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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Which was only second to that of Bonaparte and Desaix


The

remaining episodes of the Eastern Expedition may be briefly dismissed. After a painful desert march the army returned to Egypt in June; and, on July 25th, under the lead of Murat and Lannes, drove into the sea a large force of Turks which had effected a landing in Aboukir Bay. Bonaparte was now weary of gaining triumphs over foes whom he and his soldiers despised. While in this state of mind, he received from Sir Sidney Smith a packet of English and German newspapers giving news up to June 6th, which brought him quickly to a decision. The formation of a powerful coalition, the loss of Italy, defeats on the Rhine, and the schisms, disgust, and despair prevalent in France--all drew his imagination westwards away from the illusory Orient; and he determined to leave his army to the care of Kleber and sail to France.

The morality of this step has been keenly discussed. The rank and file of the army seem to have regarded it as little less than desertion,[121] and the predominance of personal motives in this important decision can scarcely be denied. His private aim in undertaking the Eastern Expedition, that of dazzling the imagination of the French people and of exhibiting the incapacity of the Directory, had been abundantly realized. His eastern enterprise had now shrunk to practical and prosaic dimensions, namely, the consolidation of French power in Egypt. Yet, as will appear in later chapters, he did not give up his oriental schemes; though at

St. Helena he once oddly spoke of the Egyptian expedition as an "exhausted enterprise," it is clear that he worked hard to keep his colony. The career of Alexander had for him a charm that even the conquests of Caesar could not rival; and at the height of his European triumphs, the hero of Austerlitz was heard to murmur: "J'ai manque a ma fortune a Saint-Jean d'Acre."[122]

In defence of his sudden return it may be urged that he had more than once promised the Directory that his stay in Egypt would not exceed five months; and there can be no doubt that now, as always, he had an alternative plan before him in case of failure or incomplete success in the East. To this alternative he now turned with that swiftness and fertility of resource which astonished both friends and foes in countless battles and at many political crises.

It has been stated by Lanfrey that his appointment of Kleber to succeed him was dictated by political and personal hostility; but it may more naturally be considered a tribute to his abilities as a general and to his influence over the soldiery, which was only second to that of Bonaparte and Desaix. He also promised to send him speedy succour; and as there seemed to be a probability of France regaining her naval supremacy in the Mediterranean by the union of the fleet of Bruix with that of Spain, he might well hope to send ample reinforcements. He probably did not know the actual facts of the case, that in July Bruix tamely followed the Spanish squadron to Cadiz, and that the Directory had ordered Bruix to withdraw the French army from Egypt. But, arguing from the facts as known to him, Bonaparte might well believe that the difficulties of France would be fully met by his own return, and that Egypt could be held with ease. The duty of a great commander is to be at the post of greatest danger, and that was now on the banks of the Rhine or Mincio.


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