NAPOLEON’S RETURN TO FRANCE FROM EGYPT (1799)

 

[Madame de Remusat, whose husband was one of Napoleon's secretaries, gives, in her delightful and im­portant memoirs, a good account of Bonaparte's atti­tude toward the Egyptian adventure and his return to France. He said to her:]

 

When I returned to France I found public opinion in a lethargic condition. In Paris - and Paris is France - people can never interest themselves in things if they do not care about the persons connected with them. The customs of an old monarchy had taught them to personify everything. This habit of mind is bad for a people who desire liberty seriously; but Frenchmen can no longer desire anything seriously, except perhaps it be equality, and even that they would renounce willingly if every one could flatter himself that he was the first. To be equals, with everybody uppermost, is the secret of the vanity of all of you; every man among you must, therefore, be given the hope of rising. The great difficulty that the Directory labored under was that no one cared about them and that people had begun to care a great deal about me.

 

I do not know what would have happened to me had I not conceived the happy thought of going to Egypt. When I embarked I did not know but that I might be bidding an eternal farewell to France; but I had little doubt that she would recall me. The charm of Oriental conquest drew my thoughts away from Europe more than I should have believed possible. My imagination interfered again this time with my actions; but I think it died out at St. Jean d'Acre. However that may be, I shall never allow it to interfere with me again.

 

In Egypt I found myself free from the wearisome restraints of civilization. I dreamed all sorts of things, and I saw how all that I dreamed might be realized. I created a religion. I pictured myself on the road to Asia mounted on an ele­phant, with a turban on my head, and in my hand a new Koran, which I should compose according to my own ideas. I would have the combined experience of two worlds to set about my enterprise; I was to have ransacked, for my own advantage, the whole domain of history; I was to have attacked the English power in India, and renewed my rela­tions with old Europe by my conquest.

 

The time which I passed in Egypt was the most delight­ful part of my life, for it was the most ideal. Fate decided against my dreams; I received letters from France; I saw that there was not a moment to lose. I reverted to the realities of life and I returned to Paris - to Paris, where the gravest interests of the country are discussed during the entr'acte of the opera.

 

The Directory trembled at my return. I was very cau­tious; that is one of the epochs of my life in which I have acted with the soundest judgment. I saw Abbe Sieyes, and promised him that his verbose constitution should be put into effect; I received the chiefs of the Jacobins and the agents of the Bourbons; I listened to advice from every-body, but gave it only in the interest of my own plans. I hid myself from the people, because I knew that when the time came curiosity to see me would make them run after me. Every one was taken in my toils; and, when I became head of the state, there was not a party in France which did not build some special hope upon my success.