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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Policy of Napoleon in Egypt
By Adolphe Thiers (1797–1877)
 
From the ‘History of the French Revolution’: Translation of Frederic Shoberl

THE ARABS were struck by the character of the young conqueror. They could not comprehend how it was that a mortal who wielded the thunderbolt should be so merciful. They called him the worthy son of the Prophet, the Favorite of the great Allah. They sang in the great mosque the following litany:—

          “The great Allah is no longer wroth with us. He hath forgotten our faults: they have been sufficiently punished by the long oppression of the Mamelukes. Let us sing the mercies of the great Allah!
  “Who is he that hath saved the Favorite of Victory from the dangers of the sea and the rage of his enemies? Who is he that hath led the brave men of the West safe and unharmed to the banks of the Nile?
  “It is the great Allah, the great Allah, who hath ceased to be wroth with us. Let us sing the mercies of the great Allah!
  “The Mameluke beys had put their trust in their horses; the Mameluke beys had drawn forth their infantry in battle array.
  “But the Favorite of Victory, at the head of the brave men of the West, hath destroyed the footmen and the horsemen of the Mamelukes.
  “As the vapors which rise in the morning from the Nile are scattered by the rays of the sun, so hath the army of the Mamelukes been scattered by the brave men of the West; because the great Allah is now wroth with the Mamelukes, because the brave men of the West are as the apple of the right eye of the great Allah.”
  1
 
  Bonaparte, in order to make himself better acquainted with the manners of the Arabs, resolved to attend all their festivals. He was present at that of the Nile, which is one of the greatest in Egypt. The river is the benefactor of the country. It is, in consequence, held in great veneration by the inhabitants, and is the object of a sort of worship. During the inundation, its water is introduced into Cairo by a great canal: a dike prevents it from entering the canal until it has attained a certain height; the dike is then cut, and the day fixed for this operation is a day of rejoicing. The height to which the river has risen is publicly proclaimed, and when there are hopes of a great inundation, general joy prevails, for it is an omen of abundance.  2
  It is on the 18th of August (1st of Fructidor) that this festival is held. Bonaparte had ordered the whole army to be under arms, and had drawn it up on the banks of the canal. An immense concourse of people had assembled, and beheld with joy the “brave men of the West” attending their festival. Bonaparte, at the head of his staff, accompanied the principal authorities of the country. A sheik first proclaimed the height to which the Nile had risen. It was twenty-five feet, which occasioned great joy. Men then fell to work to cut the dike. The whole of the French artillery was fired at once, at the moment when the water of the river poured in. According to custom, a great number of boats hastened to the canal, in order to obtain the prize destined to that which should first enter. Bonaparte delivered the prize himself. A multitude of men and boys plunged into the waters of the Nile, from a notion that bathing in them at this moment is attended with beneficial effects. Women threw into them hair and pieces of stuff. Bonaparte then ordered the city to be illuminated, and the day concluded with entertainments.  3
  The festival of the Prophet was celebrated with not less pomp. Bonaparte went to the great mosque; seated himself on cushions, cross-legged like the sheiks; and repeated with them the litanies of the Prophet, rocking the upper part of his body to and fro, and shaking his head. All the members of the holy college were edified by his piety. He then attended the dinner given by the Grand Sheik elected in the course of the day.  4
  It was by such means that the young general, as profound a politician as he was a great captain, contrived to ingratiate himself with the people. While he flattered their prejudices for the moment, he labored to diffuse among them some day the light of science, by the creation of the celebrated Institute of Egypt. He collected the men of science and the artists whom he had brought with him; and associating with them some of the best educated of his officers, established that institute, to which he appropriated revenues and one of the most spacious palaces in Cairo. Some were to occupy themselves in preparing an accurate description and a map of the country, comprehending the most minute details; others were to explore its ruins, and to furnish history with new lights; others, again, were to study the productions, to make observations useful to natural philosophy, natural history, and astronomy; while others were to employ themselves in inquiries concerning the ameliorations that might be made in the condition of the inhabitants,—by machines, canals, works upon the Nile, and processes adapted to a soil so singular and so different from that of Europe. If Fortune did subsequently wrest from us that beautiful country, at any rate she could not deprive us of the conquests which science was about to make in it. A monument was preparing which was destined to reflect not less honor on the genius and the perseverance of our men of science, than the expedition on the heroism of our soldiers.  5
  Monge was the first who obtained the presidency. Bonaparte was only the second. He proposed the following subjects: To inquire the best construction of wind and water mills; to find a substitute for the hop (which does not grow in Egypt) for the making of beer; to determine the sites adapted to the cultivation of the vine; to seek the best means of procuring water for the citadel of Cairo; to dig wells in different spots in the desert; to inquire the means of clarifying and cooling the water of the Nile; to devise some useful application of the rubbish with which the city of Cairo—and indeed all the ancient towns of Egypt—was incumbered; and to find out materials requisite for the manufacture of gunpowder in Egypt. From these questions, the reader may judge of the bent of the general’s mind. The engineers, the draughtsmen, and the men of science, immediately dispersed themselves throughout all the provinces, to commence the description and the map of the country. Such were the first proceedings of this infant colony, and the manner in which its founder directed the operations.  6
 
 
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