Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne.

Memoirs of Napoleon — Volume 04 online

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Produced by David Widger



His Private Secretary

Edited by R. W. Phipps
Colonel, Late Royal Artillery


Chapter XXVII. to Chapter XXXV.



Difficulties of a new Government - State of Europe - Bonaparte's wish
for peace - M. de Talleyrand Minister for Foreign Affairs -
Negotiations with England and Austria - Their failure - Bonaparte's
views on the East - His sacrifices to policy - General Bonaparte
denounced to the First Consul - Kléber's letter to the Directory -
Accounts of the Egyptian expedition published in the Moniteur -
Proclamation to the army of the East - Favour and disgrace of certain
individuals accounted for.

When a new Government rises on the ruins of one that has been overthrown,
its best chance of conciliating the favour of the nation, if that nation
be at war, is to hold out the prospect of peace; for peace is always dear
to a people. Bonaparte was well aware of this; and if in his heart he
wished otherwise, he knew how important it was to seem to desire peace.
Accordingly, immediately after his installation at the Luxembourg he
notified to all the foreign powers his accession to the Consulate, and,
for the same purpose, addressed letters to all the diplomatic agents of
the French Government abroad.

The day after he got rid of his first two colleagues, Sieyès and Roger
Ducos, he prepared to open negotiations with the Cabinet of London. At
that time we were at war with almost the whole of Europe. We had also
lost Italy. The Emperor of Germany was ruled by his Ministers, who in
their turn were governed by England. It was no easy matter to manage
equally the organization of the Consular Government and the no less
important affairs abroad; and it was very important to the interests
of the First Consul to intimate to foreign powers, while at the same time
he assured himself against the return of the Bourbons, that the system
which he proposed to adopt was a system of order and regeneration, unlike
either the demagogic violence of the Convention or the imbecile artifice
of the Directory. In fulfilment of this object Bonaparte directed M. de
Talleyrand, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, to make the first
friendly overtures to the English Cabinet: A correspondence ensued, which
was published at the time, and which showed at once the conciliatory
policy of Bonaparte and the arrogant policy of England.

The exchange of notes which took place was attended by no immediate
result. However, the First Consul had partly attained his object: if the
British Government would not enter into negotiations for peace, there was
at least reason to presume that subsequent overtures of the Consular
Government might be listened to. The correspondence had at all events
afforded Bonaparte the opportunity of declaring his principles, and above
all, it had enabled him to ascertain that the return of the Bourbons to
France (mentioned in the official reply of Lord Grenville) would not be a
sine qua non condition for the restoration of peace between the two

Since M. de Talleyrand had been Minister for Foreign Affairs the business
of that department had proceeded with great activity. It was an
important advantage to Bonaparte to find a nobleman of the old regime
among the republicans. The choice of M. de Talleyrand was in some sort
an act of courtesy to the foreign Courts. It was a delicate attention to
the diplomacy of Europe to introduce to its members, for the purpose of
treating with them, a man whose rank was at least equal to their own, and
who was universally distinguished for a polished elegance of manner
combined with solid good qualities and real talents.

It was not only with England that Bonaparte and his Minister endeavoured
to open negotiations; the Consular Cabinet also offered peace to the
House of Austria; but not at the same time. The object of this offer was
to sow discord between the two powers. Speaking to me one day of his
earnest wish to obtain peace Bonaparte said, "You see, Bourrienne, I have
two great enemies to cope with. I will conclude peace with the one I
find most easy to deal with. That will enable me immediately to assail
the other. I frankly confess that I should like best to be at peace with
England. Nothing would then be more easy than to crush Austria. She has
no money except what she gets through England."

For a long time all negotiations proved abortive. None of the European
powers would acknowledge the new Government, of which Bonaparte was the
head; and the battle of Marengo was required before the peace of Amiens
could be obtained.

Though the affairs of the new Government afforded abundant occupation to
Bonaparte, he yet found leisure to direct attention to the East - to that
land of despotism whence, judging from his subsequent conduct, it might
be presumed he derived his first principles of government. On becoming
the head of the State he wished to turn Egypt, which he had conquered as
a general, to the advantage of his policy as Consul. If Bonaparte
triumphed over a feeling of dislike in consigning the command of the army
to Kléber, it was because he knew Kléber to be more capable than any
other of executing the plans he had formed; and Bonaparte was not the man
to sacrifice the interests of policy to personal resentment. It is
certainly true that he then put into practice that charming phrase of
Molière's - "I pardon you, but you shall pay me for this!"

With respect to all whom he had left in Egypt Bonaparte stood in a very
singular situation. On becoming Chief of the Government he was not only
the depositary of all communications made to the Directory; but letters
sent to one address were delivered to another, and the First Consul
received the complaints made against the General who had so abruptly
quitted Egypt. In almost all the letters that were delivered to us he
was the object of serious accusation. According to some he had not
avowed his departure until the very day of his embarkation; and he had
deceived everybody by means of false and dissembling proclamations.
Others canvassed his conduct while in Egypt: the army which had triumphed
under his command he had abandoned when reduced to two-thirds of its
original force and a prey to all the horrors of sickness and want. It
must be confessed that these complaints and accusations were but too well
founded, and one can never cease wondering at the chain of fortunate
circumstances which so rapidly raised Bonaparte to the Consular seat.
In the natural order of things, and in fulfilment of the design which he
himself had formed, he should have disembarked at Toulon, where the
quarantine laws would no doubt have been observed; instead of which, the
fear of the English and the uncertainty of the pilots caused him to go to
Fréjus, where the quarantine laws were violated by the very persons most
interested in respecting them. Let us suppose that Bonaparte had been
forced to perform quarantine at Toulon. What would have ensued? The
charges against him would have fallen into the hands of the Directory,
and he would probably have been suspended, and put upon his trial.

Among the letters which fell into Bonaparte's hands, by reason of the
abrupt change of government, was an official despatch (of the 4th
Vendemiaire, year VIII.) from General Kléber at Cairo to the Executive
Directory, in which that general spoke in very stringent terms of the
sudden departure of Bonaparte and of the state in which the army in Egypt
had been left. General Kléber further accused him of having evaded, by
his flight, the difficulties which he thus transferred to his successor's
shoulders, and also of leaving the army "without a sou in the chest,"
with pay in arrear, and very little supply of munitions or clothing.

The other letters from Egypt were not less accusatory than Kléber's; and
it cannot be doubted that charges of so precise a nature, brought by the
general who had now become commander-in-chief against his predecessor,
would have had great weight, especially backed as they were by similar
complaints from other quarters. A trial would have been inevitable; and
then, no 18th Brumaire, no Consulate, no Empire, no conquest of Europe-
but also, it may be added, no St. Helena. None of these events would
have ensued had not the English squadron, when it appeared off Corsica,
obliged the Muiron to scud about at hazard, and to touch at the first
land she could reach.

The Egyptian expedition filled too important a place in the life of
Bonaparte for him to neglect frequently reviving in the public mind the
recollection of his conquests in the East. It was not to be forgotten
that the head of the Republic was the first of her generals. While
Moreau received the command of the armies of the Rhine, while Massena, as
a reward for the victory of Zurich, was made Commander-in-Chief in Italy,
and while Brune was at the head of the army of Batavia, Bonaparte, whose
soul was in the camps, consoled himself for his temporary inactivity by a
retrospective glance on his past triumphs. He was unwilling that Fame
should for a moment cease to blazon his name. Accordingly, as soon as he
was established at the head of the Government, he caused accounts of his
Egyptian expedition to be from time to time published in the Moniteur.
He frequently expressed his satisfaction that the accusatory
correspondence, and, above all, Kléber's letter, had fallen into his own
hands. Such was Bonaparte's perfect self-command that immediately after
perusing that letter he dictated to me the following proclamation,
addressed to the army of the East:

SOLDIERS! - The Consuls of the French Republic frequently direct
their attention to the army of the East.

France acknowledges all the influence of your conquests on the
restoration of her trade and the civilisation of the world.

The eyes of all Europe are upon you, and in thought I am often with

In whatever situation the chances of war may place you, prove
yourselves still the soldiers of Rivoli and Aboukir - you will be

Place in Kléber the boundless confidence which you reposed in me.
He deserves it.

Soldiers, think of the day when you will return victorious to the
sacred territory of France. That will be a glorious day for the
whole nation.

Nothing can more forcibly show the character of Bonaparte than the above
allusion to Kléber, after he had seen the way in which Kléber spoke of
him to the Directory. Could it ever have been imagined that the
correspondence of the army, to whom he addressed this proclamation,
teemed with accusations against him? Though the majority of these
accusations were strictly just, yet it is but fair to state that the
letters from Egypt contained some calumnies. In answer to the well-
founded portion of the charges Bonaparte said little; but he seemed to
feel deeply the falsehoods that were stated against him, one of which
was, that he had carried away millions from Egypt. I cannot conceive
what could have given rise to this false and impudent assertion. So far
from having touched the army chest, Bonaparte had not even received all
his own pay. Before he constituted himself the Government the Government
was his debtor.

Though he knew well all that was to be expected from the Egyptian
expedition, yet those who lauded that affair were regarded with a
favourable eye by Bonaparte. The correspondence which had fallen into
his hands was to him of the highest importance in enabling him to
ascertain the opinions which particular individuals entertained of him.

It was the source of favours and disgraces which those who were not in
the secret could not account for. It serves to explain why many men of
mediocrity were elevated to the highest dignities and honours, while
other men of real merit fell into disgrace or were utterly neglected.



Great and common men - Portrait of Bonaparte - The varied expression
of his countenance - His convulsive shrug - Presentiment of his
corpulency - Partiality for bathing - His temperance - His alleged
capability of dispensing with sleep - Good and bad news - Shaving, and
reading the journals - Morning business - Breakfast - Coffee and snuff
- Bonaparte's idea of his own situation - His ill opinion of mankind
- His dislike of a 'tête-à-tête' - His hatred of the Revolutionists
- Ladies in white - Anecdotes - Bonaparte's tokens of kindness, and
his droll compliments - His fits of ill humour - Sound of bells -
Gardens of Malmaison - His opinion of medicine - His memory -
His poetic insensibility - His want of gallantry - Cards and
conversation - The dress-coat and black cravat - Bonaparte's payments
- His religious ideas - His obstinacy.

In perusing the history of the distinguished characters of past ages, how
often do we regret that the historian should have portrayed the hero
rather than the man! We wish to know even the most trivial habits of
those whom great talents and vast reputation have elevated above their
fellow-creatures. Is this the effect of mere curiosity, or rather is it
not an involuntary feeling of vanity which prompts us to console
ourselves for the superiority of great men by reflecting on their faults,
their weaknesses, their absurdities; in short, all the points of
resemblance between them and common men? For the satisfaction of those
who are curious in details of this sort, I will here endeavour to paint
Bonaparte, as I saw him, in person and in mind, to describe what were his
tastes and habits, and even his whims and caprices.

Bonaparte was now in the prime of life, and about thirty. The person of
Bonaparte has served as a model for the most skilful painters and
sculptors; many able French artists have successfully delineated his
features, and yet it may be said that no perfectly faithful portrait of
him exists. His finely-shaped head, his superb forehead, his pale
countenance, and his usual meditative look, have been transferred to the
canvas; but the versatility of his expression was beyond the reach of
imitation. All the various workings of his mind were instantaneously
depicted in his countenance; and his glance changed from mild to severe,
and from angry to good-humoured, almost with the rapidity of lightning.
It may truly be said that he had a particular look for every thought that
arose in his mind.

Bonaparte had beautiful hands, and he was very proud of them; while
conversing he would often look at them with an air of self-complacency.
He also fancied he had fine teeth, but his pretension to that advantage
was not so well founded as his vanity on the score of his hands.

When walking, either alone or in company with any one, in his apartments
or in his gardens, he had the habit of stooping a little, and crossing
his hands behind his back. He frequently gave an involuntary shrug of
his right shoulder, which was accompanied by a movement of his mouth from
left to right. This habit was always most remarkable when his mind was
absorbed in the consideration of any profound subject. It was often
while walking that he dictated to me his most important notes. He could
endure great fatigue, not only on horseback but on foot; he would
sometimes walk for five or six hours in succession without being aware of

When walking with any person whom he treated with familiarity he would
link his arm into that of his companion, and lean on it.

He used often to say to me, "You see, Bourrienne, how temperate, and how
thin I am; but, in spite of that, I cannot help thinking that at forty I
shall become a great eater, and get very fat. I foresee that my
constitution will undergo a change. I take a great deal of exercise; but
yet I feel assured that my presentiment will be fulfilled." This idea
gave him great uneasiness, and as I observed nothing which seemed to
warrant his apprehensions, I omitted no opportunity of assuring him that
they were groundless. But he would not listen to me, and all the time I
was about him, he was haunted by this presentiment, which, in the end,
was but too well verified.

His partiality for the bath he mistook for a necessity. He would usually
remain in the bath two hours, during which time I used to read to him
extracts from the journals and pamphlets of the day, for he was anxious
to hear and know all that was going on. While in the bath he was
continually turning on the warm water to raise the temperature, so that I
was sometimes enveloped in such a dense vapour that I could not see to
read, and was obliged to open the door.

Bonaparte was exceedingly temperate, and averse to all excess. He knew
the absurd stories that were circulated about him, and he was sometimes
vexed at them. It has been repeated, over and over again, that he was
subject to attacks of epilepsy; but during the eleven years that I was
almost constantly with him I never observed any symptom which in the
least degree denoted that malady. His health was good and his
constitution sound. If his enemies, by way of reproach, have attributed
to him a serious periodical disease, his flatterers, probably under the
idea that sleep is incompatible with greatness, have evinced an equal
disregard of truth in speaking of his night-watching. Bonaparte made
others watch, but he himself slept, and slept well. His orders were that
I should call him every morning at seven. I was therefore the first to
enter his chamber; but very frequently when I awoke him he would turn
himself, and say, "Ah, Bourrienne! let me lie a little longer." When
there was no very pressing business I did not disturb him again till
eight o'clock. He in general slept seven hours out of the twenty-four,
besides taking a short nap in the afternoon.

Among the private instructions which Bonaparte gave me, one was very
curious. "During the night," said he, "enter my chamber as seldom as
possible. Do not awake me when you have any good news to communicate:
with that there is no hurry. But when you bring bad news, rouse me
instantly; for then there is not a moment to be lost."

This was a wise regulation, and Bonaparte found his advantage in it.

As soon as he rose his 'valet de chambre' shaved him and dressed his
hair. While he was being shaved I read to him the newspapers, beginning
always with the 'Moniteur.' He paid little attention to any but the
German and English papers. "Pass over all that," he would say, while I
was perusing the French papers; "I know it already. They say only what
they think will please me." I was often surprised that his valet did not
cut him while I was reading; for whenever he heard anything interesting
he turned quickly round towards me.

When Bonaparte had finished his toilet, which he did with great
attention, for he was scrupulously neat in his person, we went down to
his cabinet. There he signed the orders on important petitions which had
been analysed by me on the preceding evening. On reception and parade
days he was particularly exact in signing these orders, because I used to
remind him that he would be likely to see most of the petitioners, and
that they would ask him for answers. To spare him this annoyance I used
often to acquaint them beforehand of what had been granted or refused,
and what had been the decision of the First Consul. He next perused the
letters which I had opened and laid on his table, ranging them according
to their importance. He directed me to answer them in his name; he
occasionally wrote the answers himself, but not often.

At ten o'clock the 'maître d'hôtel' entered, and announced breakfast,
saying, "The General is served." We went to breakfast, and the repast
was exceedingly simple. He ate almost every morning some chicken,
dressed with oil and onions. This dish was then, I believe, called
'poulet à la Provençale'; but our restaurateurs have since conferred upon
it the more ambitious name of 'poulet à la Marengo.'

Bonaparte drank little wine, always either claret or Burgundy, and the
latter by preference. After breakfast, as well as after dinner, he took
a cup of strong coffee.

- [M. Brillat de Savarin, whose memory is dear to all gourmands, had
established, as a gastronomic principle, that "he who does not take
coffee after each meal is assuredly not a man of taste." -
Bourrienne.] -

I never saw him take any between his meals, and I cannot imagine what
could have given rise to the assertion of his being particularly fond of
coffee. When he worked late at night he never ordered coffee, but
chocolate, of which he made me take a cup with him. But this only
happened when our business was prolonged till two or three in the

All that has been said about Bonaparte's immoderate use of snuff has no
more foundation in truth than his pretended partiality for coffee. It is
true that at an early period of his life he began to take snuff, but it
was very sparingly, and always out of a box; and if he bore any
resemblance to Frederick the Great, it was not by filling his waistcoat-
pockets with snuff, for I must again observe he carried his notions of
personal neatness to a fastidious degree.

Bonaparte had two ruling passions, glory and war. He was never more gay
than in the camp, and never more morose than in the inactivity of peace.
Plans for the construction of public monuments also pleased his
imagination, and filled up the void caused by the want of active
occupation. He was aware that monuments form part of the history of
nations, of whose civilisation they bear evidence for ages after those
who created them have disappeared from the earth, and that they likewise
often bear false-witness to remote posterity of the reality of merely
fabulous conquests. Bonaparte was, however, mistaken as to the mode of
accomplishing the object he had in view. His ciphers, his trophies, and
subsequently his eagles, splendidly adorned the monuments of his reign.
But why did he wish to stamp false initials on things with which neither
he nor his reign had any connection; as, for example the old Louvre? Did
he imagine that the letter, "N" which everywhere obtruded itself on the
eye, had in it a charm to controvert the records of history, or alter the
course of time?

- [When Louis XVIII. returned to the Tuileries in 1814 he found that
Bonaparte had been an excellent tenant, and that he had left
everything in very good condition.] -

Be this as it may, Bonaparte well knew that the fine arts entail lasting
glory on great actions, and consecrate the memory of princes who protect
and encourage them. He oftener than once said to me, "A great reputation
is a great noise; the more there is made, the farther off it is heard.
Laws, institutions, monuments, nations, all fall; but the noise continues
and resounds in after ages." This was one of his favourite ideas. "My
power," he would say at other times, "depends on my glory, and my glory
on my victories. My power would fall were I not to support it by new
glory and new victories. Conquest has made me what I am, and conquest
alone can maintain me." This was then, and probably always continued to
be, his predominant idea, and that which prompted him continually to
scatter the seeds of war through Europe. He thought that if he remained
stationary he would fall, and he was tormented with the desire of
continually advancing. Not to do something great and decided was, in his
opinion, to do nothing. "A newly-born Government," said he to me, "must
dazzle and astonish. When it ceases to do that it falls." It was vain
to look for rest from a man who was restlessness itself.

His sentiments towards France now differed widely from what I had known
them to be in his youth. He long indignantly cherished the recollection
of the conquest of Corsica, which he was once content to regard as his
country. But that recollection was effaced, and it might be said that he
now ardently loved France. His imagination was fired by the very thought
of seeing her great, happy, and powerful, and, as the first nation in the
world, dictating laws to the rest. He fancied his name inseparably
connected with France, and resounding in the ears of posterity. In all
his actions he lost sight of the present moment, and thought only of
futurity; so, in all places where he led the way to glory, the opinion of

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