Category Archives: Napoleonic War Poetry


Lord Byron: “The Star of The Legion of Honour”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

The only peace agreed to between France and England during the Napoleonic wars was that known as the “Peace of Amiens,” which lasted from March, 1802, until May, 1803. During the existence of that peace the whole world, as it were, rushed to Paris, to catch a glimpse of the man who had wrought such mighty changes in so short a time. The obscure Corsican had become the greatest man of the times. Emperor of France, in all but name, his Court began to take on all the trappings and ceremonies of royalty. Holding the reins of power absolutely within the grasp of his own hands, he tolerated no interference, either by his colleagues or by the people.

In peace, as in war, he rested not, but laboured incessantly for the advancement of his country, whose needs he seemed to comprehend fully. Society was reorganised for the better; judicial reforms were perfected, and the Code pushed forward towards completion; the educational system of the nation was thoroughly revised and improved; the relations between church and state were settled by the signing of the Concordat in the spring of 1802: the finances were brought up to a flourishing condition; magnificent roads and bridges were built; everything, in fact, that could enhance the greatness and glory of France was thought of and carried out by this tireless mind.

It was at this time the Legion of Honour was established.

a-depiction-of-napoleon-making-some-of-the-first-awards-of-the-legion-of-honour-at-a-camp-near-boulogne-on-16-august-1804

Premiere ‘Légion d’honneur’ by Charles Étienne Pierre Motte

A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804

How many a gallant soldier rushed to his death in hopes of winning a place in that legion, and how many a dying hero was made happy by being presented with its badge before he answered the last roll-call. When the “Star” no longer led the Legion on to victory, Byron gave us the following lines.

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Chevalier Légion d’honneur

Friedrich Freiherr de la Motte Fouqué: “War-Song for the Chasseur Volunteers”

Excerpt, “The Book of German Songs from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century.” Translated and Edited by H. W. Dulcken. 1856.

chasseur2

WAR-SONG FOR THE CHASSEUR VOLUNTEERS

1813

.

Up, up, to the merry hunting,

For now the time draws on ;

The strife will quickly follow,

The day begins to dawn.

Up, pass them by, the idle,

And leave them to their rest;

But we will stir us gladly

At our good king’s behest.

.

Our monarch he has spoken,

” Where are my huntsmen true ? “

And we have all arisen,

A gallant work to do.

We will build up a safety

For all our fatherland;

With fervent trust in Heaven,

With strong enduring hand !

.

Sleep calmly now, ye loved ones,

Around our father’s hearth.

While ‘gainst the foeman’s weapons

We boldly issue forth.

O happiness, our dear ones

From danger to defend ;

Let cannon flash—true courage

Will triumph in the end !

.

Some will be home returning

In victory, ere long,

And then will be rejoicing,

And joyful triumph song.

With strength and glad emotion

How ev’ry heart will burn.—

Who falls, a heavenly kingdom

For this on earth shall earn !

.

Afoot, or on our war-steeds.

To the red field will we.

Our God will show us favour;

He greets us graciously.

Ye huntsmen, all and each one.

Charge hotly on the foe ;

While fires of joy are burning,

While yet life’s sun doth glow!

.

Victor Hugo: “The Retreat From Moscow”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

121210_PAN_Napoleon1812.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

THE RETREAT FROM MOSCOW.

.

It snowed. A defeat was our conquest red !

For once the Eagle was hanging its head.

Sad days! the Emperor turned slowly his back

On smoking Moscow, blent orange and black.

The winter burst, avalanche-like, to reign

Over the endless blanched sheet of the plain.

.

Nor chief, nor banner in order could keep.

The wolves of warfare were ‘wildered like sheep.

The wings from centre could hardly be known

Through snow o’er horses and carts o’erthrown,

Where froze the wounded. In the bivouacs forlorn

Strange sights and gruesome met the breaking morn :

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Mute were the bugles, while the men bestrode

Steeds turned to marble, unheeding the goad.

The shells and bullets came down with the snow

As though the heavens hated these poor troops below.

Surprised at trembling, though it was with cold.

Who ne’er had trembled out of fear, the veterans bold

Marched stern ; to grizzled moustache hoar-frost clung

‘Neath banners that in leaden masses hung.

It snowed, went snowing still. And chill the breeze

Whistled upon the glassy, endless seas,

Where naked feet on, on for ever went,

With naught to eat, and not a sheltering tent.

retreat-the-retreat-from-russia

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They were not living troops as seen in war,

But merely phantoms of a dream, afar

In darkness wandering, amid the vapour dim—

A mystery ; of shadows a procession grim,

Nearing a blackening sky, into its rim.

Frightful, since boundless, solitude behold

Where only Nemesis wove, mute and cold,

A net all snowy with its soft meshes dense,

A shroud of magnitude for host immense ;

.

Till every one felt as if left alone

In a wide wilderness where no light shone,

To die, with pity none, and none to see

That from this mournful realm none should get free.

Their foes the frozen North and Czar—That, worse.

Cannons were broken up in haste accurst

To burn the frames and make the pale fire high,

Where those lay down who never woke, or woke to die.

.

Sad and commingled, groups that blindly fled

Were swallowed smoothly by the desert dread.

‘Neath folds of blankness, monuments were raised

O’er regiments. And History, amazed,

Could not record the ruin of this retreat,

Unlike a downfall known before the defeat

Of Hannibal—reversed and wrapped in gloom!

Of Attila, when nations met their doom !

.

Perished an army—fled French glory then.

Though there the Emperor ! he stood and gazed

At the wild havoc, like a monarch dazed

In woodland hoar, who felt the shrieking saw

He, living oak, beheld his branches fall, with awe.

Chiefs, soldiers, comrades died. But still warm love

Kept those that rose all dastard fear above.

.

As on his tent they saw his shadow pass—

Backwards and forwards, for they credited, alas !

His fortune’s star! it could not, could not be

That he had not his work to do—a destiny ?

To hurl him headlong from his high estate,

Would be high treason in his bondman. Fate,

But all the while he felt himself alone,

Stunned with disasters few have ever known.

.

Sudden, a fear came o’er his troubled soul.

What more was written on the Future’s scroll ?

Was this an expiation ? It must be, yea !

Returned to God for one enlightening ray.

” Is this the vengeance, Lord of Hosts? ” he sighed,

But the first murmur on his parched lips died.

” Is this the vengeance ? Must my glory set”

A pause : his name was called ; of flame a jet

Sprang in the darkness—a Voice

answered: “No! Not yet.”

Outside still fell the smothering snow.

Was it a voice indeed ? or but a dream !

It was the vulture’s, but how like the sea-bird’s scream.

Ernst Schulze: “Schwarze Jäger“

Excerpt, “Poets and Poetry of Germany, Biographical and Critical Notices.” Madame Davesies de Pontes. Vol. II. London: 1858.

Luetzows_verwegene_jagd_aquarellreproduktion_1900

The Black Hunters

.

What is gleaming so gaily on bush and on brae,

What is shining in green-wood so bright,

Who comes forth from the wood in such gallant array,

Who are rushing from mountain and height?

’Tis the Jäger! On, on in a torrent we flow,

And rush to the combat and pounce on the foe

To battle, to vict’ry—to triumph we go!

.

We come from the Hartz and its forests so old,

Full, they tell us, of glittering store;

But what do we care or for silver or gold?

Give us freedom! We ask for no more!

To others we leave it—more nobly we feel;

We don our bright armour, our cuirass of steel;

For us upon earth the sword only has worth,

And we care for nought save our fatherland’s weal!

.

To drink and to love and be loved has its charms;

In the shade it is pleasant to dream;

But nobler to rush ’mid the battles alarms,

When the sword and the bayonet gleam.

Love’s torch is not brighter than glory’s proud hue,

And where thousands are sleeping why we may sleep too.

As heroes we’ll fall! ’neath the sword or the ball,

And pour forth our hearts-blood so gallant and true.

.

Full oft in the darkness, in forest and glen,

Or high on the storm-beaten rock,

We have linger’d to track the fierce wolf to den

Nor dreaded the hurricane’s shock.

And now the bright sunshine is steaming above us;

We go to defend all we love! All who love us!

Be it battle or chase—in the enemy’s face—

To us it is one; for no peril can move us!

 

 

Songs of the Liberation War: “Was Blasen Die Trompeten”

Excerpt, “War Songs of the Germans with Historical Illustrations of the Liberation War and the Rhine Boundary.” By John Stuart Blackie. Edinburgh: 1870.

Marschall Vorwärts by Emil Hünten (1863).

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt

Marschall Vorwärts by Emil Hünten

 

WAS BLASEN DIE TROMPETEN

.

Why blare loud the trumpets? To horse, ye hussars!

’Tis the gallant old field-marshal that rides to the wars!

So cheerily rides he his own good steed,

So brightly his sword flashes time to his speed;

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

O see how his blue eye, so clear and so kind,

Is beaming, and wave his white locks to the wind!

Like a stout old wine, so mellow and so fine,

O he’s the man to marshal the sons of the Rhine!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

O he is the man, when all was dark and dim,

Who waved his sword in Heaven’s eye—’twas all bright to him!

He swore by his true steel to teach them yet aright—

He swore an angry oath-how the Germans can fight.

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

His good oath he kept: When the war-cry rang,

On his horse, with a bound, bold Blücher sprang;

And his clear blue eye shot fire to wash the shame

Of Auerstadt and Jena from the German name.

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

At Lützen; impatient, he headed the van,

Like a strong young lion, the old veteran:

There the Teut first taught the hot Frenchman to bleed,

By the altar of freedom, the stone of the Swede.

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

The Katzbach was red with the fierce drifting rain,

But eve saw it redder with the blood of the slain!

‘Fare-thee-well, fare-thee-well! And fairly may’st thou sail,

And find a grave, false Frantzmann, with the Baltic whale.’

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

Then forward, my brave boys, begun’s half done:

We’ll teach the nimble Corsican to run, boys, run!

O’er the Elbe, o’er the Elbe, now Preuss and Swede advance,

And the fleet Don Cossack with his long, long lance!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

On the red field of Leipzig he laid the French pride low;

He blew the blast of freedom loud at Leipzig, Oho!

They fell, there they fell, ne’er to rise from their fall;

And we cheered old Blücher there—

Long live the Field-marshal!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

Then blow loud, yet trumpets, and tramp, ye hussars!

’Tis our old Field-marshal that rides to the wars:

To the Rhine, to the Rhine, and beyond the Rhine’s the way,

Thou doughty old Field-marshal, God be with thee aye!

Sound fife, trump and drum! For the Germans are come!

Hurrah for right and liberty, the Germans are come!

.

Gebhard_Leberecht_von_Blücher_in_Bautzen_1813

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher in Bautzen 1813

 

George Croly: “The French Army in Russia”

“A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

Napoleon_near_BorodinoNapoleon Near Borodino

 

THE FRENCH ARMY IN RUSSIA

.

Magnificence of ruin ! what has time

In all it ever gazed upon of war,

Of the wild rage of storm, or deadly clime,

Seen, with that battle’s vengeance to compare ?

How glorious shone the invader’s pomp afar!

Like pampered lions from the spoil they came ;

The land before them silence and despair.

The land behind them massacre and flame ;

Blood will have tenfold blood. What are they now?

A name.

Smolensk_by_hessBattle of Smolensk

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Homeward by hundred thousands, column-deep,

Broad square, loose squadron, rolling like the flood.

When mighty torrents from their channels leap,

Rushed through the land the haughty multitude,

Billow on endless billow ; on through wood,

O’er rugged hill, down sunless, marshy vale,

The death-devoted moved, to clangour rude

Of drum and horn, and dissonant clash of mail,

Glancing disastrous light before that sunbeam pale.

Battle-of-BorodinoBattle of Borodino

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Again they reached thee, Borodino ! still

Upon the loaded soil the carnage lay,

The human harvest, now stark, stiff, and chill,

Friend, foe, stretched thick together, clay to clay ;

In vain the startled legions burst away ;

The land was all one naked sepulchre;

The shrinking eye still glanced on grim decay,

Still did the hoof and wheel their passage tear.

Through cloven helms and arms, and corpses

Mouldering drear.

Battle of MaloyaroslavetsBattle of Maloyaroslavets

The field was as they left it ; fosse and fort

Steaming with slaughter still, but desolate ;

The cannon flung dismantled by its port ;

Each knew the mound, the black ravine whose strait

Was won and lost,, and thronged with dead, till fate

Had fixed upon the victor,—half undone.

There was the hill, from which their eyes elate

Had seen the burst of Moscow’s golden zone ;

But death was at their heels, they shuddered and rushed on.

French_dragoons_Polish_uhlans_Russian_infantry_1812

The hour of vengeance strikes. Hark to the gale !

As it bursts hollow through the rolling clouds.

That from the north in sullen grandeur sail

Like floating Alps. Advancing darkness broods

Upon the wild horizon, and the woods,

Now sinking into brambles, echo shrill,

As the gust sweeps them, and those upper floods

Shoot on their leafless boughs the sleet-drops chill,

That on the hurrying crowds in freezing showers distil.

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They reach the wilderness ! The majesty

Of solitude is spread before their gaze.

Stern nakedness,—dark earth and wrathful sky.

If ruins were there, they long had ceased to blaze ;

If blood was shed, the ground no more betrays.

Even by a skeleton, the crime of man ;

Behind them rolls the deep and drenching haze,

Wrapping their rear in night ; before their van

The struggling daylight shows the unmeasured desert wan.

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Still on they sweep, as if their hurrying march

Could bear them from the rushing of His wheel

Whose chariot is the whirlwind. Heaven’s clear arch

At once is covered with a livid veil ;

In mixed and fighting heaps the deep clouds reel ;

Upon the dense horizon hangs the sun,

In sanguine light, an orb of burning steel;

The snows wheel down through twilight, thick and dun ;

Now tremble, men of blood, the judgment has begun !

.

The trumpet of the northern winds has blown,

And it is answered by the dying roar

Of armies on that boundless field o’erthrown.

Now in the awful gusts the deserts hoar

Is tempested, a sea without a shore,

Lifting its feathery waves. The legions fly ;

Volley on volley down the hailstones pour;

Blind, famished, frozen, mad, the wanderers die.

And dying, hear the storm but wilder thunder by.

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Such is the hand of Heaven ! A human blow

Had crushed them in the flight, or flung the chain

Round them where Moscow’s stately towers were low

And all bestilled. But thou ! thy battle-plain

Was a whole empire ; that devoted train

Must war from day to day with storm and gloom,

(Man following, like the wolves, to rend the slain)

Must lie from night to night as in a tomb.

Must fly, toil, bleed for home ; yet never see that home.

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Julia Augusta Maynard: “The Battle of Lodi”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

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The Battle of Lodi

10 May, 1796

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THE BATTLE OF LODI

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The signals giv’n! Impatient neigh

The snorting chargers at the cry

Which calls proud Austria forth today,

To “charge with all her chivalry.”

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Hark to the deep and muffled drum!

Announcing death so near at hand;

The foe! The foe! They onward come;

May heaven uphold the Austrian band!

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Mark ye, the eagle standards wave

Above the torrent’s crimson tide!

Oh! Mark ye how for glory’s grave

Those gallant horsemen forward ride!

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Two despots meet; the one by right

Defends what ages make his own;

The other, in the pride of might,

Stands forth all-conquering and alone.

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This last, upon the battle-field,

With eye which beams with living fire,

Arm’d with a dread and puissant shield,

Defies the German’s wildest ire.

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Yon bridge, where slaughter yet unsafe,

Still revels in its gory bed,

Groans now beneath the growing weight

Of living—dying—and of dead.

.

’T is over! And France foredoom’d to sway

Where’er her flashing eagle shone,

Hears the proud victor named that day

In victory’s shout—“Napoleon!”

 

Sir Walter Scott: “The Bard’s Incantation”

Sir Walter Scott saw nothing to ridicule or caricature in the man who ruled France. He saw the danger which threatened his own country, and, in a legitimate way, he endeavoured to arouse his fellow-countrymen to a proper sense of that danger. There were other English writers, like Wordsworth and Campbell, who were willing to treat Napoleon as a foeman worthy of British steel; but the great majority thought of him only as a Corsican pirate, coming over to burn, ravish, and destroy.

france-louvre-napoleons-coronationCoronation of Napoleon (1804) Palace of Versailles

The Bard’s Incantation

Written under the threat of Napoleon’s invasion in the Autumn of 1804.

The Forest of Glenmore is drear,
It is all of black pine, and the dark oak-tree;
And the midnight wind to the mountain deer,
Is whistling the forest lullaby:
The moon looks through the drifting storm,
But the troubled lake reflects not her form,
For the waves roll whitening to the land,
And dash against the shelvy strand.

There is a voice among the trees,
That mingles with the groaning oak-
That mingles with the stormy breeze,
And the lake-waves dashing against the rock;-
There is a voice within the wood,
The voice of the Bard in fitful mood;
His song was louder than the blast,
As the Bard of Glenmore through the forest past.

‘Wake ye from your sleep of death,
Minstrels and bards of other days!
For the midnight wind is on the heath,
And the midnight meteors dimly blaze:
The Spectre with the Bloody Hand,
Is wandering through the wild woodland;
The owl and the raven are mute for dread,
And the time is meet to awake the dead!

‘Souls of the mighty, wake, and say
To what high strain your harps were strung
When Lochlin plough’d her billowy way,
And on your shores her Norsemen flung?
Her Norsemen train’d to spoil and blood,
Skill’d to prepare the Raven’s food,
All, by your harpings, doom’d to die
On bloody Largs and Loncarty.

‘Mute are ye all? No murmurs strange
Upon the midnight breeze sail by;
Nor through the pines, with whistling change
Mimic the harp’s wild harmony!
Mute are ye now? – Ye ne’er were mute,
When Murder with his bloody foot,
And Rapine with his iron hand,
Were hovering near yon mountain strand.

‘O, yet awake, the strain to tell,
By every deed in song enroll’d,
By every chief who fought or fell
For Albion’s weal in battle bold:-
From Coilgach, first, who rolled his car
Through the deep ranks of Roman war,
To him, of veteran memory dear,
Who, victor, died on Aboukir.

‘By all their swords, by all their scars,
By all their names, a mighty spell!
By all their wounds, by all their wars,
Arise the mighty strain to tell!
For, fiercer than fierce Hengist’s strain,
More impious than the heathen Dane,
More grasping than all grasping Rome,
Gaul’s ravening legions hither come!’

The wind is hush’d, and still the lake-
Strange murmurs fill my tinkling ears,
Bristles my hair, my sinews quake
At the dread voice of other years-
‘When targets clash’d and bugles rung,
And blades round warriors’ heads were flung,
The foremost of the band were we,
And hymned the joys of liberty!’

Theodor Körner: “Men and Knaves”

Battle_of_Leipzig_11

Battle of Nations 1813

 

MEN AND KNAVES

 (1813)

 .

The storm is out; the land is roused;

Where is the coward who sits well-housed?

Fie, on thee, boy, disguised in curls,

Behind the stove, ‘mong gluttons and girls!

   A graceless, worthless wight thou must be;

   No German maid desires thee,

   No German song inspires thee,

   No German Rhine-wine fires thee.

       Forth in the van,

       Man by man,

   Swing the battle-sword who can!

 .

When we stand watching, the livelong night,

Through piping storms, till morning light,

Thou to thy downy bed canst creep,

And there in dreams of rapture sleep.

 .

 _Chorus_.

 .

When, hoarse and shrill, the trumpet’s blast,

Like the thunder of God, makes our hearts beat fast,

Thou in the theatre lov’st to appear,

Where trills and quavers tickle the ear.

 .

_Chorus_.

 .

When the glare of noonday scorches the brain,

When our parched lips seek water in vain,

Thou canst make the champagne corks fly,

At the groaning tables of luxury.

 .

_Chorus_.

 .

When we, as we rush to the strangling fight,

Send home to our true loves a long “Good night,”

Thou canst hie thee where love is sold,

And buy thy pleasure with paltry gold.

 .

_Chorus_.

 .

When lance and bullet come whistling by,

And death in a thousand shapes draws nigh,

Thou canst sit at thy cards, and kill

King, queen, and knave, with thy spadille.

 .

_Chorus_.

 .

If on the red field our bell should toll,

Then welcome be death to the patriot’s soul.

Thy pampered flesh shall quake at its doom,

And crawl in silk to a hopeless tomb.

   A pitiful exit thine shall be;

   No German maid shall weep for thee,

   No German song shall they sing for thee,

   No German goblets shall ring for thee.

       Forth in the van,

       Man for man,

   Swing the battle-sword who can!

 

Boney’s Lamentation

The lyrics and background of Boney’s Lamentation are from The Contemplator’s Microencyclopedia of Folk MusicVisit here to download the music! This ballad is also known as Boney’s Abdication, and abdication may be used to replace the word lamentation.

Older versions of the song retained the sequence of events for Napoleon’s rise and fall, but corrupted the names. Broadwood restored the correct names in this version. Broadwood collected this in Sussex in 1893.

Because the song ends with Napoleon’s abdication and does not mention Waterloo it is probable the words were composed in 1814. The air is a variant of The Princess Royal, by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). The tune appeared in print in Walsh’s Complete Dancing Master (circa 1730). 

Pierre Gautherot - Napoléon Wounded Before Ratisbonne 1810

Napoléon Wounded Before Ratisbonne 1810 by Pierre Gautherot

 

Boney’s Lamentation

 

Attend, you sons of high renown,
To these few lines which I pen down:
I was born to wear a stately crown,
And to rule a wealthy nation.
I am the man that beat Beaulieu,
And Wurmser’s will did then subdue;
That great Archduke I overthrew.
On every plain
My men were slain.
Grand treasures, too, I did obtain,
And got capitulation.

I did pursue the Egyptians sore,
Till Turks and Arabs lay in gore;
The rights of France I did restore
So long in confiscation.
I chased my foes through mud and mire
Till in despair my men did tire.
Then Moscow town was set on fire,
My men were lost
Through winter frost;
I ne’er before received such blast
Since the hour of my creation.

To Leipsic town my soldiers fled,
Montmartre was strewed with Prussian dead,
We marched them forth, inveterate,
To stop a bold invasion.
Farewell, my royal spouse, once more,
And offspring great, whom I adore!
And may you that great throne restore,
That is torn away,
Without delay!
Those kings of me have made a prey,
And caused my lamentation.

Victor Hugo: “The Grande Armée”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

While the Revolution went on and its effect were being felt from one end of France to the other; while the guillotine ran red with blood, and brother condemned brother to suffer beneath its awful knife; while it was a question of extreme doubt what precise form the government would assume, the soldiers of France, fighting her battles on the frontiers, held firm for the honour of their country. Barefooted, without arms and without food, they fought against combined Europe. Victory after victory they won; until, driven beyond the Rhine, the invaders were glad to sue for peace. These were the men who were to make possible the name of Napoleon, and well did they merit better than they then received. The glory, the honour, the future of France were in their keeping, and never once did they betray the trust.

 

great_redoubt

 

THE GRAND ARMEE

Soldiers of our Year Two! O wars! O epic songs!

Drawing at once their swords against all Crowned Wrongs,

In Prussian, Austrian bounds,

And against all the Tyres and Sodoms of the earth,

And him the man-hunter, the Tzar o’ the icy North,

Follow’d by all his hounds.

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And against Europe all, with all its captains proud,

With all its foot-soldiers whose might the plains did crowd,

With all its horsemen fleet,

All risen against France, with many a hydra head—

They sang as on they march’d, their spirits without dread,

And without shoes their feet.

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At early dawn, at eve, South, North, and everywhere,

With their old muskets on their shoulders, rattling there,

Passing both rock and flood,

Without sleep or rest, foodless, and ragged too,

Joyous and proud they went, and their shrill trumpets blew.

As only demons could.

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Sublimest Liberty fill’d evermore their thought;

Fleets taken sword in hand, and frontiers set at nought—

So sovereignly they go;

O France! On every day some prodigy they dare—

Encounters, combats, shocks—on Adige’ side Joubert,

And on the Rhine Marceau.

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The vanguard they o’ercame, the centre thy o’erthrew;

In the snow, and in the rain, water their middles to,

On went they, ever on:

And one sued them for peace, and one flung wide his gate;

And thrones were scattered like dead leaves, here of late,

Now at the wind’s breath gone.

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O soldiers! You were grand, in the midst of battle-shocks,

With your lightning-flashing eyes and wild dishevel’d locks

In the wild whirlwind black;

Impetuous, ardent, radiant, tossing back your heads,

Like lions snuffing up the North-wind when he treads

Upon his tempest track!

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Drunken and madly rapt in their great epic deeds,

They savour’d all the mirth of most heroic needs—

Steel clashing here and there,

The winged Marseillaise flying amid the balls,

The grenades and the drums, the bomb-shells and cymbals,

And thy clear laugh, Kleber!

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The Revolution cried—Die, O my volunteers!

Die to deliver all the people from their fears!

Their answering hands they raised.

Go, my old soldiers! Go, my beardless generals!

And Victory proudly march’d to the sound of bare foot falls

Over the world amazed.

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Disheartening and fear to them were all unknown;

They had without a doubt over the high clouds gone,

If their audacity

In its Olympic race one moment had look’d back,

And seen the Republic point over their glorious track

Her finger to the sky.

 

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Thomas Campbell: “The Battle of Hohenlinden”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

Napoleon returned to Paris in the middle of the night of July 2, 1800.  The next day, as soon as his arrival became known, the whole city turned out to welcome him.  As Hazlitt well puts it: “It was a day, like which few occur in history; yet in this instance how many such were crowded into the life of a single man.”

The period of the armistice having expired and Austria having refused to accept its terms, the French armies were again set in motion.  Macdonald crossed the Alps  in the dead of winter, and achieved brilliant victories for the French cause.

Moreau, on the Rhine, commenced that memorable winter campaign, which ended so gloriously at the terrible battle of Hohenlinden.  At midnight, on 3 December, 1800, in the midst of a raging snowstorm, the French and Austrian armies met.  The terrific and awful combat which followed has been immortalized by Campbell in the poem so familiar to every schoolboy.

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hohenlinden.

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Lord Byron: “The Battle of Talavera”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte:A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

battle-talavera-l

While Napoleon was winning victory after victory against Austria and the coalition in the north, everything was going wrong in the Peninsula.  Joseph Bonaparte was in no sense a soldier.  The art of war was a mystery to him, and of its wants and necessities he knew nothing.

So little confidence had the marshals, sent by Napoleon to fight his battles in Spain and Portugal, in the military operations of Joseph that they paid no attention to his orders; on the contrary, they seemed to think that it was proper to act each for himself, totally disregarding the good of the service, and the commands of the king.  Personal comfort and aggrandizement were sought after.

Spite and jealousy prevailed among these veteran generals like among a band of schoolboys.  There was no concert of action; no willing aid lent each other.  The whole campaign went wrong from beginning to end.  The French soldiers fought with their accustomed bravery; but, with quarrelsome leaders, against British valour and guerilla warfare, their efforts were unavailing.

The battle of Talavera, fought on 28th July, 1809, resulted in a defeat of the French army, and a most significant victory for the Duke of Wellington, then Sir Arthur Wellesley.  Alternate victory and defeat attended until the 21st June, 1813, when Napoleon’s enterprise in Spain met its Waterloo at the battle of Vittoria.

Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heath

Battle of Talavera

Awake, ye sons of Spain! Awake! Advance!

Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess cries;

But wields not, as of old, her thirsty lance,

Nor shakes her crimson plumage in the skies:

Now on the smoke of blazing bolts she flies,

And speaks in thunder through your engine’s roar!

In every peal she calls, “Awake! Arise!”

Say, is her voice more feeble than of yore,

When her war-song was heard on Andalusia’s shore?

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Hark! Heard you not those hoofs of dreadful note?

Sounds not the clang of conflict on the heath?

Nor saved your brethren ere they sank beneath

Tyrants and tyrants’ slaves?—the fires of death,

The bale-fires flash on high : from rock to rock

Each volley tells that thousand cease to breathe;

Death rides upon the sulphury Siroc,

Red Battle stamps his foot, and nations feel the shock.

 .

Lo! Where the Giant on the mountain stands,

His blood-red tresses deepening in the sun,

With death-shot glowering in his fiery hands,

And eye that scorcheth all it glares upon!

Restless it rolls, now fixed, and now anon

Flashing afar—and at his iron feet

Destruction cowers, to mark what deeds are done;

For on this morn three potent nations meet,

To shed before his shrine the blood he deems most sweet.

 .

By Heaven! It is a splendid sight to see

(For one who hath no friend, no brother there)

Their rival scarfs of mixed embroidery,

Their various arms that glitter in the air!

What gallant war-hounds rose them from their lair,

And gnash their fangs, loud yelling for the prey!

All join the chase, but few the triumph share:

The Grave shall bear the chiefest prize away,

And Havoc scarce for joy can number their array.

 .

Three hosts combine to offer sacrifice;

Three tongues prefer strange orisons on high;

Three gaudy standards flout the pale blue skies:

The shouts are France, Spain, Albion, Victory!

The foe, the victim, and the fond ally

That fights for all, but every fights in vain,

Are met—as if at home they could not die—

To feed the crow on Talavera’s plain,

And fertilise the field that each pretends to gain.

 .

There shall they rot—Ambition’s honored fools!

Yes, honour decks the turf that wraps their clay!

Vain Sophistry! In these behold the tools,

The broken tools, that tyrants cast away

By myriads, when they dare to pave their way

With human heart—to what?—a dream alone.

Can despots compass aught that hails their sway?

Or call with truth one span of earth their own,

Save that wherein at last they crumble bone by bone?

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