Napoleon and British popular song, 1797-1822
Cox Jensen, Oskar
Existing studies of popular culture and popular politics in the long eighteenth century over-favour either the ‘culture’ or the ‘politics’. This thesis contributes to debates on the making of both national and class identity in Britain via intensive analysis of popular song culture, in the context of the Napoleonic Wars. Portrayals of Napoleon himself are used to shape the thesis’ source material and the forms of discussion. It argues for the necessity of sympathetic, informed contextualisation of political issues within contemporary cultural processes: that an understanding of the composition/production and performance/ consumption of song is a prerequisite of determining songs’ relevance and reception. In so doing, it uncovers a nuanced array of attitudes towards both Napoleon and British patriotism, of unsuspected breadth, assertiveness, and idiosyncrasy. The thesis is divided into two stages of argument. Part I consists of a close and contextualised reading of songs as literary and musical objects. Chapter One, after close historiographical engagement that moves to a focus on Colley’s Britons and revisionist arguments about British society, discusses those songs originating after Waterloo. Chapter Two considers songs from 1797-1805. Chapter Three considers songs from 1806-15. Part II builds upon the themes and conclusions of Part I by situating these songs within a lived context. Chapter Four looks at the role of songwriters and printers; Chapter Five at singers; Chapter Six at audiences and reception. Chapter Seven elaborates the overall argument in a synoptic case study of Newcastle. The conclusion is followed by an appendix, listing the songs most pertinent to the thesis, giving additional bibliographical information. A hard copy (USB) of recordings of a representative selection of these songs is also included. These appendices reinforce the thesis’ methodology: to consider songs, not as passive evidence of expression, but as active, dynamic objects.