Saturday, October 20, 2007

Letter Critical of Bonaparte Written in Secrecy to Minister of the Marine

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. 1, pp. 28-36.


(For your own private reading.)

At anchor off Aboukir, July 9

To General BRUIX, minister of the Marine, &c.

IN my letter of this day’s date, my dear Bruix, you will find my official accompts. In this I shall venture to lay aside my commissarial caution, and speak to you unreservedly on our real situation in this country. There will be no connection in my letter; first, because I have my attention called off every moment by the repeated applications which, as you well know, are never sparingly made by a fleet at anchor; and secondly, because the vessel which carries the dispatches is under weigh.

Generally speaking, the land and sea officers took their leaves of each other in a very cold manner. The way in which they were all crowded together for want of room, and the scanty allowance to which they were confined, account for it naturally enough(1).

All orders of any consequence were at first given out by the Commander in Chief; latterly the Admiral has received them from Berthier, the head of the staff(2). That for our landing at Malta was issued on the very day of our disembarkation. Two days only were allowed at Alexandria. The immense difference between land and sea operations can be no secret to you; but such is the General’s way of doing things! As it is, every thing has completely succeeded.

Malta without a supply of provisions—with very little money—a sale of national property that cannot possibly take place for some time—and an immense population, which was wholly supported by the Order(3). The supplies from France will not, I imagine, be very abundant; those from Egypt are not yet in a state of forwardness:--and yet the possession of the island, in a military point of view, is of the utmost importance.

The plague ceased at Alexandria only five or six days before our arrival. There was, however, in the New Port, a vessel that had it on board: some of the crew had landed and gone into the city; but we heard of no accident that had happened from it; and besides, it is well known, that in the great heats, the plague is no longer infectious. You will laugh outright, perhaps you witlings of Paris, at the Mahometan proclamation(4) to the Commander in Chief. He is proof, however, against all your raillery; and the thing itself will certainly produce a most surprising effect. You recollect that produced by the magic cry of GUERRE AUX CHATEAUX, PAIX AUX CASANES(5).

The Commander in Chief will march to the attack of Cairo with the grand army; the divisions will do the rest. When the army first got sight of Alexandria, and the deserts which surround it, both officers and men were struck with consternation. Bonaparte has revised their spirits. The port of Alexandria is absolutely destitute of means, either for victualling or refitting a single ship. But the conquest will soon enable us to draw immense advantages from it. Alexander did every thing in a year!

The Arabs and the Mameloucs have treated some of our prisoners as Socrates is said to have treated Alcibiades. There was no alternative to death or submission;--one of our grenadiers chose the former. They took some of our women too: but they only beat them!

It is not yet certain whether our seventy-fours can get into the port. The two Venetian sixty-fours can get into the port. The two Venetian sixty-fours are already there. There was talk of getting out our guns to enable us to enter. But in that case, what should we do there, and when and how should we get out again?

We are now moored at Aboukir, about five leagues to the East of Alexandria—the road is well enough in summer; but in winter quite untenable. The English are in our neighbourhood. They have fourteen sail, and we thirteen, of which three are rather out of condition. We are in expectation of them. The general opinion (but this might be influenced in some degree by personal considerations) was, that as soon as the debarkation was effected, we should have sailed for Corfou; where we were to be reinforced by the ships from Malta, Toulon, and Ancona, and thus prepared for all events. THE GENERAL HAS DECIDED IT OTHERWISE(6). The good fortune which attends all his operations, will not fail to follow this:--for the rest—we are under the gale of fatalism, and its breath shakes my principles a little.

How deficient in foresight are we all in the wishes which we form! I had half an inclination to remain Commissary for some time at Malta; but when I saw that, for the first year at least, that port could neither receive from France nor from Egypt such supplies as would render a residence there tolerable, and that a numerous population would suffer, at least, for a time, the agonies of passing from an organization, imperfect without doubt, but long established, to one differing from it in every respect:--When I saw all this, I said to myself, “let somebody else be a witness to these dreadful distresses, and let me try my fortune at Alexandria.” There I had every thing to do, and every thing to suffer, both from the climate and the troops—and I clung more closely than ever to the fleet, determined to follow its destiny. I have often turned my eyes towards France, towards my friends, but have never regretted the sacrifices I made in quitting Malta.

Adieu, my dear Bruix, be happy, and realize your wishes for the re-establishment of the marine. Accept these assurances of my affectionate and unceasing attachment.


Allow me to present my respectful services to Madame Bruix, and Mademoiselle Theresa.

I say nothing to you of the capture of Alexandria. I shall request Forestier to read his letter to you.

As I have been rather too open in this letter, you will oblige me by throwing it into the fire as soon as you have read it.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)This is letter to which we particularly wished to call the reader’s attention. It owes, as he will see, its superior interest to the great degree of intimacy subsisting between Jaubert and the first minister of the marine, and which allowed him to speak out, without hazarding a voyage to Cayenne.

(2)We have before us an official letter from Jaubert to Bruix, dated on board the l’Orient the 4th of July. The letter in general is not sufficiently interesting to be laid before the public, but the concluding paragraph throws some light on this passage.

“The transports from Toulon, Marseilles, Genoa, Ajaccio, and Civita Vecchia amounted in all to 293 sail; they were manned with about 4,500 men; and had on board, besides the artillery, 22,000 land forces, and 1,200 horses.”

Now it appears from a variety of documents that the number embarked from France and Italy, was about 40,000 (not picked regiments and companies, but) picked men. If we now allow 5000 for the garrison of Malta, and for casualties on the voyage, we shall find the number of troops distributed on board the ships of war, to be something above 11,000-if to these we add the staff of the whole army, we shall be able, as Jaubert says, to account naturally enough, for the coldness between the land and sea officers, who had been thus packed together for near three months.

It appears from Boyer’s list (No. 22.), which we know to be perfectly correct, that the ships of war consisted of 15 sail of the line, 14 frigates, and several Corvettes, and smaller vessels. It may not be improper in this place to mention their fate—Of the 15 sail of the line, 11 were taken and destroyed by Lord Nelson, two made their escape to Corfou and Malta, and two are still in the Old Port of Alexandria.—Of the 14 frigates, two were destroyed in the great engagement, one taken by the Turks, another (the Sensible) by our cruisers, nine are at this moment in the port of Alexandria, and one is unaccounted for,--most probably it is stopped in one of the Turkish ports.—Of the smaller vessels, some have been destroyed, and some taken.

It is a pleasing circumstance, however, to consider, that of all this vast armament, the greatest, as Boyer says, that ever appeared in the Mediterranean (see his Letter, No. 22) not one has yet reached France; and we shall be much mistaken indeed if ONE EVER DOES!!! The French may amuse themselves as much as they please, and the Jacobins of this country may follow them, in speculating to what fortunate empire the fleet will next convey the blessings of liberty.—The blessings we know to be immense; but—the fleet will never leave Alexandria!

(3)This seems to shew a kind of contempt for Brueys. How it originated we know not, but most probably in the ignorance and presumption of Bonaparte, who, accustomed to have his commands carried into instant execution, could not always book the delays occasioned by the nature of the sea service, and which his inexperience in these matters might sometimes lead him to attribute a want of zeal or knowledge in the Admiral.

The influence of Bonaparte in France is strongly marked in this paragraph. Jaubert undoubtedly thinks him wrong, and yet in a confidential letter written to the Minister of Marine, the friend and patron of Brueys, he scarcely dares to breathe a doubt of his infallibility.

(4)Here is a pretty specimen of the favours conferred by these propagandists of liberty, &c. on the poor of Malta—the constant objects, as we all know, and as we have all been told a thousand times, of their peculiar protection and regard! They were wholly supported, as Jaubert truly says, by the Order; yet the French abolish that order, seize all its property to themselves, and leave the poor inhabitants, like the cannons of Boileau, “eperdus et benis,” free, as they are pleased to call it, and starving! It is some consolation, however, to find that the Maltese are not wholly insensible of the kindness.

(5) The witlings of London (The Morning Chronicle, the Courier, and the other Jacobin papers) did better; they denied its authenticity, and substituted in its place a proclamation fabricated for the purpose by the Directory.

(6)”WAR TO PALACES! PEACE TO COTTAGES!”—It is fortunate for mankind that the French in the wantonness of success sometimes put off the mask, and discover the features of the Revolution in all their deformity! This “magic cry” (as it is truly called) has set one part of Europe against the other. It has furnished a topic for declamation to the cold-blooded philosophists of every country; who, from their closets, have propagated the destructive war-hoop from nation to nation, with all the enthusiasim of demons. It was in vain to tell the people that the fall of one involved that of the other. They were long governed more by words than by facts; and it was not till they saw themselves surrounded by the ruins of their smoking “cottages,” while “palaces” frequently remained uninjured, and curse at once the authors of their delusion, and the agents of their destruction.

The poor in every country which the French have reached, have been the chief sufferers; and, in consequence of it, among the foremost to retaliate on their oppressors. Jordan’s grand army was nearly annihilated by them in its flight, and Belguim and Italy, and Switzerland which has no “palaces,” are at this moment filled with an injured peasantry, breathing “curses not loud but deep,” and cutting off in the secrecy and silence, whole armies of their wanton and hypocritical destroyers.

The “magic cry” thank Heaven! Has lost its power to charm, and now remains a mere vox et praterra nihil, serving only to remind its profligate employers of the mischief it once wrought, and, as in the instance before us, to furnish an unfeeling allusion, or a witticism.

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