5 JULY 1873, Page 17

THE GREEKS OF TODAY.* This is a very pleasant, and

withal a very instructive account of modern Greece, written by an observer whose diplomatic position at Athens gave him excellent opportunities for making himself acquainted with the various matters he touches upon. Mr. Tuckerman takes, on the whole, a much more optimist view of Greek politics and prospects than we have been accustomed to find expressed by European travellers. He assures us, however, that he has not looked through any glasses of couleur-de-rose; and we are disposed to accept him as a sufficiently unprejudiced witness, not so much on the strength of his assertion, which of course might be mistaken though perfectly honest, as upon the collateral evidence of his general deportment. His statements of fact are quite full enough to supply the means of making any allowances which the reader may think necessary to

* The areas of To-Day. By Charles K. Tuckerman, late Minister Resident of the United States at Athens. London: Sampson Low and Co. 1872.

qualify his inferences ; and he shows, what is perhaps still more important in a writer who might be suspected of enthusiasm, a considerable sense of humour. This is the best possible safeguard.

against a man being run away with by any sentimental extrava- gance. It is well known that such things may happen even to clear-headed and subtle reasoners ; but an enthusiast who is also ever so little a humourist has always with him the grain of salt which otherwise it is the thankless office of cold-blooded criticism to administer.

The current accusations against the Greeks of to-day are many. Mr. Tuckerman has something to say to most of them, and often looks at them in an unexpected light. The charge most generally repeated is that of political corruption. It is admitted that corrup- tion does exist in Greece ; the Greeks do not claim to be a society of angels. But the country is poor and small, there is eager political competition, and infinite talk and journalism magnifies everything :-

"I I am persuaded," Mr. Tuckerman says, "that the Greeks themselvea are accountable for much of the prejudice against them. The politi- cians ferret out every conceivable and many inconceivable crimes, and the twenty-five or thirty journals of Athens do not let it die for want of circulation, The great proportion of political sinning is fabricated by partisan scribblers, and it may be safely said that much of that which has foundation is exaggerated, and much of that which is not exag- gerated has no foundation in fact."

And he proceeds to turn the tables on his own countrymen by a short but pointed reference to the well known condition of the Civil Service in the United States. The real reproach of Greek politics, according to the American ex-Minister, lies in the want of any coherent and wide-spread public opinion. "Greece is a nation of politicians without a party," and government is evolved.

as it best may be, which naturally is not very well, out of a. scramble of individuals. However unsatisfactory this state of things is in itself, it seems to show a persistence rather than a degeneration of the old Greek character. The very same want of organic cohesion was more than once fatal to the fortunes of Athens in the days of the Peloponnesian and Macedonian wars. Itis true that the bright side of the parallel has not yet become conspicuous. Modern Athens is still without a Pericles,—we mean the Pericles of Thucydides, not the Pericles of Le Roi de Montagnes. But the time has been short, and perhaps there has not been a fair chance. The modern kingdom of Greece has beew cut short of its natural frontier, and has been perpetually pro- tected, doctored, and talked over by the Western Powers whicin established it ; and all aspirations towards the extension of Greek nationality to the Greek and other kindred populations stilt excluded from it have been restrained as dangerous :—

" The Greeks do not deny that the advancement of their country has been slow and feeble, but assign as a chief reason the contracted limits. of the kingdom. England says to the Greeks, If you cannot govern what you possess, how can you hope to persuade Europe that you are capable of governing a larger kingdom ? To which the Greeks wittily reply : Your reasoning produces the same effect on us as if you said to, a lame man, Since you cannot walk -with the leg which you have still left to you, do not regret the loss of the other; you would not know how to use it if you had it."

It is not surprising that the Greeks fret under the patronage of Western Europe, and not being allowed to carry out their desires in, action, express them in smaller ways, which are sometimes almost. grdtesque. The great Powers, rightly or wrongly, barely pretend

to treat Greece with the respect due in theory, at least, to even the smallest of sovereign States. But the Court of Athens yields. to none of its elders in the solemnities of etiquette. The American.

Minister's wife could not be presented at Court till after a series of ceremonial visits and return visits carried on to and fro between. Athens, the Pirmus, and Kephissia, and involving in the whole

ninety-two miles of travelling. Again, it is still disputed how far the present speakers of Romaic may claim to represent the old,

Hellenes, and it has even been maintained that the true Hellenia race is utterly extinguished. And assuming that the modern Greeks. are genuine descendants of the ancient Greeks, it seems an odd' and discontinuous kind of historical pride in one's ancestry that skips back over all the traditions of Constantinople—thus tacitly sanctioning the current prejudice against the Eastern branch of the Roman Empire which for centuries was the bulwark of Christendom—and attempts to attach itself immediately to the Athens of the Peloponnesian war. But so it is that the authorities have of late yeaus gravely excavated the ancient Stadium at Athens, and have set up a revival of the Olympic games (which,. by the way, had nothing particular to do with Athens), following ancient usage so minutely as to use in the programme ancient terms which many of the audience did not understand. Certainly a citizen of the old Athens if recalled to this scene would have been. at a loss what to make of such a strange combination,—Olympic games with the Orthodox Greek Church in the place of the Olympian Zeus ; Athens still the centre of Greek life, but Demus dead and gone, and his majesty so fallen that an amiable Hyperborean prince had been persuaded with some difficulty to accept the thankless task of ruling over Greece. He might well turn away in hopeless bewilderment, and go back to report to the shade of Aristophanes that his jesting prophecy was more than fulfilled : —

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But seriously, no good has ever come of people trying to live back- wards, and it is a pity that the Greeks of to-day should waste their time in any such occupation. They wanted a decimal -coinage, and instead of adopting the franc they studiously revived the drachma, a coin differing from the franc by a troublesome fraction. They seem also to have revived, in a mild and harmless form, it must be allowed, the ancient jurisdiction over people who introduce new rites, and despise the religion of the State. A zealous Protestant missionary, Dr. Jonas King, was tried and con- demned on the charge of "publicly and contemptuously mocking the doctrines, the ordinances, and customs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and expounding principles contrary to its fundamental doctrines," and duly sentenced to imprisonment for fifteen days, and after its termination, to expulsion beyond the bounds of the kingdom ; which sentence was confirmed on appeal by the Areopagus, for the Constitution of Greece "does not allow the -condemnation of the principles, customs, doctrines, and ordinances of the religion dominant in Greece." Mr. Tackerman does not say whether it struck anyone at the time as an amusing travesty of the trial of Socrates. But it could hardly have come nearer if it had been so intended. The ancient indictment would have fitted Dr. King without the change of a word: "For that he observes not the religion which the State observes, but promotes some new foreign worship ; and also for that he perverts young men." However, the parallel was happily cut short. They left out not only the hemlock, but the imprisonment, in fact,—

" The sentence was not executed. The fifteen days' imprisonment -consisted in walking Dr. King into one of the doors of the prison and out of another door. He succeeded, I believe, in dating, but not in writing, a letter from his • prison,' and was comfortably housed else- where during the remainder of the term. Neither was the sentence of ,exile carried out."

Dr. King's countryman seems indeed rather disposed to make light of his persecution, perhaps following another countryman of theirs, the distinguished historian of the Intellectual Development -of Europe, who seems disposed to think that Socrates himself was, -on the whole, rightly served.

Mr. Tuckerman has a chapter on the character of the modern Greeks in which he maintains that after making all just allowances they are much better than they are generally represented to be.

The subtlety of the Greek mind and manner (which is no more than one would expect to find, if the Greek race has indeed pers;sted from the times of Demosthenes in tolerable purity) is fully admitted. "Modern Greeks embellish facts as their ancestors -euibellished their architecture. Some men prefer the airy involu- tions of the Ionic ; others, the efflorescent Corinthian." But we are assured that in the main the Greeks are as honest as other people. Most of the sins of the Levantine ports—committed by Jews, Maltese, or nondescripts—are set down by travellers indiscriminately against the Greeks. But at Athens servants do not steal ; there are very few thefts or robberies ; and the streets have been crowded at a great public festival without a pocket being picked. The popular revolution in the reign of King Otho

was likewise carried out without tumult or violence of any kind. For temperance and chastity Mr. Tuckerman gives the people a very high character indeed. All this of course is independent of the brigandage in the country, which is discussed separately. Attention has been lately called to this matter in England by the unhappy event of three years back, which cannot be thought of

by any Englishman, nor, we trust, by any Greek, without pain. Mr. Tuckerman's account of this is written with good feeling, and in a just and impartial spirit.

We must say a parting word for the excellent descriptions to be found in this book. The writer has obviously made the most of his diplomatic opportunities, but he has not been so engrossed by politics as not to find time to appreciate the splendours of nature and art. He speaks with enthusiasm of his first Greek sunset :—

" Hymettus loomed up bsfore the expiring rays a mass of glowing -purple; not that uncertain hue which is occasionally observable in the highlands of the Hudson, but deepening from the exquisite tint of the violet to the deepest imperial purple. Our greeting was certainly a grand one. Better than the salute of guns and the ripple of flags seemed to us that purple pomp at the portals of Greece, and thus the Violet-wreathed City of the Greek poet became to us a living reality." This epithet " violet-wreathed " has puzzled scholars, if we remember right, but we have little doubt that the solution thus seen in the clouds must be the true one.

There is also an amusing and picturesque excursion to Corfu, which we must leave the reader to seek in the book itself ; per- haps the oddest thing mentioned is the Corfiote manner of observing Easter Day, which is to throw broken pots and pans out' of all the windows, ostensibly because it is considered to operate as an exorcism of vermin, but really, we presume, as a harmless satisfaction of the destructive instinct, like kicking old hats to pieces before going home for the holidays.