Thursday, September 20, 2007

French Officer Writes his Mother About an Impending Raid

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. 111-115.


Grand Cairo, August 7th.

C. LASALLE, Chief of Brigade of the 22nd Regiment of Chasseurs a Cheval, of the army of the East, to his Mother.

On the eve of setting out with the Commander in Chief, to intercept a most valuable caravan which the Mameloucs [Mamluks] have seized, and which must, at all events, be wrested out of their hands, I learn, my dear mother, that a courier is preparing to leave Cairo. Opportunities occur so seldom, that I cannot think of letting this escape without giving you a line.

Neither fatigue, nor heat, nor the privation of wine, have hitherto had the smallest effect on my health; on the contrary, I get flesh every day. I have but one thing to regret, and that is my poor hair, which is all fallen off through the excessive heat; assisted, I believe, in some degree, by my total want of powder and pomatum.

General Bonaparte, always prodigal of his kindness, has given me the command of the mounted troops of the 7th hussars, and the 22nd chasseurs. Here I am then, a little General! He often invites me to dinner, and always places me at his right hand. I have an infinite deal of trouble to form my new corps, which is in the most ruinous state you can possibly conceive,-- by dint of incessant exertions, however I hope to succeed to my honour.

We are assured that in the course of a few months, re-inforcements from France will arrive here, and that we shall then return home. This is the wish of the whole army, which, though as well circumstanced as it is possible to be in a country like this,(1) is too truly French in heart, not to prefer its native land to Egypt!

We already have 800 Arabian horses, excellent runners,--I have three for my own share. The officers of my regiment behave extremely well, and have given me many striking proofs of their esteem.

Happily, in consequence of my new employ, I have little time for reflection, and am too much fatigued when night comes, to dream broad awake.—Without this, I feel that I should sink under the wretchedness I experience, from the consideration that I am far removed from every thing that is dear to me in the world,--from my mother, my father, my mistress,(2), and my little boy. Sometimes, however, sad ideas, bitter regrets will force themselves upon me; a sigh breaks forth, a tear trickles down my cheek, and I hasten to tear myself from my melancholy reverie.—O poor Charles! How art though passing thy youth! O duty! Why are thou so rigorous!

I flatter myself that the same kind of providence which has hitherto accompanied me in the heat of battle, has also watched over your life(3). I anticipate the pleasure I shall one day have in kissing your honoured hand, and in drying up, by my embraces, the tears you have not ceased to shed for me.—O my dearest mother! I want, --I cannot express how much I want, to fold you in my arms!

My faithful Joseph is still with me. He is extremely useful, and I cannot tell you how much I am indebted to his care and attention. I have no doubt but that you are just as much indebted to Colin for his, and I therefore seriously promise him a fine Indian shawl, &c. if we seize the caravan(4).

Adieu,--take a thousand tender kisses, and present my respectful duty to my aged father, whom I love and revere. My kind remembrances to all my friends, and respects where they are due.



[British Translators' Notes]

(1)This is put gently enough of a place which we know every man in the army regarded with horror,--but “poor Charles” dined too often with the General to speak out, especially after being just put on the staff.

The paragraph, however, is important in another point of view. It shows the profound hypocrisy and wickedness of Bonaparte, almost as clearly as his Catholic and Mahometan Professions of Faith. He assures his devoted followers, that they shall return to France as soon as re-inforcements arrive, when he knew (as is proved by his letters) that he had sent for every ship of war (by whose aid alone such arrivals were possible) to protect his own escape with the accumulated plunder of Egypt, while the army would be abandoned to its fate!

Providence, however, has frustrated the execrable design; and, with that justice which so often defeats the schemes of interested wickedness, decreed, that this artificer of ill should share the destruction he was exclusively preparing for others.

(2)We have already noticed the frequency with which parent are made the confidents, and sometimes the promoters, of the licentious armours of their children, in these Letters. The present instance, indeed, is venial, if compared—but enough; we have done with the subject.

(3)This is, perhaps, making Charles talk rather too much like a Christian: but as the thought is awkwardly expressed in the original, and as the young man seems really to retain some vestiges of the “old superstition” of his country, we have let it stand. The reader may be assured that we have not many peccadilloes of this nature to answer for. Except in their oaths, the French letters make few appeals to heaven.
(4)It will afford no small satisfaction, we believe, to most of our readers, to know that this valuable caravan escaped the hands of this rapacious banditti. They came up with it, indeed, as we learn from several of the Letters, but found it covered in so masterly a manner by Ibrahim Bey, and so gallantly defended by his handful of Mameloucs, that the French, after several ineffectual attempts, and losing the greatest part of their new-raised cavalry (alas! For poor Charles!) were compelled to make a disgraceful retreat before less than half their numbers! It appears (and we mention it for the exclusive benefit of the admirers of the “invincible Bonaparte,” who commanded in person) that the Mameloucs not only fought with more bravery, but with more skill than their opponents; and that if Ibrahim had not judged, and rightly judged, it more expedient to secure his convoy, than to pursue his baffled enemy, very few of them would have got back to Cairo, to amuse the world with a splendid narrative of their triumphant expedition towards Syria!

In the contest we have mentioned, there were no cannon on either side. The even furnished a most important lesson, which we trust the Mameloucs will never forget. They will not in future encumber themselves with an artillery which they cannot serve, nor attack their enemies when protected by it. They will content themselves with harassing them, with failing on detached parties unprovided with those formidable means of offence; and their superior courage and activity will eventually reduce the French to the necessity of surrendering at discretion.

Though firmly persuaded of the truth of every syllable we have set down, we should not have mentioned it on less authority than that of the French officers, from whose letters we have taken all this, and might have taken much more; for they have been beaten into truth, and mortified into humility.

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