LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Missolonghi Memoirs: Lord Byron in Greece
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Byron’s final days are among the best documented of his life, his evanescent humors, abiding obsessions, and final words noted down by faithful if not exactly disinterested associates of the poet. The memoirs vary according to the characters of the witnesses but also because Byron would display different facets of his character to different observers. The writers’ opposing political commitments add yet more layers of complexity to the proceedings. The Missolonghi memoirs capture him in full polyphonic form.

When Lord Byron arrived in Missolonghi in January 1824 the war for Greek independence was at a comparative lull: while Turkish frigates prowled the seas and Ottoman soldiers defended a few remaining bastions on the mainland, victory seemed within reach, particularly to observers in London who could not see, or were not told, the true state of affairs on the ground. In fact, Greece was in a state of near anarchy, the government unable to enforce laws or raise revenues while the countryside remained in the hands of feuding and rapacious capitani whose vested interests were at odds with nation-building.

Byron understood that the immediate challenges confronting Greek struggle for independence were less military or economic than political. While posturing as a military man, his primary business was not to make war on the Turks but peace among the Greeks. In the Spring of 1824 he was the only person who might have accomplished this and both the capitani and the government eagerly vied for his attention. But Byron died before negotiations could begin, the political impasse remained, and the Greeks sank into a debilitating civil war. Whether Byron might have prevented this outcome cannot be known, but it is difficult to imagine a worse turn of affairs than that recorded the memoirs.

They are a diverse lot with respect to genre, substance, and intention. Some tend towards biography, others towards history; some are narrative while others consist chiefly of letters and documents—most are mixed-genre works hastily published in response to affairs in Greece or to what the other memoirists were saying. Some are concerned specifically with Byron while in others Byron is a peripheral figure. They differ most widely in intention, reflecting the fractured state of Greek politics and opposing attitudes towards the London Greek Committee.

Byron was all but alone in refusing to align himself with one faction or another. Of the memoirists, William Parry (the munitions officer at Missolonghi), Pietro Gamba (Byron’s secretary), and Julius Millingen (physician to the Byron brigade) take the part of Mavrocordatos and the government, while Leicester Stanhope (Byron’s co-commisioner representing the London Greek Committee), and the volunteer philhellenes Edward John Trelawny and William Henry Humphries are sympathetic towards the capitano Odysseas Androutsos. Byron, a member of the Committee, felt betrayed by its instigator Edward Blaquiere and was critical of its Benthamite policies. For their part, members of the Committee preemptively unloaded on Byron in a memoir published in the Westminster Review soon after his death.

The arrival of the long-awaited loan in Greece days after Byron’s death gave the government the whip-hand over its rivals. In short order, Leicester Stanhope was withdrawn, the Mavrocordatos faction was able to bribe or win over the minor capitani, and Colocotroni and Androutsos were imprisoned. In June of 1825 Androutsos was murdered and his English ally Trelawny was nearly murdered in the famous cave on Mount Parnassus. By that time, however, Ibrahim Pasha had landed in Greece and the situation quickly unraveled as the Greek government, having frittered away what remained of the loan, discovered that its fighters were inept and its allies fickle. In 1825 Trelawny and Humphreys returned to England, Kennedy, having failed to convert Byron, was shipped off to the Caribbean, and Millingen, taken prisoner by Ibraham, went over to the Turks.

The correspondence collected in Stanhope memoir supplies necessary background to the events at Missolonghi; Byron’s preparations and arrival in Greece are described in Trelawny’s Recollections (1858) and Records (1878) and James Hamilton Browne’s Blackwood’s articles (1834); Byron’s residence in Cephalonia is described in James Kennedy’s Conversations on Religion with Lord Byron (1830), one of the better if odder memoirs. For the events in Missolonghi, there is Gamba’s Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece (1825), something like an official account, and William Parry’s bitterly critical Last Days of Lord Byron (1824). Parry’s volume is known to be ghost-written and Gamba’s may have been as well.

Millingen’s Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece (1831) covers the same ground before following the movements of Mavrocordatos down to 1825; it is the most graphically descriptive of the memoirs. On the other side there is William Henry Humphrey’s "“Journal of a Visit to Greece” (1826) which gives the most detailed account of the political infighting. Humphreys traveled to Missolonghi with Parry before casting his lot with Androutsos, whose affairs are also described by Tralawny—whether more credulously or disingenuously let the reader decide. Humphreys’ “Adventures of an English Officer in Greece” in the New Monthly Magazine (1826), which describes his visits to Androutsos’ cave and attempt to rescue Trelawny, rounds out the story.

The philhellenes were unlikely heroes—more heroic when viewed at a distance than when seen close at hand. They were a various lot: seasoned warriors and beardless boys, democrats and aristocrats, saints and skeptics, unhappy lovers and dreaming philosophers, men of means and illiterate mechanics, rebels fleeing the law, reformers seeking to make law. Willing or unwilling exiles, they seem to have had little in common save individuality and alienation. Byron was a typical philhellene in many respects.

Yet Byron alone emerged from the untoward events in Missolonghi with a reputation smelling sweet. While his contribution to independence is sometimes treated dismissively there is no gainsaying the deep impression he made on those who witnessed his last days or the effect of their memoirs in arousing empathy for the Greek cause at a critical time in its history.

David Hill Radcliffe

“Lord Byron in Greece” in Westminster Review. Vol. 2 July 1824: 225-62.
“Personal Character of Lord Byron” in London Magazine. Vol. 10 October 1824: 337-47.
“Last Moments of Lord Byron” in The Examiner. No. 864 22 August 1824: 530.
William Parry, The Last Days of Lord Byron. (London: Knight and Lacey, 1825).
Pietro Gamba, A Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece. Extracted from the Journal of Count Peter Gamba, who attended that Expedition.. (London: John Murray, 1825).
Anonymous, “Last Days of Lord Byron” in The Times. No. 12,657 19 May 1825.
Anonymous, “The Last Days of Lord Byron” in The Gentleman’s Magazine. Vol. 95 June 1825: 517-21.
Anonymous, “The Last Days of Lord Byron” in The Literary Magnet. Vol. 4 June 1825: 131-32.
[John Gibson Lockhart], “The Last Days of Lord Byron” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Vol. 18 No. 103 August 1825: 137-55.
[William Jerdan?], “A Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece” in Literary Gazette. No. 418 22 January 1825: 49-51.
William Henry Humphreys: “Journal of a Visit to Greece” in A Picture of Greece in 1825. (London: Henry Colburn, 1826).
Henry Southern, “Greece in 1825.” in London Magazine. Vol. NS 13 January 1826: 1-17.
Leicester Stanhope, “Last Days of Lord Byron” in The Examiner. No. 948 2 April 1826: 212-13.
[W. H. Humphreys], “Adventures of an English Officer in Greece. No. I.” in New Monthly Magazine. Vol. NS 17 August 1826: 172-181.
[W. H. Humphreys], “Adventures of an English Officer in Greece. No. II.” in New Monthly Magazine. Vol. NS 17 September 1826: 201-08.
Anonymous, “Parry v. Hunt” in The Times. 15 June 1827.
Anonymous, “Verdict against the Examiner in the Case of William Parry” in The Examiner. No. 1011 17 June 1827: 375-76.
James Kennedy, Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron and others, held in Cephalonia, a short time previous to His Lordship’s Death. (London: John Murray, 1830).
[William Jerdan?], “Conversations on Religion with Lord Byron” in Literary Gazette. No. 701 26 June 1830: 409-10.
Anonymous, “Conversations on Religion, with Lord Byron” in Edinburgh Literary Journal. Vol. 4 No. 87 10 July 1830: 21-23.
[William Maginn], “Dr. Kennedy and Lord Byron” in Fraser’s Magazine. Vol. 2 August 1830: 1-9.
Anonymous, “Conversations with Lord Byron” in Monthly Review. Vol. NS 14 No. 60 August 1830: 475-89.
Anonymous, “[Millingen’s Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece]” in Literary Gazette. No. 726 18 December 1830: 814-15.
Julius Millingen, Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece. (London: John Rodwell, 1831).
Edward John Trelawny, “Trelawny’s Journal” in Literary Gazette. No. 734 12 February 1831: 97-98.
James Hamilton Browne, “Voyage from Leghorn to Cephalonia with Lord Byron, and Visit to the Seat of War in Greece” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Vol. 35 No. 117 August 1834: 56-67.
James Hamilton Browne, “Voyage from Leghorn to Cephalonia with Lord Byron, and Visit to the Seat of War in Greece” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Vol. 35 No. 118 September 1834: 392-407.