[The] picture of the Turk as “the Sick Man” has had a curious history. It substituted itself in the imagination of the West for the older picture, in which the Westerner was the sinner and the Turk was the Scourge of God, divinely commissioned to chastise him, sometime between the raising of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the establishment of the Russians on the shores of the Black Sea through the Peace Treaty of 1774. The phrase in which the new concept of the Turk finally found its classical expression was coined by the Czar Nicholas I in 1853, during a conversation with the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg. “We have on our hands a sick man – a very sick man. … He may suddenly die upon our hands. …” From that day to this, the imminent decease of the supposed invalid has perpetually been awaited by his neighbours – by some of them with pleasurable expectancy, by others with anxiety, but by all with a dogmatic faith which seems capable of surviving any number of disillusionments. It was awaited in 1876 and in 1912 and, most confidently of all, in 1914; and now, when the Turk has given incontrovertible evidence of outward health and vigour by imposing the peace-settlement of Lausanne upon the victorious Allied Powers, his imminent dissolution through some hidden internal disease is prophesied with all the old assurance. We are told that the ravages of siphylis [sic] will extinguish the population of Turkey in three generations, or that the Turk cannot mend his own boots or work his own locomotives and will therefore perish through sheer economic incapacity now that alien minorities have been driven out. This persistence of the “Sick Man” theory indicates how powerfully the Western attitude towards Turkey is governed by a priori notions and how little it is based upon objective facts; for, as it has turned out, “the man recovered from the bite, the dog it was that died.” [Goldsmith.] At the time of writing, seventy-three years after Czar Nicholas I pronounced his celebrated verdict, the Czardom has vanished not only from St. Petersburg but from the face of Russia, whereas the Turkish “Sick Man” has taken up his bed and walked from Constantinople to Angora, where, to all appearance, he is benefiting by the change of air.
The words “of Europe”, which are used in the paragraph preceding this, ceased to have much meaning after the autumn of 1912. In the 1970s, the UK was called “the sick man of Europe” because of industrial strife and poor economic performance compared to other Common Market countries, culminating in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-79. Nowadays, the phrase is applied to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece.
Bernard Partridge, Punch, April 7 1915; boor and sycophant
With Kenneth P Kirkwood, Turkey, in The Modern World series edited by HAL Fisher, Benn, 1926; it is unclear which passages are by which author, but this reads like Toynbee