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. 171-178
Of a Letter from BONAPARTE to the GRAND VIZIER, dated 4, 1213 (Mahometan Era).
TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE SUPREME VIZIER, ABSOLUTE VICAR OF THE GREATEST OF THE GREAT, OF THE JUDICIOUS INTELLIGENT, AND OF THE GREATEST OF ALL THE MONARCHS OF THE EARTH, THE EMPEROR OF THE OTTOMANS(1).
THE object of the present letter, addressed to Your Excellency, and transmitted by the hands of the Effendi made prisoner at Aboukir, is to furnish you with a faithful view of the state of things in Arabia; and, by putting an end to the war which has taken place between the Sublime Porte and the French Republic, to give peace to those two powers.
Alas! Why, after having been friends for so many years, do they now find themselves at war? Is it because the boundaries of the two States are so distant from each other that they fight? Is it because the Courts of Germany and Russia border on the territories of the Sublime Porte that they have united themselves with it?
Your Excellency cannot be ignorant that the French Nation, without exception, is extremely attached to the Sublime Porte. Endowed as Your Excellency is with the most distinguished talents, and acquainted with the real interests of Courts, can it have escaped you that the Russians and Austrians have conspired, once for all, against the Sublime Porte, and that the French, on the contrary, are using every possible effort to counteract their wicked designs? Your Excellency knows that the Russians are the enemies of the Mussulman Faith, and that Paul the Third(2), Emperor of Russia, as Grand Master of Malta, that is to say, Chief Knight, has solemnly sworn enmity to the Mussulmen. The French have abolished the Order of Malta, given liberty to the Mahometan Prisoners detained there, and have the same belief as themselves, that “There is no God but the true God(3).” It is then very strange that the Sublime Porte should declare war on the French, its real and sincere friends; and contract alliances with the Russians and the Germans, its declared enemies.
When the French were necessarily of the sect of the Messiah, they were the friends of the Sublime Porte; now, that they are, as it were, united by the same religion, that Power declares war against them(4)!! The Courts of England and Russia have led the Sublime Porte into an error. We had informed It by letters of our intended expedition into Arabia; but those Courts found means to intercept and conceal our papers(5); and, as if I had not proved to the Sublime Porte that the French Republic, far from wishing to deprive it of its domains, had not even the smallest intention of making war on it; His Most Glorious Majesty, Sultan Selim, gave credit to the English, and conceived an aversion for the French, his ancient friends. Is not the kind treatment which the ships of war and merchantmen belonging to the Sublime Porte, in the different ports of Arabia, experienced at my hands, a sufficient proof of the extreme desire, and love of the French Republic, for peace and amity? The Sublime Porte, without waiting for the arrival of the French Minister Descorches, who had already left France for Constantinople, and, without inquiring what were the motives for my conduct, declared war against the French, with the most unaccountable precipitation(6). Although I was informed of this war, I dispatched Beauchamp, Consul of the Republic in the Caravel, in full confidence of terminating it; and while I was expecting the answer of the Sublime Porte, by the same conveyance, I found that he had been thrown into prison, and Turkish troops dispatched to Gaza, with orders to take possession of Arabia.
Upon this I thought it more advisable to make war there than in the territory of Egypt; and I was obliged, in spite of myself, to cross the Desert.
Although my army is as innumerable as the sands of the sea(7), full of courage, inured to war in the highest degree, and victorious; although it is completely provided with every thing of which it can stand in need; though I have castles and fortresses of prodigious strength, and though the center, and the extremities of the Desert are fortified by batteries of cannon; although I have no fear nor apprehension of any kind, though I have no precautions to take, and that it is impossible for me to be overcome; nevertheless, out of commiseration for the human race, respect for those honourable ways of proceeding which are respected by all nations, and, above all, out of a desire to be re-united with the first and truest of our allies, His Most Glorious Majesty Sultan Selim, I now make manifest my disposition for peace. It is certain that the Sublime Porte can never realize its wishes by force of arms, and that its happiness can only be effectual by a pacific conduct. Whatever armies may march against Cairo, I can repulse them all.—And yet I will facilitate, as much as possible, every proposition which shall be made me tending to peace. The instant the Sublime Porte shall have detached itself from our enemies, the Russians and the English; there cannot be a doubt but that the French Republic will renew and re-establish, in the completest manner, the bases of peace and friendship with the Sublime Porte.
It will be better for you to cease your exertions in forming armies, and amazing provisions and warlike stores to no purpose. Your enemy is not in Arabia. He is in Bulgaria, at Corfou, and, by your mistaken policy, in the heart of the Mediterranean. Augment the number of your ships, put them in good order, and form a corps of able cannoniers. Let not the sacred banner of the Prophet be displayed against the French, but prepare yourselves to make use of it against the Germans and Russians, who, after smiling at the rupture, which has so inconsiderately and imprudently taken place between us, will suddenly raise their heads, and, with a loud and piercing cry, offer you the most burthensome propositions.
If you wish to have Egypt—tell me so. France has never entertained an idea of taking it out of the hands of the Sublime Porte, and swallowing it up. Give authority to your Minister, who is at Paris, or send some one to Egypt, with full and unlimited powers, and all shall be arranged without animosity, and to your wish.
Enter upon the way that will enable you to take vengeance of your enemies. Labour to consolidate and strengthen the foundations of the Ottoman Empire. Employ all your influence to prevent the acceptance of the propositions which will be made to you by your enemies, as well as to turn aside the terrible and destructive projects which they may unhappily have set on foot at this moment. Having had, during the past, so many motives to abhor the Russians, is it wise to abandon the Black Sea to them, and not rather to exact vengeance? Say but a single word on this last head, and I will exert myself for your advantage. The French army is by no means desirous of convincing the Ottoman forces of its discipline and courage; it would rather unite with them to punish their common enemy.
If Your Excellency, to whom I have addressed my wishes in this letter, will send for M. Beauchamp, who is on the Black Sea, and question him on the subject, I am persuaded you will abandon the unfavourable opinion you now have of me. If it depended on my exertions, the day on which I should be able to extinguish the flames of a war so absurd and so unbecoming both parties would be reckoned by me as the most happy of my life.
[British Translators' Notes]
(1)There are two copies of this curious State Paper. The one, faithfully translated from the Arabic by the Turkish Government, and transmitted from Constantinople; the other, loosely, but elegantly rendered from the same original by the French; and found amongst the Intercepted Papers.
Both are here given: but the first only is translated, as being infinitely more to be relied on than that so elaborately framed at Cairo, and expressly calculated for the meridian of Paris. The general tenor, however, of both is the same: and incidental variation or two will be noticed.
To remark upon the particular points of this paper would be endless. Whoever sits down to peruse it must prepare himself for all that ignorance, blasphemy, meanness and hypocrisy—all that misrepresentations, defeating its own purpose, and falsehood, so gross as to be felt, can suggest to a contracted and restless mind, incapable of directing any scheme of policy. Yet presumptuously venturing upon all.
(2)This Paul the Third is an Emperor of Bonaparte’s own creation. Since the French laid aside the Red Book, they have fallen into strange errors! One of their profound Legislators lately exclaimed, amidst the shouts of the admiring Senate: “What! Francis the First dare to brave the anger of the Great Nation! Well, he shall be Francis the Last!!!”
But how must the Grand Vizier (acquainted, as Bonaparte says he is, with the interests of Courts, and who must be supposed to be so, in some degree, whether he had said it or not how must he have smiled, with mingled pity and contempt, at the sottish stupidity, the whining and hypocritical cant of the person to whom the interests of a powerful nation were entrusted!
(3)A sentence taken from the Coran. In the original it is properly marked as a quotation.
(4)This precious sentiment is thus expressed in the intercepted translation: “So then, the Sublime Porte, which was the friend of France while she was a Christian Nation, has declared war against her, the instant she adopted, as it were, the Mussulman Faith!”
(5)This assertion is positively contradicted by Kleber: who labours to excuse the French Government to the Porte, for the omission of this information, by alleging the necessity of secrecy as to the object of the armament.
Kleber had Bonaparte’s letter before him when he introduced this remarkable deviation from it. What must have been that general’s opinion—what must now be the opinion of the world, of its veracity.
(6)The drudgery of remarking on this effusion of folly and wickedness in inconceivable. In consequence of the just indignation of the Porte at the invasion of Egypt, Descorches was dispatched to inform it of the amicable intentions of France in this act of unprovoked hostility. Yet Bonaparte has the stupid insolence to make the crime of the Porte to be, the not waiting for Descorche’s arrival!!!
(7)It is but just to observe, that there is a considerable variation in the sense of the corresponding passages in this and the intercepted copy. That says—“My army is strong, perfectly disciplined, and amply provided with every thing that can render it victorious over your armies, though they be as innumerable as the sands of the sea.” Whether this qui-pro-quo arises from the imperfect wording of the Arabic, or from an idea in Bonaparte, that the original rhodomontade was too extravagant for France, cannot be told. The Turks could have no temptation to exaggerate the absurdity of this matchless production. Enough remained, though this boast had been withdrawn, to provoke the bitter smile of the Ottoman Court. But what must have been the sensations of the Grand-Vizier, when he heard Bonaparte vaunt of the ample manner in which his army was supplied, when (As it appears from Kleber) he well knew it to be perishing with want; or of his being invincible, when the whole of his (the Vizier’s) long march, from Damascus to Gaza, had been over the mangled carcasses of the French, whom the General had left to the hyeanas of Syria, in his hasty and disgraceful flight.
With this observation this letter is left to the scorn of the world.
The English reader, when he compares it with BONAPARTE’S parting instructions to KLEBER, will not fail to be struck with the sincerity of an overture, which is not followed up at all except 1500 Frenchmen shall have died of the plague, in which, in that case, is to be followed up only by a negociation SURELY TO GAIN TIME.