July 16 1815: Napoleon On His Way to Britain

[July 16, 1815] During the time we were heaving the anchor up, and setting the sails, Buonaparte remained on the break of the poop; and was very inquisitive about what was going on. He observed, “Your method of performing this manœuvre is quite different from the French;” and added, “What I admire most in your ship, is the extreme silence and orderly conduct of your men:—on board a French ship, every one calls and gives orders, and they gabble like so many geese.” Previous to his quitting the Bellerophon he made the same remark, saying, “There has been less noise in this ship, where there are six hundred men, during the whole of the time I have been in her, than there was on board the Épervier, with only one hundred, in the passage from Isle d’Aix to Basque Roads.”

Soon after the ship was under weigh, the Mouche joined, with three or four sheep, a quantity of vegetables, and other refreshments,—a present from the French Commodore to Buonaparte. After receiving them on board, we made sail, accompanied by the Myrmidon, for England.

In working out, we passed within about a cable’s length of the Superb. He asked me if I considered that was near enough for a naval engagement: I answered, that half the distance, or even less, would suit much better; as it was a maxim in our navy, not to be further from our enemy than to give room for working the yards, and manœuvring the ship.

He remained upon deck all the time the ship was beating out of the Pertuis d’Antioche. Having cleared the Chasseron shoal about six P.M., dinner was served. He conversed a great deal at table, and seemed in very good spirits; told several anecdotes of himself; among others, one relating to Sir Sydney Smith. Knowing that I had served under that officer on the coast of Syria, he turned to me and said, “Did Sir Sydney Smith ever tell you the cause of his quarrel with me?” I answered he had not. “Then,” said he, “I will.—When the French army was before St Jean d’Acre, he had a paper privately distributed among the officers and soldiers, tending to induce them to revolt and quit me; on which I issued a proclamation, denouncing the English commanding-officer as a madman, and prohibiting all intercourse with him. This nettled Sir Sydney so much, that he sent me a challenge to meet him in single combat on the beach at Caiffa. My reply was, that when Marlborough appeared for that purpose, I should be at his service; but I had other duties to fulfil besides fighting a duel with an English commodore.” He pursued the subject of Syria, and said, patting me (who was sitting next him) on the head; “If it had not been for you English, I should have been Emperor of the East; but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are sure to find you in our way.”

— Captain Maitland of H.M.S. Bellerophon, in the Atlantic off of Rochefort, writesobout July 16 1815.

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