FINLAY, GEORGE (1799–1875), British historian, was born of Scottish parents at Faversham, Kent, on the 21st of December 1799. He studied for the law in Glasgow, and about 1821 went to Göttingen. He had already begun to feel a deep interest in the Greek struggle for independence, and in 1823 he resolved to visit the country. In November he arrived in Cephalonia, where he was kindly received by Lord Byron. Shortly afterwards he landed at Pyrgos, and during the next fourteen months he improved his knowledge of the language, history and antiquities of the country. Though he formed an unfavourable opinion of the Greek leaders, both civil and military, he by no means lost his enthusiasm for their cause. A severe attack of fever, however, combined with other circumstances, induced him to spend the winter of 1824–1825 and the spring of 1825 in Rome, Naples and Sicily. He then returned to Scotland, and, after spending a summer at Castle Toward, Argyllshire, went to Edinburgh, where he passed his examination in civil law at the university, with a view to being called to the Scottish bar. His enthusiasm, however, carried him back to Greece, where he resided almost uninterruptedly till his death. He took part in the unsuccessful operations of Lord Cochrane and Sir Richard Church for the relief of Athens in 1827. When independence had been secured in 1829 he bought a landed estate in Attica, but all his efforts for the introduction of a better system of agriculture ended in failure, and he devoted himself to the literary work which occupied the rest of his life. His first publications were The Hellenic Kingdom and the Greek Nation (1836); Essai sur les principes de banque appliqués à l’état actuel de la Grèce (Athens, 1836); and Remarks on the Topography of Oropia and Diacria, with a map (Athens, 1838). The first instalment of his great historical work appeared in 1844 (2nd ed., 1857) under the title Greece under the Romans; a Historical View of the Condition of the Greek Nation from the time of its Conquest by the Romans until the Extinction of the Roman Empire in the East. Meanwhile he had been qualifying himself still further by travel as well as by reading; he undertook several tours to various quarters of the Levant; and as the result of one of them he published a volume On the Site of the Holy Sepulchre; with a plan of Jerusalem (1847). The History of the Byzantine and Greek Empires from 716–1453 was completed in 1854. It was speedily followed by the History of Greece under the Ottoman and Venetian Domination (1856), and by the History of the Greek Revolution (1861). In weak health, and conscious of failing energy, he spent his last years in revising his history. From 1864 to 1870 he was also correspondent of The Times newspaper, his letters to which attracted considerable attention, and, appearing in the Greek newspapers, exercised a distinct influence on Greek politics. He was a member of several learned societies; and in 1854 he received from the university of Edinburgh the honorary degree of LL.D. He died at Athens on the 26th of January 1875. A new edition of his History, edited by the Rev. H. F. Tozer, was issued by the Oxford Clarendon press in 1877. It includes a brief but extremely interesting fragment of an autobiography of the author, almost the only authority for his life.
As an historian, Finlay had the merit of entering upon a field of research that had been neglected by English writers, Gibbon alone being a partial exception. As a student, he was laborious; as a scholar he was accurate; as a thinker, he was both acute and profound; and in all that he wrote he was unswerving in his loyalty to the principles of constitutional government and to the cause of liberty and justice.