Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bonaparte's Correspondence, April-May 1798

Correspondence of Bonaparte in April-May as he was planning to leave for Egypt. Comments below between the text of the letters is by Bingham. In Bonaparte's proclamation to his troops, below, he likens their expedition to that of republican Rome against tyrannical Carthage, and tells them they will do unprecedented wonders for the "prosperity of your country, for the happiness of mankind, and for your own glory." Sound familiar?

A Selection from the Letters and Despatches of the First Napoleon. With Explanatory Notes By Denis Arthur Bingham. (London: Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1884), pp. 206-208:

Josephine accompanied Bonaparte as far as Toulon, and when the expedition sailed went to take the waters at Aix, in the hopes they would enable her to bear her second husband a child.

At this moment the fate of the expedition was held in suspense, and it appeared probable that Bonaparte's services would once more be required with the army of Italy. Bernadotte had been appointed French ambassador at Vienna, and had given such offence by hoisting the Republican flag that the people had broken his windows.

The Directory wished to recommence the war with Austria, but to this Bonaparte offered a strenuous opposition. Words ran so high between the Government and the general that the latter offered his resignation. Rewbel handed him a pen, which Bonaparte had hardly taken when it was snatched from him by Merlin. After this violent scene matters were more calmly discussed, and the young general, as on previous occasions, carried his point.

PARIS, 23rd April, 1798.

"I have given orders to General Baraguay d'Hilliers to disembark his troops if they have been embarked, and to return if he has marched. ... If affairs go wrong I think the chief efforts of the Austrians will be made in your direction, in which case I feel you will stand in need of more troops, and above all of a great deal of money.


Under these circumstances Bonaparte made a direct appeal to the Count Cobentzel to maintain the good relations [with Austria] established at Campo Formio. In a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he said he would never be able to settle anything with Messrs. Lehrbach and Metternich, who knew nothing of the intentions of their cabinet, and enjoyed little credit.

When Bonaparte himself commanded in Italy he found means to send money home; now money would be required from France. The supposition is that Italy had been drained of her resources. . .

Bonaparte had been elected to the Institute in the place of his old friend Carnot, and delighted to veil his military aspirations under the palm-leaves of that learned society, whose costume he donned on public occasions.

PARIS, 2nd May, 1798.

"All the obstacles in the way of the expedition have been removed. I start to-morrow evening, and shall be at Toulon by the 9th, &c.


Bonaparte was exceedingly suspicious of the intentions of the Government, and was convinced that Barras, who was capable of any thing "was bent on mischief. In the following "Proclamation" we see nothing of the celebrated ten arpents of land (twenty perches each) which every soldier of the army of the East was promised on his return to France: possibly because these arpents were never given.

[In his oral remarks at Toulon, Bonaparte promised his soldiers land for homesteads on their return from the expedition; but in so doing he exceeded his authority and the promise was excised from the text of the speech that was officially printed. -- JRIC]

"TOULON, 10th May 1798."

"Soldiers, you are one of the wings of the army of England. You have fought on mountain and plain, and besieged forts; it remained for you to wage a maritime war.

"The Roman legions, which you have sometimes imitated but not yet equalled, fought against Carthage both by sea and on the plains of Zama. Victory never abandoned them because they were constantly brave, patient in the support of fatigue, well disciplined, and united.

"Soldiers, Europe has its eyes upon you.

"You have great destinies to fulfil, battles to fight, dangers to overcome. You will do more than you have yet accomplished for the prosperity of your country, for the happiness of mankind, and for your own glory.

"Sailors, infantry, cavalry, artillery, be united, and remember that on the day of battle you will stand in need of each other, &c. "


After being detained at Toulon for a week by contrary winds and rumours of an English fleet of thirty sail cruising off the coast, the expedition at length got under way, Bonaparte still signing himself "Member of the Institute and General-in-chief of the army of England."

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