The Land of Paoli
THE Leghorn steamer slid smoothly over the glassy Tyrrhene strait, and some time during the night came to anchor in the harbor of Bastia. I sat up in my berth at sunrise, and looked out the bull’s eye to catch my first near glimpse of Corsican scenery ; but, instead of that, a pair of questioning eyes, set in a brown, weather-beaten face, met my own. It was a boatman waiting on the gangway, determined to secure the only fare which the steamer had brought that morning. Such persistence always succeeds, and in this case justly; for when we were landed upon the quay, shortly afterwards, the man took the proffered coin with thanks, and asked for no more.
Tall, massive houses surrounded the little circular port. An old bastion on the left,—perhaps that from which the place originally took its name, — a church in front, and suburban villas and gardens on the shoulders of the steep mountain in the rear, made a certain impression of pride and stateliness, notwithstanding the cramped situation of the city. The Corsican coast is here very bold and abrupt, and the first advantage of defence interferes with the present necessity of growth.
At that early hour few persons "were stirring in the streets. A languid officer permitted us to pass the douane and sanitary line ; a large-limbed boy from the mountains became a porter for the nonce ; and a waiter, not fully awake, admitted us into the Hôtel d’Europe, a building with more space than cleanliness, more antiquated furniture than comfort. It resembled a dismantled palace, — huge, echoing, dusty. The only tenants we saw then, or later, were the waiter aforesaid, who had not yet learned the ordinary wants of a traveller, and a hideous old woman, who twice a day deposited certain oily and indescribable dishes upon a table in a room which deserved the name of manger, in the English sense of the word.
However, I did not propose to remain long in Bastia; Corte, the old capital of Paoli, in the heart of the island, was my destination. After ascertaining that a diligence left for the latter place at noon, we devoted an hour or two to Bastia. The breadth and grandeur of the principal streets, the spacious new place with a statue of Napoleon in a Roman toga, the ample harbor in process of construction to the northward, and the fine coast-views from the upper part of the city, were matters of surprise. The place has grown rapidly within the past fifteen years, and now contains twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Its geographical situation is good. The dagger-shaped Cape Corso, rich with fruit and vines, extends forty miles to the northward ; westward, beyond the mountains, lie the fortunate lands of Nebbio and the Balagna, while the coast southward has no other harbor for a distance of seventy or eighty miles. The rocky island of Capraja, once a menace of the Genoese, rises over the sea in the direction of Leghorn ; directly eastward, and nearer, is Elba, and far to the southeast, faintly seen, Monte Cristo, — the three representing mediaeval and modern history and romance, and repeating the triple interest which clings around the name of Corsica.
The growth of Bastia seems to have produced but little effect, as yet, in the character of the inhabitants. They have rather the primitive air of mountaineers ; one looks in vain for the keenness, sharpness, and, alas ! the dishonesty, of an Italian seaport town. Since the time of Seneca, who, soured by exile, reported of them, —
the Corsicans have not been held in good repute. Yet our first experience of them was by no means unprepossessing. We entered a bookstore, to get a map of the island. While I was examining it, an old gentleman, with the Legion of Honor in his button-hole, rose from his seat, took the sheet from my hands, and said: “What’s this? what’s this ? ” After satisfying his curiosity, he handed it back to me, and began a running fire of questions : “Your first visit to Corsica? You are English? Do you speak Italian? your wife also ? Do you like Bastia? does she also? How long will you stay? Will she accompany you?” &c. I answered with equal rapidity, as there was nothing obtrusive in the old man’s manner. The questions soon came to an end, and then followed a chapter of information and advice, which was very welcome.
The same naïve curiosity met us at every turn. Even the rough boy who acted as porter plied me with questions, yet was just as ready to answer as to ask. I learned much more about his situation and prospects than was really necessary, but the sum of all showed that he was a fellow determined to push his way in the world. Self-confidence is a common Corsican trait, which Napoleon only shared with his fellowislanders. The other men of his time who were either born upon Corsica or lived there for a while — Pozzo di Borgo, Bernadotte, Massena, Murat, Sebastiani — seem to have caught the infection of this energetic, self-reliant spirit.
In Bastia there is neither art nor architecture. It is a well-built, wellregulated, bustling place, and has risen in latter years quite as much from the growth of Italian commerce as from the favor of the French government. From the quantity of small coasting craft in the harbor, I should judge that its trade is principally with the neighboring shores. In the two book-shops I found many devotional works and Renucci’s History, but only one copy of the Storiche Corse, which I was glad to secure.
When the hour of departure came, we found the inquisitive old gentleman at the diligence office. He was our companion in the coupé, and apparently a personage of some note, as at least a score of friends came to bid him adieu. To each of these he announced in turn : “ These are my travelling companions, — an American gentleman and his wife. They speak French and Italian ; they have never been in Corsica before; they are going to Corte; they travel for pleasure and information.” Then there were reciprocal salutations and remarks ; and if the postilion had not finally given the signal to take our places, we should soon have been on speaking terms with half Bastia.
The road ran due south, along the base of the mountains. As we passed the luxuriant garden-suburbs, our companion pointed out the dusky glitter of the orange-trees, and exclaimed : “You see what the Corsican soil produces.
But this is nothing to the Balagna. There you will find the finest olive culture of the Mediterranean. I was prefect of the Balagna in 1836, and in that year the exportation of oil amounted to six millions of francs, while an equal quantity was kept for consumption in the island.”
Brown old villages nestled high up in the ravines on our right; but on the left the plain stretched far away to the salt lake of Biguglia. the waters of which sparkled between the clumps of poplars and elms studding the meadows. The beds of the mountain streams were already nearly dry, and the summer malaria was beginning to gather on the low fields through which they wandered. A few peasants were cutting and tedding hay here and there, or lazily hauling it homewards. Many of the fields were given up to myrtle and other wild and fragrant shrubs; but there were far too few workers abroad for even the partial cultivation.
Beyond the lake of Biguglia, and near the mouth of the Golo River, is the site of Mariana, founded by Marius. Except a scattering of hewn stones, there are no remains of the Roman town ; but the walls of a church and chapel of the Middle Ages are still to be seen. The only other Roman colony on Corsica — Aleria, at the mouth of the Tavignano—was a restoration of the more ancient Alalia, which tradition ascribes to the Phoceans. Notwithstanding the nearness of the island to the Italian coast, and its complete subjection to the Empire, its resources were imperfectly developed by the Romans, and the accounts of it given by the ancient writers are few and contradictory. Strabo says of the people: " Those who inhabit the mountains live from plunder, and are more untamable than wild beasts. When the Roman commanders undertake an expedition against the island, and possess themselves of the strongholds, they bring back to Rome many slaves ; and then one sees with astonishment the savage animal nature of the people. For they either take their own lives violently, or tire out their masters by their stubbornness and stupidity; whence, no matter how cheaply they are purchased, it is always a bad bargain in the end.”
Here we have the key to that fierce, indomitable spirit of independence which made the Genoese occupation one long story of warfare ; which produced such heroes as Sambucuccio, Sampieri, and Paoli ; and which exalted Corsica, in the last century, to be the embodiment of the democratic ideas of Europe, and the marvellous forerunner of the American Republic. Verily, Nature is “careful of the type.” After the Romans, the Vandals possessed Corsica ; then the Byzantine Greeks ; then, in succession, the Tuscan Barons, the Pisans, and the Genoese,—yet scarcely one of the political forms planted among them took root in the character of the islanders. The origin of the Corsican Republic lies back of all our history ; it was a natural growth, which came to light after the suppression of two thousand years.
As we approached the gorge through which the Golo breaks its way to the sea, the town of Borgo, crowning a mountain summit, recalled to memory the last Corsican victory, when Clement Paoli, on the 1st of October, 1768, defeated and drove back to Bastia a French force much greater than his own. Clement, the brooding monk in his cloister, the fiery leader of desperate battle, is even a nobler figure than his brother Pascal in the story of those days.
We changed horses at an inn under the mountain of Borgo, and then entered the valley of the Golo, leaving the main road, which creeps onward to Bonifacio through lonely and malarious lands. The scenery now assumed a new aspect. No more the blue Tyrrhene Sea, with its dreams of islands ; a valley wilder than any infolded among the Appenines opened before us. Slopes covered with chestnut groves rose on either side; slant ravines mounted between steep escarpments of rock ; a village or two, on the nearer heights, had the appearance of refuge and defence, rather than of quiet habitation, and the brown summits in the distance held out no promise of softer scenes beyond.
Our companion, the prefect, pointed to the chestnut groves. “There,” said he, " is the main support of our people in the winter. Our Corsican name for it is ‘the bread-tree.’ The nuts are ground, and the cakes of chestnut-flour, baked on the hearth, and eaten while fresh, are really delicious. We could not live without the chestnut and the olive.”
The steep upper slopes of the mountains were covered with the macchia, — a word of special significance on the island. It is equivalent to “jungle ” or “chaparral ” ; but the Corsican macchia has a character and a use of its own. Fancy an interminable thicket of myrtle, arbutus, wild laurel, lentisk, box, and heather, eight to twelve feet in height, interlaced with powerful and luxuriant vines, and with an undergrowth of rosemary, lavender, and sage. Between the rigid, stubby stems the wild boar can scarcely make his way ; thorns and dagger-like branches meet above, —yet the richest balm breathes from this impenetrable wilderness. When the people say of a man, “ he has taken to the macchia,” every one understands that he has committed a murder. Formerly, those who indulged in the fierce luxury of the vendetta sometimes made their home for years in the thickets, communicating privately, from time to time, with their families. But there is now no scent of blood lurking under that of the myrtle and lavender. Napoleon, who neglected Corsica during his years of empire (in fact, he seemed to dislike all mention of the island), remembered the odors of the macchia upon St. Helena.
Our second station was at a sawmill beside the river. Here the prefect left us, saying : “ I am going to La Porta, in the country of Morosaglia. It is a beautiful place, and you must come and see it. I have a ride of three hours, on horseback across the mountains, to get there.”
His place in the coupé was taken by a young physician bound for Pontenuovo, further up the valley. I was struck by the singular loneliness of the country, as we advanced further into the interior. Neither in the grain-fields below, nor the olive-orchards above, was any laborer to be seen. Mile after mile passed by, and the diligence was alone on the highway. “ The valley of the Colo is so unhealthy,” said the physician, “ that the people only come down to their fields at the time for ploughing, sowing, and reaping. If a man from the mountains spends a single night below here, he is likely to have an attack of fever.”
“ But the Golo is a rapid mountain stream,” I remarked ; “ there are no marshes in the valley, and the air seems to me pure and bracing. Would not the country become healthy through more thorough cultivation ? ”
“ I can only explain it,” he answered, “by the constant variation of temperature. During the day there is a close heat, such as we feel now, while at night the air becomes suddenly chill and damp. As to agriculture, it don’t seem to be the natural business of the Corsican. He will range the mountains all day, with a gun on his shoulder, but he hates work in the fields. Most of the harvesting on the eastern coast of the island, and in the Balagna, is done by the Lucchese peasants, who come over from the main-land every year. Were it not for them, the grain would rot where it stands.”
This man’s statement may have been exaggerated, but further observation convinced me that there was truth in it. Yet the people are naturally active and of a lively temperament, and their repugnance to labor is only one of the many consequences of the vendetta. When Paoli suppressed the custom with an iron hand, industry revived in Corsica; and now that the French government has succeeded in doing the same thing, the waste and pestilent lands will no doubt be gradually reclaimed.
The annals of the Corsican vendetta are truly something terrible. Filippini (armed to the teeth and protected by a stone wall, as he wrote) and other native historians estimate the number of murders from revenge in the three and a half centuries preceding the year 1729 at three hundred and thirty-three thousand, and the number of persons wounded in family feuds at an equal figure! Three times the population of the island killed or wounded in three hundred and fifty years ! Gregorovius says : “ If this island of Corsica could vomit back all the blood of battle and vendetta which it has drunk during the past ages, its cities and towns would be overwhelmed, its population drowned, and the sea be incarnadined as far as Genoa. Verily, here the red Death planted his kingdom.” France has at last, by two simple, practical measures, stayed the deluge. First, the population was disarmed; then the bandits and blood-outlaws were formed into a body of Voltigeurs Corses, who, knowing all the hiding-places in the macchia, easily track the fugitives. A few executions tamed the thirst for blood, and within the past ten years the vendetta has ceased to exist.
While we were discussing these matters with the physician, the diligence rolled steadily onwards, up the valley of the Golo. With every mile the scenery became wilder, browner, and more lonely. There were no longer villages on the hill-summits, and the few farm-houses perched beside the chestnut-orchards appeared to be untenanted. As the road crossed by a lofty stone arch to the southern bank of the river, the physician said : “ This is Pontenuovo, and it is just a hundred years to-day since the battle was fought.” He was mistaken ; the battle of Pontenuovo, fatal to Paoli and to the independence of Corsica, took place on the 9th of May, 1769. It was the end of a struggle all the more heroic because it was hopeless from the start. The stony slopes on either side of the bridge are holy ground ; for the Corsicans did not fight in vain. A stronger people beyond the sea took up the torch as it fell from their hands, and fed it with fresh oil. History (as it has hitherto been written) deals only with events, not with popular sympathies and enthusiasms ; and we can therefore scarcely guess how profoundly the heart of the world was stirred by the name of Corsica, between the years 1755 and 1769. To Catharine of Russia as to Rousseau, to Alfieri as to Dr. Johnson, Paoli was one of the heroes of the century.
Beyond Pontenuovo the valley widens, and a level road carried us speedily to Ponte alla Leccia, at the junction of the Golo with its principal affluent the Tartaglia. Pontaletch and Tartatch are the Corsican words. Here the scenery assumes a grand Alpine character. High over the nearer mountains rose the broken summits of Monte Padro and Capo Bianco, the snow-filled ravines glittering between their dark pinnacles of rock. On the south, a by-road wandered away through the chestnutwoods to Morosaglia; villages with picturesque belfries overlooked the valley, and the savage macchia gave place to orchards of olive. Yet the character of the scenery was sombre, almost melancholy. Though the myrtle flowered snowily among the rocks, and the woodbine hung from the banks, and the river filled the air with the incessant mellow sound of its motion, these cheerful features lost their wonted effect beside the sternness and solitude of the mountains.
Towards the end of this stage the road left the Golo, and ascended a narrow lateral valley to the village of Omessa, where we changed horses. Still following the stream to its sources, we reached a spur from the central chain, and slowly climbed its sides to a higher region, — a land of rocks and green pastureslopes, from the level of which a wide sweep of mountains was visible. The summit of the pass was at least two thousand feet above the sea. On attaining it, a new and surprising vista opened to the southward, into the very heart of the island. The valley before us dropped in many windings into that of the Tavignano, the second river of Corsica, which we overlooked for an extent of thirty miles. Eastward the mountains sank into hills of gentle undulation, robed with orchards and vineyards, and crowned with villages ; westward they towered into dark, forbidding ranges, and the snows of the great central peaks of Monte Rotondo and Monte d' Oro, nearly ten thousand feet in height, stood gray against the sunset. Generally, the landscapes of an island have a diminished, contracted character ; but here the vales were as amply spread, the mountains as grandly planted, as if a continent lay behind them.
For two leagues the road descended, following the bays and forelands of the hills. The diligence sped downward so rapidly that before it was quite dusk we saw the houses and high rock fortress of Corte before us. A broad avenue of sycamores, up and down which groups of people were strolling, led into the town. We were set down at a hotel of primitive fashion, where we took quarters for the night, leaving the diligence, which would have carried us to Ajaccio by the next morning. Several French officials had possession of the best rooms, so that we were but indifferently lodged ; but the mountain trout on the dinner-table were excellent, and the wine of Corte was equal to that of Tuscany.
While the moon, risen over the eastern mountains, steeps the valley in misty silver, and a breeze from the Alpine heights deliciously tempers the air, let us briefly recall that wonderful episode of Corsican history of which Pascal Paoli is the principal figure. My interest in the name dates from the earliest recollections of childhood. Near my birthplace there is an inn and cluster of houses named Paoli, —or, as the people pronounce it, Peōli. Here twenty-three American soldiers were murdered in cold blood by the British troops, in September, 1777. Wayne’s battle-cry at the storming of Stony Point was, “ Remember Paoli!” The old tavern-sign was the half-length portrait of an officer (in a red coat, I think), whom, I was told, was “ General Paoli,” but I knew nothing further of him, until, some years later, I stumbled on Boswell’s work ; my principal authority, however, is a recent volume,1 and the collection of Paoli’s letters published by Tommaseo.
It is unnecessary to review the long struggle of the Corsicans to shake off the yoke of Genoa ; I need only allude to the fact. Pascal, born in 1724 or 1725, was the son of Hyacinth Paoli, who was chosen one of the chiefs of the people in 1734, and in connection with the other chiefs, Ceccaldi and Giaffori, carried on the war for independence with the greatest bravery and resolution, but with little success, for two years. In March, 1736, when the Corsicans were reduced to the last extremity, the Westphalian adventurer, Theodore von Neuhoff, suddenly made his appearance. The story of this man, who came ashore in a caftan of scarlet silk, Turkish trowsers, yellow shoes, a Spanish hat and feather, and a sceptre in his right hand, and coolly announced to the people that he had come to be their king, is so fantastic as to be scarcely credible ; but we cannot dwell upon it. His supplies of money and munitions of war, and still more his magnificent promises, beguiled those sturdy republicans into accepting the cheat of a crown. The fellow was not without ability, and but for a silly vanity, which led him to ape the state and show of other European courts, might have kept his place. His reign of eight months was the cause of Genoa calling in the aid of France; and, after three years of varying fortunes, the Corsicans were obliged to submit to the conditions imposed upon them by the French commander, Maillebois.
Hyacinth Paoli went into exile, and found a refuge at the court of Naples with his son Pascal. The latter was carefully educated in the school of Genovesi, the first Italian political-economist of the last century, and then entered the army, where he distinguished himself during campaigns in Sicily and Calabria. Thus sixteen years passed away.
The Corsicans, meanwhile, had continued their struggle, under the leadership of Giaffori, another of the many heroes of the island. When, in 1753, he was assassinated, the whole population met together to celebrate his obsequies, and renewed the oath of resistance to death against the Genoese rule. Five chiefs (one of whom was Clement Paoli, Pascal’s elder brother.) were chosen to organize a provisional government and carry on the war. But at the end of two years it was found prudent to adopt a more practical system, and to give the direction of affairs into the hands of a single competent man. It was no doubt Clement Paoli who first suggested his brother’s name. The military experience of the latter gave him the confidence of the people, and their unanimous voice called him to be their leader.
In April, 1755, Pascal Paoli, then thirty years old, landed at Aleria, the very spot where King Theodore had made his theatrical entry into Corsica nineteen years before. Unlike him, Paoli came alone, poor, bringing only his noble presence, his cultivated intelligence, and his fame as a soldier, to the help of his countrymen. “It was a singular problem,” says one of the historians of Corsica ; “ it was a new experiment in history, and how it might succeed at a time when similar experiments failed in the most civilized lands would be to Europe an evidence that the rude simplicity of nature is more capable of adapting itself to democratic liberty than the refined corruption of culture can possibly be.”
Paoli, at first reluctant to accept so important a post, finally yielded to the solicitations of the people, and on the 15th of July was solemnly invested with the Presidency of Corsica. His first step shows at once his judgment and his boldness. He declared that the vendetta must instantly cease ; whoever committed blood-revenge was to be branded with infamy, and given up to the headsman. He traversed the island, persuading hostile families to bury their feuds, and relentlessly enforced the new law, although one of his relatives was the first victim. But he was not allowed to enter upon his government without resistance. Matra, one of the Corsican chiefs, was ambitious of Paoli’s place, and for a year the island was disturbed with civil war. Matra claimed and received assistance from Genoa, and Paoli, defeated and besieged in the monastery of Bozio, was almost in the hands of his rival, when reinforcements appeared, headed by Clement and by Carnoni, a blood-enemy of the Paolis, forced by his noble mother to forswear the family enmity, and deliver instead of slay. Matra was killed, and thenceforth Paoli was the undisputed chief of Corsica.
It was not difficult for the people, once united, to withstand the weakened power of Genoa. That republic possessed only Bastia, Ajaccio, and Calvi; the garrisoning of which fortresses, by a treaty with France in 1756, was transferred to the latter power, in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Corsicans. The French proclaimed a neutrality which Paoli perforce was obliged to respect. He therefore directed his attention to the thorough political organization of the island, the development of its resources, and the proper education of its people. He had found the country in a lamentable condition when he returned from his exile. The greater part of the people had relapsed into semi-barbarism in the long course of war; agriculture was neglected, laws had fallen into disuse, the vendetta raged everywhere, and the only element from which order and industry could be evolved was the passionate thirst for independence, which had only been increased by defeat and suffering.
Paoli made the completest use of this element, bending it to all the purposes of government, and his success was truly astonishing. The new seaport of Isola Rossa was built in order to meet the necessity of immediate commerce ; manufactories of all kinds, even powder-mills, were established; orchards of chestnut, olive, and orange trees were planted, the culture of maize introduced, and plans made for draining the marshes and covering the island with a network of substantial highways. An educational system far in advance of the time was adopted. All children received at least the rudiments of education, and in the year 1765 University of Corsica was foundedat Corte. One provision of its charter was the education of poor scholars, who showed more than average capacity, at the public expense.
Paoli was obliged to base his scheme of government on the existing forms. He retained the old provincial and municipal divisions, with their magistrates and elders, making only such changes as were necessary to bind the scattered local jurisdictions into one consistent whole, to which he gave a national power and character. He declared the people to be the sole source of law and authority; that his office was a trust from their hands, and to be exercised according to their will and for their general good ; and that the central government must be a house of glass, allowing each citizen to watch over its action. “ Secrecy and mystery in governments,” he said, “not only made a people mistrustful, but favored the growth of an absolute irresponsible power.”
All citizens above the age of twentyfive years were entitled to the right of suffrage. Each community elected its own magistrates, but the voters were obliged to swear before the officials already in power, that they would nominate only the worthiest and most capable men as their successors. These local elections were held annually, but the magistrates were not eligible to immediate re-election. A representative from each thousand of the population was elected to the General Assembly, which in its turn chose a Supreme Executive Council of nine members, — one from each province of the island. The latter were required to be thirty-five years of age, and to have served as governors of their respective provinces. A majority of two thirds gave the decisions of the General Assembly the force of law ; but the Council, in certain cases, had the right of veto, and the question was then referred for final decision to the next Assembly. Paoli was President of the Council and General-in-Chief of the army. Both he and the members of the Council, however, were responsible to the nation, and liable to impeachment, removal, and punishment by the General Assembly.
Paoli, while enforcing a general militia system, took the strongest ground against the establishment of a standing army. “In a free land,” he said, “every citizen must be a soldier, and ready to arm at any moment in defence of his rights. But standing armies have always sensed Despotism rather than Liberty.” He only gave way that a limited number should be enrolled to garrison the fortified places. As soon as the people were sufficiently organized to resist the attempts which Genoa made from time to time to recover her lost dominion, he devoted his energies wholly to the material development of the island. The Assembly, at his suggestion, appointed two Commissioners of Agriculture for each province. The vendetta was completely suppressed ; with order and security came a new prosperity, and the cities held by the neutral French began to stir with desires to come under Paoli’s paternal rule.
The resemblance in certain forms as in the general spirit and character of the Constitution of the Corsican Republic to that of the United States, which was framed more than thirty years afterwards, is very evident. Indeed, we may say that the latter is simply an adaptation of the same political principles to the circumstances of a more advanced race and a broader field of action. But if we justly venerate the courage which won our independence and the wisdom which gave us our institutions, how shall we sufficiently honor the man and the handful of halfbarbarous people who so splendidly anticipated the same great work ! Is there anything nobler in history than this Corsican episode ? No wonder that the sluggish soul of Europe, then beginning to stir with the presentiment of coming changes, was kindled and thrilled as not for centuries before. What effect the example of Corsica had upon the American Colonies is something which we cannot now measure. I like to think, however, that the country tavern-sign of “ General Paoli,” put up before the Revolution, signified more than the mere admiration of the landlord for a foreign hero.
At the end of ten years the Genoese Senate became convinced that the recovery of Corsica was hopeless ; and when Paoli succeeded in creating a small fleet, under the command of Perez, Knight of Malta, they saw their Mediterranean commerce threatened with destruction. In the year 1767 the island of Capraja was captured by the Corsicans ; then Genoa set the example which Austria has recently followed in the case of Venetia. A treaty was signed at Versailles on the 15th of May, 1768, between the French Minister, the Duke de Choiseul, and the Genoese Ambassador, whereby Genoa transferred to France all her right and title to the island of Corsica. This was a death-blow to the Republic ; but the people armed and organized, determined to resist to the end. The splendid victory at Borgo gave them hope. They asked and expected the assistance of England ; but when did England ever help a weak and struggling people ? The battle of Pontenuovo, on the 9th of May, 1769, sealed the fate of the island. A month afterwards Paoli went into exile with three hundred of his countrymen. Among those who fled, after the battle, to the wild Alpine fastnesses of Monte Rotondo, was his secretary, Carlo Bonaparte, and the latter’s wife, Letitia Ramolino, then seven months enceinte with the boy who afterwards made Genoa and France suffer the blood-revenge of Corsica. Living in caves and forests, drenched with rain, and almost washed away by the mountain torrents, Letitia bore her burden to Ajaccio, and Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the first Corsicans who were born Frenchmen.
Paoli’s journey through Italy and Germany to England was a march of triumph. On reaching London he was received by the king in private audience ; all parties joined in rendering him honor. A pension of two thousand pounds a year was granted to him (the greater part of which he divided among his fellow-exiles), and he took up his residence in the country from which he still hoped the liberation of Corsica, For twenty years we hear of him as a member of that society which included Burke, Reynolds, Johnson, Garrick, and Goldsmith ; keeping clear of parties, yet, we may be sure, following with an interest he hardly dared betray the events of the American struggle.
But the French Revolution did not forget him. The Corsicans, in November, 1789, carried away by the republican movement in France, had voted that their island should be an integral part of the French nation. There was a general cry for Paoli, and in April, 1790, he reached Paris. Lafayette was his friend and guide; the National Assembly received him with every mark of respect; the club of the Amis de la Constitution seated him beside its President,— Robespierre ; Louis XVI. gave him an audience, and he was styled by the enthusiastic populace “the Washington of Europe.” At Marseilles he was met by a Corsican deputation, two of the members of which were Joseph and Napoleon Bonaparte, who sailed with him to their native island. On landing at Cape Corso, he knelt and kissed the earth, exclaiming, “ O my country, I left thee enslaved, and I find thee free ! ” All the land rose to receive him ; Te Dennis were chanted in the churches, and the mountain villages were depopulated to swell his triumphal march. In September of the same year the representatives of the people elected him President of the Council and General of the troops of the island-
Many things had been changed during his twenty years’ absence, under the rule of France. It was not long before the people divided themselves into two parties, — one French and ultraRepublican ; the other Corsican, working secretly for the independence of the island. The failure of the expedition against Sardinia was charged to Paoli, and he was summoned by the Convention to appear and answer the charges against him. Had he complied, his head would probably have fallen under the all-devouring guillotine : he refused, and his refusal brought the two Corsican parties into open collision. Paoli was charged with being ambitious, corrupt, and plotting to deliver Corsica to England. His most zealous defender was the young Napoleon Bonaparte, who wrote a fiery, indignant address, which I should like to quote. Among other things he says, “ We owe all to him, — even the fortune of being a Republic !”
The story now becomes one of intrigue and deception, and its heroic atmosphere gradually vanishes. Pozzo di Borgo, the blood-enemy of Napoleon, alienated Paoli from the latter. A fresh, cunning, daring intellect, he acquired a mischievous influence over the grayhaired, simple-hearted patriot. That which Paoli’s enemies charged against him came to pass ; he asked the help of England, and in 1794 the people accepted the sovereignty of that nation, on condition of preserving their institutions, and being governed by a viceroy, who it was presumed would be none other than Pascal Paoli. The English fleet, under Admiral Hood, speedily took possession of Bastia, Calvi, Ajaccio, and the other seaports. But the English government, contemptuously ignoring Paoli’s services and claims, sent out Sir Gilbert Elliott as viceroy; and he, jealous of Paoli’s popularity, demanded the latter’s recall to England. George III. wrote a command under the form of an invitation ; and in 1795, Paoli — disappointed in all his hopes, disgusted with the treatment he had received, and recognizing the hopelessness of healing the new dissensions among the people—left Corsica for the last time. He returned to his former home in London, where he died in 1807, at the age of eighty-two years. What little property he had saved was left to found a school at Stretta, his native village ; and another at Corte, for fifteen years his capital. Within a year after his departure the English were driven out of Corsica.
Paoli rejoiced, as a Corsican, at Napoleon’s ascendency in France. He illuminated his house in London when the latter was declared Consul for life, yet he was never recalled. During his last days on St. Helena Napoleon regretted his neglect or jealousy of the old hero ; his lame apology was, “ I was so governed by political considerations, that it was impossible for me to obey my personal impulses ! ”
Our first object, on the morning after our arrival in Corte, was to visit the places with which Paoli’s name is associated. The main street conducted us to the public square, where stands his bronze statue, with the inscription on the pedestal: “ A PASCAL PAOLI LA CORSE RECONNAISSANTE.” On one side of the square is the Palazza, or Hall of Government; and there they show you his room, the window-shutters of which still keep their lining of cork, as in the days of assassination, when he founded the Republic. Adjoining it is a chamber where the Executive Council met to deliberate. Paoli’s school, which still flourishes, is his best monument.
High over the town rises the battered citadel, seated on a rock which on the western side falls several hundred feet sheer down to the Tavignano. The high houses of brown stone climb and cling to the eastern slope, rough masses of browner rock thrust out among them ; and the place thus has an irregular pyramidal form, which is wonderfully picturesque. The citadel was last captured from the Genoese by Paoli’s forerunner, Giaffori, in the year 1745. The Corsican cannon were beginning to breach the walls, when the Genoese commander ordered Giaffori’s son, who had been previously taken prisoner, to be suspended from the ramparts. For a moment — but only for a moment — Giaffori shuddered, and turned away his head ; then he commanded the gunners, who had ceased firing, to renew the attack. The breach was effected, and the citadel taken by storm : the boy, unhurt amidst the terrible cannonade, was restored to his father.
We climbed towards the top of the rock by streets which resembled staircases. At last the path came to an end in some unsavory back-yards, if piles of shattered rock behind the houses can be so called. I asked a young fellow who was standing in a doorway, watching us, whether any view was to be had by going farther.
“Yes,” said he, “but there is a better prospect from the other house,—yonder, where you see the old woman.”
We clambered across the intervening rocks, and found the woman engaged in milking a cow, which a boy held by the horns. “Certainly,” she said, when I repeated the question; “come into the house, and you shall look from the windows.”
She led us through the kitchen into a bright, plainly furnished room, where four women were sewing. They all greeted us smilingly, rose, pushed away their chairs, and then opened the southern window. “Now look!” said the old woman.
We were dazzled by the brightness and beauty of the picture. The house was perched upon the outer angle of the rock, and the valley of the Tavignano, with the gorge through which its affluent, the Restonica, issues from the mountains, lay below us. Gardens, clumps of walnut and groves of chestnut trees, made the valley green ; the dark hues of the mountains were softened to purple in the morning air, and the upper snows shone with a brilliancy which I have rarely seen among the Alps. The breeze came down to us with freshness on its wings, and the subdued voices of the twin rivers.
“Now the other window!” the women said.
It opened eastward. There were, first, the roofs of Corte, dropping away to the water-side ; then a wide, bounteous valley, green, flecked with harvest-gold ; then village-crowned hills, and, behind all, the misty outlines of mountains that slope to the eastern shore. It is a fair land, this Corsica, and the friendly women were delighted when I told them so.
The people looked at us with a natural curiosity as we descended the hill. Old women, invariably dressed in black, gossiped or spun at the doors, girls carried water on their heads from the fountains below, children tumbled about on the warm stones, and a young mother, beside her cradle, sang the Corsican lullaby: —
Ninni ninni, ninni nolu,
Allegrezza di la mamma,
Addormentati, o figliolu ! ”
There is another Corsican cradlesong which has a singular resemblance to Tennyson’s, yet it is quite unlikely that he ever saw it. One verse runs: —
Thou carriest silken stares,
And with the silken sails all set
Com’st from the Indian shores,
And wrought with the finest workmanship
Are all thy golden oars.
Sleep, my little one, sleep a little while,
Ninni nanna, sleep ! ”
The green waters of the Tavignano, plunging and foaming down their rocky bed, freshened the warm summer air. Beyond the bridge a vein of the river, led underground, gushes forth as a profuse fountain under an arch of masonry ; and here a number of people were collected to wash and to draw water. One of the girls, who gave us to drink, refused to accept a proffered coin, until a countryman who was looking on said, “You should take it, since the lady wishes it.” A few paces farther a second bridge crosses the Restonica, which has its source in some small lakes near the summit of Monte Rotondo. Its volume of water appeared to me to be quite equal to that of the Tavignano.
The two rivers meet in a rocky glen a quarter of a mile below the town ; and thither we wandered in the afternoon, through the shade of superb chestnuttrees. From this, as from every other point in the neighborhood, the views are charming. There is no threat of malaria in the pure mountain air ; the trees are of richest foliage, the water is transparent beryl, and the pleasant, communicative people one meets impress one with a sense of their honest simplicity. We wandered around Corte, surrendering ourselves to the influences of the scenery and its associations, and entirely satisfied with both.
Towards evening we climbed the hill by an easier path, which brought us upon the crest of a ridge connecting the citadel-rock with the nearest mountains. Directly before us opened the gorge of the Tavignano, with a bridlepath notched along its almost precipitous sides. A man who had been sitting idly on a rock, with a pipe in his mouth, came up, and stood beside me. “ Yonder,” said he, pointing to the bridle-path, — “yonder is the road to the land of Niolo. If you follow that, you will come to a forest that is four hours long. The old General Arrighi —the Duke of Padua, you know — travelled it some years ago, and I was his guide. I see you are strangers ; you ought to see the land of Niolo. It is not so rich as Corte here ; but then the forests and the lakes,—ah, they are fine! ”
Presently the man’s wife joined us, and we sat down together, and gossiped for half an hour. They gave us the receipt for making broccio, a kind of Corsican curd, or junket, which we had tasted at the hotel, and found delicious. I also learned from them many details of the country life of the island. They, like all the Corsicans with whom I came in contact, were quite as ready to answer questions as to ask them. They are not so lively as the Italians, but more earnestly communicative, quick of apprehension, and gifted with a rude humor of their own. In Bastia I bought a volume of Pruverbj Corse, which contains more than three thousand proverbs peculiar to the island, many of them exceedingly witty and clever. I quote a single one as a specimen of the dialect: —
Male u babbu e pegghiu u figliolu.”
During our talk I asked the pair, “ Do you still have the vendetta in this neighborhood ? ”
They both professed not to know what I meant by “vendetta,” but I saw plainly enough that they understood the question. Finally the man said, rather impatiently, “There are a great many kinds of vendetta.”
“ I mean blood-revenge, — assassination, — murder.”
His hesitation to speak about the matter disappeared as mysteriously as it came. (Was there, perhaps, a stain upon his own hand?) “ O,” he answered, “ that is all at an end. I can remember when five persons were killed in a day in Corte, and when a man could not travel from here to Ajaccio without risking his life. But now we have neither murders nor robberies ; all the roads are safe, the people live quietly, and the country everywhere is better than it was.”
I noticed that the Corsicans are proud of the present Emperor on account of his parentage ; but they have also some reason to be grateful to his government. He has done much to repair the neglect of his uncle. The work of Paoli has been performed over again ; law and order prevail from the sea-shore to the highest herdsman’s hut on Monte Rotondo; admirable roads traverse the island, schools have been established in all the villages, and the national spirit of the people is satisfied by having a semi-Corsican on the throne of France. I saw no evidence of discontent anywhere, nor need there be ; for Europe has nearly reached the Corsican ideal of the last century, and the pride of the people may well repose for a while upon the annals of their heroic past.
It was a serious disappointment that we were unable to visit Ajaccio and the Balagna. We could only fix the inspiring scenery of Corte in our memories, and so make its historical associations vital and enduring. There was no other direct way of returning to Bastia than the road by which we came ; but it kept a fresh interest for us. The conductor of the diligence was one of the liveliest fellows living, and entertained us with innumerable stories ; and at the station of Omessa we met with a character so original that I wish I could record every word he said.
The man looked more like a Yankee than any Italian I had seen for six months. He presented the conductor with what appeared to be a bank-note for one thousand francs ; but it proved to be issued by the "Bank of Content,” and entitled the holder to live a thousand years. Happiness was the president, and Temperance the cashier.
“ I am a director of the bank,” said the disseminator of the notes, addressing the passengers and a group of countrymen, “ and I can put you all in the way of being stockholders. But you must first bring testimonials. Four are required, — one religious, one medical, one legal, and one domestic. What must they be ? Listen, and I will tell. Religious, — from a priest, vouching for four things : that you have never been baptized, never preached, don't believe in the Pope, and are not afraid of the Devil, Medical, — from a doctor, that you have had the measles, that your teeth are sound, that you are not flatulent, and that he has never given you medicine. Legal, — from a lawyer, that you have never been accused of theft, that you mind your own business, and that you have never employed him. Domestic,—from your wife, that you don’t lift the lids of the kitchen pots, walk in your sleep, or lose the keyhole of your door! There ! can any one of you bring me these certificates ? ”
The auditors, who had roared with laughter during the speech, became suddenly grave,—which emboldened the man to ply them witli other and sharper questions. Our departure cut short the scene ; but I heard the conductor laughing on his box for a league farther.
At Ponte alla Leccia we breakfasted on trout, and, speeding down the grand and lonely valley of the Golo, reached Bastia towards evening. As we steamed out of the little harbor the next day we took the words of our friend Gregorovius, and made them ours : —
Give oil, thy vineyards still their bounty pour !
Thy maize on golden meadows ripen well,
And let the sun thy curse of blood dispel,
Till down each vale and on each mountain-side
The stains of thy heroic blood be dried !
Thy sons be like their fathers, strong and sure,
Thy daughters as thy mountain rivers pure,
And still thy granite crags between them stand
And all corruptions of the older land.
Fair isle, farewell ! thy virtues shall not sleep ;
Thy fathers’ valor shall their children keep,
That ne’er this taunt to thee the stranger cast,—
Thy heroes were but fables of the Past ! ”
- Histoire de Pascal Paoli. Par M. BARTOLI. Largentiere. 1866.↩