William Pitt, the Elder - 1st Earl of Chatham

Personal data
Portrait of William Pitt, the Elder
Date of birth
Date of death
in Hayes, Kent
1st Earl of Chatham
William Pitt, the Elder
The Great Commoner
Life with Boswell

Shortly after returning to England from his Grand Tour, Boswell on February 15, 1766 wrote to Pitt requesting an audience to "acquaint you with some things which past between Signor De Paoli and me", Paoli being the leader of the Corsican rebels, whom Boswell had befriended during his visit to the interior of that island in 1765. Pitt was at that time an ordinary Member of Parliament, having resigned from government in 1761. He was to form a government to become Prime Minister half a year later.

Pitt returned a positive reply on February 16, in which he assured Boswell "that I shall esteem myself fortunate in the opportunity of being introduced to your acquaintance", but also raising doubts as to whether it would not be more appropriate for Boswell to communicate to the Secretary of State, rather than to "a simple Individual, as I am, (in all respects, but that of a Privy Counsellor which adds to the difficulty)."

However, hailing, in his own words, "from a people among whom even the honest arts of insinuation are unknown"1 Boswell would not let himself be put off by Pitt's reply, and so on Sunday, February 23 he called at Pitt's in Bond Street and was properly introduced to the great man, who was already in the company of Lords Shelburne and Cardross. They initially talked about Rosseau and Voltaire, and when the two Lords went away, continued discussing the Corsican cause and Boswell's visit to that island, an account of which Pitt claimed to have already read in the papers.2 

Boswell wrote to Pitt on a few further occasions, including on January 3, 1767, when he urged Pitt, by now Prime Minister, to support the Corsicans. Pitt, then suffering from "a severe fit of the gout and totally unable to write", replied in a letter dated February 4 that while he "retain the same admiration of your illustrious friend, General Paoli, which I once expressed to you [...] I see not the least ground at present for this country to interfere with any justice in the affairs of Corsica. [...] I doubt not you will approve the directness of my opinion upon an occasion which admits of no deliberation."

  • 1. Letter from Boswell to Pitt dated February 19, 1766
  • 2. Boswell made a detailed account of his interview with Pitt in his journal, which is printed in Boswell on the Grand Tour II