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Modern History Sourcebook:
Charles K. Tuekerman:
The Greeks of Today, 1878

The first blow for Greek independence was struck in April 1821. The fires of revolution had been kindled for many years, but the inflammatory materials were collected and dispersed with such secrecy and vigilance---the chief instruments being the orthodox clergy, who whispered of hope and freedom in the pauses of their prayers---that when the venerable Bishop of Patras raised and sanctified the banner of revolt, it was responded to from every quarter of the Turkish dominion. The Porte heard the cry of battle with a smile of derision. What were poorly armed and undisciplined Greeks to accomplish against the glittering phalanxes of the Sultan? Europe heard it, and looked on with apathy at the hopelessness of the struggle. It was the United States which first responded, in the words of President Monroe, Webster, Clay, Everett, Dwight, Poinsett, and hundreds of lesser voices, to the resolution of the Greek Senate at Calamata, which declared "that having deliberately resolved to live or die for freedom, they were drawn by an irresistible symp,athy to the people of the United States."

The assertion in Webster's great speech on Greece, that her "sacrifices and suffering ought to excite the sympathy of every liberal-minded man in Europe," was not supported by facts---at least during the early period of the conflict. The Greeks fought single-handed, with valor in their hearts, wretched flint locks in their hands, and dissensions in their midst. As a Greek historian puts it, "David, scarcely armed with a sling, attacked the formidable Goliath." After a conflict corresponding to that of our seven years' war, not only in duration, but in many of its hardships, England and France came to the aid of the wretched and worn-out revolutionists, and, at the eleventh hour, by the naval battle of Navarino, accomplished the independence of a small portion of Greek territory. This result was unpremediated, and Wellington pronounced it an "untoward event." Doubtless this is the opinion of many to this day; but I will not believe that Gladstone's nobler sentiment, uttered in Parliament in 1870, and in the fact of the then-humiliated Greek people, is not the prevailing sentiment of all sound and unprejudiced English minds, namely, that "to crush Greece, would be to strike a blow at the hopes of mankind."

But, although the semi-centennial anniversary of Greek Independence has passed, fifty years of Greek autonomy have not yet passed. The disorders, and dispersions and corruption of the revolution did not give place to any form of systematized order for many years subsequent to the conclusion of actual warfare. A career of self-government cannot be said to have been fairly inaugurated until the Greeks recovered from the terrible exhaustion of the seven years' war, say in 1830, when Greece was declared an independent State by the Protocol of London. Indeed, it was not until 1835, when the seat of government was transferred from Nauplia to Athens---then a collection of miserable Turkish tenements---that much in the way of practical progress was attainable. Thirty-six years then, is the period upon which the political critic should pass judgement. What, it may with propriety be asked, has Greece accomplished during these thirty-six years of political autonomy?

I do not propose to review the work, or even to record more than a handful of statistics. Although "figures never lie," they often deceive. The man who builds but one house in a lifetime may have given stronger evidences in that achievement of the triumph of resolute faith over despair, than the builder of a city, although each may have begun his work without a penny in his pocket. The Greeks were worse than beggars when the seven-years' flood of the revolution rolled back and left them naked on the almost barren sands of the land they had fought so long to reach. Then they looked around them to behold but little in the way of resources within their reach, while the high, fertile plains of Thessaly and Epirus, which had formed the most significant portion of their land of promise, lay within sight, but cut off from them by diplomacy, a worse enemy, because a more subtle one, than the Turk, whose might was visible and could be met hand to hand.

The Greeks were worse than beggars, because they had begged before, and disgusted the lenders by their inability to pay the interest. The first loan was contracted in London in the excitement of the Greek revolution, through the efforts of a few interested and disinterested Philhellenes. Out of ,2,300,000 borrowed and for which the whole Hellenic nation expected to become responsible and easily to pay off under a solid government of their own, but ,924,800 reached the Greeks, the loan having been negotiated "like a hopeless affair" at fifty nine and fifty-five per cent. This sum was immediately expended in the purchase of materials for carrying on the war, and when the war was ended but a little more than one-fifth of the people who had looked for freedom received it; but a little more than a third of the territory fought for received it, and less than a million of people found themselves responsible for the payment of a debt which had been contracted by many millions. When Saint Denis was reported to have picked up his own head and walked several miles with it under his arm, the celebrated Ninon observed that the number of miles was nothing, it was only the first step that cost. Greece was worse off than Saint Denis for she had no legs left to walk off with. The head with its inventive energies was left, and the weak and wounded arms managed to pick up a scanty sustenance, and this, to his thinking, was, under the circumstances, miraculous enough.

Much of the first loan was subsequently bought by Dutch speculators at five or six per cent, and might now be liqui dated at a low rate but for subsequent loans-the outgrowth of the first. The united debt of Greece amounts today ot nearly $42,000,000. The revenue, according to the budget for 1870, amounted $5,544,866 and the expenditure to $6,063,112. This was not an exceptional year, as the revenue owing to difficulties in collecting and negligence in enforcing the payment of taxes, shown an annual deficit of a million of dollars. Under such circumstances the national debt stands a poor chance of redemption; and Greece being excluded from the money markets of Europe, has an onerous work to support herself under the disadvantages of a small territory and sparse population. About a fourth part of the population live by agricultural pursuits. Her merchant marine is actively engaged in the trade with Turkey and the ports of the Levantine which it largely controls. In these occupations lies her only material strength and under circumstances of great discouragement; the poverty of her people feeble resources---inexperience---the enervating influences of old customs and habits of thought Greece has failed to fulfill the exaggerated and unreasonable expectations of the enthusiastic Philhellenes. But Greece has nevertheless done much in the way of real progress. Briefly enumerated she has, in these thirty-five or forty years of freedom, doubled her population and increased her revenues five hundred per cent. Eleven new cities have been founded on sites formerly deserted. More thlan forty towns, reduced to ruins by the war, have been rebuilt, restored to regular proportions, and enlarged, presenting at present the aspect of prosperous and progressive cities. Some roads have replaced the foot and saddle paths which were the sole avenues of communication under the Turks, and telegraphic communication extends over the kingdom. Eight or ten ports have been cleared, deepened and opened to communication. Light houses and bridges have been erected.

From four hundred and forty vessels, insuring 61,640 tons, her merchant fleet has increased more than five thousand vessels of 330,000 tons. Nearly a hundred thousand vessels enter Greek ports yearly, of which more than three quarters are engaged in the coasting trade. The united value of imports and exports exceeds twenty-five millions of dollars. Greece has five Chambers of Commerce, numerous insurance companies, and a national bank, the associated capital of which exceeds eight millions of dollars. In 1830 the small dried grape of Corinth---of which the word "currant" is a corruption, and which forms the chief article of export---sold at about $150 the ton. It now sells at from $40 to $50, which indicates the enormous increase in the production of this one article of commerce, from about ten millions of pounds now. The vines have increased from 25,000 stremmes---a stremma being about a third of an English acre---to 700,000; the fig trees from 50,000 to 300,000; the olives from 2,300,000 to 7,500,000 and the value of the silk and cotton production shows also an increase. The population of the chief towns at the last census, was: Athens, 48,107; Patras, 29,000; Corfu, 24,091; Syra 20,996; and Zante, 20,480. The army, newly organized in 1867, consists of 14,300 troops of the line, but every Greek is a soldier in the hour of need. The Fleet is composed of a frigate of fifty guns; two corvettes, together of forty-eight guns; one side-wheel steamer of six guns; six screw steamers, together of ten guns; two new iron clads; and twenty-six smaller vessels and gunboats.

The agriculturalist in Greece plods on, a patient, ceaseless laborer for what, at its best, produces only a simple subsistence. He is temperate and frugal, and---not looking beyond his domestic resources--a tolerably happy man. He neither neglects his religious observances nor his children=s education; and if he sits down to lament anything, it is that his taxes are not lighter, his crops not more profitable, and his country only a fraction of that which he believes to be his by right of nationality, religion, language, and hereditary claims. The Greek sailor, on the other hand, finds some compensation for his national afflictions in the buoyant bound of the billows beneath his staunch, well-laden little craft, with which he coasts his native shores or scours the waters of Turkey and its provinces, and brings home bags of drachmas for his cargoes of fruits and grains, for he, too, although unhappily deprived of the golden atmosphere of London, has "the genius which knows how to venture." But what becomes of that large body of young men, who with the pride of a somewhat higher birthright than the peasant or the seafaring man, with the energy and ambition of youth, endowed with mental qualities which, if profitably directed, would place them on a level with the best intellectual society of Europe, but without a farthing in their pockets, have to make their way in the world? The life of one such man will very nearly illustrate the life of many hundreds. He finds himself at an age when the pressure of existence begins to be felt, and the youth in his father=s house is painfully apparent, a helpless but barely held together by the over-taxed industry of his parent, who without the educational advantages which the era of national independence has afforded to her children digs the soil and trims his vines, or perhaps exists on the uncertain and meager salary of a public office. With a natural love for learning, the son has attended the "gymnasia, and perhaps dreamed that in something better than the tillage of the soil ought to lie his lot in life. But if discarding books, he finds himself willing to resort to manual labor, the prospect is anything but cheering. The land is probably rented from the Government and at best offers few resources for the large and growing-up family which now manage to exist upon its produce. To go abroad and seek from a cold world---especially cold to one of his nationality a position of usefulness, is like casting one's only shilling on the generosity of the gambling table, and probably he has not the shilling to venture. There is business at home; many Commercial houses ennoble the cities of Athens, Patras, Syra, etc., but they have been of slow growth and have hundreds of applicants for the first vacancy which may occur in the poorest paid clerk-ships. He bows his head in despair with but a single forlorn hope. That hope is Athens. Surely, in the Capital of the Kingdom, busting with politicians, lawyers, doctors, journalists, someing must offer to a man, sensible of his own merits and ready to devote mind and body to the general or to the personal weal.

To the Capital he manages to pay or beg his way, and there drifts, insensibly, perhaps, into the whirlpool of the University---where a thousand others, mostly like himself, find a few years of something like happiness in the excited hum of social and political companionship, with the common object in view of mental culture. He attends the lectures on law, medicine, science, philosophy and belles lettres---devouring knowledge---and, as a hungry child, ignorant of the world around it, sucks the nipple of the Alma Mater. He takes his books home to his little scantily-furnished lodging, and pores over them >till his eyes ache and his shrunken stomach craves for something more substantial. At a cheap eating-house he satisfies his hunger with a few olives and bread, washed down with the resined wine of the country, which is barely sufficent to sustain him until the next repast. Probably he passes the evenings at a cafe---sitting for hours with three or four companions over a single cup of coffee and innumerable cigarettes, discussing---what? The last opera?---the scandal of the day? the lascivious life of cities? It is more than probably that the conversation is earnest; it relates to the morning lecture at the University, or it discusses a classical problem; or what, is sure to come in, and with more or less vehemence, before the evening is over---the political question which is that day the topic of the newspapers, or the subject of debate in the arena of Parliament. In their enthusiasm, these political and 1iterary roysterers heed not the passing hour, and still less heed the presence of the foreigner, who, if by chance, taking notes of Athenian society, will be sure to put them down as a parcel of degenerate and drunken blackguards, fit representatives of the national life of Greece. But his university career comes at last to an end. The young man has arrived at the years of manhood. Through unremitting labor of the brain and bodily self-denial, he obtains his degree, and finds himself standing where several roads part, uncertain which of them take. He is fit for the practice of the law, and is not without the ambition which takes delight in gazing upon one's own signboard as he goes into his office lined wlth the bound-up authorities of his craft. But the profession is full.

The city of Athens may be proud of the legal talent which finds exercise at her various bars; but to the few who gather the laurels and wear them in marble dwelling houses, there is a hopeless, swaying crowd, briefless, nameless, and a hunger. The same may be said of every other profession. Thousands gather at the fountain, but the slender stream fills only the nearest pitchers, and that but slowly. People cannot be all of them at loggerheads, or stretched on beds of sickness. There is one road---and an honorable one it is, too---which takes many of the graduates of the University, in spite of its uninviting aspect and poorly paid occupation. Our young man can, if he chooses, go where many of his fellows go, into the benighted provinces of Turkey, and along the Danube, and open, or teach in schools. The stream of the University at Athens meanders through the Greek provinces of Turkey, and gives to no small portion of them all the intellectual freshness and growth they possess. But one of the chief qualities of a teacher of youth is patience, and an absolute disregard to the claims of personal ambition---qualities which are eminently the reverse of those which animate the average Greek mind. Penury may be endured; but patience and obscurity are incompatible with the activity of brain and national self-esteem, which characterize the modern Greek. The young man cannot ponder long at the angle of the professional roads, for his nature abhors mental immobility. He who judges him as he saunters through the streets or sits dreamily at the table of a cafe, judges him wrongly. The brain is working in some direction or other, however passive may be the outward man. If the tongue is not tripping with volubility of speech, it is because no fellow tongue is by to challenge argument. There is but one other road, or rather highway, of occupation open to him; and down that he advances with the rushing crows. The reading of newspapers, the gasconade of the cafe, the warmth of daily debate on public affairs in the corridor of the University, has already made him a political partisan. He has his favorite statesman, and enrolls himself in the ranks of the supporters or denouncers of the existing ministry. In a word, he becomes an embryo politician, scribbles for the journals, and hangs around the camp of the Minister or ex-minister from whom he hopes to catch, in time, a loaf of fish of party patronage. He knows that when it comes, it will barely support life for the brief period that the ministry hold office, but he fills the interregnum with hopes which may shape themselves to realities to come.

That first political crust is a magic portion. He dreams of one day becoming Prime Minister himself, when fame and a sense of personal power shall fill up the crevices of his physical necessities. If for a moment he realizes the absolute barrenness of the occupation he has accepted for life, it is but for a moment, for he sees no other alternative. Thus Athens becomes surcharged with an element, for the most part unproductive and unwholesome to the body politic, and yet one which seems to result from natural causes, for which there is no immediate remedy. Let him who laments as I do, that so much mental culture and absolute talent should be squandered in the political arena, where so seldom are seen the strength of self-sacrificing statesmanship, point out a practical remedy, that is not born of national self-experience, as sooner or later it must be born in Greece. As men look everywhere but to themselves to discover the majesty of the State, so the Greek, with his eager intellect and restless ambition, looks all around him for a sphere of development, unmindful that in his own arms and hands lie the germs of national prosperity. He does not believe, in the "nobility of labor," nor is it to be wondered at in a country where, through generations of foreign domination, labor was but the synonym of servitude.


Source:

From: Charles K. Tuekerman, THE GREEKS OF TODAY (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1878), pp. 143-157, reprinted in Alfred J. Bannan & Achilles Edelenyi, eds., Documentary History of Eastern Europe, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970), pp. 175-183.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.


This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu