LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter VI

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
‣ Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
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Author introduced to Mavrocordato—Description and character of that chief—Manner in which the Greek chiefs conducted themselves—Cost of Greek arms and ornaments.

The day after my arrival, I presented myself to the Governor-General of Western Greece, Mavrocordato; anxious to see a man who had such a reputation in Europe. He had arrived a few days before on board the Greek vessels, that were engaged in the late action off Ithaca; being there as passenger with his suite; not, as Sir Thomas Maitland supposed in his proclamation, in the character of Commander. On the appearance of the Turkish fleet in June, the inhabitants of Mesolonghi, mindful of his services, and how he had, in 1822, contributed to the preservation of their town, began to feel the necessity of his presence; and at the same time, that they petitioned the senate to send the fleet to their assistance, they requested, that Mavrocordato might be appointed their eparch, instead of Constantino Metaxà; a Cephaloniot nobleman, whose arrogancy, they asserted, was equalled only by his incapacity.

When the petition arrived, Mavrocordato was at Hydra; where he had taken refuge; happy to escape the vengeance of Colocotrone, who had twice attempted to assassinate him. Although president of the legislative body, he willingly accepted the proposal of the Mesolongiots; not only because it placed him beyond the attempts of his numerous enemies;
but because he hoped to add fresh laurels to the crown, which Greece had there bestowed upon him. The fleet did not second his impatience, nor that of the Mesolonghiots; for several weeks elapsed before the sailors could be prevailed upon to put to sea; refusing to depart, till they received three months’ pay in advance. Not one of the wealthy capitani or primates of Peloponnesus, or of the islands, notwithstanding the danger which threatened Mesolonghi, would advance the 20,000 dollars which were required. Seeing this, a foreigner,
Lord Byron, more alive than themselves to their own interests, supplied the sum upon his own credit.

I found the prince on a divan, on which sat, cross-legged, several of the Roumeliot capitani; whom, immediately after his arrival, he had convoked to a general assembly. Numerous servants, armed with silver pistols and yataghans, waited on the company. They presented them with coffee and pipes, observing precisely the same ceremonial as the Turks; or with the hand, folded on the breast, they stood expecting their masters’ commands. As Mavrocordato was busily occupied in conversation with the capitani, I had leisure to observe his physiognomy. The ensemble of his head was excessively fine, being very large in proportion to his body; and its bulk was not a little increased by his bushy jet black hair and prodigious whiskers. His thick eye-brows and huge mustachios gave a wild, romantic, expression to his features, which could not but produce a striking effect on a stranger. The expression of his physiognomy was that of a clever, penetrating, ambitious man. His large Asiatic eyes, full of fire and wit, were tempered by an expression of goodness. His looks had not, perhaps, sufficient dignity; for they had a kind of indecision, and timid flutter, which
prevented him from looking any one stedfastly in the face. His stature was much below the usual size; and his carriage altogether too unmartial to impart much confidence to a half-civilized people, who prize external appearance so much, and are more, perhaps, than others, influenced by an awe-commanding countenance. The prince also paid too little regard to dress; insomuch that even the Franks could not refrain from remarking how much to his disadvantage the contrast was between his plain European attire and travelling-cap, and the splendid, highly graceful, Albanian costume, worn by the other chiefs.

If nature had neglected Mavrocordato’s exterior, she amply compensated him for such omission by the lavish manner, in which she had endowed his mind. Educated at Constantinople, he had devoted his earlier years to the study of Oriental languages. Few persons were more intimately acquainted with Persian and Arabic, of which the court language of the Turks is, in great part, formed. He was an excellent Greek scholar, spoke and wrote French like a native of France, and was tolerably well acquainted with English and Italian. Setting aside his wit and other qualities, which, in private life, rendered him the charm of society, we have only to consider him as a public character, belonging to history. He was, perhaps, the only man in Greece, who united, in an eminent degree, unadulterated patriotism, and the talents which form a statesman. He alone was capable of organizing and giving a proper direction to civil administration. This he showed shortly after his arrival in Peloponnesus, when he drew up a form of government out of the chaos, in which every thing then lay. He gave constant proofs of his genius for order, whenever he had the lead of affairs; and few, in any country, ever possessed, more than he did, the
talent of simplifying the most complicated questions, and rendering them intelligible to the most illiterate. The rapidity and precision, with which he despatched business, was surprising; and no doubt, the extensive practice he had had, when secretary to
Caradja Hospodar of Wallachia, was now of no small assistance to him. He had been repeatedly accused of retaining too much the principles of a Fanariot education. Incapable of a plain, bold, open conduct, it has been said, that he could only advance by crooked ways, and obtain his ends by tricks and cunning. The untractable, suspicious, and deceitful character of those, he had daily to deal with, might render this necessary. It was the current money of the country. No other would pass.

Indeed, it was fortunate for Greece, that Mavrocordato was so well acquainted with the character of those he had to deal with; since it contributed to the preservation of Mesolonghi, till the arrival of reinforcements enabled it to sustain Omer Pasha’s assault. The reproach would be justified, if it could be shown, that he ever pursued any other object, than the good of his country; or that he sacrificed her interests to the prosecution of his own private views. But in every foreign relation, even his bitterest enemies confessed his superiority, by constantly having recourse to his assistance, to settle their disputes; the different naval officers, employed in those transactions, repeatedly rendered justice to his merits as a diplomate, and to his qualities as a gentleman, by refusing to transact business with any other person. Happy would it have been, had Mavrocordato known the extent of his qualifications. He would then not have aspired to military command. Transported however by the desire of serving his country, he often placed himself at the head of troops; but as often, partly
through his incapacity, and partly owing to the jealousy of others, he met with the severest repulses. Perhaps, he might, considering their profound ignorance, combine the plan of a campaign better than most capitani: yet he was, certainly, the worst man to execute it. The greatest fault in his character, and the cause of incalculable evils both to his country and to himself, was a total want of firmness. He was incapable of pronouncing “no.” Had the inflexible sternness, the bold unalterable resolution of a
Cromwell, made part of his character, how many just reproaches might he have avoided! Indiscriminately liberal in promises, his performance was as invariably nothing. This changed many of his friends into enemies. Whatever deficiencies, however, may be laid to his charge, it must in justice be conceded, that, unlike most of his countrymen and foreigners, who came to Greece in quest of wealth and distinction, he sacrificed the whole of his fortune in the service of his country. He was, indeed, occasionally so distressed, as to be unable to provide for his daily expenses. In the most favourable circumstances he displayed the greatest disinterestedness; his patience and resignation in the most trying situations were exemplary; a constant friend to good order, he invariably pursued what he believed to be most advantageous to the general welfare; so that if he erred, his errors are, in no instance, to be attributed to sordid ambition or badness of heart. How often, too, has he been disappointed in his best endeavours by the lawlessness of barbarians; and even by the jealousy of the more enlightened Greeks and Philhellenes themselves; on whom he relied most for the execution of his plans, and the success of his efforts!

An immense concourse of strangers now filled the
streets, bazaars, and coffee-houses of Mesolonghi. The soldiers alone amounted almost to four thousand; as the capitani of the different provinces of Western Greece had ostentatiously brought with them the greater part of their followers. I observed, with much displeasure, the haughtiness and harshness with which these men treated the unarmed inhabitants of Mesolonghi; for I little expected to meet despotic principles in a nation, that had so lately proclaimed liberty and equality. They denominated their fellow-citizens by the ignominious appellation of rayas, in contradistinction to themselves, who in their estimation, alone enjoyed the privilege of being Hellens. They went further, and even proceeded to exact from this oppressed people the same menial services, which they themselves had formerly been compelled to pay to the Turks. Helot-like, the unfortunate peasant and citizen were obliged humbly to submit to the insolence of their masters: there existing no authority to redress their wrongs, the capitani being foremost in setting the disgraceful example.

Nothing could exceed the proud and ostentatious manner, in which these chiefs conducted themselves. In the minutest actions, they aped the pomp and haughtiness of the pasha; and, unfortunately, all their ideas of justice, administration, and civil liberty, were Turkish. What hopes could inspire men, who proposed to themselves similar models for imitation? Whenever a capitano went out, the following was the order of his march: two chiaushes, or police-officers, opened it; followed by the προτοπαλικάρι or aide-decamps; next appeared the ψυχονιοι, thus named as dearest to his soul; three or more lads handsomely dressed with their loose tresses floating over the shoulders, bearers of their master’s silver-cup, pipe, and
tobacco-bag. Then came the capitano himself, in a magnificent Albanian costume, which, in gala days, is of velvet, embroidered with gold; the right hand on his silver-gilt pistols; the left shoulder occupied in supporting his hanging ϕλοκκατα. He then theatrically strutted along the streets, throwing contemptuous glances at all who passed by; each of his steps accompanied by the argentine sounds of his silver chains and χαιμαλι. At a respectful distance followed his train, seldom composed of less than fifty soldiers*.

Accustomed as I had been, before and after my arrival at Mesolonghi, to hear constant mention made of the extreme poverty of the Greeks, I felt not a

* I had the curiosity to ascertain the cost of the silver arms and ornaments, supposed to be necessary to complete the dress of an Albanian. The following is the result of my inquiries:

A silver mounted gun
A pair of silver mounted pistols
A pair of cartridge boxes
A ϕονσεκλικι, or box for pistol cartridges
A μεδολλαρι, narrow box
Five buckles for fastening around the waist the σιλαλιχι, or leathern pouch in which the pistols, yataghan, &c. are worn.
Yataghan, with silver sheath and handle
Ramrod for pistols (γαρβί) (it often contains a dirk)
Knife with silver chain
A χαιμαλι, or small box with the image of St. George embossed on its outside. It contains relics and amulets against fascination. It is worn on the right side, and is suspended by a silver chain across the chest
An Albanian sword with silver sheath
Eight buckles for knees and ankles
Four ditto for the sandals (ζαρούχια)

The clothes cost no less than a hundred dollars; often twice, and sometimes even thrice, that sum.

little surprised at first to see the most profuse display of handsome silver arms and valuable military ornaments, on those very individuals, who were loudest in their complaints. But I soon came to the conclusion, that either the Greeks were not in so critical a position, or their pecuniary means not so exhausted as they represented; or that every spark of patriotism was extinct among them. I recollected the generous manner, in which the citizens of almost every nation in Europe have, during public emergencies, spontaneously offered their jewels, silver, plate, nay, even their entire fortune, to assist their country. I thought too of the noble enthusiasm that animated, a few years ago, in Prussia even the females; and induced them to consecrate to the maintenance of the army their most precious ornaments; and, with a noble pride, to replace them with iron. I expected the same sacrifices from the sons of Greece; not knowing yet, that slavery had left in their hearts no other feelings than those of the most absolute egotism.