Tuesday, September 18, 2007

French Commissary Sends Note to Joseph Bonaparte

From: Copies of original letters from the army of General Bonaparte in Egypt, intercepted by the fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson. With an English translation (London, J. Wright, 1798-1800, 3 vols.), vol. 2, pp. 104-108.


Cairo (18 Therimdor), August 5th.

SUCY,(1) First Commissary, &c. to Citizen JOSEPH BONAPARTE, at Paris.

A THOUSAND occupations, my dear Joseph, have hitherto prevented my giving you any account of myself, or of the General: I was assured, besides, that you regularly heard of him in the course of business.

The fatigues of the last march tried his constitution a little: but he supported them, I can assure you, better than any other person. With him alone, the army could have surmounted the innumerable obstacles which it had to encounter, and which there was no possibility of foreseeing or guarding against, from the information it was supplied with.

There is much to be hoped for from this country; but then this hope is of the nature of those which a length of time alone can realize. I am obliged to dictate, not being yet in a condition to use my hand: the surgeon thinks favourably, however, of my wound. My chief pain arises from not being able to be as useful to your brother as I could wish. We are all anxious to hear from Paris. Many things may have happened to affect our situation; and this consideration makes our anxiety truly painful.

My respects to your ladies. Citizen Hasselavere is in good health, and employed here in the administration to the effects of the Mameloucs.—Adieu. Preserve your friendship for me, in return for the tender attachment with which I have sworn to be ever yours.


P.S. You know that Louis(2), fatigued a little by his voyage, was left at Alexandria.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)This is the only letter which we find from the First Commissary. To judge from the frequent and respectful mention made of him, Sucy must enjoy a high degree of consideration in Egypt: this is not, perhaps, to be wondered at, when we consider him as possessed of the most lucrative and important post in the civil administration of the army.

His letter is no farther of importance, than as it shews the utter impossibility of deriving any advantages from Egypt. To say this in express terms, could neither be expected from Sucy, nor would have been borne by Joseph Bonaparte: it is, therefore, represented as the country of hope. But to talk to a Frenchman of a good to be produced by the slow progress of time, is to hold an unintelligible language. The present, is all that exists for him, and he snatches what it offers with an avidity that shews at once his distrust, and contempt of the future.

Volumes might be written on this subject, but we content ourselves with referring to Bonaparte’s Italian conquests for an elucidation of our remark.

(2)Louis Bonaparte, the General’s brother. In the last French papers which reached this country, it is stated that Louis Bonaparte, accompanied by General Berthier, was arrived at Ajaccio in Corsica. This we doubt. Berthier, we have some reason to think, is the last man Bonaparte would part with; even though his escape to Alexandria were feasible, which is probably not the case. With respect to Louis Bonaparte, who had wisdom enough to decline marching into the country, it is barely possible that he may have found his way back to France; and therefore, whatever may be our private opinion, we shall not, at present, call in question that part of the statement.

It is difficult to conceive any thing more strict than the watch kept by our vigilant tars over the ports of Alexandria. We have seen several letters from the masters of those neutral vessels which the French found there, and which Commodore Hood has permitted to withdraw; and they all concur in saying, that the severest scrutiny was made, not only of their papers, but of their crews,--so that it was scarcely possible for any thing to pass without discovery.

As to the vessels which the French took up in the several ports of Italy, and for the hire of which Bonaparte has promised to pay by the plunder of the Egyptian villages; they cannot stir. Eleven of them, which madly attempted it, were taken in sight of the place, and immediately burnt. With respect to the French ships, the case is still more hopeless. To the danger of being captured by us, are superadded others of a much more formidable nature, which they have provoked by their perfidy and cruelty, and which they will not in the future (notwithstanding their anxiety to escape from “that land of horrors,”) be very forward to encounter. Three of their ships (we take the account from themselves) full of wounded men, and fugitives who had escaped the vigilance of the Commandant of Alexandria, took advantage of the night, and the temporary absence of our cruisers, and slipped out. What was their fate? One of them, we hope it was that with the wounded men on board, fell in with the Zealous, and was captured. Another ran into Scyphanto, one of the Greek isles, and was seized by the inhabitants. The passengers and crew, amounting to fifty-four in all, were immediately carried to Constantinople, and thrown into the dungeon of the galley slaves; while the Scyphantines were liberally rewarded for their loyalty and zeal. The third put into one of the harbours of Crete, where the people, who, as the French editor very justly observes, are not moderes, put every man of them to death, and sent their heads to decorate the gates of Seraglio.

Notwithstanding all this, it is not quite impossible but that some one, more happy than the rest, may yet escape; and therefore the Directory contrive to amuse the relatives of their victims, by permitting their papers to notify from time to time the arrival of this or that particular person in some distant port—for it should be observed, that they are never said to have arrived in France!

This is an admirable expedient; but it does not always succeed: for as the French Government is without any intelligence from Egypt, but through the medium of Turkey, or of this country, it sometimes happens that the arrival of a man is announced, who, in the classical phraseology of their orators, had “ceased to live” some months before. Thus, they lately gave us a letter from Leghorn, said to be written by a Citizen Julien, who was just returned, full of good news from Grand Cairo. This was an unlucky guess. Citizen Julien’s voyages had long been over. He was “assassinated,” as Bonaparte terms it in his official papers, “with fifteen other Frenchmen, at the village of Askam.” That is to say, (for we know the fact) he was sent with a company of Grenadiers to plunder the village of its grain. The inhabitants defended their property with a fury bordering on despair, and in the conflict Julien and his fixty-six marauders were killed. It should not be forgot here that the “hero of Italy,” mad with rage and disappointment, sent, in his own words, “a strong division of the army” to pull down the few mud huts of this wretched village, and exterminate the miserable inhabitants,--by way of enlightening the rest of the Egyptians, we suppose, in the saving doctrine of the true RIGHTS OF MAN.

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