What if Bonaparte had come?

Jacques Picard, a member of our association, recently informed us that a handwritten letter from Lapérouse was up for auction. This letter reopens the debate on a tenacious legend. Would Lapérouse have changed the face of the world by refusing to embark a certain … Bonaparte?

The letter was written during the preparation of the expedition. Here is the content.

To Mr. Poussielgue, secretary of the intendance of Corsica in Bastia

Your letter, Sir, which was addressed to me in Brest, only reached me in Paris on June 18 and, at the time when my answer will be given to you in Corsica, I will have left Brest. Please accept, Sir, my regrets for the delays which have made your proposal impossible to accept, and please be assured of my gratitude.

I have the honor to be Sir your very humble and very obedient servant.

In Paris, June 18, 1785


This “discovery” gave rise to the fascinating exchange below between two enlightened members of our association whom we thank warmly for this sharing.

… “ One can suppose that this letter was intended for Jean-Baptiste Poussielgue (1764-1845), a family originating from the Gard, secretary with the intendance of Corsica (1778-1790); one can also imagine, for example, that the proposal “impossible to accept” related to the embarkation of a protégé.“ …

Jaques Bodin

… “ I have a hard time getting it out of my mind that this could be the letter of refusal to embark the young Napoleon. Indeed, the latter was with Poussielgue at the Jesuit college of Ajaccio during his early youth and even if Napoleon was only 9 years old when he left Corsica for the LMA (military high school of Autun) the two knew each other, as well as their respective families.

For his part, Jean-Baptiste Poussielgue arrived in Corsica in 1772 with his family, his father having just obtained a position in Corsica. Jean-Baptiste worked first at the general inspection of the domains (clerk then secretary 1777-1778) then with the Intendant of Corsica. This position allowed him to rub shoulders with Napoleon’s father, Charles. The latter was a deputy of the nobility at the States of Corsica and was reputed to be close to the first commissioners of the king, in particular to the count of Marbeuf, governor of Corsica. Charles also had access to the intendant via his wife Madame de Boucheporn (godmother of Louis, Napoleon’s brother).

We can assume that Poussielgue, then secretary to the Intendant, received a request from Charles Bonaparte to act on Lapérouse so that Napoleon could be part of the expedition. Napoleon also needed an incentive to be part of the crew: let us recall that Lepaute-Dagelet was his astronomy teacher from October 1784.

The eventual refusal of Lapérouse, the death of Charles in 1785 and the veto of Napoleon’s mother made him choose the artillery. About this refusal we read a lot of things: strong head, bad in mathematics etc… whereas this discipline was his strong point! This leads us to believe that the motive was quite different.

All this makes sense, only the name of the person concerned is missing on this letter, the unmistakable proof… Lapérouse, once again makes us dream, without knowing it he may have changed the face of the world!

To return to this letter, can a subscription be considered? online Leetchi or other? of course, first negotiate the price with the seller. “

Marc Meiner
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