Modern Greece by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay

‘Journal of a Tour in Greece and the Ionian Islands.’
By WILLIAM MURE, of Caldwell.


What are the nuisances, special to Greece, which repel tourists from that country? They are three;–robbers, fleas, and dogs. It is remarkable that all are, in one sense, respectable nuisances–they are ancient, and of classical descent. The monuments still existing from pre-Christian ages, in memory of honest travellers assassinated by brigands of klephts, (Kleptai,) show that the old respectable calling of freebooters by sea and land, which Thucydides, in a well-known passage, describes as so reputable an investment for capital during the times preceding his own, and, as to northern Greece, even during his own, had never entirely languished, as with us it has done, for two generations, on the heaths of Bagshot, Hounslow, or Finchley. Well situated as these grounds were for doing business, lying at such convenient distances from the metropolis, and studying the convenience of all parties, (since, if a man were destined to lose a burden on his road, surely it was pleasing to his feelings that he had not been suffered to act as porter over ninety or a hundred miles, in the service of one who would neither pay him nor thank him); yet, finally, what through banks, and what through policemen, the concern has dwindled to nothing. In England, we believe, this concern was technically known amongst men of business and ‘family men,’ as the ‘Low Toby.’ In Greece it was called [Greek: laeseia]; and Homericaliy speaking, it was perhaps the only profession thoroughly respectable. A few other callings are mentioned in the Odyssey as furnishing regular bread to decent men–viz. the doctor’s, the fortune-teller’s or conjurer’s, and the armorer’s. Indeed it is clear, from the offer made to Ulysses of a job, in the way of hedging and ditching, that sturdy big-boned beggars, or what used to be called ‘Abraham men’ in southern England, were not held to have forfeited any heraldic dignity attached to the rank of pauper, (which was considerable,) by taking a farmer’s pay where mendicancy happened to be ‘looking downwards.’ Even honest labor was tolerated, though, of course, disgraceful. But the Corinthian order of society, to borrow Burke’s image, was the bold sea-rover, the buccaneer, or, (if you will call him so) the robber in all his varieties. Titles were, at that time, not much in use–honorary titles we mean; but had our prefix of ‘Right Honorable’ existed, it would have been assigned to burglars, and by no means to privy-councillors; as again our English prefix of ‘Venerable’ would have been settled, not on so sheepish a character as the archdeacon, but on the spirited appropriator of church plate. We were surprised lately to find, in a German work of some authority, so gross a misconception of Thucydides, as that of supposing him to be in jest. Nothing of the sort. The question which he represents as once current, on speaking a ship in the Mediterranean–‘Pray, gentlemen, are you robbers?’ actually occurs in Homer; and to Homer, no doubt, the historian alludes. It neither was, nor could be conceived, as other than complimentary; for the alternative supposition presumed him that mean and well-known character–the merchant, who basely paid for what he took. It was plainly asking–Are you a knight grand-cross of some martial order, or a sort of costermonger? And we give it as no hasty or fanciful opinion, that the South Sea islands (which Bougainville held to be in a state of considerable civilization) had, in fact, reached the precise stage of Homeric Greece. The power of levying war, as yet not sequestered by the ruling power of each community, was a private right inherent in every individual of any one state against all individuals of any other. Captain Cook’s ship, the Resolution, and her consort, the Adventure, were as much independent states and objects of lawful war to the islanders, as Owyhee, in the Sandwich group, was to Tongataboo in the Friendly group. So that to have taken an Old Bailey view of the thefts committed was unjust, and, besides, inefectual; the true remedy being by way of treaty or convention with the chiefs of every island. And perhaps, if Homer had tried it, the same remedy (in effect, regular payments of black-mail) might have been found available in his day.

It is too late to suggest that idea now. The princely pirates are gone; and the last dividend has been paid upon their booty; so that, whether he gained or lost by them, Homer’s estate is not liable to any future inquisitions from commissioners of bankruptcy or other sharks. He, whether amongst the plundered, or, as is more probable, a considerable shareholder in the joint-stock privateers from Tenedos, etc., is safe both from further funding and refunding. We are not. And the first question of moment to any future tourist is, what may be the present value, at a British insurance office, of any given life risked upon a tour in Greece? Much will, of course, depend upon the extent and the particular route. A late prime minister of Greece, under the reigning king Otho, actually perished by means of one day’s pleasure excursion from Athens, though meeting neither thief nor robber. He lost his way: and this being scandalous in an ex-chancellor of the exchequer having ladies under his guidance, who were obliged, like those in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, to pass the night, in an Athenian wood, his excellency died of vexation. Where may not men find a death? But we ask after the calculation of any office which takes extra risks: and, as a basis for such a calculation, we submit the range of tour sketched by Pausanius, more than sixteen centuries back–that [Greek: Pansapachae periodos], as Colonel Leake describes it, which carries a man through the heart of all that can chiefly interest in Greece. Where are the chances upon such a compass of Greek travelling, having only the ordinary escort and arms, or having no arms, (which the learned agree in thinking the safer plan at present,) that a given traveller will revisit the glimpses of an English moon, or again embrace his ‘placens uxor?’ As with regard to Ireland, it is one stock trick of Whiggery to treat the chances of assassination in the light of an English hypochondriacal chimaera, so for a different reason it has been with regard to Italy, and soon will be for Greece. Twenty years ago it was a fine subject for jesting–the English idea of stilettos in Rome, and masqued bravos, and assassins who charged so much an inch for the depth of their wounds. But all the laughter did not save a youthful English marriage party from being atrociously massacred; a grave English professional man with his wife from being carried off to a mountainous captivity, and reserved from slaughter only by the prospect of ransom; a British nobleman’s son from death or the consequences of Italian barbarity; or a prince, the brother of Napoleon, from having the security of his mansion violated, and the most valuable captives carried off by daylight from his household. In Greece apparently the state of things is worse, because absolutely worse under a far slighter temptation. But Mr. Mure is of opinion that Greek robbers have private reasons as yet for sparing English tourists.

So far then is certain: viz. that the positive danger is greater in poverty-stricken Greece than in rich and splendid Italy. But as to the valuation of the danger, it is probably as yet imperfect from mere defect of experience: the total amount of travellers is unknown. And it may be argued that at least Colonel Leake, Mr. Dodwell, and our present Mr. Mure, with as many more as have written books, cannot be among the killed, wounded, or missing. There is evidence in octavo that they are yet ‘to the fore.’ Still with respect to books, after all, they may have been posthumous works: or, to put the case in another form, who knows how many excellent works in medium quarto, not less than crown octavo, may have been suppressed and intercepted in their rudiments by these expurgatorial ruffians? Mr. Mure mentions as the exquisite reason for the present fashion of shooting from an ambush first, and settling accounts afterwards, that by this means they evade the chances of a contest. The Greek robber, it seems, knows as well as Cicero that ‘non semper viator a latrone, nonnunquam etiam latro a viatore occiditur’–a disappointment that makes one laugh exceedingly. Now this rule as to armed travellers is likely to bear hard upon our countrymen, who being rich, (else how come they in Greece?) will surely be brilliantly armed; and thus again it may be said, in a sense somewhat different from Juvenal’s–

Et vacuus cantat coram latrone viator;

Vacuus not of money, but of pistols. Yet on the other hand, though possibly sound law for the thickets of Mount Cithaeron, this would be too unsafe a policy as a general rule: too often it is the exposure of a helpless exterior which first suggests the outrage. And perhaps the best suggestion for the present would be, that travellers should carry in their hands an apparent telescope or a reputed walking-cane; which peaceful and natural part of his appointments will first operate to draw out his lurking forest friend from his advantage; and on closer colloquy, if this friend should turn restive, then the ‘Tuscan artist’s tube,’ contrived of course a double debt to pay, will suddenly reveal another sort of tube, insinuating an argument sufficient for the refutation of any sophism whatever. This is the best compromise which we can put forward with the present dilemma in Greece, where it seems that to be armed or to be unarmed is almost equally perilous. But our secret opinion is, that in all countries alike, the only absolute safeguard against highway robbery is–a railway; for then the tables are turned; not he who is stopped–incurs the risk, but he who stops: we question whether Samson himself could have pulled up his namesake on the Liverpool railway. Recently, indeed, in the Court of Common Pleas, on a motion to show cause by Sergeant Bompas, in Hewitt v. Price, Tindal (Chief-Justice) said–‘We cannot call a railway a public [Footnote 1] security, I think,’ (laughter:) but we think otherwise. In spite of ‘laughter,’ we consider it a specific against the Low Toby. And, en attendant, there is but one step towards amelioration of things for Greece, which lies in summary ejecting of the Bavarian locusts. Where all offices of profit or honor are engrossed by needy aliens, you cannot expect a cheerful temper in the people. And, unhappily, from moody discontent in Greece to the taking of purses is a short transition.

Thus have we disposed of ‘St. Nicholas’s Clerks.’ Next we come to fleas and dogs:–Have we a remedy for these? We have: but as to fleas, applicable or not, according to the purpose with which a man travels. If, as happened at times to Mr. Mure, a natural, and, for his readers, a beneficial anxiety to see something of domestic habits, overcomes all sense of personal inconvenience, he will wish, at any cost, to sleep in Grecian bedrooms, and to sit by German hearths. On the other hand, though sensible of the honor attached to being bit by a flea lineally descended from an Athenian flea that in one day may possibly have bit three such men as Pericles, Phidias, and Euripides, many quiet unambitious travellers might choose to dispense with ‘glory,’ and content themselves with the view of Greek external nature. To these persons we would recommend the plan of carrying amongst their baggage a tent, with portable camp-beds; one of those, as originally invented upon the encouragement of the Peninsular campaigns from 1809 to 1814, and subsequently improved, would meet all ordinary wants. It is objected, indeed, that by this time the Grecian fleas must have colonized the very hills and woods; as once, we remember, upon Westminster Bridge, to a person who proposed bathing in the Thames by way of a ready ablution from the July dust, another replied, ‘My dear sir, by no means; the river itself is dusty. Consider what it is to have received the dust of London for nineteen hundred years since Caesar’s invasion.’ But in any case the water cups, in which the bed-posts rest, forbid the transit of creatures not able to swim or to fly. A flea indeed leaps; and, by all report, in a way that far beats a tiger–taking the standard of measurement from the bodies of the competitors. But even this may be remedied: giving the maximum leap of a normal flea, it is always easy to raise the bed indefinitely from the ground–space upwards is unlimited–and the supporters of the bed may be made to meet in one pillar, coated with so viscous a substance as to put even a flea into chancery.

As to dogs, the case is not so easily settled; and before the reader is in a condition to judge of our remedy, he ought to know the evil in its whole extent. After all allowances for vermin that waken you before your time, or assassins that send you to sleep before your time, no single Greek nuisance can be placed on the same scale with the dogs attached to every menage, whether household or pastoral. Surely as a stranger approaches to any inhospitable door of the peasantry, often before he knows of such a door as in rerum natura, out bounds upon him by huge careering leaps a horrid infuriated ruffian of a dog–oftentimes a huge moloss, big as an English cow–active as a leopard, fierce as a hyena but more powerful by much, and quite as little disposed to hear reason. So situated–seeing an enemy in motion with whom it would be as idle to negotiate as with an earthquake–what is the bravest man to do? Shoot him? Ay; that was pretty much the course taken by a young man who lived before Troy: and see what came of it. This man, in fact a boy of seventeen, had walked out to see the city of Mycenae, leaving his elder cousin at the hotel sipping his wine. Out sprang a huge dog from the principal house in what you might call the High street of Mycenae; the young man’s heart began to palpitate; he was in that state of excitement which affects most people when fear mingles with excessive anger. What was he to do? Pistols he had none. And, as nobody came out to his aid, he put his hand to the ground; seized a chermadion, (or paving-stone), smashed the skull of the odious brute, and with quite as much merit as Count Robert of Paris was entitled to have claimed from his lucky hit in the dungeon, then walked off to report his little exploit to his cousin at the hotel. But what followed? The wretches in the house, who never cared to show themselves so long as it might only be the dog killing a boy, all came tumbling out by crowds when it became clear that a boy had killed the dog. ‘A la lanterne!‘ they yelled out; valiantly charged en masse: and among them they managed to kill the boy. But there was a reckoning to pay for this. Had they known who it was that sat drinking at the hotel, they would have thought twice before they backed their brute. That cousin, whom the poor boy had left at his wine, happened to be an ugly customer–Hercules incog. It is needless to specify the result. The child unborn had reason to rue the murder of the boy. For his cousin proved quite as deaf to all argument or submission as their own foul thief of a dog or themselves. Suffice it–that the royal house of Mycenae, in the language of Napoleon’s edicts, ceased to reign. But here is the evil; few men leave a Hercules at their hotel; and all will have to stand the vindictive fury of the natives for their canine friends, if you should pistol them. Be it in deliverance of your own life, or even of a lady’s by your side, no apology would be listened to. In fact, besides the disproportionate annoyance to a traveller’s nerves, that he shall be kept uneasy at every turn of the road in mere anxiety as to the next recurrence of struggles so desperate, it arms the indignation of a bold Briton beforehand–that a horrid brute shall be thought entitled to kill him; and if he does, it is pronounced an accident: but if he, a son of the mighty island, kills the brute, instantly a little hybrid Greek peasant shall treat it as murder.

See also  Letters And Letter-Writing by J. S. Adams

Many years ago, we experienced the selfsame annoyance in the north of England. Let no man talk of courage in such cases. Most justly did Marechal Saxe ask an officer sneeringly, who protested that he had never known the sensation of fear, and could not well imagine what it was like, had he never snuffed a candle with his fingers? ‘because in that case,’ said the veteran, ‘I fancy you must have felt afraid of burning your thumb.’ A brave man, on a service of known danger, braces up his mind by a distinct effort to the necessities of his duty. The great sentiment that it is his duty, the sentiments of honor and of country, reconcile him to the service while it lasts. No use, besides, in ducking before shot, or dodging, or skulking; he that faces the storm most cheerfully, has after all the best chance of escaping–were that the object of consideration. But, as soon as this trial is over, and the energy called forth by a high tension of duty has relaxed, the very same man often shrinks from ordinary trials of his prowess. Having, perhaps, little reason for confidence in his own bodily strength, seeing no honor in the struggle, and sure that no duty would be hallowed by any result, he shrinks from it in a way which surprises those who have heard of his martial character. Brave men in extremities are many times the most nervous, and the shyest under perils of a mean order. We, without claiming the benefit of these particular distinctions, happened to be specially ‘soft’ on this one danger from dogs. Not from the mere terror of a bite, but from the shocking doubt besieging such a case for four or five months that hydrophobia may supervene. Think, excellent reader, if we should suddenly prove hydrophobous in the middle of this paper, how would you distinguish the hydrophobous from the non-hydrophobous parts? You would say, as Voltaire of Rousseau, ‘sa plume apparemment brulera le papier.’ Such being the horror ever before our mind, images of eyeballs starting from their sockets, spasms suffocating the throat–we could not see a dog starting off into a yell of sudden discovery bound for the foot of our legs, but that undoubtedly a mixed sensation of panic and fury overshadowed us; a [Greek: Chermadion] was not always at hand; and without practice we could have little confidence in our power of sending it home, else many is the head we should have crushed. Sometimes, where more than one dog happened to be accomplices in the outrage, we were not altogether out of danger. ‘Euripides,’ we said, ‘was really torn to pieces by the dogs of a sovereign prince; in Hounslow, but a month since, a little girl was all but worried by the buck-hounds of a greater sovereign than Archelaus; and why not we by the dogs of a farmer?’ The scene lay in Westmorland and Cumberland. Oftentimes it would happen that in summer we had turned aside from the road, or perhaps the road itself forced us to pass a farm-house from which the family might be absent in the hayfield. Unhappily the dogs in such a case are often left behind. And many have been the fierce contests in which we have embarked; for, as to retreating, be it known that there (as in Greece) the murderous savages will pursue you–sometimes far into the high road. That result it was which uniformly brought us back to a sense of our own wrong, and finally of our rights. ‘Come,’ we used to say, ‘this is too much; here at least is the king’s highway, and things are come to a pretty pass indeed, if we, who partake of a common nature with the king, and write good Latin, whereas all the world knows what sort of Latin is found among dogs, may not have as good a right to standing-room as a low-bred quadruped with a tail like you.’ Non usque adeo summis permiscuit ima longa dies, etc. We remember no instance which ever so powerfully illustrated the courage given by the consciousness of rectitude. So long as we felt that we were trespassing on the grounds of a stranger, we certainly sneaked, we seek not to deny it. But once landed on the high-road, where we knew our own title to be as good as the dog’s, not all the world should have persuaded us to budge one foot.

Our reason for going back to these old Cumbrian remembrances will be found in what follows. Deeply incensed at the insults we had been obliged to put up with for years, brooding oftentimes over

‘Wrongs unredress’d, and insults unaveng’d,’

we asked ourselves–Is vengeance hopeless? And at length we hit upon the following scheme of retribution. This it is which we propose as applicable to Greece. Well acquainted with the indomitable spirit of the bull-dog, and the fidelity of the mastiff, we determined to obtain two such companions; to re-traverse our old ground; to make a point of visiting every house where we had been grossly insulted by dogs; and to commit our cause to the management of these new allies. ‘Let us see,’ said we, ‘if they will speak in the same bullying tone this time.’ ‘But with what ulterior views?’ the dispassionate reader asks. The same, we answer, which Mr. Pitt professed as the objects of the Revolutionary war–‘Indemnity for the past, and security for the future.’ Years, however, passed on; Charles X. fell from his throne; the Reform Bill passed; other things occurred, and as last this change struck us–that the dogs, on whom our vengeance would alight, generally speaking, must belong to a second generation, or even a third, in descent from our personal enemies. Now, this vengeance ‘by procuration’ seemed no vengeance at all. But a plan which failed, as regarded our own past wrongs, may yet apply admirably to a wrong current and in progress. If we Englishmen may not pistol Greek canine ruffians, at any rate we suppose an English bulldog has a right to make a tour in Greece, A mastiff, if he pays for his food and lodgings, possesses as good a title, to see Athens and the Peloponnesus as a Bavarian, and a better than a Turk; and, if he cannot be suffered to pass quietly along the roads on his own private affairs, the more is the pity. But assuredly the consequences will not fall on him; we know enough of the sublime courage bestowed on that heroic animal, to be satisfied that he will shake the life out of any enemy that Greece can show. The embassy sent by Napoleon to the Schah of Persia about the year 1810, complained much and often of the huge dogs scattered over all parts of Western Asia, whether Turkish or Persian; and, by later travels amongst the Himalayas, it seems that the same gigantic ruffians prevail in Central Asia. But the noble English bull-dogs, who, being but three in number, did not hesitate for one instant to rush upon the enormous lion at Warwick, will face any enemy in the world, and will come off victors, unless hyperbolically overweighted; a peril which need not be apprehended, except perhaps in Laconia or Messenia.

Here, therefore, we should be disposed to leave the subject. But, as it is curious for itself, is confessedly of importance to the traveller, and has thrown light upon a passage in the Odyssey that had previously been unintelligible–we go on to one other suggestion furnished by the author before us. It is really a discovery; and is more worthy of a place in annotations upon Homer than nine in ten of all that we read;–

‘Among the numerous points of resemblance with which the classical traveller cannot fail to be struck, between the habits of pastoral and agricultural life as still exemplified in Greece, and those which formerly prevailed in the same country, there is none more calculated to arrest his attention than the correspondence of the shepherds’ encampments, scattered on the face of the less cultivated districts, with the settlements of the same kind whose concerns are so frequently brought forward in the imagery of the Iliad and Odyssey. Accordingly, the passage of Homer to which the existing peculiarity above described,’ (viz. of pelting off dogs by large jagged stones,) ‘affords the-most appropriate commentary, is the scene where Ulysses, disguised as a beggar, in approaching the farm of the swineherd, is fiercely assaulted by the dogs, but delivered by the master of the establishment. Pope’s translation, with the exception of one or two expressions,’ (amongst which Mr. Mure notices mastiff as “not a good term for a sheep-dog,”) ‘here conveys with tolerable fidelity the spirit of the original:–

‘”Soon as Ulysses near the enclosure drew,
With open mouths the furious mastiffs flew;
Down sate the sage; and, cautious to withstand,
Let fall the offensive truncheon from his hand.
Sudden the master runs–aloud he calls;
And from his hasty hand the leather falls;
With show’rs of stones he drives them far away;
The scatter’d dogs around at distance bay.”‘
ODYSS. xiv. 29.

First, however, let us state the personal adventure which occasions this reference to Homer, as it illustrates a feature in Greek scenery, and in the composition of Greek society. In the early part of his travels, on a day when Mr. Mure was within a few hours of the immortal Mesolonghi, he (as better mounted) had ridden a-head of his suite. Suddenly he came upon ‘an encampment of small, low, reed wigwams,’ which in form resembled ‘the pastoral capanne of the Roman plain;’ but were ‘vastly inferior in size and structure.’ Women and children were sitting outside: but finally there crawled forth from the little miserable hovels two or three male figures of such gigantic dimensions as seemed beyond the capacity of the entire dwellings. Several others joined them, all remarkable for size and beauty. And one, whose air of authority bespoke his real rank of chief, Mr. Mure pronounces ‘a most magnificent-looking barbarian,’ This was a nomad tribe of Wallachian shepherds, descended (it is supposed) from the Dacian colonies, Romans intermingled with natives, founded by the later Caesars; the prevalent features of their faces are, it seems, Italian; their language is powerfully veined with Latin; their dress differing from that of all their Albanian neighbors, resembles the dress of Dacian captives sculptured on the triumphal monuments of Rome; and lastly, their peculiar name, Vlack Wallachian, indicates in the Sclavonic language pretty much the same relation to a foreign origin, as in German is indicated by the word Welsh: an affinity of which word is said to exist in our word Walnut, where wall (as the late Mr. Coleridge thinks) means alien, outlandish. The evidence therefore is as direct for their non-Grecian descent as could be desired. But they are interesting to Greece at this time, because annually migrating from Thessaly in the summer, and diffusing themselves in the patriarchal style with their wives, their children, and their flocks, over the sunny vales of Boeotia, of Peloponnesus, and in general of southern Greece. Their men are huge, but they are the mildest of the human race. Their dogs are huge, also; so far the parallel holds. We regret that strict regard to truth forbids us to pursue the comparison.

‘I found myself on a sudden,’ says Mr. Mure, ‘surrounded by a fierce pack of dogs, of size proportioned to that of their masters, and which rushed forth on every side as if bent on devouring both myself and beast: being altogether unprovided with any means of defence but the rope-end of the same halter that supplied my stirrups, I was (I confess) not a little disconcerted by the assault of so unexpected an enemy.’ From this he was soon delivered at the moment by some of the gentle giants, who ‘pelted off the animals with the large loose stones that lay scattered over the rocky surface of the heath.’ But upon the character of the nuisance, and upon the particular remedy employed–both of which are classical, and older than Troy, Mr. Mure makes the following explanations:–

See also  The Present Dilemma In Philosophy by William James

‘The number and ferocity of the dogs that guard the Greek hamlets and sheepfolds, as compared with those kept for similar purposes in other parts of the world, is one of the peculiarities of this country which not only first attracts the attention of the tourist, but is chiefly calculated to excite his alarm, and call into exercise his prowess or presence of mind. It is also amongst the features of modern Greek life that supply the most curious illustrations of classical antiquity. Their attacks are not confined to those who approach the premises of which they are the appointed guardians;’ they do not limit themselves to defensive war: ‘in many districts they are in the habit of rushing from a considerable distance to torment the traveller passing along the public track; and when the pastoral colonies, as is often the case, occur at frequent intervals, the nuisance becomes quite intolerable.’ But in cases where the succession is less continuous, we should imagine that the nuisance was in the same proportion more dangerous; and Mr. Mure acknowledges–that under certain circumstances, to a solitary stranger the risk would be serious; though generally, and in the case of cavalcades, the dogs fasten chiefly upon the horses. But endless are the compensations which we find in the distributions of nature. Is there a bane? Near it lies an antidote. Is there a disease? Look for a specific in that same neighborhood. Here, also, the universal rule prevails. As it was destined that Greece in all ages should be scourged by this intestine enemy, it was provided that a twofold specific should travel concurrently with the evil. And because the vegetable specific, in the shape of oaken cudgels, was liable to local failure, (at this moment, in fact, from the wreck of her woods by means of incendiary armies, Greece is, for a season, disafforested,) there exists a second specific of a mineral character, which (please Heaven?) shall never fail, so long as Greece is Greece. ‘The usual weapons of defence, employed in such cases by the natives, are the large loose stones with which the soil is everywhere strewed–a natural feature of this region, to which also belongs its own proper share of classic interest.’ The character of the rocks prevailing in those mountain ridges which intersect the whole of Greece is, that whilst in its interior texture ‘of iron-hard consistency,’ yet at the surface it is ‘broken into detached fragments of infinitely varied dimensions.’ Balls, bullets, grape, and canister shot, have all been ‘parked’ in inexhaustible magazines; whilst the leading feature which strikes the mind with amazement in this natural artillery, is its fine retail distribution. Everywhere you may meet an enemy: stoop, and everywhere there is shot piled for use. We see a Leibnitzian preestablished harmony between the character of the stratification and the character of the dogs. Cardinal de Retz explains why that war, in the minority of Louis XIV., was called the Fronde; and it seems that in Greece, where an immortal fronde was inevitable, an immortal magazine was supplied for it–one which has been and will continue to be, under all revolutions, for the uncultured tracts present the missiles equally diffused; and the first rudiments of culture show themselves in collections of these missiles along the roads. Hence, in fact, a general mistake of tourists. ‘It is certain,’ says Mr. Mure, ‘that many of the circular mounds, which are noticed in the itineraries under the rubric of ancient tumulus, have been heaped up in this manner. It is to these stones that travellers, and the population at large instinctively have recourse, as the most effectual weapon against the assaults of the dogs.’ The small shot of pebbles, however, or even stones equal to pigeon’s eggs, would avail nothing: ‘those selected are seldom smaller than a man, exerting his whole force, can conveniently lift and throw with one hand.’ Thence, in fact, and from no other cause, comes (as Mr. Mure observes) the Homeric designation of such stones, viz. chermadion, or handful; of which he also cites the definition given by Lucian, [Greek text: lithos cheiroplaethaes], a hand-filling stone. Ninety generations have passed since the Trojan war, and each of the ninety has used the same bountiful magazine. All readers of the Iliad must remember how often Ajax or Hector, took up chermadia, ‘such as twice five men in our degenerate days could barely lift,’ launching them at light-armed foes, who positively would not come nearer to take their just share of the sword or
spear. ‘The weapon is the more effectual, owing to the nature of the rock itself, broken as it is in its whole surface into angular and sharp-pointed inequalities, which add greatly to the severity of the wound inflicted. Hence, as most travellers will have experienced, a fall amongst the Greek rocks is unusually painful.’ It is pleasing to find Homer familiar not only with the use of the weapon, but with its finest external ‘developments.’ Not only the stone must be a bouncer, a chermadion, with some of the properties (we believe) marking a good cricket-ball, but it ought to be [Greek Text: ochxioeis]–such is the Homeric epithet of endearment, his caressing description of a good brainer, viz. splinting-jagged.

This fact of the chermadic weight attached to the good war-stone explains, as Mr. Mure ingeniously remarks, a simile of Homer’s, which ought to have been pure nonsense for Pope and Cowper; viz. that in describing a dense mist, such as we foolishly imagine peculiar to our own British climate, and meaning to say that a man could scarcely descry an object somewhat ahead of his own station, he says, [Greek Text: tosson tis t’ep leussel oson t’epi laan iaesi]: so far does man see as lie hurls a stone. Now, in the skirmish of ‘bickering,’ this would argue no great limitation of eyesight. ‘Why, man, how far would you see? Would you see round a corner?’ ‘A shot of several hundred yards,’ says Mr. Mure, ‘were no great feat for a country lad well skilled in the art of stone-throwing.’ But this is not Homer’s meaning–‘The cloud of dust’ (which went before an army advancing, and which it is that Homer compares to a mist on the hills perplexing the shepherd) ‘was certainly much denser than to admit of the view extending to such a distance. In the Homeric sense, as allusive to the hurling of the ponderous chermadion, the figure is correct and expressive.’ And here, as everywhere, we see the Horatian parenthesis upon Homer, as one, qui nil molitur inepte, who never speaks vaguely, never wants a reason, and never loses sight of a reality, amply sustained. Here, then, is a local resource to the British tourist besides the imported one of the bull-dog. And it is remarkable that, except where the dogs are preternaturally audacious, a mere hint of the chermadion suffices. Late in our own experience too late for glory, we made the discovery that all dogs have a mysterious reverence for a trundling stone. It calls off attention from the human object, and strikes alarm into the caitiff’s mind. He thinks the stone alive. Upon this hint we thought it possible to improve: stooping down, we ‘made believe’ to launch a stone, when, in fact, we had none; and the effect generally followed. So well is this understood in Greece that, according to a popular opinion reported by Mr. Mure, the prevailing habit in Grecian dogs, as well as bitches, of absenting themselves from church, grows out of the frequent bowing and genuflexions practised in the course of the service. The congregation, one and all, simultaneously stoop; the dog’s wickedness has made him well acquainted with the meaning of that act; it is a symbol but too significant to his conscience; and he takes to his heels with the belief that a whole salvo of one hundred and one chermadia are fastening on his devoted ‘hurdies.’

Here, therefore, is a suggestion at once practically useful, and which furnishes more than one important elucidation to passages in Homer hitherto unintelligible. For the sake of one other such passage, we shall, before dismissing the subject, pause upon a novel fact, communicated by Mr. Mure, which is equally seasonable as a new Homeric light, and as a serviceable hint in a situation of extremity.

In the passage already quoted under Pope’s version from Odyssey, xiv. 29, what is the meaning of that singular couplet–

‘Down sate the sage; and cautious to withstand,
Let fall the offensive truncheon from his hand.’ [Footnote 2]

Mr. Mure’s very singular explanation will remind the naturalist of something resembling it in the habits of buffaloes. Dampier mentions a case which he witnessed in some island with a Malay population, where a herd of buffaloes continued to describe concentric circles, by continually narrowing around a party of sailors; and at last submitted only to the control of children not too far beyond the state of infancy. The white breed of wild cattle, once so well known at Lord Tankerville’s in Northumberland, and at one point in the south-west of Scotland, had a similar instinct for regulating the fury of their own attack; but it was understood that when the final circle had been woven, the spell was perfect; and that the herd would ‘do business’ most effectually. As respects the Homeric case, ‘I,’ (says Mr. Mure,) ‘am probably not the only reader who has been puzzled to understand the object of this manoeuvre’ (the sitting down) ‘on the part of the hero. I was first led to appreciate its full value in the following manner:–At Argos one evening, at the table of General Gordon,’ (then commanding-in-chief throughout the Morea, and the best historian of the Greek revolution, but who subsequently resigned, and died in the spring of 1841, at his seat in Aberdeenshire,) ‘the conversation happened to turn, as it frequently does where tourists are in company, on this very subject of the number and fierceness of the Grecian dogs; when one of the company remarked that he knew of a very simple expedient for appeasing their fury. Happening on a journey to miss his road, and being overtaken by darkness, he sought refuge for the night at a pastoral settlement by the wayside. As he approached, the dogs rushed out upon him; and the consequences might have been serious had he not been rescued by an old shepherd, (the Eumeus of the fold,) who after pelting off his assailants, gave him a hospitable reception in his hut. The guest made some remark on the zeal of his dogs, and on the danger to which he had been exposed from their attack. The old man replied ‘that it was his own fault, from not taking the customary precaution in such an emergency; that he ought to have stopped, and sate down until some person came to protect him.’ Here we have the very act of Ulysses; with the necessary circumstance that he laid aside his arms; after which the two parties were under a provisional treaty. And Adam Smith’s doubtful assumption that dogs are incapable of exchange, or reciprocal understanding, seems still more doubtful. As this expedient was new to the traveller, ‘he made some further inquiries; and was assured that, if any person in such a predicament will simply seat himself on the ground, laying aside his weapon of defence, the dogs will also squat in a circle round him; that, as long as he remains quiet, they will follow his example; but that, as soon as he rises and moves forward, they will renew their assault. This story, though told without the least reference to the Odyssey, at once brought home to my own mind the scene at the fold of Eumeus with the most vivid reality. The existence of the custom was confirmed by other persons present, from their own observation or experience.’ Yet, what if the night were such as is often found even in Southern Greece during winter–a black frost; and that all the belligerents were found in the morning symmetrically grouped as petrifactions? However, here again we have the Homer qui nil molitur inepte, who addressed a people of known habits. Yet quare–as a matter of some moment for Homeric disputes–were these habits of Ionian colonies, or exclusively of Greece Proper?

But enough of the repulsive features in Greek travelling. We, for our part, have endeavored to meet them with remedies both good and novel. Now let us turn to a different question. What are the positive attractions of Greece? What motives are there to a tour so costly? What are the Pros, supposing the Cons dismissed? This is a more difficult question than is imagined: so difficult that most people set out without waiting for the answer: they travel first and leave to providential contingencies the chance that, on a review of the tour in its course, some adequate motive may suggest itself. Certainly it may be said, that the word Greece already in itself contains an adequate motive; and we do not deny that a young man, full of animal ardor and high classical recollections, may, without blame, give way to the mere instincts of wandering. It is a fine thing to bundle up your traps at an hour’s warning, and fixing your eye upon some bright particular star, to say–‘I will travel after thee: I will have no other mark: I will chase thy rising or thy setting: that is, on Mr. Wordsworth’s hint derived from a Scottish lake, to move on a general object of stepping westwards, or stepping eastwards. But there are few men qualified to travel, who stand in this free ‘unhoused’ condition of license to spend money, to lose time, or to court peril. In balancing the pretensions of different regions to a distinction so costly as an effectual tour, money it is, simply the consideration of cost, which furnishes the chief or sole ground of administration; having but 100 pounds sterling disposable in any one summer, a man finds his field of choice circumscribed at once: and rare is the household that can allow twice that sum annually. He contents himself with the Rhine, or possibly, if more adventurous, he may explore the passes of the Pyrenees; he may unthread the mazes of romantic Auvergne, or make a stretch even to the Western Alps of Savoy.

See also  Swept And Garnished

But, for the Mediterranean, and especially for the Levant–these he resigns to richer men; to those who can command from three to five hundred pounds. And next, having submitted to this preliminary limitation of radius, he is guided in selecting from what remains by some indistinct prejudice of his early reading. Many are they in England who start with a blind faith, inherited from Mrs. Radeliffe’s romances, and thousands beside, that, in Southern France or in Italy, from the Milanese down to the furthest nook of the Sicilies, it is physically impossible for the tourist to go wrong. And thus it happens, that a spectacle, somewhat painful to good sense, is annually renewed of confiding households leaving a real Calabria in Montgomeryshire or Devonshire, for dreary, sunburned flats in Bavaria, in Provence, in Languedoc, or in the ‘Legations’ of the Papal territory. ‘Vintagers,’ at a distance, how romantic a sound! Hops–on the other hand–how mercenary, nay, how culinary, by the feeling connected with their use, or their taxation! Arcadian shepherds again, or Sicilian from the ‘bank of delicate Galesus,’ can these be other than poetic? The hunter of the Alpine ibex–can he be other than picturesque? A sandalled monk mysteriously cowled, and in the distance, (but be sure of that!) a band of robbers reposing at noon amidst some Salvator-Rosa-looking solitudes of Calabria–how often have such elements, semi-consciously grouped, and flashing upon the indistinct mirrors lighted up by early reading, seduced English good sense into undertakings terminating in angry disappointment! We acknowledge that the English are the only nation under this romantic delusion; but so saying, we pronounce a very mixed censure upon our country. In itself it is certainly a folly, which other nations (Germany excepted) are not above, but below: a folly which presupposes a most remarkable distinction for our literature, significant in a high moral degree. The plain truth is–that Southern Europe has no romance in its household literature; has not an organ for comprehending what it is that we mean by Radcliffian romance. The old ancestral romance of knightly adventure, the Sangreal, the Round Table, etc., exists for Southern Europe as an antiquarian subject; or if treated aesthetically, simply as a subject adapted to the ludicrous. And the secondary romance of our later literature is to the south unintelligible. No Frenchman, Spaniard, or Italian, at all comprehends the grand poetic feeling employed and nursed by narrative fictions through the last seventy years in England, though connected by us with their own supposed scenery.

Generally, in speaking of Southern Europe, it may be affirmed that the idea of heightening any of the grander passions by association with the shadowy and darker forms of natural scenery, heaths, mountainous recesses, ‘forests drear,’ or the sad desolation of a silent sea-shore, of the desert, or of the ocean, is an idea not developed amongst them, nor capable of combining with their serious feelings. By the evidence of their literature, viz. of their poetry, their drama, their novels, it is an interest to which the whole race is deaf and blind. A Frenchman or an Italian (for the Italian, in many features of Gallic insensibility, will be found ultra-Gallican) can understand a state in which the moving principle is sympathy with the world of conscience. Not that his own country will furnish him with any grand exemplification of such an interest; but, merely as a human being, he cannot escape from a certain degree of human sympathy with the dread tumults going on in that vast theatre–a conscience-haunted mind. So far he stands on common ground; but how this mode of shedding terror can borrow any alliance from chapels, from ruins, from monastic piles, from Inquisition dungeons, inscrutable to human justice, or dread of confessionals,–all this is unfathomably mysterious to Southern Europe. The Southern imagination is passively and abjectly dependent on social interests; and these must conform to modern types. Hence, partly, the reason that only the British travel. The German is generally too poor. The Frenchman desires nothing but what he finds at home: having Paris at hand, why should he seek an inferior Paris in distant lands? To an Englishman this demur could seldom exist. He may think, and, with introductions into the higher modes of aristocratic life, he may know that London and St. Petersburg are far more magnificent capitals than Paris; but that will not repel his travelling instincts. A superior London he does not credit or desire; but what he seeks is not a superior, it is a different, life;–not new degrees of old things, but new kinds of experience are what he asks. His scale of conception is ampler; whereas, generally, the Frenchman is absorbed into one ideal. Why else is it, that, after you have allowed for a few Frenchmen carried of necessity into foreign lands by the diplomatic concerns of so vast a country, and for a few artists travelling in quest of gain or improvement, we hear of no French travellers as a class? And why is it that, except as regards Egypt, where there happens to lurk a secret political object in reversion for France, German literature builds its historic or antiquarian researches almost exclusively upon English travellers? Our travellers may happen or not to be professional; but they are never found travelling for professional objects. Some have been merchants or bankers, many have been ecclesiastics; but neither commercial nor clerical or religious purposes have furnished any working motive, unless where, as express missionaries, they have prepared their readers to expect such a bias to their researches. Colonel Leake, the most accurate of travellers, is a soldier; and in reviewing the field of Marathon, of Plataa, and others deriving their interest from later wars, he makes a casual use of his soldiership. Captain Beaufort, again, as a sailor, uses his nautical skill where it is properly called for. But in the larger proportions of their works, even the professional are not professional; whilst such is our academic discipline, that all alike are scholars. And in this quality of merit the author before us holds a distinguished rank. He is no artist, though manifesting the eye learned in art and in landscape. He is not professionally a soldier; he is so only by that secondary tie, which, in our island, connects the landed aristocracy with the landed militia; yet though not, in a technical sense, military, he disputes, with such as are, difficult questions of Greek martial history. He is no regular agriculturist, yet he conveys a good general impression of the Greek condition with relation to landed wealth or landed skill, as modified at this moment by the unfortunate restraints on a soil handed over, in its best parts, by a Turkish aristocracy that had engrossed them, to a Bavarian that cannot use them. In short, Mr. Mure is simply a territorial gentleman; elevated enough to have stood a contest for the representation of a great Scottish county; of general information; and, in particular, he is an excellent Greek scholar; which latter fact we gather, not from anything we have heard, but from these three indications meeting together;–1. That his verbal use of Greek, in trying the true meaning of names, (such as Mycene, the island of Asteris, etc.,) is original as well as accurate. 2. That his display of reading (not volunteered or selected, but determined by accidents of local suggestion) is ample. 3. That the frugality of his Greek citations is as remarkable as their pertinence. He is never tempted into trite references; nor ever allows his page to be encumbered by more of such learning than is severely needed.

With regard to the general motives for travelling, his for Greece had naturally some relation to his previous reading; but perhaps an occasional cause, making his true motives operative, may have been his casual proximity to Greece at starting–for he was then residing in Italy. Others, however, amongst those qualified to succeed him, wanting this advantage, will desire some positive objects of a high value, in a tour both difficult as regards hardships, costly, and too tedious, even with the aids of steam, for those whose starting point is England. These objects, real or imaginary, in a Greek tour, co-extensive with the new limits of Greek jurisdiction, let us now review:–

I. The Greek People.–It is with a view to the Greeks personally, the men, women, and children, who in one sense at least, viz., as occupants of the Greek soil, represent the ancient classical Greeks, that the traveller will undertake this labor. Representatives in one sense! Why, how now? are they not such in all senses? Do they not trace their descent from the classical Greeks?’ We are sorry to say not; or in so doubtful a way, that the interest derived from that source is too languid to sustain itself against the opposing considerations. Some authors have peremptorily denied that one drop of genuine Grecian blood, transmitted from the countrymen of Pericles, now flows in the veins of any Greek subject. Falmereyer, the German, is at the head (we believe) of those who take that view. And many who think Falmereyer in excess, make these unpleasant concessions; viz., 1st, that in Athens and throughout Attica, where, by special preference, one would wish to see the Grecian cast of face predominating, there, to a single family almost, you may affirm all to be Albanian. Well; but what is Albanian? For the Albanian race, as having its headquarters in regions once undoubtedly occupied by a Greek race. Epirus, for instance, Acarnania, etc., may still be Grecian by descent: but unfortunately it is not so. The Albanians are no more Grecian, and notoriously no more represent the old legitimate Greeks, who thumped the Persians and whom the Romans thumped, than the modern English represent the Britons, or the modern Lowland Scotch represent the Scoti, of the centuries immediately following the Christian era. Both English and Lowland Scotch, for the first five centuries after the Christian era, were ranging the forests of north Germany or of southern Sweden. The men who fought with Caesar, if now represented at all, are so in Wales, in Cornwall, or other western recesses of the island. And the Albanians are held to be a Sclavonic race–such at least is the accredited theory; so that modern Greece is connected with Russia not merely by the bond of a common church, but also by blood, since the Russian people is the supreme branch of the Sclavonic race. This is the first concession made which limits any remnant of the true Greek blood to parts of the ancient Hellas not foremost in general interest, nor most likely to be visited.

A second is, that if any claim to a true Grecian descent does exist extensively, it must be looked for amongst Mahometan clans, descended from renegades of former days, now confounded with our Mussulmans ejected from Greece, and living in Thrace, or other regions under the Sultan’s sceptre. But even here the purity of the descent is in the last degree uncertain.

This case is remarkable. From the stationary character of all things in the East, there was a probability beforehand, that several nations–as in particular, four that we will mention: the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Affghans–should have presented the same purity of descent, untainted by alien blood, which we find in the children of Ishmael, and the children of his half-brother the patriarch Isaac. Yet, in that case, where would have been the miraculous unity of race predicted for these two nations exclusively by the Scriptures? The fact is, the four nations mentioned have been so profoundly changed by deluges of foreign conquest or foreign intrusion, that at this day, perhaps, no solitary individual could be found whose ancestral line had not been confounded with other bloods. The Arabs only, and the Jews, are under no suspicion of this hybrid mixture. Vast deserts, which insulate one side of the Arabian peninsula; the sea, which insulates the other sides, have, with other causes, preserved the Arab blood from all general attaint of its purity. Ceremonies, institutions, awful scruples of conscience, and through many centuries, misery and legal persecution, have maintained a still more impassable gulf between the Jews and other races. Spain is the only Christian land where the native blood was at any time intermingled with the Jewish; and hence one cause for the early vigilance of the Inquisition in that country more than elsewhere; hence also the horror of a Jewish taint in the Spanish hidalgo; Judaism masquing itself in Christianity, was so keenly suspected, or so haughtily disclaimed, simply because so largely it existed. It was, however, under a very peculiar state of society, that, even during an interval, and in a corner, Jews could have intermarried with Christians. Generally, the intensity of reciprocated hatred, long oppression upon the one side, deep degradation upon the other, perpetuated the alienation, had the repulsion of creeds even relaxed. And hence, at this day, the intense purity of the Jewish blood, though probably more than six millions of individuals.

But with respect to the Grecians, as no barrier has ever existed between them and any other [Footnote 3] race than the Turks, and these only in the shape of religious scruples, which on one side had the highest political temptation to give way, there was no pledge stronger than individual character, there could be no national or corporate pledge, for the maintenance of this insulation. As therefore, in many recorded cases, the strongest barrier (viz., that against Mahometan alliances) is known to have given way, as in other cases innumerable, but forgotten, it must be presumed to have given way? this inference follows, viz., that if anywhere the Grecian blood remains in purity, the fact will be entirely without evidence; and for us, the result will be the same as if the fact had no existence. Simply as a matter of curiosity, if our own opinion were asked as to the probability, that in any situation, a true-blooded population yet survives at this day, we should answer that, if anywhere, it will be found in the most sterile of the Greek islands. Yet, even there the bare probability of such a result will have been open to many disturbances; and especially if the island happen to be much in the way of navigators, or the harbors happen to be convenient, or if it happen to furnish a good stage in a succession of stages, (according to the ancient usages of Mediterranean seamanship), or if it possessed towns containing accumulations of provisions or other stores, or offered good watering-places; under any of these endowments, an island might be tempting to pirates, or to roving adventurers, or to remote overpeopled parts of Italy, Africa, Asia Minor, etc. in short, to any vicious city where but one man amongst the poorer classes knew the local invitations to murderous aggressions. Under so many contingencies operative through so many centuries, and revolutions so vast upon nations so multiplied, we believe that even a poor unproductive soil is no absolute pledge for non-molestation to the most obscure of recesses.

See also  The Aunt, The Nieces, And The Dog by Samuel Butler

For instance, the poorest district of the large island Crete, might (if any could) be presumed to have a true Greek population. There is little to be found in that district beyond the means of bare subsistence; and (considering the prodigious advantages of the ground for defensive war) little to be looked for by an invader but hard knocks, ‘more kicks than halfpence,’ so long as there was any indigenous population to stand up and kick. But often it must have happened in a course of centuries, that plague, small-pox, cholera, the sweating-sickness, or other scourges of universal Europe and Asia, would absolutely depopulate a region no larger than an island; as in fact, within our brief knowledge of the New Hollanders, has happened through small-pox alone, to entire tribes of those savages, and, upon a scale still more awful, to the American Indians. In such cases, mere strangers would oftentimes enter upon the lands as a derelict. The Sfakians, in that recess of Crete which we have noticed, are not supposed by scholars to be a true Grecian race; nor do we account them such. And one reason of our own, superadded to the common reasons against allowing a Greek origin, is this:–The Sfakians are a large-limbed, fine-looking race, more resembling the Wallachians whom we have already noticed, than the other races of Crete, or the other Greek islanders, and like the Wallachians, are often of colossal stature. But the classical Greeks, we are pretty certain, were a race of little men. We have more arguments than one for this belief. But one will be sufficient. The Athenian painter who recorded the battle of Marathon in fresco upon the walls of a portico, was fined for representing the Persians as conspicuously taller than the Greeks. But why?–why should any artist have ascribed such an advantage to the enemy, unless because it was a fact? What plausible motive, other than the notoriety of the fact, can be imagined in the painter? In reality, this artist proceeded as a general rule amongst the Greeks, and a rule strictly, if not almost superstitiously observed, and of ancient establishment, which was, that all conquerors in any contest, or at any games, olympic, or whatsoever they might be, were memorialized by statues exactly representing the living man in the year of victory, taken even with their personal defects. The dimensions were preserved with such painful fidelity, as though the object had been to collect and preserve for posterity, a series from every generation, of those men who might be presumed by their trophies to have been the models by natural prefiguration for that particular gymnastic accomplishment in which they had severally excelled. [See the Acad. des Inscriptions, about the year 1725.] At the time of Marathon, fought against the Lieutenant of Darius, the Olympic games had existed for two hundred years, minus thirteen; and at the closing battle of Plataea, fought against the Lieutenant of Xerxes, for two hundred, minus only two. During all this period, it is known for certain, perhaps even from far older times, that this rule of exact portraiture, a rigid demand for duplicates or fac-similes of the individual men, had prevailed in Greece. The enormous amount of Persian corpses buried by the Greeks, (or perhaps by Persian prisoners,) in the Polyandrium on the field of battle, would be measured and observed by the artists against the public application for their services. And the armor of those select men-at-arms, or [Greek Text: oplitai], who had regular suits of armor, would remain for many centuries suspended as consecrated anathaeyata in the Grecian temples; so that Greek artists would never want sure records of the Persian dimensions. Were it not for this rule, applied sternly to all real conflicts, it might have been open to imagine that the artist had exaggerated the persons of the enemy by way of exalting to posterity the terrors which their ancestors had faced; a more logical vanity than that inverse artifice imputed to Alexander, of burying in the Punjaub gigantic mangers and hyperbolical suits of armor, under the conceit of impressing remote ages with a romantic idea of the bodily proportions in the men and horses composing the elite of the Macedonian army. This was the true secret for disenchanting the martial pretensions of his army. Were you indeed such colossal men? In that case, the less is your merit; of which most part belongs manifestly to a physical advantage: and in the ages of no gunpowder the advantage was less equivocal than it is at present. In the other direction, the logic of the Greek artist who painted Marathon is more cogent. The Persians were numerically superior, though doubtless this superiority has been greatly exaggerated, not wilfully so much as from natural mistakes incident to the Oriental composition of armies; and still more on the Grecian side, from extreme inaccuracy in the original reports, which was so great that even Herodotus, who stood removed from Plataea at the time of commencing his labors, by pretty much the same interval as we in 1842 from Waterloo, is rightly observed by Colonel Leake (Travels in Greece) to have stated to him the Greek numbers on the great day of Plataea, rather from the basis of fixed rateable contingents which each state was bound to furnish, than of any positive return that he could allege. However, on the whole, it seems undeniable that even at Platsea, much more at Marathon, the Persians had the advantage in numbers. If, besides this numerical advantage, they had another in qualities of bodily structure, the inference was the greater to the Grecian merit. So far from slighting a Persian advantage which really existed, a Greek painter might rather be suspected of inventing one which did not. We apprehend, however, that he invented nothing. For, besides that subsequent intercourse with Persians would have defeated the effect of his representation had it reposed on a fiction, it is known that the Greeks did not rightly appreciate tallness. ‘Procerity,’ to use Dr. Johnson’
s stately word in speaking of the stately Prussian regiment, was underrated in Greece; perhaps for this reason, that in some principal gymnastic contests, running, leaping, horsemanship, and charioteering, it really was a disadvantage. And hence possibly arose a fact which has been often noticed with surprise; viz. that the legendary Hercules was never delineated by the Greek artists as more than an athletic man of the ordinary standard with respect to height and bulk. The Greek imagination was extravagantly mastered by physical excellence; this is proved by the almost inconceivable value attached to gymnastic merit. Nowhere, except in Greece, could a lyrical enthusiasm have been made available in such a service. But amongst physical qualities they did not adequately value that of lofty stature. At all events, the rule of portraiture–the whole portrait and nothing but the portrait–which we have mentioned as absolute for Greece, coerced the painter into the advantageous distinction for the Persians which we have mentioned. And this rule, as servile to the fact, is decisive for the Greek proportions of body in comparison with the Persian.

But were not some tribes amongst the Greeks celebrated for their stature? Yes; the Daulians, for instance, both men and women: and in some modern tourist we remember a distinction of the same kind claimed for the present occupants of Daulis. But the ancient claim bad reference only to the Grecian scale. Tall, were they? Yes, but tall for Grecians. The Romans were possibly a shade taller than the Greeks, but they also were a little race of men. This is certain. And, if a man were incautious enough to plead in answer the standard of the modern Italians, who are often both tall and athletic, he must be reminded that to Tramontanes, in fact, such as Goths, Heruli, Scyrra, Lombards, and other tribes of the Rhine, Lech, or Danube, Italy is indebted for the improved breed of her carcasses. [Footnote 4] Man, instead of degenerating according to the scandalous folly of books, very slowly improves everywhere; and the carcasses of the existing generation, weighed off, million for million, against the carcasses of any pre-Christian generation, we feel confident would be found to have the advantage by many thousands of stones [the butchers’ stone is eight pounds] upon each million. And universally the best prima facie title to a pure Greek descent will be an elegantly formed, but somewhat under-sized, person, with a lively, animated, and intelligent physiognomy; of which last may be said, that, if never in the highest sense rising to the noble, on the other hand, it never sinks to the brutal. At Liverpool we used to see in one day many hundreds of Greek sailors from all parts of the Levant; these were amongst the most probable descendants from the children of Ion or of OEolus, and the character of their person was what we describe–short but symmetrical figures and faces, upon the whole, delicately chiselled. These men generally came from the Greek islands.

Meantime, what is Mr. Mure’s opinion upon this much-vexed question? Into the general problem he declines to enter; not, we may be sure, from want of ability to treat it with novelty and truth. But we collect that he sees no reason for disputing the general impression, that an Albanian or hybrid population is mainly in possession of the soil, and that perhaps he would say, lis est de paupere regno; for, if there is no beauty concerned in the decision, nor any of the quality of physical superiority, the less seems the value of the dispute. To appropriate a set of plain faces, to identify the descent of ordinary bodies, seems labor lost. And in the race now nominally claiming to be Grecian, Mr. Mure evidently finds only plain faces, and ordinary bodies. Those, whom at any time he commends for beauty or other advantages of person, are tribes confessedly alien; and, on the other hand, with respect to those claiming to be Greek, he pronounces a pointed condemnation by disparaging their women. It is notoriously a duty of the female sex to be beautiful, if they can, with a view to the recreation of us males–whom Lily’s Grammar affirms to be ‘of the worthier gender.’ Sitting at breakfast, (which consisted ‘of red herrings and Gruyere cheese,’) upon the shore of Megara, Mr. Mure beheld the Megarensian lasses mustering in force for a general ablution of the Megarensian linen. The nymphs had not turned out upon the usual principles of feminine gatherings–

‘Spectatum venit, venit spectentur it ipsae;’

and yet, between them, the two parties reciprocated the functions. Each to the other was a true spectacle. A long Scotchman,

‘Qui sicca solus secum spatiatur arena,’

and holding in his dexter mauley a red herring, whilst a white table-cloth (the centre of his motions) would proclaim some mysterious rite, must to the young ladies have seemed a merman suddenly come up from the sea, without sound of conch; whilst to him the large deputation from female Megara furnished an extra theatre for the inspection of Greek beauty. ‘There was no river mouth visible, the operation being performed in the briny sea itself;’ and, so far from this being unusual, Mr. Mure notices it as a question of embarrassment to the men of Plutarch’s age, why the Phoeacian princess in the Odyssey did not wash in the sea, but mysteriously preferred the river, (Sympos, I. qu. 9;) but as to beauty, says Mr. Mure, ‘I looked in vain for a figure, which either as to face or form could claim even a remote resemblance to Nausicaa. The modern Greek woman indeed appeared to me, upon the whole, about the most ill-favored I have met with in any country.’ And it attests the sef-consistency of Mr. Mure, that in Aracova, the only place where he notices the women as having any pretensions to beauty, he and others agree that their countenances are not true to the national type; they are generally reputed to offer something much nearer to the bloom and the embonpoint of female rustics in Germany; and accordingly, it is by the Bavarian officers of King Otho’s army that these fair Aracovites have been chiefly raised into celebrity. We cannot immediately find the passage in Mr. Mure’s book relating to Aracova; but we remember that, although admitting the men to be a tolerably handsome race, he was disappointed in the females. Tall they are, and stout, but not, he thinks, beautiful.

See also  Farewells! by Richard King

Yet, in dismissing this subject of personal appearance, as the most plausible test now surviving for the claim of a pure Greek descent, we must not forget to explain–that it is far from our design to countenance the hypothesis of any abrupt supercession, at any period or by any means, to the old Grecian blood. The very phrase of ‘national type,’ which we used in the last paragraph, and the diffusion of a language essentially Greek, argue at once a slow and gradational transition of the population into its present physical condition. Mr. Mure somewhere describes, as amongst the characteristics of the present race, swarth-iness and leanness. These we suspect to have been also characteristics of the old original ton d’apameibomenoi Greeks. If so, the fact would seem to argue, that the changes, after all, had not been on a scale sufficient to obliterate the primitive type of Hellenic nature; whilst the existence of any diffused type marks a tendency to national unity, and shows that some one element has so much predominated as to fuse the rest into a homogeneous whole. Indeed, it is pretty certain that a powerful cross in any human breed, whatever effects it may have in other respects, leaves the intellect improved–if not in the very highest qualities, yet in mobility, activity, and pertinacity of attention. The Greek nation has also shown itself morally improved; their revolutionary war evoked and tried, as in a furnace, the very finest qualities of courage, both adventurous and enduring; and we heartily agree in the sentiment delivered so ably by Mr. Mure, that the struggles of these poor shepherds and herdsmen, driven into caves and thickets, and having no great rallying principle but the banner of the Cross against the Crescent, were as much more truly sublime in suffering and in daring, than the classical struggles against the Persians, as they are and will be more obscure in the page of general history. We do not at all question great stamina and noble elements in the modern Greek character–generations of independence will carry this character to excellence; but still we affirm, that he who looks for direct descendants from the race of Miliades, Pericles, or Epaminondas, is likely to be disappointed; and most disappointed in that Athens, which for all of us alike (as appealing to our imaginative feelings) still continues to be what it was for Cicero–true and very Greece; in which, therefore, of all cities locally recalling the classical times, we can least brook a disappointment.

If not the people of Greece, is it then the NATURAL SCENERY of Greece which can justify the tourist in this preference? Upon this subject it is difficult to dispute. What a man is likely to relish in scenery–what style or mode of the natural picturesque; and secondly, what weight or value he will allow to his own preferences–are questions exceedingly variable. And the latter of these questions is the more important; for the objection is far less likely to arise against this mode of scenery or that, since every characteristic mode is relished as a change, than universally against all modes alike as adequate indemnifications for the toils of travelling. Female travellers are apt to talk of ‘scenery’ as all in all, but men require a social interest superadded. Mere scenery palls upon the mind, where it is the sole and ever-present attraction relied on. It should come unbidden and unthought of, like the warbling of birds, to sustain itself in power. And at feeding-time we observe that men of all nations and languages, Tros Tyriusve, grow savage, if, by a fine scene, you endeavor to make amends for a bad beef-steak. The scenery of the Himalaya will not ‘draw houses’ till it finds itself on a line of good hotels.

This difference, noted above, between the knowledge and the power of a scenery hunter may be often seen illustrated in the fields of art. How common is the old sapless connoisseur in pictures, who retains his learned eye and his distinguished skill, but whose sensibilities are as dry as summer dust to the interests of the art. On the other hand, daily you see young people whose hearts and souls are in the forests and the hills, but for whom the eye is perfectly untutored. If, now, to the differences in this respect you add the extensive differences which prevail as to the kinds of scenery, it is easy to understand how rich in the materials for schism must be every party that starts up on the excitement of mere scenery. Some laud the Caucasus; some the northern and eastern valleys of Spain; some the Alpine scenery; some the Pyrenean. All these are different; and from all alike differs again what Mr. Mure classes as the classical character of scenery. For this, he thinks a regular education of the eye requisite. Such an education he himself had obtained from a residence in Italy. And, subject to that condition, he supposes the scenery on the Eurotas (to the eastern side of the Peloponnesus) the most delightful in Europe. We know not. It may be so. For ourselves, the obscure sense of being or moving under a vast superincumbency of some great natural power, as of a mighty forest, or a trackless succession of mountainous labyrinths, has a charm of secret force far better than any distinct scenes to which we are introduced. Such things ought not to be. But still so it is–that tours in search of the picturesque are peculiarly apt to break up in quarrels. Perhaps on the same principle which has caused a fact generally noticed, viz. that conchologists, butterfly-fanciers, etc., are unusually prone to commit felonies, because too little of a human interest circulates through their arid pursuits. The morbid irritation accumulates until the amateur rushes, out with a knife, lets blood in some quarter, and so restores his own connection with the vitalities of human nature. In any case, we advise the Greek tourist to have at least two strings to his bow besides scenery.

III.–Is it, then, the monuments of the antique, the memorials of Pericles and Phidias, which a man should seek in Greece? If so, no great use in going beyond Athens. Because, though more solemn images survive in other places, associated with powers more mysterious and ages more remote, as the gate of Lions at Mycense, or the relics yet standing (and perhaps to stand for ever) of Cyclopian cities, forms of art that for thousands of years have been dying away through dimness of outlines and vegetable overgrowth into forms of nature–yet in Athens only is there a great open museum of such monuments. The Athenian buildings, though none of them Homeric in point of origin, are old enough for us. Two-and-a-half millennia satisfy our grovelling aspirations. And Mr. Mure himself, whilst insisting on their too youthful character, admits that they are ‘superior in number, variety, and elegance to those which the united cities of Greece can now show.’ Yet even these pure monuments have been combined with modern aftergrowths, as in the case of the Propylyoea, of which multitudes doubt [Mr. Mure in particular] whether they can now be detached from the connection with effect. For more reasons than one, it will, perhaps, be advisable to leave them in their present condition, and that is as hybrid as the population. But, with respect to Athenian buildings, it strikes our feelings–that finish and harmony are essential conditions to their effect. Ruins are becoming to Gothic buildings–decay is there seen in a graceful form; but to an Attic building decay is more expressive of disease–it is scrofula; it is phagedoenic ulcer. And unless the Bavarian government can do more than is now held out or hoped, towards the restoration and disengagement of the public buildings surmounting the city, we doubt whether there will not be as much of pain as of an artist’s pleasure in a visit to the Athenian capital, though now raised to the rank of metropolis for universal Greece.

IV.–There are, however, mixed monuments, not artificial in their origin, but which gradually came to act upon the feelings as such from their use, and habitual connection with human purposes. Such for instance is the Acro-Corinthus, of which Mr. Mure says–that it ‘is by far the most striking object that I have ever seen, either abroad or at home. Neither the Acropolis of Athens, nor the Larissa of Argos, nor even Gibraltar, can enter into the remotest competition with this gigantic citadel.’ Indeed, when a man is aware of the impression produced by a perpendicular rock over six hundred feet high, he may judge of the stupendous effect from a citadel rising almost insulated in the centre of a plain, sloping to the sea, and ascending to the height of nineteen hundred feet.

Objects of this class, together with the mournful Pelasgic remains, the ruins or ruined plans which point back to Egypt, and to Phoenicia, these may serve as a further bribe to the tourist in Greece. If a collection of all the objects in every class, according to the best order of succession for the traveller, were arranged skilfully, we believe that a maritime circuit of Greece, with a few landings and short excursions, would bring the whole of what is first-rate within a brief period of weeks and an easy effort. As to the people, they will become more or less entitled to a separate interest, according to the improvement and improved popularity of their government. And upon that will depend much of the comfort, much even of the safety, to be looked for by tourists. The prospects at present are not brilliant. A government and a court, drawn from a needy aristocracy like the Bavarian, are not suited to a needy people, struggling with the difficulties of a new colony. However, we will hope for the best. And for the tourist in Greece as it is, perhaps Mr. Mure’s work is the best fitted for popularity. He touches all things sufficiently, but exhausts none. And we add, very sincerely, this antithesis, as due to him, that of what may be called personal guides, or those who maintain a current of personal interest in their adventures, or in the selecting from their private experience, he is the most learned; whilst of learned guides he is, in the sense explained, the most amusingly personal.



Chief Justice squinted probably at the Versailles affair, where parties were incinerated; for which, in Yorkshire, there is a local word–crozelled, applied to those who lie down upon a treacherous lime-pit, whose crust gives way to their weight. But if he meant security in the sense of public funds, Chief-Justice was still more in error, as he will soon learn. For the British Railways now yield a regular income of three millions per annum–one tenth of the interest of the national debt; offer as steady an investment as the 3 per cent consols; and will soon be quoted in other securities.


As respects the elegance of this translation, there is good reason to warn the reader–that much of the Odyssey was let off by-contract, like any poor-house proposal for ‘clods’ and ‘stickings’ of beef, to low undertakers, such as Broome and Fenton. Considering the ample fortune which Pope drew from the whole work, we have often been struck by the inexplicable indulgence with which this scandalous partition is treated by Pope’s biographers. It is simply the lowest act of self- degradation ever connected with literature.


Some will urge the intolerance of the Greeks for Christians of the Latin Church. But that did not hinder alliances, and ambitious attempts at such alliances, with their Venetian masters in the most distinguished of the Greek houses. Witness the infernal atrocities by which the Venetian government avenged at times what they viewed as unpardonable presumption. See their own records.


It may be remarked, as a general prevailing tendency amongst the great Italian masters of painting, that there is the same conspicuous leaning to regard the gigantic as a vulgar straining after effect. Witness St. Paul before Agrippa, and St. Paul at Athens; Alexander the Great, or the Archangel Michael. Nowhere throughout the whole world is the opposite defect carried to a more intolerable excess than amongst the low (but we regret to add–and in all but the very highest) of London artists. Many things, which the wretched Von Raumer said of English art, were abominable and malicious falsehooods; circulated not for London, but for Berlin, and Dresden, where English engravers and landscape-painters are too justly prized by the wealthy purchasers nor to be hated by the needy sellers. Indeed to hear Von Raumer’s account of our water-color exhibitions, you would suppose that such men as Turner, Dewint, Prout, and many others, had no merit whatever, and no name except in London. Raumer is not an honest man. But had he fixed his charges on the book-decorators amongst us, what an unlimited field for ridicule the most reasonable! In most sentimental poems, the musing young gentlemen and ladies usually run to seven and eight feet high. And in a late popular novel connected with the Tower of London, by Mr. Ainsworth, [which really pushes its falsifications of history to an unpardonable length, as e.g. in the case of the gentle victim lady Jane Grey,] the Spanish ambassador seems to us at least fourteen feet high; and his legs meant for some ambassador who happened to be twenty-seven feet high.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *