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. 181-184.
Rosetta, August 4th.
I KNOW not, my dear girl, if thou hast received any of my letters. Since I left France, I have written to thee, once from Bastia, twice from Malta, and once from Alexandria. We have been here near a week, waiting for an opportunity to proceed to Cairo; for it is dangerous to ascend the Nile without an escort. In our passage we had the good fortune to escape the English, who are still in these parts.
Before thou canst receive this letter, the defeat of our fleet by the English, will be known in France. We are all here in the most dreadful consternation: I can give thee not details, because we are not yet fully acquainted with them ourselves; what is, unhappily, too well known is, that the superb vessel in L’Orient blew up during this engagement. Placed on an eminence which overlooked the sea, we were witness of this horrible spectacle. The combat lasted more than twenty-four hours; the English must have suffered greatly. We are still ignorant how many vessels we have lost; and I venture to hope that the disastrous reports in circulation will not be confirmed. Admiral Brueys was killed, as was Ducheyla, and a number of other brave officers.
It is not in the first moments that we should form a judgment on the causes of a calamity so distressing to every good Frenchman. On the contrary, we should anxiously endeavour to check that calumny(1) which neither respects misfortune, nor the ashes of the dead.
With respect to myself, I hear and observe, but do not think it either safe or prudent, to pronounce amidst the tumult of the passions. We depart to-morrow for Cairo, and shall be the first to announce this afflicting news to Bonaparte; who I hope will know how to appreciate this situation, and bear this first reverse of fortune with firmness. I frankly declare that I am not quite so tranquil with regard to the effect this news may have in France; I see already the enemies of Bonaparte and of the Director(2) his friend, sallying forth from their retreats and agitating the public opinion against them!
Past services will be forgotten, and every one will assume the merit of having forseen what has happened. The parties, the half-extinguished factions, will re-invigorate their mutual age, and our unhappy country will again be torn to pieces by new dissensions!
As for me, my love, I am here, as thou knowest, much against my will,--my situation every day becomes more and more irksome; since, separated from my country, from every thing that is dear to me, I cannot foresee the period when I may hope to rejoin them: nothing, however, shall induce me to betray my friendship and my duty. Bonaparte has experienced a reverse; this is an additional reason with me, for attaching myself more firmly to him, and for uniting his fate with my own.
Do not suppose from this, that I can ever become the partizan of any faction; the past has sufficiently enlightened me on the score of prudence; and if it should happen (which I am very far from supposing) that an ambitious chief should arise, aiming to enchain his country, or to turn the arms of its defenders against its liberty, you should then see me in the ranks of those who would stand forward to oppose him.
Thou seest, my girl, that I know how to choose my party; but I declare to thee, with the most perfect openness of heart, that I had rather a thousand times be with thee and thy daughter, in some retired corner of the world, far from all the passions and all the intrigues which agitate mankind;--and I assure thee, that if I ever have the happiness of placing my foot once more on the soil of my native land, nothing shall induce me to quit it again. Of the forty thousand Frenchmen who are here, there are not four whose determination on this head is not the same as my own.
Nothing can be more melancholy than the life we lead here; we are in want of every thing. It is now five days since I closed my eyes. I lie on the bare floor; flies, bugs, ants, gnats, mosquitoes, insects of every kind devour us alive; and twenty times a day I regret our charming Chaumiere(3). Do not, my love, dispose of it on any account.
Adieu, my best Theresia(4), my paper is drenched with my tears. The delightful remembrance of thy goodness, and thy love, the hope of meeting thee again, still amiable, still faithful, and of embracing my dear daughter, are the sole support and stay of the unfortunate.
Let my mother know that I am well.
I experienced a loss on our passage. The day we left Malta, Bellavoine fell asleep in some tavern, and never appeared afterwards. I desired Regnault to forward him to me, if he should happen to light on him. Minerva is still with me, and is very well.
[British Translators' Notes]
(1)We see by this that the unfortunate Brueys was already become the object of malevolence. It reflects some credit on Talien, that he did not join in the cry so unjustly raised against him; and, indeed, though we have no great respect for Talien, who has ever been a man of turbulence and blood, we cannot but confess, that this and the following letter, set not only his talents, but his social feelings, in a very amiable and respectable light.
The cant of patriotism, however, we may be allowed to discredit. We have heard the same language from every one of the numerous demagogues who have desolated France. The instant their power is established, their regard for their country knows no bounds: all farther change is deprecated, and, if “an ambitious chief should arise,” they are as determined as Tallien himself, to protect her, that is, themselves, against him. They fail, however, and make way for others, who, with the same professions of patriotism, are destroyed in their turn,--“and thus the wheel of fortune goes around!”
Talien’s party is now at the head of affairs; this is an excellent reason for him to wish to be quiet: the “holy work of insurrection” loses all its sanctity when employed against the successful tyrants of the day; and they hate to be “plagued by the bloody instructions which they have taught.”
(3)This is the name which Tallien has given to a house he possesses in the neighbourhood of Paris; and which, like the Thatched House in St. James’s Street, is any thing but what it professes to be. Chaumiere means a thatched hut or cottage.
(4)His wife, Theresia Cabarrus.