Greece Restored: Greece and the Greek War of Independence in French Romantic Historiography 1821-1830

By Glencross, Michael | Journal of European Studies, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Greece Restored: Greece and the Greek War of Independence in French Romantic Historiography 1821-1830


Glencross, Michael, Journal of European Studies


The collapse of the Napoleonic imperium and the re-establishment of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814 created, if we are to believe the autobiographical reflections of writers such as Quinet and Musset, an intense feeling of anticlimax and purposelessness in the young generation of French intellectuals, a sense of being the orphans of history. Within a few years, however, the dull conservatism of the Restoration was to produce a contrario an exciting new grouping of liberal writers and thinkers, the generation of 1820 as Alan Spitzer has labelled them.(1) Reacting to political and social events outside as well as inside France, these figures, whose house journal became from 1824 to 1830 the Globe,(2) were largely responsible for the creation of a dynamic and forward-looking liberal Romanticism which replaced the largely static and nostalgic monarchist ideology characteristic of the movement in the early Restoration. Of all the causes outside France which liberal ideology could espouse, none was more energizing than the Greek struggle against Turkish rule from 1821 onwards. Philhellenism thus became one of the main outlets for Romantic sensibility in the 1820s, in France as in many other European countries, and found expression in various artistic media, literature, painting and even music.(3)

This same decade also saw an immense increase in the production and consumption of works of historiography in France. The end of a period of lived change saw the beginning of an attempt to reflect on the causes and consequences of change. In this article I shall examine the encounter between a privileged mode of contemporary discourse and one realization of the dominant political and cultural ideology of liberal Romanticism. In this convergence between the cause of philhellenism and the practice of historiography, I wish to consider in particular the emergence of a new perception of Greek national identity in French culture of the period, one which projects and reflects some of the key preoccupations of liberal thought in the late Restoration.

As the extent of Loukia Droulia's bibliography amply shows,(4) works of philhellenism proliferated in English, German and Italian in the 1820s, as well as in French. The French connection was however, particularly close because France considered itself, to use Chateaubriand's expression in his Note sur la Grace (1825), 'la fille ainee de la Grece'. This claimed spiritual affinity is of course primarily due to the cult of the classical ideal in literature and the arts. On another, contemporary level, however, the role relations between France and Greece could be seen as reversed, since liberal opinion often took the example of the French Revolution as a model for the Greek struggle for independence and considered the role of diaspora Greeks in contact with Western thought to be an important factor in the outbreak and hoped for success of the uprising.(5) The Greek scholar Adamantios Korais (Coray), who had settled in France, was often cited as an exemplar of such a fusion of the classical Greek tradition with modern French enlightened thought.

Before 1821 contemporary Greece was present in French culture through an extensive body of travel writing. The best known and most successful of these writings were, apart from Chateaubriand's Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem (1811), Guys's Voyage litteraire de la Grece (1771), Choiseul-Gouffier's Voyage pittoresque de la Grece (1782) and, of more recent vintage, Pouqueville's Voyage dans la Grece (1820).(6) This travel literature belonged to a tradition of amateur antiquarian interest in the beauties of classical Greece monuments, cultivated by aristocratic travellers and/or diplomats for whom contemporary Greeks were merely rather pathetic if not sordid figures in a picturesque classical landscape. The most successful late eighteenth-century publication on Greece was not, however, a work of topography proper but a work of fiction set in the fourth century BC, the abbe Barthelemy's Voyage du jeune Anacharsis en Grece. …

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