Category Archives: Napoleonic Wars


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.

CORSICA

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:

CORSICA

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Liberty,

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.

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For these, when first

This isle, emerging like a beauteous gem

From the dark bosom of the Tyrrhene main.

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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.

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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.

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Still unquelled

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.

THEODOR KÖRNER: “PRAYER DURING BATTLE”

Battle_of_Leipzig_by_Zauerweid2
The Battle of Nations
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PRAYER DURING BATTLE 
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(1813)
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Father, I call to thee.
The roaring artillery's clouds thicken round me,
The hiss and the glare of the loud bolts confound me.
Ruler of battles, I call on thee
O Father, lead thou me!
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O Father, lead thou me;
To victory, to death, dread Commander, O guide me;
The dark valley brightens when thou art beside me;
Lord, as thou wilt, so lead thou me.
God, I acknowledge thee.
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God, I acknowledge thee;
When the breeze through the dry leaves of autumn is moaning,
When the thunder-storm of battle is groaning,
Fount of mercy, in each I acknowledge thee.
O Father, bless thou me!
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O Father, bless thou me;
I trust in thy mercy, whate'er may befall me;
'Tis thy word that hath sent me; that word can recall me.
Living or dying, O bless thou me!
Father, I honor thee.
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Father, I honor thee;
Not for earth's hoards or honors we here are contending;
All that is holy our swords are defending;
Then falling, and conquering, I honor thee.
God, I repose in thee.
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God, I repose in thee;
When the thunders of death my soul are greeting,
When the gashed veins bleed, and the life is fleeting,
In thee, my God, I repose in thee.
Father, I call on thee.
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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

 

Robert Browning: “Incident of the French Camp”

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.

Heinrich Heine:  “The Grenadiers”

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

Friedrich Rückert: “Marshal Forward”

Excerpt:  “Schiller’s Homage of the Arts, with it Miscellaneous Pieces from Rückert, Freiligrath, and Other German Poets.”  By Charles T. Brooks. 1846.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher

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!’

A.L.A. Smith: “The Queen of Prussia’s Ride”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte.” Editor William J. Hillis. New York: 1896.

Whatever his inclination may have been, Napoleon was not to be permitted to rest. Pitt, his greatest enemy, it is true, was dead, and Fox, his friend, had come into power in the English Cabinet, but this state of affairs was not to last. Fox dying, England succeeded in forming a new coalition between Russia, Prussia, and herself, and war was again declared against France.

Jena, Eylau, and Friedland, were the answer Napoleon gave to this challenge, and bitterly did Prussia, especially, pay for her rash attempt to free herself from the toils of the French conqueror. But the seed was being sown which was to bring forth victory and revenge for Prussia and all Germany. Defeat and humiliation were bringing to the surface those brave, unflinching spirits that nothing could conquer.

Had Frederick William been endowed with the same positive mind and courageous heart which Louisa, the Queen, possessed, the dawn of victory might have come sooner to that unhappy country. It took such soldiers as “Old Father Blucher” and such indomitable courage as Louisa possessed to cope with the magic power of Napoleon.

It is told that at the battle of Jena, when the Prussian army was routed, the Queen, mounted upon a superb charger, remained on the field attended only by three or four of her escort. A band of French hussars seeing her, rushed forward at full gallop, and with drawn swords dispersed the little group and pursued her all the way to Weimar.

Had not the horse her Majesty rode possessed the fleetness of a stag, the fair Queen would certainly have been captured.

The incident, be it history or not, gave occasion for the following poem.

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The Queen of Prussia’s Ride

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Fair Queen, away! To thy charger speak,

A band of hussars thy capture seek;

Oh, haste! Escape! They are riding this way,

Speak, speak to thy charger without delay;

They’re nigh.

Behold! They come at a break-neck pace,

A smile triumphant illumes each face,

Queen of the Prussians, now for a race,

To Weimar for safety … fly!

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She turned, and her steed with a furious dash,

Over the field like the lightning’s flash –

Fled.

Away, like an arrow from steel cross-bow,

Over hill and dale in the sun’s fierce flow,

The Queen and her enemies thundering go,

On toward Weimar they sped.

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The royal courser is swift and brave,

And his royal rider he tries to save,

But, no!

“Vive l’Empereur!” rings sharp and clear;

She turns and is startled to see them so near,

Then softly speaks in her charger’s ear,

And away he bounds like a roe.

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He speeds as though on the wings of the wind,

The Queen’s pursuers are left behind,

No more

She fears, though each trooper grasps his reins,

Stands up in his stirrups, strikes spurs and strains;

For ride as they may, her steed still gains,

And Weimar is just before.

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Safe! The clatter now fainter grows,

She sees in the distance her labouring foes,

The gates of the fortress stand open wide

To welcome the German nation’s bride

So dear.

With gallop and dash, into Weimar she goes,

And the gates at once on her enemies close.

Give thanks, give thanks! She is safe with those

Who hail her with cheer on cheer!

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Jena

Battle of Jenaa

Robert Mack: “The Battle of Marengo, by Bonaparte”

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.

Had Napoleon lost the battle of Marengo, it is safe to say he never would have worn the crown of France.  A return to Paris, defeated in Italy, meant for him a forced retirement from the head of National affairs and the substitution of Carnot, or some other sturdy republican in his place.  With such a change, at that time, Waterloo, in all human probability would never have been fought, and “Napoleon at St. Helena” would never have become history.

The escape was a narrow one.  In the space of half an hour, what appeared to be a crushing defeat was turned into a glorious victory.  To Desaix’s opportune arrival upon the field and to Kellerman’s masterly cavalry charge, a great share of the glory of that day is due.  The victory won was decisive and the campaign ended, with the close of the battle.  Within two months after leaving Paris, Napoleon returned – again the savior of France.

The campaign of 1800 will ever be recorded as one of the most brilliant achievements in history, and the one which bore the mightiest results to the man who planned and carried it out to a successful issue.

marengo

Battaile de Marengo

by Louis Francois Lejeune

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The Battle of Marengo

By Napoleon

 

From flattering crowds, and laurel crowns,

To muse in thought profound,

An evening’s hour I sometimes seize,

And sigh beneath the Western breeze,

Which o’er these torn demolish’d trees,

Floats awfully around.

My friend, how mournful are these plains;

How deep the solemn silence reigns,

Where nature lately smil’d!

Yonder where tulips blooming stood,

And roses blush’d around;

Gaunt mastiffs gorge, on lapper’d blood,

All around for miles, tremendous ruin’s spread!

By whom? You’ll cry:

Heaven, I reply.

Melas and I.

Were but the instruments, by whom whole nations bled!

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Friend L, to you, on trembling wing,

The muse in shudd’ring tones shall sing,

Thalia’s self shall tell;

Shall paint that bloody scene, that dreadful sight,

Which stopp’d the songs in heaven, and turn’d the day to night,

And made a pause in hell!

Seraphs, from heaven’s high battlements,

Look’d down, and dropp’d a tear.

Wrap’d round with smoke, form’d gloom, the sun

Gleam’d with a blacken’d red!

While devils, thinking time was done,

That God, to finish had begun,

And the last hour at last was come,

Darted from earth, swift to their home,

And hid in hell for fear!

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When from the slumbers of the night,

At morning light I rose,

Seem’d kindling to a flame;

Impell’d by heaven, my horse I sprung,

And bounded to the plain.

Then what a sight my wondering eyes beheld!

Austria’s lesions tow’ring o’er the field!

Compact and strong,

The dreadful throng,

Mov’d firmly on;

As if to force the Gaulic lines, or storm the gates of Death!

If that’s your mind, exclaim’d my soul,

Hungary’s passing bell may toll,

For here in blood your chiefs shall roll,

And pant away their breath.

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Along Bormida’s broken hills,

Between the river and the north,

To keep our foes from marching forth,

Our army held its posts;

The spacious plain, that lay between

Those hills and deep Bormida’s stream,

Roar’d with the Austrian hosts.

One noble pass, nature had here supplied;

A smooth defile some hundred paces wide.

At all these posts our lines were thin,

For brave Desaix, with half the men,

Lay in reserve behind.

But seeing now, the hour was come,

When all was lost and all was won,

I cried, “Let swiftest couriers run,

And all our powers be joined.”

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Meantime, the Austrian phalanx form’d

In terrible array;

Proud Melas, in refulgent arms,

Rides through his host, their courage warms,

And cries “Behold the day:

Behold the day, by Heaven design’d,

To crush th’ oppressors of mankind!

Be men this day, and down the tyrant’s hurl’d.

This day, the Corsican comes down;

This day we ransom Capet’s Crown,

And peace restore unto a bleeding world!”

This said, to eighty thousand men,

The bloody word was given;

Whose dread reply embowell’d air,

Shook earth, and enter’d heaven!

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In haste, through Gallia’s lines I rode,

Along the dreadful van!

With military grandeur swell’d,

I scarcely felt as man!

To ardent warriors, loud I cried:

“Ye sons of France, ye heroes tried

Beneath the burning sun,

Who thrice have thunder’d down the Alps,

And Italy o’errun:

Ye shakers of Vienna’s wall!

To you, your former glory calls:

I’m too immense for faith, without renewed proof.

In thunder, then, convince the world,

Your standard over conquer’d Nile unfurl’d,

That mighty Charles and Wurmser overthrown,

Those proud defenders of a tyrant’s throne,

And Joseph hiring carts, to move his home,

Were but the opening wonders of your youth.”

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On this, the horrid scene began,

And the dread tempest fell:

Twas then, Marengo’s thunders roar’d,

Down to the gates of hell!

For three long hours, the flame, the roar,

The dying screams, the streams of gore,

Waited on death, triumphing o’er

The undecided field.

At length o’er Austria’s Eagles victory hung,

My unsupported legions were o’ercome –

And all the chance, seem’d now from France,

Either to die, or yield.

This helpless situation, flow’d

From my mistake alone;

For when I bid the trumpets sound,

I thought Desaix was  near;

When O, alas! Almost too late I found,

His legions lay full three leagues in the rear!

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Of all the dreadful hours I’ve seen,

Pregnant with nations’ fates,

The muse yet never witness’d one,

Like that she now relates?

On either hand, our wings were turn’d;

The centre only, stood;

Guarding the dread defile, which roll’d

With rivulets of blood!

Upon the right, a strange tremendous sound

Was heard, like thousands in despair:

Each, in a panic scream.

Not quite, but half, by thund’ring cannons drown’d,

It died away, along Bormida’s stream,

Like the dire wailings of the unhappy dead,

A sinking down to worlds unknown,

With terror, and with dread!

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Had Melas one decisive charge

Made through the hollow way,

Scarce heaven itself, could have retriev’d

The fortunes of the day.

But thinking all our powers were join’d,

Restrained by heaven or fear;

He sent his forces three miles round,

To take us in the rear.

Not knowing, all that stopp’d his progress then

Was barely just six thousand weary men!

On whom for fear, lest we should charge,

He made his cannon roar—

Vomiting death amongst our ranks,

Till down, around their gasping dead;

Flaoted the Gaulic gore!

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‘Twas in this dreadful hour, I rose

Above my former fame;

From friends, obtesting heaven, I would retire;

I broke, and brav’d the whole Austrian fire,

Across the bleeding plain.

From rank to rank, on every side I flew,

Serenely calm; “My friends,” I cried,

“Desaix is just in view.”

The bosom of the earth was tore

Beneath my courser’s feet –

Whole platoons dropp’d, amidst their gore –

The shiver’d trees, in fragments fell around,

And join’d the cumbrous carnage of the ground:

While horrid devastation rag’d  along,

And ruin seem’d complete!

At length like showers, to sun-burst flowers,

The great deliverers came;

Raging they broke, through fire and smoke,

And hillocks of the slain!

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Transported at the long wished aid,

My daring plans were in a moment laid.

The troops, I in a solid column form’d;

Resolv’d to send, down to the world beneath,

Thousands, to tell the Austrian lines were storm’d,

Or Bonaparte had resign’d his breath!

But one half hour, these grand arrangements took;

During which time, disgorging flame,

Red globes, and death, across the plain,

One hundred cannons, roar’d amain;

Till heaven and earth resounding run –

With the dire clamour shook!

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At length, prepar’d, the bleeding front,

To right and left I wheel’d;

And bade the column, form’d behind,

Rush thund’ring to the field.

The horrid pas de charge, at once was given,

Its tones re-murmur’d from the vault of heaven;

While like tremendous rolling flames,

By raging tempests driven,

The column in a torrent pour’d

On the Austrian host;

O’er bellowing cannons, and the dead;

O’er those that fought, and those that fled;

Like Aetna’s burning lava red,

Roaring, resistless, down it spread;

With bayonets plunge, down to Pluto’s dreary coasts

Thousands , who are now wandering there,

Pale, melancholy ghosts!

Thus ended this tremendous day

Of terrible renown;

‘T was thus, I snatch’d bright victorious prize,

Perhaps, the Imperial Crown,

But while we triumph, tears should pour,

For brave Desaix is gone:

As down upon the foes he bore,

Leading the van, thund’ring before,

Fate flew, and down amidst the gore,

He fell without a groan!

Hem’d round with glory, lo! He dies;

And worlds must do the same!

Even then, o’er nature’s smoking wreck,

Deathless, shall live the grandeur of his name,

Borne on Marengo’s dreadful sound

To everlasting fame.

LargeDeathofDesaixatMarengobyBroc.

Death of General Desaix

Jean Broc

Ferdinand Freiligrath: “The Hussar Horse”

Excerpt, “Poems from the German of Ferdinand Freiligrath.” Edited by his daughter. Kate Freiligrath. Leipzig: 1871.

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