Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 6. Finlay’s History of Greece

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

XIV. Historians

§ 6. Finlay’s History of Greece

The most notable contribution to the history of Greece since the appearance of Grote’s work, which it can claim the honour of supplementing worthily, is George Finlay’s History of Greece from its conquest by the Romans to the present time (146 B.C.–A.D. 1864). Such is its title in the collective Oxford edition, which includes the successive Histories of Greece under the Romans, of the Byzantine and Greek Empires and of Greece under Othoman and Venetian domination. The subject of this voluminous narrative, which, in part, was treated afresh in a separate work—the History of Greece from the Conquest by the Crusaders to that by the Turks, and of the Empire of Trebizond (the eastern provinces of the Byzantine empire)—was continued by the same indefatigable pen in a History of the Greek Revolution. In certain stages of the revolution, including Byron’s difficult experiences at Mesolonghi, Finlay had in his early manhood taken some part. After the advent of Capodistrias as president of Greece under the protection of the great powers had at last seemed to offer the prospect of a settled condition to the heroic little country, he resolved to take up his abode there, hoping to “aid in putting Greece into the road that leads to a rapid increase of production, population, and material improvement.” When, he adds in his brief autobiography, he had wasted as much money as he possessed, he “turned his attention to study, and planned writing a true history of the Greek Revolution in such a way as to exhibit the condition of the people” and to be of real use to future generations. Thus, his work, like certain other celebrated histories, but after a fashion of its own, and on the primary basis of actual dearly-bought experience, went back from the near to the remoter past; but, however embittering may have been the disappointment with which this single-minded and noble-hearted student looked back upon his literary labours as well as upon his experiences as a landowner, he would not allow these feelings to narrow his horizon or to depress his historical standpoint, although he took into consideration the social, as well as the political, side of his subject. His History begins with a tribute to the effects of the conquests of Alexander the Great, highly valued by Freeman (to whom, it may be observed, Finlay’s reputation as a historian was not a little indebted); and the students, now many and distinguished, of the history of that Byzantine empire which, as Freeman says, may claim Alexander as its founder, will not refuse to recognise in Finlay a pioneer among those who have essayed the continuous, as well as the exact, treatment of an all but incomparable theme. In his later years, Finlay, whose entire work stretches over more than two thousand years, engaged largely in journalism, without, however, at any time abandoning the main interest of his life’s work. Unfortunately, his letters from Greece, of which the most important were addressed to The Times from 1864 to 1870, have never been collected in his native country; or they would form a characteristic, though depressing, epilogue to the story of the great decline and fall, followed by a truncated risorgimento, which he made it the chief business of his later life to unfold.