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The Life of Lord Byron By John Galt Characters: 6978

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Proceedings at Missolonghi-Byron's Suliote Brigade-Their Insubordination-Difference with Colonel Stanhope-Imbecility of the Plans for the Independence of Greece

The arrival of Lord Byron at Missolonghi was not only hailed as a new era in the history of Greece, but as the beginning of a new cycle in his own extraordinary life. His natural indolence disappeared; the Sardanapalian sloth was thrown off, and he took a station in the van of her efforts that bespoke heroic achievement.

After paying the fleet, which indeed had only come out in the expectation of receiving the arrears from the loan he had promised to Mavrocordato, he resolved to form a brigade of Suliotes. Five hundred of the remains of Marco Botzaris's gallant followers were accordingly taken into his pay. "He burns with military ardour and chivalry," says Colonel Stanhope, "and will proceed with the expedition to Lepanto." But the expedition was delayed by causes which ought to have been foreseen.

The Suliotes, conceiving that in his Lordship they had found a patron whose wealth and generosity were equally boundless, refused to quit Missolonghi till their arrears were paid. Savage in the field, and untamable in the city, they became insubordinate and mercenary; nor was their conduct without excuse. They had long defended the town with untired bravery; their families had been driven into it in the most destitute condition; and all the hopes that had led them to take up arms were still distant and prospective. Besides, Mavrocordato, unlike the other Grecian captains, having no troops of his own, affected to regard these mercenaries as allies, and was indulgent to their excesses. The town was overawed by their turbulence, conflicts took place in the street; riot and controversy everywhere prevailed, and blood was shed.

Lord Byron's undisciplined spirit could ill brook delay; he partook of the general vehemence, and lost the power of discerning the comparative importance both of measures and things. He was out of his element; confusion thickened around him; his irritability grew into passion; and there was the rush and haste, the oblivion and alarm of fatality in all he undertook and suggested.

One day, a party of German adventurers reached the fortress so demoralized by hardships, that few of them were fit for service. It was intended to form a corps of artillery, and these men were destined for that branch of the service; but their condition was such, that Stanhope doubted the practicability of carrying the measure into effect at that time. He had promised to contribute a hundred pounds to their equipment. Byron attributed the Colonel's objections to reluctance to pay the money; and threatened him if it were refused, with a punishment, new in Grecian war--to libel him in the Greek Chronicle! a newspaper which Stanhope had recently established.

It is, however, not easy to give a correct view of the state of affairs at that epoch in Missolonghi. All parties seem to have been deplorably incompetent to understand the circumstances in which they were placed;-the condition of the Greeks, and that their exigencies required only physical and military means. They talked of newspapers and types, and libels, as if the moral instruments of civil exhortation were adequate to wrench the independence of Greece from the bloody grasp of the Ottoman. No wonder that Byron, accustomed to the management only of his own fancies, was fluttered amid the conflicts of such ri

ot and controversy.

His situation at this period was indeed calculated to inspire pity. Had he survived, it might, instead of awakening the derision of history, have supplied to himself materials for another canto of Don Juan. I shall select one instance of his afflictions.

The captain of a British gun-brig came to Missolonghi to demand an equivalent for an Ionian boat, which had been taken in the act of going out of the Gulf of Lepanto, with provisions and arms. The Greek fleet at that time blockading the port consisted of five brigs, and the Turks had fourteen vessels of war in the gulf. The captain maintained that the British Government recognised no blockade which was not efficient, and that the efficiency depended on the numerical superiority of cannon. On this principle he demanded restitution of the property. Mavrocordato offered to submit the case to the decision of the British Government, but the captain would only give him four hours to consider. The indemnification was granted.

Lord Byron conducted the business in behalf of the captain. In the evening, conversing with Stanhope on the subject, the colonel said the affair was conducted in a bullying manner. His Lordship started into a passion and contended that law, justice, and equity had nothing to do with politics. "That may be," replied Stanhope, "but I will never lend myself to injustice."

His Lordship then began to attack Jeremy Bentham. The colonel complained of such illiberality, as to make personal attacks on that gentleman before a friend who held him in high estimation.

"I only attack his public principles," replied Byron, "which are mere theories, but dangerous,-injurious to Spain, and calculated to do great mischief in Greece."

Stanhope vindicated Bentham, and said, "He possesses a truly British heart; but your Lordship, after professing liberal principles from boyhood, have, when called upon to act, proved yourself a Turk."

"What proofs have you of this?

"Your conduct in endeavouring to crush the press by declaiming against it to Mavrocordato, and your general abuse of liberal principles."

"If I had held up my finger," retorted his Lordship, "I could have crushed the press."

"With all this power," said Stanhope, "which by the way you never possessed, you went to the prince, and poisoned his ear."

Lord Byron then disclaimed against the liberals. "What liberals?" cried Stanhope. "Did you borrow your notions of freemen from the Italians?"

"No: from the Hunts, Cartwrights, and such."

"And yet your Lordship presented Cartwright's Reform Bill, and aided Hunt by praising his poetry and giving him the sale of your works."

"You are worse than Wilson," exclaimed Byron, "and should quit the army."

"I am a mere soldier," replied Stanhope, "but never will I abandon my principles. Our principles are diametrically opposite, so let us avoid the subject. If Lord Byron acts up to his professions, he will be the greatest, if not, the meanest of mankind."

"My character," said his Lordship, "I hope, does not depend on your assertions."

"No: your genius has immortalized you. The worst will not deprive you of fame."

Lord Byron then rejoined, "Well; you shall see: judge of me by my acts." And, bidding the colonel good night, who took up the light to conduct him to the passage, he added, "What! hold up a light to a Turk!"

Such were the Franklins, the Washingtons, and the Hamiltons who undertook the regeneration of Greece.

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