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

For a long time the imams demurred to this plea


inventive genius was by no means exhausted by these varied toils. On his journey to Suez he met a camel caravan in the desert, and noticing the speed of the animals, he determined to form a camel corps; and in the first month of 1799 the experiment was made with such success that admission into the ranks of the camelry came to be viewed as a favour. Each animal carried two men with their arms and baggage: the uniform was sky-blue with a white turban; and the speed and precision of their movements enabled them to deal terrible blows, even at distant tribes of Bedouins, who bent before a genius that could outwit them even in their own deserts.

The pleasures of his officers and men were also met by the opening of the Tivoli Gardens; and there, in sight of the Pyramids, the life of the Palais Royal took root: the glasses clinked, the dice rattled, and heads reeled to the lascivious movements of the eastern dance; and Bonaparte himself indulged a passing passion for the wife of one of his officers, with an openness that brought on him a rebuke from his stepson, Eugene Beauharnais. But already he had been rendered desperate by reports of the unfaithfulness of Josephine at Paris; the news wrung from him this pathetic letter to his brother Joseph--the death-cry of his long drooping idealism:

"I have much to worry me privately, for the veil is entirely torn aside. You alone remain to me; your affection is very

dear to me: nothing more remains to make me a misanthrope than to lose her and see you betray me.... Buy a country seat against my return, either near Paris or in Burgundy. I need solitude and isolation: grandeur wearies me: the fount of feeling is dried up: glory itself is insipid. At twenty-nine years of age I have exhausted everything. It only remains to me to become a thorough egoist."[109]

Many rumours were circulated as to Bonaparte's public appearance in oriental costume and his presence at a religious service in a mosque. It is even stated by Thiers that at one of the chief festivals he repaired to the great mosque, repeated the prayers like a true Moslem, crossing his legs and swaying his body to and fro, so that he "edified the believers by his orthodox piety." But the whole incident, however attractive scenically and in point of humour, seems to be no better authenticated than the religious results about which the historian cherished so hopeful a belief. The truth seems to be that the general went to the celebration of the birth of the Prophet as an interested spectator, at the house of the sheik, El Bekri. Some hundred sheikhs were there present: they swayed their bodies to and fro while the story of Mahomet's life was recited; and Bonaparte afterwards partook of an oriental repast. But he never forgot his dignity so far as publicly to appear in a turban and loose trousers, which he donned only once for the amusement of his staff.[110] That he endeavoured to pose as a Moslem is beyond doubt. Witness his endeavour to convince the imams at Cairo of his desire to conform to their faith. If we may believe that dubious compilation, "A Voice from St. Helena," he bade them consult together as to the possibility of admission of men, who were not circumcised and did not abstain from wine, into the true fold. As to the latter disability, he stated that the French were poor cold people, inhabitants of the north, who could not exist without wine. For a long time the imams demurred to this plea, which involved greater difficulties than the question of circumcision: but after long consultations they decided that both objections might be waived in consideration of a superabundance of good works. The reply was prompted by an irony no less subtle than that which accompanied the claim, and neither side was deceived in this contest of wits.

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