Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Paoli, Pascal
PAOLI, PASCAL (1725–1807), Corsican general and patriot, born on 25 April 1725, in the village of Rostino in Corsica, was the second son of Hyacinth Paoli, one of the leaders of the Corsican revolt of 1734 against the Genoese. Pascal's mother was Dionisia Valentini, daughter of one of the lesser nobles or caporali. Clement, Pascal's elder brother by ten years, was another patriot leader of the Corsicans. In 1736 Theodore, baron of Neuhof, having been proclaimed king by the Corsicans, the Genoese (to whose exchequer the French government was deeply indebted) applied for French help to expel Theodore and re-establish their own supremacy. A French force, under the Marquis de Maillebois, defeated Hyacinth Paoli in the Nebbio in 1738, and disarmed the islanders. Pascal, then a boy of fourteen, went into exile with his father to Naples. There he was placed at the military college, under a jesuit tutor, Anthony Genovese, professor of philosophy and political economy. After a brilliant career at the academy, Pascal received his commission as lieutenant in the cavalry regiment, mainly composed of Corsican exiles, of which his father was colonel. The young officer obtained a colonelcy and won distinction by his daring conduct of an expedition against the bandits of Calabria. In the meantime, the French having evacuated Corsica in 1741, the islanders' resentment of the Genoese yoke grew more acute, and in 1752 they again took up arms, and proclaimed Jean Paul Gaffori generalissimo. The Genoese procured Gaffori's assassination on 2 Oct. 1753, and the indignation thus aroused rendered any reconciliation impossible.
Thereupon a new constitution was decreed, and, after some temporary expedients, the Corsicans decided to offer the dictatorship to Pascal Paoli. Under his father's advice, Pascal had been preparing himself, as if with some presentiment of the high destiny awaiting him, to acquire a complete mastery of the art of government. When the assembled chiefs of Corsica finally resolved upon offering him the post of ruler of the island, Paoli was just entering his thirtieth year. On 29 April 1755 he disembarked in Corsica at the mouth of the river Golo, and on 25 July 1755 the supreme council elected him their generalissimo. His chief opponent at the outset was his former colleague and compatriot, Emmanuel Matra, who, jealous of the power awarded to Paoli, stirred up a civil war against him, and succeeded in enlisting the support of the Genoese. Matra surprised Paoli in the convent of Bozio, and the patriot was only saved by Matra's death in March 1756. Paoli vigorously carried on the war against the Genoese, and, having driven them successively from Bastia, Calvi, and San Lorenzo, he eventually drove them out of Ajaccio. Despairing of reconquering Corsica by their own arms, Genoa turned once more for aid to France, and a secret treaty was signed at Compiègne on 7 Aug. 1764 by which the French promised their military aid to the Genoese for the space of four years. During those years Paoli vainly appealed to the European powers against the action of France. Count Marbœuf landed six battalions in the island in October 1764, and occupied most of the strong places. After four years of armed truce, diversified by the capture of Capraja by Paoli, both Genoese and patriots realised that their respective situations were untenable in the presence of a strong French force. By the treaty of Versailles, negotiated between Choiseul and the Genoese plenipotentiary Sorba on 15 May 1768, Genoa finally yielded up Corsica to France in consideration of the expense in which the French crown was involving itself by its efforts to reduce the island. The Paolists were naturally no party to the treaty, and they determined upon a vigorous resistance. Their defence of isolated situations was heroic, but the disproportion of forces did not admit of a doubtful issue to the contest. Large reinforcements reached the French from Toulon, to the number of twenty-two thousand men, under Count Vaux. A decisive battle took place on 9 May 1769 at Pontenuovo, and the Corsicans, after fighting heroically under the personal command of Paoli, were completely defeated. The French conquerors immediately afterwards entered Corte, and a little later on overran the whole island. Paoli retired to the neighbourhood of the parish church of Vivario with a few followers. Near Vivario the remnant of his army, reduced to 537 men, was surrounded by four thousand of the enemy. Paoli addressed a stirring harangue to his compatriots, urging them at the risk of a glorious death to cut their way during the night through the French troops. This they did, and, after lying concealed for two days in the ruins of a convent on the seashore, Paoli, with some of his friends, embarked on an English frigate at Porto Vecchio, and on 16 June 1769 was landed at Leghorn. He was received with the greatest enthusiasm, the English ships displaying their colours and discharging their artillery. A few days afterwards his brother Clement, with about three hundred other fugitives, including among them some of the most noted chiefs, reached Leghorn in another English vessel. The Italian princes received the exiles with great hospitality, the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany assigning lands to such among them as chose to settle in his dominions. Many entered the service of the king of Sardinia, and a few others went to Minorca. Everywhere the Corsican refugees were received with respect and admiration. The total loss sustained by the French troops in conquering Corsica exceeded ten thousand men, of whom 4,324 were killed.
During Paoli's fourteen years' rule he virtually stamped out the vendetta, which for centuries had decimated the population. He promoted throughout the island agriculture, commerce, and other civil occupations. He established a university at Corte on 25 Nov. 1764, and a school in every village in Corsica. He organised an army; he formed a flotilla. His revenue was one million livres, or 40,000l. sterling, and he founded a mint at Murato (cf. Botta, Storia d'Italia, bk. 46).
On 21 Sept. 1769 Paoli arrived in London. Wesley records in his ‘Journal’ (iii. 370) that ‘the great Paoli landed in the dock at Portsmouth but a very few minutes after he (Wesley) had left the water-side;’ adding, ‘surely He who hath been with him from his youth up hath not sent him into England for nothing.’ On 10 Oct. Boswell, who had visited Paoli in Corsica and had published the first biography of the hero, presented him to Dr. Johnson, who observed to Boswell afterwards that ‘Paoli had the loftiest port of any man he had ever seen.’ The prime minister, the Duke of Grafton, obtained for the exile a pension of 1,200l. a year on the civil list, which the general enjoyed for twenty years. He was introduced at court, and graciously received by George III. Later on he was elected a member of The Club, where he became the intimate personal friend of the Johnsonian group, more particularly of Dr. Johnson himself, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, and Oliver Goldsmith.
Soon after the first outburst of the great French revolution, when the convention decreed that Corsica was thenceforth merely one of the departments of France, Mirabeau proposed, from the tribune of the National Assembly, that General Paoli should be recalled from exile to rule once more over Corsica. Resigning his pension before quitting England, Paoli repaired to his native land. Immediately on his arrival he was elected mayor of Bastia and commander-in-chief of the national guard. In April 1790 Paoli appeared at the bar of the National Assembly in Paris, where he was received with enthusiasm. He there delivered an address to the assembly, in the course of which he promised fidelity to the new order of things in France. On being presented to Louis XVI, Paoli was appointed by the king lieutenant-general and military commandant of Corsica. Returning to the island, he reasserted his authority and re-established his paternal rule. During the autumn of 1791 Napoleon Bonaparte, then in his twentysecond year, was brought into personal communication with Paoli, who took so prescient a view of the future emperor's character, and at the close of one interview said to him prophetically, ‘You were cast in an antique mould; you are one of Plutarch's men. The whole world will talk of you’ (Stendhal, Vie de Napoléon, i. 85). Paoli was rapidly estranged from the republican government at Paris. He was attacked in numerous pamphlets, some of which are very scurrilous, issued at Paris by Philippe Buonarroti and others (a number of these are bound together in the British Museum, F. 1116). The execution of the king made him despair of obtaining any further advantage from Corsica's association with France. His hope thenceforth was to secure the political independence of his fellow-countrymen by bringing them under the protection of England. The Bonapartes being directly opposed to this policy, and in favour of Corsica's amalgamation with France, Paoli ordered the summary arrest and expulsion of every member of that family from the island. They fled from Calvi to Marseilles, while the Paolists burned the family mansion at Ajaccio and sacked the whole property of the Bonapartes in Corsica. At Paris Paoli's name was inscribed on the list of proscription. In the meantime Paoli rallied his compatriots around him in Corsica, and applied to the British commanders in the Mediterranean, both naval and military, to assist him in driving the French garrisons out of the island. This was successfully accomplished with the co-operation of Admiral Viscount Samuel Hood [q. v.] and General Sir David Dundas. A sufficient force was landed at Fiorenza on 8 Feb. 1794, and Bastia surrendered on 10 June. A deputation meanwhile had been despatched to London by Paoli, offering, in his name, the sovereignty of Corsica to George III. The acceptance of this offer by the king of England was announced on 17 June, and two days afterwards Sir Gilbert Elliot (later raised to the peerage as first Lord Minto) [q. v.] provisionally assumed viceregal authority over the Corsicans. Paoli had expected to be nominated viceroy, but on learning of Elliot's formal appointment in 1795, he for a second time settled in England. On leaving Corsica he earnestly recommended his compatriots to remain firm in their allegiance to the British crown as their only security for political independence. In 1796, however, disaffection to English rule was so widespread that the English evacuated the island, which has since been united with France.
On returning to London Paoli resumed his pension, and though he lived, according to his wont, in a most liberal and hospitable manner, he contrived to save enough to leave his relatives in Italy no inconsiderable property. His house was at No. 200 Edgware Road, where, on 5 Feb. 1807, after a short and painful illness, he died at the age of eighty-two. His remains were interred on 13 Feb. in the old catholic cemetery at St. Pancras, at the end of what was thenceforth called the Paoli Avenue. A tomb was erected on which was engraved a long Latin inscription penned by Francisco Pietri. A cenotaph to Paoli was afterwards placed in the south aisle of Westminster Abbey, over which was placed a white marble bust of him by Flaxman. Eighty years after his interment his remains were, by permission of the British government, exhumed on 31 Aug. 1889 (see Times, 2 Sept.), and were removed to Corsica, in obedience to the express desire of its inhabitants. A monument was raised in his honour upon the site of his birthplace by the council general of the island.
Lamartine has well said of Paoli, in his ‘History of the Girondins,’ that his glory is out of all proportion to the smallness of his country: ‘Corsica remains still in the place of a mere province, but Paoli assumes his among the ranks of great men.’ The nobility of his character was illustrated by his whole life, both in exile and in power, by his daring on the battlefield and his wisdom in council, by his own heroic acts and by the striking tributes paid to him by the greatest among his contemporaries. Alfieri inscribed to him his tragedy of ‘Timoleon.’ Frederick the great sent him a sword of honour emblazoned with the words ‘Patria Libertas.’ Napoleon, in spite of the deadly antagonism in which they had parted, had the magnanimity, at the close of his career, to express his regret, in the ‘Memorials of St. Helena,’ that he had never been able, in the midst of all his preoccupations with great affairs, to summon Paoli to his side, to consult with him, when, as emperor and king, he was virtually master of Europe. Besides Flaxman's bust of Paoli in Westminster Abbey, there is another admirable effigy of the Corsican general in the portrait painted by Richard Cosway in the Royal Gallery at Florence. A fine engraving from this forms the frontispiece to Klose's life of the patriot, while another engraved portrait appears in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1768 (p. 174). Paoli's only literary remains are a volume of letters and manifestos.