« ElőzőTovább »
subsequent years he was sent as Commissioner to the armies of Prussia and Austria, successively, and was present during active military operations, both in Germany and in Flanders. In 1795 he went as envoy to Berlin.
Lord ELGIN was appointed to the embassy to the Ottoman Porte, with which his name is now inseparably connected, in July, 1799. One Of his earliest reflections after receiving his appointment was that the mission to Constantinople might possibly afford opportunities of promoting the study and thorough examination of the remains of Grecian art in the Turkish dominions. He consulted an early friend, Mr. HARRISON—distinguished as an architect, who had spent many years of study on the Continent with much profit—as to the methods by which any such opportunities might be turned to fullest account. HARRIs0N’s advice to his lordship was that he should seek permission to employ artists to make casts, as well as drawings and careful admeasurements, of the best remaining examples of Greek achitecture and sculpture, and more especially of those at Athens.
Before leaving England, Lord ELGIN brought this subject before the Government. He suggested the public value of the object sought for, and how worthy of the Nation it would be to give encouragement from public sources for the employment of a staff of skilful and eminent artists. But- the suggestion was received with no favour or welcome. He was still unwilling to relinquish his hopes, and endeavoured to engage, at his own cost, some competent draughtsmen and modellers. But the terms of remuneration proposed to him were beyond his available means. He feared that he must give up his plans.
On reaching Palermo, however, Lord ELGIN opened the
Beer: 11, Chap. 11. CLAsschL AacumoaoGISTS ANu Eeroalsu
subject to Sir William HAMILTON, who strongly recommended him to persevere, and told him that if he could not afford to meet the terms of English artists, he would find less difficulty in coming to an agreement with Italians, whose time commonly bore a smaller commercial value. With Sir William’s assistance he engaged, in Sicily, a. distinguished painter and archaeologist, John Baptist LUSIERI (better known at Naples as ‘ Don Tita’), and he obtained several skilful modellers and draughtsmen from Rome. The removal of the marbles themselves formed no part of Lord ELGIN’s original design. That step was induced by causes which at this time were unforeseen.
On his arrival at Constantinople Lord ELGIN applied to the Turkish Ministers for leave to establish six artists at Athens to make drawings and casts. He met with many difficulties and delays, but at length succeeded. Mr. HAMILTON, his Secretary, accompanied the Italians into Greece, to superintend the commencement of their labours.
The difficulties at Constantinople proved to be almost trivial in comparison with those which ensued atAthens. Every step was met, both by the official persons and the people generally, with jealousy and obstruction. If a scaffold was put up, the Turks were sure that it was with a view to look into the harem of some neighbouring house. If a fragment of sculpture was examined with any visible delight or eagerness, they were equally sure that it must contain hidden gold. When the artist left the specimen he had been drawing, or modelling, he would find, not infrequently, that some Turk or other had laid hands upon it and broken it to pieces. But the artists persevered, and habit in some degree reconciled, at length, the people to
their presence. When Lord ELGIN went himself to Athens the state in
which he found some of the temples suggested to him the desirableness of excavations in the adjacent mounds. He purchased some houses, expressly to pull them down and to dig beneath and around them. Sometimes the exploration brought to light valuable sculpture. Sometimes, in situations of greatest promise, nothing was found.
On one occasion, when the indication of buried sculpture seemed conclusive, and yet the search for it fruitless, Lord ELGIN was induced to ask the former owner of the ground if he remembered to have seen any figures there. ‘If you had asked me that before,’ replied the man, ‘I could have saved you all your trouble. I found the figures, and pounded them to make mortar with, because they were of excellent marble. A great part of the Citadel has been built with mortar made in the same way. That marble makes capital lime.’
The cenversation was not lost upon Lord ELGIN. And the assertion made in it was amply corroborated by facts which presently came under his own eyes. He became convinced that when fine sculpture was found it would be a duty to remove it, if possible, rather than expose it to certain destruction—a little sooner or a little later—from Turkish barbarity.
At intervals the artists, whose head-quarters were at Athens, made exploring trips to other parts of Greece. They visited Delphi, Corinth, Epidaurus, Argos, Mycene, Cape Sigaeum, Olympia, Eginae, Salamis, and Marathon.
But it was only by means of renewed efforts at Constantinople, and after a long delay, that the artists and their assistant labourers were enabled to act with freedom and to make thorough explorations. So long as the French remained masters of Egypt Lord ELGIN had to win every
little concession piecemeal, and obtained it grudgingly. As soon as it became apparent that the British Expedition would be finally successful, the tone of the Turkish government was entirely altered. They were now eager to satisfy the Ambassador, and to lay him under obligation. Firmauus were given, which empowered him, not only to make models, but ‘ to take away any pieces of stone from the temples of the idols with old inscriptions or figures thereon,’ at his pleasure. Instructions were sent to Athens which had the effect of making the Acropolis itself a scene of busy and well-rewarded labour. Theretofore a heavy admission fee had been exacted at each visit of the draughtsmen or modellers. Before the close of 1802, more than three hundred labourers Were at work under the direction of LusmnI—with results which are familiar to the world.
It is less widely known that, had NAPOLEON’S plans in Egypt been carried to a prosperous issue, the ‘ Elgin Marbles’ would, beyond all doubt, have become French marbles. When Lord ELGIN’s operations began, French agents were actually resident in Athens, awaiting the tum of events and prepared to profit by it, in the way of resuming the operations which M. an CHOISEUL Gourrmn had long previously begun.*
The efforts of the British Ambassador became the more timely and imperative from the fact that no amount of experience or warning was sufficient to deter the Turks from their favourite practice Of converting the finest of the Greek Temples into powder magazines. Twenty of the metopes of the northern side of the Parthenon had been, in consequence of this practice, destroyed by an explosion during the Venetian siege of Athens in the seventeenth century. The Temple of Neptune was found by Lord ELGIN devoted to the same use, at the beginning Of the nineteenth.
‘ One of the metopes from the south side of the Parthenon, removed by the Count de Choiseul, during his embassy at the eve of the Revolution, was captured by an English ship when on its way to France, and had been purchased by Lord Elgin at a. Custom House sale in London. By him it was returned to Choiseul, with a. liberality too rare in such matters. When this metope came, after Choisenl’s death, to be sold at Paris, by auction, the Trustees of the British Museum sent a
commission for its purchase. The commissioner went so far as to offer a thousand pounds, but was overbidden by the French Government.
No methods of extending his researches, so as to make them as nearly exhaustive as the circumstances would admit, were overlooked by the ambassador. Through the friendship of the Capitan Pasha, Lord ELGIN had already, whilst yet at the Dardanelles, obtained the famous Boustrophedon inscription from Cape Sigaeum. Through the friendship of the Archbishop of Athens, he now procured leave to search the churches and convents of Attica, and the search led to his possession of many of the minor but very interesting works of sculpture and architecture which came eventually to England along with the marbles of the Parthenon,
Of the curious range and variety of the dangers to which the remains of ancient art were exposed under Turkish rule, the Boustrophedon inscription just mentioned affords an instance worth noting. Lord ELGIN found it in use as a seat, or couch, at the door of a Greek chapel, to which persons afflicted with ague or rheumatism were in the habit of resorting, in order to recline on this marble, which, in their eyes, possessed a mysterious and curative virtue. The seat was so placed as to lift the patient into a much purer air than that which he had been wont to breathe below, and it commanded a most cheerful sea-view; but it was the ill fate of the inscription to have a magical fame, instead of the atmosphere. Constant rubbing had already half obliterated