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Hangman of Corsica.
The hangman of Corsica was a great curiosity. Being held in the utmost detestation, he durst not live like another inhabitant of the island. He was obliged to take refuge in the castle; and there he was kept in a little corner turret, where he had just room for a miserable bed, and a little bit of fire to dress such victuals for himself as were sufficient to keep him alive, for nobody would have any intercourse with him, but all turned their backs upon him. I went up and looked at him ; and a more dirty rueful spectacle I never beheld. He seemed sensible of his situation, and held down his head like an abhorred outcast. It was a long time before they could get a hangman in Corsica, so that the punishment of the gallows was hardly known, all their criminals being shot. At last this creature whom I saw, who is a Sicilian, came with a message to Paoli. The General, who has a wonderful talent for physiognomy, on seeing the man, said immediately to some of the people about him, "Ecco il boia, Behold our hangman." He gave orders to ask the man if he would accept of the office, and his answer was, My grandfather was a hangman; my father was a hangman; I have been a hangman myself, and am willing to continue so." He was therefore immediately put into office, and the ignominious death dispensed by his hands hath had more effect than twenty executions by fire-arms.
Great Seal of Corsica.
When I had seen every thing about Corte, I prepared for my journey over the mountains, that I might be with Paoli. The night before I set out, I recollected that I had forgotten to get a passport. After supper therefore the Prior walked with me to the house of the Great Chancellor, who ordered the passport to be made out immediately; and while his secretary was writing it,
entertained me by reading to me some of the minutes of the general consulta. When the passport was finished, and ready to have the seal put to it, I was much pleased with a beautiful, simple incident. The Chancellor desired a little boy who was playing in the room by us to run to his mother, and bring the great seal of the kingdom. I thought myself sitting in the house of a Cincinnatus.
Next morning I set out in very good order, having excellent mules, and active, clever Corsican guides. The worthy fathers of the convent, who treated me in the kindest manner while I was their guest, would also give me some provisions for my journey; so they put up a gourd of their best wine, and some delicious pomegranates. My Corsican guides appeared so hearty, that I often got down and walked along with them, doing just what I saw them do. When we grew hungry, we threw stones among the thick branches of the chestnut trees which overshaded us, and in that manner we brought down a shower of chestnuts, with which we filled our pockets, and went on eating them with great relish; and when this made us thirsty, we lay down by the side of the first brook, put our mouths to the stream, and drank sufficiently. It was just being for a little while one of the "prisca gens mortalium, the primitive race of men," who ran about in the woods eating acorns and drinking water.
Belief in the Pope.
While I stopped to refresh my mules at a little village, the inhabitants came crowding about me as an ambassador going to their general. When they were informed of my country, a strong black fellow among them said, "Inglese! sono barbari; non credono in Dio grande. English! they are barbarians; they don't believe in the great God." I told him, "Excuse me, Sir, we do believe in God, and in Jesus Christ too."
"Um," said he, "e nel Papa? And in the Pope? "No." "E perche ? And why?" This was a puzzling question in these circumstances; for there was a great audience to the controversy. I thought I would try a method of my own, and very gravely replied, "Perche siamo troppo lontani. Because we are too far off." A very new argument against the universal infallibility of the Pope. It took, however; for my opponent mused awhile, and then said, " Troppo lontano ! La Sicilia è tanto lontana che l'Inghilterra; e in Sicilia si credono nel Papa. Too far off! Why Sicily is as far off as England. Yet in Sicily they believe in the Pope." "O," said I, "noi siamo dieci volte più lontani che la Sicilia ! We are ten times farther off than Sicily." "Aha!" said he ; and seemed quite satisfied. In this manner I got off very well. I question much whether any of the learned reasonings of our protestant divines would have had so good an effect.
Boswell's Harangue at Bastelica.
My journey over the mountains was very entertaining. I passed some immense ridges and vast woods. I was in great health and spirits, and fully able to enter into the ideas of the brave rude men whom I found in all quarters. At Bastelica, where there is a stately spirited race of people, I had a large company to attend me in the convent. I liked to see their natural frankness and ease; for why should men be afraid of their own species? They came in making an easy bow, placed themselves round the room where I was sitting, rested themselves on their muskets, and immediately entered into conversation with me. They talked very feelingly of the miseries that their country had endured, and complained that they were still but in a state of poverty. I happened at that time to have an unusual flow of spirits; and as one who finds himself amongst
utter strangers in a distant country has no timidity, I harangued the men of Bastelica with great fluency. expatiated on the bravery of the Corsicans, by which they had purchased liberty, the most valuable of all possessions, and rendered themselves glorious over all Europe. Their poverty, I told them, might be remedied by a proper cultivation of their island, and by engaging a little in commerce. But I bid them remember, that they were much happier in their present state than in a state of refinement and vice, and that therefore they should beware of luxury. What I said had the good fortune to touch them, and several of them repeated the same sentiments much better than I could do.
First Interview with Paoli.
When I at last came within sight of Sollacaro, where Paoli was, I could not help being under considerable anxiety. My ideas of him had been greatly heightened by the conversations I had held with all sorts of people in the island, they having represented him to me as something above humanity. I had the strongest desire to see so exalted a character; but I feared that I should be unable to give a proper account why I had presumed to trouble him with a visit, and that I should sink to nothing before him. I almost wished to go back without seeing him. These workings of sensibility employed my mind till I rode through the village and came up to the house where he was lodged. Leaving my servant with my guides, I passed through the guards, and was met by some of the General's people, who conducted me into an ante-chamber, where were several gentlemen in waiting. I was shown into Paoli's room. I found him alone, and was struck with his appearance. He asked me what were my commands for him. I presented him a letter from Count Rivarola, and when he had read it, I showed him my letter from Rousseau. He was polite, but very reserved.
I had stood in the presence of many a prince, but I never had such a trial as in the presence of Paoli. For ten minutes we walked backwards and forwards through the room, hardly saying a word, while he looked at me, with a steadfast, keen, and penetrating eye, as if he searched my very soul. This interview was for a while very severe upon me. I was much relieved when his reserve wore off, and he began to speak more. I then ventured to address him with this compliment to the Corsicans. "Sir, I am upon my travels, and have lately visited Rome. I am come from seeing the ruins of one braye and free people: I now see the rise of another." He received my compliment very graciously; but observed that the Corsicans had no chance of being, like the Romans, a great conquering nation, who should extend its empire over half the globe. Their situation, and the modern political systems, rendered this impossible. But, said he, Corsica may be a very happy country.
Some of the nobles who attended him came into the room, and presently we were told that dinner was served up. The General did me the honour to place me next him. He had a table of fifteen or sixteen covers, having always a good many of the principal men of the island with him. He had an Italian cook, who had been long in France; but he chose to have a few plain, substantial dishes, avoiding every kind of luxury, and drinking no foreign wine. I felt myself under some constraint in such a circle of heroes. The General talked a great deal on history and on literature. I soon perceived that he was a fine classical scholar, that his mind was enriched with a variety of knowledge, and that his conversation at meals was instructive and entertaining. Before dinner he conversed in French. He now spoke Italian, in which he is very eloquent. We retired to another room to drink coffee. My timidity wore off. I no longer anxiously thought