HISTORY OF GREECE : medieval and modern
My grandfather was James Finlay, a merchant in Glasgow, who founded the mercantile house of James Finlay and Co. My father, John Finlay, raised a number of men for a regiment of the line and entered the army as a lieutenant. After his regiment was disbanded he entered the Royal Engineers, and served in the West Indies and the campaign in Holland. Major John Finlay was a F. R. S., and died in 1802. I was born on the 21st December 1799, near Faversham, where my father resided, being then inspector of the government powder mills at that place and at Waltham Abbey. My mother subsequently married Alexander MacGregor, a merchant of Liverpool.
I have always ascribed my love of history to my mother's reading to me at an early age the history of England, and explaining it in a way to make it interesting to a child. It made me think, and understanding came long afterwards to work on the materials supplied by memory. After I had passed three years at a boarding-school near Liverpool, Mr. MacGregor was compelled to go to America during the war, and I was removed to the house of my uncle, Kirkman Finlay, the head of the house of James Finlay and Co., and then M.P. for the Glasgow district of burghs. My education was carried on along with my cousins under a private tutor, and I found that my time at the English boarding-school had been very unprofitably employed.
Summer was now a happy period, for it was passed at the mouth of the Clyde, where it widens into a salt-water lake. Boating, fishing, and wandering about the hills, afforded inexhaustible amusement then, and often supply thought with pleasant memories. Mr. K. Finlay, considering his numerous occupations and great activity, contrived to pass a good deal of time with his family. He was a man of a cheerful disposition, which attached everybody near him; and his talents were considerable and his judgment sound. He was well read in English history, and had an acquaintance both with the writings on and the principles of political economy which was then possessed by few. His reading and his manner of conversation were particularly adapted to develope in the minds of youth a habit of connecting the knowledge to be learned in books with the experience of practical life. Nevertheless I made less progress in classical learning during three years I remained in my uncle's family than any of my cousins. I wished to enter the army, but my uncle convinced me that it was a very unsuitable profession in the time of peace for one who like me had but a moderate competency, and it was resolved that I should study law. I accordingly entered the office of Messrs. Grahame and Mitchell in Glasgow, for the purpose of learning the most lucrative branch of the profession for one of ordinary ability. Mr. Grahame was a man of great talent, accurate legal knowledge, and extremely liberal political opinions, and I became much attached to him from admiration of his character.
Having decided on trying my fortune at the Scottish bar, I went to Gottingen to complete my studies in Roman law, and when I took leave of my uncle, that kind friend said very gravely, "Well, George, I hope you will study hard at Roman law, but I suppose you will visit the Greeks before I see you again". The words proved prophetic. The Greek Revolution had begun to excite notice, and received a greater share of my attention than I was aware, until the fact was revealed to me by my uncle's observation. I considered the cause of the Greeks desperate, and had certainly no thought of joining them. But my uncle knew me then better than I knew myself.
At Gottingen I read a great deal, studied industriously, but paid too little attention to law, and began to feel doubts whether the law was the profession for which I was adapted. I conversed much with everybody I met who had visited Greece, read all the works of modern travellers, and associated a great deal with the only Greek who was then studying at Gottingen. In 1833 I resolved to visit Greece, and judge for myself concerning the condition of the people and the country and the chances of the war. And this resolution was formed before I heard of Lord Byron's intention to join the Greeks. In November 1823 I first met Lord Byron at Cephalonia. My voyage from Venice to Zante had lasted forty-five days, and one of the jokes which we fabricated on board, or in the islands of Dalmatia where we remained wind-bound, was that Ulysses must have taken his passage in a Dalmatian brig when he was ten years on the voyage from Troy to Ithaca, or at least that Homer must have acquired his ideas of navigation as a passenger in the Venetian marine.
I was very kindly received by Lord Byron, and by Sir Charles Napier, who was then British Resident (governor in reality) in Cephalonia. My stay at Cephalonia was not long. I saw Lord Byron was not yet resolved to continue his voyage, and that Sir Charles was afraid of the island being considered as the head-quarters of the Philhellenes and the agents of the Greek committees in Europe. Several German officers and English doctors sent out by the Greek committee in London arrived. A visit from Sir Thomas Maitland, the Lord High Commissioner in the Ionian Islands, was announced. Sir Charles Napier sent for me, told me how things stood, and pointed out the inconveniences to the cause of Greece which might result from Sir Thomas Maitland finding such an assembly of revolutionary elements at Cephalonia in consequence of Lord Byron's presence. It might cause Lord Byron to be ordered to quit the island, which would be unpleasant and discreditable. I offered to persuade the German officers to sail with me in a Greek boat, which had brought to Cephalonia the Greek deputies who were charged to negotiate a loan in England, and engaged to depart immediately. In order to ensure our departure before the arrival of Sir Thomas Maitland, the Greek boat was ordered to quit the port within twenty-four hours. It was thought that the departure of the German officers, of M. Anarghyros Petrakes, an envoy sent by the Greek government to invite Lord Byron to visit Nauplia, and of an English Philhellene like me, would satisfy the energetic Lord High Commissioner, who was usually called King Tom from his despotic habits. Certainly there was some ground for thinking that many persons at Argostoli were openly preparing to violate the neutrality which had been proclaimed by the Ionian government. Even after our departure Lord Byron, and the Greek deputies charged to contract a loan to carry on the war against Turkey, remained.
We sailed in the evening, but were assailed by a violent tempest at the entrance of the port of Argostoli, and were fortunate in getting back into a creek opposite Lixouri. The boatmen were not regular sailors and showed the greatest alarm, but my German companions remained perfectly cool. At daylight, while the storm was still raging and the rain falling in torrents, I was called by the boatmen in a great fright to put my head above the hatches, under which we crouched on the shingle ballast for shelter. Napier was on horseback on the rocks, muffled in a Suliot capote. He said that from the moment the storm burst with such terrific violence, he was in agony lest our boat should have got into the channel between Cephalonia and Zante, for then he knew we must have been lost. He was unable to sleep, and as soon as he could find his way he had mounted his horse in order to ascertain whether we had put back in time to gain one of the creeks. He concluded, "Now do you bring your boat back to the lazzaretto of Argostoli, and I shall go to bed".
Two days after we resumed our voyage, and as we were met by a gale from the east and a heavy sea, our boatmen were in great alarm all night lest we should be driven out to sea. We reached the town of Zante at daylight, while our boatmen still believed we were off the north-east of the island. M. Anarghyros Petrakes was so alarmed by the ignorance of our boatmen and by the terror they exhibited during the night that he quitted our boat, and two of the German officers left us for Mesolonghi. Herr von Ruast and I proceeded to Pyrgos. The boatmen landed us with our portmanteaus on the sandy beach, near a shed which served as a custom-house, and sailed immediately. I sat for a while reflecting how to set about my life in Greece. I had no servant, and knew very little Greek, nor could I speak either French or Italian with fluency even on ordinary subjects. But we soon found out a way to proceed.
I remained in Greece at this time from November 1823 to December 1824. At Athens I formed a friendship with Frank Hastings which lasted until his death. After Lord Byron's arrival at Mesolonghi I visited him at the request of Odysseus, to concert a meeting between the principal military and civil governors in Northern Greece at Salona (Amphissa). During the two months I remained at Mesolonghi I spent almost every evening with Lord Byron, who, Mr. Parry says in his book, wasted too much of his time in conversation with Mr. Finlay and such light and frivolous persons. I left Mesolonghi nine days before Lord Byron's death. Dr. Millingen, in his Memoirs on Greece, mentions that during my last meeting with Lord Byron he repeated the words of a fortune-teller addressed to him when a boy—"Beware of your thirty-seventh year". "And now", he said, "I am in my thirty-seventh year, and ill". The anecdote, as Dr. Millingen reports it, is quite correct. I could give another, which happened to myself at my uncle's house in Scotland. As far as I was concerned the fortune-teller was right, though I suspect that, as usual in such cases, her prophesies were founded on information collected from servants, half right and half wrong.
I joined Odysseus at Salona, where he only succeeded in collecting the chieftains of Eastern Greece, and after visiting many of the places w'here the troops were stationed in the villages on Parnassus and Helicon, I accompanied him to Argos, where we arrived just in time to witness the defeat of Kolokotrones, when he attempted to gain possession of the mills of Lerna. Disgusted with the rapacity of the military chiefs, and the eagerness of the members of the government to get possession of the proceeds of the English loan, and their indifference to the organization either of the army or the civil government, I returned to Mesolonghi in the autumn to join the camp of the Greeks at Ligovitzi. I expected to find more order in the administration of a province of which Mavrocordatos was governor, than in the districts ruled by Odysseus. I was disappointed, and while spending some days in the quarters of Dr. Millingen at the village of Kerasovo, I was seized with a violent malaria fever, and my life was for some time in danger.
I sailed for Ancona in December, and after spending the winter at Rome, and the spring at Naples and in Sicily, where my strength began to return, I travelled back to Scotland. My uncle, my aunt, and my cousins gave me the kindest welcome, and during the summer of 1825 my uncle's house at Castle Toward in Argyleshire was a home. In winter I resumed my legal studies at Edinburgh and passed my civil law examination, preparatory to my call at the Scots bar.
Shortly after, I received a letter from Frank Abney Hastings, inviting me to return with him to Greece in his steam-ship Perseverance (Karteria), and my doubts of my talents to become a good lawyer made me accept his invitation. The Karteria had a disastrous career, but the perseverance, ability, and firmness of Hastings were nobly exhibited in contending with difficulties which, if his advice had been taken, would have never occurred. I returned to England to bring out fresh engineers to supply the place of those who quitted us, and rejoined Hastings during the expedition formed under General Gordon to raise the siege of Athens in 1827. That expedition belongs to the history of the Greek Revolution. Dr. Howe of Boston was then serving on board the Karteria, and we formed a lasting friendship on board.
The arrival of Count Capodistrias as President of Greece, and the protection of the three great European powers, promised the Greeks a period of peaceful progress, I resolved to settle in the country, believing that its many advantages would enable the Greeks to show the world that
—'I am one the more
To baffled millions who have gone before'.
I am declining into the vale of years, and there is now nothing left for me but to walk along calmly and quietly. Declining health, as well as age, have deprived me of energy not less than activity, and I trifle away my hours in my library.