How could he with 300,000 francs have been able to provide for the extensive repairs, the embellishment, and the furnishing of his house in the Rue Chantereine? How could he have supported the establishment he did with only 15,000 francs of income and the emoluments of his rank? The excursion which he made along the coast, of which I have yet to speak, of itself cost near 12,000 francs in gold, which he transferred to me to defray the expense of the journey; and I do not think that this sum was ever repaid him. Besides, what did it signify, for any object he might have in disguising his fortune, whether he brought 3,000,000 or 300,000 francs with him from Italy? No one will accuse him of peculation. He was an inflexible administrator. He was always irritated at the discovery of fraud, and pursued those guilty of it with all the vigour of his character. He wished to be independent, which he well knew that no one could be without fortune. He has often said to me, "I am no Capuchin, not I." But after having been allowed only 300,000 francs on his arrival from the rich Italy, where fortune never abandoned him, it has been printed that he had 20,000,000 (some have even doubled the amount) on his return from Egypt, which is a very poor country, where money is scarce, and where reverses followed close upon his victories. All these reports are false. What he brought from Italy has just been stated, and it will be seen when we come to Egypt what treasure he carried away from the country of the Pharaohs.
Bonaparte's brothers, desirous of obtaining complete dominion over his mind, strenuously endeavoured to lessen the influence which Josephine possessed from the love of her husband. They tried to excite his jealousy, and took advantage of her stay at Milan after our departure, which had been authorised by Bonaparte himself. My intimacy with both the husband and the wife fortunately afforded me an opportunity of averting or lessening a good deal of mischief. If Josephine still lived she would allow me this merit. I never took part against her but once, and that unwillingly. It was on the subject of the marriage of her daughter Hortense. Josephine had never as yet spoken to me on the subject. Bonaparte wished to give his stepdaughter to Duroc, and his brothers were eager to promote the marriage, because they wished to separate Josephine from Hortense, for whom Bonaparte felt the tenderest affection. Josephine, on the other hand, wished Hortense to marry Louis Bonaparte. Her motives, as may easily be divined, were to, gain support in a family where she experienced nothing but enmity, and she carried her point.
—[Previous to her marriage with Louis, Hortense cherished an attachment for Duroc, who was at that time a handsome man about thirty, and a great favourite of Bonaparte. However, the indifference with which Duroc regarded the marriage of Louis Bonaparte sufficiently proves that the regard with which he had inspired Hortense was not very ardently returned. It is certain that Duroc might have become the husband of Mademoiselle de Beauharnais had he been willing to accede to the conditions on which the First Consul offered him his step-daughter's hand. But Duroc looked forward to something better, and his ordinary prudence forsook him at a moment when he might easily have beheld a perspective calculated to gratify even a more towering ambition than his. He declined the proposed marriage; and the union of Hortense and Louis, which Madame Bonaparte, to conciliate the favour of her brothers-in-law, had endeavoured to bring about, was immediately determined on (Memoires de Constant).
In allusion to the alleged unfriendly feeling of Napoleon's brothers towards Josephine, the following observation occurs in Joseph Bonaparte's Notes on Bourrienne:
"None of Napoleon's brothers," he says, "were near him from the time of his departure for Italy except Louis who cannot be suspected of having intrigued against Josephine, whose daughter he married. These calumnies are without foundation" (Erreurs, tome i. p. 244)]—
On his arrival from Rastadt the most magnificent preparations were made at the Luxembourg for the reception of Bonaparte. The grand court of the Palace was elegantly ornamented; and at its farther end, close to the Palace, a large amphitheatre was erected for the accommodation of official persons. Curiosity, as on all like occasions, attracted multitudes, and the court was filled. Opposite to the principal vestibule stood the altar of the country, surrounded by the statues of Liberty, Equality, and Peace. When Bonaparte entered every head was uncovered. The windows were full of young and beautiful females. But notwithstanding this great preparation an icy coldness characterized the ceremony. Every one seemed to be present only for the purpose of beholding a sight, and curiosity was the prevailing expression rather than joy or gratitude. It is but right to say, however, that an unfortunate event contributed to the general indifference. The right wing of the Palace was not occupied, but great preparations had been making there, and an officer had been directed to prevent anyone from ascending. One of the clerks of the Directory, however, contrived to get upon the scaffolding, but had scarcely placed his foot on the first plank when it tilted up, and the imprudent man fell the whole height into the court. This accident created a general stupor. Ladies fainted, and the windows were nearly deserted.
However, the Directory displayed all the Republican splendour of which they were so prodigal on similar occasions. Speeches were far from being scarce. Talleyrand, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs, on introducing Bonaparte to the Directory, made a long oration, in the course of which he hinted that the personal greatness of the General ought not to excite uneasiness, even in a rising Republic. "Far from apprehending anything from his ambition, I believe that we shall one day be obliged to solicit him to tear himself from the pleasures of studious retirement. All France will be free, but perhaps he never will; such is his destiny."
Talleyrand was listened to with impatience, so anxious was every one to hear Bonaparte. The conqueror of Italy then rose, and pronounced with a modest air, but in a firm voice, a short address of congratulation on the improved position of the nation.
Barras, at that time President of the Directory, replied to Bonaparte with so much prolixity as to weary everyone; and as soon as he had finished speaking he threw himself into the arms of the General, who was not much pleased with such affected displays, and gave him what was then called the fraternal embrace. The other members of the Directory, following the example of the President, surrounded Bonaparte and pressed him in their arms; each acted, to the best of his ability, his part in the sentimental comedy.
Chenier composed for this occasion a hymn, which Mehul set to music. A few days after an opera was produced, bearing the title of the 'Fall of Carthage', which was meant as an allusion to the anticipated exploits of the conqueror of Italy, recently appointed to the command of the "Army of England." The poets were all employed in praising him; and Lebrun, with but little of the Pindaric fire in his soul, composed the following distich, which certainly is not worth much:
"Heros, cher a la paix, aux arts, a la victoire— Il conquit en deux ans mille siecles de gloire."
The two councils were not disposed to be behind the Directory in the manifestation of joy. A few days after they gave a banquet to the General in the gallery of the Louvre, which had recently been enriched by the masterpieces of painting conquered in Italy.
At this time Bonaparte displayed great modesty in all his transactions in Paris. The administrators of the department of the Seine having sent a deputation to him to inquire what hour and day he would allow them to wait on him, he carried himself his answer to the department, accompanied by General Berthier. It was also remarked that the judge of the peace of the arrondissement where the General lived having called on him on the 6th of December, the evening of his arrival, he returned the visit next morning. These attentions, trifling as they may appear, were not without their effect on the minds of the Parisians.
In consequence of General Bonaparte's victories, the peace he had effected, and the brilliant reception of which he had been the object, the business of Vendemiaire was in some measure forgotten. Every one was eager to get a sight of the young hero whose career had commenced with so much 'eclat'. He lived very retiredly, yet went often to the theatre. He desired me, one day, to go and request the representation of two of the best pieces of the time, in which Elleviou, Mesdames St. Aubin, Phillis, and other distinguished performers played. His message was, that he only wished these two pieces on the same night, if that were possible. The manager told me that nothing that the conqueror of Italy wished for was impossible, for he had long ago erased that word from the dictionary. Bonaparte laughed heartily at the manager's answer. When we went to the theatre he seated himself, as usual, in the back of the box, behind Madame Bonaparte, making me sit by her side. The pit and boxes, however, soon found out that he was in the house, and loudly called for him. Several times an earnest desire to see him was manifested, but all in vain, for he never showed himself.
Some days after, being at the Theatre des Arts, at the second representation of 'Horatius Cocles', although he was sitting at the back of a box in the second tier, the audience discovered that he was in the house. Immediately acclamations arose from all quarters; but he kept himself concealed as much as possible, and said to a person in the next box, "Had I known that the boxes were so exposed, I should not have come."
During Bonaparte's stay at Paris a woman sent a messenger to warn him that his life would be attempted, and that poison was to be employed for that purpose. Bonaparte had the bearer of this information arrested, who: went, accompanied by the judge of the peace, to the woman's house, where she was found extended on the floor, and bathed in her blood. The men whose plot she had overheard, having discovered that she had revealed their secret, murdered her. The poor woman was dreadfully mangled: her throat was cut; and, not satisfied with that, the assassins had also hacked her body with sharp instruments.
On the night of the 10th of Nivose the Rue Chantereine, in which Bonaparte had a small house (No. 6), received, in pursuance of a decree of the department, the name of Rue de la Victoire. The cries of "Vive Bonaparte!" and the incense prodigally offered up to him, did not however seduce him from his retired habits. Lately the conqueror and ruler of Italy, and now under men for whom he had no respect, and who saw in him a formidable rival, he said to me one day, "The people of Paris do not remember anything. Were I to remain here long, doing nothing, I should be lost. In this great Babylon one reputation displaces another. Let me be seen but three times at the theatre and I shall no longer excite attention; so I shall go there but seldom." When he went he occupied a box shaded with curtains. The manager of the opera wished to get up a special performance in his honour; but he declined the offer. When I observed that it must be agreeable to him to see his fellow-citizens so eagerly running after him, he replied, "Bah! the people would crowd as fast to see me if I were going to the scaffold."
—[A similar remark made to William III. on his lending at Brixham elicited the comment, "Like the Jews, who cried one day 'Hosanna!' and the next 'Crucify Him! crucify Him!'"]—
On the 28th of December Bonaparte was named a member of the Institute, in the class of the Sciences and arts.
—[Napoleon seems to have really considered this nomination as a great honour. He was fond of using the title in his proclamations; and to the last the allowance attached to the appointment figured in the Imperial accounts. He replaced Carnot, the exiled Director.]—
He showed a deep sense of this honour, and wrote the following letter to Camus; the president of the class:
CITIZEN PRESIDENT—The suffrage of the distinguished men who compose the institute confers a high honour on me. I feel well assured that, before I can be their equal, I must long be their scholar. If there were any way more expressive than another of making known my esteem for you, I should be glad to employ it. True conquests—the only ones which leave no regret behind them—are those which are made over ignorance. The most honourable, as well as the most useful, occupation for nations is the contributing to the extension of human knowledge. The true power of the French Republic should henceforth be made to consist in not allowing a single new idea to exist without making it part of its property. BONAPARTE.
The General now renewed, though unsuccessfully, the attempt he had made before the 18th Fructidor to obtain a dispensation of the age necessary for becoming a Director. Perceiving that the time was not yet favourable for such a purpose, he said to me, on the 29th of January 1798, "Bourrienne, I do not wish to remain here; there is nothing to do. They are unwilling to listen to anything. I see that if I linger here, I shall soon lose myself. Everything wears out here; my glory has already disappeared. This little Europe does not supply enough of it for me. I must seek it in the East, the fountain of glory. However, I wish first to make a tour along the coast, to ascertain by my own observation what may be attempted. I will take you, Lannes, and Sulkowsky, with me. If the success of a descent on England appear doubtful, as I suspect it will, the army of England shall become the army of the East, and I will go to Egypt."
This and other conversations give a correct insight into his character. He always considered war and conquest as the most noble and inexhaustible source of that glory which was the constant object of his desire. He revolted at the idea of languishing in idleness at Paris, while fresh laurels were growing for him in distant climes. His imagination inscribed, in anticipation, his name on those gigantic monuments which alone, perhaps, of all the creations of man, have the character of eternity. Already proclaimed the most illustrious of living generals, he sought to efface the rival names of antiquity by his own. If Caesar fought fifty battles, he longed to fight a hundred—if Alexander left Macedon to penetrate to the Temple of Ammon, he wished to leave Paris to travel to the Cataracts of the Nile. While he was thus to run a race with fame, events would, in his opinion, so proceed in France as to render his return necessary and opportune. His place would be ready for him, and he should not come to claim it a forgotten or unknown man.
Bonaparte's departure from Paris—His return—The Egyptian expedition projected—M. de Talleyrand—General Desaix—Expedition against Malta—Money taken at Berne—Bonaparte's ideas respecting the East—Monge—Non-influence of the Directory—Marriages of Marmont and La Valette—Bonaparte's plan of colonising Egypt—His camp library—Orthographical blunders—Stock of wines—Bonaparte's arrival at Toulon—Madame Bonaparte's fall from a balcony—Execution of an old man—Simon.
Bonaparte left Paris for the north on the 10th of February 1798—but he received no order, though I have seen it everywhere so stated, to go there—"for the purpose of preparing the operations connected with the intended invasion of England." He occupied himself with no such business, for which a few days certainly would not have been sufficient. His journey to the coast was nothing but a rapid excursion, and its sole object was to enable him to form an opinion on the main point of the question. Neither did he remain absent several weeks, for the journey occupied only one. There were four of us in his carriage—himself, Lannes, Sulkowsky, and I. Moustache was our courier. Bonaparte was not a little surprised on reading, in the 'Moniteur' of the 10th February, an article giving greater importance to his little excursion than it deserved.
"General Bonaparte," said the 'Moniteur', "has departed for Dunkirk with some naval and engineer officers. They have gone to visit the coasts and prepare the preliminary operations for the descent [upon England]. It may be stated that he will not return to Rastadt, and that the close of the session of the Congress there is approaching."
Now for the facts. Bonaparte visited Etaples, Ambleteuse, Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk, Furnes, Niewport, Ostend, and the Isle of Walcheren. He collected at the different ports all the necessary information with that intelligence and tact for which he was so eminently distinguished. He questioned the sailors, smugglers, and fishermen, and listened attentively to the answers he received.
We returned to Paris by Antwerp, Brussels, Lille, and St. Quentin. The object of our journey was accomplished when we reached the first of these towns. "Well, General," said I, "what think you of our journey? Are you satisfied? For my part, I confess I entertain no great hopes from anything I have seen and heard." Bonaparte immediately answered, "It is too great a chance. I will not hazard it. I would not thus sport with the fate of my beloved France." On hearing this I already fancied myself in Cairo!
On his return to Paris Bonaparte lost no time in setting on foot the military and scientific preparations for the projected expedition to the banks of the Nile, respecting which such incorrect statements have appeared. It had long occupied his thoughts, as the following facts will prove.
In the month of August 1797 he wrote "that the time was not far distant when we should see that, to destroy the power of England effectually, it would be necessary to attack Egypt." In the same month he wrote to Talleyrand, who had just succeeded Charles de Lacroix as Minister of Foreign Affairs, "that it would be necessary to attack Egypt, which did not belong to the Grand Signior." Talleyrand replied, "that his ideas respecting Egypt were certainly grand, and that their utility could not fail to be fully appreciated." He concluded by saying he would write to him at length on the subject.
History will speak as favourably of M. de Talleyrand as his contemporaries have spoken ill of him. When a statesman, throughout a great, long, and difficult career, makes and preserves a number of faithful friends, and provokes but few enemies, it must be acknowledged that his character is honourable and his talent profound, and that his political conduct has been wise and moderate. It is impossible to know M. de Talleyrand without admiring him. All who have that advantage, no doubt, judge him as I do.
In the month of November of the same year Bonaparte sent Poussielgue, under the pretence of inspecting the ports of the Levant, to give the finishing stroke to the meditated expedition against Malta.
General Desaix, whom Bonaparte had made the confidant of all his plans at their interview in Italy after the preliminaries of Leoben, wrote to him from Affenbourg, on his return to Germany, that he regarded the fleet of Corfu with great interest. "If ever," said he, "it should be engaged in the grand enterprises of which I have heard you speak, do not, I beseech you, forget me." Bonaparte was far from forgetting him.
The Directory at first disapproved of the expedition against Malta, which Bonaparte had proposed long before the treaty of Campo-Formio was signed. The expedition was decided to be impossible, for Malta had observed strict neutrality, and had on several occasions even assisted our ships and seamen. Thus we had no pretext for going to war with her. It was said, too, that the legislative body would certainly not look with a favourable eye on such a measure. This opinion, which, however, did not last long, vexed Bonaparte. It was one of the disappointments which made him give a rough welcome to Bottot, Barras' agent, at the commencement of October 1797.
In the course of an animated conversation he said to Bottot, shrugging his shoulders, "Mon Dieu! Malta is for sale!" Sometime after he himself was told that "great importance was attached to the acquisition of Malta, and that he must not suffer it to escape." At the latter end of September 1797 Talleyrand, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote to him that the Directory authorized him to give the necessary orders to Admiral Brueys for taking Malta. He sent Bonaparte some letters for the island, because Bonaparte had said it was necessary to prepare the public mind for the event.
Bonaparte exerted himself night and day in the execution of his projects. I never saw him so active. He made himself acquainted with the abilities of the respective generals, and the force of all the army corps. Orders and instructions succeeded each other with extraordinary rapidity. If he wanted an order of the Directory he ran to the Luxembourg to get it signed by one of the Directors. Merlin de Douai was generally the person who did him this service, for he was the most constant at his post. Lagarde, the Secretary-General, did not countersign any document relative to this expedition, Bonaparte not wishing him to be informed of the business. He transmitted to Toulon the money taken at Berne, which the Directory had placed at his disposal. It amounted to something above 3,000,000 francs. In those times of disorder and negligence the finances were very badly managed. The revenues were anticipated and squandered away, so that the treasury never possessed so large a sum as that just mentioned.
It was determined that Bonaparte should undertake an expedition of an unusual character to the East. I must confess that two things cheered me in this very painful interval; my friendship and admiration for the talents of the conqueror of Italy, and the pleasing hope of traversing those ancient regions, the historical and religious accounts of which had engaged the attention of my youth.
It was at Passeriano that, seeing the approaching termination of his labours in Europe, he first began to turn serious attention to the East. During his long strolls in the evening in the magnificent park there he delighted to converse about the celebrated events of that part of the world, and the many famous empires it once possessed. He used to say, "Europe is a mole-hill. There have never been great empires and revolutions except in the East, where there are 600,000,000 men." He considered that part of the world as the cradle of all religious, of all metaphysical extravagances. This subject was no less interesting than inexhaustible, and he daily introduced it when conversing with the generals with whom he was intimate, with Monge, and with me.
Monge entirely concurred in the General-in-Chief's opinions on this point; and his scientific ardour was increased by Bonaparte's enthusiasm. In short, all were unanimously of one opinion. The Directory had no share in renewing the project of this memorable expedition, the result of which did not correspond with the grand views in which it had been conceived. Neither had the Directory any positive control over Bonaparte's departure or return. It was merely the passive instrument of the General's wishes, which it converted into decrees, as the law required. He was no more ordered to undertake the conquest of Egypt than he was instructed as to the plan of its execution. Bonaparte organised the army of the East, raised money, and collected ships; and it was he who conceived the happy idea of joining to the expedition men distinguished in science and art, and whose labours have made known, in its present and past state, a country, the very name of which is never pronounced without exciting grand recollections.
Bonaparte's orders flew like lightning from Toulon to Civita Vecchia. With admirable precision he appointed some forces to assemble before Malta, and others before Alexandria. He dictated all these orders to me in his Cabinet.
In the position in which France stood with respect to Europe, after the treaty of Campo-Formio, the Directory, far from pressing or even facilitating this expedition, ought to have opposed it. A victory on the Adige would have been far better far France than one on the Nile. From all I saw, I am of opinion that the wish to get rid of an ambitious and rising man, whose popularity excited envy, triumphed over the evident danger of removing, for an indefinite period, an excellent army, and the possible loss of the French fleet. As to Bonaparte, he was well assured that nothing remained for him but to choose between that hazardous enterprise and his certain ruin. Egypt was, he thought, the right place to maintain his reputation, and to add fresh glory to his name.
On the 12th of April 1798 he was appointed General-in-Chief of the army of the East.
It was about this time that Marmont was married to Mademoiselle Perregaux; and Bonaparte's aide de camp, La Valletta, to Mademoiselle Beauharnais.
—[Sir Walter Scott informs us that Josephine, when she became Empress, brought about the marriage between her niece and La Vallette. This is another fictitious incident of his historical romance.—Bourrienne.]—
Shortly before our departure I asked Bonaparte how long he intended to remain in Egypt. He replied, "A few months, or six years: all depends on circumstances. I will colonise the country. I will bring them artists and artisans of every description; women, actors, etc. We are but nine-and-twenty now, and we shall then be five-and-thirty. That is not an old age. Those six years will enable me, if all goes well, to get to India. Give out that you are going to Brest. Say so even to your family." I obeyed, to prove my discretion and real attachment to him.
Bonaparte wished to form a camp library of cabinet editions, and he gave me a list of the books which I was to purchase. This list is in his own writing, and is as follows:
1. ARTS AND SCIENCE.—Fontenelle's Worlds, 1 vol. Letters to a German Princess, 2 vols. Courses of the Normal School, 6 vols. The Artillery Assistant, 1 vol. Treatise on Fortifications, 3 vols. Treatise on Fireworks, 1 vol.
2. GEOGRAPHY AND TRAVELS.—Barclay's Geography, 12 vols. Cook's Voyages, 3 vols. La Harpe's Travels, 24 vols.
3. HISTORY.—Plutarch, 12 vols. Turenne, 2 vols. Conde, 4 vols. Villars, 4 vols. Luxembourg, 2 vols. Duguesclin, 2 vols. Saxe, 3 vols. Memoirs of the Marshals of France, 20 vols. President Hainault, 4 vols. Chronology, 2 vols. Marlborough, 4 vols. Prince Eugene, 6 vols. Philosophical History of India, 12 vols. Germany, 2 vols. Charles XII., 1 vol. Essay on the Manners of Nations, 6 vols. Peter the Great, 1 vol. Polybius, 6 vols. Justin, 2 vols. Arrian, 3 vols. Tacitus, 2 vols. Titus Livy, Thucydides, 2 vols. Vertot, 4 vols. Denina, 8 vols. Frederick II, 8 vols.
4. POETRY.—Osaian, 1 vol. Tasso, 6 vols. Ariosto, 6 vols. Homer, 6 vols. Virgil, 4 vols. The Henriade, 1 vol. Telemachus, 2 vols. Les Jardin, 1 vol. The Chefs-d'Oeuvre of the French Theatre, 20 vols. Select Light Poetry, 10 vols. La Fontaine.
5. ROMANCE.—Voltaire, 4 vols. Heloise, 4 vols. Werther, 1 vol. Marmontel, 4 vols. English Novels, 40 vols. Le Sage, 10 vols. Prevost, 10 vols.
6. POLITICS AND MORALS.—The Old Testament. The New Testament. The Koran. The Vedan. Mythology. Montesquieu. The Esprit des Lois.
It will be observed that he classed the books of the religious creeds of nations under the head of "politics."
The autograph copy of the above list contains some of those orthographical blunders which Bonaparte so frequently committed. Whether these blunders are attributable to the limited course of instruction he received at Brienne, to his hasty writing, the rapid flow of his ideas, or the little importance he attached to that indispensable condition of polite education, I know not. Knowing so well as he did the authors and generals whose names appear in the above list, it is curious that he should have written Ducecling for Duguesclin, and Ocean for Ossian. The latter mistake would have puzzled me not a little had I not known his predilection for the Caledonian bard.
Before his departure Bonaparte laid in a considerable stock of Burgundy. It was supplied by a man named James, of Dijon. I may observe that on this occasion we had an opportunity of ascertaining that good Burgundy, well racked off, and in casks hermetically sealed, does not lose its quality on a sea voyage. Several cases of this Burgundy twice crossed the desert of the Isthmus of Suez on camels' backs. We brought some of it back with us to Frejus, and it was as good as when we departed. James went with us to Egypt.
During the remainder of our stay in Paris nothing occurred worthy of mention, with the exception of a conversation between Bonaparte and me some days before our departure for Toulon. He went with me to the Luxembourg to get signatures to the official papers connected with his expedition. He was very silent. As we passed through the Rue Sainte Anne I asked him, with no other object than merely to break a long pause, whether he was still determined to quit France. He replied, "Yes: I have tried everything. They do not want me (probably alluding to the office of Director). I ought to overthrow them, and make myself King; but it will not do yet. The nobles will never consent to it. I have tried my ground. The time is not yet come. I should be alone. But I will dazzle them again." I replied, "Well, we will go to Egypt;" and changed the conversation.
—[Lucien and the Bonapartists of course deny that Napoleon wished to become Director, or to seize on power at this time; see Lucien, tome 1. p. 154. Thiers (vol. v. p. 257) takes the same view. Lanfrey (tome i. p. 363) believes Napoleon was at last compelled by the Directory to start and he credits the story told by Desaix to Mathieu Dumas, or rather to the wife of that officer, that there was a plot to upset the Directory, but that when all was ready Napoleon judged that the time was not ripe. Lanfrey, however, rather enlarges what Dumas says; see Dumas, tome iii. p. 167. See also the very remarkable conversation of Napoleon with Miot de Melito just before leaving Italy for Rastadt: "I cannot obey any longer. I have tasted the pleasures of command, and I cannot renounce it. My decision is taken. If I cannot be master, I shall quit France." (Miot, tome i. p. 184).]—
The squabble with Bernadotte at Vienna delayed our departure for a fortnight, and might have had the most disastrous influence on the fate of the squadron, as Nelson would most assuredly have waited between Malta and Sicily if he had arrived there before us.'
—[Sir Walter Scott, without any authority, states that, at the moment of his departure, Bonaparte seemed disposed to abandon the command of an expedition so doubtful and hazardous, and that for this purpose he endeavoured to take advantage of what had occurred at Vienna. This must be ranked in the class of inventions, together with Barras mysterious visit to communicate the change of destination, and also the ostracism and honourable exile which the Directory wished to impose on Bonaparte.—Bourrienne.]—
It is untrue that he ever entertained the idea of abandoning the expedition in consequence of Bernadotte's affair. The following letter to Brueys, dated the 28th of April 1798, proves the contrary:
Some disturbances which have arisen at Vienna render my presence in Paris necessary for a few days. This will not change any of the arrangements for the expedition. I have sent orders by this courier for the troops at Marseilles to embark and proceed to Toulon. On the evening of the 30th I will send you a courier with orders for you to embark and proceed with the squadron and convoy to Genoa, where I will join you.
The delay which this fresh event has occasioned will, I imagine, have enabled you to complete every preparation.
We left Paris on the 3d of May 1798. Ten days before Bonaparte's departure for Egypt a prisoner (Sir Sidney Smith) escaped from the Temple who was destined to contribute materially to his reverses. An escape so unimportant in itself afterwards caused the failure of the most gigantic projects and daring conceptions. This escape was pregnant with future events; a false order of the Minister of Police prevented the revolution of the East!
We were at Toulon on the 8th. Bonaparte knew by the movements of the English that not a moment was to be lost; but adverse winds detained us ten days, which he occupied in attending to the most minute details connected with the fleet.
Bonaparte, whose attention was constantly occupied with his army, made a speech to the soldiers, which I wrote to his dictation, and which appeared in the public papers at the time. This address was followed by cries of "The Immortal Republic for ever!" and the singing of national hymns.
Those who knew Madame Bonaparte are aware that few women were more amiable and fascinating. Bonaparte was passionately fond of her, and to enjoy the pleasure of her society as long as possible he brought her with him to Toulon. Nothing could be more affecting than their parting. On leaving Toulon Josephine went to the waters of Plombieres. I recollect that during her stay at Plombieres she incurred great danger from a serious accident. Whilst she was one day sitting at the balcony of the hotel, with her suite, the balcony suddenly gave way, and all the persons in it fell into the street. Madame Bonaparte was much hurt, but no serious consequences ensued.
Bonaparte had scarcely arrived at Toulon when he heard that the law for the death of emigrants was enforced with frightful rigour; and that but recently an old man, upwards of eighty, had been shot. Indignant at this barbarity, he dictated to me, in a tone of anger, the following letter:
HEADQUARTERS TOULON, 27th Floreal, year VI. (16th May 1798).
BONAPARTE, MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE, TO THE MILITARY COMMISSIONERS OF THE NINTH DIVISION, ESTABLISHED BY THE LAW OF THE 19TH FRUCTIDOR.
I have learned, citizens, with deep regret, that an old man, between seventy and eighty years of age, and some unfortunate women, in a state of pregnancy, or surrounded with children of tender age, have been shot on the charge of emigration.
Have the soldiers of liberty become executioners? Can the mercy which they have exercised even in the fury of battle be extinct in their hearts?
The law of the 19th Fructidor was a measure of public safety. Its object was to reach conspirators, not women and aged men.
I therefore exhort you, citizens, whenever the law brings to your tribunals women or old men, to declare that in the field of battle you have respected the women and old men of your enemies.
The officer who signs a sentence against a person incapable of bearing arms is a coward. (Signed) BONAPARTE.
This letter saved the life of an unfortunate man who came under the description of persons to whom Bonaparte referred. The tone of this note shows what an idea he already entertained of his power. He took upon him, doubtless from the noblest motives, to step out of his way to interpret and interdict the execution of a law, atrocious, it is true, but which even in those times of weakness, disorder, and anarchy was still a law. In this instance, at least, the power of his name was nobly employed. The letter gave great satisfaction to the army destined for the expedition.
A man named Simon, who had followed his master in emigration, and dreaded the application of the law, heard that I wanted a servant. He came to me and acknowledged his situation. He suited me, and I hired him. He then told me he feared he should be arrested whilst going to the port to embark. Bonaparte, to whom I mentioned the circumstance, and who had just given a striking proof of his aversion to these acts of barbarity, said to me in a tone of kindness, "Give him my portfolio to carry, and let him remain with you." The words "Bonaparte, General-in-Chief of the Army of the East," were inscribed in large gold letters on the green morocco. Whether it was the portfolio or his connection with us that prevented Simon from being arrested I know not; but he passed on without interruption. I reprimanded him for having smiled derisively at the ill humour of the persons appointed to arrest him. He served me faithfully, and was even sometimes useful to Bonaparte.
Departure of the squadron—Arrival at Malta—Dolomieu—General Barguay d'Hilliers—Attack on the western part of the island— Caffarelli's remark—Deliverance of the Turkish prisoners—Nelson's pursuit of the French fleet—Conversations on board—How Bonaparte passed his, time—Questions to the Captains—Propositions discussed —Morning music—Proclamation—Admiral Brueys—The English fleet avoided Dangerous landing—Bonaparte and his fortune—Alexandria taken—Kleber wounded—Bonaparte's entrance into Alexandria.
The squadron sailed on the 19th of May. The Orient, which, owing to her heavy lading, drew too much water, touched the ground; but she was got off without much difficulty.
We arrived off Malta on the 10th of June. We had lost two days in waiting for some convoys which joined us at Malta.
The intrigues throughout Europe had not succeeded in causing the ports of that island to be opened to us immediately on our arrival. Bonaparte expressed much displeasure against the persons sent from Europe to arrange measures for that purpose. One of them, however, M. Dolomieu, had cause to repent his mission, which occasioned him to be badly treated by the Sicilians. M. Poussielgue had done all he could in the way of seduction, but he had not completely succeeded. There was some misunderstanding, and, in consequence, some shots were interchanged. Bonaparte was very much pleased with General Baraguay d'Hilliers' services in Italy. He could not but praise his military and political conduct at Venice when, scarcely a year before, he had taken possession of that city by his orders. General Baraguay d'Hilliers joined us with his division,—which had embarked in the convoy that sailed from Genoa. The General-in-Chief ordered him to land and attack the western part of the island. He executed this order with equal prudence and ability, and highly to the satisfaction of the General-in-Chief. As every person in the secret knew that all this was a mere form, these hostile demonstrations produced no unpleasant consequences. We wished to save the honour of the knights—that was all; for no one who has seen Malta can imagine that an island surrounded with such formidable and perfect fortifications would have surrendered in two days to a fleet which was pursued by an enemy. The impregnable fortress of Malta is so secure against a 'coup de main' that General Caffarelli, after examining its fortifications, said to the General-in-Chief, in my presence, "Upon my word, General, it is luck: there is some one in the town to open the gates for us."
By comparing the observation of General Caffarelli with what has been previously stated respecting the project of the expedition to Egypt and Malta, an idea may be formed of the value of Bonaparte's assertion at St. Helena:
"The capture of Malta was not owing to private intrigues, but to the sagacity of the Commander-in-chief. I took Malta when I was in Mantua!"
It is not the less true, however, that I wrote, by his dictation, a mass of instructions for private intrigues. Napoleon also said to another noble companion of his exile at St Helena, "Malta certainly possessed vast physical means of resistance; but no moral means. The knights did nothing dishonourable nobody is obliged to do impossibilities. No; but they were sold; the capture of Malta was assured before we left Toulon."
The General-in-Chief proceeded to that part of the port where the Turks made prisoners by the knights were kept.
The disgusting galleys were emptied of their occupants: The same principles which, a few days after, formed the basis of Bonaparte's proclamation to the Egyptians, guided him in this act of reason and humanity.
He walked several times in the gardens of the grandmaster. They were in beautiful order, and filled with magnificent orange-trees. We regaled ourselves with their fruit, which the great heat rendered most delicious.
On the 19th of June, after having settled the government and defence of the island, the General left Malta, which he little dreamed he had taken for the English, who have very badly requited the obligation. Many of the knights followed Bonaparte and took civil and military appointments.
During the night of the 22d of June the English squadron was almost close upon us. It passed at about six leagues from the French fleet. Nelson, who learned the capture of Malta at Messina on the day we left the island, sailed direct for Alexandria, without proceeding into the north. He considered that city to be the place of our destination. By taking the shortest course, with every sail set, and unembarrassed by any convoy, he arrived before Alexandria on the 28th of June, three days before the French fleet, which, nevertheless, had sailed before him from the shores of Malta. The French squadron took the direction of Candia, which we perceived on the 25th of June, and afterwards stood to the south, favoured by the Etesian winds, which regularly prevail at that season. The French fleet did not reach Alexandria till the 30th of June.
When on board the 'Orient' he took pleasure in conversing frequently with Monge and Berthollet. The subjects on which they usually talked were chemistry, mathematics, and religion. General Caffarelli, whose conversation, supplied by knowledge, was at once energetic, witty, and lively, was one of those with whom he most willingly discoursed. Whatever friendship he might entertain for Berthollet, it was easy to perceive that he preferred Monge, and that he was led to that preference because Monge, endowed with an ardent imagination, without exactly possessing religious principles, had a kind of predisposition for religious ideas which harmonised with the notions of Bonaparte. On this subject Berthollet sometimes rallied his inseparable friend Monge. Besides, Berthollet was, with his cold imagination, constantly devoted to analysis and abstractions, inclined towards materialism, an opinion with which the General was always much dissatisfied.
Bonaparte sometimes conversed with Admiral Brueys. His object was always to gain information respecting the different manoeuvres, and nothing astonished the Admiral more than the sagacity of his questions. I recollect that one day, Bonaparte having asked Brueys in what manner the hammocks were disposed of when clearing for action, he declared, after he had received an answer, that if the case should occur he would order every one to throw his baggage overboard.
He passed a great part of his time in his cabin, lying on a bed, which, swinging on a kind of castors, alleviated the severity of the sea-sickness from which he frequently suffered much when the ship rolled.
I was almost always with him in his cabin, where I read to him some of the favourite works which he had selected for his camp library. He also frequently conversed, for hours together, with the captains of the vessels which he hailed. He never failed to ask whence they came? what was their destination? what ships they had met? what course they had sailed? His curiosity being thus satisfied, he allowed them to continue their voyage, after making them promise to say nothing of having seen the French squadron.
Whilst we were at sea he seldom rose before ten o'clock in the morning. The 'Orient' had the appearance of a populous town, from which women had been excluded; and this floating city was inhabited by 2000 individuals, amongst whom were a great number of distinguished men. Bonaparte every day invited several persons to dine with him, besides Brueys, Berthier, the colonels, and his ordinary household, who were always present at the table of the General-in-Chief. When the weather was fine he went up to the quarter-deck, which, from its extent, formed a grand promenade.
I recollect once that when walking the quarter-deck with him whilst we were in Sicilian waters I thought I could see the summits of the Alps beautifully lighted by the rays of the setting sun. Bonaparte laughed much, and joked me about it. He called Admiral Brueys, who took his telescope and soon confirmed my conjecture. The Alps!
At the mention of that word by the Admiral I think I can see Bonaparte still. He stood for a long time motionless; then, suddenly bursting from his trance, exclaimed, "No! I cannot behold the land of Italy without emotion! There is the East: and there I go; a perilous enterprise invites me. Those mountains command the plains where I so often had the good fortune to lead the French to victory. With them we will conquer again."
One of Bonaparte's greatest pleasures during the voyage was, after dinner, to fix upon three or four persons to support a proposition and as many to oppose it. He had an object in view by this. These discussions afforded him an opportunity of studying the minds of those whom he had an interest in knowing well, in order that he might afterwards confide to each the functions for which he possessed the greatest aptitude: It will not appear singular to those who have been intimate with Bonaparte, that in these intellectual contests he gave the preference to those who had supported an absurd proposition with ability over those who had maintained the cause of reason; and it was not superiority of mind which determined his judgment, for he really preferred the man who argued well in favour of an absurdity to the man who argued equally well in support of a reasonable proposition. He always gave out the subjects which were to be discussed; and they most frequently turned upon questions of religion, the different kinds of government, and the art of war. One day he asked whether the planets were inhabited; on another, what was the age of the world; then he proposed to consider the probability of the destruction of our globe, either by water or fire; at another time, the truth or fallacy of presentiments, and the interpretation of dreams. I remember the circumstance which gave rise to the last proposition was an allusion to Joseph, of whom he happened to speak, as he did of almost everything connected with the country to which we were bound, and which that able administrator had governed. No country came under Bonaparte's observation without recalling historical recollections to his mind. On passing the island of Candia his imagination was excited, and he spoke with enthusiasm of ancient Crete and the Colossus, whose fabulous renown has surpassed all human glories. He spoke much of the fall of the empire of the East, which bore so little resemblance to what history has preserved of those fine countries, so often moistened with the blood of man. The ingenious fables of mythology likewise occurred to his mind, and imparted to his language something of a poetical, and, I may say, of an inspired character. The sight of the kingdom of Minos led him to reason on the laws best calculated for the government of nations; and the birthplace of Jupiter suggested to him the necessity of a religion for the mass of mankind. This animated conversation lasted until the favourable north winds, which drove the clouds into the valley of the Nile, caused us to lose sight of the island of Candia.
The musicians on board the Orient sometimes played serenades; but only between decks, for Bonaparte was not yet sufficiently fond of music to wish to hear it in his cabin. It may be said that his taste for this art increased in the direct ratio of his power; and so it was with his taste for hunting, of which he gave no indication until after his elevation to the empire; as though he had wished to prove that he possessed within himself not only the genius of sovereignty for commanding men, but also the instinct for those aristocratical pleasures, the enjoyment of which is considered by mankind to be amongst the attributes of kings.
It is scarcely possible that some accidents should not occur during a long voyage in a crowded vessel—that some persons should not fall overboard. Accidents of this kind frequently happened on board the 'Orient'. On those occasions nothing was more remarkable than the great humanity of the man who has since been so prodigal of the blood of his fellow-creatures on the field of battle, and who was about to shed rivers of it even in Egypt, whither we were bound. When a man fell into the sea the General-in-Chief was in a state of agitation till he was saved. He instantly had the ship hove-to, and exhibited the greatest uneasiness until the unfortunate individual was recovered. He ordered me to reward those who ventured their lives in this service. Amongst these was a sailor who had incurred punishment for some fault. He not only exempted him from the punishment, but also gave him some money. I recollect that one dark night we heard a noise like that occasioned by a man falling into the sea. Bonaparte instantly caused the ship to be hove-to until the supposed victim was rescued from certain death. The men hastened from all sides, and at length they picked up-what?—the quarter of a bullock, which had fallen from the hook to which it was hung. What was Bonaparte's conduct? He ordered me to reward the sailors who had exerted themselves in this occasion even more generously than usual, saying, "It might have been a sailor, and these brave fellows have shown as much activity and courage as if it had."
After the lapse of thirty years all these things are as fresh in my recollection as if they were passing at the present moment. In this manner Bonaparte employed his time on board the Orient during the voyage, and it was also at this time that he dictated to me the following proclamation:
HEADQUARTERS ON BOARD THE "ORIENT," The 4th Messidor, Year VI.
BONAPARTE, MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE, GENERAL-IN-CHIEF.
SOLDIERS—You are about to undertake a conquest the effects of which on civilisation and commerce are incalculable. The blow you are about to give to England will be the best aimed, and the most sensibly felt, she can receive until the time arrive when you can give her her deathblow.
We must make some fatiguing marches; we must fight several battles; we shall succeed in all we undertake. The destinies are with us. The Mameluke Beys who favour exclusively English commerce, whose extortions oppress our merchants, and who tyrannise over the unfortunate inhabitants of the Nile, a few days after our arrival will no longer exist.
The people amongst whom we are going to live are Mahometans. The first article of their faith is this: "There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet." Do not contradict them. Behave to them as you have behaved to the Jews—to the Italians. Pay respect to their muftis, and their Imaums, as you did to the rabbis and the bishops. Extend to the ceremonies prescribed by the Koran and to the mosques the same toleration which you showed to the synagogues, to the religion of Moses and of Jesus Christ.
The Roman legions protected all religions. You will find here customs different from those of Europe. You must accommodate yourselves to them. The people amongst whom we are to mix differ from us in the treatment of women; but in all countries he who violates is a monster. Pillage enriches only a small number of men; it dishonours us; it destroys our resources; it converts into enemies the people whom it is our interest to have for friends.
The first town we shall come to was built by Alexander. At every step we shall meet with grand recollections, worthy of exciting the emulation of Frenchmen. BONAPARTE.
During the voyage, and particularly between Malta and Alexandria, I often conversed with the brave and unfortunate Admiral Brueys. The intelligence we heard from time to time augmented his uneasiness. I had the good fortune to obtain the confidence of this worthy man. He complained bitterly of the imperfect manner in which the fleet had been prepared for sea; of the encumbered state of the ships of the line and frigates, and especially of the 'Orient'; of the great number of transports; of the bad Outfit of all the ships and the weakness of their crews. He assured me that it required no little courage to undertake the command of a fleet so badly equipped; and he often declared, that in the event of our falling in with the enemy, he could not answer for the consequences. The encumbered state of the vessels, the immense quantity of civic and military baggage which each person had brought, and would wish to save, would render proper manoeuvres impracticable. In case of an attack, added Brueys, even by an inferior squadron, the confusion and disorder amongst so great a number of persons would produce an inevitable catastrophe. Finally, if the English had appeared with ten vessels only, the Admiral could not have guaranteed a fortunate result. He considered victory to be a thing that was impossible, and even with a victory, what would have become of the expedition? "God send," he said, with a sigh, "that we may pass the English without meeting them!" He appeared to foresee what did afterwards happen to him, not in the open sea, but in a situation which he considered much more favourable to his defence.
On the morning of the 1st of July the expedition arrived off the coast of Africa, and the column of Septimus-Severus pointed out to us the city of Alexandria. Our situation and frame of mind hardly permitted us to reflect that in the distant point we beheld the city of the Ptolemies and Caesars, with its double port, its pharos, and the gigantic monuments of its ancient grandeur. Our imaginations did not rise to this pitch.
Admiral Brueys had sent on before the frigate Juno to fetch M. Magallon, the French Consul. It was near four o'clock when he arrived, and the sea was very rough. He informed the General-in-Chief that Nelson had been off Alexandria on the 28th—that he immediately dispatched a brig to obtain intelligence from the English agent. On the return of the brig Nelson instantly stood away with his squadron towards the north-east. But for a delay which our convoy from Civita Vecchia occasioned, we should have been on this coast at the same time as Nelson.
It appeared that Nelson supposed us to be already at Alexandria when he arrived there. He had reason to suppose so, seeing that we left Malta on the 19th of June, whilst he did not sail from Messina till the 21st. Not finding us where he expected, and being persuaded we ought to have arrived there had Alexandria been the place of our destination; he sailed for Alexandretta in Syria, whither he imagined we had gone to effect a landing. This error saved the expedition a second time.
Bonaparte, on hearing the details which the French Consul communicated, resolved to disembark immediately. Admiral Brueys represented the difficulties and dangers of a disembarkation—the violence of the surge, the distance from the coast,—a coast, too, lined with reefs of rocks, the approaching night, and our perfect ignorance of the points suitable for landing. The Admiral, therefore, urged the necessity of waiting till next morning; that is to say, to delay the landing twelve hours. He observed that Nelson could not return from Syria for several days. Bonaparte listened to these representations with impatience and ill-humour. He replied peremptorily, "Admiral, we have no time to lose. Fortune gives me but three days; if I do not profit by them we are lost." He relied much on fortune; this chimerical idea constantly influenced his resolutions.
Bonaparte having the command of the naval as well as the military force, the Admiral was obliged to yield to his wishes.
I attest these facts, which passed in my presence, and no part of which could escape my observation. It is quite false that it was owing to the appearance of a sail which, it is pretended, was descried, but of which, for my part, I saw nothing, that Bonaparte exclaimed, "Fortune, have you abandoned me? I ask only five days!" No such thing occurred.
It was one o'clock in the morning of the 2d of July when we landed on the soil of Egypt, at Marabou, three leagues to the west of Alexandria. We had to regret the loss of some lives; but we had every reason to expect that our losses would have been greater.
At three o'clock the same morning the General-in-Chief marched on Alexandria with the divisions of Kleber, Bon, and Menou. The Bedouin Arabs, who kept hovering about our right flank and our rear, picked up the stragglers.
Having arrived within gunshot of Alexandria, we scaled the ramparts, and French valour soon triumphed over all obstacles.
The first blood I saw shed in war was General Kleber's. He was struck in the head by a ball, not in storming the walls, but whilst heading the attack. He came to Pompey's Pillar, where many members of the staff were assembled, and where the General-in-Chief was watching the attack. I then spoke to Kleber for the first time, and from that day our friendship commenced. I had the good fortune to contribute somewhat towards the assistance of which he stood in need, and which, as we were situated, could not be procured very easily.
It has been endeavoured to represent the capture of Alexandria, which surrendered after a few hours, as a brilliant exploit. The General-in-Chief himself wrote that the city had been taken after a few discharges of cannon; the walls, badly fortified, were soon scaled. Alexandria was not delivered up to pillage, as has been asserted, and often repeated. This would have been a most impolitic mode of commencing the conquest of Egypt, which had no strong places requiring to be intimidated by a great example.
Bonaparte, with some others, entered the city by a narrow street which scarcely allowed two persons to walk abreast; I was with him. We were stopped by some musket-shots fired from a low window by a man and a woman. They repeated their fire several times. The guides who preceded their General kept up a heavy fire on the window. The man and woman fell dead, and we passed on in safety, for the place had surrendered.
Bonaparte employed the six days during which he remained in Alexandria in establishing order in the city and province, with that activity and superior talent which I could never sufficiently admire, and in directing the march of the army across the province of Bohahire'h. He sent Desaix with 4500 infantry and 60 cavalry to Beda, on the road to Damanhour. This general was the first to experience the privations and sufferings which the whole army had soon to endure. His great mind, his attachment to Bonaparte, seemed for a moment about to yield to the obstacles which presented themselves. On the 15th of July he wrote from Bohahire'h as follows: "I beseech you do not let us stop longer in this position. My men are discouraged and murmur. Make us advance or fall back without delay. The villages consist merely of huts, absolutely without resources."
In these immense plains, scorched by the vertical rays of a burning sun, water, everywhere else so common, becomes an object of contest. The wells and springs, those secret treasures of the desert, are carefully concealed from the travellers; and frequently, after our most oppressive marches, nothing could be found to allay the urgent cravings of thirst but a little brackish water of the most disgusting description.
—[Some idea of the misery endured by the French troops on this occasion may be gathered from the following description is Napoleon's Memoirs, dictated at St. Helena:
"As the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness complained, and angrily asked Moses for the onions and flesh-pots of Egypt, the French soldiers constantly regretted the luxuries of Italy. In vain were they assured that the country was the most fertile in the world, that it was even superior to Lombard; how were they to be persuaded of this when they could get neither bread nor wine? We encamped on immense quantities of wheat, but there was neither mill nor oven in the country. The biscuit brought from Alexandria had long been exhausted; the soldiers were even reduced to bruise the wheat between two stones and to make cake which they baked under the ashes. Many parched the wheat in a pan, after which they boiled it. This was the best way to use the grain; but, after all, it was not bread. The apprehensions of the soldiers increased daily, and rose to such a pitch that a great number of them said there was no great city of calm; and that the place bring that name was, like Damanhour, a vast assemblage of mere huts, destitute of everything that could render life comfortable or agreeable. To such a melancholy state of mind had they brought themselves that two dragoons threw themselves, completely clothed, into the Nile, where they were drowned. It is nevertheless true that, though there was neither bread nor wine, the resources which were procured with wheat, lentils, meat, and sometimes pigeons, furnished the army with food of some kind. But the evil was, in the ferment of the mind. The officers complained more loudly than the soldiers, because the comparison was proportionately more disadvantageous to them. In Egypt they found neither the quarters, the good table, nor the luxury of Italy. The General-in-Chief, wishing to set an example, tried to bivouac in the midst of the army, and in the least commodious spots. No one had either tent or provisions; the dinner of Napoleon and his staff consisted of a dish of lentils. The soldiers passed the evenings in political conversations, arguments, and complaints. 'For what purpose are we come here?' said some of them, 'the Directory has transported us.' 'Caffarelli,' said others, 'is the agent that has been made use of to deceive the General-in-Chief.' Many of them, having observed that wherever there were vestiges of antiquity they were carefully searched, vented their spite in invective against the savants, or scientific men, who, they said, had started the idea of she expedition to order to make these searches. Jests were showered upon them, even in their presence. The men called an ass a savant; and said of Caffarelli Dufalga, alluding to his wooden leg, 'He laughs at all these troubles; he has one foot to France.'"]
The mirage—Skirmishes with the Arabs—Mistake of General Desaix's division—Wretchedness of a rich sheik—Combat beneath the General's window—The flotilla on the Nile—Its distress and danger—The battle of Chebreisse—Defeat of the Mamelukes—Bonaparte's reception of me—Letter to Louis Bonaparte—Success of the French army— Triumphal entrance into Cairo—Civil and military organisation of Cairo—Bonaparte's letter to his brother Joseph—Plan of colonisation.
On the 7th of July General Bonaparte left Alexandria for Damanhour. In the vast plains of Bohahire'h the mirage every moment presented to the eye wide sheets of water, while, as we advanced, we found nothing but barren ground full of deep cracks. Villages, which at a distance appear to be surrounded with water, are, on a nearer approach, discovered to be situated on heights, mostly artificial, by which they are raised above the inundations of the Nile. This illusion continually recurs; and it is the more treacherous, inasmuch as it presents to the eye the perfect representation of water, at the time when the want of that article is most felt. This mirage is so considerable in the plain of Pelusium that shortly after sunrise no object is recognisable. The same phenomenon has been observed in other countries. Quintus Curtius says that in the deserts of Sogdiana, a fog rising from the earth obscures the light, and the surrounding country seems like a vast sea. The cause of this singular illusion is now fully explained; and, from the observations of the learned Monge, it appears that the mirage will be found in almost every country situated between the tropics where the local circumstances are similar.
The Arabs harassed the army without intermission. The few wells met with in the desert were either filled up or the water was rendered unfit for use. The intolerable thirst with which the troops were tormented, even on this first march, was but ill allayed by brackish and unwholesome water. The army crossed the desert with the rapidity of lightning, scarcely tasting a drop of water. The sufferings of the troops were frequently expressed by discouraging murmurs.
On the first night a mistake occurred which might have proved fatal. We were advancing in the dark, under feeble escort, almost sleeping on our horses, when suddenly we were assailed by two successive discharges of musketry. We aroused ourselves and reconnoitred, and to our great satisfaction discovered that the only mischief was a alight wound received by one of our guides. Our assailants were the division of General Desaix, who, forming the advanced guard of the army, mistook us for a party of the enemy, and fired upon us. It was speedily ascertained that the little advanced guard of the headquarters had not heard the "Qui vive?" of Desaix's advanced posts.
On reaching Damanhour our headquarters were established at the residence of a sheik. The house had been new whitened, and looked well enough outside, but the interior was inconceivably wretched. Every domestic utensil was broken, and the only seats were a few dirty tattered mats. Bonaparte knew that the sheik was rich, and having somewhat won his confidence, he asked him, through the medium of the interpreter, why, being in easy circumstances, he thus deprived himself of all comfort. "Some years ago," replied the sheik, "I repaired and furnished my house. When this became known at Cairo a demand was made upon me for money, because it was said my expenses proved me to be rich. I refused to pay the money, and in consequence I was ill-treated, and at length forced to pay it. From that time I have allowed myself only the bare necessaries of life, and I shall buy no furniture for my house." The old man was lame in consequence of the treatment he had suffered. Woe to him who in this country is suspected of having a competency—a hundred spies are always ready to denounce him. The appearance of poverty is the only security against the rapine of power and the cupidity of barbarism.
A little troop of Arabs on horseback assailed our headquarters. Bonaparte, who was at the window of the sheik's house, indignant at this insolence, turned to one of his aides de camp, who happened to be on duty, and said, "Croisier, take a few guides and drive those fellows away!" In an instant Croisier was in the plain with fifteen guides. A little skirmish ensued, and we looked on from the window. In the movement and in the attack of Croisier and his party there was a sort of hesitation which the General-in-Chief could not comprehend. "Forward, I say! Charge!" he exclaimed from the window, as if he could have been heard. Our horsemen seemed to fall back as the Arabs returned to the attack; and after a little contest, maintained with tolerable spirit, the Arabs retired without loss, and without being molested in their retreat. Bonaparte could no longer repress his rage; and when Croisier returned he experienced such a harsh reception that the poor fellow withdrew deeply mortified and distressed. Bonaparte desired me to follow him and say something to console him: but all was in vain. "I cannot survive this," he said. "I will sacrifice my life on the first occasion that offers itself. I will not live dishonoured." The word coward had escaped the General's lips. Poor Croisier died at Saint Jean d'Acre.
On the 10th of July our headquarters were established at Rahmahanie'h, where they remained during the 11th and 12th. At this place commences the canal which was cut by Alexander to convey water to his new city; and to facilitate commercial intercourse between Europe and the East.
The flotilla, commanded by the brave chief of division Perree, had just arrived from Rosette. Perree was on board the xebec 'Cerf'.
—[Bonaparte had great confidence in him. He had commanded, under the General's orders, the naval forces in the Adriatic in 1797.— Bourrienne]—
Bonaparte placed on board the Cerf and the other vessels of the flotilla those individuals who, not being military, could not be serviceable in engagements, and whose horses served to mount a few of the troops.
On the night of the 14th of July the General-in-Chief directed his march towards the south, along the left bank of the Nile. The flotilla sailed up the river parallel with the left wing of the army. But the force of the wind, which at this season blows regularly from the Mediterranean into the valley of the file, carried the flotilla far in advance of the army, and frustrated the plan of their mutually defending and supporting each other. The flotilla thus unprotected fell in with seven Turkish gunboats coming from Cairo, and was exposed simultaneously to their fire and to that of the Mamelukes, fellahs, and Arabs who lined both banks of the river. They had small guns mounted on camels.
Perree cast anchor, and an engagement commenced at nine o'clock on the 14th of July, and continued till half past twelve.
At the same time the General-in-Chief met and attacked a corps of about 4000 Mamelukes. His object, as he afterwards said, was to turn the corps by the left of the village of Chebreisse, and to drive it upon the Nile.
About eleven in the morning Perree told me that the Turks were doing us more harm than we were doing them; that our ammunition would soon be exhausted; that the army was far inland, and that if it did not make a move to the left there would be no hope for us. Several vessels had already been boarded and taken by the Turks, who massacred the crews before our eyes, and with barbarous ferocity showed us the heads of the slaughtered men.
Perree, at considerable risk, despatched several persons to inform the General-in-Chief of the desperate situation of the flotilla. The cannonade which Bonaparte had heard since the morning, and the explosion of a Turkish gunboat, which was blown up by the artillery of the xebec, led him to fear that our situation was really perilous. He therefore made a movement to the left, in the direction of the Nile and Chebreisse, beat the Mamelukes, and forced them to retire on Cairo. At sight of the French troops the commander of the Turkish flotilla weighed anchor and sailed up the Nile. The two banks of the river were evacuated, and the flotilla escaped the destruction which a short time before had appeared inevitable. Some writers have alleged that the Turkish flotilla was destroyed in this engagement. The truth is, the Turks did us considerable injury, while on their part they suffered but little. We had twenty men killed and several wounded. Upwards of 1500 cannon-shots were fired during the action.
General Berthier, in his narrative of the Egyptian expedition, enumerates the individuals who, though not in the military service, assisted Perree in this unequal and dangerous engagement. He mentions Monge, Berthollet, Andreossy, the paymaster, Junot, and Bourrienne, secretary to the General-in-Chief. It has also been stated that Sucy, the commissary-general, was seriously wounded while bravely defending a gunboat laden with provisions; but this is incorrect.
We had no communication with the army until the 23d of July. On the 22d we came in sight of the Pyramids, and were informed that we were only about, ten leagues from Gizeh, where they are situated. The cannonade which we heard, and which augmented in proportion as the north wind diminished, announced a serious engagement; and that same day we saw the banks of the Nile strewed with heaps of bodies, which the waves were every moment washing into the sea. This horrible spectacle, the silence of the surrounding villages, which had hitherto been armed against us, and the cessation of the firing from the banks of the river, led us to infer, with tolerable certainty, that a battle fatal to the Mamelukes had been fought. The misery we suffered on our passage from Rahmahanie'h to Gizeh is indescribable. We lived for eleven days on melons and water, besides being momentarily exposed to the musketry of the Arabs and the fellahs. We luckily escaped with but a few killed and wounded. The rising of the Nile was only beginning. The shallowness of the river near Cairo obliged us to leave the xebec and get on board a djerm. We reached Gizeh at three in the afternoon of the 23d of July.
When I saluted the General, whom I had not seen for twelve days, he thus addressed me: "So you are here, are you? Do you know that you have all of you been the cause of my not following up the battle of Chebreisse? It was to save you, Monge, Berthollet, and the others on board the flotilla that I hurried the movement of my left upon the Nile before my right had turned Chebreisse. But for that, not a single Mameluke would have escaped."
"I thank you for my own part," replied I; "but in conscience could you have abandoned us, after taking away our horses, and making us go on board the xebec, whether we would or not?" He laughed, and then told me how sorry he was for the wound of Sucy, and the death of many useful men, whose places could not possibly be filled up.
He made me write a letter to his brother Louis, informing him that he had gained a complete victory over the Mamelukes at Embabeh, opposite Boulac, and that the enemy's loss was 2000 men killed and wounded, 40 guns, and a great number of horses.
The occupation of Cairo was the immediate consequence of the victory of Embabeh. Bonaparte established his head-quarters in the home of Elfy Bey, in the great square of Ezbekye'h.
The march of the French army to Cairo was attended by an uninterrupted succession of combats and victories. We had won the battles of Rahmahanie'h, Chebreisse, and the Pyramids. The Mamelukes were defeated, and their chief, Mourad Bey, was obliged to fly into Upper Egypt. Bonaparte found no obstacle to oppose his entrance into the capital of Egypt, after a campaign of only twenty days.
No conqueror, perhaps, ever enjoyed a victory so much as Bonaparte, and yet no one was ever less inclined to abuse his triumphs.
We entered Cairo on the 24th of July, and the General-in-Chief immediately directed his attention to the civil and military organization of the country. Only those who saw him in the vigour of his youth can form an idea of his extraordinary intelligence and activity. Nothing escaped his observation. Egypt had long been the object of his study; and in a few weeks he was as well acquainted with the country as if he had lived in it ten years. He issued orders for observing the strictest discipline, and these orders were punctually obeyed.
The mosques, the civil and religious institutions, the harems, the women, the customs of the country-all were scrupulously respected. A few days after they entered Cairo the French were freely admitted into the shops, and were seen sociably smoking their pipes with the inhabitants, assisting them in their occupations, and playing with their children.
The day after his arrival in Cairo Bonaparte addressed to his brother Joseph the following letter, which was intercepted and printed. Its authenticity has been doubted, but I saw Napoleon write it, and he read it to me before he sent it off.
CAIRO, 7th. Thermidor (25th July 1798)
You will see in the public papers the bulletins of the battles and conquest of Egypt, which were sufficiently contested to add another wreath to the laurels of this army. Egypt is richer than any country in the world in coin, rice, vegetables, and cattle. But the people are in a state of utter barbarism. We cannot procure money, even to pay the troops. I maybe in France in two months.
Engage a country-house, to be ready for me on my arrival, either near Paris or in Burgundy, where I mean to pass the winter.
—[Bonaparte's autograph note, after enumerating the troops and warlike stores he wished to be sent, concluded with the following list:
1st, a company of actors; 2d, a company of dancers; 3d, some dealers in marionettes, at least three or four; 9th, a hundred French women; 5th, the wives of all the men employed in the corps; 6th, twenty surgeons, thirty apothecaries, and ten Physicians; 7th, some founders; 8th, some distillers and dealers in liquor; 9th fifty gardeners with their families, and the seeds of every kind of vegetable; 10th, each party to bring with them: 200,000 pints of brandy; 11th, 30,000 ells of blue and scarlet cloth; 12th, a supply of soap and oil.—Bourrienne.]—
This announcement of his departure to his brother is corroborated by a note which he despatched some days after, enumerating the supplies and individuals which he wished to have sent to Egypt. His note proves, more convincingly than any arguments, that Bonaparte earnestly wished to preserve his conquest, and to make it a French colony. It must be borne in mind that the note here alluded to, as well as the letter above quoted, was written long before the destruction of the fleet.
Establishment of a divan in each Egyptian province—Desaix in Upper Egypt—Ibrahim Bey beaten by Bonaparte at Balehye'h—Sulkowsky wounded—Disaster at Abonkir—Dissatisfaction and murmurs of the army—Dejection of the General-in-Chief—His plan respecting Egypt —Meditated descent upon England—Bonaparte's censure of the Directory—Intercepted correspondence.
From the details I have already given respecting Bonaparte's plans for colonising Egypt, it will be seen that his energy of mind urged him to adopt anticipatory measures for the accomplishment of objects which were never realised. During the short interval in which he sheathed his sword he planned provisional governments for the towns and provinces occupied by the French troops, and he adroitly contrived to serve the interests of his army without appearing to violate those of the country. After he had been four days at Cairo, during which time he employed himself in examining everything, and consulting every individual from whom he could obtain useful information, he published the following order:
HEADQUARTERS, CAIRO, 9th Thermidor, year VI.
BONAPARTE, MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE, AND GENERAL-IN-CHIEF, ORDERS:
Art. 1. There shall be in each province of Egypt a divan, composed of seven individuals, whose duty will be to superintend the interests of the province; to communicate to me any complaints that may be made; to prevent warfare among the different villages; to apprehend and punish criminals (for which purpose they may demand assistance from the French commandant); and to take every opportunity of enlightening the people.
Art. 2. There shall be in each province an aga of the Janizaries, maintaining constant communication with the French commandant. He shall have with him a company of sixty armed natives, whom he may take wherever he pleases, for the maintenance of good order, subordination, and tranquillity.
Art. 3. There shall be in each province an intendant, whose business will be to levy the miri, the feddam, and the other contributions which formerly belonged to the Mamelukes, but which now belong to the French Republic. The intendants shall have us many agents as may be necessary.
Art. 4. The said intendant shall have a French agent to correspond with the Finance Department, and to execute all the orders he may receive. (Signed) BONAPARTE.
While Bonaparte was thus actively taking measures for the organization of the country,
—[Far more thoroughly and actively than those taken by the English Government in 1882-3-4]—
General Desaix had marched into Upper Egypt in pursuit of Mourad Bey. We learned that Ibrahim, who, next to Mourad, was the most influential of the bays, had proceeded towards Syria, by the way of Belbeis and Salehye'h. The General-in-Chief immediately determined to march in person against that formidable enemy, and he left Cairo about fifteen days after he had entered it. It is unnecessary to describe the well-known engagement in which Bonaparte drove Ibrahim back upon El-Arish; besides, I do not enter minutely into the details of battles, my chief object being to record events which I personally witnessed.
At the battle of Salehye'h Bonaparte thought he had lost one of his 'aides de camp', Sulkowsky, to whom he was much attached, and who had been with us during the whole of the campaign of Italy. On the field of battle one object of regret cannot long engross the mind; yet, on his return to Cairo, Bonaparte frequently spoke to me of Sulkowsky in terms of unfeigned sorrow.
"I cannot," said he one day, "sufficiently admire the noble spirit and determined courage of poor Sulkowsky." He often said that Sulkowsky would have been a valuable aid to whoever might undertake the resuscitation of Poland. Fortunately that brave officer was not killed on that occasion, though seriously wounded. He was, however, killed shortly after.
The destruction of the French squadron in the roads of Aboukir occurred during the absence of the General-in-Chief. This event happened on the 1st of August. The details are generally known; but there is one circumstance to which I cannot refrain from alluding, and which excited deep interest at the time. This was the heroic courage of the son of Casablanca, the captain of the 'Orient'. Casablanca was among the wounded, and when the vessel was blown up his son, a lad of ten years of age, preferred perishing with him rather than saving himself, when one of the seamen had secured him the means of escape. I told the 'aide de camp', sent by General Kleber, who had the command of Alexandria, that the General-in-Chief was near Salehye'h. He proceeded thither immediately, and Bonaparte hastened back to Cairo, a distance of about thirty-three leagues.
In spite of any assertions that may have been made to the contrary, the fact is, that as soon as the French troops set foot in Egypt, they were filled with dissatisfaction, and ardently longed to return home.'
—['Erreurs' objects to this description of the complaints of the army, but Savary (tome i. pp. 66, 67, and tome i. p. 89) fully confirms it, giving the reason that the army was not a homogeneous body, but a mixed force taken from Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice, Genoa, and Marseilles; see also Thiers, tome v. p. 283. But the fact is not singular. For a striking instance, in the days of the Empire, of the soldiers in 1809, in Spain, actually threatening Napoleon in his own hearing, see De Gonneville (tome i. pp. 190-193): "The soldiers of Lapisse's division gave loud expression to the most sinister designs against the Emperor's person, stirring up each other to fire a shot at him, sad bandying accusations of cowardice for not doing it." He heard it all as plainly as we did, and seemed as if he did not care a bit for it, but "sent the division into good quarters, when the men were as enthusiastic as they were formerly mutinous." In 1796 d'Entraigues, the Bourbon spy, reports, "As a general rule, the French soldier grumbles and is discontented. He accuses Bonaparte of being a thief and a rascal. But to-morrow the very same soldier will obey him blindly" (Iung's Bonaparte, tome iii. p. 152).]—
The illusion of the expedition had disappeared, and only its reality remained. What bitter murmuring have I not heard from Murat, Lannes, Berthier, Bessieres, and others! Their complaints were, indeed, often so unmeasured as almost to amount to sedition. This greatly vexed Bonaparte, and drew from him severe reproaches and violent language.
—[Napoleon related at St. Helena that in a fit of irritation he rushed among a group of dissatisfied generals, and said to one of them, who was remarkable for his stature, "you have held seditious language; but take care I do not perform my duty. Though you are five feet ten inches high, that shall not save you from being shot."—Bourrienne.]—
When the news arrived of the loss of the fleet, discontent increased. All who had acquired fortunes under Napoleon now began to fear that they would never enjoy them. All turned their thoughts to Paris, and its amusements, and were utterly disheartened at the idea of being separated from their homes and their friends for a period, the termination of which it was impossible to foresee.
The catastrophe of Aboukir came like a thunderbolt upon the General-in-Chief. In spite of all his energy and fortitude, he was deeply distressed by the disasters which now assailed him. To the painful feelings excited by the complaints and dejection of his companions in arms was now added the irreparable misfortune of the burning of our fleet. He measured the fatal consequences of this event at a single glance. We were now cut off from all communication with France, and all hope of returning thither, except by a degrading capitulation with an implacable and hated enemy. Bonaparte had lost all chance of preserving his conquest, and to him this was indeed a bitter reflection. And at what a time did this disaster befall him? At the very moment when he was about to apply for the aid of the mother-country.
From what General Bonaparte communicated to me previously to the 1st of August, his object was, having once secured the possession of Egypt; to return to Toulon with the fleet; then to send troops and provisions of every kind to Egypt; and next to combine with the fleet all the forces that could be supplied, not only by France, but by her allies, for the purpose of attacking England. It is certain that previously to his departure for Egypt he had laid before the Directory a note relative to his plans. He always regarded a descent upon England as possible, though in its result fatal, so long as we should be inferior in naval strength; but he hoped by various manoeuvres to secure a superiority on one point.
His intention was to return to France. Availing himself of the departure of the English fleet for the Mediterranean, the alarm excited by his Egyptian expedition, the panic that would be inspired by his sudden appearance at Boulogne, and his preparations against England, he hoped to oblige that power to withdraw her naval force from the Mediterranean, and to prevent her sending out troops to Egypt. This project was often in his head. He would have thought it sublime to date an order of the day from the ruins of Memphis, and three months later, one from London. The loss of the fleet converted all these bold conceptions into mere romantic visions.
When alone with me he gave free vent to his emotion. I observed to him that the disaster was doubtless great, but that it would have been infinitely more irreparable had Nelson fallen in with us at Malta, or had he waited for us four-and-twenty hours before Alexandria, or in the open sea. "Any one of these events," said I, "which were not only possible but probable, would have deprived us of every resource. We are blockaded here, but we have provisions and money. Let us then wait patiently to see what the Directory will do for us."—"The Directory!" exclaimed he angrily, "the Directory is composed of a set of scoundrels! they envy and hate me, and would gladly let me perish here. Besides, you see how dissatisfied the whole army is: not a man is willing to stay."
The pleasing illusions which were cherished at the outset of the expedition vanished long before our arrival in Cairo. Egypt was no longer the empire of the Ptolemies, covered with populous and wealthy cities; it now presented one unvaried scene of devastation and misery. Instead of being aided by the inhabitants, whom we had ruined, for the sake of delivering them from the yoke of the beys, we found all against us: Mamelukes, Arabs, and fellahs. No Frenchman was secure of his life who happened to stray half a mile from any inhabited place, or the corps to which he belonged. The hostility which prevailed against us and the discontent of the army were clearly developed in the numerous letters which were written to France at the time, and intercepted.
The gloomy reflections which at first assailed Bonaparte, were speedily banished; and he soon recovered the fortitude and presence of mind which had been for a moment shaken by the overwhelming news from Aboukir. He, however, sometimes repeated, in a tone which it would be difficult to describe, "Unfortunate Brueys, what have you done!"
I have remarked that in some chance observations which escaped Napoleon at St. Helena he endeavoured to throw all the blame of the affair on Admiral Brueys. Persons who are determined to make Bonaparte an exception to human nature have unjustly reproached the Admiral for the loss of the fleet.
The Egyptian Institute—Festival of the birth of Mahomet—Bonapartes prudent respect for the Mahometan religion—His Turkish dress— Djezzar, the Pasha of Acre—Thoughts of a campaign in Germany—Want of news from France—Bonaparte and Madame Fours—The Egyptian fortune-teller, M. Berthollet, and the Sheik El Bekri—The air "Marlbrook"—Insurrection in Cairo—Death of General Dupuis—Death of Sulkowsky—The insurrection quelled—Nocturnal executions— Destruction of a tribe of Arabs—Convoy of sick and wounded— Massacre of the French in Sicily—projected expedition to Syria— Letter to Tippoo Saib.
The loss of the fleet convinced General Bonaparte of the necessity of speedily and effectively organising Egypt, where everything denoted that we should stay for a considerable time, excepting the event of a forced evacuation, which the General was far from foreseeing or fearing. The distance of Ibrahim Bey and Mourad Bey now left him a little at rest. War, fortifications, taxation, government, the organization of the divans, trade, art, and science, all occupied his attention. Orders and instructions were immediately despatched, if not to repair the defeat, at least to avert the first danger that might ensue from it. On the 21st of August Bonaparte established at Cairo an institute of the arts and sciences, of which he subsequently appointed me a member in the room of M. de Sucy, who was obliged to return to France, in consequence of the wound he received on board the flotilla in the Nile.
—[The Institute of Egypt was composed of members of the French Institute, and of the men of science and artists of the commission who did not belong to that body. They assembled and added to their number several officers of the artillery and staff, and others who bad cultivated the sciences and literature.
The Institute was established in one of the palaces of the bey's. A great number of machines, and physical, chemical, and astronomical instruments had been brought from France. They were distributed in the different rooms, which were also successively filled with all the curiosities of the country, whether of the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdom.
The garden of the palace became a botanical garden. A chemical laboratory was formed at headquarters; Merthollet performed experiments there several times every week, which Napoleon and a great number of officers attended ('Memoirs of Napoleon')]—
In founding this Institute, Bonaparte wished to afford an example of his ideas of civilisation. The minutes of the sittings of that learned body, which have been printed, bear evidence of its utility, and of Napoleon's extended views. The objects of the Institute were the advancement and propagation of information in Egypt, and the study and publication of all facts relating to the natural history, trade, and antiquities of that ancient country.
On the 18th Bonaparte was present at the ceremony of opening the dyke of the canal of Cairo, which receives the water of the Nile when it reaches the height fired by the Mequyas.
Two days after came the anniversary festival of the birth of Mahomet. At this Napoleon was also present, in company with the sheik El Bekri,' who at his request gave him two young Mamelukes, Ibrahim, and Roustan.
—[The General-in-Chief went to celebrate, the feast of the Prophet at the house of the sheik El Bekri. The ceremony was began by the recital of a kind of litany, containing the life of Mahomet from his birth to his death. About a hundred sheiks, sitting in a circle, on carpets, with their legs crossed, recited all the verses, swinging their bodies violently backwards and forwards, and altogether.
A grand dinner was afterwards served up, at which the guests sat on carpets, with their legs across. There were twenty tables, and five or six people at each table. That of the General-in-Chief and the sheik El Bekri was in the middle; a little slab of a precious kind of wood ornamented with mosaic work was placed eighteen inches above the floor and covered with a great number of dishes in succession. They were pillaws of rice, a particular kind of roast, entrees, and pastry, all very highly spiced. The sheiks picked everything with their fingers. Accordingly water was brought to wash the hands three times during dinner. Gooseberry-water, lemonade, and other sorts of sherbets were served to drink, and abundance of preserves and confectionery with the dessert. On the whole, the dinner was not disagreeable; it was only the manner of eating it that seemed strange to us.
In the evening the whole city was illuminated. After dinner the party went into the square of El Bekri, the illumination of which, in coloured lamps, was very beautiful. An immense concourse of people attended. They were all placed in order, in ranks of from twenty to a hundred persons, who, standing close together, recited the prayers and litanies of the Prophet with movements which kept increasing, until at length they seemed to be convulsive, and some of the most zealous fainted sway ('Memoirs of Napoleon').]—
—[Roustan or Rustan, a Mameluke, was always with Napoleon from the time of the return from Egypt till 1814, when he abandoned his master. He slept at or near the door of Napoleon. See Remusat, tome i, p. 209, for an amusing description of the alarm of Josephine, and the precipitate flight of Madame de Remusat, at the idea of being met and killed by this man in one of Josephine's nocturnal attacks on the privacy of her husband when closeted with his mistress.]—
It has been alleged that Bonaparte, when in Egypt, took part in the religious ceremonies and worship of the Mussulmans; but it cannot be said that he celebrated the festivals of the overflowing of the Nile and the anniversary of the Prophet. The Turks invited him to these merely as a spectator; and the presence of their new master was gratifying to the people. But he never committed the folly of ordering any solemnity. He neither learned nor repeated any prayer of the Koran, as many persons have asserted; neither did he advocate fatalism, polygamy, or any other doctrine of the Koran. Bonaparte employed himself better than in discussing with the Imaums the theology of the children of Ismael. The ceremonies, at which policy induced him to be present, were to him, and to all who accompanied him, mere matters of curiosity. He never set foot in a mosque; and only on one occasion, which I shall hereafter mention, dressed himself in the Mahometan costume. He attended the festivals to which the green turbans invited him. His religious tolerance was the natural consequence of his philosophic spirit.
—[From this Sir Walter Scott infers that he did not scruple to join the Musselmans in the external ceremonies of their religion. He embellishes his romance with the ridiculous farce of the sepulchral chamber of the grand pyramid, and the speeches which were addressed to the General as well as to the muftis and Imaums; and he adds that Bonaparte was on the point of embracing Islamism. All that Sir Walter says on this subject is the height of absurdity, and does not even deserve to be seriously refuted. Bonaparte never entered a mosque except from motives of curiosity,(see contradiction in previous paragraph. D.W.) and he never for one moment afforded any ground for supposing that he believed in the mission of Mahomet.— Bourrienne.]—
Doubtless Bonaparte did, as he was bound to do, show respect for the religion of the country; and he found it necessary to act more like a Mussulman than a Catholic. A wise conqueror supports his triumphs by protecting and even elevating the religion of the conquered people. Bonaparte's principle was, as he himself has often told me, to look upon religions as the work of men, but to respect them everywhere as a powerful engine of government. However, I will not go so far as to say that he would not have changed his religion had the conquest of the East been the price of that change. All that he said about Mahomet, Islamism, and the Koran to the, great men of the country he laughed at himself. He enjoyed the gratification of having all his fine sayings on the subject of religion translated into Arabic poetry, and repeated from mouth to mouth. This of course tended to conciliate the people.