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That Greece Might Still Be Free

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William St Clair

20 Essays in Regeneration

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1While Lord Byron was attempting to establish a military force at Missolonghi, the other agent of the London Greek Committee, Colonel Stanhope, continued to play his self-appointed role of the apostle of utilitarianism. The dogmatic self-assurance which had enabled him to impress and overawe the vastly more experienced Philhellenes of the Swiss and German Societies continued to be his principal strength. The reality of Greek conditions did not daunt him and it is to Stanhope that perhaps belongs the doubtful credit of being the only man who went to Greece during the war whose political ideas were not modified by the experience.

2For Stanhope, his work in Greece was much the same as his work in India and his attitude was the mixture of tolerance and didacticism that he thought was proper to a colonial trustee unashamedly representing a superior civilization. Yet even for Stanhope there remained the traces of philhellenic notions about the Ancient and Modern Greeks and the dreaded Moslems.

3’It is my practice when natives visit me’, he wrote to Bowring in a typical report, ’to draw their attention to those points which are most essential to their welfare, and to put the matter in a point of view that will interest them and set their minds in labour. For example, if I wish to recommend military discipline to them, I speak of the combined operations and close order observed by their ancestors in their arrays: speaking of education I lament that their Turkish masters should have deprived their children of the means of acquiring that knowledge which their great forefathers so eminently possessed’.

4Stanhope’s first concern on his arrival in Missolonghi was to establish a newspaper. Even before the Ann carrying Parry and the military stores had reached Greece, Stanhope was sending impatient letters demanding that first priority should be given to landing the printing presses. Within a few days he had set up the press, engaged the Swiss chemist Meyer to act as editor, and prepared to issue the prospectus. The newspaper was called the Greek Chronicle and its motto was the famous utilitarian slogan ’The greatest happiness of the greatest number’.

5Not everyone was so certain that it was right to establish a newspaper, a thing unknown in Greece. Demetrius Hypsilantes had employed a press for a time at Calamata in 1821 to help promulgate his pronouncements and the Provisional Government had a press for printing its decrees and laws; but never before had there been an attempt to publish news and comment. The benefits which Stanhope foresaw seemed to prerequire a totally different set of conditions if they were to come to fruition. The creation of an informed public opinion and the encouragement of open and knowledgeable discussion of political matters were no doubt worthwhile aims, but could they be achieved by a single press controlled by foreigners and totally committed to a particular set of policies? As Byron was to point out when he arrived, in giving political judgements it is necessary to praise some men and censure others. In Greece men who felt they were insulted by word had the habit of replying by deed. So far from creating political unity the newspaper might encourage divisiveness and violence. And then only a small proportion of the Greek population could read. The newspaper was bound to find most of its readership abroad and in countries which were looking for excuses to condemn the Greek rebels.

6When Mavrocordato’s secretary, a Frenchman called Grasset, put some of these points to Stanhope he responded by invoking the dogma of the freedom of the press. ’Sophistry would not do’, he reported to Bowring, ’from one who was slily acting as censor over the press, and attempting to suppress the thoughts of the finest genius of the most enlightened age – the thoughts of the immortal Bentham’. Stanhope gave Grasset several scoldings using a ’high and sturdy tone’; demanded whether he wanted to set up an inquisition in Greece; declared that he would set up another newspaper in the Morea and expose the whole affair; and reminded Grasset that no man’s reputation would be safe without a free press.

7Stanhope was the official representative of the British Philhellenes. He not only had money to dispose immediately on his own account and on that of the Committee, but also held out hopes of the fabled loan. For these reasons he was allowed to have his way. The first numbers of the Greek Chronicle of Missolonghi began to appear in January 1824. The first experiment in practical Benthamism had been successfully launched.

8The early issues were largely taken up with extracts from the works of the great Jeremy and messages of good will from this or that well-wisher. But the tone and style of the paper, as it settled down to regular publication, were hardly in accordance with the best ideals of a free press. The so-called news which it printed was unscrupulously biased, and even invented, so that the smallest skirmishes with the Turks were represented as great and decisive battles. The comment was partisan and often libellous. When Byron arrived at Missolonghi he tried to use his influence to tone down the more offensive passages, and especially to prevent the newspaper from being used for gratuitous attacks on the policies of the great European powers. He insisted on the suppression of one issue which spoke with favour of the separatist movement in Hungary. Meyer, the editor, as his connection with Stanhope developed, became more radical in his views and seemed about to provide the evidence, which some of the powers had always wanted, that the Greek Revolution was inspired by the same liberals and even the same men as the revolutions in Italy and Spain.

9Stanhope was never troubled by doubt. Newspapers were good in themselves whatever they printed. Soon afterwards a second newspaper, The Greek Telegraph, most of whose articles were in Italian, was established at Missolonghi. It too had a Benthamite motto, ’The world our country, and doing good our religion’, but this generous sentiment proved to be obnoxious to the Methodist members of the London Greek Committee and a protest was lodged. With the establishment of The Telegraph, the unsalubrious unknown fishing town in Western Greece had more newspapers than the whole of the Ottoman Empire.

  • 1 See, for example, Gordon, ii, p. 180.

10In April Stanhope established a third newspaper, The Athens Free Press, or Ephemerides of Athens, with the motto ’Publicity is the Soul of Justice’. At Hydra was established The Friend of the Law. For a few months Greece had four newspapers all proclaiming the virtues of free discussion, the need to keep public officials under scrutiny, the dangers of disunity, and the benefits of education. It was an astonishing achievement and, in the opinion of the best judges,1 the experiment did more good than harm. But the newspapers throughout their life were regarded by the majority of the Greeks as playthings of the Philhellenes and they never put down roots or lost their connection with the foreigners. Once the subsidies ran out they all ceased publication.

11Stanhope’s absolute priority was the establishment of a newspaper but, as soon as the Greek Chronicle was appearing regularly, he turned his attention and energy to other utilitarian projects. His method was to address long letters of advice to the multifarious authorities then operating in Greece and to back up his recommendations with judicious offers of money. As always his self-assurance was his strongest weapon. The Greeks had never met a man who had such a scant regard for difficulties, who apparently was not deterred from his plans by the fact that the country was still at war with the Turks and at the same time in the midst of a civil war; that there was no government with other than local power and that a large proportion of the people were quickly sinking towards misery. Stanhope for his part thought that with money he could accomplish anything. For £200 I can set the press to work’, he wrote to the London Greek Committee, ’for £100 I can establish a post across the Morea; for £500 I could put a force in movement that would take Patras, Lepanto, and the Castles [of Roumeli and the Morea] which would free Greece’.

12In pursuit of his conviction that ’in all countries the quick circulation of ideas must be conducive to the public good, but more especially so in a free and commercial state’, Stanhope offered to set up and operate a postal service at his own expense. Clerks were to set up offices at the main towns, accounts were to be kept and submitted each month to headquarters. Every detail was laid down, including rates to be charged, the pay of the officials, the schedule of the service. It was even ordained that the runners were to run at five miles an hour and to perform twenty miles daily.

13Education of the young was also to be started. Stanhope believed on his arrival in Greece that there were no schools at all and he was not far mistaken. A crash programme was therefore called for. It was natural that he should try to solve the problem by setting up ’Lancastrian’ schools on the lines that had already been tried with some success in the Ionian Islands. ’Lancastrian’ schools were schools run according to the theories of Joseph Lancaster, a prominent educational theorist of the day. The basic principle was that a small number of teachers would teach the elder pupils and they in their turn would teach the younger pupils. According to this principle, a poor community which was unable to afford the expense of a conventional school might acquire the rudiments of education. Stanhope was instrumental in setting up a number of Lancastrian schools in Greece, using the London Committee’s money to help pay the wages of the schoolmaster and to buy schoolbooks. In the extreme conditions of Greece the principles on which the Lancastrian system worked had to be further diluted and sometimes boys sent to a central Lancastrian school were expected to return to their village and educate their comrades there.

14A few selected Greek boys were sent to England to be educated at the expense of the London Greek Committee and of the Quakers mainly at the Lancastrian school in Lambeth. Jeremy Bentham contracted to pay the expenses of two boys out of his own pocket. It was intended that these boys should return to Greece as schoolmasters. ’We should,’ declared one of the Greek newspapers in an anonymous article inspired and drafted by Stanhope, ’endeavour to obtain the offspring of parents who have been prominent in rescuing Greece from the Satanical rule of the Turks, and have been firm in promoting her liberties; …. We felicitate our countrymen [the Greeks] on having such a friend as Bentham…. He is the greatest civilian of this, or perhaps, of any age, and is renowned all over the world as a great public benefactor’. Altogether about twenty Greeks were sent to England for education in 1824 and 1825.

15Stanhope also brought to England a Turkish boy of about nine or ten years old who was found prowling naked among the ruins of Argos, ’kicked or fondled as caprice dictated’ until he was rescued by a Philhellene. His parents and family and the whole Turkish community had, as Stanhope put it, fallen Victims to the fury of the enfranchised Greeks’. The boy, Mustapha Ali, was sent to the Lancastrian school in Lambeth where he was said to have earned his card of merit every day. He was dressed in Turkish dress complete with pistols and turban, although he hated to be called Turk and hated his name. He was said to have been ’very fond of dancing which he performs in a manner resembling that of the Ancient Greeks, deviating only by firing off his pistols while he twirls’.

16A dispensary was set up at Missolonghi. The doctors sent out by the Committee were given a building and charge of the medicines brought in the Ann, A fee was paid if the patient could afford it but not otherwise. Stanhope reckoned that such dispensaries could be set up in other Greek towns at the trifling cost of £40 plus one foreign doctor.

17Economic development, a subject in which the Benthamites were pioneers, was also to be encouraged. Stanhope sent home statistics of costs in Greece to try to encourage emigration from England. Land yielded ten per cent, he declared, a man could be hired for the equivalent of 7 ½ pence per day, a woman for 5 pence, and a boy for 2 ½ pence. Proposals were made for introducing more efficient agricultural methods. There was even a scheme for issuing a new coinage to replace the debased coins of many countries which circulated in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to the most advanced theories of the day in England, it was to be arranged on decimal principles.

18In reading the reports to London, one gets the impression that Colonel Stanhope almost single-handed with only a few hundred pounds at his disposal accomplished more in a few months than the combined philhellenic activities of all nations hitherto. Even when one makes allowance for the fact that many of his schemes never came to anything or were soon abandoned, the record of his success is impressive, and in stark contrast to the abortive efforts of Lord Byron to form a military force at Missolonghi. Stanhope was eccentric, priggish, naive, and presumably insufferable, but at the same time decisive and practical. Efficiency came naturally to him and he was attracted to men who shared his characteristics.

  • 2 * The Modern Greeks could understand a Greek assuming the name of Odysseus. But how many, one wonde (...)

19The area of Greece between Athens and Livadia seemed to be the most promising field for his activities. Unlike most of Greece, this part gave the appearance of being under an efficient government, well-policed, with reasonably fair local administration and access to justice. It was ruled as a personal domain by one of the most famous chieftains of Greece, Odysseus Androutses. Odysseus had picked up his proud classical name while a boy in the Ionian Islands. Like so many apparent classical survivals and revivals in Greece it was an importation from the West,*2 and yet, as if to emphasize the myth of philhellenism, he had an uncanny resemblance to one version of the Odysseus of antiquity. He was not the long-enduring, resourceful Odysseus of Homer, but the lying, cheating, double-dealer of later legend. Odysseus’ commitment to the cause of Greek independence was never more than half-hearted. His hero was Ali Pasha and he seems to have tried consciously to model his own career on Ali’s. Like Ali he was cruel, unscrupulous, and despotic in asserting his personal authority over his region. He did not much care whether he acknowledged Turkish suzerainty or not and he cared nothing at all for the euphuistic declarations about the regeneration of Greece. In 1821 and 1822 he actively co-operated with the Turks against the other Greeks when it suited him and he had on one occasion arranged the murder of two prominent Greeks on a mission to him from the Greek Government.

20Like his mentor, Ali Pasha, Odysseus’s policy for survival and aggrandizement was to suppress ruthlessly all opposition within and at the same time to accommodate quickly to the changing forces outside. Whether the outside forces were his fellow revolutionaries among the Greeks or his former colleagues among the Turks, Odysseus was ready to adapt. At the time when the British Philhellenes were active in Greece Odysseus was determined to ensure that he would be favoured when the money from the loan started to arrive. He decided to treat the British Philhellenes with courtesy.

21Within a few days of meeting Odysseus for the first time Stanhope was completely won over. There are few more incongruous episodes in the history of philhellenism than this encounter between the unshakeable optimist and the cynical warlord. ’I have been constantly with Odysseus,’ Stanhope wrote from Athens. ’He was a very strong mind, a good heart, and is brave as his sword; he is a doing man; he governs with a strong arm, and is the only man in Greece that can preserve order’. As a doing man himself, Stanhope was at once drawn to this rare phenomenon, an effective Greek. Soon he had convinced himself not only that Odysseus was a brave patriot but that he was a paragon of Benthamite liberalism. Stanhope, who had nothing but contempt for the romanticism of the militarists, of the archaizers, and of the Byronists, was caught by a romanticism of his own. On his first two days in Athens he had been taken to witness a scene that would have warmed the heart of any liberal idealist. As he wrote to Bowring:

Yesterday a public meeting took place for the purpose of choosing three persons to serve as magistrates for Athens. The persons were named; their respective merits were canvassed and they were then ballotted for, and chosen by universal suffrage. This day another meeting took place for the purpose of choosing three judges. I attended the assembly held in the square opposite the port. Odysseus, with others, was seated on the hustings. Opposite stands an old tree, surrounded with a broad seat, from which the magistrates addressed the people, explained the objects for which they were assembled, and desired them to name their judges. A free debate then took place, it lasted long, became more and more animated, and at last, much difference of opinion existing, a ballot was demanded and the judges were chosen.

22Stanhope was bowled over. The beauty of Athens, the simplicity of the ceremony, perhaps the old tree; it was a Benthamite idyll – political democracy returning to the land from which it had sprung. Stanhope began to report to the London Committee on the type of man he imagined (and wanted) Odysseus to be. ’He puts complete confidence in the people’. ’He is for strong government, for constitutional rights’. ’He professes himself of no faction’. ’He likes good foreigners… and courts instruction’. ’He… has taken the liberal course in politics’. ’He is a brave soldier, has great power, and promotes public liberty. Just such a man Greece requires’.

23Odysseus was certainly the most unusual Benthamite ever to burn a village or slit a throat. Had it been possible to change an oriental brigand into an enlightened champion of constitutional liberty by addressing him flattering letters, then Stanhope would have succeeded. Jeremy Bentham himself might have demurred at the extravagance of some of Stanhope’s remarks addressed to Odysseus, referring to his ’vast mind’, his ’nobleness of soul to pursue the public good’, and foretelling how he would ’soar above all his contemporaries’ and ’entail on millions for ages to come the blessings of liberty’. There is something splendid in the matter-of-fact way in which Stanhope assumed that Odysseus shared his political outlook, as is shown in the following extract from a letter.

24Dear General Odysseus

I am desirous of obtaining your sanction to the formation of a utilitarian society in Athens. I propose to select its members from the most virtuous and able of her citizens. The end proposed is the formation of schools, museums, dispensaries, agricultural and horticultural societies – in short all the establishments connected with the advancement of useful knowledge.

25In March 1824 the utilitarian society was established under the title of the Philomuse Society of Athens. There had been a Philomuse Society before. It had been founded probably in 1813 mainly by Western travellers visiting Athens and by Greeks of Western education. Rich travellers from England and France paid subscriptions to the Society, the proceeds of which went to buying school books and educating young Athenians. In return, the ’Friends of the Muses’ were permitted to enjoy a little innocent flummery with mock antique ceremonies and clothes, gold and bronze rings with owls and Greek inscriptions, and grandiloquent speeches about the old days. The Philomuse Society was a manifestation of an earlier type of philhellenism, well known particularly in the Ionian Islands, which took pleasure in dreaming of a revival of Ancient Hellas without imagining that a revolution was a serious possibility.

26As revised by Stanhope, the Philomuse Society declared in a letter to the newspaper (drafted of course by Stanhope) that its objects were to preserve the antiquities, to advance the knowledge and to improve the conditions of the Greeks. An appeal was issued to ’all useful societies in every part of the world’ asking for information on ’education, the fine arts, legislation, political economy, agriculture, horticulture, commerce, mechanics, and public institutions’.

  • 3 Sir William Gell, Narrative of a Journey in the Morea, London, 1823, p. 303.

27One writer in England, William Gell, who knew Greece as well as any man of his day, was so disgusted with the stream of philhellenic rubbish that purported to be news from Greece that he had in 1823 hastily published a book based on his own travels in the country to show what conditions were really like before the Revolution. The only circumstances which the philhellenic writers seem to have forgotten, he declared sarcastically, ’are the lighting of the Piraean road with gas lamps, the name of the Prima Donna of the opera at Thebes, and the notification of the reward offered by the Amphictyons for the discovery of the longitude’. Gell rounds off his list of absurdities with the remark that ’of all the hard pills to be swallowed… the Athenian Society of Philomusae… is the most difficult of digestion’.3

28But Gell was wrong. Under Stanhope’s impetus the Philomuse Society actually did convert some philhellenic dreams into reality. A church was equipped as a Lancastrian school, and another school was established to teach ancient Greek. Odysseus was even persuaded to lend some Turkish prisoners (slaves would be a more accurate description) to haul antiquities up to the Acropolis and so establish the first ’museum’ in Greece.

  • 4 Gordon, ii, p. 121.

29Stanhope flattered Odysseus by lavishing on him the kind of praises which he would have liked to hear about himself. Odysseus flattered Stanhope in a more subtle way. He laid on occasional show-assemblies and show-elections, and listened particularly to the long-winded Colonel’s theories. One morning when the two men were solemnly discussing the latest utilitarian scheme, a doctor entered and handed Odysseus a report on the state of the hospital and then answered various queries on it. No hospital existed, but Stanhope remained in ignorance.4 Still less did it occur to him that this new-found champion of the people’s rights was still in the habit of arbitrarily torturing and killing any men in his area of Greece who might appear to pose a threat to his power.

30From Odysseus’ point of view the policy was a complete success. His reputation for being the bravest and best of the Greeks spread far and wide through Europe. In Greece all the Philhellenes who shared Stanhope’s beliefs naturally wanted to serve Odysseus. Other Philhellenes whose interest was simply to indulge their Byronic romanticism now found a justification for their apparently absurd preference. The attractive, but scarcely credible theory, that the barbarous mountain chieftains with their oriental dress and oriental habits were the ’true Greeks’ received a curious reinforcement. Not only was Odysseus a ’true Greek’ but a champion of constitutional liberty as well.

31In the spring of 1824 Stanhope rushed about Greece trying to use his influence and to persuade Byron to use his influence to arrange a congress of the Greek leaders. The likelihood of success was never great. Mavrocordato and his friends at Missolonghi knew Odysseus better than Stanhope. With the death of Byron in April all hope of reconciliation passed.

32But with the death of Byron Stanhope was now the sole agent of the London Greek Committee in Greece. This allowed him to make his last mistake. At Missolonghi there still lay the guns and gunpowder that had been sent out in the Ann, the armaments which had been donated by Gordon when his proposal to send an artillery brigade to Greece was overruled. These stores were now the only things of any value that remained from all the efforts of the London Greek Committee. To the consternation of Parry, who had shared many a laugh with Byron at the expense of the absurd Colonel, Stanhope now ordered that the gunpowder and guns should be handed over to Odysseus. With great difficulty the order was executed and the guns were hauled across Greece. Odysseus had no intention of using them against the Turks. He took them to a cave in Mount Parnassus where he had built a fortified redoubt from which he could conveniently control his little empire in Eastern Greece. The most lasting practical result of all the efforts of the British Benthamites was to reinforce the power of a cruel warlord.

33But now one of the subterranean forces which have been described in earlier chapters gave a twist to events. The British Government had originally turned a blind eye to Colonel Stanhope, an officer in the British army (on half-pay) going to Greece. At the time they thought his activities would promote British interests. By early 1824, fortified by extensive intelligence from the intercepted mails in the Ionian Islands, they had changed their minds. To have such a vociferous republican liberal at large in Greece, Canning decided, far from advancing British interests, did damage to the monarchical principle. When Stanhope visited Zante in May 1824 he was handed a letter from the British army authorities in London ordering him to return home without delay. Since he depended on his army pension for his income he decided to obey.

34Before he left Greece Stanhope decided to address one final appeal to the Greek people. His opening words, from a life-long passionate republican, must have added to the general belief among the Greeks that all Franks – and particularly the English – were either mad, or very, very devious. ’Greeks, The King, my sovereign, has commanded me immediately to return to England. I obey the royal mandate’. The rest of the letter was on familiar themes about their great ancestors, how money was less important than stout hearts and wise leaders, how faction and treachery were injurious to national unity. Stanhope listed a number of ways by which national evils could be averted, the last of which and the most important was for the people to respect their representatives ’who have hitherto been doomed to waste their talents and patriotism in obscurity, owing chiefly to their debates not having been published’.

35And so Stanhope disappeared into obscurity, leaving Greece bewildered but essentially unchanged by his experiments.

Notes

1 See, for example, Gordon, ii, p. 180.

2 * The Modern Greeks could understand a Greek assuming the name of Odysseus. But how many, one wonders, were so familiar with the history of the transmission of the classics that they could understand why some Europeans insisted on calling him Ulysses?

3 Sir William Gell, Narrative of a Journey in the Morea, London, 1823, p. 303.

4 Gordon, ii, p. 121.

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