To the Editors:

My thanks to Professor David M. Goldfrank of Georgetown University for putting me at least half right on the origin of the epithet “the sick man of Europe,” commonly attributed to Tsar Nicholas I with regard to the Ottoman Empire of the mid-nineteenth century [“Turkey’s Hidden Past,” NYR, March 8]. The source to which I referred when questioning this attribution was a letter written by Sir G.H. Seymour, British envoy to St. Petersburg, to Lord John Russell, on January 22, 1853. In this letter, Seymour reports that the Tsar, in the course of a meeting between the two men, referred to the empire as a “man” who has fallen into “a state of decrepitude.”

Professor Goldfrank has guided me to an earlier letter written to Russell by Seymour, in relation to a meeting that had taken place on January 9. In this letter, Seymour reports that the Tsar described the Ottoman Empire as “a sick man—a very sick man.” This leaves us a step closer, but a step short, of “the sick man of Europe” to which my article referred.

Christopher de Bellaigue

This Issue

July 5, 2001