Chateaubriand's memoirs, XIX, 13

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XIX, chapter 13
The Congress of Rastadt – Napoleon’s return to France – Napoleon is named Commander of the Army against England – He leaves on the Egyptian Expedition



A Congress was established at Rastadt, and Bonaparte, having been named as the Directory’s representative at the congress, took leave of the Army of Italy. ‘I am only consoled, ‘he announced to them, ‘by the expectation of finding myself with you again soon, struggling against new dangers.’ On the 16th of November 1797, his order of the day proclaimed that he had left Milan in order to preside over the French embassy to the conference, and that he had sent the flag of the Army of Italy to the Directory.

On one side of the banner Napoleon had ordered this summary of his victories to be embroidered: ‘One hundred and fifty thousand prisoners, seventeen thousand horses, five hundred and fifty siege-guns, six-hundred field pieces, five bridge kits, nine fifty-four gun vessels, twelve thirty-two gun frigates, twelve corvettes, eighteen galleys; an armistice with the King of Sardinia, a convention with the Genoans; an armistice with the Duke of Parma, with the Duke of Modena, with the King of Naples, with the Pope; the preliminaries of Leoben; the convention of Montebello with the Genoan Republic; the peace treaty with the Emperor at Campo-Formio; liberty granted to the people of Bologna, Ferrara, Modena, Massa-Carrara, Romagna, Lombardy, Brescia, Bergamo, Mantua, Cremona, part of Verona, Chiavenna, Bormio, and Valtellina; to the people of Genoa, to the Imperial fiefs, to the people of the departments of Corcyra, the Aegean Sea, and Ithaca.

Sent to Paris all the master-works of Michelangelo, Guercino, Titian, Paolo-Veronese, Correggio, Albani, Carrachi, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci etc., etc.

This remembrance of the Army of Italy,’ says the order of the day, ‘will be suspended from the ceiling of the public meeting room of the Directory, and will bear witness to the exploits of our soldiers when the present generation has vanished.’

After a purely military convention which stipulated the relinquishment of Mainz to Republican troops and that of Venice to Austrian troops, Bonaparte quit Rastadt and left the rest of the business of the Congress to Treilhard and Bonnier.

In the final period of the Italian Campaign, Bonaparte suffered much from the envy of various generals and the Directory: twice he offered his resignation; the members of the government desired it but dared not accept it. Bonaparte’s sentiments did not conform to the tendencies of the century; he yielded reluctantly to forces generated during the Revolution: from this arose the contradictions in his actions and ideas.

Returning to Paris, he arrived at his house on the Rue Chantereine, which took the name which it bears today, Rue de la Victoire. The Council of Elders wanted to make Napoleon the gift of Chambord, that work of Francois I, which now only recalls the exile of Saint Louis’ last descendant. Bonaparte was presented to the Directory on the 10th of December 1797, in the courtyard of the LuxembourgPalace. In the centre of the courtyard an altar to the Motherland had been erected, topped by statues of Liberty, Equality, and Peace. The flags of conquest formed a canopy above the five Directors dressed in classical style; the shadow of Victory was cast by these flags, beneath which France halted for a moment. Bonaparte was dressed in the uniform he had worn at Arcola and Lodi. Monsieur de Talleyrand received the victor at the altar, reviving memories of his formerly having said mass at another altar. Having fled to and returned from the United States, charged through Chénier’s patronage with the Foreign Ministry, the Bishop of Autun, sword at his side, was wearing a hat in the style of Henri IV: events required one to take these travesties seriously.

The prelate praised the conqueror of Italy: ‘He loves,’ he said in a melancholy manner, ‘he loves the poems of Ossian, especially because they raise one above the earth. Far from fearing what is said to be his ambition, perhaps we will have to solicit it one day to drag him from the delights of his studious retreat. All of France will be free; perhaps he himself will never be so: such is his destiny.’

Marvellously prescient!

Saint Louis’ brother at Grandella, Charles VIII at Fornovo, Louis XII at Agnadello, Francis I at Marignan, Lautrec at Ravenna, Catinat at Turin, were no match for this new general. Napoleon’s success was un-shadowed by a Pavia.

The Directors, fearing this superior despotism that threatened all despotism, watched the homage being rendered to Napoleon, with anxiety; they considered ridding themselves of his presence. They looked with favour on the desire he showed for an expedition to the East. He said: ‘Europe is a mole-hill; the great empires and revolutions have all been in the East; already my glory is exhausted: this tiny Europe does not offer enough.’ Napoleon, like a child, was delighted to be elected as a member of the Institute. He asked for a mere six years to reach the Indies and return. ‘I am only twenty-nine,’ he remarked, on consideration, ‘that’s no age at all: I will only be thirty-five when I return.’

Named as commander of the Army against England, its corps scattered from Brest to Antwerp, Bonaparte spent his time carrying out inspections, and making visits to civil and scientific authorities, while the troops destined to compose the Army of Egypt were being assembled. Disturbances took place regarding the tricolour and the red bonnet that our Ambassador in Vienna, General Bernadotte, had draped over the entrance to the Embassy. The Directory was inclined to retain Napoleon in order to combat the possibility of fresh warfare, when Count von Cobenzl avoided a rupture, and Bonaparte received the order to depart. With Italy now republican, Holland a republic, peace allowed France extending to the Rhine, the soldiers idle, the Directory fearful with anxiety hastened the conqueror’s departure. This Egyptian adventure enhanced at a stroke Napoleon’s luck and genius, by gilding his genius, already excessively bright, striking with a ray of sunlight the pillars of cloud and fire.