Saturday, November 3, 2007

Brother of Famous Novelist Writes from Aleppo

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. 112-115.


Aleppo, July 27th.

CHODERLOS(1), Consul-General of the French Republic at Aleppo and its Dependencies to the Citizen Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Citizen Minister,

IT was not till the 15th instant, that we first heard of the capture of Malta, and of the disembarkation of our troops at Alexandria. This news has since been confirmed by various letters from Cyprus, and from the ports along the coast: to the present moment, however, I have received nothing official on these important events; so that we are kept suspended, as it were, between the numerous contradictory stories which are propagated concerning this expedition; which appears to have excited a considerable degree of alarm, not only at Cyprus, but along the whole coast of Syria.

Without pretending to pry into the secrets of government, I cannot help saying I am astonished that, when the descent was once effected, the General, or at least the Consul at Alexandria, did not address a circular letter to the consuls of the neighbouring countries, to put them in a way of quieting the apprehensions of the Turks, who (as may easily be supposed) do not see so formidable an expedition without some degree of alarm.

The pacific language which I have continued to hold on this occasion has contributed greatly to calm the effervescence which was beginning to manifest itself, not only among the Turks, but even among a great majority of the French who are settled here.

“Whatever,” said I to them all, “may be the purport of this expedition, you ought to entertain no doubt but that it is undertaken with the full consent of the Porte. Let us wait for authentic intelligence from our respective governments—and till then, let us confidently repose on the knowledge we all have of the strict connection which has now subsisted so long between the two powers.”—(Precious villain!)

I then placed in the fairest point of view, the various advantages which would accrue to the Ottoman empire from our possession of Malta—and, to say the truth, this circumstance had a considerable effect in counterbalancing the disagreeable sensation, which the knowledge of having so formidable a force in the neighbourhood had already produced.

At this moment Aleppo is effectually quieted. I can see nothing to apprehend but a sudden convulsion, produced by some of those absurd and exaggerated accounts which terror frequently dictates, and which terror alone is capable of adopting.

The Pacha, and all the Grandees of the city are tranquil. If there be any explosion to dread, it is on the part of the Cheriffs, whom fanaticism may drive to violent measures—and, in that case, I should not be astonished if the Janizaries, who are fond of us, were to undertake our defence.

I take advantage, Citizen Minister, of a mode of conveyance, not altogether without suspicion, to transmit you this letter, which I have scribbled in great haste—because the only opportunity that offers is that of the courier of the ***** Consul, and because it is necessary to use every precaution, and even every article imaginable to save appearances, and prevent any obstacles being raised to is departure.

Health and respect.


The reasons I have just given, prevent Citizen Beauchamp from writing to you. The packet would be too voluminous not to excite suspicion. He charges me to inform you, that he intends setting out the day after to-morrow for Latakia, where he will take measures for prosecuting his journey.

[British Translators' Notes]

(1)This is the brother of the famous, or rather infamous La Clos known in this country as the author of Les Liasons Dangereuses, and in France, as one of the most active promoters of the Revolution. He was at once the agent, and the instigator, of that profligate idiot, Egalite; he was also a principal manager of the Jacobin Club, of which he was President in 1790.

His talents for intrigue made him redoubtable to Robespierre, by whom he was proscribed: he contrived, however, to escape, and, in 1795, was selected by the government (to whom his abilities and his want of principle were well known) as a fit instrument for promoting their iniquitous designs in Syria.

To return to Choderlos. He was sent to Aleppo some time after his brother (who was settled at Latakia) and one the same iniquitous errand. His letter shews that he was equally well qualified for the purpose. Much mischief would inevitably have followed, had not the presumption and folly of their rapacious masters precipitated measures, and plunged them in the abyss of misery which they were wantonly preparing for others.

They are both ere this, we truth, in the Castle of the Seven Towers: much too good a place of the imprisonment for men who, in strict justice, should long since have perished in the dungeon of Robespierre.

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