LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of Lord Byron
Chapter XLII

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Lord Byron resolves to join the Greeks.—Arrives at Cephalonia.—Greek factions.—Sends emissaries to the Grecian chiefs.—Writes to London about the loan.—To Mavrocordato on the dissensions.—Embarks at last for Missolonghi.

While The Liberal was halting onward to its natural doom, the attention of Lord Byron was attracted towards the struggles of Greece.

In that country his genius was first effectually developed; his name was associated with many of its most romantic scenes, and the cause was popular with all the educated and refined of Europe. He had formed besides a personal attachment to the land, and perhaps many of his most agreeable local associations were fixed amid the ruins of Greece, and in her desolated valleys. The name is indeed alone calculated to awaken the noblest feelings of humanity. The spirit of her poets, the wisdom and the heroism of her worthies; whatever is splendid in genius, unparalleled in art, glorious in arms, and wise in philosophy, is associated in their highest excellence with that beautiful region.

Had Lord Byron never been in Greece, he was, undoubtedly, one of those men whom the resurrection of her spirit was likeliest to interest; but he was not also one fitted to do her cause much service. His innate indolence, his sedentary habits, and that all-engrossing consideration for himself, which, in every situation, marred his best impulses, were shackles upon the
practice of the stern bravery in himself which he has so well expressed in his works.

It was expected when he sailed for Greece, nor was the expectation unreasonable with those who believe imagination and passion to be of the same element, that the enthusiasm which flamed so highly in his verse was the spirit of action, and would prompt him to undertake some great enterprise. But he was only an artist; he could describe bold adventures and represent high feeling, as other gifted individuals give eloquence to canvas and activity to marble; but he did not possess the wisdom necessary for the instruction of councils. I do, therefore, venture to say, that in embarking for Greece, he was not entirely influenced by such exoterical motives as the love of glory or the aspirations of heroism. His laurels had for some time ceased to flourish, the sear and yellow, the mildew and decay, had fallen upon them, and he was aware that the bright round of his fame was ovalling from the full and showing the dim rough edge of waning.

He was, moreover, tired of the Guiccioli, and again afflicted with a desire for some new object with which to be in earnest. The Greek cause seemed to offer this, and a better chance for distinction than any other pursuit in which he could then engage. In the spring of 1823 he accordingly made preparations for transferring himself from Genoa to Greece, and opened a correspondence with the leaders of the insurrection, that the importance of his adhesion might be duly appreciated.

Greece, with a fair prospect of ultimate success, was at that time as distracted in her councils as ever. Her arms had been victorious, but the ancient jealousy of the Greek mind was unmitigated. The third campaign had commenced, and yet no regular government had been organized; the fiscal resources of the country were neglected; a wild energy against the Ottomans was all that the Greeks could depend on for continuing the war.


Lord Byron arrived in Cephalonia about the middle of August, 1823, where he fixed his residence for some time. This was prudent, but it said nothing for that spirit of enterprise with which a man engaging in such a cause, in such a country, and with such a people, ought to have been actuated—especially after Marco Botzaris, one of the best and most distinguished of the chiefs, had earnestly urged him to join him at Missolonghi. I fear that I may not be able to do justice to Byron’s part in the affairs of Greece; but I shall try. He did not disappoint me, for he only acted as might have been expected, from his unsteady energies. Many, however, of his other friends longed in vain to hear of that blaze of heroism, by which they anticipated that his appearance in the field would be distinguished.

Among his earliest proceedings was the equipment of forty Suliotes, or Albanians, whom he sent to Marco Botzaris to assist in the defence of Missolonghi. An adventurer of more daring would have gone with them; and when the battle was over, in which Botzaris fell, he transmitted bandages and medicines, of which he had brought a large supply from Italy, and pecuniary succour to the wounded. This was considerate, but there was too much consideration in all that he did at this time, neither in unison with the impulses of his natural character, nor consistent with the heroic enthusiasm with which the admirers of his poetry imagined he was kindled.

In the mean time he had offered to advance one thousand dollars a month for the succour of Missolonghi and the troops with Marco Botzaris; but the government, instead of accepting the offer, intimated that they wished previously to confer with him, which he interpreted into a desire to direct the expenditure of the money to other purposes. In his opinion his Lordship was probably not mistaken; but his own account of his feeling in the business does not tend to exalt the magnanimity of his attachment to the cause: “I
will take care,” says he, “that it is for the public cause, otherwise I will not advance a para. The opposition say they want to cajole me, and the party in power say the others wish to seduce me; so, between the two, I have a difficult part to play; however, I will have nothing to do with the factions, unless to reconcile them, if possible.”

It is difficult to conceive that Lord Byron, “the searcher of dark bosoms,” could have expressed himself so weakly and with such vanity; but the shadow of coming fate had already reached him, and his judgment was suffering in the blight that had fallen on his reputation. To think of the possibility of reconciling two Greek factions, or any factions, implies a degree of ignorance of mankind, which, unless it had been given in his Lordship’s own writing, would not have been credible; and as to having nothing to do with the factions, for what purpose went he to Greece, unless it was to take a part with one of them? I abstain from saying what I think of his hesitation in going to the government instead of sending two of his associated adventurers, Mr. Trelawney and Mr. Hamilton Brown, whom he despatched to collect intelligence as to the real state of things, substituting their judgment for his own. When the Hercules, the ship he chartered to carry him to Greece, weighed anchor, he was committed with the Greeks, and everything short of unequivocal folly he was bound to have done with and for them.

His two emissaries or envoys proceeded to Tripolizza, where they found Colocotroni seated in the palace of the late vizier, Velhi Pashaw, in great power; the court-yard and galleries filled with armed men in garrison, while there was no enemy at that time in the Morea able to come against them! The Greek chieftains, like their classic predecessors, though embarked in the same adventure, were personal adversaries to each other. Colocotroni spoke of his compeer Mavro-
cordato in the very language of Agamemnon, when he said that he had declared to him, unless he desisted from his intrigues, he would mount him on an ass and whip him out of the Morea; and that he had only been restrained from doing so by the representation of his friends, who thought it would injure their common cause. Such was the spirit of the chiefs of the factions which
Lord Byron thought it not impossible to reconcile!

At this time Missolonghi was in a critical state, being blockaded both by land and sea; and the report of Trelawney to Lord Byron concerning it, was calculated to rouse his Lordship to activity. “There have been,” says he, “thirty battles fought and won by the late Marco Botzaris, and his gallant tribe of Suliotes, who are shut up in Missolonghi. If it fall, Athens will be in danger, and thousands of throats cut: a few thousand dollars would provide ships to relieve it; a portion of this sum is raised, and I would coin my heart to save this key of Greece.” Bravely said! but deserving of little attention. The fate of Missolonghi could have had no visible effect on that of Athens.

The distance between these two places is more than a hundred miles, and Lord Byron was well acquainted with the local difficulties of the intervening country; still it was a point to which the eyes of the Greeks were all at that time directed; and Mavrocordato, then in correspondence with Lord Byron, and who was endeavouring to collect a fleet for the relief of the place, induced his Lordship to undertake to provide the money necessary for the equipment of the fleet, to the extent of twelve thousand pounds. It was on this occasion his Lordship addressed a letter to the Greek chiefs, that deserves to be quoted, for the sagacity with which it suggests what may be the conduct of the great powers of Christendom.

“I must frankly confess,” says he, “that unless
union and order are confirmed, all hopes of a loan will be in vain, and all the assistance which the Greeks could expect from abroad, an assistance which might be neither trifling nor worthless, will be suspended or destroyed; and what is worse, the great powers of Europe, of whom no one was an enemy to Greece, but seemed inclined to favour her in consenting to the establishment of an independent power, will be persuaded that the Greeks are unable to govern themselves, and will, perhaps, undertake to arrange your disorders in such a way, as to blast the brightest hopes you indulge, and that are indulged by your friends.”

In the meantime, Lord Byron was still at the villa he had hired in Cephalonia, where his conduct was rather that of a spectator than an ally. Colonel Stanhope, in a letter of the 26th of November, describes him as having been there about three months, and spending his time exactly as every one acquainted with his habits must have expected. “The first six weeks he spent on board a merchant-vessel, and seldom went on shore, except on business. Since that period he has lived in a little villa in the country, in absolute retirement, Count Gamba (brother to the Guiccioli) being his only companion.”— Such, surely, was not exactly playing that part in the Greek cause which he had taught the world to look for. It is true, that the accounts received there of the Greek affairs were not then favourable. Everybody concurred in representing the executive government as devoid of public virtue, and actuated by avarice or personal ambition. This intelligence was certainly not calculated to increase Lord Byron’s ardour, and may partly excuse the causes of his personal inactivity. I say personal, because he had written to London to accelerate the attempt to raise a loan, and, at the suggestion of Colonel Stanhope, he addressed a letter to Mavrocordato respecting the inevitable consequences of their
calamitous dissensions. The object of this letter was to induce a reconciliation between the rival factions, or to throw the odium, of having thwarted the loan, upon the Executive, and thereby to degrade the members of it in the opinion of the people. “I am very uneasy,” said his Lordship to the prince, “at hearing that the dissensions of Greece still continue; and at a moment when she might triumph over everything in general, as she has triumphed in part. Greece is at present placed between three measures; either to reconquer her liberty, or to become a dependence of the sovereigns of Europe, or to return to a Turkish province; she has already the choice only of these three alternatives. Civil war is but a road which leads to the two latter. If she is desirous of the fate of Wallachia and the Crimea, she may obtain it to-morrow; if that of Italy, the day after. But if she wishes to become truly Greece, free and independent, she must resolve to-day, or she will never again have the opportunity,” &c., &c.

Meanwhile, the Greek people became impatient for Lord Byron to come among them. They looked forward to his arrival as to the coming of a Messiah. Three boats were successively despatched for him and two of them returned, one after the other, without him. On the 29th of December, 1823, however, his Lordship did at last embark.