This idea is not one which he first began to entertain at St. Helena; he often repeated the very same words at St. Jean d'Acre. On the shore of Ptolemes gigantic projects agitated him, as, doubtless, regret for not having carried them into execution tormented him at St. Helena.
Almost every evening Bonaparte and myself used to walk together, at a little distance from the sea-shore. The day after the unfortunate assault of the 8th of May Bonaparte, afflicted at seeing the blood of so many brave men uselessly shed, said to me, "Bourrienne, I see that this wretched place has cost me a number of men, and wasted much time. But things are too far advanced not to attempt a last effort. If I succeed, as I expect, I shall find in the town the pasha's treasures, and arms for 300,000 men. I will stir up and arm the people of Syria, who are disgusted at the ferocity of Djezzar, and who, as you know, pray for his destruction at every assault. I shall then march upon Damascus and. Aleppo. On advancing into the country, the discontented will flock round my standard, and swell my army. I will announce to the people the abolition of servitude and of the tyrannical governments of the pashas. I shall arrive at Constantinople with large masses of soldiers. I shall overturn the Turkish empire, and found in the East a new and grand empire, which will fix my place in the records of posterity. Perhaps I shall return to Paris by Adrianople, or by Vienna, after having annihilated the house of Austria." After I had made some observations which these grand projects naturally suggested, he replied, "What! do you not see that the Druses only wait for the fall of Acre to rise in rebellion? Have not the keys of Damascus already been offered me? I only stay till these walls fall because until then I can derive no advantage from this large town. By the operation which I meditate I cutoff all kind of succour from the beys, and secure the conquest of Egypt. I will have Desaix nominated commander-in-chief; but if I do not succeed in the last assault I am about to attempt, I set off directly. Time presses,—I shall not be at Cairo before the middle of June; the winds will then lie favourable for ships bound to Egypt, from the north. Constantinople will send troops to Alexandria and Rosetta. I must be there. As for the army, which will arrive afterwards by land, I do not fear it this year. I will cause everything to be destroyed, all the way, to the entrance of the desert. I will render the passage of an army impossible for two years. Troops cannot exist amoung ruins."
As soon as I returned to my tent I committed to paper this conversation, which was then quite fresh in my memory, and, I may venture to say that every word I put down is correct. I may add, that during the siege our camp was, constantly filled with the inhabitants, who invoked Heaven to favour our arms, and prayed fervently at every assaualt for our success, many of them on their knees, with their faces to the city. The people of Damascus, too, had offered the keys to Bonaparte. Thus everything contributed to make him confident in his favourite plan.
The troops left St. Jean d'Acre on the 20th of May, taking advantage of the night to avoid a sortie from the besieged, and to conceal the retreat of the army, which had to march three leagues along the shore, exposed to the fire of the English vessels lying in the roads of Mount Carmel. The removal of the wounded and sick commenced on the. 18th and 19th of May.
Bonaparte then made a proclamation, which from one end to the other offends against truth. It has been published in many works. The season of the year for hostile landing is there very dexterously placed in the foreground; all the rest is a deceitful exaggeration. It must be observed that the proclamations which Bonaparte regarded as calculated to dazzle an ever too credulous public were amplifications often ridiculous and incomprehensible upon the spot, and which only excited the laughter of men of common sense. In all Bonaparte's correspondence there is an endeavour to disguise his reverses, and impose on the public, and even on his own generals. For example, he wrote to General Dugua, commandant of Cairo, on the 15th of February, "I will bring you plenty of prisoners and flags! "One would almost be inclined to say that he had resolved, during his stay in the East, thus to pay a tribute to the country of fables.
—[The prisoners and flags were sent. The Turkish flags were entrusted by Berthier to the Adjutant-Commandant Boyer, who conducted a convoy of sick and wounded to Egypt. Sidney Smith acknowledges the loss of some flags by the Turks. The Turkish prisoners were used as carriers of the litters for the wounded, and were, for the most part, brought into Egypt. (Erreurs, tome i. pp. 47 and 160)]—
Thus terminated this disastrous expedition. I have read somewhere that during this immortal campaign the two heroes Murat and Mourad had often been in face of one another. There is only a little difficulty; Mourad Bey never put his foot in Syria.
We proceeded along the coast, and passed Mount Carmel. Some of the wounded were carried on litters, the remainder on horses, mules, and camels. At a short distance from Mount Carmel we were informed that three soldiers, ill of the plague, who were left in a convent (which served for a hospital), and abandoned too confidently to the generosity of the Turks, had been barbarously put to death.
A most intolerable thirst, the total want of water, an excessive heat, and a fatiguing march over burning sand-hills, quite disheartened the men, and made every generous sentiment give way to feelings of the grossest selfishness and most shocking indifference. I saw officers, with their limbs amputated, thrown off the litters, whose removal in that way had been ordered, and who had themselves given money to recompense the bearers. I saw the amputated, the wounded, the infected, or those only suspected of infection, deserted and left to themselves. The march was illumined by torches, lighted for the purpose of setting fire to the little towns, villages, and hamlets which lay in the route, and the rich crops with which the land was then covered. The whole country was in a blaze. Those who were ordered to preside at this work of destruction seemed eager to spread desolation on every side, as if they could thereby avenge themselves for their reverses, and find in such dreadful havoc an alleviation of their sufferings. We were constantly surrounded by plunderers, incendiaries, and the dying, who, stretched on the sides of the road, implored assistance in a feeble voice, saying, "I am not infected—I am only wounded;" and to convince those whom they addressed, they reopened their old wounds, or inflicted on themselves fresh ones. Still nobody attended to them. "It is all over with him," was the observation applied to the unfortunate beings in succession, while every one pressed onward. The sun, which shone in an unclouded sky in all its brightness, was often darkened by our conflagrations. On our right lay the sea; on our left, and behind us, the desert made by ourselves; before were the privations and sufferings which awaited us. Such was our true situation.
We reached Tentoura on the 20th of May, when a most oppressive heat prevailed, and produced general dejection. We had nothing to sleep on but the parched and burning sand; on our right lay a hostile sea; our losses in wounded and sick were already considerable since leaving Acre; and there was nothing consolatory in the future. The truly afflicting condition in which the remains of an army called triumphant were plunged, produced, as might well be expected, a corresponding impression on the mind of the General-in-Chief. Scarcely had he arrived at Tentoura when he ordered his tent to be pitched. He then called me, and with a mind occupied by the calamities of our situation, dictated an order that every one should march on foot; and that all the horses, mules, and camels should be given up to the wounded, the sick, and infected who had been removed, and who still showed signs of life. "Carry that to Berthier," said he; and the order was instantly despatched. Scarcely had I returned to the tent when the elder Vigogne, the (General-in-Chief's groom), entered, and raising his hand to his cap, said, "General, what horse do you reserve for yourself?" In the state of excitement in which Bonaparte wad this question irritated him so violently that, raising his whip, he gave the man a severe blow on the head; saying in a terrible voice, "Every-one must go on foot, you rascal—I the first—Do you not know the order? Be off!"
Every one in parting with his horse was now anxious to avoid giving it to any unfortunate individual supposed to be suffering from plague. Much pains were taken to ascertain the nature of the diseases of the sick; and no difficulty was made in accommodating the wounded of amputated. For my part I had an excellent horse; a mule, and two camels, all which I gave up with the greatest pleasure; but I confess that I directed my servant to do all he could to prevent an infected person from getting my horse. It was returned to me in a very short time. The same thing happened to many others. The cause maybe easily conjectured.
The remains of our heavy artillery were lost in the moving sands of Tentoura, from the want of horses, the small number that remained being employed in more indispensable services. The soldiers seemed to forget their own sufferings, plunged in grief at the loss of their bronze guns, often the instruments of their triumphs, and which had made Europe tremble.
We halted at Caesarea on the 22d of May, and we marched all the following night. Towards daybreak a man, concealed in a bush upon the left of the road (the sea was two paces from us on the right), fired a musket almost close to the head of the General-in-Chief, who was sleeping on his horse. I was beside him. The wood being searched, the Nablousian was taken without difficulty, and ordered to be shot on the spot. Four guides pushed him towards the sea by thrusting their carbines against his back; when close to the water's edge they drew the triggers, but all the four muskets hung fire: a circumstance which was accounted for by the great humidity of the night. The Nablousian threw himself into the water, and, swimming with great agility and rapidity, gained a ridge of rocks so far off that not a shot from the whole troop, which fired as it passed, reached him. Bonaparte, who continued his march, desired me to wait for Kleber, whose division formed the rear-guard, and to tell him not to forget the Nablousian. He was, I believe, shot at last.
We returned to Jaffa on the 24th of May, and stopped there during the 25th, 26th, 27th, and 28th. This town had lately been the scene of a horrible transaction, dictated by necessity, and it was again destined to witness the exercise of the same dire law. Here I have a painful duty to perform—I will perform it. I will state what I know, what I saw.
I have seen the following passage in a certain, work:—"Bonaparte, having arrived at Jaffa, ordered three removals of the infected: one by sea to Damietta, and also by land; the second to Gaza; and the third to El-Arish!" So, many words, so many errors!
Some tents were pitched on an eminence near the gardens east of Jaffa. Orders were given directly to undermine the fortifications and, blow them up; and on the 27th of May, upon the signaling given, the town was in a moment laid bare. An hour afterwards the General-in-Chief left his tent and repaired to the town, accompanied by Berthier, some physicians and surgeons, and his usual staff. I was also one of the party. A long and sad deliberation took place on the question which now arose relative to the men who were incurably ill of the plague, or who were at the point of death. After a discussion of the most serious and conscientious kind it was decided to accelerate a few moments, by a potion, a death which was inevitable, and which would otherwise be painful and cruel.
Bonaparte took a rapid view of the destroyed ramparts of the town and returned to the hospital, where there were men whose limbs had been amputated, many wounded, many afflicted with ophthalmia, whose lamentations were distressing, and some infected with the plague. The beds of the last description of patients were to the right on entering the first ward. I walked by the General's side, and I assert that I never saw him touch any one of the infected. And why should he have done so? They were in the last stage of the disease. Not one of them spoke a word to him, and Bonaparte well knew that he possessed no protection against the plague. Is Fortune to be again brought forward here? She had, in truth, little favoured him during the last few months, when he had trusted to her favours. I ask, why should he have exposed himself to certain death, and have left his army in the midst of a desert created by our ravages, in a desolate town, without succour, and without the hope of ever receiving any? Would he have acted rightly in doing so—he who was evidently so necessary, so indispensable to his army; he on whom depended at that moment the lives of all who lead survived the last disaster, and who had proved their attachment to him by their sufferings, their privations, and their unshaken courage, and who had done all that he could have required of men, and whose only trust was in him?
Bonaparte walked quickly through the rooms, tapping the yellow top of his boot with a whip he held in his hand. As he passed along with hasty steps he repeated these words: "The fortifications are destroyed. Fortune was against me at St. Jean d'Acre. I must return to Egypt to preserve it from the enemy, who will soon be there: In a few hours the Turks will be here. Let all those who have strength enough rise and come along with us. They shall be carried on litters and horses." There were scarcely sixty cases of plague in the hospital; and all accounts stating a greater number are exaggerated. The perfect silence, complete dejection, and general stupor of the patients announced their approaching end. To carry them away in the state in which they were would evidently have been doing nothing else than inoculating the rest of the army with the plague. I have, it is true, learned, since my return to Europe, that some persons touched the infected with impunity; nay; that others went so far as to inoculate themselves with the plague in order to learn how to cure those whom it might attack. It certainly was a special protection from Heaven to be preserved from it; but to cover in some degree the absurdity of such a story, it is added that they knew how to elude the danger, and that any one else who braved it without using precautions met with death for their temerity. This is, in fact; the whole point of the question. Either those privileged persons took indispensable precautions; and in that case their boasted heroism is a mere juggler's trick; or they touched the infected without using precautions, and inoculated themselves with the plague, thus voluntarily encountering death, and then the story is really a good one.
The infected were confided, it has been stated, to the head apothecary of the army, Royer, who, dying in Egypt three years after, carried the secret with him to the grave. But on a moment's reflection it will be evident that the leaving of Royer alone in Jaffa would have been to devote to certain death; and that a prompt and, cruel one, a man who was extremely useful to the army, and who was at the time in perfect health. It must be remembered that no guard could be left with him, and that the Turks were close at our heels. Bonaparte truly said, while walking through the rooms of the hospital, that the Turks would be at Jaffa in a few hours. With this conviction, would he have left the head apothecary in that town?
Recourse has been had to suppositions to support the contrary belief to what I stag. For example, it is said that the infected patients were embarked in ships of war. There were no such ships. Where had they disembarked, who had received them; what had been done with them? No one speaks of them. Others, not doubting that the infected men died at Jaffa, say, that the rearguard under Kleber, by order of Bonaparte, delayed its departure for three days, and only began its march when. death had put an end to the sufferings of these unfortunate beings, unshortened by any sacrifice. All this is incorrect. No rear-guard was left—it could not be done. Pretence is made of forgetting that the ramparts were destroyed, that the town—was as open and as defenceless as any village, so this small rear-guard would have been left for certain destruction. The dates themselves tell against these suppositions. It is certain, as can be seen by the official account, that we arrived at Jaffa on 24th May, and stayed there the 25th, 26th, and 27th. We left it on the 28th. Thus the rear-guard, which, according to these writers; left-on the 29th, did not remain, even according to their own hypothesis, three days after the army to see the sick die. In reality it left on the 29th of May, the day after we did: Here are the very words of the Major- General (Berthier) in his official account, written under the eye and under the dictation of the Commander-in-Chief:—
The army arrived at Jaffa, 5th Prairial (24th May), and remained there the 6th, 7th, and 8th (25th-27th May). This time was employed in punishing the village, which had behaved badly. The fortifications of Jaffa were blown up. All the iron guns of the place were thrown into the sea. The wounded were removed by sea and by land. There were only a few ships, and to give time to complete the evacuation by land, the departure of the army had to be deferred until the 9th (28th May). Klebers division formed the rear-guard, and only left Jaffa, on the 10th (29th May).
The official report of what passed at Jaffa was drawn up by Berthier, under the eye of Bonaparte. It has been published; but it may be remarked that not a word about the infected, not a word of the visit to the hospital, or the touching of the plague-patients with impunity, is there mentioned. In no official report is anything said about the matter. Why this silence? Bonaparte was not the man to conceal a fact which would have afforded him so excellent and so allowable a text for talking about his fortune. If the infected were removed, why not mention it? Why be silent on so important an event? But it would have been necessary to confess that being obliged to have recourse to so painful a measure was the unavoidable consequence of this unfortunate expedition. Very disagreeable details must have been entered into; and it was thought more advisable to be silent on the subject.
But what did Napoleon, himself say on the subject at St. Helena? His statement there was to the following, effect:—"I ordered a consultation as to what was best to be done. The report which was made stated that there were seven or eight men (the question is not about the number) so dangerously ill that they could not live beyond twenty-four hours, and would besides infect the rest of the army with the plague. It was thought it would be an act of charity to anticipate their death a few, hours."
Then comes the fable of the 500 men of the rear guard, who, it is pretended, saw them die! I make no doubt that the story of the poisoning was the invention of Den——. He was s babbler, who understood a story badly, and repeated it worse. I do not think it would have been a crime to have given opium to the infected. On the contrary, it would have been obedience to the dictates of reason. Where is the man who would not, in such a situation, have preferred a prompt death, to being exposed to the lingering tortures inflicted by barbarians? If my child, and I believe I love him as much as any father does his; had been in such a state; my advice would have been the same; if I had been among the infected myself, I should have demanded to be so treated.
Such was the reasoning at St. Helena, and such was the, view which he and every one else took of the case twenty years ago at Jaffa.
Our little army arrived at Cairo on the 14th of June, after a painful and harassing march of twenty-five days. The heats during the passage of the desert between El-Arish and Belbeis exceeded thirty-three degrees. On placing the bulb of the thermometer in the sand the mercury rose to forty-five degrees. The deceitful mirage was even more vexatious than in the plains of Bohahire'h. In spite of our experience an excessive thirst, added to a perfect illusion, made us goad on our wearied horses towards lakes which vanished at our approach; and left behind nothing but salt and arid sand. In two days my cloak was completely covered with salt, left on it after the evaporation of the moisture which held it in solution. Our horses, who ran eagerly to the brackish springs of the desert, perished in numbers; after travelling about a quarter of a league from the spot where they drank the deleterious fluid.
Bonaparte preceded his entry into the capital of Egypt by one of those lying bulletins which only imposed on fools. "I will bring with me," said he, "many prisoners and flags. I have razed the palace of the Djezzar and the ramparts of Acre—not a stone remains upon another, All the inhabitants have left the city, by sea. Djezzar is severely wounded."
I confess that I experienced a painful sensation in writing, by his dictation, these official words, everyone of which was an imposition. Excited by all I had just witnessed, it was difficult for me to refrain from making the observation; but his constant reply was, "My dear fellow, you are a simpleton: you do not understand this business." And he observed, when signing the bulletin, that he would yet fill the world with admiration, and inspire historians and poets.
Our return to Cairo has been attributed to the insurrections which broke out during the unfortunate expedition into Syria. Nothing is more incorrect. The term insurrection cannot be properly applied to the foolish enterprises of the angel El-Mahdi in the Bohahire'h, or to the less important disturbances in the Charkyeh. The reverses experienced before St. Jean d'Acre, the fear, or rather the prudent anticipation of a hostile landing, were sufficient motives, and the only ones, for our return to Egypt. What more could we do in Syria but lose men and time, neither of which the General had to spare?
Murat and Moarad Bey at the Natron Lakes—Bonapartes departure for the Pyramids—Sudden appearance of an Arab messenger—News of the landing of the Turks at Aboukir—Bonaparte marches against them—They are immediately attacked and destroyed in the battle of Aboukir—Interchange of communication with the English—Sudden determination to return to Europe—Outfit of two frigates— Bonaparte's dissimulation—His pretended journey to the Delta— Generous behaviour of Lanusee—Bonaparte's artifice—His bad treatment of General Kleber.
Bonaparte had hardly set foot in Cairo when he was, informed that the brave and indefatigable Mourad Bey was descending by the Fayoum, in order to form a junction with reinforcements which had been for some time past collected in the Bohahire'h. In all probability this movement of Mourad Bey was the result of news he had received respecting plans formed at Constantinople, and the landing which took place a short time after in the roads of Aboukir. Mourad had selected the Natron Lakes for his place of rendezvous. To these lakes Murat was despatched. The Bey no sooner got notice of Murat's presence than he determined to retreat and to proceed by the desert to Gizeh and the great Pyramids. I certainly never heard, until I returned to France, that Mourad had ascended to the summit of the great Pyramid for the propose of passing his time in contemplating Cairo!
Napoleon said at St. Helena that Murat might have taken Mourad Bey had the latter remained four-and-twenty hours longer in the Natron Lakes: Now the fact is, that as soon as the Bey heard of Murat's arrival he was off The Arabian spies were far more serviceable to our enemies than to us; we had not, indeed, a single friend in Egypt. Mourad Bey, on being informed by the Arabs, who acted as couriers for him, that General Desaix was despatching a column from the south of Egypt against him, that the General-in-Chief was also about to follow his footsteps along the frontier of Gizeh, and that the Natron Lakes and the Bohahire'h were occupied by forces superior to his own, retired into Fayoum.
Bonaparte attached great importance to the destruction of Mourad, whom he looked upon as the bravest, the most active, and most dangerous of his enemies in Egypt. As all accounts concurred in stating that Mourad, supported by the Arabs, was hovering about the skirts of the desert of the province of Gizeh, Bonaparte proceeded to the Pyramids, there to direct different corps against that able and dangerous partisan. He, indeed, reckoned him so redoubtable that lie wrote to Murat, saying he wished fortune might reserve for him the honour of putting the seal on the conquest of Egypt by the destruction of this opponent.
On the 14th of July Bonaparte left Cairo for the Pyramids. He intended spending three or four days in examining the ruins of the ancient necropolis of Memphis; but he was suddenly obliged to alter his plan. This journey to the Pyramids, occasioned by the course of war, has given an opportunity for the invention of a little piece of romance. Some ingenious people have related that Bonaparte gave audiences to the mufti and ulemas, and that on entering one of the great Pyramids he cried out, "Glory to Allah! God only is God, and Mahomet is his prophet!" Now the fact is, that Bonaparte never even entered the great Pyramid. He never had any thought of entering it:—I certainly should have accompanied him had he done so for I never quitted his side a single moment in the desert He caused some person to enter into one of the great Pyramids while he remained outside, and received from them, on their return, an account of what they had seen. In other words, they informed him there was nothing, to be seen!
On the evening of the 15th of July, while we were taking a walk, we perceived, on the road leading from Alexandria, an Arab riding up to us in all haste. He brought to the General-in-Chief a despatch from General Marmont, who was entrusted with the command of Alexandria, and who had conducted himself so well, especially during the dreadful ravages of the plague, that he had gained the unqualified approbation of Bonaparte. The Turks had landed on the 11th of July at Aboukir, under the escort and protection of English ships of war. The news of the landing of from fifteen to sixteen thousand men did not surprise Bonaparte, who had for some time expected it. It was, not so, however, with the generals most in his favor; whose apprehensions, for reasons which may be conjectured, he had endeavoured to calm. He had even written to Marmont, who, being in the most exposed situation, had the more reason to be vigilant, in these terms:
The army which was to have appeared before Alexandria, and which left Constantinople on the 1st of the Ramadhan, has been destroyed under the walls of Acre. If, however, that mad Englishman (Smith) has embarked the remains of that army in order to convey them to Aboukir, I do not believe there can be more than 2000 men.
He wrote in the following strain to General Dugua, who had the command of Cairo:
The English Commander, who has summoned Damietta, is a madman. The combined army they speak of has been destroyed before Acre, where it arrived a fortnight before we left that place.
As soon as he arrived at Cairo, in a letter he despatched to Desaix, he said:
The time has now arrived when disembarkations have become practicable. I shall lose no time in getting ready. The probabilities, however, are, that none will take place this year.
What other language could he hold, when he had proclaimed when after, the raising of the siege of Acre, that he had destroyed those 15,000 men who two months after landed at Aboukir?
No sooner had Bonaparte perused the contents of Marmont's letter than he retired into his tent and dictated to me, until three in the morning, his orders for the departure of the troops, and for the routes he wished to be pursued during his absence by the troops who should remain in the interior. At this moment I observed in him the development of that vigorous character of mind which was excited by obstacles until he overcame them—that celerity of thought which foresaw everything. He was all action, and never for a moment hesitated. On the 16th of July, at four in the morning, he was on horseback and the army in full march. I cannot help doing justice to the presence of mind, promptitude of decision, and rapidity of execution which at this period of his life never deserted him on great occasions.
We reached Ouardan, to the north of Gizeh, on the evening of the 16th; on the 19th we arrived at Rahmalianie'h, and on the 23d at Alexandria, where every preparation was made for that memorable battle which, though it did not repair the immense losses and fatal consequences of the naval conflict of the same name, will always recall to the memory of Frenchmen one of the most brilliant achievements of their arms.
—[As M. de Bourrienne gives no details of the battle, the following extract from the Due do Rovigo's Memoirs, tome i, p. 167, will supply the deficiency:
"General Bonaparte left Cairo in the utmost haste to place himself at the head of the troops which he had ordered to quit their cantonments and march down to the coast.
"Whilst the General was making these arrangements and coming in person from Cairo, the troops on board the Turkish fleet had effected a landing and taken possession of the fort of Aboukir, and of a redoubt placed behind the village of that name which ought to have been put into a state of defence six months before, but had been completely neglected.
"The Turks had nearly destroyed the weak garrisons that occupied those two military points when General Marmont (who commanded at Alexandria) came to their relief. This general, seeing the two posts in the power of the Turks, returned to shut himself up in Alexandria, where he would probably have been blockaded by the Turkish army had it not been for the arrival of General Bonaparte with his forces, who was very angry when he saw that the fort and redoubt had been taken; but he did not blame Marmont for retreating to Alexandria with the forces at his disposal.
"General Bonaparte arrived at midnight with his guides and the remaining part of his army, and ordered the Turks to be attacked the next morning. In this battle, as in the preceding ones, the attack, the encounter, and the rout were occurrences of a moment, and the result of a single movement on the part of our troops. The whole Turkish army plunged into the sea to regain its ships, leaving behind them everything they had brought on shore.
"Whilst this event was occurring on the seashore a pasha had left the field of battle with a corps of about 3000 men in order to throw himself, into the fort of Aboukir. They soon felt the extremities of thirst, which compelled them, after the lapse of a few days, to surrender unconditionally to General Menou, who was left to close, the operations connected with the recently defeated Turkish army."]
After the-battle, which took place on the 25th of July, Bonaparte sent a flag of truce on board the English Admiral's ship. Our intercourse was full of politeness, such as might be expected in the communications of the people of two civilised nations. The English Admiral gave the flag of truce some presents in exchange for some we sent, and likewise a copy of the French Gazette of Frankfort, dated 10th of June 1799. For ten months we had received no news from France. Bonaparte glanced over this journal with an eagerness which may easily be conceived.
—[The French, on their return from St. Jean d'Acre were totally ignorant of all that had taken place in Europe far several months. Napoleon, eager to obtain Intelligence, sent a flag of trace on board the Turkish admiral's ship, under the pretence of treating for the ransom of the Prisoners taken at Aboukir, not doubting but the envoy would be stopped by Sir Sidney Smith, who carefully prevented all direct communication between the French and the Turks. Accordingly the French flag of truce received directions from Sir Sidney to go on board his ship. He experienced the handsomest treatment; and the English commander having, among other things, ascertained that the disasters of Italy were quite unknown to Napoleon, indulged in the malicious pleasure of sending him a file of newspapers. Napoleon spent the whole night in his tent perusing the papers; and he came to the determination of immediately proceeding to Europe to repair the disasters of France; and if possible, to save her from destruction (Memorial de Sainte Helene)].
"Heavens!" said he to me, "my presentiment is verified: the fools have lost Italy. All the fruits of our victories are gone! I must leave Egypt!"
He sent for Berthier, to whom he communicated the news, adding that things were going on very badly in France—that he wished to return home —that he (Berthier) should go along with him, and that, for the present, only he, Gantheaume, and I were in the secret. He recommended Berthier to be prudent, not to betray any symptoms of joy, nor to purchase or sell anything, and concluded by assuring him that he depended on him. "I can answer," said he, "for myself and for Bourrienne." Berthier promised to be secret, and he kept his word. He had had enough of Egypt, and he so ardently longed to return to France, that there was little reason to fear he would disappoint himself by any indiscretion.
Gantheaume arrived, and Bonaparte gave him orders to fit out the two frigates, the 'Muiron' and the 'Carree', and the two small vessels, the 'Revanche' and the 'Fortune', with a two months' supply of provisions for from four to five hundred men. He enjoined his secrecy as to the object of these preparations, and desired him to act with such circumspection that the English cruisers might have no knowledge of what was going on. He afterwards arranged with Gantheaume the course he wished to take. No details escaped his attention.
Bonaparte concealed his preparations with much care, but still some vague rumours crept abroad. General Dueua, the commandant of Cairo, whom he had just left for the purpose of embarking, wrote to him on the 18th of August to the following effect:
I have this moment heard that it is reported at the Institute you are about to return to France, taking with you Monge, Berthollet, Berthier, Lannes, and Murat. This news has spread like lightning through the city, and I should not be at all surprised if it produce an unfavourable effect, which, however, I hope you will obviate.
Bonaparte embarked five days after the receipt of Dugua's letter, and, as may be supposed; without replying to it.
On the 18th of August he wrote to the divan of Cairo as follows:
I set out to-morrow for Menouf, whence I intend to make various excursions in the Delta, in order that I may myself witness the acts of oppression which are committed there, and acquire some knowledge of the people.
He told the army but half the truth:
The news from Europe (said he) has determined me to proceed to France. I leave the command of the army to General Kleber. The army shall hear from me forthwith. At present I can say no more. It costs me much pain to quit troops to whom I am so strongly attached. But my absence will be but temporary, and the general I leave in command has the confidence of the Government as well as mine.
I have now shown the true cause of General Bonaparte's departure for Europe. This circumstance, in itself perfectly natural, has been the subject of the most ridiculous conjectures to those who always wish to assign extraordinary causes for simple events. There is no truth whatever in the assertion of his having planned his departure before the battle of Aboukir. Such an idea never crossed his mind. He had no thought whatever of his departure for France when he made the journey to the Pyramids, nor even when he received the news of the landing of the Anglo-Turkish force.
At the end of December 1798 Bonaparte thus wrote to the Directory: "We are without any news from France. No courier has arrived since the month of June."
Some writers have stated that we received news by the way of Tunis, Algiers, or Morocco; but there is no contradicting a positive fact. At that period I had been with Bonaparte more than two years, and during that time not a single despatch on any occasion arrived of the contents of which I was ignorant. How then should the news alluded to have escaped me?
—[Details on the question of the correspondence of Napoleon with France while he was to Egypt will be found in Colonel Iung's work, Lucien Bonaparte (Paris. Charpentler, 1882), tome i. pp. 251-274. It seems most probable that Napoleon was in occasional communication with his family and with some of the Directors byway of Tunis and Tripoli. It would not be his interest to let his army or perhaps even Bourrienne know of the disasters in Italy till he found that they were sure to hear of them through the English. This would explain his affected ignorance till such a late date. On the 11th of April Barras received a despatch by which Napoleon stated his intention of returning to France if the news brought by Hamelin was confirmed. On the 26th of May 1799 three of the Directors, Barras, Rewbell, and La Reveillier-Lepeaux, wrote to Napoleon that Admiral Bruix had been ordered to attempt every means of bringing back his army. On the 15th of July Napoleon seems to have received this and other letters. On the 20th of July he warns Admiral Gantheaume to be ready to start. On the 11th of September the Directors formally approved the recall of the army from Egypt. Thus at the time Napoleon landed in France (on the 8th October), his intended return had been long known to and approved by the majority of the Directors, and had at last been formally ordered by the Directory. At the most he anticipated the order. He cannot be said to have deserted his post. Lantrey (tome i. p. 411) remarks that the existence and receipt of the letter from Joseph denied by Bourrienne is proved by Miot (the commissary, the brother of Miot de Melito) and by Joseph himself. Talleyrand thanks the French Consul at Tripoli for sending news from Egypt, and for letting Bonaparte know what passed in Europe. See also Ragusa (Marmont), tome i. p. 441, writing on 24th December 1798: "I have found an Arab of whom I am sure, and who shall start to-morrow for Derne . . . . This means can be need to send a letter to Tripoli, for boats often go there."]
Almost all those who endeavour to avert from Bonaparte the reproach of desertion quote a letter from the Directory, dated the 26th of May 1799. This letter may certainly have been written, but it never reached its destination. Why then should it be put upon record?
The circumstance I have stated above determined the resolution of Bonaparte, and made him look upon Egypt as, an exhausted field of glory, which it was high time he had quitted, to play another part in France. On his departure from Europe Bonaparte felt that his reputation was tottering. He wished to do something to raise up his glory, and to fix upon him the attention of the world. This object he had in great part accomplished; for, in spite of serious disasters, the French flag waved over the cataracts of the Nile and the ruins of Memphis, and the battles of the Pyramids, and Aboukir were calculated in no small degree to dazzle; the imagination. Cairo and Alexandria too were ours. Finding. that the glory of his arms no longer supported the feeble power of the Directory, he was anxious to see whether: he could not share it, or appropriate it to himself.
A great deal has been said about letters and Secret communications from the Directory, but Bonaparte needed no such thing. He could do what he pleased: there was no power to check him; such had been the nature of his arrangements an leaving France. He followed only the dictates of his own will, and probably, had not the fleet been destroyed; he would have departed from Egypt much sooner. To will and to do were with him one and the same thing. The latitude he enjoyed was the result of his verbal agreement with the Directory, whose instructions and plans he did not wish should impede his operations.
Bonaparte left Alexandria on the 5th of August, and on the 10th arrived at Cairo. He at first circulated the report of a journey to Upper Egypt. This seemed so much the more reasonable, as he had really entertained that design before he went to the Pyramids, and the fact was known to the army and the inhabitants of Cairo. Up to this time our secret had been studiously kept. However, General Lanusse, the commandant at Menouf, where we arrived on the 20th of August, suspected it. "You are going to France," said he to me. My negative reply confirmed his suspicion. This almost induced me to believe the General-in-Chief had been the first to make the disclosure. General Lanusse, though he envied our good fortune, made no complaints. He expressed his sincere wishes for our prosperous voyage, but never opened his mouth on the subject to any one.
On the 21st of August we reached the wells of Birkett. The Arabs had rendered the water unfit for use, but the General-in-Chief was resolved to quench his thirst, and for this purpose squeezed the juice of several lemons into a glass of the water; but he could not swallow it without holding his nose and exhibiting strong feelings of disgust.
The next day we reached Alexandria, where the General informed all those, who had accompanied him from Cairo that France was their destination. At this announcement joy was pictured in every countenance.
General Kleber, to whose command Bonaparte had resigned the army, was invited to come from Damietta to Rosette to confer with the General-in- Chief on affairs of extreme importance. Bonaparte, in making an appointment which he never intended to keep, hoped to escape the unwelcome freedom of Kleber's reproaches. He afterwards wrote to him all he had to say; and the cause he assigned for not keeping his appointment was, that his fear of being observed by the English cruisers had forced him to depart three days earlier than he intended. But when he wrote Bonaparte well knew that he would be at sea before Kleber could receive his letter. Kleber, in his letter to the Directory, complained bitterly of this deception. The singular fate that befell this letter will be seen by and by.
Our departure from Egypt—Nocturnal embarkation—M. Parseval Grandmaison—On course—Adverse winds—Fear of the English— Favourable weather—Vingt-et-un-Chess—We land at Ajaccio— Bonaparte's pretended relations—Family domains—Want of money— Battle of Novi—Death of Joubert—Visionary schemes—Purchase of a boat—Departure from Corsica—The English squadron—Our escape— The roads of Frejus—Our landing in France—The plague or the Austrians—Joy of the people—The sanitary laws—Bonaparte falsely accused.
We were now to return to our country—again to cross the sea, to us so pregnant with danger—Caesar and his fortune were once more to embark. But Caesar was not now advancing to the East to add Egypt to the conquests of the Republic. He was revolving in his mind vast schemes, unawed by the idea of venturing everything to chance in his own favour the Government for which he had fought. The hope of conquering the most celebrated country of the East no longer excited the imagination, as on our departure from France. Our last visionary dream had vanished before the walls of St. Jean d'Acre, and we were leaving on the burning sands of Egypt most of our companions in arms. An inconceivable destiny seemed to urge us on, and we were obliged to obey its decrees.
On the 23d of August we embarked on board two frigates, the 'Muiron'
—[Named after Bonaparte's aide de camp filled in the Italian campaign]—
and 'Carrere'. Our number was between four and five hundred. Such was our squadron, and such the formidable army with which Bonaparte had resolved, as he wrote to the divan of Cairo, "to annihilate all his enemies." This boasting might impose on those who did not see the real state of things; but what were we to think of it? What Bonaparte himself thought the day after.
The night was dark when we embarked in the frigates which lay at a considerable distance from the port of Alexandria; but by the faint light of the stars we perceived a corvette, which appeared to be observing our silent nocturnal embarkation.
—[The horses of the escort had been left to run loose on the beach, and all was perfect stillness in Alexandria, when the advanced posts of the town were alarmed by the wild galloping of horses, which from a natural instinct, were returning to Alexandria through the desert. The picket ran to arms on seeing horses ready saddled and bridled, which were soon discovered to belong to the regiment of guides. They at first thought that a misfortune had happened to some detachment in its pursuit of the Arabs. With these horses came also those of the generals who had embarked with General Bonaparte; so that Alexandria was for a time in considerable alarm. The cavalry was ordered to proceed in all haste in the direction whence the horses came, and every one was giving himself up to the most gloomy conjectures, when the cavalry returned to the city with the Turkish groom, who was bringing back General Bonaparte's horse to Alexandria (Memoirs of the Due de Rovigo, tome i. p. 182).]—
Next morning, just as we were on the point of setting sail, we saw. coming from the port of Alexandria a boat, on board of which was M. Parseval Grandmaison. This excellent man, who was beloved by all of us, was not included among the persons whose, return to France had been determined by the General-in-Chief. In his anxiety to get off Bonaparte would not hear of taking him on board. It will readily be conceived how urgent were the entreaties of Parseval; but he would have sued in vain had not Gantheaume, Bionge, Berthollet, and I interceded for him. With some difficulty we overcame Bonaparte's resistance, and our colleague of the Egyptian Institute got on board after the wind had filled our sails.
It has been erroneously said that Admiral Gantheaume had full control of the frigates, as if any one could command when Bonaparte was present. On the contrary, Bonaparte declared to the admiral, in my hearing, that he would not take the ordinary course and get into the open sea. "Keep close along the coast of the Mediterranean," said he, "on the, African side, until you get south of Sardinia. I have here a handful of brave fellows and a few pieces of artillery; if the. English should appear I will run ashore, and with my, party, make my way by land to Oran, Tunis, or some other port, whence we may find an opportunity of getting home." This, was his irrevocable determination.
For twenty-one days adverse winds, blowing from west or north-west, drove us continually on the coast of Syria, or in the direction of Alexandria. At one time it was even proposed that we should again put into the port; but Bonaparte declared he would rather, brave every danger than do so. During the day we tacked to a certain distance northward, and in the evening we stood towards Africa, until we came within, sight of the coast. Finally after no less than twenty-one days of impatience and disappointment, a favourable east wind carried us past that point of Africa on which Carthage formerly stood, and we soon doubled Sardinia. We kept very near the western coast of that island, where Bonaparte had determined to land in case of our falling in with the English, squadron. From, thence his plan was to reach Corsica, and there to await a favourable opportunity of returning to France.
Everything had contributed to render our voyage dull and monotonous; and, besides, we were not entirely without uneasiness as to the steps which might be taken by the Directory, for it was certain that the publication of the intercepted correspondence must have occasioned many unpleasant disclosures. Bonaparte used often to walk on deck to superintend the execution of his orders. The smallest sail that appeared in view excited his alarm.
The fear of falling into the hands of the English never forsook him. That was what he dreaded most of all, and yet, at a subsequent period, he trusted to the generosity of his enemies.
However, in spite of our well-founded alarm, there were some moments in which we sought to amuse ourselves, or, to use a common expression, to kill time. Cards afforded us s source of recreation, and even this frivolous amusement served to develop the character of Bonaparte. In general he was not fond of cards; but if he did play, vingt-et-un was his favourite game, because it is more rapid than many others, and because, in short, it afforded him an opportunity of cheating. For example, he would ask for a card; if it proved a bad one he would say nothing, but lay it down on the table and wait till the dealer had drawn his. If the dealer produced a good card, then Bonaparte would throw aside his hand, without showing it, and give up his stake. If, on the contrary, the dealer's card made him exceed twenty-one, Bonaparte also threw his cards aside without showing them, and asked for the payment of his stake. He was much diverted by these little tricks, especially when they were played off undetected; and I confess that even then we were courtiers enough to humour him, and wink at his cheating. I must, however, mention that he never appropriated to himself the fruit of these little dishonesties, for at the end of the game he gave up all his winnings, and they were equally divided. Gain, as may readily be supposed, was not his object; but he always expected that fortune would grant him an ace or a ten at the right moment with the same confidence with which he looked for fine weather on the day of battle. If he were disappointed he wished nobody to know it.
Bonaparte also played at chess, but very seldom, because he was only a third-rate player, and he did not like to be beaten at that game, which, I know not why, is said to bear a resemblance to the grand game of war. At this latter game Bonaparte certainly feared no adversary. This reminds me that when we were leaving Passeriano he announced his intention of passing through Mantua.
He was told that the commandant of that town, I believe General Beauvoir, was a great chess-player, and he expressed a wish to play a game with him: General Beauvoir asked him to point out any particular pawn with which he would be checkmated; adding, that if the pawn were taken, he, Bonaparte, should be declared the winner. Bonaparte pointed out the last pawn on the left of his adversary. A mark was put upon it, and it turned out that he actually was checkmated with that very pawn. Bonaparte was not very well pleased at this. He liked to play with me because, though rather a better player than himself, I was not always able to beat him. As soon as a game was decided in his favour he declined playing any longer; preferring to rest on his laurels.
The favourable wind which had constantly prevailed after the first twenty days of our voyage still continued while we kept along the coast of Sardinia; but after we had passed that island the wind again blew violently from the west, and on the 1st of October we were forced to enter the Gulf of Ajaccio. We sailed again next day but we found it impossible to work our way out of the gulf. We were therefore obliged to put into the port and land at Ajaccio. Adverse winds obliged us to remain there until the 7th of October. It may readily be imagined how much this delay annoyed Bonaparte. He sometimes expressed his impatience, as if he could enforce the obedience of the elements as well as of men. He was losing time, and time was everything to him.
There was one circumstance which seemed to annoy him as much as any of his more serious vexations. "What will become of me," said he, "if the English, who are cruising hereabout, should learn that I have landed in Corsica? I shall be forced to stay here. That I could never endure. I have a torrent of relations pouring upon me." His great reputation had certainly prodigiously augmented the number of his family. He was over whelmed with visits, congratulations, and requests. The whole town was in a commotion. Every one of its inhabitants wished to claim him as their cousin; and from the-prodigious number of his pretended godsons and goddaughters, it might have been supposed that he had held one-fourth of the children of Ajaccio at the baptismal font.
Bonaparte frequently walked with us in the neighbourhood of Ajaccio; and when in all the plenitude of his power he did not count his crowns with greater pleasure than he evinced in pointing out to us the little domains of his ancestors.
While we were at, Ajaccio M. Fesch gave Bonaparte French money in, exchange for a number of Turkish sequins, amounting in value to 17,000 francs: This sum was all that the General brought with him from Egypt. I mention this fact because he was unjustly calumniated in letters written after his departure, and which were intercepted and published by the English: I ought also to add, that as he would never for his own private use resort to the money-chest of the army, the contents of which were, indeed, never half sufficient to defray the necessary expenses, he several times drew on Genoa, through M. James, and on the funds he possessed in the house of Clary, 16,000, 25,000, and up to 33,000 francs. I can bear witness that in Egypt I never saw him touch any money beyond his pay; and that he left the country poorer than he had entered it is a fact that cannot be denied. In his notes on Egypt it appears that in one year 12,600,000 francs were received. In this sum were included at least 2,000,000 of contributions, which were levied at the expense of many decapitations. Bonaparte was fourteen months in Egypt, and he is said to have brought away with him 20,000,000. Calumny may be very gratifying to certain persons, but they should at least give it a colouring of probability. The fact is, that Bonaparte had scarcely enough to maintain himself at Ajaccio and to defray our posting expenses to Paris.
On our arrival at Ajaccio we learnt the death of Joubert, and the loss of the battle of Novi, which was fought on the 15th of August. Bonaparte was tormented by anxiety; he was in a state of utter uncertainty as to the future. From the time we left Alexandria till our arrival in Corsica he had frequently talked of what he should do during the quarantine, which he supposed he would be required to observe on reaching Toulon, the port at which he had determined to land.
Even then he cherished some illusions respecting the state of affairs; and he often said to me, "But for that confounded quarantine, I would hasten ashore, and place myself at the head of the army of Italy. All is not over; and I am sure that there is not a general who would refuse me the command. The news of a victory gained by me would reach Paris as soon as the battle of Aboukir; that, indeed, would be excellent."
In Corsica his language was very different. When he was informed of our reverses, and saw the full extent of the evil, he was for a moment overwhelmed. His grand projects then gave way to the consideration of matters of minor import, and he thought about his detention in the Lazaretto of Toulon. He spoke of the Directory, of intrigues, and of what would be said of him. He accounted his enemies those who envied him, and those who could not be reconciled to his glory and the influence of his name. Amidst all these anxieties Bonaparte was outwardly calm, though he was moody and reflective.
Providing against every chance of danger, he had purchased at Ajaccio a large launch which was intended to be towed by the 'Hetciron', and it was manned by twelve of the best sailors the island could—furnish. His resolution was, in case of inevitable danger, to jump into this boat and get ashore. This precaution had well-nigh proved useful.
—[Sir Walter Scott, at the commencement of his Life of Napoleon, says that Bonaparte did not see his native City after 1793. Probably to avoid contradicting himself, the Scottish historian observes that Bonaparte was near Ajaccio on his return from Egypt. He spent eight days there.—Bourrienne.]—
After leaving the Gulf of Ajaccio the voyage was prosperous and undisturbed for one day; but on the second day, just at sunset, an English squadron of fourteen sail hove in sight. The English, having advantage of the lights which we had in our faces, saw us better than we could see them. They recognised our two frigates as Venetian built; but luckily for us, night came on, for we were not far apart. We saw the signals of the English for a long time, and heard the report of the guns more and more to our left, and we thought it was the intention of the cruisers to intercept us on the south-east. Under these circumstances Bonaparte had reason to thank fortune; for it is very evident that had the English suspected our two frigates of coming from the East and going to France, they would have shut us out from land by running between us and it, which to them was very easy. Probably they took us for a convoy of provisions going from Toulon to Genoa; and it was to this error and the darkness that we were indebted for escaping with no worse consequence than a fright.
—[Here Bourrienne says in a note "Where did Sir Walter Scott learn that we were neither seen nor recognised? We were not recognised, but certainly seen," This is corroborated by the testimony of the Due de Rovigo, who, in his Memoirs, says, "I have met officers of the English navy who assured me that the two frigates had been seen but were considered by the Admiral to belong to his squadron, as they steered their course towards him; and as he knew we had only one frigate in the Mediterranean, and one in Toulon harbour, he was far from supposing that the frigates which he had descried could have General Bonaparte on board " (Savary, tome i. p. 226).]—
During the remainder of the night the utmost agitation prevailed on board the Muiron. Gantheaume especially was in a state of anxiety which it is impossible to describe, and which it was painful to witness: he was quite beside himself, for a disaster appeared inevitable. He proposed to return to Corsica. "No, no!" replied Bonaparte imperiously. "No! Spread all sail! Every man at his post! To the north-west! To the north-west!" This order saved us; and I am enabled to affirm that in the midst of almost general alarm Bonaparte was solely occupied in giving orders. The rapidity of his judgment seemed to grow in the face of danger. The remembrance of that night will never be effaced from my mind. The hours lingered on; and none of us could guess upon what new dangers the morrow's sun would shine.
However, Bonaparte's resolution was taken: his orders were given, his arrangements made. During the evening he had resolved upon throwing himself into the long boat; he had already fixed on the persons who were to share his fate, and had already named to me the papers which he thought it most important to save. Happily our terrors were vain and our arrangements useless. By the first rays of the sun we discovered the English fleet sailing to the north-east, and we stood for the wished-for coast of France.
The 8th of October, at eight in the morning, we entered the roads of Frejus. The sailors not having recognised the coast during the night, we did not know where we were. There was, at first, some hesitation whether we should advance. We were by no means expected, and did not know how to answer the signals, which has been changed during our absence. Some guns were even fired upon us by the batteries on the coast; but our bold entry into the roads, the crowd upon the decks of the two frigates, and our signs of joy, speedily banished all doubt of our being friends. We were in the port, and approaching the landing-place, when the rumour spread that Bonaparte was on board one of the frigates. In an instant the sea was covered with boats. In vain we begged them to keep at a distance; we were carried ashore, and when we told the crowd, both of men and women who were pressing about us, the risk they ran, they all exclaimed, "We prefer the plague to the Austrians!"
What were our feelings when we again set foot on the soil of France I will not attempt to describe. Our escape from the dangers that threatened us seemed almost miraculous. We had lost twenty days at the beginning of our voyage, and at its close the had been almost taken by an English squadron. Under these circumstances, how rapturously we inhaled the balmy, air of Provence! Such was our joy, that we were scarcely sensible of the disheartening news which arrived from all quarters. At the first moment of our arrival, by a spontaneous impulse, we all repeated, with tears in our eyes, the beautiful lines which Voltaire has put into the mouth of the exile of Sicily.
Bonaparte has been reproached with having violated the sanitary laws; but, after what I have already stated respecting his intentions, I presume there can remain no doubt of the falsehood of this accusation. All the blame must rest with the inhabitants of Frejus, who on this occasion found the law of necessity more imperious than the sanitary laws. Yet when it is considered that four or five hundred persons, and a quantity of effects, were landed from Alexandria, where the plague had been raging during the summer, it is almost a miracle that France, and indeed Europe escaped the scourge.
Effect produced by Bonaparte's return—His justification— Melancholy letter to my wife—Bonaparte's intended dinner at Sens— Louis Bonaparte and Josephine—He changes his intended route— Melancholy situation of the provinces—Necessity of a change— Bonaparte's ambitious views—Influence of popular applause— Arrival in Paris—His reception of Josephine—Their reconciliation— Bonaparte's visit to the Directory—His contemptuous treatment of Sieyes.
Tim effect produced in France and throughout Europe by the mere intelligence of Bonaparte's return is well known. I shall not yet speak of the vast train of consequences which that event entailed. I must, however, notice some accusations which were brought against him from the time of our landing to the 9th of November. He was reproached for having left Egypt, and it was alleged that his departure was the result of long premeditation. But I, who was constantly with him, am enabled positively to affirm that his return to France was merely the effect of a sudden resolution. Of this the following fact is in itself sufficient evidence.
While we were at Cairo, a few days before we heard of the landing of the Anglo-Turkish fleet, and at the moment when we were on the point of setting off to encamp at the Pyramids, Bonaparte despatched a courier to France. I took advantage of this opportunity to write to my wife. I almost bade her an eternal adieu: My letter breathed expressions of grief such as I had not before evinced. I said, among other things, that we. knew not when or how it would be possible for us to return to France. If Bonaparte had then entertained any thought of a speedy return I must have known it, and in that case I should not certainly have distressed my family by a desponding letter, when I had not had an opportunity of writing for seven months before.
Two days after the receipt of my letter my wife was awoke very early in the morning to be informed of our arrival in France. The courier who brought this intelligence was the bearer of a second letter from me, which I had written on board ship, and dated from Frejus. In this letter I mentioned that Bonaparte would pass through Seas and dine with my mother.
In fulfilment of my directions Madame de Bourrienne set off for Paris at five in the morning. Having passed the first post-house she met a Berlin containing four travellers, among whom she recognised Louis Bonaparte going to meet the General on the Lyons road. On seeing Madame de Bourrienne Louis desired the postillion to stop, and asked her whether she had heard from me. She informed him that we should pass through Sens, where the General wished to dine with my mother, who had made every preparation for receiving him. Louis then continued his journey. About nine o'clock my wife met another Berlin, in which were Madame Bonaparte and her daughter. As they were asleep, and both carriages were driving at a very rapid rate, Madame de Bourrienne did not stop them. Josephine followed the route taken by Louis. Both missed the General, who changed his mind at Lyons, and proceeded by way of Bourbonnais. He arrived fifteen hours after my wife; and those who had taken the Burgundy road proceeded to Lyons uselessly.
Determined to repair in all haste to Paris, Bonaparte had left Frejus on the afternoon of the day of our landing. He himself had despatched the courier to Sens to inform my mother of his intended visit to her; and it was not until he got to Lyons that he determined to take the Bourbonnais road. His reason for doing so will presently be seen. All along the road, at Aix, at Lyons, in every town and village, he was received, as at Frejus, with the most rapturous demonstrations of joy.
—[From Frejus to, Aix a crowd of men kindly escorted us, carrying torches alongside the carriage of the General, not so much to show their enthusiasm as to ensure our safety (Bourrienne) These brigands became so bad in France that at one time soldiers were placed in the imperials of all the diligences, receiving from the wits the curiously anticipative name of "imperial armies".]—
Only those who witnessed his triumphal journey can form any notion of it; and it required no great discernment to foresee something like the 18th Brumaire.
The provinces, a prey to anarchy and civil war, were continually threatened with foreign invasion. Almost all the south presented the melancholy spectacle of one-vast arena of conflicting factions. The nation groaned beneath the yoke of tyrannical laws; despotism was systematically established; the law of hostages struck a blow at personal liberty, and forced loans menaced every man's property. The generality of the citizens had declared themselves against a pentarchy devoid of power, justice, and morality, and which had become the sport of faction and intrigue. Disorder was general; but in the provinces abuses were felt more sensibly than elsewhere. In great cities it was found more easy to elude the hand of despotism and oppression.
A change so earnestly wished for could not fail to be realised, and to be received with transport. The majority of the French people longed to be relieved from the situation in which they then stood. There were two dangers bar to cope with—anarchy and the Bourbons. Every one felt the urgent and indispensable necessity of concentrating the power of the Government in a single hand; at the same time maintaining the institutions which the spirit of the age demanded, and which France, after having so dearly purchased, was now about to lose. The country looked for a man who was capable of restoring her to tranquillity; but as yet no such man had appeared. A soldier of fortune presented himself, covered with glory; he had planted the standard of France on the Capitol and on the Pyramids. The whole world acknowledged his superior talent; his character, his courage, and his victories had raised him to the very highest rank. His great works, his gallant actions, his speeches, and his proclamations ever since he had risen to eminence left no doubt of his wish to secure happiness and freedom to France, his adopted country. At that critical moment the necessity of a temporary dictatorship, which sometimes secures the safety of a state, banished all reflections on the consequences of such a power, and nobody seemed to think glory incompatible with personal liberty. All eyes were therefore directed on the General, whose past conduct guaranteed his capability of defending the Republic abroad, and liberty at home,—on the General whom his flatterers, and indeed some of his sincere friends, styled, "the hero of liberal ideas," the title to which he aspired.
Under, every point of view, therefore, he was naturally chosen as the chief of a generous nation, confiding to him her destiny, in preference to a troop of mean and fanatical hypocrites, who, under the names of republicanism and liberty, had reduced France to the most abject slavery.
Among the schemes which Bonaparte was incessantly revolving in his mind may undoubtedly be ranked the project of attaining the head of the French Government; but it would be a mistake to suppose that on his return from Egypt he had formed any fixed plan. There was something vague in his ambitious aspirations; and he was, if I may so express myself, fond of building those imaginary edifices called castles in the air. The current of events was in accordance with his wishes; and it may truly be said that the whole French nation smoothed for Bonaparte the road which led. to power. Certainly the unanimous plaudits and universal joy which accompanied him along a journey of more than 200 leagues must have induced him to regard as a national mission that step which was at first prompted merely by his wish of meddling with the affairs of the Republic.
This spontaneous burst of popular feeling, unordered and unpaid for, loudly proclaimed the grievances of the people, and their hope that the man of victory would become their deliverer. The general enthusiasm excited by the return of the conqueror of Egypt delighted him to a degree which I cannot express, and was, as he has often assured me, a powerful stimulus in urging him to the object to which the wishes of France seemed to direct him.
Among people of all classes and opinions an 18th Brumaire was desired and expected. Many royalists even believed that a change would prove favourable to the King. So ready are we to persuade ourselves of the reality of what we wish.
As soon as it was suspected that Bonaparte would accept the power offered him, an outcry was raised about a conspiracy against the Republic, and measures were sought for preserving it. But necessity, and indeed, it must be confessed, the general feeling of the people, consigned the execution of those measures to him who was to subvert the Republic. On his return to Paris Bonaparte spoke and acted like a man who felt his own power; he cared neither for flattery, dinners, nor balls,—his mind took a higher flight.
We arrived in Paris on the 24th Vendemiaire (the 16th of October). As yet he knew nothing of what was going on; for he had seen neither his wife nor his brothers, who were looking for him on the Burgundy road. The news of our landing at Frejus had reached Paris by a telegraphic despatch. Madame Bonaparte, who was dining with M. Gohier when that despatch was communicated to him, as president of the Directory, immediately set off to meet her husband, well knowing how important it was that her first interview with him should not be anticipated by his brothers.
The imprudent communications of Junot at the fountains of Messoudiah will be remembered, but, after the first ebullition of jealous rage, all traces of that feeling had apparently disappeared. Bonaparte however, was still harassed by secret suspicion, and the painful impressions produced by Junot were either not entirely effaced or were revived after our arrival in Paris. We reached the capital before Josephine returned. The recollection of the past; the ill-natured reports of his brothers,
—[Joseph Bonaparte remarks on this that Napoleon met Josephine at Paris before his brothers arrived there, (Compare d'Abrantis, vol. 1, pp. 260-262 and Rumusat, tome i. pp. 147-148.)]—
and the exaggeration of facts had irritated Napoleon to the very highest pitch, and he received Josephine with studied coldness, and with an air of the most cruel indifference. He had no communication with her for three days, during which time he frequently spoke to me of suspicions which his imagination converted into certainty; and threats of divorce escaped his lips with no less vehemence than when we were on the confines of Syria. I took upon me the office of conciliator, which I had before discharged with success. I represented to him the dangers to be apprehended from the publicity and scandal of such an affair; and that the moment when his grand views might possibly be realized was not the fit time to entertain France and Europe with the details of a charge of adultery. I spoke to him of Hortense and Eugene, to whom he was much attached. Reflection, seconded by his ardent affection for Josephine, brought about a complete reconciliation. After these three days of conjugal misunderstanding their happiness was never afterwards disturbed by a similar cause.
—[In speaking of the unexpected arrival of Bonaparte and of the meeting between him and Josephine, Madame Junot says: "On the 10th October Josephine set off to meet her husband, but without knowing exactly what road he would take. She thought it likely he would come by way of Burgundy, and therefore Louis and she set off for Lyons.
"Madame Bonaparte was a prey to great and well-founded aspersions. Whether she was guilty or only imprudent, she was strongly accused by the Bonaparte family, who were desirous that Napoleon should obtain a divorce, The elder M. de Caulaincourt stated to us his apprehensions on this point; but whenever the subject was introduced my mother changed the conversation, because, knowing as she did the sentiments of the Bonaparte family, she could not reply without either committing them or having recourse to falsehood. She knew, moreover, the truth of many circumstances which M. de Caulaincourt seemed to doubt, and which her situation with respect to Bonaparte prevented her from communicating to him.
"Madame Bonaparte committed a great fault in neglecting at this juncture to conciliate her mother-in-law, who might have protected her again those who sought her ruin and effected it nine years later; for the divorce in 1809 was brought about by the joint efforts of all the members of the Bonaparte family, aided by some of Napoleon's most confidential servants, whom Josephine, either as Madame Bonaparte or as Empress, had done nothing to make her friends.
"Bonaparte, on his arrival in Paris, found his house deserted: but his mother, sisters, and sisters-in-law, and, in short, every member of his family, except Louis, who had attended Madame Bonaparte to Lyons, came to him immediately. The impression made upon him by the solitude of his home and its desertion by its mistress was profound and terrible, and nine years afterwards, when the ties between him and Josephine were severed for ever, he showed that it was not effaced. From not finding her with his family he inferred that she felt herself unworthy of their presence, and feared to meet the man she had wronged. He considered her journey to Lyons as a mere pretence.
"M. de Bourrienne says that for some days after Josephine's return Bonaparte treated her with extreme coldness. As he was an eyewitness, why does he not state the whole truth, and say that on her return Bonaparte refused to see her and did not see her? It was to the earnest entreaties of her children that she owed the recovery, not of her husband's love, for that had long ceased, but of that tenderness acquired by habit, and that intimate intercourse which made her still retain the rank of consort to the greatest man of his age. Bonaparte was at this period much attached to Eugene Beauharnais, who, to do him justice, was a charming youth. He knew less of Hortense; but her youth and sweetness of temper, and the protection of which, as his adopted daughter, she besought him not to deprive her, proved powerful advocates, and overcame his resistance.
"In this delicate negotiation it was good policy not to bring any other person into play, whatever might be their influence with Bonaparte, and Madame Bonaparte did not, therefore, have recourse either to Barras, Bourrienne, or Berthier. It was expedient that they who interceded for her should be able to say something without the possibility of a reply. Now Bonaparte could not with any degree of propriety explain to such children as Eugene or Hortense the particulars of their mother's conduct. He was therefore constrained to silence, and had no argument to combat the tears of two innocent creatures at his feet exclaiming, 'Do not abandon our mother; she will break her heart! and ought injustice to take from us, poor orphans, whose natural protector the scaffold has already deprived us of, the support of one whom Providence has sent to replace him!'
"The scene, as Bonaparte has since stated, was long and painful, and the two children at length introduced their mother, and placed her in his arms. The unhappy woman had awaited his decision at the door of a small back staircase, extended at almost full length upon the stairs, suffering the acutest pangs of mental torture.
"Whatever might be his wife's errors, Bonaparte appeared entirely to forget them, and the reconciliation was complete. Of all the members of the family Madame Leclerc was most vexed at the pardon which Napoleon had granted to his wife. Bonaparte's mother was also very ill pleased; but she said nothing. Madame Joseph Bonaparte, who was always very amiable, took no part in these family quarrels; therefore she could easily determine what part to take when fortune smiled on Josephine. As to Madame Bacciocchi, she gave free vent to her ill-humour and disdain; the consequence was that her sister-in- law could never endure her. Christine who was a beautiful creature, followed the example of Madame Joseph, and Caroline was so young that her opinion could have no weight in such an affair. As to Bonaparte's brothers, they were at open war with Josephine."]—
On the day after hid arrival Bonaparte visited the Directors.
—[The Directors at this time were Barras, Sieyes, Moulins, Gohier, and Roger Ducos.]—
The interview was cold. On the 24th of October he said to me, "I dined yesterday at Gohier's; Sieyes was present, and I pretended not to see him. I observed how much he was enraged at this mark of disrespect."— "But are you sure he is against you?" inquired I. "I know nothing yet; but he is a scheming man, and I don't like him." Even at that time Bonaparte had thoughts of getting himself elected a member of the Directory in the room of Sieyes.
Moreau and Bernadotte—Bonaparte's opinion of Bernadotte—False report—The crown of Sweden and the Constitution of the year III.— Intrigues of Bonaparte's brothers—Angry conversation between Bonaparte and Bernadotte—Bonaparte's version—Josephine's version— An unexpected visit—The Manege Club—Salicetti and Joseph Bonaparte —Bonaparte invites himself to breakfast with Bernadotte—Country excursion—Bernadotte dines with Bonaparte—The plot and conspiracy —Conduct of Lucien—Dinner given to Bonaparte by the Council of the Five Hundred—Bonaparte's wish to be chosen a member of the Directory—His reconciliation with Sieyes—Offer made by the Directory to Bonaparte—He is falsely accused by Barras.
To throw a clear light on the course of the great events which will presently be developed it is necessary to state briefly what intrigues had been hatched and what ambitious hopes had risen up while we were in Egypt. When in Egypt Bonaparte was entirely deprived of any means of knowing what was going on in France; and in our rapid journey from Frejus to Paris we had no opportunity of collecting much information. Yet it was very important that we should know the real state of affairs, and the sentiments of those whom Bonaparte had counted among his rivals in glory, and whom he might now meet among his rivals in ambition.
Moreau's military reputation stood very high, and Bernadotte's firmness appeared inflexible. Generally speaking, Bonaparte might have reckoned among his devoted partisans the companions of his glory in Italy, and also those whom he subsequently denominated "his Egyptians." But brave men had distinguished themselves in the army of the Rhine; and if they did not withhold their admiration from the conqueror of Italy, they felt at least more personally interested in the admiration which they lavished on him who had repaired the disaster of Scherer. Besides, it must be borne in mind that a republican spirit prevailed, almost without exception, in the army, and that the Directory appeared to be a Government invented expressly to afford patronage to intriguers. All this planted difficulties in our way, and rendered it indispensably necessary that we should know our ground. We had, it is true, been greeted by the fullest measure of popular enthusiasm on our arrival; but this was not enough. We wanted suffrages of a more solid kind.
During the campaign of Egypt, Bernadotte, who was a zealous republican, had been War Minister,
—[Bernadotte was Minister of war from 2d July 1799 to 14th September 1799, when, as he himself wrote to the Directory, they "accepted" the resignation he had not offered.]—
but be had resigned the portfolio to Dubois-Crance three weeks before Bonaparte's return to France. Some partisans of the old Minister were endeavouring to get him recalled, and it was very important to Bonaparte's interests that he should prevent the success of this design. I recollect that on the second day of our arrival Bonaparte said to me, "I have learned many things; but we shall see what will happen. Bernadotte is a singular man. When he was War Minister Augereau, Salicetti, and some others informed him that the Constitution was in danger, and that it was necessary to get rid of Sieyes, Barras, and Fouche, who were at the head of a plot. What did Bernadotte do? Nothing. He asked for proofs. None could be produced. He asked for powers. Who could grant them? Nobody. He should have taken them; but he would not venture on that. He wavered. He said be could not enter into the schemes which were proposed to him. He only promised to be silent on condition that they were renounced. Bernadotte is not a help; he is an obstacle, I have heard from good authority that a great number of influential persons wished to invest him with extensive power for the public good; but he was obstinate, and would listen to nothing."
After a brief interval of silence, during which Bonaparte rubbed his forehead with his right hand, he then resumed:
"I believe I shall have Bernadotte and Moreau against me. But I do not fear Moreau. He is devoid of energy. I know he would prefer military to political power. The promise of the command of an army would gain him over. But Bernadotte has Moorish blood in his veins. He is bold and enterprising. He is allied to my brothers.
—[Joseph Bonaparte and Bernadotte had married sisters. Mario-Julie and Eugenie Bernardine-Desiree Clary. The feeling of Bourrienne for Bernadotte makes this passage doubtful. It is to be noticed that in the same conversation he makes Napoleon describe Bernadotte as not venturing to act without powers and as enterprising. The stern republican becoming Prince de Monte Carlo and King of Sweden, in a way compatible with his fidelity to the Constitution of the year III., is good. Lanfrey attributes Bernadotte's refusal to join more to rivalry than to principle (Lanfrey, tome i. p. 440). But in any case Napoleon did not dread Bernadotte, and was soon threatening to shoot him; see Lucien, tome ii. p. 107.]—
"He does not like me, and I am almost certain that be will oppose me. If he should become ambitious he will venture anything. And yet, you recollect in what a lukewarm way he acted on the 18th Fructidor, when I sent him to second Augereau. This devil of a fellow is not to be seduced. He is disinterested and clever. But; after all, we have but just arrived, and know not what may happen."
Bernadotte, it was reported, had advised that Bonaparte should be brought to a court-martial, an the two-fold charge of having abandoned his army and violated the quarantine laws. This report came to the ear of Bonaparte; but he refused to believe it and he was right. Bernadotte thought himself bound to the Constitution which he had sworn to defend. Hence the opposition he manifested to the measures of the 18th Brumaire. But he cherished no personal animosity against Bonaparte as long as he was ignorant of his ambitious designs. The extraordinary and complicated nature of subsequent events rendered his possession of the crown of Sweden in no way incompatible with his fidelity to the Constitution of the year III.
On our first arrival in Paris, though I was almost constantly with the General, yet, as our routine of occupation was not yet settled, I was enabled now and then to snatch an hour or two from business. This leisure time I spent in the society of my family and a few friends, and in collecting information as to what had happened during our absence, for which purpose I consulted old newspapers and pamphlets. I was not surprised to learn that Bonaparte's brothers—that is to say, Joseph and Lucien—had been engaged in many intrigues. I was told that Sieyes had for a moment thought of calling the Duke of Brunswick to the head of the Government; that Barras would not have been very averse to favouring the return of the Bourbons; and that Moulins, Roger Ducos, and Gohier alone believed or affected to believe, in the possibility of preserving the existing form of government. From what I heard at the time I have good reasons for believing that Joseph and Lucien made all sorts of endeavours to inveigle Bernadotte into their brother's party, and in the hope of accomplishing that object they had assisted in getting him appointed War Minister. However, I cannot vouch for the truth of this. I was told that Bernadotte had at first submitted to the influence of Bonaparte's two brothers; but that their urgent interference in their client's behalf induced him to shake them off, to proceed freely in the exercise of his duties, and to open the eyes of the Directory on what the Republic might have to apprehend from the enterprising character of Bonaparte. It is certain that what I have to relate respecting the conduct of Bernadotte to Bonaparte is calculated to give credit to these assertions.
All the generals who were in Paris, with the exception of Bernadotte, had visited Bonaparte during the first three days which succeeded his arrival. Bernadotte's absence was the more remarkable because he had served under Bonaparte in Italy. It was not until a fortnight had elapsed, and then only on the reiterated entreaties of Joseph and Madame Joseph Bonaparte (his sister-in-law), that he determined to go and see his old General-in-Chief. I was not present at their interview, being at that moment occupied in the little cabinet of the Rue Chantereine. But I soon discovered that their conversation had been long and warm; for as soon as it was ended Bonaparte entered the cabinet exceedingly agitated, and said to me, "Bourrienne, how do you think Bernadotte has behaved? You have traversed France with me—you witnessed the enthusiasm which my return excited—you yourself told me that you saw in that enthusiasm the desire of the French people to be relieved from the disastrous position in which our reverses have placed them. Well! would you believe it? Bernadotte boasts, with ridiculous exaggeration, of the brilliant and victorious situation of France! He talks about the defeat of the Russians, the occupation of Genoa, the innumerable armies that are rising up everywhere. In short, I know not what nonsense he has got in his head."—"What can all this mean?" said I. "Did he speak about Egypt?"— "Oh, yes! Now you remind me. He actually reproached me for not having brought the army back with me! 'But,' observed I, 'have you not just told me that you are absolutely overrun with troops; that all your frontiers are secure, that immense levies are going on, and that you will have 200,000 infantry?—If this be true, what do you want with a few thousand men who may ensure the preservation of Egypt?' He could make no answer to this. But he is quite elated by the honour of having been War Minister, and he told me boldly that he looked upon the army of Egypt as lost nay, more. He made insinuations. He spoke of enemies abroad and enemies at home; and as he uttered these last words he looked significantly at me. I too gave him a glance! But stay a little. The pear will soon be ripe! You know Josephine's grace and address. She was present. The scrutinising glance of Bernadotte did not escape her, and she adroitly turned the conversation. Bernadotte saw from my countenance that I had had enough of it, and he took his leave. But don't let me interrupt you farther. I am going back to speak to Josephine."
I must confess that this strange story made me very impatient to find myself alone with Madame Bonaparte, for I wished to hear her account of the scene. An opportunity occurred that very evening. I repeated to her what I had heard from the General, and all that she told me tended to confirm its accuracy. She added that Bernadotte seemed to take the utmost pains to exhibit to the General a flattering picture of the prosperity of France; and she reported to me, as follows, that part of the conversation which was peculiarly calculated to irritate Bonaparte:— "'I do not despair of the safety of the Republic, which I am certain can restrain her enemies both abroad and at home.' As Bernadotte uttered these last words,'" continued Josephine, "his glance made me shudder. One word more and Bonaparte could have commanded himself no longer! It is true," added she, "that it was in some degree his own fault, for it was he who turned the conversation on politics; and Bernadotte, in describing the flourishing condition of France, was only replying to the General, who had drawn a very opposite picture of the state of things. You know, my dear Bourrienne, that Bonaparte is not always very prudent. I fear he has said too much to Bernadotte about the necessity of changes in the Government." Josephine had not yet recovered from the agitation into which this violent scene had thrown her. After I took leave of her; I made notes of what she had told me.
A few days after, when Bonaparte, Josephine, Hortense, Eugene, and I were together in the drawing-room, Bernadotte unexpectedly entered. His appearance, after what had passed, was calculated to surprise us. He was accompanied by a person whom he requested permission to introduce to Bonaparte. I have forgotten his name, but he was, I think, secretary- general while Bernadotte was in office. Bonaparte betrayed no appearance of astonishment. He received Bernadotte with perfect ease, and they soon entered into conversation. Bonaparte, who seemed to acquire confidence from the presence of those who were about him, said a great deal about the agitation which prevailed among the republicans, and expressed himself in very decided terms against the Manege Club.'
—[The Manege Club, the last resort of the Jacobins, formed in 1799, and closed seven or eight months afterwards. Joseph Bonaparte (Erreurs, time i. p. 251) denies that he or Lucien—for whom the allusion is meant—were members of this club, and he disputes this conversation ever having taken place. Lucien (tome i. p. 219) treats this club as opposed to his party.]—
I seconded him by observing that M. Moreau de Worms of my department, who was a member of that club, had himself complained to me of the violence that prevailed in it. "But, General," said Bernadotte, "your brothers were its most active originators. Yet," added he in a tone of firmness, "you accuse me of having favoured that club, and I repel the charge. It cannot be otherwise than false. When I came into office I found everything in the greatest disorder. I had no leisure to think about any club to which my duties did not call me. You know well that your friend Salicetti, and that your brother, who is in your confidence, are both leading men in the Manege Club. To the instructions of I know not whom is to be attributed the violence of which you complain." At these words, and especially the tone in which Bernadotte uttered 'I know not whom,' Bonaparte could no longer restrain himself. "Well, General," exclaimed he furiously, "I tell you plainly, I would rather live wild in the woods than in a state of society which affords no security." Bernadotte then said, with great dignity of manner, "Good God! General, what security would you have?" From the warmth evinced by Bonaparte I saw plainly that the conversation would soon be converted into a dispute, and in a whisper I requested Madame Bonaparte to change the conversation, which she immediately did by addressing a question to some one present. Bernadotte, observing Madame Bonaparte's design, checked his warmth. The subject of conversation was changed, and it became general Bernadotte soon took up his hat and departed.
One morning, when I entered Bonaparte's chamber—it was, I believe, three or four days after the second visit of Bernadotte—he said:
"Well, Bourrienne, I wager you will not guess with whom I am going to breakfast this morning?"—"Really, General, I ———"—"With Bernadotte; and the best of the joke is, that I have invited myself. You would have seen how it was all brought about if you had been with us at the Theatre Francais, yesterday evening. You know we are going to visit Joseph today at Mortfontaine. Well, as we were coming out of the theatre last night, finding myself side by aide with Bernadotte and not knowing what to talk about, I asked him whether he was to be of our party to-day? He replied in the affirmative; and as we were passing his house in the Rue Cisalpine,