The Publication of Letters of the French Army, Intercepted by the British

The Publication of Letters of the French Army, Intercepted by the British

During the Egyptian expedition, English and Turkish boats captured French vessels carrying letters from the men of the army and scientists. The English chancery read these missives carefully, which gave an excellent impression of the state of the French army in Egypt, their morale, their plans and the difficulties they were encountering. A part of this correspondence was private, and it made for interesting reading: for example, in one letter, Bonaparte complains about Josephine’s coquetry.

A selection of the letters were published in three parts between 1798 and 1800. (Copies of original letters from the army of general Bonaparte in Egypt…, Part I) The French documents followed by their translations into English were produced by a London publisher (J. Wright). (More on the role of the bookseller and publisher Joseph Wright and the Pitt Government, an article by Peter Hicks in Napoleonica la Revue.)

The published letters relate to all of the high command, but those relating to the ordinary soldiers and overly intimate letters were left out. Readers can see the names of general Bonaparte, Louis Bonaparte, Admiral Brueys, General Dumas, and Colbert, Commissaire des Guerres.

The Observations of the British Chancery

The printing of these letters conserved at the chancery for a French audience, complemented by a commentary of  furious and derisive gallophobia was actually a Swiss undertaking, under the cover of Franco-English animosity. François or Francis d’Ivernois was a citizen of Geneva and a French exile, a man of politics and economic essayist was linked to the British chancery, to the point that he undertook official missions in Germany and Sweden for on behalf of the government. He also earned the title of baronet before returning to his native land after the fall of the First Empire. (See Hicks, Peter, ” Le général Robert Wilson, Sir Francis D’Ivernois et les relations anglo-russes autour de la campagne de 1812 “. In : 1812, la campagne de Russie, by Marie-Pierre Rey and Thierry Lentz,  Paris : Perrin, 2012.)

We can assume that he brought transcripts of the letters to his fellow citizen, the Genevan bookseller and publisher Pierre-François Fauche (1763-1814). Heir to a line of printers, Pierre-François managed the German branch of the family business in Hamburg and Brunswick. He published the letters and their sharp commentaries for the Francophone market, making believe that the publisher was based in London (the title page is the following: Correspondance de l’armée française en Egypte, interceptée par l’escadre de Nelson. A Londres [sic], et se trouve à Hambourg et Brunswick, chez PF Fauche et Compagnie, 1798-1799)

The Notes of Edouard-Thomas Simon for the French Edition

Such an offensive on the glory of the French army and the French government could not go go without a riposte, and in accordance with a long publishing tradition, such a riposte was printed in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Garnery (1764-1843), a printer very active under the Revolution, with the notes of Edouard Thomas Simon (1740-1818), doctor and bookseller, writer and translator,and fervent patriot. He added an introduction in English and overwrote d’Ivernois observations. Words such as ‘cruelty’, ‘pillaging’ and ‘looters’ given to the soldiers by d’Ivernois were replaced by Simon with those such as ‘brave warriors’ and derided ‘the sardonic laugh of the malevolent’ and ‘British turpitude’. To be sure, this work is not particularly elevated, and it ends with an advert for the Garnery bookshop, which is an attack on d’Ivernois and a victory cry for the unparalleled success of the expedition in Egypt.



Correspondance de l’armée française en Egypte, interceptée par l’escadre de Nelson, publiée à Londres, avec une introduction et des notes de la chancellerie anglaise, traduites en français ; suivies d’observations par E.T. Simon, Avec une carte de la Basse-Egypte, pour l’intelligence de cette Correspondance. A Paris, chez Garnery, libraire, rue Serpente, n° 17, an VII

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Bibliothèque Martial Lapeyre : cote H (44) 2.2 colle (Coll. Reserve)