Friday, July 27, 2007

Bonaparte at Toulon: Bourrienne

From a Gutenberg e-text of Bourrienne's biography of Napoleon Bonaparte (R.W. Phipps trans.), Bourrienne's account of Bonaparte's preparations in Toulon and the departure of his fleet for Malta and Egypt on May 19. His outrage at the execution of an unarmed old man at Toulon on charges of having been a pro-royalist emigre becomes ironic in view of his own behavior in Egypt and Syria..

"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 [it was mainly royalists who emigrated after the revolution, so suspicion fell on emigres]; 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).


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.

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.

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