The Reading Room
Oliver Wardrop and His “The Kingdom of Georgia” (1888)
British diplomat, translator and well-known Georgianist, Sir Oliver Wardrop (1864-1948) is among those foreigners who were well acquainted not only with the political and socio-economic situation in Georgian, but also with its history and culture. In 1919, he was appointed as the first British Chief Commissioner in Transcaucasia. He was a founder of Kartvelology (Georgian studies) at Oxford University. He sympathized with the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) and tried in every way to help it join the League of Nations.
At the same time, Oliver Wardrop, alongside with his sister Marjory Wardrop, was a great friend of the head of Georgian national movement and the father of Georgian liberalism, Prince Ilia Chavchavadze who was killed by both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1907.
Oliver Wardrop traveled to Georgia for the first time in 1887, after which he wrote a book entitled The Kingdom of Georgia (published in London in 1888). In this work, the author talks about the history and geography of Georgia, its language and literature, political, socio-economic and cultural situation. While considering Georgian literature, Wardrop noticed that “In the eleventh and twelfth centuries of our era the relations between Georgia and Greece were of the most intimate character. The young nobles of the court of King David the Renewer and his immediate successors frequented the schools of Athens, and brought back with them Platonic and Aristotelian teachings which exerted a very powerful influence on the intellectual and social life of that period, and prepared the way for the golden age of Georgian literature, which dawned on the accession of Queen Tamara” (Wardrop 1888, 138). Then he refers to the work of the Georgian Catholic Prince Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, who is known as the father of the Georgian nation (between 1713-1716, he traveled to Western Europe, meeting with Pope Clement XI and King Louis XIV of France to get help against Persia, but in vain), “consulted translations of Proklus, Platonicus, Nemesis, Aristotle, Damascenus, Plato, Porphyry, and many other Greek writers. If these MSS. were still extant, they might prove valuable to classical scholars” (Wardrop 1888, 138).
Oliver’s sister, Marjory Wardrop, was the first to translate from Georgian into English one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, the poem “The Man in the Panther’s Skin” by Shota Rustaveli (13th century). In Oliver’s words, “From ‘The Man in the Panther's Skin’ we learn that the ideal hero of Rustaveli’s times was distinguished for bravery, truthfulness, loyalty to promises, self-sacrifice, munificence, and burning love… The ideas of love expressed by Rustaveli are partly of the 0vidian type, without any of the indelicacy of the Latin poet. But he had not studied Plato for nought, and we see in his work traces of those metaphysical theories which S. Bonaventura, Dante, and many of their contemporaries and successors found in Christianity” (Wardrop 1888, 142. 143). Rustaveli praised Queen Tamar, under whose reign the Kingdom of Georgia had its golden age (It was during Tamar’s time that a particular political group demanded the establishment of the so-called “Isani Tent”, which was supposed to be an institution or council similar to the parliament, where the feudal lords, together with the upper class of the city, would be given certain legislative rights. However, the attempt at feudal constitutionalism failed and the royal absolute power was strengthened).
Oliver Wardrop was also a great friend of Ilia Chavchavadze. Speaking about him, he mentioned that Ilia:
“is in many respects the most remarkable man that Georgia possesses. All his poems, and indeed all his work, whether as a poet, a novelist, a journalist, an orator, or a financier, breathe a spirit of the loftiest patriotism… At first, the more conservative part of the nobility were bitterly opposed to the radical ideas of Chavchavadze, but he has now succeeded in bringing round the majority of them to his way of thinking. He is editor of a daily paper, Iveria, which is read by all classes of society, and most of his time is spent between his journalistic duties and the management of the nobles’ Land Bank, an institution founded for the relief of the farmers” (Wardrop 1888, 150. 151-152).
After that, he directly refers to the political situation in Georgia which was at that time a part of Russian Empire. One reads that “Some time ago the young Georgian nobles who were serving in the Russian army became infected with the doctrines of revolutionary socialism, and not a few suffered for their imprudence; at the present time the national feeling has become so strong as to leave no room for these ideas” (Wardrop 1888, 162).
Oliver Wardrop focuses on the historical connections between Georgia and Europe, both politically and intellectually. Here he writes: “It is interesting to notice that the political ideals of the country are borrowed from Western Europe. Excepting in Japan, perhaps, there is no such instance of a people passing directly from feudalism to liberalism. The grandsons of absolute monarchs, the men who little more than a quarter of a century ago were large slaveholders, are now ardent champions of the democratic idea, and loudly proclaim the freedom, the equality, the brotherhood, of prince and peasant, master and man” (Wardrop 1888, 164-165), and “This is not the only case in which Georgia has turned her back on Asia and opened her arms to Europe— Parisian fashions, German rationalism, English sport and other products of our civilization are beginning to have an influence” (Wardrop 1888, 165). Finally, he says a few words about trade and investment: “At the present time a few Russian capitalists are endeavouring to get a footing beyond the Caucasus, but they experience some difficulty in doing so, for the Georgians prefer to avail themselves of the services of European investors; among others, the Rothschilds have not been slow to see that Transcaucasian wines, ores and oils are worth attention” (Wardrop 1888, 166).
Sir Oliver Wardrop’s The Kingdom of Georgia describes the situation of Georgia, which was a part of Tsarist Russia at the time, at the end of the 19th century. From the mentioned work, we learn that European entrepreneurs were interested in Georgia and that the upper class of Georgian society was fascinated by European political and economic ideas.