Monday, August 6, 2007

Bonaparte at Malta (Correspondence)

From 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. 209-213. Comments below between the text of the letters is by Bingham.

'Little difficulty was experienced in getting possession of Malta, where the French were fortunate enough, as General Caffarelli remarked, to find some one to admit them. The Grand Master having capitulated on the condition of property and religion being respected, Bonaparte wrote this unctuous letter to the bishop, thanking him for his reception of the French:

ON BOARD THE "ORIENT." 12th June, 1798.

"... I know of nothing more respectable and worthy of the veneration of men than a priest who, imbued with the true spirit of the Gospel, is persuaded that he is in duty bound to obey the temporal power, and to maintain peace, tranquillity, and union in his diocese, &c. "

12th June, 1798.

The army is informed that the enemy has surrendered; the standard of liberty floats over the forts of Malta. The General-in-chief insists on the most exact discipline. He desires that persons and property be respected, and that the people of Malta be treated with friendship.

The Knights of Malta were to be expelled; but we find in the correspondence a list of members of the order who were excepted—-fourteen knights, who, six months previously, had furnished Napoleon with useful information, or who had offered patriotic subscriptions towards the invasion of England. These traitors to their order were allowed to join the French army.

MALTA, 13th June, 1798.

You will direct citizens Monge and Berthollet to visit the Mint and the treasury of the church of St. John, and other places where there may be precious objects.


And naturally all the treasures which those two citizens could discover were considered lawful plunder.

MALTA, 17th June, 1798.

You will find inclosed the original treaty concluded by the Order of Malta with Russia. It had been ratified only five days before. . . . The Emperor of Russia should thank us, since an occupation of Malta will save his treasury 400,000 roubles. Had his majesty intended keeping Malta he ought to have concealed his designs. However, we now possess, in the Mediterranean, the strongest place in Europe, and it will cost a good deal to dislodge us.


On the 18th June Bonaparte wrote fourteen despatches, orders, &c., some of them several pages in length, and gave a last touch to the organisation of the island. Naval, military, and civil schools, municipal councils, and the national guard were created. Slavery was abolished,* also liveries and titles of nobility; and the arms of the Order were to be everywhere replaced by those of the Republic. With the exception of the bishop, all priests, monks, and nuns, not natives, were to leave the island; no one was to take vows before being thirty years of age; no order was to have more than one convent; Latin priests were not to say mass in Greek churches; the Jews desiring to establish a synagogue were to be protected; no bishop or churchman was to receive money for administering the sacraments, nor to acknowledge the supremacy of any foreign prince. The whole judicial and administrative system was arranged; the post-office, paving and lighting, public fountains, pawn- office, hospitals, stamp duty, tobacco, salt, house-rent, public instruction—-nothing escaped the vigilance of this restless mind. The General created a central school to replace the university, and other chairs. It was to be composed of—

1st. A professor of arithmetic and stereometry, salary i,800 francs.

2nd. A professor of algebra and stereotomy, salary 2,000 francs.

3rd. A professor of geometry and astronomy, salary 2,400 francs.

4th. A professor of mechanics and physics, salary 3,000 francs.

5th. A professor of navigation, salary 2,400 francs.

6th. A professor of chemistry, salary 1,200 francs.

7th. A professor of Eastern languages, salary 1,200 francs.

8th. A librarian, who will lecture on geography, salary 1,000 francs.

To this central school shall be attached—

1st. A library and cabinet of antiquities.

2nd. A museum of natural history.

3rd. A botanical garden.

4th. An observatory.

Having remained . . . [days] at Malta, and escaped Nelson by a miracle--Nelson, who could not believe a French army would be landed in Egypt in the middle of summer--Bonaparte continued his voyage.+

* Slavery was probably not actually abolished; some writers inferred this decree from Bonaparte's having freed the Muslim slaves of the Knights. But this move was instrumental.

+Bingham incorrectly says Bonaparte remained "a month" at Malta. It was just a few days. With regard to Nelson, he appends this letter:

Writing a month afterwards to his wife Nelson said :—

"SYRACUSE, July 20th, 1798."

I have not been able to find the French fleet, to my great mortification, or the event i can scarcely doubt. We have been off Malta, to Alexandria in Egypt, Syria, into Asia, and are returned here without success ; however, no person will say that it has been for want of activity. I yet live in hopes of meeting these fellows ; but it would have been my delight to have tried Buonaparte on a wind, for he commands the fleet as well as the army. Glory is my object, and that alone. God Almighty bless you."


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