Monday, November 12, 2007

French Navy Defeated After "Flattering" Themselves with Victory

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. 187-188.


Rosetta, August 4th.

To Citizen BARRAS, Member of the Executive Directory of France, at Paris.

IN my last, dated from Alexandria, I had only, dear Director, to speak to thee of the success of the Republican arms. At present, I have a much more painful task. The Directory is, doubtless, informed ere this of the unfortunate issue of our naval engagement with the English.

During several hours we flattered ourselves with the hopes of being victors, but the blowing up of the L’Orient, threw the whole squadron into confusion. The English themselves allow that all our ships fought well;--many of their vessels are dismasted, but our squadron is almost totally destroyed. Thou art sufficiently acquainted with my disposition to be assured that I shall never become the echo of that calumny which is already anxiously busied in giving welcome to the most absurd rumors. I hear every thing, and say nothing—the affair is yet too recent to pronounce on it.

Consternation has overwhelmed us all. I set out tomorrow for Cairo, to carry the news to Bonaparte. It will shock him so much the more, as he had not the least idea of its happening. He will doubtless find resources in himself—if not to repair a loss of such magnitude, yet at least to prevent the disaster from becoming fatal to the army, which he commands.

With respect to myself, this dreadful event has restored all my courage. I feel that the moment is now come when it is indispensably necessary to unite all our efforts to enable us to triumph over the numerous obstacles which destiny, or malevolence, will not fail to fling in our way.

Pray Heaven this disastrous news produce no bad effect at Paris! I am, I confess, exceedingly uneasy about it—though I have still some confidence in the Genius of the Republic, who has hitherto so constantly befriended us.

Adieu, my dear Barras. I shall write to thee from Cairo, where I expect to be in four days.


I have seen thy cousin here—he is not well; the climate does not agree with him. There are not many sick in the army, however; although the heat is excessive, and the men are exposed to privations of every kind.

Letters from Alexandria assure us that two sail of the line, and two frigates, made their escape. The English are still off Abouquir: they appear to have suffered very much. A glimmering of hope still remains: may it not vanish like the rest!

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