Anna Letitia Barbauld: “Corsica”
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 island of Corsica is situated in the Mediterranean sea, about one hundred miles from the coast of France, and almost directly south of Genoa and west of Rome. The village of Ajaccio is on the western coast of the island, and it was there, on the fifteenth day of August, 1769, that Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of Charles Bonaparte and Letitia Ramolino, was born.
Of thirteen children born to these parents, eight survived, of whom, as matter of age. Napoleon was second ; but who, in reality, from early manhood was the recognized head of the family. Charles Bonaparte died when Napoleon was sixteen years old, and it was to his mother that the future Emperor was indebted for that strength of character and brilliancy of intellect which enabled him, alone and unaided, within the short space of less than twenty years, to transform himself from a poor unknown Corsican sub-lieutenant into the greatest character of ancient or modern history. Perhaps some of the qualities which went to make up this most remarkable man may be attributed to his birthplace, rugged Corsica, so well pictured in the following lines:
How raptured fancy burns, while warm in thought
I trace the pictured landscape ; while I kiss
With pilgrim lips devout the sacred soil
Stained with the blood of heroes. Cyrnus, hail!
Hail to thy rocky, deep indented shores,
And pointed cliffs, which hear the chafing deep
Incessant foaming round thy shaggy sides.
Hail to thy winding bays, thy sheltering ports,
And ample harbours, which inviting stretch
Their hospitable arms to every sail:
Thy numerous streams, that bursting from the cliffs
Down the steep channelled rock impetuous pour
With grateful murmur : on the fearful edge
Of the rude precipice, thy hamlets brown
And straw-roofed cots, which from the level vale
Scarce seen, amongst the craggy hanging cliffs
Seem like an eagle’s nest aerial built.
Thy swelling mountains, brown with solemn shade
Of various trees, that wave their giant arms
O’er the rough sons of freedom ; lofty pines,
And hardy fir, and ilex ever green,
And spreading chestnut, with each humbler plant.
And shrub of fragrant leaf, that clothes their sides.
With living verdure; whence the clustering bee
Extracts her golden dews : the shining box
And sweet-leaved myrtle, aromatic thyme,
The prickly juniper, and the green leaf
Which feeds the spinning worm ; while glowing bright
Beneath the various foliage, wildly spreads
The arbutus, and rears his scarlet fruit
Luxuriant, mantling o’er the craggy steeps ;
And thy own native laurel crowns the scene.
Hail to thy savage forests, awful, deep ;
Thy tangled thickets, and thy crowded woods,
The haunt of herds untamed ; which sullen bound
From rock to rock with fierce, unsocial air,
And wilder gaze, as conscious of the power
That loves to reign amid the lonely scenes
Of unequalled nature ; precipices huge.
And tumbling torrents ; trackless deserts, plains
Fenced in with guardian rocks, whose quarries teem
With shining steel, that to the cultured fields
And sunny hills which wave with bearded grain,
Defends their homely produce.
Young Napoleon at Le Grotte du Casone
The mountain goddess, loves to range at large
Amid such scenes, and on the iron soil
Prints her majestic step. For these she scorns
The green enamelled vales, the velvet lap
Of smooth savannahs, where the pillowed head
Of luxury reposes ; balmy gales,
And bowers that breathe of bliss.
For these, when first
This isle, emerging like a beauteous gem
From the dark bosom of the Tyrrhene main.
Reared its fair front, she marked it for her own.
And with her spirit warmed. Her genuine sons,
A broken remnant, from the generous stock
Of ancient Greece, from Sparta’s sad remains.
True to their high descent, preserved unquenched
The sacred fire through many a barbarous age;
Whom nor the iron rod of cruel Carthage,
Nor the dread sceptre of imperial Rome,
Nor bloody Goth, nor grisly Saracen,
Nor the long galling yoke of proud Liguria,
Could crush into subjection.
They rose superior, bursting from their chains.
And claimed man’s dearest birthright, liberty :
And long, through many a hard unequal strife
Maintained the glorious conflict ; long withstood,
With single arm, the whole collected force
Of haughty Genoa and ambitious Gaul.