ABOUT'S GREECE AND TILE GREENS. * M. ABOUT has been passing
some time in Greece; and last year he gave the results of his experience to the world, of which re- sults this volume is a translation. Although not devoid of travel and personal incidents, the book is rather a summary of the in- formation the author collected and the observations he made, re- duced under various topics, than the regular narrative of a tour. In truth, K. About is better fitted to draw general conclusions than to describe particular events. His logic, if a little over- strained, has a lively and picturesque character about it, whereas his narrative is apt to run out into too long stories, and he is prone to oast matter into the form of a dramatic dialogue. This not only gives an unreal look to such passages, but we fancy that they are somewhat dressed up by a lively imagination.
Our author's conclusions as to the country and the people do not very greatly differ from those of most other travellers, perhaps he is more favourable as to the capabilities of the country than men with greater knowledge of the sciences on which agriculture is based. His opinions, however, have excited great wrath in the Speetateur de Orient ; though the anger rests on little better foundation than M. About's liveliness of style. The 'substance of what he says has often been said before. We all know that Greece does not pay her public debts, nor show any disposition to pay them. The Philhellene Byron, who died in the cause of Greece, expressed both in prose and verse an indifferent opinion of the individual honesty and courage of the Greeks ; many other writers have done the same. The selfish indifference of the peasants destroys the growth of woods by allowing their animals to nibble the young plants, or by setting fire to the old herbage in order to procure a scanty feed for their flocks. The consequence is, that the country is parched and barren from the want of rain which trees might induce ; and this evil, according to the botanist Hett- ner, does not admit of remedy in the present political and social condition of the country : indeed, it is more likely to increase than be stopped. Except between a few towns, there are no roads in Greece, and brigandage is universal ; the robbery being not unfre- quently accompanied by murder : yet no attempt is made to re- medy these evils. England, France, Turkey, America, have all in their turn had to complain of injuries or insults from the Go- vernment of Greece ; yet could never get attention or even civility to their complaints. As soon as force appeared, promises were given to fear that were refused to justice. The conduct of Go- vernment and people in the late razzia into Turkey was after M. About's time, but it was consistent with the opinions he forms of both. The very synonyme of Greek in several countries is not very far from what M. About calls it, showing the proverbial estimate of mankind; an estimate which must have come to us through the Romans, it is of so long standing. But the opinions of M. About were never perhaps expressed in so smart and terse or perhaps so flippant a manner, which if not leading to positive exaggeration, yet conduces to anger. Here are some examples touching population, industry, progress, and similar matters.
"The country, without being very fertile, might sustain two millions of inhabitante--it contains 950,000, and does not feed them. • * • "There is one more observation, suggested to me by the examination of the different budgets from 1833 to 1853 ; it is that the resources of the state
have made no perceptible increase in twenty years. • • • " Lastly, and this observation is of greater importance than all the others, the population is stationary, and has received no perceptible increase in
twenty-five years. • • •
" All the Greeks are equally free from money and glory. There are not a hundred families in the kingdom that are certain of their daily bread : so much for their riches. They have all borne the weight of the Turkish rule up to the moment when we delivered them from it—all alike have been beaten with the same stick ; there is their glory ! • • • "It is not a rare thing to hear a Greek prime's name announced in the Balms of Paris, and Greek counts are common enough in lodging-houses. The counts may be of good coinage, but then they come from the Ionian Islands, and do not belong to the kingdom of Greece ; as to the princes, they do not belong to any aristocracy, but they have made themselves what they are.
"All Greeks who under the Turkish rule have filled the temporary func- tions of hospodar or bey, that is to say, of administrator, have exchanged the title they no longer had for the more pompous one of prince. Their children and grandchildren of both sexes, to make sure of inheriting something, take in their turn the title of prince or princess. If a dismissed sub-prefect gave himself the title of prince, and if all his children made themselves princes • Greece and the Greeks of the Present Day. By Edmond About. [Constable's Miscellany of Foreign Literature, Vol. IL' Published by Constable and Co., Edin- burgh; Hamilton and Adams, London.
after him, we should laugh heartily. This is what the Greeks do, and they have never believed in earnest in the Fanariot princedoms with which Athens is inundated. • • • • •
"Thirty leagues of roads, in seven pieces, that is all that the Government has done for the country from 1832 till 1854, in a kingdom where the state is the owner of more than half the land, where evictions are effected without difficulty, where the peasants are always ready to sell their lands, and even to lend their hands for works of public utility. There is no road between Athena and Sparta, no road between Athens and Corinth, no road between the capi- tal of the kingdom and Petrel', which, thanks to the currants, is becoming the capital of commerce. With the exception of the bad road which joins Athens to Thebes, passing through Eleusis, all the roads which leave Athens are only drives for the Queen's horses. Two years ago they amused them- selves by laying down a road two leagues long, and lined with pepper-trees, which leads to the solitary rocks of Phalerum, because the Queen goes to bathe at Phalerum ; but the internal trade, the working of the forests and the security of the country, will cry out for a long time to come for four or
fire roads of primary importance. • • •
"If ever it could be said that a country was not ripe for liberty, it has been in speaking of Greece. Not that men's minds are closed to political ideas; far from it. All Greeks, without exception, are apt to discuss public affairs—all talk of them, if not wisely, at least with a knowledge of them— all take a passionate interest in the smallest debates of the session. I will say more : all know thoroughly the public men who are quarrelling over the public interests, and, if balloting for a list could be applied in any country, it would be in Greece. But they want the two first virtues of a citizen— probity and moderation."
These extracts indicate the nature of M. About's information and the tone of his feelings, as well as the character of his style. His mode of treatment is to classify his facts and conclusions according to subjects. The Men, Family Life, Society, the King, the Queen, and the Court, form his great divisions of the people. The Country, the Government and Administration, Religion, Agricul- ture, Industry, Commerce, and Finance, constitute the institutional or economical topics. Each of these is presented with various sub- divisions, and illustrated either by statistics, anecdotes, or what are called sketches, and narratives of particular tours. It has been seen that Greece is stationary as regards population and wealth. Part of this backwardness, however, is owing to causes which, though not removed from human control, cannot be remedied by individuals, or at once. Notwithstanding the pane- gyrics of the poet—
Fair clime, where every season smiles
Benignant o'er those blessed isles !
• • • • And if at times a transient breeze Break the blue crystal of the seas, How welcome is each gentle air, That wakes and wafts the odours there !"—
K. About found that some winds were neither gentle nor agree- able, and that undrained marshes, or something in the dry air of a parched soil, wafts fever as well as odours. The fever is nor- mal, the bad weather only occasional; beauty is found, but chiefly in the spring.
" It is in spring that Attica must be seen in all her splendonr, when the anemones, as high as the tulips in our gardens, blend their bright varie-
gated colours ; when the bees come down from Hymettus and hum among the daffodils ; when the thrushes chatter among the olive-trees, before the young foliage has yet been covered with a layer of dust ; when the grass, which must disappear at the end of May, comes up green and crisp where-
ever there is a little soil ; and the tall barley, mixed with flowers, undulates with the sea breeze, a white and glancing radiance gilds the earth, and
brings home to the imagination that divine light that clothes the heroes in
the Elysian fields. The air is so pure and transparent, that it appears ne- cessary only to stretch out the arm to reach the furthest mountains • it trans-
mits sound so faithfully, that you can hear the bell of the flocks feeding at half a league away, or the cry of the eagles, themselves lost sight of in the sky. • • •
" But Oh; beautiful sky is subject to the most strange caprices. I remem- ber that on the day of my arrival in Athens, I wished to go up to the top of Hymettus before breakfast ; and I was much surprised at hearing that this mountain, which seemed so close to us, was more than two hours from our house. The weather was fine; about mid-day the South-west wind began to blow : this is the celebrated Sirocco, so terrible in the African deserts, and which extends its influence not only to Athens but also to Rome. The air by degrees grew thick; a few white clouds, spotted with grey, accumulated
at the horizon ; objects became less distinct, sounds less clear ; a feeling of suffocation seemed to weigh over the- earth. I felt an unknown lassitude come over me and deprive me of my strength. The next day it was the
turn for the North wind : it made itself known at once by its strong voice,
rough and whistling; it shook the trees, beat against the houses as if ready to overthrow them ; and, above all, it bad borrowed from Thrace a degree of cold so sharp and piercing, that we shivered in our cloaks by the aide of the
fire. Fortunately, the North wind does not blow every day. I have spent a whole winter at Athens, during which it has not shown itself fifteen times; but when it is let loose it is terrible. The 21st March 1862, the day that spring begins according to the almanacks, we were obliged to breakfast by candle-light, with shutters closed, curtains drawn, and a great fire,—and still we were cold. In a fortnight of North wind, the Athenians have as much winter as we have in four months. • • •
" Greece is an unwholesome country : the fertile plains, the rugged rocks, the smiling shores, all conceal fever ; whilst breathing the balmy air of the
orange-trees, poison is inhaled. It would seem as if in the old East the air itself is Polling into decompositiOn. Throughout the whole country, the spring and autumn produce periodical fevers. The children die of them, the grOwn-up suffer. A few millions would be necessary to drain the marshes, make the country wholesome, and save a whole people. Happily, the Greek race is so nervous that the fever kill' only the little children : the men have a few attacks in spring ; they check the fever, and forget it until the autumn."
The translator of the book partakes of M. About's depreciatory opinion of the Greeks, and he also appears to be acquainted with the country and the people. In his preface he contributes some additional stories to support his author, and prints as an appendix the narrative of the inroad into Turkey last year, as told by the correspondent of the Times.