An Account of Corsica

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An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island, and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli. (3rd edition) (1769)
by James Boswell
1524009An Account of Corsica, the Journal of a Tour to that Island, and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli. (3rd edition)1769James Boswell

Engrav'd from an Original Portrait of Henry Bembridge in ye Possession of James Boswell, Esqr.
Publish'd as the Act directs AD 1769.









Illustrated with a New and Accurate Map of Corsica.

Non enim propter gloriam, divitias aut honores pugnamus, sed propter libertatem solummodo, quam nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit.

Lit. Comit, et Baron. Scotiæ ad Pap. A.D. 1320.



Printed for Edward and Charles Dilly
in the Poultry.






George lord Lyttelton


James Boswell, esq.

London, Feb. 21, 1768.


I Think myself greatly obliged to you, and desire you to accept my most grateful thanks, for the valuable present you have done me the honour to make me, of your Account of Corsica, which has given me the pleasure of being more perfectly acquainted with the greatest character of this age. I had gained some knowledge of it, before I saw your book, from the letters of another English gentleman on that subject; but you have added many curious and interesting particulars, which I have read with much delight and admiration. If I were a few years younger, I would go in pilgrimage to Corsica (as you have done) to visit this living image of ancient virtue, and to venerate in the mind of Pascal Paoli the spirit of Timoleon and Epaminondas. But I must now be content with seeing him in your description, the vivacity of which shews, that your heart is inflamed with the same generous passion which glows so brightly in his. I wish with you that our government had shewn more respect for Corsican liberty, and think it disgraces our nation that we do not live in good friendship with a brave people engaged in the noblest of all contests, a contest against tyranny, and who have never given us any cause of complaint. Besides sympathy of sentiment, which is a natural bond of union, we ought in policy to shew as much regard for them, as the Genoese, their oppressors, have shewn for the French, in our late wars with that nation.

Believe me with sincere regard and esteem,


Your most obedient

And obliged humble servant,








DEdications are for most part the offerings of interested servility, or the effusions of partial zeal; enumerating the virtues of men in whom no virtues can be found, or predicting greatness to those who afterwards pass their days in unambitious indolence, and die leaving no memorial of their existence, but a dedication, in which all their merit is confessedly future, and which time has turned into a silent reproach.

He who has any experience of mankind, will be cautious to whom he dedicates. Publickly to bellow praise on merit of which the publick is not sensible, or to raise flattering expectations which are never fulfilled, must sink the character of an authour, and make him appear a cringing parasite, or a fond enthusiast.

I am under no apprehensions of that nature, when I inscribe this book to Pascal Paoli. Your virtues, Sir, are universally acknowledged; they dignify the pages which I venture to present to you; and it is my singular felicity, that my book is the voucher of its dedication.

In thus addressing you, my intention is not to attempt your panegyrick. That may in some measure be collected from my imperfect labours. But I wish to express to the world, the admiration and gratitude with which you have inspired me.

This, Sir, is all the return that I can make for the many favours which you have deigned to confer upon me. I intreat you to receive it as a testimony of my disposition. I regret that I have neither power nor interest to enable me to render any essential service to you and to the brave Corsicans. I can only assure you of the most fervent wishes of a private gentleman. I have the honour to be, with all respect and affection,


Your ever devoted,

Obliged humble servant,


Auchinleck, Ayrshire,

29 October, 1767.


NO apology shall be made for presenting the world with an Account of Corsica. It has been for some time expelled from me; and I own that the ardour of publick curiosity has both encouraged and intimidated me. On my return from visiting Corsica, I found people wherever I went, desirous to hear what I could tell them concerning that island and its inhabitants. Unwilling to repeat my tale to every company, I thought it best to promise a book which should speak for me.

But I would not take upon me to do this, till I consulted with the General of the nation. I therefore informed him of my design. His answer is perhaps too flattering for me to publish: but I must beg leave to give it as the licence and sanction of this work.

Paoli was pleased to write to me thus:

'Non può esser piu generoso il di lei disegno di pubblicar colle stampe le osservazioni che ha fatte sopra la Corsica. Ella ne ha veduto la fisica situazione, ha potuto esaminare i costumi degli abitanti, e veder dentro le massime del loro governo, di cui conosce la costituzione. Questi popoli con entusiasmo di gratitudine uniranno il loro applauso a quello dell' Europa disingannata. Nothing can be be more generous than your design to publish the observations which you have made upon Corsica. You have seen its natural situation, you have been able to study the manners of its inhabitants, and to see intimately the maxims of their government, of which you know the constitution. This people with an enthusiasm of gratitude, will unite their applause with, that of undeceived Europe.'

My first intention was to give only a view of the present state of Corsica, together with Memoirs of its illustrious General. But by the advice of some learned friends, whose judgement I respect, I enlarged my plan, and fixed on that of the execution of which the publick is now to judge.

I had before me two French books expressly written on Corsica. The one 'Histoire de l'Isle de Corse, par M.G.D.C.' printed at Nancy in 1749. The other 'Memoires Historiques &c. par M. Jaussin Ancien Apoticaire Major;' printed at Lausanne in 1758. From both of those books I derived many useful materials. The last of them contains a full and scientifick detail of the natural history of the island, as also many letters, manifestoes and other papers: and both of them contain a variety of particulars with regard to the operations of the French in Corsica. I had also before me a pretty large collection of remarks, which I had committed to writing, while I was in the island.

But I still found my materials deficient in many respects. I therefore applied to my friends abroad; and in the mean time directed my studies to such books as might furnish me with any thing relative to the subject. I am thus enabled to lay before the world such An Account of Corsica, as I flatter myself will give some satisfaction; for, in comparison of the very little that has been hitherto known concerning that island, this book may be said to contain a great deal.

It is indeed amazing that an island of considerable, and in which such noble things have been doing, should be so imperfectly known. Even the succession of Chiefs has been unperceived; and because we have read of Paoli being at the head of the Corsicans many years back, and Paoli still appears at their head, the command has been supposed all this time in the person of the same man. Hence all our newspapers have confounded the gallant Pascal Paoli in the vigour of manhood, with the venerable chief his deceased Father Giacinto Paoli. Nay the same errour has found its way into the page of the historian; for Dr. Smollet when mentioning Paoli at the siege of Furiani a few years ago, says he was then past fourscore.

I would in the first place return my most humble thanks to Pascal Paoli, for the various communications with which he has been pleased to favour me; and as I have related his remarkable sayings, I declare upon honour, that I have neither added nor diminished; nay so scrupulous have I been, that I would not make the smallest variation even when my friends thought it would be an improvement. I know with how much pleasure we read what is perfectly authentick.

Count Rivarola was so good as to return me full and distinct answers to a variety of queries which I sent him with regard to many particulars concerning Corsica. I am much indebted to him for this, and particularly so, from the obliging manner in which he did it.

The reverend Mr. Burnaby, chaplain to the British factory at Leghorn, made a tour to Corsica in 1766, at the same time with the honourable and reverend Mr. Hervey now bishop of Cloyne. Mr. Burnaby was absent from Leghorn when I was there, so I had not the pleasure of being personally known to him. But he with great politeness of his own accord, sent me a copy of the Journal which he made of what he observed in Corsica. I had the satisfaction to find that we agreed in every thing which both of us had considered. But I found in his Journal, observations on several things which I had omitted; and several things which I had remarked, I found set in a clearer light. As Mr. Burnaby was so obliging as to allow me to make what use I pleased of his Journal, I have freely interwoven it into my work.

I acknowledge my obligations to my esteemed friend Sir John Dick, Bart, his Britannick Majesty's Consul at Leghorn, to Signor Gian Quilico Casa Bianca, to the learned Greek physician Signor Stefanopoli, to Colonel Buttafoco, and to the Abbé Rostini. These gentlemen have all contributed their aid in erecting my little monument to liberty.

I am also to thank an ingenious gentleman who has favoured me with the translations of Seneca's Epigrams. I made application for this favour, in the London Chronicle; and to the honour of literature, I found her votaries very liberal. Several translations were sent, of which I took the liberty to prefer those which had the signature of Patricius, and which were improved by another ingenious correspondent under the signature of Plebeius. By a subsequent application I begged that Patricius would let me know to whom I was obliged for what I considered as a great ornament to my book. He has complied with my request; and I beg leave in this publick manner, to acknowledge that I am indebted for those translations to Thomas Day Esquire, of Berkshire, a gentleman whose situation in life is genteel, and his fortune affluent. I must add that although his verses have not only the fire of youth, but the maturity and correctness of age, Mr. Day is no more than nineteen.

Nor can I omit to express my sense of the candour and politeness with which Sir James Steuart received the remark which I have ventured to make in opposition to a passage concerning the Corsicans, in his Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy.

I have submitted my book to the revisal of several gentlemen who honour me with their regard, and I am sensible how much it is improved by their corrections. It is therefore my duty to return thanks to the reverend Mr. Wyvill rectour of Black Notely in Essex, and to my old and most intimate friend the reverend Mr. Temple rectour of Mamhead in Devonfhire. I am also obliged to My Lord Monboddo for many judicious remarks, which his thorough acquaintance with ancient learning enabled him to make. But I am principally indebted to the indulgence and friendly attention of My Lord Hailes, who under the name of Sir David Dalrymple[1], has been long known to the world as an able Antiquarian, and an elegant and humourous Essayist; to whom the world has no fault but that he does not give them more of his own writings, when they value them so highly.

I would however have it understood, that although I received the corrections of my friends with deference, I have not always agreed with them. An authour should be glad to hear every candid remark. But I look upon a man as unworthy to write, who has not force of mind to determine for himself. I mention this, that the judgement of the friends I have named may not be considered as connected with every passage in this book.

Writing a book I have found to be like building a house. A man forms a plan, and collects materials. He thinks he has enough to raise a large and stately edifice; but after he has arranged, compacted and polished, his work turns out to be a very small performance. The authour however like the builder, knows how much labour his work has cost him; and therefore estimates it at a much higher rate than other people think it deserves.

I have endeavoured to avoid an ostentatious display of learning. By the idle and the frivolous indeed, any appearance of learning is called pedantry. But as I do not write for such readers, I pay no regard to their censures. Those by whom I wish to be judged, will I hope, approve of my adding dignity to Corsica, by shewing its consideration among the ancients, and will not be displeafed to find my page sometimes embellished with a seasonable quotation from the Classicks. The translations are ascribed to their proper authours. What are not so ascribed are my own.

It may be necessary to say something in defence of my orthography. Of late it has become the fashion to render our language more neat and trim by leaving out k after c, and u in the last syllable of words which used to end in our. The illustrious Mr. Samuel Johnson, who has alone executed in England what was the task of whole academies in other countries, has been careful in his Dictionary to preserve the k as a mark of Saxon original. He has for most part too, been careful to preserve the u, but he has also omitted it in several words. I have retained the k, and have taken upon me to follow a general rule with regard to words ending in our. Wherever a word originally Latin has been transmitted to us through the medium of the French, I have written it with the characteristical u. An attention to this may appear trivial. But I own I am one of those who are curious in the formation of language in its various modes; and therefore wish that the affinity of English with other tongues may not be forgotten. If this work should at any future period be reprinted, I hope that care will be taken of my orthography.

He who publishes a book, affecting not to be an authour, and professing an indifference for literary fame, may possibly impose upon many people such an idea of his consequence as he wishes may be received. For my part, I should be proud to be known as an authour; and I have an ardent ambition for literary fame; for of all possessions I should imagine literary fame to be the most valuable. A man who has been able to furnish a book which has been approved by the world, has established himself as a respectable character in distant society, without any danger of having that character lessened by the observation of his weaknesses. To preserve an uniform dignity among those who see us every day, is hardly possible; and to aim at it, must put us under the fetters of a perpetual restraint. The authour of an approved book may allow his natural disposition an easy play, and yet indulge the pride of superiour genius when he considers that by those who know him only as an authour, he never ceases to be refpected. Such an authour when in his hours of gloom and discontent, may have the consolation to think that his writings are at that very time giving pleasure to numbers; and such an authour may cherish the hope of being remembered after death, which has been a great object: to the noblest minds in all ages.

Whether I may merit any portion of literary fame, the publick will judge. Whatever my ambition may be, I trust that my confidence is not too great, nor my hopes too sanguine.


To the Third Edition.

I Now beg leave to present the world with a more correct edition of my Account of Corsica. I return my sincere thanks to those who have taken the trouble to point out several faults, with a spirit of candid criticism. I hope they will not be offended that in one or two places I have preserved my own reading, contrary to their opinion; as I never would own that I am wrong, till I am convinced that it is so. My orthography I have sufficiently explained; and although some pleasantry has been shewn, I have not met with one argument against it.

In justice to Mr. Burnaby, I must observe, that the erroneous translation of a passage in Livy, which is corrected in this edition, page 64, was mine; it being no part of his Journal, in which the original text only was quoted. In comparing the former editions with this, it will appear that my first translation renders the meaning of Livy, but does not convey the turn of expression, as I hope I have now done.

While I have a proper sense of my obligations to those who have treated me with candour, I do not forget that there have been others who have chosen to treat ms in an illiberal manner. The resentment of some has evidently arisen from the grateful admiration which I have expressed of Mr. Samuel Johnson. Over such, it is a triumph to me, to assure them, that I never cease to think of Mr. Johnson, with the same warmth of affection, and the fame dignity of veneration. The resentment of others it is more difficult to explain. For what should make men attack one who never offended them, who has done his best to entertain them, and who is engaged in the most generous cause? But I am told by those who have gone before me in literature, that the attacks of such should rather flatter me, than give me displeasure.

To those who have imagined themselves very witty in sneering at me for being a Christian, I would recommend the serious study of Theology, and I hope they will attain to the same comfort that I have, in the belief of a Revelation by which a Saviour is proclamed to the world, and "life and immortality are clearly brought to light."

I am now to return thanks to My Lord Lyttelton, for being so good as to allow me to enrich my book with one of his Lordship's letters to me. I was indeed most anxious that it should be published; as it contains an eulogium on Pascal Paoli, equal to any thing that I have found in the writings of antiquity. Nor can I deny that I was very desirous to shew the world that this worthy and respectable Nobleman, to whom genius, learning and virtue owe so much, can amidst all his literary honours be pleased with what I have been able to write.

May I be permitted to say that the success of this book has exceeded my warmed hopes. When I first ventured to send it into the world, I fairly owned an ardent desire for literary fame. I have obtained my desire: and whatever clouds may overcast my days, I can now walk here among the rocks and woods of my ancestors, with an agreeable consciousness that I have done something worthy.

Auchinleck, Ayrshire,

29 October, 1768.


A Letter from the Right Honourable George Lord Lyttelton to James Boswell, Esq; page iii

Introduction. 33

Of the Situation, Extent, Air, Soil, and Productions, of Corsica. 43

A concise View of the Revolutions which Corsica has undergone from the earliest times. 87

The present State of Corsica, with respect to Government, Religion, Arms, Commerce, Learning, the Genius and Character of its Inhabitants. 173

Appendix, containing Corsican State Papers. 265

The Journal of a Tour to Corsica; and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli. 285

  1. It is the custom in Scotland to give the Judges of the Court of Session the title of Lords by the names of their estates. Thus Mr. Burnett is Lord Monboddo, and Sir David Dalrymple is Lord Hailes.