- The Greek Dream by Monsieur de Choiseul: The Travels of a European of the Enlightenment by Frédéric Barbier
Frédéric Barbier takes us on a long journey, that of a French aristocrat of the Age of Enlightenment, "a man with a dream," a vision of a Europe in the process of construction, inspired by a "Greek antiquity not only idealized but accomplishable in modernity" (15). Barbier offers us a biography on a figure of the first generation of French Philhellenism. Biographies of male and female travel writers of the past centuries are extremely rare, such as Sture Linnér's (1965) book on nineteenth century Swedish traveler Fredrika Bremer i Grekland (Frederika Bremer in Greece), translated and published in Greek in 1997. Barbier provides the first biography of Count Marie-Gabriel-Florent-Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier (1752–1817; henceforth, Choiseul), a fervent admirer of ancient Greek civilization.
Barbier's book consists of nine chapters, in addition to the author's acknowledgements (11–12), an epilogue (269–275), and a portrait of Choiseul (277), followed by a bibliographical appendix (279–286), an index (287–297), and a table of 40 illustrations (299–300) from Voyage pittoresque de la Grèce, which include three illustrations of the women of Sifnos (105), Tinos (144), and Constantinople (265). By focusing on one specific traveler, here a French aristocrat during the Enlightenment, Barbier contributes to the research of other scholars on Philhellenism, while also shedding light on the spirit of the time. Through the travel accounts of Choiseul—Le voyage pittoresque de la Grèce (published in three volumes in 1782, 1809, and 1824)—Barbier illustrates the major social changes marking the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries: the French Revolution, Napoleon as First Council, the Congress of Vienna and Treaty of Paris, the Conservative Order and Counter-Enlightenment, the uprisings in Greece, and so forth. The intense concern of France in the affairs of the Near East and the imminence of the liberation of the Greeks is brought out by many travelers like Charles Nicolas Sigisbert Sonnini [End Page 564] de Manoncourt (1751–1812), a French nobleman, in his publication Voyage en Grèce et en Turquie (Sonnini 1801). During this period of social and political transformations, many western travelers like Choiseul visited and explored Greece—and not only for pleasure, profit, and culture. American and European volunteers participated in the struggle for Greek independence, producing, among other things, a body of travel writing about Greece (Larrabee 1957). Philhellenism in France had reached its peak during the Greek insurrection between the years 1820 and 1830, as illustrated in Emile Malakis's dissertation (1925) on French travelers to Greece from 1770 to 1820.
Barbier's book, written in French, begins with a quote from Choiseul's Discourse preliminaire du voyage pittoresque en Grece (Choiseul-Gouffier 1789–1824, 9), which is indicative of the philhellenic spirit of his time: "I left Paris to visit Greece, as I wanted to satisfy a passion of my youth and see the most famous places in antiquity … the illustrious and beautiful topos of Homer and Herodotus." Many Western scholars and travel writers were convinced that Greece would soon experience a reawakening and a New Hellas would be created, free of Ottoman domination. Royalists, liberals, romanticists, classicists, and ordinary individuals all entered the philhellenic ranks. Scholars, both men and women of letters, joined with the poets in drawing attention to a "Greece in bondage" (Malakis 1925).
Barbier's introductory chapter, "Europe, Greece and the Orient," is a welcome contribution, as it deals with the political conditions of Choiseul's world. Choiseul was a Hellenist and Philhellene with a vision enabled by the advantages provided through his social position as a member of the nobility (36–60). Choiseul's originality, the author argues, is that he integrated the unexplored lands of Greek antiquity into the established travel model of his time, along with an instructive album of new...