virtually everything, treating him as his chief military adviser. Parry as a result became even more conceited than he was before. He did not deliberately ’humbug’ Byron – to use a favourite expression of the disgruntled Philhellenes – but he began to fancy himself in a role which the social conventions of the time could not tolerate. He referred to the officers of the Brigade as ’my officers’ and began to refer to Lord Byron himself as ’my noble friend and protector’. Such pretensions to social equality were an affront that could not be borne.

17The energy expended in taking umbrage at Parry’s vulgarity obscured a more important aspect of the situation. From a practical point of view he was a failure. The expedition, shorn of its main constituent by the decision to accept only part of Gordon’s plan, never had much prospect of success in Greek conditions. What was to be expected, as often happens, did in fact occur. Parry himself seems to have made an effort to set up the arsenal and to drill the men, and the artificers worked hard enough for a while. But most of the Philhellenes thought it beneath their dignity to help in any such menial tasks and the Greeks absolutely refused to be disciplined. The Congreve rockets could not be used since the coal needed to fire them had not arrived.

18The situation deteriorated and there was little that Byron could do to arrest the decline. The Suliotes became more and more unruly, mutinying for more pay. The disputes among the foreigners worsened. On several occasions shots were fired. Parry and Humphreys were both shot at. Lord Byron’s life was threatened. One of the artificers was hit by a shot in the head and was accidentally saved by his hat. The arsenal had to be guarded to prevent it being pillaged by the Greeks and Suliotes. On 19 February an argument broke out between a Suliote and Sass, the Swedish officer, who was then on guard. Blows were exchanged and Sass was fatally wounded. He remained alive for an hour with a shot in the head and one arm almost severed from his body. The man who had endured disease, humiliation, slavery, and then had returned to Greece to try again, came to an ignominious end, killed in a brawl with one of the modern Spartiates, never having had an opportunity of serving the cause in any useful way.

19After Sass’s death all hope of building a credible military force at Missolonghi had finally to be abandoned. The artificers, who were (with every justification) afraid for their lives, demanded to be sent to the safety of the Ionian Islands and they were allowed to go. Parry himself and three others of the expedition remained to act as custodians of the stores. For a while there seemed to be a danger that Missolonghi would be entered and sacked by the Suliotes themselves and the guns which the London Committee had sent for use against the Turks, saw their first service in threatening the followers of the already legendary Marco Botsaris, the ’Leonidas’ of Modern Greece so beloved by the pamphleteers. Shortly afterwards a mutiny broke out among the ’etiquette-soldiers’, as Parry called the Germans who resented his elevation.

20And so the expedition on which the London Greek Committee had placed such hopes disintegrated just as the German Legion had done a year earlier. Neither the prestige nor the money of Lord Byron could make up for the indifference of the Greeks and the quarrelsomeness of the Philhellenes, the two factors which had ruined all previous European attempts to help the Greeks. Like the German Legion, the Byron Brigade found that the only thing which the Greeks wanted from them was their stores. A stream of messengers arrived from various chieftains asking for a share of the cannon and gunpowder and other stores in the arsenal.

21In retrospect, the death of Lord Byron in Missolonghi in April 1824 (like that of General Normann in the same town in 1822) seems to have a certain inevitability. In February Byron had suffered an epileptic fit and he seems never to have properly recovered. The combination of an unhealthy climate and an unhealthy diet brought on his last illness. The doctors finished him off, four or five of them vying with one another to apply more and more extreme bleeding. Among his delirious chattering as the end approached, his famous last words were thought to be ’Poor Greece’.

22Six days after Byron’s death an English merchant vessel, the Florida, arrived at Zante in the Ionian Islands. She had on board Edward Blaquiere with 30,000 English gold sovereigns and 50,000 Spanish silver dollars. The first instalment of the loan had arrived. At last Greece seemed to be about to receive the one thing which she wanted from European philhellenism – and enough of it to satisfy the most rapacious captain or ambitious Phanariote. The Florida turned round at Zante and conveyed the body of Lord Byron and the members of his party back to England. A few weeks later another vessel, the Little Sally, arrived with another 40,000 gold sovereigns, the second instalment of the loan.

23The circumstances in which this money was obtained in England will be described in a later chapter. Here it is enough to mention that, under the contracts by which the first two instalments were sent to Greece, Lord Byron was (with Stanhope) named as one of the commissioners. It was stipulated that the money could not be handed over to the Greeks without his consent. Byron was dead and it was discovered that there was no provision for appointing a new commissioner without reference to London. The money had therefore to be put into a bank in Zante to await further instructions. The various Greek factions burned with frustration to see this vast wealth which was clearly intended for Greece locked up in Zante, only a few miles away but as inaccessible as if it had been in the vaults of the Bank of England.

24It is usual at this point in the story of the Greek War of Independence to speculate on what might have happened if Byron had lived. Could he have used his personal influence and the influence of the vast English gold which he would have controlled to reconcile the Greek factions and to co-ordinate their efforts against the Turks? Could he even have become King or President of Greece as was rumoured at the time? At the very least, could he have prevented the civil war which began to spread over most of free Greece at about the time of his death? The questions are of course unanswerable, but the balance of probability is that Byron could have done none of these things. To imagine that any foreigner, however eminent and however respected, could have found a means of reconciling the political divisions of Greece is to fall into the philhellenic trap of underestimating these divisions, to see them in Western European terms as a kind of party politics conducted within a system where everyone’s loyalty to the nation state can be assumed to override his loyalty to his particular interest group. Byron himself appreciated this fact more than most of his fellow Philhellenes, but it is difficult to imagine how he could have escaped further humiliating anticlimax whatever he chose to do. Even the greatest Philhellene could not have escaped the fact that the bases of philhellenism, numerous though they were, were almost all unsound.

14a. Lord Byron and his suite riding outside Missolonghi attended by his Suliotes.

14b. Lord Byron on his death bed.

15. A Contemporary cartoon on the scandal of the Greek Loan.
The figures represented are, left to right, Hume, Bowring, Ellice, Burdett, Hobhouse, and Galloway.

  • 9 * See pp. 239 f.

25With the death of the leader, the dissipation of their stores, and the ending of their pay, the Byron Brigade did not long survive, although the German Stitzelberger was appointed to take command in Byron’s place. The resemblance to the fate of the German Legion became more and more evident to anyone who had the eyes to see it. Several Philhellenes decided to leave Greece altogether. Others drifted off to try their luck elsewhere. Two members of the Brigade, Jacobi and ’Baron’ Gilman, were killed at the destruction of Psara in July 1824. Many, like Byron, simply succumbed to the strains of living in Greece. Parry went mad for a time after Byron’s death and, although he later recovered, he finished his life in a lunatic asylum. Gill, one of the foremen who had come with Parry and had stayed in Greece to guard the stores, died of disease. One of the doctors, Forli, who attended Byron during his last illness died himself of disease at Missolonghi a few weeks later. The ’etiquette-soldier’ Kinderman died of disease during the summer, as did the young Fels who had come back to Greece to avenge the twin brother he had lost at Peta. Dr. Bojons of Württemberg died in November. Two of the British volunteers who had refused to serve under Parry – Blackett and Winter – committed suicide during 1824. A Scottish volunteer, Fenton, who had come from Spain expressly to join Byron’s Brigade was shot dead by a fellow Philhellene.*9

  • 10 Barth and Kehrig-Korn, p. 118.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 175 from Treiber.
  • 12 Ibid., p. 177.

26Within a few months there were in Greece only a handful of survivors out of the proud Byron Brigade which at one time had contained about fifty Philhellenes. But the flow of new volunteers which had started again in mid-1823 with the news of Byron’s intention to go to Greece was not stopped by the news of his death. From all over Europe, and increasingly from the United States, men set out on the long journey to Greece. Frellsen,10 a Dane from Holstein, is said to have bought a gunboat as soon as he reached his majority and sailed to join Lord Byron. Two Hungarian musicians called Mangel,11 father and son, arrived at Missolonghi thinking they might find a market for their talents. A Saxon diplomat, Meissel,12 who had been purged from the foreign service for his liberal opinions, offered to teach international law but he died at Missolonghi shortly after his arrival. The year 1824 saw the deaths of more Philhellenes, in proportion to the number then in Greece, than any other of the war.

  • 13 Millingen, p. 183; Walsh, i, 172; Wilson, p. 485; Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess (...)

27Lord Charles Murray,13 a son of the Duke of Atholl, arrived at Missolonghi a few weeks after Byron’s death. As he was rich and well connected there was some hope that he might in some way take Byron’s place. He had been a travelling gentleman but had decided to become a Philhellene on reaching Greece. Few people knew that he had recently escaped from a private lunatic asylum in England. He translated a work on military fortification into Modern Greek and paid for a battery to be built at Missolonghi out of his own pocket, but by August 1824 he too was dead of disease brought on by sunstroke.

  • 14 Palma, p. 2.
  • 15 Krøyer, p. 84.
  • 16 Treiber, p. 130.
  • 17 Bulwer, p. 123.

28Three volunteers were sent by the London Committee in August 1824, Kahl and Müller, Germans, and Weller, an Englishman.14 The two Germans died shortly after their arrival in Greece. Von Specht, an officer from Brunswick who had been with the Regiment Tarella at Peta and had then been disgraced for killing a fellow Philhellene in a duel,15 finally succumbed to want and disease at Nauplia in October. Von Gruben,16 a Prussian, committed suicide there in November. A romantic Englishman,17 name unknown, who left his studies at Cambridge to join the Greeks, was also found in a dying state in October in the streets of Nauplia.

  • 18 Emerson, Letters, i, pp. 39 ff. Compare Howe, Letters and Journals, pp. 98f. and p. 112. Wright’s (...)

29In August 1825 the British colony at Smyrna arranged for the funeral of another young Philhellene called Wright who had arrived on a warship in the last stages of emaciation.18 The story of his adventures was told by his companion. Wright, the son of a rich gentleman in Dublin, had been a medical student. Next to the hospital where he attended lectures was the garden of a private mental hospital. One day Wright heard a girl singing in the garden and was so entranced that he climbed over the wall to talk to her. He repeated this exploit every day, and to his astonishment and delight the girl’s sanity gradually returned. He fell deeply in love, but when the girl’s sanity returned her memory faded and she remembered nothing of her affection for Wright. Soon she married someone else. Wright abandoned himself to melancholy, tried to break himself free by travel, but no novelty could soothe his aching heart.

At length he joined the cause of the struggling Greeks and his name has been often and honourably mentioned amongst the companions of Lord Byron at Missolonghi. After his Lordship’s death he still remained in Greece but his constitution was too weak to permit him to be of active service as a Palikari. He had, therefore, taken a post in the garrison which held possession of the castle and town of Navarino, in the Morea, and was wounded in the action at Sphacteria in the summer of 1825.

30In fact Wright did not arrive in Greece until June 1825, nearly fourteen months after the death of Lord Byron, and during the few weeks he had actually spent in Greece he had been exposed both for exaggerating the time he had been in the country and for fraudulently assuming the rank of Colonel. We may therefore doubt the rest of the story. But, pathetic figure though he is, Wright’s fault was presumably merely to cross too blatantly the line between reality and fantasy around which so many of his comrades hovered. Philhellenism claimed its victims in unusual ways but destroyed them nonetheless.

  • 19 Wilson, p. 495. Incidentally Wilson’s chronology goes wrong at this point in his book. He could no (...)

31But nobody was much interested in the fate of the Byron Brigade. Even in death Lord Byron himself monopolized attention. He at once entered the Pantheon of heroes of Modern Greece from which he has never been displaced. This was more than the well-known Greek characteristic of honouring a man more when he is dead than when he is alive. The British public, too, began to feel a nagging shame at the way in which Byron had been driven to leave England in a burst of cant and intolerance which foreshadowed the least attractive features of the Victorian era. After his death, the vile seducer and dangerous atheist became in the eyes of his detractors ’that celebrated, that talented, that erring nobleman, Lord Byron’.19 Suddenly it was universally realized that he had been one of the most remarkable men of his time.

  • 20 See Doris Langley Moore, The Late Lord Byron, London, 1961.

32A flood of biographies appeared. Casual acquaintances rushed into print subtly trying to give the impression that they were among Byron’s best friends. Hack writers were commissioned to produce biographical compilations from old press articles and from rival works. Literary men and aspirant arbiters of taste turned out elegant essays on the genius of the great departed. Byron’s family20 and friends embarked on an attempt to control his posthumous reputation which was to tax their energies for fifty years.

  • 21 The Life, Writings, Opinions and Times of the Right Hon. George Gordon Noel… by an English Gentlem (...)

33Within a few months of Byron’s death several Philhellenes had attempted to cash in on the insatiable public demand. Gamba, Parry, Stanhope, and Blaquiere all produced books in 1825 based on their experiences in Greece which managed to drag the name of Lord Byron on to the title page. In the same year the dead Byron even enjoyed the ultimate flattery of having a three-volume life written (and invented) about him by an entirely fictitious ’English Gentleman in the Greek Military Service and Comrade of His Lordship’.21 Every detail of the few weeks that Byron spent at Missolonghi was rehearsed and fought over in print. Stanhope brought a lawsuit against Parry in 1827. Even Doctor Millingen, who had helped to bleed Byron to death and who had subsequently joined the Turkish side, described himself in his book as ’Surgeon to the Byron Brigade at Mesolonghi’.

34But, despite the plethora of biographical material, the myth of Lord Byron’s death quickly obscured the reality. Byron became by his death the hero he would never have been if he had lived. The glory of his failure had a sweetness which could not have come from success. As the nineteenth century progressed, Byron became one of the heroes of the romantic revolutionaries, the finest example of the union of thought and action, of art and politics. His example seemed to give respectability to national revolution in its most violent form and many a political scribbler advocating assassination and many a terrorist hurling his bombs felt he was partaking in a proud tradition. Byron, by his death, unwittingly played a part in promoting nationalism to the position (long held by religion) of being the most divisive and destructive element in Western civilization.

Notes

1 Gamba, p. 157.

2 Ibid., p. 201.

3 There were at least two Philhellenes called Sass. According to the ships’ lists Adolph Sass came in the Félicité Renouvelée and Karl Sass came in the Duchesse d’Angoulême. For Adolph see Barth and Kehrig-Korn, p. 214, and Parry, p. 57. There is a tombstone at Missolonghi said to be of Gustav Adolph Sass who died in 1826, and there is some evidence that a Swede called Sass was drowned there in 1826.
Borje Knöss, ‘Officiers Suédois dans la Guerre d’lndépendance de la Grèce’ in I’Hellénisme Contemporain 2me série, 3me année, Fasc. No. 4, pp. 319 ff., quotes letters of 1824 and 1825 from contemporary Swedish newspapers allegedly by Adolphe de Sass who is said to have died in 1829.

4 Dakin, British and American Philhellenes, sets out most of the information that can be gleaned about this group.

5 * Finlay says (1824) that it was safer to ride from Athens to Missolonghi than from London to Edinburgh.

6 * Poe himself says that he failed to reach Greece but went to St. Petersburg. This is also imaginary.

7 Larrabee, pp. 145 f.

8 Maitland to Colonial Secretary, Colonial Office Records, CO. 136/1086 f 379.

9 * See pp. 239 f.

10 Barth and Kehrig-Korn, p. 118.

11 Ibid., p. 175 from Treiber.

12 Ibid., p. 177.

13 Millingen, p. 183; Walsh, i, 172; Wilson, p. 485; Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, ed. R. R. Madden, London, 1855, ii, p. 127; several letters are quoted in Blaquiere, Second Visit. See also the remarks of Charles Armitage Brown quoted in The Keats Circle, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, Harvard, 1948, i, pp. lvii f

14 Palma, p. 2.

15 Krøyer, p. 84.

16 Treiber, p. 130.

17 Bulwer, p. 123.

18 Emerson, Letters, i, pp. 39 ff. Compare Howe, Letters and Journals, pp. 98f. and p. 112. Wright’s travelling companion, Railton, was at work on The Antiquities of Athens begun by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett.

19 Wilson, p. 495. Incidentally Wilson’s chronology goes wrong at this point in his book. He could not have seen the body of Lord Byron at Zante at the end of his Greek tour of 1824 as he says.

20 See Doris Langley Moore, The Late Lord Byron, London, 1961.

21 The Life, Writings, Opinions and Times of the Right Hon. George Gordon Noel… by an English Gentleman in the Greek Military Service, and Comrade of His Lordship, London, 1825.

Table des illustrations

Légende 14a. Lord Byron and his suite riding outside Missolonghi attended by his Suliotes.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/722/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 202k
Légende 14b. Lord Byron on his death bed.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/722/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 224k
Légende 15. A Contemporary cartoon on the scandal of the Greek Loan.The figures represented are, left to right, Hume, Bowring, Ellice, Burdett, Hobhouse, and Galloway.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/722/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,8M

Acheter

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search