An Account of Corsica

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James Boswell (1740-1795)

An account of Corsica,
the journal of a tour to that island;
and memoirs of Pascal Paoli.

Illustrated with a New and Accurate Map of Corsica.


James Boswell was encouraged by the philosopher Rousseau to visit Corsica, then (1765) the focus of political thinkers for its independence struggle against the “old” Europe of Genoa but not well known at first hand. Impressed by the qualities of its leader, General Paoli, Boswell campaigned in the British newspapers, lobbied the Elder Pitt to intervene, and personally sent thirty cannon from the Carron Ironworks at Falkirk.

Influential in Boswell's campaign was his Account of Corsica (1768), partly an unoriginal synthesis of geography and history, partly the Journal of his tour, drawing from his diaries to present the Rousseauist theme of Corsican primitive simplicity and the classical heroism of Paoli. The Account was published in Glasgow in 1768, and sold rapidly, reaching a third edition within the year. It also ran through three Irish editions and was translated into German, Italian, Dutch and twice into French. Boswell designed his text in two parts: first, an Account of Corsica, which gives a historical, political, socio-economic, and cultural overview of the Corsican people, and second, the Journal of his tour to see the Corsican leader Pascal Paoli in 1765.

The young and adventuresome Boswell wanted to write a book that would swing public opinion, and perhaps the British government, to support the Corsicans in their struggle for independence. He was well aware that his English readers had but the haziest ideas about Corsica gleaned from but snatches of news in the papers. The first part would therefore provide the context within which to understand and appreciate his account of his journey to and meeting with Paoli. The complete text also illustrates aspects of Boswell that have received less attention than they might, namely, his sense of history, his political enthusiasm for national liberty, and his scholarship. He brings to the book a solid foundation in the Classics and the law, a facility in French and Italian.

The text reveals Boswell as a serious and independent thinker and a writer committed to Corsica's independence. What he argued for and presumed was about to be achieved is still a matter of debate in Corsica and metropolitan France.


about this version  

The version presented here is the second edition, published in London in 1768. It may or may not have originally included a portrait of Pascal Paoli, as did the first and third editions, but if so it is unfortunately missing from our copy. The portrait shown here is from a copy of the third edition, published in 1769.

There is another digital version of this book available at archive.org.

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copyright © 2006 Brian Burns