Edward Augustus Freeman: The Life and Times of a Victorian Intellectual
2nd July 2012
On the 21-23 June I attended a three-day residential conference on Edward Augustus Freeman: The Life and Times of a Victorian Intellectual. Held at the beautiful Gladstone Library in Hawarden, the conference explored various aspects of the life of Freeman (1823-92) – a much neglected author of works of history, architecture, geography and poetry. Having completed a PhD thesis on Freeman I was glad to find that others were as interested in this man as I am! Indeed, scholars travelled from various institutions, including Southampton, Oxford, Edinburgh and Canada, to contribute to this enjoyable and productive event.
I delivered a paper entitled, “The Foulest Fabric of Tyranny the World has Ever Seen”: E.A. Freeman and the Ottoman Power in Europe (1877). The paper explored Freeman’s neglected volume on the history of the Ottoman Empire which was written in direct response to the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875-8. Following news of the Turkish massacre of thousands of their Bulgarian subjects, Freeman sought to demonstrate that Britain’s policy of maintaining the integrity of the Ottoman Empire was misguided, and that support should be given to Russia in her attempts to free the Christians of South-Eastern Europe from Turkish tyranny. Exploring the narrative of the Ottoman Power in detail, I argued that Freeman consciously distorted the past to represent the Turk as a fearful Oriental ‘other’. Observing the barbarism and backwardness of the Ottomans, Freeman explained that the Turks’ fanatical devotion to Islam meant that they would continue to persecute Christians as a matter of religious principle and that their Empire, consequently, could never be reformed.