Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon

Author: Louis Constant Wairy  | Date: 1894

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Wairy Louis Constant Paris 1894

Bonaparte Calls Off the Invasion of Britain


Soldiers and sailors were burning with impatience to embark for England, but the desired moment did not arrive. Each evening they said to one another: "Tomorrow there will be a good wind, it will be foggy, and we shall sail." They fell asleep in that hope. Day would break with sun or rain.

One evening, however, when a favorable wind was blowing, I heard two sailors chatting together on the wharf and guessing as to what would happen in the future.

"The emperor would do well to start out tomorrow morning," one said. "There will never be any better weather and besides there is sure to be a fog."

"Bah!" countered the other, "he does not even think of it! We have now waited for more than a fortnight, and the fleet has not budged yet. All the ammunition is on board, and we can put to sea as soon as there is one blast of the whistle."

Just then the night guard came on, and the conversation of the two old sea dogs stopped. But I soon had to acknowledge that their nautical knowledge had not deceived them. As a matter of fact, towards three o’clock in the morning a light fog overspread the sea, which was indeed a little rough. The wind of the previous day sprang up again. At daybreak, the fog was so thick that the fleet was concealed from the English. The most profound silence reigned everywhere.

No unfriendly sail had been signaled through the night, and, just as the sailors had predicted, everything favored the descent.

At five o’clock in the morning semaphore signals were started. In the twinkling of an eye all the seamen were in action and the harbor resounded with shouts of joy. The order to depart had just been received!

While the sails were being hoisted, the "action roll" was drummed in the four camps, and the order was given for the entire army to take arms. The men marched rapidly into town, scarcely believing what they had just heard.

"We are really going to start!" exclaimed all the soldiers. "We are actually on the way to say two words to the —— English!"

And the pleasure that moved them expressed itself in acclamations which were silenced by a volley of the drums.

The embarkation took place then in profound silence, in such perfect order that I can scarcely describe it. In seven hours two hundred thousand soldiers were on board the fleet.

A little after midday this fine army was just on the point of starting, followed by the adieus and good wishes of the entire city assembled upon the walls and the surrounding cliffs. The soldiers stood with uncovered heads, about to bid farewell to the soil of France, crying: "Long live the Emperor!"

Suddenly a message arrived from the imperial barracks ordering the soldiers to disembark and return to camp. A telegram just received by His Majesty announced that it was imperative for him to move his troops in another direction.

The soldiers returned sadly to their quarters, some expressing loudly and with energetic tones the disappointment which this mystifying message caused them. They had looked upon the success of their British enterprise as assured. To be stopped on the verge of departure was, in their estimation, the greatest misfortune that could possibly have happened to them.

When order was restored, the emperor went to the camp on the right wing and issued a proclamation to his troops. It was sent to the other camps and posted in conspicuous positions. This was approximately what it said:

"Brave soldiers of the camp of Boulogne!

"You are not going to England. British gold has seduced the emperor of Austria, who had just declared war on France. His army has just crossed the Rhine, which he should have respected, and Bavaria is invaded.

"Soldiers! New laurels await you beyond the Rhine. Let us make haste to conquer the enemy whom you have already beaten!"

The proclamation was greeted with unanimous shouts of joy. Every face brightened. It mattered little to these courageous men whether they were led against Austria or England. They simply thirsted for battle, and now that war had been declared every wish had been realized.

Thus vanished the grand schemes for a descent upon England, so long ripened, so wisely planned. It is not doubtful now that, with time and perseverance, the enterprise would have been crowned with the greatest success. But it was not to be.

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Chicago: Louis Constant Wairy, Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon, ed. Wairy Louis Constant in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: Wairy, Louis Constant. Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon, edited by Wairy Louis Constant, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Wairy, LC, Recollections of the Private Life of Napoleon, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from