VI. Tangible Support: Philhellenes, Warriors and Philanthropists
C3. Excerpts from The Journals and Letters of Samuel Gridley Howe.
(pp. 160–63) Athens, Dec. 19th, 1825
Dear William:-My last was dated in the month of September, and from the island of Candia; since which time I have been so hurried about from one part of Greece to another, and so continually agitated in mind on account of the distressing state of public affairs, that leisure has not been left me to address any of my friends in America. Having finished the campaign with the army, I have come to enjoy a few days of ease at Athens. Doubtless you will start at the name of Athens, and expect from me a long and interesting account of it, but I have not heart for this now. I am an admirer of ancient, but a lover and friend of modern Greece. All travellers [sic] have described the feelings of melancholy which pervaded them when wandering among the remnants of the gigantic buildings on the Acropolis, or gazing upon the beautiful and still perfect temple of Theseus; but how much is that melancholy increased at this moment, when, recalling to mind the proud state of Greece in the age of Pericles, one compares it with her present situation-exhausted by a desperate struggle, and in danger of coming again under the yoke of the barbarian. I speak of Missolonghi, now in imminent danger. This season has been important for the Greeks; it has taught them that an army without order or discipline is a curse to itself and to its country. They were so proud of having battled successfully more than three years with their former masters, that they would not listen to the solicitations of foreigners to organize their army. But things are now changed. Formerly it was merely one herd of men struggling against another herd, with this dif-ference, that the one was inspired by the spirit of liberty and a thirst for vengeance, and [therefore] they were the conquerors. But now, science and discipline regulate the Turks, and the Greeks find them irresistible; the army of Ibrahim Pasha goes where it will.
If you compare the Greek regulars to our militia, and their irregulars to our Indians, you will come near the truth. In fact, their way of making war is not dissimilar; they prefer to wait the attack of an enemy, and to surprise by ambuscades. Then they pitch upon some defile through which the enemy must pass, hide themselves among the rocks and stones, and patiently await his coming. If they decide to await open attack, they encamp upon some rocky hill, where they build their little tambouris [sic], or breastworks about three feet high, behind which they lie down, and when the enemy advances pour in their fire. They depend principally upon their musquets [sic], or rather do their principal execution with those, though every Greek soldier thinks it necessary that he should have a pair of pistols and a yataghan stuck in his belt. The yataghan is a short, crooked sword, curved inward like the blade of a scythe, and is one of the clumsiest weapons in the world; the same may be said of their pistol, the handle or stock of which is perfectly straight. The principal use of either is for show, for they seldom come near enough to the enemy to use them.
The Turkish cavalry is most formidable. They are mounted upon the finest Arabian horses, which they manage with great dexterity, and they never fail to attack whenever the nature of the ground will admit. The Greeks fear the cavalry as much as the Turks dread a fire-ship.
(pp. 166–69) Napoli di Romania, Dec. 29th, 1825
My Dear Father:-I have let a longer time pass without writing you than I ever meant to have done, but for the last three months I have been so driven about from one part of the country to another, and from one island to another, that really I had neither time, place, nor opportunity; sleeping now in a hut, another night in a cave, the third in open air, I have never been stationary long enough to write at ease. This must plead my excuse to you for my silence.
As for my health, I have reason to be thankful that it has been excellent. This is very strange, too, for out of perhaps one hundred foreigners whom I know here, there is but one save myself who has escaped the fever of the country. All the Americans have had it; Mr. Miller very ill, but now recovered. Lieutenant W- now lies under my care in a dangerous state. Mr. Evans also was sick, but I hope that before this time he has called on you, and given you the things I sent by him. He left months ago.
The affairs of the country do not go on so well as could be wished. We could beat off the Turks, let them come on as thick as they pleased, but this season they have sent an army of disciplined Arabians from Egypt, before whom the Greeks cannot stand. But we are now raising rapidly a corps of tacticians, which now amounts to three thousand men, and by next spring will be seven or eight thousand, with which we can meet these Egyptians, who have gone just where they pleased this summer. They are now besieging Missolonghi, a very important town (fortified mostly by poor Lord Byron), and if they take it things will go badly.
(pp. 170-74) Napoli, April 30th, 1826
Dear William:-I write you with an almost breaking heart. Missolonghi has fallen! Her brave warriors have thrown themselves in desperation upon the bayonets of their enemies; her women and children have perished in the flames of their own dwellings, kindled by their own hands; and their scorched and mangled carcasses lie a damning proof of the selfish indifference of the Christian world. Christian, do I say? Alas! I fear Christianity has fled from the world. You send missionaries to the east and to the west, and from pole to pole; millions are annually paid for the support of pampered priests, or of overendowed institutions, while the poor Greeks are left to worse than slavery and death. For ten months have the eyes of Christian Europe been turned upon Missolonghi. They have seen her inhabitants struggling at enormous odds against the horrors of war and famine; her men worn out, bleeding and dying; her women gnawing the bones of dead horses and mules; her walls surrounded by Arabs, yelling for the blood of her warriors, and to glue their hellish lusts upon her women and children. All his have they seen, and not raised a finger for their defence [sic], and at last they have seen the catastrophe. You may talk to me of national policy, and the necessity of neutrality, but I say, a curse upon such policy! It is contrary to Christianity and humanity; it is a dis. grace to our age, that millions of Christians should be left to the sabre and yoke of the Turk. Pardon me! Perhaps my language is too strong; but when I think of Missolonghi, when I think of the protracted sufferings of her inhabitants, many of whom I knew, I cannot restrain my feelings. Jervis, too, poor fellow, I fear was there. I have before mentioned him to you, the young American who ranked so high in the army. I heard a few days ago that he had entered the place, and been twice wounded; if this is true he is lost, for he could not cut his way out. Well, peace to his ashes! He has fought often for the cause, and at last sealed his love of it with his life.
On the first part of this month deputies were assembled from every part of the nation at Epidauros to consider the state of affairs, and the deputies agreed that for energy and dispatch [sic], the present provisional Government should be annulled and the power vested in twelve men who should have absolute control of affairs until September next. The assembly then dissolved. The newly elected supreme commission arrived here this day; the old Government quietly resigned its power, and to-morrow the commission will begin operations. Greece is in imminent danger, but I don [sic] not yet despair. I shall have an opportunity of writing you again in a few days, and then can give you a more correct opinion on the probability or improbability of her success.
Till then adieu!
S. G. Howe
(pp. 179–81) Napoli di Romania, June 8th, 1826
My Dear Will:– Your kind letter of March 18th must be answered this afternoon, as there is a vessel for Smyrna this evening, and pressed as I am for time, I would not neglect doing it were I to go without eating a week. I wrote to Prof. Edward Everett yesterday by way of Malta, and detailed to him the state of public affairs; you will see by the letter that things look rather blue. Foreigners begin to hang tail and skulk off; not all,-for there are many noble spirits who despise the thought of quitting the country in an hour of danger, because she cannot pay them. There are several Frenchmen and Germans who will stick it out to the last. I hope my fears may not be realized, that Greece may not be lost, but if she is, it will be a long time before the conflict is over; a partisan warfare will be continually kept up, and the enemy harassed in every possible way. Many chiefs begin to make their preparations for this. In case regular opposition is over, I am determined to join some young French officers who are here, and who have agreed to form a little band of twelve, to be mounted on fleet horses, hover round the enemy, and dart in upon him and pick off stragglers on every occasion. A good example set by Franks may be useful to the Greeks, and a guerrilla warfare may become to the Turks more harassing than the present one. They will be obliged to relax in their caution; small bodies of men must be moving about the country, and will give a good chance to gentlemen land-corsairs. I have become so attached to Greece, so confident that she will eventually triumph, that I shall not quit her while there is a prospect of being useful...
I shall attempt to go in one of the Cochrane's vessels; I shall not only see fun but escape what I dread more than Turks, the fever of this town. It has brought me once so low that I had some idea of what kind of a process dying was, and I have no appetite for lying on my back fifty days upon the stretch again! However, if the government orders me to stay here I shall not murmur, nor will I quit the place if it should be besieged. I am not fond of making but one meal a day, and that one on a steak cut from a jackass, but what is to be done? I have put my hand to the plough, and cannot look back. I have thought often of what I used to tell you, that my chance of returning to America was as one in two, and I think so still. I may get popped off by a ball or the yataghan of a Turk, but hope still whispers me that I shall see home once more, and that you and I will have some more of our moonlight strolls and while away the time by the relation of past events. But if it is not so,-if we are not to meet again,-may God give you many friends who will love you as I do; greater blessing than this can no man desire.
I remain yours sincerely,
Sam'l G. Howe
(pp. 182–83) Napoli, July 8th, 1826
My Dear William:-. . . I assure you that, entirely as I have got rid of those foolish romantic ideas with which my head was once stuffed, I have one which clings closely to me: honour [sic] and fame I have done sighing for, but not the hope of making my friends proud of me, and being worthy of it; more particularly to make my good father feel that his pains with me have not been useless.
You will see by my letter to Professor Everett that public affairs are at a most interesting crisis. The Greeks now begin to rouse from the stupor into which they seemed to have fallen since the loss of Missolonghi. Yesterday, in accordance with a notice stuck up previously, calling all Greeks to meet in the public square to consider the state of the country, a large part of the inhabitants assembled, when there came forth a man to address them. He was of good character and education, and universally marked for his patriotism. He painted in glowing colours [sic] the dangerous state of the country; called upon the people in the name of all that was dear to them, to lay aside their party feeling and disputes, to unite one and all against the enemy, to contribute every cent they could spare to feed the starving soldiery. “And that you may know, my dear countrymen,” said he, "that I am not a man of mere words-behold my purse! It is all, all I have in the world, but I give it to my country, and swear to devote to her as freely my service and my blood."
The effect of his simple and pathetic speech was astonishing. The crowd was in tears. Then, as if moved by one common impulse, each rushed forward to contribute his utter-most. A committee was chosen, and each one, even the poor soldiers, who had no money, gave in something, a gold or silver ornament, etc.; others [gave] their horses, their jewels. Prince Ypsilanti sent in the golden scabbard and mounting of his sword, of immense value. Poor fellow, he has done his uttermost, and he has become destitute. Had Greece many such sterling patriots (as he], she would not now be so low. I hope this newly awakened enthusiasm may spread over the country, and be productive of some good. It was in this way that they (the Greeks) hewed down so many armies in the commencement. All were animated with a burning zeal to rush foremost upon the enemy, and distinguish themselves by saving their country. But latterly it has been sadly otherwise. The sordid spirit of gain, and what is worse, the spirit of party, has sprung up to blast the hopes of the friends of liberty. It is affecting to talk with those few Greeks who have uniformly and steadily fought for the good of their country; [to see how they lament the change of public spirit, and with what fervour [sic] they dwell on the first year of the Revolution, when, like a band of brothers, they fought the sacred battles of their country, and were each animated with that zeal that made all things common; when he who had gave freely to him who had not. Sainted spirits of Botzaris, Giorgaki, Rhiga! what must be your emotions if you look down upon your country, and behold it neglecting the cause you died to maintain! An expression in your last letter pained me much. You say: “Many who were formerly enthusiastically attached to the Greek cause, now say they believe the Greeks less entitled to sympathy than the Turks.” This is doing them much injustice, though I am forced to say that many of them justify such an opinion. But there are redeeming spirits; there are men who would honour [sic] any cause, any country. Do not believe those who may denounce the [whole] nation as wanting honour [sic] and patriotism! Such persons do not know the Greeks, or from disappointed hopes detract from their merits. They judge the nation by those they meet with in Napoli and the seaports; men who, having spent their lives in Europe, have adopted European vices. They do not look at the character of the peasantry, of the mountaineer; they do not take into consideration that Greece has for four hundred years been crushed under the weight of a despotism more grinding than that of the West Indian slave system. But I say, and without fear of contradiction, that the modern Greek, notwithstanding his life of slavish oppression, is a more virtuous, pleasing character than the Sicilian, the Italian, the Spaniard, or the Russian, and that he has more shrewdness and quickness, and as much talent, as the native of any other part of Europe. It is curious to hear the relation of the wanderings of our comrades. There is in the same house with me an old Greek whom I delight much to talk with. He is a man of tried courage, and covered with wounds. He has fought with the Mamelukes in Egypt; he served as a Cossack, and fought with the Russians; followed them to Paris; wandered in every corner of Europe; knows the character of every nation, and has been a most keen observer of men and manners. Such a man is a precious volume, out of which one may glean much valuable matter. It is his pride and boast that neither he nor his father ever paid tribute to the Turks; that he has killed them on every occasion; and that he left a major's commission in the Russian army to come and fight as a common soldier for his country. Perhaps I weary you with these details, but I assure you, could you year them from his mouth, you would never tire. Last night, talking over with him the clouded prospects of the country, I said to him: “Well, we will stand it out to the last, and when all is over we will go together to America.” The old man's eyes flashed fire, then melted; a tear obscured it. “No," he said. “Save yourself! Go and live beloved in that happy land of liberty. But I-I have drawn my sword for my country, and I swear that when she falls, I will sheathe it in my own bosom."
Remember me to all worth remembering, and believe me to be your sincere friend,
Sam'l G. Howe
(pp. 197-98) Ægina, Friday, Jan. 5th, 1827
Went to visit the ship built for the Greeks in New York, and was astonished indeed at her size, beauty, and strength. Her upper deck, an immense plain as it were, flush fore and aft, without obstruction to the eye, presents a range of thirty-wo guns on each side, all of 32-pound calibre [sic] an of the finest quality; the slender but perfectly proportioned masts, the beautiful brass capstan, are almost the only objects that arrest the eye in its sweep over the vast deck. The lower gun deck presents a battery still more formidable, of thirty-two 42-pounders, all in perfect order. And so large, yet perfect are the dimensions of the ship that, though mounting but sixty-four guns, she would be a match for any seventy-four that swims. She is perfectly fitted out in every respect, and her accommodations for the officers are excellent; beautiful, yet simple and useful.
What to me was more interesting was my finding Kanaris on board, a man who has justly acquired as much fame as any other during this Revolution. On entering into the great cabin I found a small man sitting there, quite ordinary and modest looking, dressed plainly, almost coarsely, and when I was introduced to him as the famous Kanaris, I in vain tried to catch something remarkable about his appearance, but there was nothing except perhaps his full protuberant eyes, which, without beauty or fire, were yet full of intelligence when raised and looking at you. I paid him my compliments on his gallant deeds, which he received as a thing he had been perfectly accustomed to. Yet, after all, we contrive to twist a man's appearance into something of that which it should be from his mind, and perhaps we ought to expect from a man of Kanaris's quiet, unpretending calm, nay, indifferent appearance, that sort of cool, determined courage which his deeds have manifested in him. I shall long remember his appearance,-his slight but well-proportioned figure, his protuberant forehead and eyes, black eyebrows, hair and moustache, his nose a little turned up; not a pert, cock-up nose, but as though it has been flattened and bent up. At ten a.m. Miaulis came on board. The old fellow looks ruddier and fresher, but not fatter, than when I last saw him. Gave him a salute of eight guns when he went off.
Source: Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Founded on Freedom and Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829 (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2002).