François de Pouqueville : A Leading figure in the Egypt Expedition of Bonaparte

CHARLES FRANCOIS DE POUQUEVILLE (1770-1835)

 A LEADING FIGURE IN BONAPARTE'S EXPEDITION IN EGYPT

André J. Fabre                     Octobre 2012                  

Pouqueville was born in Merlerault, a tiny village in Normandy. His fate would be amazing

Priest in Ancien Régime

As a child, Pouqueville studied latin with his Village Vicar but, when his mentor, in 1790, had to get refuge in England, and he entered the Seminary of Alençon. In a very short time, due to the political situation, he was ordered sub-deacon, deacon then, hardly 21 yrs old, Vicar. When Terror began, François narrowly escaped to death, hidden in a cellar. Gradually converted to revolutionary ideas he became "constitutional priest". This was highly despised by the Chouans  and, once more Pouqueville had to keep out of sight for a long time…

 Apprentice Physician in Paris

To get out from all political turmoils, Pouqueville decided to switch from Priesthood to Medicine. He comes to Paris where he found help from a former classmate. Presented to the Professor of Medicine Antoine Dubois, future obsterician of Empress Marie-Louise, he  could rapidly progress in learning medicine and also, with help of his new mentor, acquire many  brilliant relations.

 Member of  Bonaparte Egypt expedition

From his mundane relations, François obtained in 1798 to be enrolled as Health Officer in General Bonaparte's Great Army of Orient, also elected in the important Commission of Sciences and Arts of the Expedition. As soon as arrived in Egypt, Francois received a difficult mission : negotiate with the British Navy an exchange of prisoners : he became friend to the Commodore Sidney Smith, a veteran from Independence War but only found hostility from Admiral Nelson. Once his mission fulfilled, Pouqueville, fell victim of a mysterious "Egyptian fever" and, had to be repatriated, therefore, in October 1798, he  went  aboard the Madonna di Montenegro, a tartan sailing to Livorno.

 In the hands of the Ottomans

Unfortunately, in view of Calabria coast, the ship was attacked by Barbaresque pirates and Pouqueville, brought to Navarino, in the hands of Mustafa Pasha who sent his prisoner… in his harem of Tripolitza.... New twist of fate, the Pasha fell into disgrace and his successor, Ahmed Pasha,  was openly hostile to the French. However when he heard that his prisoner was "expert in medicine" , he took him  as personal physician. Nonetheless, in 1799, François was transferred to Constantinople in the Castle of Seven Towers (the Fortress Yedikule). During his detention he learnt Ancient Greek in order to read all the great classics as Anacreon, Homer and Hippocrates and he became soonly anN ardent supporter of the Philhellenist Movement which was aimed to get Greece free from the Ottomans.

 Consul in Greece

After two years of detention, Pouquevile could obtain freedom. Back in Paris, he ended up his studies with  a Doctorate Thesis on "Plague in Orient“. However, he remained more attracted by Greece than medicine. In 1805, he published his souvenirs from Greece : Journey to the Morea and Constantinople with such a success that Talleyrand sent him as Consul in Janina in Epirus. As soon as Greece-addicted Pouqueville  arrived, he started a wide program of archeological investigations together with an English diplomat, William Leake, famed for his transport of Parthenon Friezes to London.

Now Pouqueville had to face new dangers ! The dreaded Ali Pasha, famous for his atrocities but also his close relations with Lord Byron, showed  more and more  irritatation against the Philhellenist stands of the Consul. The situation became so tense that Pouqueville had to keep  sheltered in his Consulate until 1816, when Louis XVIII ordered his transfer very  far from Epirus, in Patras. Yet, after the start of the Greek War of Independence, in 1822, François and his brother, also known for his pro-hellenistic stand, had to come back to France.  

 Back to Paris

On his return to Paris, Pouqueville found that Greece had become highly "à la mode“. He became "coqueluche du tout Paris“, admitted into the most fashionable salons, friend of celebrities as Arago and Chateaubriand celebrated for his 1811 "Itinéraire de Paris à Jerusalem". Comtesse de Ségur gives a very vivid portrait of Pouqueville, called "Monsieur Tocambel", in "Quel amour d'enfant ! ". The narrations of Pouqueville on Greece gave inspiration to many great artists : Nepomucene Lemercier wrote, In 1825,  a tragedy on "The Martyrs of Souli “, in 1822, a great Romantic painter, Ary Scheffer got celebrity  with his "Suliot Women"  Alexandre Dumas made in 1839, in a pamphlet on "Famous Criminals"  portrait of Ali Pash as oine of the worst tyrans in History . Shortly after his return to France, Charles François had met Henriette Lorimier, a fashionable portrait painter, who shared his life until the end. Henriette as well as one of her relatives, Jean-Auguste Ingres, left  several portraits of Pouqueville.

 Climbing to the top

At the end of his life, Pouqueville was a sort of national figure : member of Legion d’Honneur, member of all Scientific Societies, elected in 1830 at the Académie de médecine.

He died in 1835 in his apartment of rue de l'Abbaye. His grave is still in the Montparnasse cemetery, ornated with a medallion from David d'Angers and a marmor page bearing the last two verses of the Odyssey, where Homer promises to Achilles an "eternal memory"

 

a.fabre.fl@gmail.com

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Date de dernière mise à jour : 29/07/2013

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