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Chapter XXXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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It is difficult to give a consecutive account of what followed. The Government had made up their mind to take the risk of employing the troops. Mr. Erskine was, above all, anxious that the brigands should not move their prisoners from Oropus, and he seems to have countenanced the action of the Government so far as to consent to a blockade of Oropus, to prevent them from doing so, insisting at the same time in the strongest terms that the brigands should not be in any way molested by the soldiery till the prisoners were safe. Colonel Theagenis was entrusted with the conduct of the whole matter, and it appeared plainly afterwards that he received instructions of which Mr. Erskine knew nothing, and to which he would never have consented. The suspicions of the brigands had been by this time aroused; the Government had been for some days silently moving up troops in the direction of Oropus, and the scouts of the band, posted on all sides of the villages, were not slow to discover and report their movement. On the 20th of April, the day before the massacre, letters reached Mr. Erskine from Mr. Herbert, Mr. Lloyd, and Mr. Vyner, which must indeed have thrown him into despair. All spoke of the imminent danger in which these suspected movements of the troops had placed them, and entreated that something might be done to stay the progress of the soldiers. Mr. Noel, an English resident in Euboea, who had taken a prominent part in the negotiations, telegraphed to say that he felt assured the terms offered would be accepted by the brigands, but that the soldiers must be withdrawn. The band were going to a place not far from Oropus called Sykamenos, whither he was about to follow them with every hope of a successful issue. It was this movement of the brigands, coupled with the orders given to the troops to pursue them should they leave Oropus, which brought about the tragedy of the 21st. On that day the brigands, suspecting the neighbourhood of troops, left Sykamenos before Mr. Noel could come up with them. The troops received information of their movement, followed them, and fired upon them. The brigands, driven to desperation, turned savagely upon their prisoners. They shot Mr. Lloyd before the eyes of the soldiers, who became infuriated at the sight of this murderous act, and made a fierce attack upon the brigands. Six of them were killed, including Christos Arvanitakis (Takos), and one or two were taken alive. The others fled up the country, dragging the other prisoners with them; and upon reaching a place named Skimatari, they stabbed them one by one, Mr. Vyner being the last to suffer. In an hour or two all the labour and anxiety of the last ten days had been rendered fruitless, and four noble and valuable lives had been sacrificed to the culpable rash' ness and incapacity of those who had sworn to protect and rescue them. Mr. Noel telegraphed the fatal news to Mr. Erskine, and it almost seemed for a time as if another death were to be added to the list, so fearful was the effect of the tragedy upon the man who for ten days had strained every nerve to prevent it. What, then, must have been its effect upon the agonised relatives and friends in England? upon poor Mrs. Lloyd and her child waiting in fearful suspense at Athens P For a time all England was roused to a frenzy of wrath and grief. The punishment of all concerned in the murders was fiercely demanded - of the unscrupulous Ministry, the intriguing Opposition, no less than of the brutal and ignorant brigands. At one time it seemed as if nothing less than a war with Greece and the annihilation of her whole existing political system would satisfy English indignation. But there was one person in Greece for whom English people felt almost as much pity as for the victims themselves - and that was the poor young King, who throughout had been the dupe of the unscrupulous partisans about him, - who once in a moment of alarm had made the romantic offer to give himself up to the brigands in the place of the captives, - and who, now that all was over, wrote the most touching letters, full of keen personal shame and grief, to the English Government, while later on he made large offers of indemnification out of his own private property to the families of the victims. English opinion at its hottest exculpated him from blame. It was not his fault that he was neither old enough nor strong enough to have reformed Greek society or purified Greek home policy during the year or two which had elapsed since the power of England had placed him upon the throne. But the more entirely he was acquitted, the more strongly did public feeling fasten upon the real actors in the fatal drama and demand their punishment. It was well for Greece that nearly a month had elapsed before the question came to be debated to any purpose in Parliament. During the interval the capture of nearly all the brigands had done something towards satisfying the public indignation. The wily leaders of the Opposition, at whose door lay the greater part of the blame, had laid their plans so cunningly that it was extremely difficult to detect and expose them. And after the confessions of the brigands had thrown some light upon this part of the matter, and a steady public opinion in England might perhaps have exacted a heavy penalty for the lives so basely trifled with from those who had used them only as so many pieces in the political game, English attention was diverted by the gigantic impending tragedy of the French and German War; and in the overwhelming interest of those first battle-fields of Wörth and Forbach, the fate of the captives of Marathon was, for the time at least, inevitably forgotten. All the more reason, then, why, looking back upon the event, we should try to recall the impression produced at the time, and, above all, the well- deserved tributes of sorrowing affection and admiration which all alike, whether relations, friends, or strangers, paid to the memory of the young and heroic sufferers.

In the House of Commons, on the 20th of May, Sir Roundell Palmer made a calm, lawyer-like indictment against the conduct of the Greek Government, dwelling upon the unusual sanctity attaching to the persons of all diplomatic agents, and describing the two Secretaries of Legation as men " to whom the public faith of the Greek nation was absolutely pledged, and to assist whom they should not have omitted to do anything that could by any reasonable possibility have been done on the part of that nation, and the people and Government of that country." " If," he said, " from a failure in the performance of the general obligation of protecting foreigners, a blow falls on those for whom the public faith - the faith, not of the sovereign merely, but of the whole nation - is specially pledged, that is an aggravation, involving a difference in kind as well as in degree of the crime which would, under any circumstance, have been committed, and a great aggravation of the default on the part of the state that neglects those precautions and those duties of government which ought to have been sufficient to shield even the meanest subjects of a foreign state from such an outrage." A consideration which applied to the original outrage of the capture, and to the neglect of sufficient precautions evinced by the Ministry with regard to the expedition to Marathon. But, Sir Roundell Palmer went on to say, it is still more clear, it is doubly evident, " that if any subject of a state to which the ambassador is credited has offered any violence, indignity, or wrong to that ambassador, from which his deliverance is possible, it becomes the imperative duty of the state to use all its resources, and not to abstain from any means whatever which can possibly be used to deliver the person to whom the public faith is so solemnly pledged from the condition of jeopardy in which by such outrage he is placed.... Nor can any municipal law or any special institution of a state be set up as an excuse against the performance of this obligation." Having thus laid down the principles involved, the great equity lawyer proceeded to expose the original weakness and carelessness, and the final rash obstinacy, of the Greek Government with an unsparing hand. He quoted a letter written on the very day of the capture by the Minister of the Interior to the captain of a flying column of troops, which proved that, in spite of all public declarations to the contrary, notably those published in the official newspaper, the authorities had strong reason to suspect the presence of a band of brigands lying concealed in the very neighbourhood of Marathon. This being the case, how futile were the precautions taken, and how utterly insufficient was the escort sent with the travellers! Then, after the capture, how extraordinary were the proceedings of all concerned; the free communications which went on between the Government and the brigands, and between the brigands and their agents in Athens, revealing a state of political weakness and disintegration almost inconceivable to persons living under a strong and settled government. The Ministry seemed to have been throughout aware that other people beside themselves in Athens were negotiating with the brigands, and they could not have been ignorant of their aims and the force of their influence in the matter. Yet nothing whatever was done to sift the mystery, to get hold of these self-accredited agents and punish them. No doubt the Ministry felt their own position too critical for any such attempt; but was that a sufficient excuse to give to England for the death of her subjects? They preferred, instead, to use means of escape from their difficult position which they were bound not to use, and they made up their minds to employ the troops against the brigands after having solemnly promised not to do so, and with a full knowledge of the risk to the lives of the prisoners which such a course involved. Nor was this all. Having once undertaken military operations, they should at least have been conducted in the most efficient and at the same time cautious manner possible. Instead of which the brigands were needlessly irritated before any decisive blow could be struck, and the movements of the troops were such as to enrage them without seriously alarming them for their own personal safety. "And so the Greek Government, being under the most sacred obligations to save these gentlemen, and having been able to save them, either by waiving technical points of form (as in the matter of the amnesty), or by conducting with all the discretion, forbearance, and common sense which it demanded the operation which they undertook to conduct in their own way, failed in both these points, and the result has been the death of these most unfortunate gentlemen." Sir Roundell Palmer wound up his speech in these words: " I trust that Her Majesty's Government will not think it amiss that the question should be publicly put to them which I now venture to ask - namely, Whether they are able to state to the House what measures have been or will be taken to obtain from the Greek Government such satisfaction for this unprecedented outrage as Her Majesty is entitled to claim by the Law of Nations, and to ensure the due protection for the future of the lives of the diplomatic servants and other subjects of the British crown within the kingdom of Greece."

Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer followed, adopting much the same line of argument, expressed, however, with greater heat than the legal training and balanced temperament of Sir Roundell Palmer had allowed of. He thought the question put by the latter inadequate, and proposed to substitute for it an amendment, commenting in strong terms upon the "highly unsatisfactory conduct of the Greek ministers," and inviting the English Government to " concert with its allies as to the best means of establishing in Greece a government capable of satisfying the ordinary requirements of a civilised state." Mr. Gladstone, rising to answer for the Government, spoke with that caution and moderation which the necessities of office imposed upon him. He deprecated the amendment as the expression of an opinion " which would be immature and possibly inconvenient." He reminded the House that they were not yet in a position to weigh the circumstances, that their information was still imperfect, and that it was possible the Greek Government might be able to bring forward evidence in extenuation of their conduct, of which they were still ignorant. With regard, then, to the political measures to be taken towards the Greek Government and nation, he urged delay, promising at the same time that no effort should be spared to procure the conviction and punishment of all the immediate authors of the crime and the most complete investigation of all the circumstances. An assurance with which the House was perforce content, and both question and amendment were withdrawn. In the House of Lords, Lord Carnarvon, the first cousin of Mr. Herbert, made a forcible and eloquent speech, all the more impressive from the restrained yet evident emotion of his voice and manner. The issue of the debate was substantially the same as in the House of Commons. It was agreed on all hands to wait for further information. And by the time the brigands had been tried and executed the interest of the country had been, as we said before, diverted from the subject to some degree by thp complications on the Continent. It was a lesson, however, which Greece has never forgotten, and which, we may trust, is still bearing salutary fruits. Should the four lives so needlessly sacrificed, prove in the end to have purchased social and political reform for a country so ancient, so famous, and so full of precious associations for every cultivated mind in Europe, none will say that the heroic victims died in vain.

We cannot wind up our account of this melancholy event better than by quoting Sir Roundell Palmer's eloquent tribute to the memory of the dead. "I will first speak," he said, " of the Italian gentleman, who is described in touching terms by the minister who employed him, and the minister under whom he served, as a young man of pure character and brilliant promise, beloved by every one who knew him.... The words which are used of Count de Boyl are eminently applicable to Mr. Herbert - a gentleman of no ordinary intellectual gifts, and of the most absolute purity, simplicity, and nobleness of life - a man the loss of whom to this country under any circumstances would have been a very serious and grave misfortune. The other two gentlemen I can say less of from personal knowledge, though one of them was the son of an old friend of mine at the bar, with whom I have frequently sat side Dy side, and the son was not entirely unknown to me. He was a gentleman of promise and of character; and if we may judge from the exhibition of his character made by himself and his companions in misfortune, as they appear in the papers, he was a man of a brave and a generous spirit, thinking of his wife and child and others much more than himself, and having an eye to the beauties of nature even when all those perils and miseries were upon them. As to Mr. Vyner, I can only say that, though a stranger to him personally, I think one almost learns to feel affection for him, in reading the memorials which in this book have been left behind. Never did any one leave behind memorials of a more gentle or gallant spirit; he was not willing to be saved at the expense of his courier, his servant, his friend, or any other person. He exhibited a natural desire for life; but if that was not possible, he in the simplest and unaffected manner asked for nothing but an English Bible and the prayers of his friends. The loss of such men would under any circumstances be a cause of great public sorrow."

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