Part 2 out of 2
and of putting in execution the plans of Mari, the mathematician, for the
navigation of the Mincio from Mantua to Peschiera.
He stopped two days at Mantua, and the morrow of his arrival was devoted
to the celebration of a military funeral solemnity, in honour of General
Hoche, who had just died. His next object was to hasten the execution of
the monument which was erecting to the memory of Virgil. Thus, in one
day, he paid honour to France and Italy, to modern and to ancient glory,
to the laurels of war and to the laurels of poetry.
A person who saw Bonaparte on this occasion for the first time thus
described him in a letter he wrote to Paris:--"With lively interest and
extreme attention I have observed this extraordinary man, who has
performed such great deeds, and about whom there is something which seems
to indicate that his career is not yet terminated. I found him very like
his portraits--little, thin, pale, with an air of fatigue, but not of
ill-health, as has been reported of him. He appears to me to listen with
more abstraction than interest, and that he was more occupied with what
he was thinking of than with what was said to him. There is great
intelligence in his countenance, along with which may be marked an air of
habitual meditation, which reveals nothing of what is passing within.
In that thinking head, in that bold mind, it is impossible not to believe
that some daring designs are engendering which will have their influence
an the destinies of Europe."
From the last phrase, in particular, of this letter, one might suspect
that it was written after Bonaparte had made his name feared throughout
Europe; but it really appeared in a journal in the month of December
1797, a little before his arrival in Paris.
There exists a sort of analogy between celebrated men and celebrated
places; it was not, therefore, an uninteresting spectacle to see
Bonaparte surveying the field of Morat, where, in 1476, Charles the Bold,
Duke of Burgundy, daring like himself, fell with his powerful army under
the effects of Helvetian valour. Bonaparte slept during the night at
Maudon, where, as in every place through which he passed, the greatest
honours were paid him. In the morning, his carriage having broken down,
we continued our journey an foot, accompanied only by some officers and
an escort of dragoons of the country. Bonaparte stopped near the
Ossuary, and desired to be shown the spot where the battle of Morat was
fought. A plain in front of the chapel was pointed out to him. An
officer who had served in France was present, and explained to him how
the Swiss, descending from the neighbouring mountains, were enabled,
under cover of a wood, to turn the Burgundian army and put it to the
rout. "What was the force of that army?" asked Bonaparte.--"Sixty
thousand men."--"Sixty thousand men!" he exclaimed: "they ought to have
completely covered these mountains!"--"The French fight better now," said
Lannes, who was one of the officers of his suite. "At that time,"
observed Bonaparte, interrupting him, "the Burgundians were not
Bonaparte's journey through Switzerland was not without utility; and his
presence served to calm more than one inquietude. He proceeded on his
journey to Rastadt by Aix in Savoy, Berne, and Bale. On arriving at
Berne during night we passed through a double file of well-lighted
equipages, filled with beautiful women, all of whom raised the cry of
"Long live, Bonaparte!--long live the Pacificator! "To have a proper
idea of this genuine enthusiasm it is necessary to have seen it.
The position in society to which his services had raised him rendered it
unfit to address him in the second person singular and the familiar
manner sometimes used by his old schoolfellows of Brienne. I thought,
this very natural.
M. de Cominges, one of those who went with him to the military school at
Paris, and who had emigrated, was at Bale. Having learned our arrival,
he presented himself without ceremony, with great indecorum, and with a
complete disregard of the respect due to a man who had rendered himself
so illustrious. General Bonaparte, offended at this behaviour, refused
to receive him again, and expressed himself to me with much warmth on the
occasion of this visit. All my efforts to remove his displeasure were
unavailing this impression always continued, and he never did for M. de
Cominges what his means and the old ties of boyhood might well have
On arriving at Rastadt
--[The conference for the formal peace with the Empire of Germany
was held there. The peace of Leoben was only one made with
Bonaparte found a letter from the Directory summoning him to Paris. He
eagerly obeyed this invitation, which drew him from a place where he
could act only an insignificant part, and which he had determined to
leave soon, never again to return. Some time after his arrival in Paris,
on the ground that his presence was necessary for the execution of
different orders, and the general despatch of business, he required that
authority should be given to a part of his household, which he had left
at Rastadt, to return.
How could it ever be said that the Directory "kept General Bonaparte away
from the great interests which were under discussion at Rastadt"? Quite
the contrary! The Directory would have been delighted to see him return
there, as they would then have been relieved from his presence in Paris;
but nothing was so disagreeable to Bonaparte as long and seemingly
interminable negotiations. Such tedious work did not suit his character,
and he had been sufficiently disgusted with similar proceedings at Campo-
On our arrival at Rastadt I soon found that General Bonaparte was
determined to stay there only a short time. I therefore expressed to him
my decided desire to remain in Germany. I was then ignorant that my
erasure from the emigrant list had been ordered on the 11th of November,
as the decree did not reach the commissary of the Executive Directory at
Auxerre until the 17th of November, the day of our departure from Milan.
The silly pretext of difficulties by which my erasure, notwithstanding
the reiterated solicitations of the victorious General, was so long
delayed made me apprehensive of a renewal, under a weak and jealous
pentarchy, of the horrible scenes of 1796. Bonaparte said to me, in
atone of indignation, "Come, pass the Rhine; they will not dare to seize
you while near me. I answer for your safety." On reaching Paris I found
that my erasure had taken place. It was at this period only that General
Bonaparte's applications in my favour were tardily crowned with success.
Sotin, the Minister of General Police, notified the fact to Bonaparte;
but his letter gave a reason for my erasure very different from that
stated in the decree. The Minister said that the Government did not wish
to leave among the names of traitors to their country the name of a
citizen who was attached to the person of the conqueror of Italy; while
the decree itself stated as the motive for removing my name from the list
that I never had emigrated.
At St. Helena it seems Bonaparte said that he did not return from Italy
with more than 300,000 francs; but I assert that he had at that time in
his possession something more than 3,000,000.
--[Joseph says that Napoleon, when he exiled for Egypt, left with
him all his fortune, and that it was much nearer 300,000 francs than
3,000,000. (See Erreurs, tome i. pp. 243, 259)]--
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
--[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 be 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 tho
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
--[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
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
--[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
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:
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
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.
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
HEADQUARTERS ON BOARD THE "ORIENT,"
The 4th Messidor, Year VI.
BONAPARTE, MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE,
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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, be 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.--
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
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
"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.
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
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.