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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 23


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Joseph Buonaparte fled out of Rome to Florence, and the directory ordered Berthier to march into the Roman states, and take possession, declaring the pope the murderer of Duphot. Berthier advanced, seized and sacked the town and holy shrine of Loretto, pillaged and burned Osimo, and, on the 10th of February, 1798, appeared before Rome, forced it to capitulate, turned the Roman garrison out of the castle of St. Angelo, and took possession of all the military posts in the city. On the 15th of February, the twenty-third anniversary of the pope's assuming the tiara, the democrats hoisted the tricolor and the red nightcap on a tree of liberty in the Forum, and one of Sieyes' model constitutions was proclaimed. Berthier then made poor Pius VI. a prisoner in his own palace, put seals on the different apartments, and on those of the absent cardinals; seized four cardinals and a number of the principal nobility, and threw them into the castle of St. Angelo, as security for enormous contributions that he had ordered. He then sent the Corsican general, Cervoni, to inform the pope that he must abdicate his temporal authority, and recognise the French republic. The old man, more than eighty years of age, replied, that death and his many infirmities would soon take his authority from him, but, till then, no earthly power should compel him to lay it down. He was then ordered to quit Rome in eight-and- forty hours; but, not moving, on the 20th of February he was seized, put into a coach, and, with two or three of his ministers, guarded by a regiment of French cavalry, was carried rapidly into Tuscany. The country people, astonished and horrified at this treatment of the holy father, prostrated themselves in crowds along the roads as he passed, and implored his blessing; for, independent of his sacred function, he had been a kind and considerate governor. He was driven to the convent of the Augustine monks in Sienna, and was there guarded by French troops as a state prisoner.

By this time, the king of Sardinia had been compelled to admit a French garrison into Turin, and the rest of his fortresses and all the north of Italy were now under French domination.

Meantime, the fleet which was to bear Buonaparte to Egypt was lying in various squadrons in the ports of Genoa, Civita Vecchia, and Bastia, ready, when any adverse wind should drive the English fleet from the coast, where it blockaded them, to drop down to Toulon and join the main body. On board of these vessels were thirty thousand men, chiefly from the army of Italy. Nelson, with a numerous fleet, was maintaining the blockade, though the secret of the fleet's destination had been so well kept, that it was only surmised that Egypt might be its destination. Buonaparte himself had been recalled to Paris, with a view to his once more proceeding to Rastadt, in order to settle a difference which had arisen betwixt Bernadotte and the Austrians at Vienna. A sudden message sent him back to Toulon. A gale had driven Nelson's fleet from the coast, and so much damaged it, that he was obliged to make for Sardinia to repair. The moment was come; the different squadrons joined from the Italian ports, and the Egyptian armament issued on the 19th of May from Toulon. Napoleon was on the waters destined, he believed, to conquer Egypt, and thus to place not only a powerful barrier betwixt us and our Indian possessions, but, having established a strong empire in Egypt and Syria, to enable France to maintain a large fleet in the Persian Gulf, and to accomplish the invasion and conquest of British India by land or sea. Nay, like another Alexander, the boundless ambition of Buonaparte - an ambition which was his final ruin - contemplated the conquest of entire Asia, and the founding of a giant empire there. " If St. John d'Acre," he said to Las Casas, " had yielded to the French arms, a great revolution would have been accomplished in the east. The general-in-chief would have founded an empire there, and the destinies of France would have undergone different combinations from those to which they were subjected."

With such chimerical fancies, the young Corsican saw the fleet, on a splendid morning, stand out into the Mediterranean, the line-of-battle ships extending for a league, and the semi-circle formed by the convoy six leagues in extent. On their way to Malta, the first object of their enterprise they were joined by a large fleet of transports, bringing the division of general Dessaix. On the 10th they were before Valetta, a fortress which, properly defended, would have set the French at defiance for months, before which time the English admiral would have been upon them, and destroyed the whole scheme of the expedition, and, probably, its commander and projector with it; but the surrender of the place had been bargained for with the grand master, Hompesch, before starting. The once formidable knights of Malta were now sunk in indolence and sensual sloth, and the French agent, Poussielque, had agreed for the surrender for a bribe of six hundred thousand francs to the grand master. As general Caffarelli passed through the most formidable defences with Napoleon on their way to the house of the grand master, he said to him, " It is well, general, that there was some one within to open the gates for us. We should have had more trouble in entering if the place had been altogether empty."

A strong garrison was left in Malta, under general Vaubois, and, on the 16th, the fleet was again under sail. As they were off the coast of Candia, and the savans were gazing on the birth-place of Jupiter, and speculating on the existence of the remains of the celebrated labyrinth, Nelson, who had missed the French fleet, and had sailed in quest of it, was near enough to be perceived by some of the frigates on the look-out, and created a terrible panic. But Nelson, not having frigates to send out as scouts, did not observe them, and, suspecting that Egypt was their destination, lie made all sail for Alexandria. Finding no trace of them there, in his impatience, he returned towards Malta, lf he had but awaited a while, they would have come to him; but, on reaching Malta, and finding that they had taken and manned it, he again put about, and made for Alexandria. He had actually been seen by some of the French frigates as he was crossing their track on his return from Alexandria, and Napoleon was impatient to reach land before he could overtake them again. On the 1st of July the French fleet came in sight of Alexandria, and saw before them the city of the Ptolemies and Cleopatra, with its pharos and obelisks. Napoleon was in a trepidation to land; and a sail Coming in sight, which was supposed to be English, lie exclaimed, " What! I ask but six hours; and Fortune, wilt thou abandon me? " The vessel proved a friendly sail; but he was in such haste to land, that many men and boats were lost in the surf. The landing was effected at about a league and a half from Alexandria, at a place called Marabout.

Before disembarking, Buonaparte had a proclamation issued to the army, of which this was the commencement: - " Soldiers, you are going to undertake a conquest, the effects of which upon commerce and civilisation will be incalculable. You will give the English a most sensible blow, which will be followed by their destruction. We shall have some fatiguing marches, we shall fight several battles - we shall succeed in all our enterprises. The destinies are in our favour. The Mamelouc Beys - who favour the English commerce exclusively, who have injured our merchants, and who tyrannise over the unhappy inhabitants of the banks of the Nile - will not exist many days after our arrival. The people amongst whom you are going to live are Mahometans. The first article of their faith is - ' There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet! ' Do not contradict them. Act with them as you did with the Jews and with the Italians. Treat their muftis and their imans with respect, as you did the rabbis and the bishops. You must act with the same spirit of toleration towards the ceremonies prescribed by the Koran as you did to the synagogues and the convents, to the religions of Moses and Jesus Christ. The Roman legions protected all religions. You will find here customs which differ from those of Europe; you must accustom yourselves to them."

As soon as five or six thousand of his troops were landed, Buonaparte commenced his march on Alexandria. The Turks manned the walls, and resisted furiously, incensed at this invasion by a power with which they were nominally at peace. But the walls were ruinous; the French forced their way over several breaches, and commenced an indiscriminate massacre. According to the account of one of their own officers, adjutant-general Boyer, in an intercepted letter, men, women, old and young, and children at the breast were all put to the sword. The place was abandoned to massacre and pillage for four hours. As the Mamelukes were hated by the Arabs and the Coplits, and were the military mercenaries of the country, chiefly recruited from Georgia and Circassia, Buonaparte determined to destroy them. He considered that he should thus rid himself of the only formidable power in Egypt, and, at the same time, conciliate the Bedouins and Fellahs. He therefore ordered prayers to be continued as usual in all the mosques, and that all true Moslems should exclaim, " Glory to the Sultan, and to the French army, his allies! Accursed be the Mamelukes, and good fortune to the land of Egypt! "

On the 7th of July he set out on his march for Cairo with his whole force. He marched up the bank of the Nile, but at such a distance as to prevent the soldiers getting any water to quench their burning thirst. A small flotilla of gun-boats ascended the river to protect their right flank. Their way was through deep and sultry sand, and both officers and soldiers began to curse the enterprise of which they could not comprehend the use. " It would be difficult," says Las Casas, " to describe the discontent, the melancholy, the despair of the army on its first arrival in Egypt. Even Murat and Lannes threw their hats on the sand, and trampled on their cockades." The men gazed on the desolation around them, and said, "Is this the country in which we are to receive our seven acres each? The general might have allowed us to take as much as we pleased; no one would have abused the privilege." They were greatly incensed against the savans, who were mounted on asses, and whom Buonaparte had ordered, on the appearance of the enemy, to be received within the squares of the battalions. " Let the savans and the asses be received within the squares," repeated the officers, sarcastically; and the men, who had got a notion that this expedition was solely to protect the savans in their inquiry after antiquities, called the asses " demisavans." It was all that Buonaparte could do to keep his troops in subordination. The Mamelukes added to their ill humour, for they appeared, ever and anon, from behind the hills of sand, and, with a velocity like lightning, cut off all stragglers, and galloped away again. Their flotilla was attacked on the river, and the armed vessels of the Mamelukes were not beaten off without considerable loss.

For fourteen days this melancholy march was continued, when they came at once in sight of the pyramids, at sis leagues from Cairo, and of the army of the Mamelukes, drawn up across their way, headed by Murad Bey and twenty-two other beys. This force consisted of five thousand cavalry - Mamelukes, mounted on the finest Arabian horses in the World, trained to obey the slightest touch of the rein, to advance, wheel, or fly with wonderful rapidity. The riders were all fine men, armed with sabres, pistols, and blunderbusses of the best English workmanship. They were deemed invincible, and were ruthlessly cruel. They presented in appearance the finest body of cavalry in the world, the plumes of their turbans waving in the air, and their arms glittering in the sun. There were, moreover, twenty thousand infantry lying in a slightly-entrenched camp on their right; but these were a mere rabble - Fellahs, or, in other words, peasantry, brought from their fields, and armed with matchlocks. They had forty pieces of cannon to defend the camp, but these had no carriages, being mounted on clumsy wooden frames.

Buonaparte drew up his army, so as to keep out of gun- shot of the camp, and to deal only with the cavalry first. He formed his troops into squares, to resist the onslaught of the cavalry; and, as he saw the Mamelukes come on, he called to his men, " From yonder pyramids, twenty centuries behold your actions!" The Mamelukes came thundering on like a whirlwind, and sending before them the most horrible yells. Murad Bey said he would cut up the French like gourds. One of the French squares was thrown into confusion, but it recovered itself, and the battle was instantly a scene of the most desperate fury. The Mamelukes fought like demons; but, finding that they could not break the French ranks, whilst they and their horses were mowed down by musketry and artillery, in despair they flung their pistols at their foes, backed their horses up to them to break them by kicking, and, finding all unavailing, fled. Such as were left wounded on the ground crept forward to cut at the legs of the French soldiers. Both cavalry and infantry then, by swimming their horses, or in boats, attempted to cross the Nile, but the greater part were drowned in the attempt. Murad Bey, with the residue of his Mamelukes, escaped into Upper Egypt. The French soldiers found a rich booty in despoiling the fallen Mamelukes, for every one of them carried his fortune on his person. They long after continued to fish for the drowned Mamelukes, sure of finding gold and valuables upon them.

To give to this action the more importance in the eyes of the world, Buonaparte called it the Battle of the Pyramids. He then marched to Cairo, which surrendered without opposition. Napoleon called together a council of about forty of the most distinguished sheiks, who were to continue the government of all Lower Egypt, as before his arrival. He professed to listen to their counsels, and, in fact, to be a Mahometan; he said he was not come to destroy the practice of the doctrines of the Koran, but to complete the mission of Mahomet; he celebrated the feast of the prophet, when it recurred, with some sheik of eminence, and joined in the litanies and worship enjoined by the Koran. He exclaimed to one of these sheiks, " Glory be to Allah; there is no god but God, and Mahomet is his prophet! " and he added, " I can command a car of fire to descend from heaven, and I can guide and direct its course on earth."

" Thou art the great chief to whom Mahomet gives power and victory," replied the Mufti; and Buonaparte thought that, by this hypocrisy, he was impressing a deep influence on the Moslems, but he was mistaken. They hate a renegade from his religion, be it what it may, and they estimated his acting at its true worth, with all their outward gravity.

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