Nicholas Biddle in Greece

The Journals and Letters of 1806

Edited by R. A. McNeal

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 September 1993

Length of book:

252 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271034454

Nicholas Biddle (1786–1844) was a noted politician and financier in early nineteenth-century America. At eighteen, he went to Europe as the secretary of the American minister to France. He also made the acquaintance of James Monroe when Monroe was the American ambassador to London. He was later elected to the state legislature and senate of Pennsylvania. Ultimately he became a director and then the president of the Bank of the United States.

In the course of a sojourn to Europe, Biddle sailed to Greece, then a part of the Ottoman Empire. Half of the journal he kept on the trip has only recently been discovered, and the other half is known to only a few people because it is still in private hands. Taken together, these two journals (plus the four extant letters that Biddle wrote to his family in Philadelphia) are a mine of information about the formative influences on his career, about the politics and personalities of Napoleon's Europe, about the condition of Greece and its ancient monuments under the Turkocratia, and even about the American naval war against the Barbary pirates. Despite being written by a twenty-year old, these journals are remarkable for their literary quality and their general liveliness. Perhaps because they were not written to be published, they have a freshness and honesty lacking in more formal works of travel. McNeal's extensive introduction illuminates the early nineteenth-century background of Biddle's journals.

“This is a fascinating document that has been expertly edited and should enjoy a wide readership. It tells us much about Greece in 1806, much about earlier Greek history (through Biddle's allusions and McNeal's explanatory notes), and much about Biddle himself. Thus we have a window on a part of the world that most Americans knew virtually nothing about, except through the writings of Europeans. And we have this account through the eyes of an urbane, perceptive, well-educated, and extremely well-read young American with a great deal of literary skill.”

—John C. Van Horne, The Library Company of Philadelphia