Friday, September 14, 2007

French Soldiers Express Pains of Defeat and Separation

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. 86-90.

Alexandria, (13 Thermidor), July 31st.

LE PERE to the female Citizen LE PERE, Rue du Fauxbourgh Honore, no. 102, near (illegible) at Paris.

I AM very much afraid, my dear mother, that my last never reached you; though I cannot yet persuade myself to resign all hopes of it. We learn that our dispatches are frequently intercepted by the English, and the courier who took charge of my letter, never, perhaps, arrived at Toulon.

I gave you an account in it of our safe arrival at Alexandria, in sixteen days after our fortunate expedition against Malta. I added some details on the capture of this famous and most miserable city; and I enclosed a note which I desired you to send to St. Germain, after communicating its contents to our friends. If nothing of this has reached you, I can only hope that the Gazettes have made up for the loss.

The Commander in Chief left this place on the 11th instant, and it was only yesterday that we heard from him. All the communications by the Nile and the Desert being completely cut off by Arabs, we were beginning to grow very uneasy, when we received at last, the news of the capture of Cairo, and the subsequent movements of the army. Gratien(1) is at Rosetta, where I hope to join him in a few days, and to take him with me to Cairo. Hyacinth is still with me; but there is a probability of his quitting us, if he obtains (as we all wish he may) a more suitable place in the military administration.—He is down for it, and is well recommended.

We are all in good health; and, if we were not deprived of sleep by innumerable species of insects which devour us alive, we should find ourselves tolerably happy amidst all the embarrassments, and all the privations, to which you may easily conclude we are exposed. We are, besides, fully occupied in fortifying Alexandria, and on other objects which have an immediate reference to our security; and, indeed, our existence.

Nothing is yet arranged; but I already divine that we (myself and the fourteen engineers who are here) shall form three brigades; of which I shall command one, and Citizens Girard and Bodard the other two. One brigade will remain attached to the port of Alexandria, the others will be charged with the execution of the projects relative to the Nile, and to its junction(2) with the Red Sea. I shall have some pretensions, both as the oldest man, and the oldest officer, to choose what I may conceive to be the most striking service.

We live extremely ill, and in spite of the army allowance, are at a considerable expence. With this exception, we are prepared for every thing; for we know that we are still in the desert of Egypt at Alexandria, and that ‘tis only in approaching the Nile, and entering the Delta, we can find a country rich in cultivation, and abounding in wealth of all kinds(3)!
I intend to draw up a short account of our transactions, and inclose it in the present letter. You will have the goodness to communicate it to our friends, and then transmit it to St Germain.

A thousand kind things from all three of us to our friends and acquaintances. Hyacinth is writing to M. Boursier, who will doubtless communicate to you the details and news which he sends him.

Adieu, dear mother; we embrace you with all our hearts.


P.S.(4) Here then, are more than three months, my dear mother, of total separation! Since we have not even the satisfaction of thinking that any of our letters have reached you; and not one of yours has reached us. We please ourselves with fancying that you are happier than we are: for independently of the want of money, we have also to support that of the few resources of a country overcharged with many thousands of mouths. Nor is this our greatest evil: we can take no repose; and insects of all kinds add to our sufferings. Our zeal, however, is not cooled by this accumulation of misery. We expected an order to proceed to Cairo. He is at Rosetta, about ten leagues from hence, and in a country somewhat less wretched. You will hear with pleasure of the success of the army. Le Pere is writing you a long circulatory letter, and I am preparing one for Monsieur le Boursier.

Adieu, my dear mother; I embrace you with all my heart.

P.S. August the 5th. Excuse me from giving you the promised “account” of our successes. The defeat of our fleet in the dreadful action of the 1st instant, is a calamity which leaves us here as children, totally lost to the mother country. NOTHING BUT PEACE CAN RESTORE US TO HER. But, gracious heavens! How much will this incomparable victory raise the pretensions of the English! We are all pierced to the soul by it, but courage and Bonaparte still remain.

I would give you some details of the engagement, were I not afraid that, as my letter is open, they might prevent its ever reaching you. It is best, therefore, to be silent.

[British Translators' Notes]

(1)Gratien, and Hyacinth mentioned just below, appear to be Le Pere’s brothers.


(3)We have already remarked in the First Part of this Correspondence (p. 120) on the absurd ideas of the French at Alexandria, respecting the resources of the Delta.

(4) This postscript seems to be added by Hyacinth: in that which follows Le Pere resumes the pen.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

"Thermidor" and "Faubourg," I believe.