Monday, September 24, 2007

Wounded Hussar Writes about Failed 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. 140-143


Grand Cairo (28 Thermidor), August 15-

To Citizen MIOT.

YOU will see, my dear Miot, by the date of this letter, that it is written twenty days after that which you will find in the same packet.(1) You will see too, by the conclusion of the former, that I was then on the point of setting out with General Le Clerc,(2) on a secret expedition, the object of which, as I afterwards learned, was to seize on the caravan of Mecca, of which Ibrahim Bey had possessed himself. This expedition has totally failed, and we are returned with the loss of a number of our new mounted hussars.

You will easily discover from this wretched scrawl of a letter, that something has happened to prevent my writing as usually. I will briefly tell you (to save unnecessary alarm), that this expedition has been a little, and but a little, unfortunate for me; since I have had my left arm so torn and bruised, by a camel, that I shall not be able to use it for a month: there is, however no danger. By a second accident, I had two of my right-hand fingers so much injured, as to be scarce able to hold a pen.

I lost, besides, every thing I took with me, except the shirt upon my back. Luckily my portmanteau had reached Cairo, so that I shall not be in want of necessaries. I support my misfortunes, which after all, are not of the most important nature, in a very philosophical style; the greatest of them all, however is, and always will be, the not having it in my power to see you, and press you to my heart.

It was at Sallich, just beyond Bilbis, the last village before you come to the Desert, that we first heard the melancholy news of our naval action, in which we lost a great number of vessels, and amongst the rest the l’Orient; and had Admiral Brueys killed by a cannon shot. You may easily conceive how embarrassing this event must render our situation in this country. It would deprive the army of every hope, if they were not acquainted with the genius of the Commander in Chief. It is entirely on him then, that we rely for the care of extricating us from the perilous step in which we are engaged. May the measures he may take, bring us nearer to our country! EGYPT IS NOT MADE FOR US!

Adieu, my dear Miot; I embrace you with all my heart, as well as all your charming family, and the dear [undetermined name].

Boyat, who is now sitting by me, begs me to assure you of his attachment. He sends his respects to Josephine and to [undetermined name].

If you desire me to return, let slip no opportunity; and above all, do not forget, the instant you receive this letter, to write a word to Sucy, to induce him to take me with him, in case he has any thoughts of quitting this country,

By what I can collect from Boyat’s conversation, he does not seem disposed to do it at present.(3)


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)He alludes to his letter of July 26th. See No. IV.

(2)General Le Clerc (as we should have observed in a former letter) is much in the confidence of the Commander in Chief, to whom he is related. He married, we believe, immediately after the negociations of Leoben, a sister of Bonaparte’s, in Italy, extremely pretty, and nick-named for her silliness, La Princesse Folette. Her brother made her a present of 500,000 livres, on her wedding day! This is the lady whom Bonaparte prevented from seeing the opera at Bologna, because the company she had chosen to attend her were not all of the first consequence! It must be confessed, that this equalizing Chief has most aristocratical ideas of rank and fortune; ideas which, in a Corsican, and a republican, are altogether surprising.

(3)Our unfortunate Savant has already observed (No. IV.) Sucy’s reluctance to take him with him to France. Sucy himself, we believe, will never revisit that country; but if it were otherwise, if the poor man’s letters had reached his friend Miot in time, and if Miot had employed all his interest with the First Commissary in his behalf, we are persuaded that all would have been ineffectual. A botanist, and a man of sense! What pretensions has he to be one of the chosen few who are to be permitted to return? No, no, his fate was sealed previous to his embarkation. For the rest, we do not know that he has any particular reason to complain; he has already seen, he says, many of his associates fall around him (see his former letter), and he is still in existence: nor can he justly blame the Directory; for if they could deliberately consign to inevitable destruction more than forty thousand of their best and bravest troops, to whom they were under the highest obligation, why should they be supposed to interest themselves in the fate of this whining compound of philosophy and war, who has never yet, perhaps, rendered them the slightest service! The idea is too absurd to be dwelt upon.

When we observed above that we believed Sucy would never revisit France, we were certainly very far from thinking that this was already a matter of certainty. We have learned, since the former part of this note was written, that he was on board the vessel which ran into Candia, where he was put to death, together with most of the passengers, by the inhabitants.

We are no advocates for a war of this savage nature; and the resentment with which we speak of the army of the East, or of England, proceeds from observing, that they are the butchers, not the bold and generous enemies, of the devoted Egyptians. With all this, however, we wish Sucy had fallen in some other manner; though we cannot help being astonished at the presumptuous folly that could lead him to throw himself and his companions into the hands of a people whom they had so grossly injured. The impunity with which the French have long insulted and trampled on the poor patient nations of Europe, has emboldened them to their destruction: they have at length found an enemy worthy of themselves!

We know not whether the writer of this letter obtained his wish to be permitted to accompany Sucy in his flight. If he did, he doubtless shared his fate; it is more probable, however, that he did not; and in that case, if a short respite (for it will be no more) has its value with him,

Si tanti vita dierum

we may venture to congratulate him on the obduracy of the first Commissary.

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