26 September 2012

The Athens Plague of 1835

 Konstantinos Schinas in 1853 as Greek Minister to Munich

 In the summer of 1835, Athens was struck by an epidemic.  Bettina Schinas and her husband had recently moved there from Nauplion as he was prepared and waiting to be a member of the new government.  They had no income, which together with her homesickness, made Bettina increasingly worried and depressed, although they had ample savings and there was no danger of being poor.   Bettina was planning to build one or two houses, and was constantly looking for a good plot, being particularly interested in one next to the Kolettis plot above the Stoa of Attalos.

Meanwhile, they had rented a house outside Athens on the road to Piraeus.   It was isolated but their constant contacts in the city brought them the infection.  As usual, my gratitude to Brigitte Eckert for her patient translation of these letters. Schinas wrote Bettina's parents on 18 August:

* * * * * *
Dear precious parents!

You will be alarmed by not receiving some lines from Bettina’s hand now nor at the next occasion via Prokesch; as I resisted at least this time, and what could her trembling hand have written but a few words which would have weakened her even more and could not have pleased you, dear parents? Let me tell you now everything, believe me that I will not deprive you of the truth in any way.

In my last letter which was dispatched by Ms.  v. Lesuire I think, I told you Bettina has never before been as well and healthy, that she had gained weight, etc. This was the whole and real truth; she suffered sorrows, but physically she gained significantly and certainly she didn’t look as well in Berlin let alone in Ancona . . .

Recently an
epidemic descended on Athens and many other regions of Greece which might not not have been dangerous but obtained such a horrible commonality that in little time two-thirds [of Athens]  lay ill, and attendance and nursing became almost impossible, because the nurses were ill too. I was invited to the funeral procession of M. de Geouffre, père de M. le Prince de Comnène, close neighbours whose house is the only other one as far from the center of town as ours. Though I felt feeble, Bettina told me “you go and join a few minutes before the procession starts”, (which was according to the programme supposed to be at  4 o’clock) “and after the procession passes the corner of our garden you come back home.” I liked the idea so I went there before 4, but there was a delay until after 6 and I escaped the odour by standing on the balcony where I caught a bad sunstroke which turned into a remittent fever within 3 days, according to the symptoms of the year’s illnesses. 

Foreground, the Schinas house outside Athens, the de Geouffre house behind.

The 2nd day of my disease I was bled lying on the couch, walking to bed I fainted a little like always when I move after bleeding. I didn’t notice that loving Bettina was so alarmed she stayed all night awake in her dress, some time next to the window where she was writing a long time, some time next to my bed. The next day (a Friday) she felt a little unwell and went to bed, also to make up for the sleep she hadn’t got the night before.

Meanwhile Dr. Wibmer came to see me, found her in bed, and as she complained about an enduring costiveness he ordered a little rhubarb. (I think she already suffered a chill that day.) The medicine had no effect, the physician continued the treatment although she took little of the medicine he ordered, and she still was in good shape and lively but unfortunately spoke too much, and was too active off her bed, not only to the domestic helpers but also to the physician and several visitors who came to pay attention to her, specially Countess Saporta, Mr. v. Prokesch etc., which may have stimulated her too much. In addition I had 2 fierce, even alarming fever attacks and she heard from her room my involuntarily loud moans which made her of course suffer even more. 

Finally the doctor arrived Monday morning at 6 or 7 with Prokesch. Both explained we should leave the house for the healthier air in the upper part of  town, but also because of being in this remote area too far away from necessary human help. Prokesch offered 2 rooms which had been occupied before by his secretary, his kitchen and servants. The doctor said “Tomorrow I will come in Katakazi’s coach to get the gentleman and take him to his sister’s because his case is more urgent; in the meantime the rooms offered by Mr. v. Prokesch will be prepared and a bed arranged, the day after tomorrow she will be transported there.” 

So Wibmer came for me the following day, a Tuesday. Some minutes ago Christiane’s [the servant of the Savigny household whom B. had brought from Berlin] fever had started and she had gone to bed. This was the most disadvantageous circumstance: I, the husband, left or better became displaced, Bettina was suddenly deprived of nursing by her servant, and her noble but exaggerated humanity towards Christiane could endanger her own life. Thursday B.' fever was down, so the physician insisted on taking her to town in Prokesch’s closed coach this very day, though not to Prokesch’s rooms, but to the bigger, ampler building which Mr. Hill, an American, had offered to her. But Bettina didn’t agree, she didn’t want to leave Christiane without female aid though there were 2 helpers, a friend of our house and a physician, Dr. Weiss, to watch the night over the maid. This upset the plans. That night it was impossible to find a nurse and so Bettina stayed in the house of fever. 

The next day (Friday) Christiane was better, she could accompany her mistress to town, but B. was feverish again. The coach came with Madame Geraki. Bettina suffering fever and her menstrual period sat down with Christiane in the coach,  not considering the doctor’s order to make the journey only on a day without fever, and arrived exhausted at the above mentioned  house, where the loving Madame Hill and her sister were waiting for her to help her up the stairs and offer her any assistance. 

Since then B. kept the fever for 21 days from the first attack, then it ceased. These 21 days she was not allowed to ingest any food and did not long for it, after the fever stopped the doctor permitted a little chicken broth and she became much better, though the doctor had told us to expect an enduring convalescence. Then another calamity was ahead of us. Dr. Widmer became alarmingly ill. But my wife was in rather good shape and told me the 2nd day of Widmer’s indispostion “Tonight you’ll go to Prokesch to discuss this and this matter with him” so I was at Prokesch’s when I suddenly received Christiane's note: “Madame suddenly developed a very strong cough and is asking you  to send immediately for Dr. Ipitis” (whom Widmer recommended after getting ill).
I walked to him myself but he was suffering cold fever and therefore could not come this evening; tomorrow he would try his powers, so I sent the servant who had accompanied me with the lantern to Dr. Röser and went to see myself what was going on. I found Bettina very concerned about her cough. I advised her to sleep until the doctor would come but she didn’t want to, after an hour the servant came back and explained: he searched in vain a long time for Dr. Röser, when he finally found him and led him towards us, some military personnel fell into a lime pit before their very eyes, so the guard took him almost by force into the garrison to treat the injured, but he would follow here as soon as possible. As the doctor did not come until 1 o’clock after midnight I sent again for him; he had gone home and to bed; he had to dress again and visit us; he ordered something calming and told me, this is a slight pneumonia, in a day or 2 the cough would be somewhat over, but a so called subdelirium occured which quite startled him. He suggested a consultation with Dr. Ipitis and Dr. Treiber, but the last was ill, so that evening only Rösner and Ipitis met, which I preferred in Bettina’s sake, because Ipitis had been proposed by Wibmer but not Treiber. The two doctors ordered something and the cough soon stopped completely. 
But Ipitis now paid attention to her ranting from time to time suspecting it, together with a little fever, resulting in a bed-sore, a hard and painful abscess close to the anus after lying such a long time. At the time being this makes her suffering horribly  and prevents her of getting back her powers. She has lost a great deal of weight, though all symptoms are calming. This is our plan: if she revives soon, after the healing of the abscess we will travel to the Cyclades for a change of air, and as she is obviously also suffering homesickness we would come to Berlin even in autumn; but if it would prove not to be advisable, as the doctors think, for her weak thorax and after this serious illness to travel from a warm country into a cold at the beginning of winter, and her homesickness being enduring we might travel for her comfort to Ancona, where life is inexpensive and correspondence with you easier. The vicinity of Germany could be stimulating for her; in spring then, if essential, we could go to Berlin. But all this is in God’s hands. First of all the abscess must heal and Bettina gain strength again, so she can walk in her room. This is the true and pure report of the illness and our actual condition.

Everybody has behaved undescribably lovingly and compassionately towards us; physicians (the excellent Dr. Wibmer, the comparable competent and kind-hearted Dr. Röser, and the learned and experienced Dr. Ipitis) and individuals competed in helping Bettina; I hope she is on her way to recovery (though a long convalescence is ahead of her); but not humans, though they gave their most possible (also the servants, in particular Christiane and Stephan were like angels to my Bettina), only to Our Lord I owe the recovery of the most perfect of all wives: to him from whom all salvation is given I prayed a thousand times “Lord! I deserve your anger, castigate my own body, put me into the biggest misery, but give my Bettina soon recovery and stop her pain which she is baring with Christian patience.” This I hope from him in confidence.

Next time more comfort. I repeat: all I am telling you is pure truth, and don’t worry because she does not write herself, she wanted to write some words and even almost cried, but I didn’t give in, in particular because the doctors forbade it definitely.

Embracing you in childlike love
Sincerely, your son,
Athens, 6/18 August 1835 *


*old/new dating

Previous entries for  Bettina Schinas:
Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2012

Ruth Steffen: Leben in Griechenland 1834–1835. Bettina Schinas, geb. von Savigny. Briefe und Berichte an ihre Eltern in Berlin. Verlag Cay Lienau, Münster 2002.   ISBN 3-934017-00-2.

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