Friday, November 2, 2007

Frenchman Writes on Encounters with Turks, Arabs

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. 101-103.


Army of England(1).

Grand Cairo, July 27th.

R. DESGENETTES(2) to the female Citizen DESGENETTES, Val-de-Grace, Rue St. Jacques, Paris.

I WRITE to thee, at last, my dear wife, from Cairo’ which will be, I think, the boundary of my expedition.

I wrote to thee twice on our voyage; once from Malta, and again from Alexandria. Opportunities do not often occur, and when they do, they are very unsafe. Not a single letter of thine has yet reached me, nor have I yet heard of thy arrival at Paris.

I will give thee hereafter a faithful history of all my travels; the battles which I have seen, and the dangers without number which I have shared.

My friend Sucy, first Commissary, is dangerously wounded(3) by a musket shot, as is the young Lannes.

Desnanotre, who was likewise recommended to me by La Repeded, is taken prisoner by the Arabs.

The natives of Egypt are ferocious savages: the Beys their masters, haughty oppressors. Their Mameloucs, that is to say, their best cavalry, their privileged cast, opposed nothing to our army but a blind and inconsiderate courage: they were beaten, of course.

There is something in the Turks which I cannot help admiring, and even loving—it is their predestination, which leads to results of the most philosophical nature, and which accommodates itself surprisingly to my circumstances, my nothingness, and my fates.

They have also some very singular customs here. A man may have as many as four lawful wives, besides mistresses. This I have only from hearsay; but I can vouch from my own knowledge, that they drink scarce any thing but water.

Here is a great deal of news for one letter—now to our private affairs.

We are not paid at all, my dear wife; nor have I received a single sous since I left Toulon. With all this, I am far from being the most unfortunate; for almost every body here has either been pillaged, or compelled to fling his baggage into the river and I have saved all mine.

At quitting Toulon I sent thee 700 livres, more or less. Courtal was charged to see them conveyed; which was done, I believe, by the government messengers. Do not forget to write to me about them, and in more than one letter, for they are lost, taken &c.

Citizen Girandi’s letter for Cairo was of service to me; I am lodged with the Physician in question, and I have in return placed him in the army.

The Commander in Chief has constantly treated me with kindness; and I still hope, my dear Lolotte, to be with thee at the period we fixed on.

Embrace, Julien, thy dear parents, and all our friends.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)Desgenettes seems at some former period to have miscalculated his literary wants. His epistle is written on a supernumerary sheet of paper, prepared for the “Army of Italy,” which last words are very fairly printed at the head of it. These the good Doctor has carefully erased, and in their place, substituted “Army of England”—Such accuracy is above all praise!

(2)From an official document lying before us, Desgenettes appears to be first Physician to the army;--a situation for which the reader will conclude to be specially qualified, before he has gone through his letter.

(3)His arm was fractured in passing up the Nile.

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