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.
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
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?
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?