Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bonaparte Dispatches Kleber Before Fleeing Egypt

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. 3, pp. 14-27.


Alexandria, August 22d, 1799.

BONAPARTE, Commander in Chief, to General KLEBER.

ANNEXED to this, Citizen General, you will find an order for you to take command of the army. My constant apprehensions lest the English fleet should again appear on the coast, compel me to hasten my voyage by two to three days.

I take with me Generals Berthier, Lannes, Murat, Andreoffi, and Marmont; Citizen Monge, and Citizen Bertholet.

Enclosed you will find the English and Francfort papers (1) up to the 10th of June. You will see by them, that we have lost Italy! That Mantua, Turin, and Tortona are in a state of blockade. I have some grounds to flatter myself that the first of these places will hold out to the end of November(2); and I trust, if fortune smiles upon me, to be in Europe before the beginning of October.

You will also find enclosed, a cipher for your correspondence with the Government; and another, for your communications with me.

I entreat you to dispatch Gimot some time in the month of October(3), together with the baggage which I have left at Cairo, and my domestics. I should, however, have no particular objection to your taking as many of them as may suit you, into your own service.

It is the present intention of Government, that General Desaix(4) should set out for Europe in November next, unless something of consequence should arise here to detain him.

THE COMMISSION OF THE ARTS shall return to France on board a flag of truce, which you will demand for this purpose, comfortably to the late cartel, some time in the month of November, immediately after they have completed the object of their mission. They are at present engaged in putting up a finishing hand to it, by an examination of Upper Egypt. Nevertheless, if you think that any of them will be of service to you, you may put them in requisition without scruple(5)!!!

The Effendi who was made prisoner at Aboukir, is set out for Damietta. I have already written to you to send him to Cyprus: he takes with him a letter for the Grand Vizier, of which I enclose you a copy(6).

The arrival of the Brest fleet at Toulon, and of the Cadiz fleet at Carthagena, leaves no kind of doubt of the possibility of transmitting to Egypt the muskets, sabers, and pistols, balls, &c. of which you stand in need, and of which I am provided with a very exact enumeration; together with a sufficient number of recruits to supply the losses of our two campaigns. Government itself, I presume, will, by that conveyance, acquaint you with its intentions: as for myself, both in my public and my private capacity, I promise to take every measure for enabling you to hear frequently from France(7).

If, by a series of the most extraordinary events, none of these attempts should succeed, and you should neither receive reinforcements, nor intelligence from France by May next; and if this year, in spite of all your precautions, the plague should break out in Egypt and carry off more than fifteen hundred of the troops(8)—a considerable loss in addition to that which the events of the war will daily occasion—I think that you ought not then to venture upon another campaign, and that you are sufficiently justified in concluding a peace with the Ottoman Porte; even though the evacuation of Egypt should be the leading article. It will merely be necessary for you to postpone the execution of it (if such a thing is possible) till the period of a general peace.

No one, Citizen General, has better means of judging of the importance of Egypt to France, than yourself. The Turkish empire, menaced with ruin on every side, is crumbling to pieces at this moment; and the evacuation of Egypt on our part, should be so much the more unfortunate, as we should be sure to see, ere long, this fine province fall into the hands of some other European powers.

The intelligence of the good or ill fortune which may attend the Republic in Europe, will, of course, have its due influence in determining your future measures.

If the Porte should reply to the overtures I have made for peace, before my letters from France can reach you, it will be, in that case, necessary for you to declare, that you have all the powers with which I was entrusted. Even then upon the negotiation; adhere strenuously and constantly to the assertion which I have advanced, that France never had the least idea Of TAKING EGYPT FROM THE GRAND SEIGNIOR!!! Require the Ottoman Porte to separate itself from the Coalition, to grant us the free commerce of the Black Sea, to set at liberty all the French in confinement, and lastly, to agree to a suspension of hostilities for six months, that there may be a sufficient time for the mutual exchange of ratifications.

Supposing, however, that you should find yourself in such circumstances as you conceive make it necessary to conclude the treaty with the Porte; you must then make that power understand that you cannot execute your part of it, before it be ratified (at home); and that, according to the usual practice of all nations, the interval between the signing and ratifying of a treaty, is always considered as a suspension of hostilities.

You are acquainted, Citizen General, with my way of thinking respecting the interior policy of Egypt. Act in whatever manner you please, the Christians will still be our friends; it will be necessary, however, to prevent them from growing too insolent, lest the Turks should conceive the same fanatic prejudice against us as against them, which would destroy every possibility of a reconciliation: this fanaticism must at all events be laid asleep, until we have an opportunity of extirpating it entirely(9). By gaining the good opinion of the powerful Cheiks at Cairo, we shall secure that of all Egypt; and of all the chiefs which its inhabitants may rally under, there are none less to be apprehended by us than the Cheiks, who are all timorous, unacquainted with arms, and, like all other priests, know how to inspire the people with fanaticism, without being fanatics themselves(10).

With respect to the fortifications, I consider Alexandria and El Arisch as the two keys of Egypt. I had once an idea of forming, during the approaching winter, several redoubts of palm-tree(11); two from Salich to Caslies, two from Caslies to El Arifch: of these last, one was to be placed on the spot where General Menou discovered a spring of tolerable water.

Brigadier-general Sanson, commander of the corps of engineers, and Brigadier-general Sougis, commander of the Artillery, will furnish you with the necessary details of their respective departments.

Citizen Poussielgue has had the sole management of the finances; I have found him extremely active, and in every respect a person of merit; he begins to have some insight into the chaos of the administration of this country. It was my intention, if nothing occurred to prevent me, to attempt this winter a new system of taxation, which would, by degrees, relieve us from our present dependence on the Copts: before you undertake it, however, I advise you to make it the subject of long and deliberate meditation; it is safer to begin an operation of this nature a little too late, than a little too soon.

Our ships of war will certainly make their appearance this winter, either at Alexandria, Brulos, or Damietta. You must have a battery and a signal-tower at Brulos. Endeavour to get together five or six hundred Mameloucs, in such a manner that, when the French fleet arrives, you may be able to lay your hands upon them at the same instant of time, either at Cairo or in the other provinces, and fend them off immediately for France(12). If you cannot procure Mameloucs, such Arab hostages, Cheiks al Beled as may then be in custody, no matter on what account, will answer the end as well. These people, landed in France, and detained there for a year or two, will contemplate the grandeur of the nation; they will acquire, in some degree, our manners and our language, and when they return to Egypt, will prove to us so many partisans.

I have already repeatedly written for the company of comedians; I will take particular care that they shall be sent(13). This appears to me an article of the utmost consequence, not only for the army, but for the purposes of effecting something like a change in the moral habits of the country.

The important situation of Commander in Chief, which is now devolved upon you, will afford you ample opportunities of displaying those talents with which nature has endowed you. The interest taken in every thing which passes here, is active and lively; and the consequences resulting from it will be immense, whether considered with respect to commerce or to civilization. This is assuredly the epoch from whence revolutions of the most extraordinary nature will take their date.

Accustomed to look for the recompence of the toils and difficulties of life in the opinion of posterity, I abandon Egypt with the deepest regret(14)! The honour and interests of my country, duty(14), and the extraordinary events which have recently taken place there; there, and there alone, have determined me to hazard a passage to Europe, through the midst of the enemy’s squadrons. In heart and in spirit I shall still be in the midst of you! Your victories will be as dear to me as any in which I may be personally engaged; and I shall look upon that day of my life as ill employed, in which I shall not do something for the army of which I leave you the command; and for the consolidation of the magnificent establishment, the foundation of which is so recently laid.

The army I entrust to your care, is entirely composed of MY OWN CHILDREN. I have never ceased, even in the midst of their most trying and difficult dangers, to receive proofs of their attachment(15); endeavour to preserve them still in those sentiments for me. This is due to the particular esteem and friendship I entertain for you, and to the unfeigned affection I feel for them!


A true Copy,


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)It would seem from this (and indeed the whole tenour of this correspondence proves it) that the Directory gave themselves as little trouble about Bonaparte, as if he had not obliged them by sacrificing his gallant army to their common views. But for these papers (which were most probably given to him by some unsuspecting British tar, who had better have kept them himself), he would have been ignorant of what was doing in Europe. He refers Kleber no information from the Directory; HE MENTIONS NO ORDERS FOR HIS RECALL—which would have been a sufficient plea, and which would not have failed to urge, if he had received any—but bottoms the whole, upon the accidental acquisition of a few newspapers! Even in his farewell address to the army, he gives no other reason for his return, but the news; though such a circumstance must have been to them a most cruel insult; as their preference in Europe must have been full as necessary as his own.

(2)Bonaparte may be pardoned for this conjecture, formed from an estimate of the time which it took him to reduce it, in his boasted campaigns. Mantua was invested by him for the first time on the 4th of June 1796; it did no surrender till the 2d of February in the following year, a space of eight months; nor then to the fire of the besiegers, but to that with which no courage, nor obstinacy, can contend—an absolute want of food! Compare this with the recovery of the same town, in the present campaign. It fell, with a garrison of thirteen thousand men, after a close and vigorous siege of only eleven days! Indeed, if the Austro-Russian campaign in Italy be compared with those of Bonaparte, the latter dwindle into insignificance. With an immense army, powerfully reinforced by the discontented and vicious of all nations, whom he attached to his standard by the lure of novelty and indiscriminate plunder, Bonaparte over-ran Italy in two years: let it be remembered, however, that all its fortresses (with the exception of Mantua) were pusillanimously or insidiously delivered to him, before he had even captured the paltry town of Ceva, the first garrison in Piedmont; while the Austro-Russians have reconquered the same country in the short space of nine months, with the addition of Alexandria, Tortona, &c. and the almost impregnable fortresses of Coni and Turin; the last of which had been treacherously seized by the execrable Joubert.

This, though pretty generally known, is mentioned here, for the exclusive benefit of Bonaparte’s Jacobin admirers; who, reduced to despise, with the rest of the world, his legislative talents, pretend to found his claims to empire on his rapid and unrivaled victories!

(3)The General had forgotten that he promised the soldiers (whom he took leave of with such heart-felt regret) that he would return to them forthwith.

(4)This is a person who, according to the joint reports of Bonaparte and himself, has annihilated Mourad Bey, and his handful of Mameloucs, several times over. It will be seen presently, however, that they are still alive and merry; preparing to do as much for him in their turn. Desaix was looked upon in France as one of the best officers in the service.

(5)Would not one imagine this humane savant-driver was talking of camels or buffaloes, instead of the men whose immortal labours in Egypt were to astonish the world, and illustrate France with a full display of the recondite lore of Hermes Trifmegiftus? Put them in requisition without scruple! Unfortunate beings! This s the very thing that he had before done to them in France!

This paragraph is highly worthy of serious consideration of the Jacobins: since of all the brilliant qualities of Bonaparte, none (with the exception of his humanity) has been so long and so loudly dwelt upon by them, as his singular love of learning, and learned men!

(6)See No. XIV.

(7)After noticing the various wants of the French army, the reader may be curious to know what Bonaparte has done in either of his capacities to relieve them. It may be told in three words. He has raked the kennels of Paris for a number of prostitutes more pestilential than the plague, to send them; and he has put in requisition a few miserable companies of strolling players, who may probably arrive time enough to see the curtain drop for ever on the tragic-comedy of his expedition.

(8)The cool calculation of 1500 men, which this “hope and consolation” of the rancorous “school of humanity” thinks a reasonable quantity to die of the plague, is chiefly noticed here, as furnishing a tolerable criterion for estimating the numbers that fell in the former season. As an useless sacrifice of so many hundred human beings, it is scarce worth mention in the history of a man, who has spilled more blood wantonly than any commander of ancient or modern times.

(9)Our General “has a meeting, and, no doubt, you all have sense enough to find it out; though, it must be confessed, it is not very obvious. The truth seems to be, that with an abundant degree of cunning (and this, and a fierce and savage courage, will, upon examination, be found to make up the whole of his character), he was bewildered himself in the variety of his objects. The Christians, by whom probably Bonaparte means the Copts, are to be trampled upon to gratify the Turks, whose fanaticism is to be indulged, that it may be the more easily destroyed some time hence by the French, who are at present treating for the entire evacuation of the country! Such are the contradictory reveries with which Bonaparte labours to confound Kleber, and to conceal his own want of rational and enlarged ideas on a subject so infinitely interesting and important.

(10)Bonaparte’s ignorance is inconceivable. He has been amusing himself for fifteen months with hunting out and destroying Arabs, Turks, and Copts; and yet he seems to know as little of their distinct polity as if he had never left home. Who ever heard before of Cheik priests? A Cheik is an Arabian chief, neither timorous nor acquainted with arms, as he had frequently found to his cost. It is not improbably that Bonaparte means by his Cheiks the Coptic clergy! Mean what he will, however, the sneer at priests comes with an admirable grace from one who has just paid them such extraordinary compliments in his proclamation to the royalists of La Vendee. An Atheist at Paris, a Catholic at Rome, a Mussulman at Grand Cairo, and a hypocrite every where, it is to be hoped his insidious language will be treated as it deserves; and that what is here laid of priests will be duly weighed by as many of those brave and faithful people as have at some unsuspicious moment been gratified by an encomium on their church, as deceitful, they will now see, as it was impious.

It is pleasant to reflect that the communication with the Vendeans, &c. is now so easy and so frequent, that this publication will probably reach them before it is heard of at Paris.

(11)This was an idea truly worthy of Bonaparte. To destroy the palm-trees would as effectually depopulate many parts of Egypt, as if he had turned the course of the Nile; thousands of the natives who inhabit the borders of the deserts have no other subsistence but dates for a great part of the year. But what is this to Bonaparte? To destroy and to reign are all he asks; it matters not over what or whom.

(12)It is impossible to conceive a scheme of blacker or more diabolical perfidy than Bonaparte here plans for Kleber.

Five or six hundred innocent people, living without suspicion or fear under the protection of the French, are to be torn from their country, their families, and friends, and hurried off to France under a pretence equally absurd and iniquitous.

Fortunately, Bonaparte left a man behind him but little inclined to be the agent of his villany. How must this gallant and discerning soldier have felt the insult here offered him? How must he have smiled with contempt at this mixture of indiotism and frenzy? This order for him to exasperate the country by an act of wanton barbarity, at the time he was instructed to treat about leaving it in peace! Bonaparte allows that those Mamelouc missionaries could not finish their Parisian educations in less than a year or two, and yet he has just before granted a delay of only six months to conclude the agreement which is to shut the French out of Egypt for ever.

With respect to the Arab hostages, Cheiks, or any thing else instead of Mameloucs; if such a motley crew were not designed to gratify his own vanity, they could only serve to remind the Parisians of the ever-memorable procession of the “Orator of the human race,” Anacharfis Clootz. At any rate, the idea of bringing about a great change in the country by their means, is completely ridiculous, and truly worthy of the man who conceived it.

(13)That is the only one of all his numerous promises that Bonaparte has condescended to recollect. He thought of it, we see, in Egypt; and, not to disparage his talents for invention, might be indebted for the idea to Voltaire, who advised us (not seriously, it must be confessed) to send a few opera-dancers to St. Vincents, to soften and subdue the Caraibs.

(14)What have we here? A mortified Carthusian? Meek and lowly servant of an unambitious republic, he makes no boastful claims to the admiration of the present age; he fights battles, he overturns states, he wades through human blood, from shores of Genoa to the Adriatic; he flies from one ravaged quarter of the globe to lay waste another, without motive or end;--and he tells all this in a jargon that Captain Bodadil would have laughed at. What then? His toil, like virtue, is its own reward, and he aspires only to the grateful notice of prosperity! All this is as perfectly true, as that he abandoned Egypt with regret, or that Keleber believed him when he said so.

(15)Of what materials must this man’s heart be made? Even Satan is represented by Milton as bursting into such tears as angels fled, at the recollection of what he had brought on his followers, yet—faithful how they stood. But Bonaparte seems absolutely incapable of any impressions of pity or remorse; he is an anomalous being, such as neither history nor fiction has yet dared to exhibit.

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