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1798. EGYPTIAN EXPEDITION. 135
their directorial constitution; but he felt that the time was not yet come when he could replace them. "The pear was not ripe," to use his own phrase. What was left!—To cultivate the fame which was to be his title to power, and to detach himself from the directory, whose blunders, when thus left alone, he foresaw, and reckoned due advantage from them.
An army to effect the conquest of England was offered him by the government: he accepted the command; but no sooner turned his strength to the enterprise, than he found it impracticable. That was a voyage to shipwreck, not illustrate, his fame. "To gain a battle on British ground he thought possible; but to maintain his ground there was hopeless." But England's dominion was wide; though invulnerable at home, a fatal blow might be directed against her abroad. He had read of the revolutions of commercial superiority, which had ever remained to the nation possessed of the nearest and readiest mode of communication with the East. In the ancient world, Egypt and the Levant had been this channel, which the Venetians had once exclusively held. The Portugese had ousted them from this, by voyaging round the Cape; the Dutch and English had succeeded them. To restore the commerce of the East into its old channel was Bonaparte's thought. Another great man, Albuquerque, had regarded the possibility of this, but in a hostile light; and in order to preserve to Portugal its supremacy, he proposed to turn the course of the Nile into the Red Sea, and by so doing annihilate Egypt. Bonaparte now contemplated the seizure and conquest of that country, through which either commerce might be commanded from the East, or war carried thither by some modern Sesostris. The latter character flattered his imagination. It was not Conde nor Turenne, nor even Cromwell, that he yet sought to emulate; it was rather Tamerlane or Genghiz Khan. A couple of years had elapsed, and his Egyptian project had evaporated in disappointment, ere his ambition condescended to be European, and to take a modern hero, Frederic of Prussia, for its model.
An expedition to Egypt was now, therefore, resolved on. The idea pleased the directory also, who were thus rid of a troublesome rival; and the same reason suited the more profound calculations of Bonaparte. But funds were absolutely wanting. The campaign of the preceding spring had fallen short of full success, because Moreau could not procure some thousand pounds to purchase a bridge of boats. There was now an equal dearth in the treasury. With that defiance of all principle or political honesty which characterizes this epoch, they looked round for some weak ally or neutral to plunder. Free Switzerland offered itself; Berne had a treasure: Berne, to be sure, was free: so had been Venice, and Venice was sacrificed. Indeed, it appeared as if the French revolutionists, in despite of their inability to organize or preserve liberty themselves, were determined that their neighbors should be reduced to the same lack of freedom and state of misery as France. A wolf's quarrel was accordingly sought with Berne ; and a French army passed the Alps into Switzerland, on the footpad errand of pointing its cannon at Berne, and demanding the public purse of the citizens. The robbers succeeded: Barras filled his purse, and Bonaparte his military chest, from the Swiss coffers; and the expedition against Egypt, thus provided, sailed in the month of May from Toulon.
This enterprise, a kind of episode in French history, like the war of La Vendee, is so well known to the English reader from other sources, that here it will be briefly stated. The fleet reached Malta, one object of its conquest, on the 18th of June. The knights made no resistance ; and those who were French betrayed their trust. Having taken possession of the isle, Bonaparte continued his course for Alexandria, escaping, by wonderful good fortune, the English fleet that under Nelson was crossing and recrossing the Mediterranean in pursuit A sail that appeared in the offing on the 1st of July, the day of the French landing, alarmed the general not a little. "What, Fortune!" cried he, "can you abandon me] I ask but five days." The sail proved not to be a foe. Alexandria was taken without trouble; and soon after, the French commenced their march up the Nile to Cairo. The only enemies with whom they had to contend were the Mamelukes, a kind of military aristocracy, brave, but small in numbers, superbly armed and mounted, but unsupported by either infantry or artillery. To conquer them was easy; but the scene of the battle, which took place within view of the pyramids, the antiquity and importance of the country conquered, threw mental magnitude around these achievements. The Mamelukes were routed, and Cairo Won; but, at the very time, Nelson attacked the French fleet anchored in the bay of Aboukir; and the victory of the Nile, which annihilated it, dimmed all the glories and advantages of that of the pyramids. For the rest of this year Bonaparte exchanged the duties of the general for those of the legislator, in which he equally excelled, He set about organizing his government, and, in order to captivate his new subjects, assumed all the attitudes of oriental heroism and grandeur. He was scrupulous in the distribu ion of justice, —resistless; the Arabs called him the Sultan )f Fire. But
1798, DIFFICULTIES OF THE DIRECTORY. 137
he sought to obtain a still stronger hold on their imagination, by passing for a prophet, or heaven-sent conqueror. A similar idea had inspired Robespierre in France : * that of Bonaparte proved as unsuccessful, and only served to mark his extravagant ambition, as well as that want or defiance of all principle which characterized his nation and age.
It was impossible, that a person so clear-sighted as Bonaparte did not perceive the precarious state of the French government, of internal order, and even of peace, though so .ately concluded. All was chaos, which one powerful voice could alone clear up. His was not likely to be heard till more wanted; and he accordingly quitted the scene and the quarter of the globe altogether, shutting himself from all share in coming misfortune. He brought with him his best troops, the lieutenants he most relied on, and his fame. He left the directory, deprived of their aids, to hold the helm of state, and show their awkwardness and imbecility. Even before the expedition sailed from Toulon, a quarrel took place at Vienna betwixt Bernadotte, the French ambassador, and the imperial court. Bonaparte affected to treat it lightly, and set sail.
The directory had soon an hundred difficulties to struggle with. Sustained by no prestige, possessing no high character even for talent, and despised by the very soldiery through whose arms it had been lately triumphant, the dictators were obliged to renew the appearance of a free government. Under this appearance, indeed, they might have reigned tranquilly, had they a party or a class to depend upon, out of which they might have formed a majority. They had crushed and exiled the loyalists and constitutionalists: there remained but the democrats, and on these, accordingly, the new elections fell. The returned deputies formed instantly an opposition, which the directory had but its old mode of answering, viz. annulling the election. This it did not scruple to put in practice, admitting into the legislature merely those candidates that pleased them, and who universally had had the fewest votes. Such was the representative system of the directory,, lauded as free by the French historians, and idolized by Thiers as honestly republican and thoroughly revolutionary Surely in a country where such doctrines as these may not only be upheld, but welcomed with favor, any and every system of political freedom is impossible.
Whilst tyranny was thus unblushingly setting aside as idle even the affectation of principle in domestic government, it
* Madame de Stae'l called Napoleon a Robespierre on horseback. Neve* was truth more full and poignant: the utterance of it was more galling than all the despot's decrees of exile in return.
may be supposed, that its conduct towards those subject countries, honored with the title of allies, was not very scrupulous. The directorial form had been forced upon Holland and upon the Cisalpine republic: to render it practicable, the same violent interference,—expulsion of some members, introduction of others into government and legislature,—was necessary. The military chiefs would effect a revolution of this kind one day; an envoy from Paris would accomplish another the next, to be remodified again by the general. The system was a political chaos, differing from despotism only in the number of despots; for tribute was to be paid not alone to king Barras, and to king Barras's pro-consuls, but to the generals and their staffs, who, moreover, received forty per cent upon all contracts. Such was the revolutionary system; which, as a boon, the French had lately extended, spilling the blood of the brave, too, in forcing its acceptation on the Swiss and the Romans; for the pope had been dethroned in February, 1798, and the eternal city occupied by Berthier.
Where were these encroachments to end? Austria naturally asked. Since Switzerland had been grasped by the French, the empire was deprived of all frontier capable of defence; and the peace of Campo Formio had thus been more fatal to her than war. France refused her all explanation; whilst the expostulations of Great Britain did not allow the court of Vienna to remain insensible to danger. The victory of the Nile sealing the absence of Bonaparte, and of the old army of Italy, roused the spirit of Europe. Prussia, indeed, whose resistance was desired, refused to stir; but Paul, emperor of Russia, was at length excited to become the champion of monarchic Europe, and to head a new coalition against France.
The winter of 1798-9, was spent in preparations; but the court of Naples, elated by the victory and presence of Nelson, could not restrain its enthusiasm until spring, and commenced war by advancing upon Rome in the month of December. The French, few in number, under Championnet, retreated to the mountains behind Soracte. Mack, the Austrian general, commanding the Neapolitans, followed them, and was soon defeated by a soldier of the school of Bonaparte. The Neapolitan army evacuated not only Rome, but fled, without making a stand, back to their own capital. Capua, a town most capable of resistance, and defended by a rapid stream, surrendered without firing a shot; and the royal family abandoned Naples. The lazzaroni, unsupported, and uncommanded, held oat for several days against the French, and would certaii ly have succeeded in repelling 1799. THE CONSCRIPTION. 139
them altogether, had a prince or general of spirit and authority remained amongst them: hut the pusillanimity of the Bourbon race was everywhere alike unredeemed by a single trait of firmness or valor.
Naples now became the Parthenopean republic; while, to complete the conquest of Italy, the king of Piedmont, the earliest ally of the French republic, was hurled from his throne. The directory dispatched an officer to take possession of Turin, and to garrison it. "France," says Thiers, "had the same right to overthrow the court of Piedmont, as the garrison of a fortress have to destroy the buildings that obstruct its defence." . In virtue of this martial law, the king was forced to abdicate, and was exiled to Sardinia.
In merited retribution, this violence and grasping ambition on the part of France, turned out to weaken her power. She had occupied and revolutionized provinces and kingdoms; but had not given them that freedom and independence which enables a land to acquire national feeling, and to defend itself. The very revenue of each country were swallowed up by the rival spoliations ot general and pro-consul. A provincial force could not anywhere be raised or depended upon. The army, the diminished army of France alone, was thus scattered over an immense frontier, extending from the north of Holland to the south of Italy, with Switzerland, no longer neutral, in the midst, whose mountains it became now necessary to defend. Bonaparte was absent from the camp; and Moreau was in disgrace, as moderate and monarchically inclined; whilst the talents and vigor of Carnot no longer guided the operations of the Parisian war-office. Nevertheless, the directory esteemed themselves, as of old, invincible, and meditated nothing less than a march upon Vienna, although a few thousand troops were all that they could collect upon the Rhine. It was now, by their order, that the famous project of the conscription was presented to the legislature, and passed into a law; so careful were these predecessors of Bonaparte in providing the ample materials of military despotism. The convention had set the example by its requisitions, and its levee en masse; but these were temporary expedients to meet a pressing danger. The conscription now voted, placed all Frenchmen, from the age of twenty to twenty-five, at the disposal of the minister of war. The government instantly put the law in force, to recruit the armies. Jourdgn, Bernadotte, Massena, and Scherer, were appointed to commands: the latter, whom Bonaparte"had superseded as drunken and incapable in 796, was now reappointed whilst