Saturday, 27 August 2011

Napoleon and the British Sailor

With folded arms Napoleon stood,
Serene alike in peace and danger


The poem "Napoleon and the British Sailor" was apparently based on an actual event, or at least a story believed to be true by people on both sides of the English channel.

Such anecdotes about Napoleon were not uncommon in Britain throughout the nineteenth cenury.

Written by Thomas Campbell, a Scottish Poet (1777-1844), it was included in his The pilgrim of Glencoe: and other poems, which was published in 1842.

Campbell had Whig political connections. It is difficult to believe that any Tory would have written thus about the "Corsican Ogre".

The full poem follows:

I love contemplating, apart
From all his homicidal glory,
The traits that soften to our heart
Napoleon's story!

'Twas when his banners at Boulogne
Armed in our island every freeman,
His navy chanced to capture one
Poor British seaman.

They suffered him— I know not how—
Unprisoned on the shore to roam;
And aye was bent his longing brow
On England's home.

His eye, methinks, pursued the flight
Of birds to Britain half-way over
With envy, they could reach the white
Dear cliffs of Dover.

A stormy midnight watch, he thought,
Than this sojourn would have been dearer,
If but the storm his vessel brought
To England nearer.

At last, when care had banished sleep.
He saw one morning, dreaming, doating,
An empty hogshead from the deep
Come shoreward floating.

He hid it in a cave, and wrought
The livelong day laborious; lurking
Until he launch'd a tiny boat
By mighty working.

Heaven help us! 't was a thing beyond
Description wretched; such a wherry
Perhaps ne'er ventured on a pond
Or crossed a ferry.

For ploughing in the salt sea-field,
It would have made the boldest shudder;
Untarred, uncompassed, and unkeeled.
No sail, no rudder.

From neighboring woods he interlaced
His sorry skiff with wattled willows;
And thus equipped he would have passed
The foaming billows;

But Frenchmen caught him on the beach.
His little Argo sorely jeering;
Till tidings of him chanced to reach
Napoleon's hearing.

With folded arms Napoleon stood,
Serene alike in peace and danger;
And in his wonted attitude.
Addressed the stranger:—

"Rash man that wouldst you channel pass
On twigs and staves so rudely fashioned,
Thy heart with some sweet British lass
Must be impassioned."

"I have no sweetheart," said the lad;
"But, absent long from one another,
Great was the longing that I had
To see my mother."

"And so thou shalt," Napoleon said;
" Ye've both my favor fairly won;
A noble mother must have bred
So brave a son."

He gave the tar a piece of gold.
And with a flag of truce commanded
He should be shipped to England Old,
And safely landed.

Our sailor oft could scantly shift
To find a dinner plain and hearty;
But never changed the coin and gift
Of Bonaparte.