INS: Journal Of Napoleonic Scholarship 1997

Between Emperor and Exile: Byron and Napoleon


John Clubbe
English Department, University of Kentucky


After having seen Napoleon begin like Tamerlane and end like Bajazet in our own time, we have not the same interest in what would otherwise have appeared important history.

Byron [1]

Napoleon and Byron together dominate nineteenth-century conceptions of the hero. Of the former, E. J. Hobsbawm has written: "The extraordinary power of the [Napoleonic] myth over post-Waterloo Europe can be adequately explained neither by Napoleonic victories nor by Napoleonic propaganda, nor even by Napoleon's own undoubted genius."[2] Hardly less extraordinary has been the enduring Byronic mystique: the poet looms over nineteenth-century European literature like a colossus. How one cultural myth relates to the other forms a large, complex, and immensely significant subject, one still very imperfectly understood. Fascination with Napoleon pervades Byron's writings and affected how he lived his life. Particularly during 1814-1816 he found himself obsessed with the huge shadow cast by the twice-fallen Emperor. I view Byron's response to Napoleon both in relation to a widespread cultural phenomenon and to his own personal trajectory. Indeed, Byron's accruing poetic power, I shall argue, was intricately bound up in his imaginative grappling with the potential, achievements, and failures of the little corporal.


Whereas the twentieth century regards Napoleon chiefly as a military and political figure, nineteenth-century intellectuals, closer in time, viewed him in a more encompassing philosophical framework. For them, Napoleon embodied the possibilities of the human spirit for good or for evil. For men of action, the example of Napoleon confirmed their belief that their ambition need not be bounded; for the oppressed and lowly, Napoleon represented the capacity of genius to rise magnificently from nothing to the heights of power. Even though Napoleon ended his days quietly in exile on St. Helena, most of his contemporaries considered him a hugely successful figure: a hero whom "every man who broke with tradition could identify himself with in his dreams."[3]

Napoleon left an ineradicable imprint upon nineteenth-century men of letters. Goethe, mesmerized by the Corsican as well as by Byron, thought Napoleon embodied "continual enlightenment" and in thinking about the daimonic accorded him central importance. Stendhal in his autobiographical Life of Henri Brûlard asserted that he "fell when Napoleon fell"; and in The Red and the Black Julien Sorel, worshipping Napoleon like a god, lived his version of the Napoleonic myth until his death. Balzac said he would finish with the pen what Napoleon had started with the sword, and he wrote two thousand pages a year for nineteen years to prove it. Grillparzer, self-described "enemy of the French," confessed that Napoleon fascinated him "with a magic power" and put him "under a spell as a snake does a bird." Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment enthusiastically identifies himself with Napoleon in his passionate longings for greatness, whereas in War and Peace Prince Andrei's ardor for Napoleon leads him to self-alienation. Even Nietzsche, for all his reservations, valued Napoleon's courage and viewed him as the one individual capable of bringing about European unity. Similarly, Beethoven, also battling his misgivings, could not expel Napoleon from his imagination. At first glance it might appear that the composer admired the republican Napoleon, inheritor of the French Revolution, and despised the royal Napoleon, emperor and despot. But in fact Beethoven's feelings, like Byron's, were ambivalent and fluctuated wildly over the years.

In England, a Napoleonic cult was extensive and ardent during the Emperor's lifetime. As E. Tangye Lean has compellingly demonstrated, Whigs of such diverse backgrounds and careers as John Cam Hobhouse, Samuel Whitbread, Lord and Lady Holland, Thomas Moore, Elizabeth Inchbald, William Hazlitt, and Capel Lofft, shared Byron's unabashed yet ambivalent admiration for the French Emperor. [4] This empathetic Whig involvement with Napoleon's fortunes no less than the European image of him as a dynamic man of destiny helps us put into perspective Byron's own self-identification.


Analogies between Napoleon and Byron range from the psychologically predictable to the curiously coincidental. Both Byron and Napoleon had begun as outsiders; both experienced a meteoric rise in early manhood; both suffered a catastrophic fall; both had to contemplate exile. As Napoleon had conquered most of Europe, so Byron's successive volumes of poetry had taken the literary world by storm. His poetic triumphs matched Napoleon's military ones, or so he liked to think, and in Don Juan he remembered his years in England as the time when he had reigned "the grand Napoleon of the realms of rhyme." [5] Both men manifested an extraordinary willingness to take risks, to play for high stakes; both revelled in the contradictions of their character. Both disliked systems and abhorred metaphysical speculation; both could stand apart from themselves and look upon their lives with detachment. Both emperor and poet radiated extraordinary energy and egoism.


Byron in his Albanian Costume (1814) by Thomas Phillips

Correspondences between Napoleon and Byron in private life and in personal traits are especially piquant. Both men could feel strong physical attraction for other men; both had a marked misogynistic streak. Both had sisters dearly beloved and a flawed first marriage. Both inspired exceptional loyalty among subordinates. Both were extremely superstitious; Byron, in fact, when he learned that Napoleon believed in presages, "delighted in the revelation." [6] Both read history by preference and liked to compare themselves with the great of the past, Napoleon with Alexander, Byron with figures from Diogenes to Rousseau, not forgetting the Emperor himself. Both had a keen eye for topography and landscape. "Bonaparte was a poet in action," said Chateaubriand [7]; to such a career of action Byron aspired, though not until 1823 and Greece did he come close. Both had a powerful physique, broad-chested and with large lungs; both had unusually quick rates of metabolism and were capable of great endurance. Such analogies could easily be extended. Though Byron may not have known of all the affinities and life-parallels he shared with Napoleon, he knew enough about the French Emperor that he could strongly identify with him.


Although Byron's serious poetic involvement with Napoleon began only in 1814, Napoleon had been the idol of his boyhood. The young Byron venerated the young general and first consul and followed with enthusiasm his tumultuous progress back and forth across Europe. At Harrow he defended his bust of Napoleon "against rascally time-servers" (BLJ 3: 21). This was in 1803, shortly after Britain had recommenced hostilities against Napoleon. Crossing Spain in 1809, Byron halted to ponder soberly the devastation wrought by "the Scourger of the world."[8] But he remained in thrall. Napoleon's reverses only cemented the bond. The disastrous Russian campaign of 1812 upset Byron greatly. When he learned that Stendhal had been in Russia with Napoleon, he plied him with questions so insistently about exactly what had happened that their conversation (Stendhal recalled) became a cross-examination. [9] In October 1813 Napoleon lost the "Battle of the Nations" at Leipzig. A month later, we find Byron writing in his journal, "Oh, my head--how it aches?--the horrors of digestion! I wonder how Buonaparte's dinner agrees with him?" (BLJ 3: 212). How indeed! Byron, to a degree difficult for us now to conceive, considered Napoleon his alter ego, his fate tied irrevocably to the Corsican's.

The journal he kept during the l813-1814 winter reveals Byron's tremendous agitation of mind in regard to the beleaguered Emperor. "Napoleon!--this week will decide his fate," he records on February 18. "All seems against him; but I believe and hope he will win" (BLJ 3: 243). Two weeks later he had framed his superb impression of Raphael Morghen's engraving of Gérard's portrait of Napoleon in his coronation robes and crowned with laurel. When the engraving came back, Byron deemed that "the Emperor becomes his robes as if he had been hatched in them" (BLJ 3: 248). [10]


Napoleon in His Coronation Robes (1805) by François Gérard

During February and March Napoleon fought desperately against the European powers combined to defeat him. In mid-February he won, against overwhelming odds, six battles in seven days. These months mark the high point of Byron's esteem. But at the end of March the allied armies entered Paris, and on April 6, l814, Napoleon was forced to renounce "the throne of the world."

The news of Napoleon's abdication and his agreeing to exile on Elba left Byron "utterly bewildered and confounded" (BLJ 3: 256). "His overthrow, from the beginning," he remembered in after years, "was a blow on the head to me" (BLJ 8: 166). His journal for April 1814 bears ample testimony to the mental anguish Napoleon's downfall caused him. It ceases abruptly with Lear's despairing cry, "`O fool! I shall go mad'" (BLJ 3: 257).

During the two years from April 1814 to March 1816, a time when the English and European political climate was fraught with speculation and anxiety, Byron responded to Napoleon with particular intensity. His eyes rivetted to events across the Channel, the poet "was so unstable as to be fair game for every kind of speculation. . . . Often we get the impression that he was mimicking Napoleon in adversity." [11] To control his overleaping thoughts, Byron set down five poems about the French Emperor. Beginning with "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte," the other poems are in order of composition "Napoleon's Farewell," "From the French," "Ode on the Star of 'The Legion of Honour,'" and "Ode (From the French)."


Napoleon at Fontainebleau after the first abdication 6 April 1814, by Paul Delaroche

Why during his last two years in England, arguably the most harried period of his life, did Byron write five poems on the twice-deposed and twice-exiled Napoleon? Surely this choice of subject matter begs for more explanation than it has received. [12] Together with the Waterloo stanzas of Childe Harold, which are their culmination and capstone, Byron's Napoleon poems demonstrate his extraordinary involvement with the fate of the French Emperor. Offering glimpses into Byron's complex psychology, the Napoleon poems limn the fundamental reconstitution of self that the poet underwent between Napoleon's first abdication in April 1814 and Byron's own decision, exactly two years later, to exile himself to the Continent. Only if we attempt to seize the hidden springs behind this extraordinary involvement with Napoleon will we begin to understand his many paradoxical, apparently contradictory, statements about the Emperor.

The Napoleon poems reveal Byron as a mythmaker compelled to recreate himself under various guises as the titanic figure whom he calls his "greatest man" (BLJ 9: 29). Napoleon is the human divinity--his "little pagod"--before whom, in effect, he pours his oblations and who, more than any other, controlled the rhythms of his life (ibid. 3: 256; cf. 4: 90). As a divinity, however, Napoleon increasingly failed Byron. When Byron turns upon him, which he often does, he in a real sense turns upon himself. So inextricably is Byron's sense of self intertwined with Napoleon that the Emperor's successive falls from power only tightened the bond between them.


Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte

The first fruit of Byron's poetic involvement with the Emperor, and perhaps the finest of his Napoleon poems, is "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte." Stunned on April 9 by the news that Napoleon had abdicated, Byron to calm himself set down the next day his thoughts on the now-fallen Emperor. He uses in his title the original spelling "Buonaparte," a spelling Napoleon had largely abandoned after his first campaign in Italy of 1796-1797 (he thought "Buonaparte" would help win the Italians to his banner). Orthodox Tories, who regarded Napoleon as a usurper, usually spoke of Napoleon as "Buonaparte." When Castlereagh or John Wilson Croker in his Quarterly Review essays did so, they wished to denigrate him by stressing his Italian origins. [13] The implication was that even in France he was an outsider. Byron, however, uses "Buonaparte" here for a reason exactly opposite: to indicate that his Napoleon, the true Napoleon, was not the backslider who compromised his belief in movements of national liberation, who signed the Concordat with the Pope, who crowned himself Emperor, and whose incessant campaigns caused enormous havoc and loss of life in Europe, but the young general filled with republican ideals who, militarily and politically, had liberated the Italian states. Odes usually eulogize their subjects, but "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte" by its title tells us that it will eulogize a lost Napoleon, a hero who has fallen from himself.

Byron appended to his Ode two epigraphs. The first, "Expende Annibalem:--quot libros duce sumno / Invenies?" derives from Juvenal's tenth Satire and may be translated, "Produce the urn that Hannibal contains / And weigh the mighty dust which yet remains; / and this is all". Dust is all that remains of Hannibal, and its weight is negligible: thus (implies Byron) the fame of conquerors. The second epigraph, from Gibbon's Decline and Fall, concerns the Emperor Nepos, who "by his shameful abdication . . . protracted his life a few years, in a very ambiguous state, between an emperor and an Exile, till -----." [14] By the words omitted--"he was assassinated"--Byron posits Napoleon's likely fate. In this poem, both epigraphs tell us, Byron intends to hold the Emperor to the highest standards of conduct.

By abdicating, however, Napoleon forsook both title and name: "Now thou art a nameless thing / So abject--yet alive" (stanza 1). Byron had long regarded Napoleon as above normal human failings. No man more than he was master of his destiny. But in abdicating he revealed himself no better than any other despot; in fact, his behavior was less impressive. In the Ode (and often in poems subsequent) Byron does not refer to Napoleon by name. Having abdicated, Napoleon has no name, and since his present status does not bear definition, the Emperor presents the poet with a paradox. As Simon Leys has put it, "Between the persona he had shed, and the one he had not yet created, he was no one."[15]

Although unworthy of a name and unworthy of being named, Napoleon needs to be placed in history. Byron assesses him against the past great. He begins with Satan: no one --"man nor fiend"-- since Lucifer "hath fall'n so far." Later characterized as "one who would soar the solar height" (stanza 11), Napoleon has fallen far because, like Lucifer, he had far to fall. For a being capable of such dereliction of duty, i.e., suicide, Byron finds, "thine only gift hath been the grave / To those that worshipp'd thee" (stanza 2) But Napoleon did not choose suicide and the glory of death. He chose instead the dishonor of exile, and for this failure of nerve the spell he placed "upon the minds of men / Breaks never to unite again" (stanza 3). Byron never quite forgave Napoleon his decision to live. [16] To him, it was a flagrant betrayal of trust, and for it he will flail Napoleon with Dantean intensity.

In "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte" Byron measures the fallen Emperor, now a nobody, against not only Satan but other fate-defiers, including Milo, the Greek wrestler who wedged his hands in an oak and, thus entrapped, became prey to wolves (stanza 6). [17] The Roman Sulla and the Hapsburg Charles V (stanzas 7 and 8) are there to teach Napoleon the lesson that you abdicate not when you have to, but before you have to, that is, at the height of your power. Sulla's "ability to divest himself of the thing `power,'" as Andrew Nicholson nicely puts it, "attested his inherent quality of power, his self-mastery." Similarly, Charles V resigned his "position without compulsion when... at the very height of [his] power. [18]" By contrast, only after he had lost his power did Napoleon abdicate.

Byron then addresses Napoleon directly and with passion: "All evil spirit as thou art / It is enough to grieve the heart" (stanza 9). These are the Ode's key lines--and the most heartfelt. Because his spirit was evil Napoleon quit too late. By not committing suicide and by continuing to live, he in effect foreclosed for now the possibility of revolution: "If thou hadst died as honour dies, / Some new Napoleon might arise" (stanza 11). As long as he is alive, no one will rise to carry the torch. Dire are the consequences for Europe.

Napoleon's abdication catalyzed into expression Byron's long-maturing thoughts about Prometheus. The Ode contains his first major reference to the Greek Titan who sacrificed himself for mankind's benefit. John Cam Hobhouse, fellow enthusiast for Napoleon as well as the poet's close friend, played a major role in leading Byron to envision the Emperor's fall in Promethean terms. Hobhouse recorded in his diary under March 10, 1814, that he had "finished yesterday the `Prometheus' of Aeschylus." [19] The evening of the 10th (the day Byron wrote "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte") and the two following Hobhouse spent in Byron's company and in all likelihood told his friend of his recent reading. Under the stimulus of Hobhouse's conversation, Byron almost certainly took up again the favorite of his schooldays.

At Harrow Prometheus Bound had been "one of the Greek plays we read thrice a year" (BLJ 5: 268). Byron had studied it intensely in the fifth form. It kindled his enthusiasm to the extent that, as he later recalled, his "first Harrow verses (that is English as exercises)" were "a translation of a Chorus from `the Prometheus' of Aeschylus" (BLJ 9: 43). The contrast Byron presents in this translation is that between a superior creature who lives by his own vision and those bound by conventional attitudes. The play he struggled through in Greek in school, and of which he translated a part, struck a chord deep in his innermost being, one that would resonate through the poetry of a lifetime. [20]

The Ode's sixteenth stanza, heavily revised, invites Napoleon to be Prometheus: "Wilt thou withstand the shock? / And share with him, the unforgiven, / His vulture and his rock!" (CPW 3: 264). This culminates the series of comparisons between the fallen Napoleon and past leaders who were as heroic in adversity as in triumph. So great was the renown in which the classical Titan was held, the mere measuring Napoleon against Prometheus honors the fallen Emperor. Even deposed, Napoleon was still Promethean--the best the modern world could offer. The magnitude of the man was inescapable. As mankind's modern champion, however, Napoleon was fatally flawed. Byron writes: "he in his fall preserv'd his pride, / And if a mortal, had as proudly died!" To the brute forces of oppression Prometheus had opposed his mind. He nobly accepted the fate to which the callings of his conscience had led him. But Napoleon?--Napoleon had not accepted his fate.

In comparing Napoleon with Prometheus, Byron ends his Ode on a note of climax. But the poet's mind continued to whirl. A few days later he wrote (at his publisher Murray's request) an additional stanza (present stanza 5), which appeared with the third edition, then three more, which, completed and sent on by April 25, appeared only in 1831. Although not published with the Ode and not, it seems, formally part of it, these "Additional Stanzas" no less than the Ode itself emerged out of Byron's crisis over Napoleon's abdication (CPW 3: 265-266, 456).

Byron, we remember, owned a "very fine impression" of Morghen's engraving of Gérard's painting of Napoleon in full imperial regalia. Six weeks before the abdication, the Emperor, Byron said, became "his robes as if he had been hatched in them" (BLJ 3: 248). In the second of the additional stanzas of the Ode he decries Napoleon for his "foolish robe": "Where is that faded garment?" he mocks; "where / The gewgaws thou wert fond to wear, / the star--the string--the crest?" Now that Napoleon has given up the throne, what can such trappings mean? "Forward child of empire," Byron reproaches his well-clad hero, "Are all thy playthings snatch'd away?"

In the last of the three stanzas Byron introduces Washington, "the Cincinnatus of the West." Leagued to the half-mythical Roman, Washington serves as a recent and even more compelling analogue than Prometheus. Washington astonished his European contemporaries, not for his generalship or his presidency, but because after the Revolution he renounced power and returned to his Virginia estates. To many Europeans he appeared, by this act, to have no rival in virtue. But though the American appealed to Byron's rational admiration, he did not capture the poet's imagination--at least not to the degree that did Prometheus or Napoleon.

Ironically, of Byron's several Napoleon poems only "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte"--which depicts the deposed Emperor largely in negative terms and which John Murray published at first anonymously--could appear bearing Byron's name on the title page (which with the 10th edition it did) without causing public outcry. [21]

On April 25th Byron dashed off a quatrain explicitly comparing Napoleon to Prometheus. Even more pointedly than the Ode, it expresses his disillusionment with the Emperor:

Unlike the offence, though like would be the fate,

His to give life, but thine to desolate;

He stole from Heaven the flame, for which he fell,

Whilst thine was stolen from thy native Hell.

(CPW 3: 269).

Paradoxically, Byron's violently turning against Napoleon indicates the depth of his attachment. Despite finding fault with him, Byron could not long hold an unflattering image of his hero. His obsession with Napoleon was in essence a lover's quarrel, one of many he had with his idol. Napoleon's failure to fulfill his destiny, in politics and as a human being, upset the poet so greatly that it forced him, over the next two years, to reassess his own destiny.

Napoleon, before undergoing major reverses, had a spectacular string of triumphs. They had dazzled the world, and they had dazzled Byron. Now the gods had turned their backs upon the Emperor. When in 1814 he went off to exile to Elba, no longer at the center of the world's stage, Europe watched entranced to see how Napoleon would cope.

For the next two years, beginning with the abdication in April 1814, Napoleon's crisis becomes Byron's crisis. His own fall from grace, Byron imagines, parallels that of the French Emperor. The irrational side of this self-identification beggars belief. "The illogical fascination exerted on Byron by Napoleon," G. Wilson Knight has rightly observed, surpasses "his reasoned admiration of a Washington or Bolivar."[22] "To understand Byron" in the years of Napoleon's collapse and exile, claims Knight," we must recognize that these great events were to him personal matters."


On February 26, 1815, Napoleon, with 1142 men in a little flotilla of four ships, slipped quietly away from Elba. Four days later he landed on the French mainland at Golfe Juan, near Cannes. "The eagle," he proclaimed, "will fly from steeple to steeple right to the towers of Notre-Dame." As he marched north through the French Alps with his tiny army, the royal troops blocking his advance or sent to stop him deserted to his banner. By March 20th, after a march of twenty days, Napoleon was in Paris, again master of France. The eagles indeed flew from Notre-Dame. From Elba to Paris in a bound: Napoleon had completed the most spectacular feat of a spectacular career.


This period medaillon celebrates the return of the Eagle "to the towers of Notre-Dame"

The news of Napoleon's escape moved Byron to ecstasy. His "little pagod" has risen and eluded his foes! Once again the eagles soared over France! To Hobhouse, when he heard Napoleon was in Paris, Byron exclaimed: "Buonaparte!!!--I marvel what next" (BLJ 4: 283). He was moved to "forgive the rogue for utterly falsifying every line of mine Ode [to Napoleon Buonaparte]... It is impossible not to be dazzled and overwhelmed by his character and career" (BLJ 4: 284).

On March 27 Byron penned a light-hearted squib of four lines, "On Napoleon's Escape from Elba," of which I quote the middle two: "Taking towns at his liking and crowns at his leisure / From Elba to Lyons and Paris he goes" (CPW 3: 288). Four days later, on April 1, Byron wrote Robert John Wilmot, "As I have not seen you since that happy event, I beg to congratulate you upon the resurrection of Bonaparte" (BLJ 13: 34). Two months later, on May 23, l815, he cast one of two votes in the Lords against outlawing Napoleon. [24] Parliament, however, voted to recognize as France's legitimate monarch the Bourbon Louis XVIII. The government took steps to unite a coalition of European states determined at all cost to oust Napoleon.

Return of Napoleon

Napoleon's soldiers welcome his return in 1815 as shown in this period medaillon

The Emperor, at the head of a new army, invaded the Low Countries early in June, and there at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, he met at the hands of the allied powers under Wellington a final defeat. The Hundred Days, which had begun so spectacularly, ended catastrophically. Byron heard of Waterloo on June 20 when a friend burst into his rooms at the Albany. "'My lord, my lord, a great battle has been fought in the Low Countries, and Bonaparte is entirely defeated.' 'But is it true?' said Lord Byron--'Is it true?' 'Yes, my lord, it is certainly true.'... After an instant's pause, Lord Byron replied, `I am d----d sorry for it.'"[25]

Napoleon's decision in 1814 to abdicate--and live--had stunned Byron. A year had passed, and it had been both personally and poetically a difficult one. Waterloo was soon followed, on June 22, by Napoleon's second abdication. Byron, who had coped badly with the first abdication, faced the same problem again, and no more in 1815 than in 1814 does he forgive Napoleon. First he retreats to his earlier response of contempt. "Napoleon would have ranked higher in future history," he comments, "had he . . . fallen on his sword, and finished his mortal career at Waterloo." [26] The sorry state of English affairs after Waterloo--a Tory backlash was in full swing--reduced him to despair. "Every hope of a republic is over," he exclaims, "and we must go on under the old system" (BLJ 4: 302). So despondent was Byron, Hobhouse found, that he "confesses he sometimes thinks that nothing is left for it but to follow Whitbread's example." [27] That example was suicide. Samuel Whitbread, a wealthy brewer who was Whig leader in the Commons and an ardent Napoleonist, had--a few days after Waterloo--taken his life.

The Emperor retreated to Malmaison, outside Paris, then fled to the Atlantic coast. But the British pressed their blockade tightly, and Napoleon, unwilling to run it and hoping for exile in Britain, decided to give himself up to the H.M.S. Bellerophon on July 15. Citing the example of Themistocles, he threw himself on the mercy of his former (but perhaps generous?) enemies. The Bellerophon took Napoleon and his small party of loyal officers to Torquay, then to Plymouth. While the British government pondered what to do with him, he remained on board ship, the object of tremendous curiosity to the local populace which, hoping for a glimpse of the great man, surrounded the Bellerophon with small craft.

On July 30 the British announced to Napoleon that he had been exiled to the island of St. Helena in the far-away South Atlantic. He would leave immediately. Despite his eloquent but unavailing protest, the Northumberland, a newer ship to which he had been transferred, set sail early in August 1815 and reached St. Helena in mid-October. There in his island exile Napoleon remained until his death six years later, assiduously guarded most of the time by his "turnkey," Sir Hudson Lowe. Every step of his progress and every incident of his life in exile was keenly studied by the British public and by no one more keenly than by Byron.

Byron had married Annabella Milbanke on January 1, l815. His married life began to unravel quickly, however. The latter months of 1815 were "dominated by money worries, drink, and threats of suicide."[28] In provoking Byron's agitated state, first Waterloo, then Napoleon's exile, played no small part.

Byron's agitation finds reflection in four new poems on Napoleon. All less well-known than "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte," these poems chart Byron's response over what appears, at least in hindsight, to have been crucial months. In fact, they turned out to be Byron's final months in England. Although "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte" has in recent decades garnered some critical attention, most writers on Byron totally ignore the four Napoleon poems of 1815-1816. Yet, despite their obscurity, they stand as landmarks in charting Byron's evolving self-identification with the Emperor. Unlike the more famous "Ode," they consistently laud Napoleon, and laud him in ways that we can only characterize as amazing.

"Napoleon's Farewell (From the French)"

Byron wrote the first of the four, "Napoleon's Farewell," on July 25, 1815; it was quickly taken up by Leigh Hunt for the Examiner of July 30. Though all but one of the four Napoleon poems have "From the French" in their title or subtitle, none is actually a translation: Byron wishes to obfuscate their authorship and mystify readers; he also wishes to have a little fun. Already, inevitably, hardly a month after Waterloo, Napoleon has returned to Byron's favor. On the verge of what everyone recognized as his final exile, the fallen Titan becomes, paradoxically, more crucial than ever to the poet's well-being. Byron needed Napoleon for the maintenance of his self-image. This is why he forgives the second abdication more quickly than the first: Napoleon is a man down, and down, it seems, for good. "Born for opposition" as he rightly claimed of himself, Byron sympathized with underdogs.

"Napoleon's Farewell" reveals the poet as ventriloquist: he imagines himself to be the deposed Emperor bidding farewell to his native land. In Don Juan, written years later, Byron would call this quality of putting oneself in another's place, of adopting different roles as occasion demands, "mobilité." [29] Looking back on the France he has raised to "Glory," Napoleon concedes that his ambition was unquenchable and excessive: "I have warred with a world which vanquished me only / When the meteor of Conquest allured me too far." Now his country's "weakness decrees I should leave as I found thee / Decayed in thy glory, and sunk in thy worth." France has abandoned him; he has abandoned France. He longingly recalls the veterans who gave their lives so that he might triumph: "Then the Eagle, whose gaze in that moment was blasted, / Had still soared with eyes fixed on victory's sun!" (stanza 2; CPW 3: 313-314).

Bonapartes Farewell

A Civil War era copy of Napoleon's Farewell, with an altered title. Both Byron and Napoleon were popular in America

Although the chain linking him to France is now broken, the final act in the Saga of Napoleon has not yet been written. Napoleon remains his country's chosen "Chief" who incarnates (in his being if not in reality) political freedom. If "Liberty rallies / Once more in thy region," he is ready to return. He may yet "baffle the hosts that surround us." "There are links which must break in the chain that has bound us" (stanza 3). Making its first appearance here in the penultimate line of "Napoleon's Farewell," the chain will become a dominant metaphor in Childe Harold 3, The Prisoner of Chillon, and Manfred. The poem's final line ("Then turn thee and call on the Chief of thy choice!") was one that Byron remembered, as we shall see, when in 1816 he republished the poem.

On July 29, following up "Napoleon's Farewell" with a letter, Byron denounces the restoration of "legitimacy" in France, the inability of the Bourbon Louis XVIII to govern, and, most viciously, the treachery of the turncoat Talleyrand. [30] Clearly on Napoleon he had not had his final say.

"From the French"

"From the French," another exercise in ventriloquism of a few weeks later, reveals Byron in the unlikeliest of roles: that of a faithful subordinate of unquestioning loyalty who contemplates his master's exile with despair. Napoleon, informed that St. Helena was to be his destination, was allowed by the British government to be accompanied by only three officers. The farewell between Napoleon and his little band was emotional. Byron's headnote describes the scene:

All wept, but particularly Savary, and a Polish officer who had been exalted from the ranks by Bonaparte. He clung to his master's knees: wrote a letter to Lord Keith, entreating permission to accompany him, even in the most menial capacity, which could not be admitted. [31]

What amazed the British was that those who wept the most were those who could not accompany their Emperor into exile. Byron begins his poem by depicting the grief felt by Napoleon's die-hard supporters.

Must thou go, my glorious Chief,

Severed from thy faithful few?

Who can tell thy warrior's grief

Maddening o'er that long adieu?

Woman's love, and friendship's zeal,

Dear as both have been to me--

What are they to all I feel,

With a soldier's faith for thee?

(CPW 3: 314-315)

By putting the poem in the mouth of an officer loyal to Napoleon, one who stood by him through all his campaigns, Byron underscores how completely he had immersed himself in the Napoleonic ethos.

The lines also indicate how crucial to Byron was his relationship to Napoleon: at some profound psychological level it meant more to him than anything or anyone else. The man who wrote this poem had Morghen's engraving of Napoleon hanging in his rooms, recorded in his journal every fluctuation of Napoleon's fortunes, cherished every memento of Napoleon he could lay hands on, and within a few months will leave England in a carriage modelled exactly upon the one Napoleon had abandoned at Waterloo. Although Byron certainly enjoys "Woman's love" and values "friendship's zeal," at some deep emotional level he lived in a world of myth--Napoleonic myth. Napoleon's career had early kindled his reverence for human potential. Now through a leap of the "soldier's faith," the narrator subsumes his own being to achieve oneness with the elusive spirit of grandeur that Napoleon exemplifies and embodies. Only Napoleon could encompass the autobiographical myth of human greatness that looms so large in Byron's mind. Although in exile, the Emperor remains the "Idol of the soldier's soul! / First in fight, but mightiest now" (stanza 2). "Mightiest" now--in exile, in bondage, powerless! This is surely the most astonishing of Byron's many astonishing comments on Napoleon.

In 1816, as Byron contemplates his own exile, "mightiest now" would take on even greater significance. The Emperor's crash and subsequent exile would appear to Byron to bear remarkable similarities to his own fall from grace. So thoroughly did he identify his fate with Napoleon's that in order to achieve a full Napoleonic apotheosis he felt he had to exile himself from England. In his Napoleonic poems Byron repeatedly imagines himself as Napoleon going into exile; in effect he experiences before undergoing it his own exile. When the moment of departure came in April 1816, his exile had become as necessary and inevitable to him as Napoleon's.

The following lines--"Many could a world control; / Thee alone no doom can bow" (stanza 2)--capture the essence of Byron's response to Napoleon, for here Napoleon fulfills his destiny, if only in this poem, as the modern Prometheus. Before the Emperor, even the fabled Titan had to pale. Ignoring his earlier disappointments with Napoleon, Byron creates a myth of greatness in which Napoleon stands alone.

Much pondered because much revised, the poem's fifth and final stanza completes Byron's acceptance of his Napoleonic destiny:

My chief, my king, my friend, adieu!

Never did I droop before;

Never to my sovereign sue,

As his foes I now implore:

All I ask is to divide

Every peril he must brave;

Sharing by the hero's side

His fall, his exile, and his grave.[32]

Barely disguised by his persona, Byron speaks directly of his admiration for "my chief, my king, my friend." Those who fell in battle for Napoleon merit envy for they do not have to undergo misery living apart from their hero.

Expressing no reservations about Napoleon's career or character, "From the French" in its unambiguous vision of unswerving devotion to an ideal exhibits the attitude toward Napoleon Byron was happiest with, the one he wished desperately to maintain, and the one his natural skepticism usually rejected. Of all the Napoleon poems, "From the French" is the most undivided in its stance of loyalty, the most self-immolating in expressing the wish to die for the Emperor or share his exile. The persona speaks in a voice that, if not Byron's in fact, is Byron's in spirit. The poet did not publish "From the French" until the spring of 1816, for only then did the situation it depicts--Napoleon going into his final exile--become his own.

"Ode on the Star of `The Legion of Honour'"

The year 1815 witnessed still another wildly pro-Napoleon poem from Byron, "Ode on the Star of `The Legion of Honour.'" [33] It too bore (inevitably, it might seem) the subtitle "From the French." Napoleon had instituted the order of the Legion of Honor in 1802. Unlike decorations offered by the ancien regime, the Legion of Honor existed (and exists) to single out individuals of exceptional merit (usually, in Napoleonic France, exceptional bravery on the battlefield). The medal is in the form of a star; at the center is a portrait of the Emperor, from which the star's points radiate. Behind the star appears a laurel wreath; above it, a crown. [34]

In his poem Byron treats the Star of the Legion of Honour symbolically. Once a living symbol of freedom, it has now, with Napoleon's departure, left the earth to dazzle, elusively, from on high:

Star of the brave!--whose beam hath shed

Such glory o'er the quick and dead--

Thou radiant and adored deceit!

Which millions rushed in arms to greet,--

Wild meteor of immortal birth!

Why rise in Heaven to set on Earth?

The star's "light broke on human eyes, / Like a Volcano of the skies," that is, like a celestial French Revolution. Inspired by the Revolution, enlightened mankind "swept down empires with its flood" (CPW 3: 317).

For Byron and his fellow Napoleonists, if not for England's Tory leaders, Napoleon in the years after the Revolution kept aloft the torch of freedom. Now he has fallen. Human means to restore the freedom of nations having failed, Byron turns to the natural world to fulfill his hopes for political revolution. He hurls forces of apocalyptic destruction upon the British-backed European monarchs restored after Waterloo. The star becomes a boiling flow of lava that Byron compares, ominously, to a "stream of blood." For one glorious moment the star's light eclipses the sun's despotism. In a voice of intense feeling Byron envisions a tricolor rainbow:

Of three bright colours, each divine,

And fit for that celestial sign;

For Freedom's hand had blended them,

Like tints in an immortal gem....

The three so mingled did beseem

The texture of a heavenly dream.

(CPW 3: 317-318)

Addressed as "thou Rainbow of the free," the star's reappearance heralds the reemergence over Europe of the spirit of liberty. In 1815, however, its "ray is pale, / And darkness must again prevail!" Depression settles over those who for so long and against such great odds have hoped for freedom's triumph: "When thy bright promise fades away, / Our life is but a load of clay" (ibid., p. 318). The poem ends quietly with the wish that we may be "for evermore with them [the dead, that is, those who fought and died with Napoleon] or thee [the light of liberty]!" Though offering little hope for immediate amelioration in the European political scene, "Ode on the Star of `The Legion of Honour'" yet looks to a distant future when human beings may again have occasion to sacrifice themselves for freedom.

Six months after Byron wrote the Ode, Leigh Hunt published it anonymously in the Examiner for April 7, 1816. Three weeks later Byron left England forever. Obviously, by resurrecting his poem when he did, Byron intended it as another salvo in his campaign of defiance against the Tory political regime he abhorred and the society he felt had rejected him. The Ode implies "more than [an] impartial observer of the late period might feel," Hunt remarks, and is "written rather as by [a] Frenchman than [an] Englishman." Despite Hunt's coy disclaimer, many immediately recognized Byron as the author. Hunt, who found the poem "spirited," largely but not entirely shared Byron's perspective on Napoleon. "Your picture of what he might have been, it is almost too painful to contemplate, "he had written the poet in April 1814, "never had men such opportunities of true glory, or so wantonly thrown them away."[37]

"Ode (From the French)"

In the Examiner's lead article of January 28, 1816, Hunt spoke of a "dearth of talent" in Parliament. He hailed Byron as a young man "of acknowledged genius, and with a keen sight in particular for human nature." "How is it that he does not speak oftener," he asks, "and make the country sensible of his parliamentary as well as poetical existence?" Is not Byron among those "likely to take a prominent part against the present facetious ministers"? [38] In fact, with Lady Byron away in January, the poet may once again have considered a parliamentary role. Parliament opened on February 1, but on the 2nd Byron learned that his wife wished a separation. He was caught by surprise. The news stunned him.

"I was struck ... with a wildness in his eyes," wrote his half-sister Augusta Leigh this January to Lady Byron. His wife and child gone, his hero in faraway exile, rumors swirling around London about his relationship with Augusta, debts piling up, bailiffs in attendance in his rented mansion, Byron in these months underwent the dark night of his soul. With mental distress returned Napoleonic delusions of grandeur, delusions even grander than before. Augusta wondered if he were mad, and recorded him saying that he considered himself "the greatest man existing." When his cousin George Byron interjected, laughing, "Except Bonaparte!" Byron replied, "God! I don't know that I do except even him!"[39]

In whatever tone--humorous, ironic, even serious--we hear these words, they inform us that Byron's domestic crisis had brought out, once again, the inevitable comparison of himself to Napoleon. Soon, with an inevitability almost equal, Byron felt compelled to dash off a new poem on his hero.

"Ode (From the French)" appeared anonymously in James Perry's Morning Chronicle, a Whig organ supportive of Byron, on March 15, 1816. "If you dare publish the enclosed," Byron wrote Perry on February 26, "print it as a translation from some recent French poetry... It would not be bad fun," he added mischievously, "to call it Chateaubriand's."[40] This Perry did. Virtually on the day the allied armies first entered Paris, March 30, 1814, Chateaubriand, once an avid Napoleonist, published a pamphlet defending the Bourbons.(41) With his wry attribution of the poem to the turncoat Frenchman, Byron marks his contempt, as he would later in Don Juan's Dedication to Southey, of those who flipflopped for personal gain. Nonetheless, despite the Chateaubriand attribution, attentive readers immediately recognized the poem as Byron's. The longest and most vitriolic of the Napoleon poems, "Ode (From the French)" leaves no doubt where the poet stands politically.

After hailing the dissemination of freedom, the Ode insists upon its ultimate triumph. Purportedly mouthed by a French radical, the sentiments are yet clearly Byron's. The powerful first verse paragraph, its movement propelled by irregular tetrameter lines, prophesies political apocalypse: Waterloo becomes the necessary prelude to a final, bloody overthrow of tyrants everywhere:

We do not curse thee, Waterloo!

Though Freedom's blood thy plain bedew;

There 'twas shed, but is not sunk--

Rising from each gory trunk.

Like the Water-spout from ocean,

With a strong and growing motion--

It [Freedom's blood] soars and mingles in the air, ...

A crimson cloud it spreads and glows,

But shall return to whence it rose;

When 'tis full 'twill burst asunder--

Never yet was heard such thunder.

As then shall shake the world with wonder.

(CPW 3: 375-376)

Enshrined as a "crimson cloud," Waterloo's bloodshed will return to wreak vengeance on those who have domineered over the people; the stored thunder, unleashed, will destroy the tyrannical monarchs. Erupting volcanoes and bloody rivers, already present in "Ode on the Star of `The Legion of Honour,'" reappear here, as Byron, to confirm Waterloo's legacy, appeals in lines 18-21 to apocalyptic Scripture:

Like the Wormwood Star foretold

By the sainted Seer of old,

Show'ring down a fiery flood,

Turning rivers into blood.(42)

It was not English and allied armies that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo:

The Chief has fallen, but not by you,

Vanquishers of Waterloo!

When the soldier citizen

Swayed not o'er his fellow-men--

Save in deeds that led them on.

Where Glory smiled on Freedom's son--

Who, of all the despots banded,

With that youthful chief competed?

Who could boast o'er France defeated,

Till lone Tyranny commanded?

Rather, Napoleon lost because he no longer responded to the thrust that had earlier had made him a symbol of national liberation. While he embodied natural forces that expressed the people's will, no power, Byron feels, could have brought him down. Defeat came, inevitably, when "goaded by ambition's sting, / The Hero sunk into the King" (ll. 32-33). As long as Napoleon was "Freedom's son," he conquered; after he succumbed to "lone Tyranny," the misanthropic solitude of being Emperor, he fell. His fall, like Jupiter's in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, was inevitable. Despotism in Byron, as in Shelley (and Blake), isolates human beings from the human community.

When in the Ode Byron writes that "France hath twice too well been taught / The 'moral lesson' dearly bought," he deliberately alludes to a line near the end of Walter Scott's poem, The Field of Waterloo: "Write, Britain, write the moral lesson down." [43] For Scott, Britain's victory at Waterloo and its chief consequence--the restoration of legitimate monarchs in the European states formerly controlled by Napoleon--signifies to the world a "moral lesson." Byron agrees with Scott that Waterloo signifies a lesson, but he reads it differently. For Scott, Waterloo rightly restored legitimate monarchs. For Byron, the "moral lesson" consists "in equal rights and laws, / Hearts and hands in one great cause." The victory, in his view, came at a high price. France's "safety sits not on a throne, / With Capet [i.e., the established monarch, now the newly-restored Bourbon Louis XVIII] or Napoleon!" One whose goal is "Freedom, such as God hath given / Unto all beneath his heaven, / With their breath, and from their birth," Byron here proclaims himself a fervent republican. Never shall Freedom "want an heir," he insists, for "millions breathe but to inherit / Her for ever bounding spirit." Undaunted by Napoleon's departure, Freedom's hosts will eventually reassemble. A new "son of Freedom" will arise, possibly (the poet may have wished readers to surmise) Byron himself. [44] Napoleon deposed, the "son" will outdo the "father" by leading to victory the faithful soldiers of Liberty: "Tyrants shall believe and tremble-- / Smile they at this idle threat? / Crimson tears will follow yet."

"Ode (From the French)" has been called, not unjustly, "lurid and outrageous." [45] But the poem expresses Byron's deepest political commitment, one for which he will give his life: he intends to fight, by word or (if occasion arose) by deed, for freedom in every land oppressed by tyranny. The allies redrew the map of Europe without concern for the aspirations of peoples or of national groups. As liberation movements sprang up after Waterloo, Byron remembered his prediction when in 1820 he heard that the ultraroyalist Duc de Berry had been assassinated. Son of the Comte d'Artois and heir to the throne of France, the Duc de Berri had a military cast of mind and, in 1814-1815, tried to emulate Napoleon by striving (unsuccessfully) to win over the former imperial regiments. The news of his death in 1820 led Byron to write gloatingly to his Tory publisher Murray; "Look at the Conclusion of my Ode on Waterloo, and tell me if I have not as good a right to the character of `Vates'" (BLJ 7: 84).


The four Napoleon poems of 1815-1816--"Napoleon's Farewell," "From the French," "Ode on the Star of `The Legion of Honour,'" and "Ode (From the French)"--appeared together late in May 1816 in a slim volume of thirty-nine pages entitled simply Poems. [46] The volume is hardly known, even to Byronists. Scholars, when they consider it, focus on "Fare Thee Well," Byron's anguished cri de coeur to his wife. Left virtually untouched are the puzzling but powerful Napoleon poems. In bringing them together, Byron offers as blunt and uncompromising a political credo as Shelley would three years later in his attacks on the Tories for Peterloo.

The decision to publish Poems cannot have been an easy one. Newspapers had been reprinting Byron's work without authorization and spurious productions by a motley host of scribblers deluged the market. John Murray, though no friend to Byron's radical politics, rightly saw the need for an authentic edition of the poet's recent utterances.

Poems bears Byron's name on the title page; the preface, unsigned but by Byron's friend, John Cam Hobhouse, states that the poems were being republished because newspapers had already given them wide circulation. Although Byron had qualms about issuing in volume form his intimate and openly pro-Napoleon poems, he had before he left England delegated to Hobhouse authority to make the final decision. Hobhouse had reservations about "Fare Thee Well" only; about the Napoleon poems he, along with Lord Holland and Samuel Rogers whom he consulted, had none at all. With their concurrence, Hobhouse decided to publish Poems. [47] Although perceptive contemporaries, like Walter Scott and John Scott, editor of the Champion, picked up on Byron's new outspokenness in deliberately reuniting his Napoleon poems, modern observers, surprisingly, have not.

The four Napoleon poems in Poems are Byron's chief response to the campaign of defamation mounted against him. In them Byron publicly avows his radical sentiments, repudiates Tory policies at home and abroad, and identifies himself wholeheartedly with Napoleon. By publishing these poems, he deliberately distances himself from the English society and, as had his hero in 1814 and 1815, departs his native land. Although an exile by his own choosing, Byron views Napoleon's banishment to St. Helena as emblematic of his own fate.

Despite the poet's absence from England, Poems evinces such clear signs of care in the organization of its contents that we must conclude that, before leaving for the Continent, Byron almost certainly arranged the poems in the sequence we find them. They focus on three figures: Augusta, Annabella, and Napoleon. Five lyrics on love open the volume, the first and last addressed to Augusta, who is unnamed. Following them is "Fare Thee Well," addressed to his wife, an account of a marriage gone awry, its trust shattered and turned to hatred. Concluding the volume are the four Napoleon poems, brought together and set against each other. One of the most astonishing sequences in English Romantic literature, they too are love poems of a kind. They appear, not in the order Byron wrote them ("Napoleon's Farewell," "From the French," "Ode on the Star of `the Legion of Honour,'" and "Ode [From the French]," but in a new--and highly significant--order: "Ode (From the French)," "From the French," "Ode on the Star of `The Legion of Honour,'" and, as a climax, "Napoleon's Farewell." This order reveals deliberate intent on Byron's part.

Let us examine only "Napoleon's Farewell." That Byron closes the volume with its final stanza cannot be accidental:

Farewell to thee, France!--but when Liberty rallies

Once more in thy regions, remember me then . . .

Yet, yet, I may baffle the hosts that surround us,

And yet may thy heart leap awake to my voice--

There are links which must break in the chain that has bound us,

Then turn thee and call on the Chief of thy choice!

(CPW 3: 313)

Consider the effect--one surely intended by Byron--if, in the first line, we mentally replace "France" with "England." "Farewell to thee, England!" indicates that Byron felt in a subconscious and deeply meaningful way that Napoleon's exile from France anticipated, even made inevitable, his own exile from England. It charges the final stanza with a meaning and appropriateness it did not have, and could not have had, in 1815. "Napoleon's Farewell," so considered, becomes as much Byron's farewell, his parting shot from an exile also outre-mer. The poem also implies that Byron expected England one day to call on him, "the Chief of her choice," as Napoleon had been France's, to return and guide her destinies.

The four Napoleon poems, with their open avowal of radical politics, embody that symbiotic union of personal and political that for Byron in European exile becomes the heartland of his creativity. With his name on the title-page and its contents openly acknowledged and arranged by Byron, Poems declares in effect that in verse as in life the days of Byronic reticence and disguise have passed. The decision to publish these four poems together a month after he left England constitutes a parting gesture of defiance against his political enemies. Further, Byron's willingness to express himself forthrightly about Napoleon under his own name anticipates his decision early in the third canto of Childe Harold (begun in late April, 1816) to speak, not as Harold, but as himself. From now on the poet will utter his thoughts about Napoleon and about politics without reserve, without using a persona--and without pretending they are "From the French."


  1. Byron's Letters and Journals, edited by Leslie A. Marchand, 13 vols. (London: John Murray, 1973-1982, 1995) 9: 155. Hereafter BLJ.
  2. The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962), p. 97.
  3. Ibid., p. 98.
  4. The Napoleonists: A Study in Political Disaffection 1760-1960 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970).
  5. Canto 11, stanza 55. Cited from Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works, edited by Jerome J. McGann, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, l980-1993) 5: 482. Hereafter cited parenthetically as CPW.
  6. His Very Self and Voice: Collected Conversations of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest J. Lovell, Jr. (New York: Macmillan, 1954), p. 208. Recorded by the Countess Isabella Albrizzi in the winter of 1816-1817.
  7. The Mind of Napoleon, ed. J. Christopher Herold (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1955), p. xxxiv.
  8. Childe Harold, canto 1, stanza 52 (CPW 2: 29).
  9. His Very Self and Voice, ed. Lovell, pp. 198, 200.
  10. Byron probably also saw David and Lefebvre's portrait of Napoleon, on public exhibit in London for six months in 1814 (Lean, The Napoleonists, p. 63).
  11. Lean, The Napoleonists, p. 82.
  12. For earlier studies of Byron's politics and his response to Napoleon, see my bibliographical essay on Byron in The English Romantic Poets: A Review of Research, edited by Frank Jordan (New York: Modern Language Association, 1985), especially pp. 566-568. To the works discussed there, I add Malcolm Kelsall's seminal study, Byron's Politics (Sussex: Harvester, 1987), and his "The Hundred Days and Revolution's Principles," in Tropes of Revolution: Writers' Reactions to Real and Imagined Revolutions, edited By C. C. Barfoot and Theo d'Haen (Amsterdam / Atlanta, Ga. : Editions Rodopi, l991), pp. 114-126. Kelsall's revisionary studies present a more tergiversatory Byron--one even capable of "moral cowardice"--than the one found here.
  13. Any Englishman of this time who like Byron referred to Napoleon Bonaparte as "Emperor" or even as "Napoleon" (Byron rarely uses "Bonaparte") made a political statement. For Radicals like Leigh Hunt, Hobhouse, and Byron, Napoleon was a legitimate monarch because (unlike the Bourbons) the people had crowned him. Thus it was usually "Napoleon" or "the Emperor." On St. Helena, where between Sir Hudson Lowe and the French names and titles were in constant dispute, the British government stipulated that Napoleon be called "General Bonaparte."
  14. Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chapter 36. Like Gibbon, Juvenal was one of Byron's favorite authors.
  15. The Death of Napoleon (1991; London: Picador, 1993), p. 9.
  16. Actually, though Byron probably never knew of it, Napoleon attempted suicide at Fontainebleau the night of April 12-13, 1814. After the disaster in Russia he carried a suicide pill around his neck. But when on April 12th when he took it, the pill instead of killing him produced only spasms and nausea, and Napoleon did not try again. "He is deserted by all, and called a craven for not putting an end to his degraded existence," wrote Hobhouse to Byron from Paris on April 20; "Berthier [Napoleon's chief of staff] has repeatedly left pistols and poisons on his table . . . " (Peter W. Graham, Byron's Bulldog: The Letters of John Cam Hobhouse to Lord Byron [Columbus: Ohio State UP, l984], p. 122). Though rumors of Napoleon's attempted suicide swirled at the time, it is Caulaincourt, whose Mémoires were not published until l933, to whom we owe the details of Napoleon's attempt (Mémoires du Général de Caulaincourt, 3 vols., introduction et notes de Jean Hanoteau [Paris: Plon, 1933], tome 3, chap. IX). For a brief consideration of Napoleon's suicide attempt, about which doubts exist, see Jean Tulard, Napoléon, ou le mythe du sauveur (Paris: Fayard, l987), pp. 419, 424. Napoleon himself after his botched attempt at suicide at Fontainebleau in April 1814 tended to dismiss thoughts of suicide. "Quelque chose qui arrive, je n'avancerai pas la destinée d'une heure," Hobhouse has him saying (Substance of Some Letters written . . . during the Last Reign of Napoleon [Philadelphia: M. Thomas, 1816], p. 348). Yet the news (received on July 30, 1815) that he was to be deported to St. Helena revived his thoughts of suicide. Barry O'Meara, Napoleon's physician on the island, records Napoleon's view: "My own opinion is, that I ought to have died at Waterloo; perhaps a little earlier. . . j'aurais du mourir à Waterloo" (Napoleon in Exile; or, A Voice from St. Helena 4th ed. [London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, l822] 2: 107). But dying is not the same as suicide. Napoleon on several occasions expressed to O'Meara his disapproval of suicide, e.g., "a man shews more real courage in supporting and resisting the calamities and misfortunes which befal him than by making away with himself. . ." (I, 54; cf. 131).
  17. Byron's journal under 8 April 1819 contains the comparison in embryo (BLJ 3: 256).
  18. "Form and Content in Byron's Poetry and Prose," The Byron Journal 13 (1985), pp. 57, 53.
  19. Lord Broughton (John Cam Hobhouse), Recollections of a Long Life, 6 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1909-1911), 1: 94, 98.
  20. The 1816 sale catalogue of Byron's library indicates that he owned at this time two copies of Aeschylus in Greek: a two-volume 1806 Glasgow imprint of Porson's edition, and Schutz's edition published at Halle in 1798 (William H. Marshall, "The Catalogue for the Sale of Byron's Books," The Library Chronicle [University of Pennsylvania], 34 [Winter 1968], 35). Byron told Medwin in 1821 or 1822 that he had not read the play since Harrow, but the parallels between it and his Ode, written less than a month after Hobhouse had finished his reading of Prometheus Bound, are sufficiently precise that we may assume Byron's renewed familiarity with it. For a comprehensive study of the Prometheus myth in Byron, see my "`The New Prometheus of New Men': Byron's 1816 Poems and Manfred," in Nineteenth-Century Literary Perspectives, ed. Clyde de L. Ryals, John Clubbe, and B. F. Fisher IV (Durham: Duke University Press, l974), pp. 17-47.
  21. The Ode bore Byron's name only in the tenth edition. It ran through ten editions in 1814, fourteen in all.
  22. Lord Byron: Christian Virtues (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), p. 225.
  23. Lord Byron's Marriage: The Evidence of Asterisks (New York: Macmillan, 1957), p. 251.
  24. Lean, The Napoleonists, p. 261.
  25. Life, Letters, and Journals of George Ticknor (1876; Boston: James R. Osgood, 1878) 1: 60. De Quincey's "The English Mail Coach" captures the excitement in England when people first heard the news--"Waterloo and Recovered Christendom!"
  26. Isaac Nathan, Fugitive Pieces and Reminiscences of Lord Byron (London: Whittaker, Treacher, 1829), p. 40. Byron compared Napoleon to Saul on Mount Gilboa and to "a second Cato, fallen on his sword" (ibid.).
  27. Recollections, I, 322. July 31, 1815.
  28. G. Wilson Knight, Lord Byron's Marriage, p. 264. Cf. Lean, The Napoleonists, p. 265.
  29. Don Juan, canto 16, stanza 97 and Byron's note, where "mobility" is defined as "an excessive susceptibility of immediate impressions" made upon the individual by other persons (CPW 5: 649, 769).
  30. Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero, 6 vols. (London: John Murray, 1898-l901) 3: 209. This letter, presumably to a newspaper, Byron never sent.
  31. CPW 3: 314. McGann places "From the French"'s time of composition between "May and Sept. 1814" (CPW 3: 474). "l814" is a typo for "l815." But since Napoleon bade farewell to his officers on board the Bellerophon on August 6th, just before transferring to the Northumberland, Byron most likely wrote his poem shortly afterwards. The headnote is probably from a contemporary newspaper. Lord Keith was the British government's intermediary with Napoleon over his being exiled to St. Helena; Savary, after a military and diplomatic career, succeeded Fouché as Minister of Police, serving from June 1810 to April 1814. Maladroit and brutal, he made Napoleon's subjects regret Fouché; blindly loyal, he tried to accompany Napoleon to St. Helena but was arrested on board the Bellerophon and sent to Malta. Piontkowski, the unnamed Polish officer referred to, eventually showed up under mysterious circumstances on St. Helena in December 1815. A dubious character, trusted by no one including Napoleon, this adventurer was asked by Lowe to leave the island on October 1816. Byron learned of the devotion of Napoleon's subordinates (and much else) from Hobhouse's letters from Paris, for which see Substance of Some Letters, Graham's Byron's Bulldog, and Malcolm Kelsall's article, "The Hundred Days and Revolution's Principles," all previously cited.
  32. Even more abject in self-prostration before Napoleon is an earlier version, "Late his soldier <as> now his slave" (CPW 3: 316).
  33. CPW 3: 474-475. McGann thinks the poem most likely written in September 1815 (CPW 3: 478-479). Caroline Lamb had sent Byron "a cross of the `Legion of Honour'" acquired at Waterloo. He received it on September 17, l815, and the next day thanked her for it (BLJ 4: 312).
  34. For a photograph, see J. Christopher Herold, The Horizon Book of the Age of Napoleon (New York: Harper & Row / American Heritage, l963), p. 163. Recipients valued the honor; a small pension accompanied the medal. During Napoleon's reign the honor was invariably deserved. During the Bourbon Restoration that followed, standards declined.
  35. Shelley and His Circle 1773-1822, ed. Kenneth Neill Cameron, 8 vols. to date (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1970- ) 4: 641.
  36. Hunt-John Murray, 12 April 1816. MS: John Murray archive, London.
  37. Hunt-Byron, 2 April 1814. MS: John Murray.
  38. Examiner, 28 January 1816, p. 49.
  39. Augusta Leigh-Lady Byron, 22 January 1816, cited from Malcolm Elwin, Lord Byron's Wife (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1962), p. 369. Others in England who compared Byron to Napoleon included Lady Byron and Keats.
  40. BLJ 5: 33-34. McGann dates the poem to March 8, 1816, or shortly after (CPW 3: 491-492), but Byron's letter to Perry implies a date before February 26th.
  41. De Buonaparte et des Bourbons (Londres: Chez Colburn, 1814). The title of this eighty-six page polemic continues "et de la nécessite de se rallier à nos princes légitimes, pour le bonheur de la France et celui de l'Europe." Announced for March 31, l814, it appeared on April 4th (Tulard, Napoléon, p. 423).
  42. The lines draw their force from Revelation 8: 7-8, 10-11.
  43. "Moral lesson," McGann observes, also occurs in a despatch from Wellington to Castlereagh after Waterloo (CPW 5: 719). Byron reused the words in the preface to cantos 6-8 of Don Juan and several times elsewhere.
  44. So David V. Erdman in "Byron and Revolt in England," Science and Society, 11 (1949), 240. A convincing conjecture.
  45. Erdman, in Shelley and His Circle 4: 640.
  46. Hobhouse to Murray (22 May 1816) refers to the volume as immediately forthcoming (MS: John Murray).
  47. Ibid.

Scholarship 97 Index ]