The Byroniana collection of the Gennadius Library that focuses on Lord Byron, contains a valuable testimony from Messolonghi: a very rare issue of the newspaper The Greek Chronicles (issue 29) that announces his death.
In 1823, Lord Byron traveled to Greece as a representative of the London Philhellenic Committee established to support the Greek War of Independence, bringing with him significant financial aid. His original destination was the island of Cephalonia in the Ionian Islands - at that time, a protectorate of Great Britain. In January 1824, Byron, together with the Italian philhellene Pietro Gamba, arrived in Messolonghi, where he was received enthusiastically.
He probably chose Messolonghi after many invitations from the Phanariot diplomat and politician Alexandros Maurokordatos who had his base there. The city was of great strategic importance to the Greek forces and had already been besieged twice by the Ottomans. Unfortunately a few weeks after his arrival, Byron became seriously ill and died on April 19, 1824 at the age of 36.
During the hundred days of Byron's stay in Messolonghi, his name was closely associated with the main contributors to the printing house of Messolonghi, which operated from 1823 to 1826: Colonel Leicester Stanhope, an envoy of the London Philhellenic Committee who brought with him a printing press, the Swiss philhellene and editor of The Greek Chronicles Johann Jacob Meyer, and the Greek printer Dimitrios Mestheneus.
The printing house of Messolonghi was one of the six that were founded in Greece during the period 1821-1827 into support of the Greek Revolution. Its operation started by the printer Pavlos Patrikios in 1823 using a printing press brought by Alexandros Mavrokordatos from France, and continued later on Stanhope’s printing press.
The newspaper Greek Chronicles was published from January 1, 1824 to February 20, 1826. Every issue bears the Greek translation of Jeremy Bentham’s motto “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people” attributed wrongly by its publisher to Benjamin Franklin. The newspaper is a valuable historical source of information on the last phase of the siege of Messolonghi (1825-1826) since its publication continued during the siege despite the frictions created between Maurokordatos and the editor Mayer, due to the critical boldness of the latter's articles.
The issue 29 of the newspaper, printed in a black frame, announces the death of Lord Byron in a moving heartbreaking way: "Messolonghi, 7 (19) April 1824. “Greece mourns inconsolably amidst the joys of Easter as she was suddenly deprived from her bosom of her precious benefactor, the brilliant Lord Noel Byron.”
The fate of the printing house of Messolonghi was tragic, as "it remained silent forever" since both the printer Mestheneus and the publisher Mayer were killed in the heroic Exodus.
Joannes Gennadius notes in the accession book of his library: “The original number of that famous journal printed in Messolonghi during the War of Independence, recording the death of Lord Byron. Any original number of that journal is now a matter of the greatest rarity.”
Mayer’s articles in The Greek Chronicles document the activity of the printing house which is echoed in The diary of the Siege of Messolonghi, 1825-1826 published in 1926 by the poet from Messolonghi Georgios Drosinis. In his prologue to the diary, Drosinis cites a rumor, attributed to Exodus survivors, according to which Mayer scattered and buried his printing types before the catastrophe so that they would not fall into the hands of the Ottomans; Drosinis then adds: "Blessed be Salome Mayer, born Staub, who sought her divorce from Mayer, and the German rector of the University of Freiburg, who forced him to leave. If these two incidents had not happened, Switzerland would have had one more good family man ... but Messolonghi would have been deprived of its Polybius of the Siege ... "
Until December 12, this rare issue of the Greek Chronicles will be on view in the exhibition “The Free and the Brave. American Philhellenes and the ‘Glorious Struggle of the Greeks’ (1776-1866)” in the Ioannis Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library.