The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 3/Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte

1414391The Works of Lord Byron — Ode to Napoleon BuonaparteGeorge Gordon Byron

[decimal 1]

"Expende Annibalem:—quot libras in duce summo
Juvenal, [Lib. iv.] Sat. x. line 147.[decimal 2]

"The Emperor Nepos was acknowledged by the Senate, by the Italians, and by the Provincials of Gaul; his moral virtues, and military talents, were loudly celebrated; and those who derived any private benefit from his government announced in prophetic strains the restoration of the public felicity. * * By this shameful abdication, he protracted his life about five years, in a very ambiguous state, between an Emperor and an Exile, till!!!"—Gibbon's Decline and Fall, two vols. notes by Milman, i. 979.[decimal 3]


The dedication of the Corsair, dated January 2, 1814, contains one of Byron's periodical announcements that he is about, for a time, to have done with authorship—some years are to elapse before he will again "trespass on public patience."

Three months later he was, or believed himself to be, in the same mind. In a letter to Moore, dated April 9, 1814 (Letters, 1899, iii. 64), he writes, "No more rhyme for—or rather, from—me. I have taken my leave of that stage, and henceforth will mountebank it no longer." He had already—Journal, April 8 (Letters, 1898, ii. 408)—heard a rumour "that his poor little pagod, Napoleon" was "pushed off his pedestal," and before or after he began his letter to Moore he must have read an announcement in the Gazette Extraordinary (April 9, 1814—the abdication was signed April 11) that Napoleon had abdicated the "throne of the world," and declined upon the kingdom of Elba. On the next day, April 10, he wrote two notes to Murray, to inform him that he had written an "ode on the fall of Napoleon," that Murray could print it or not as he pleased; but that if it appeared by itself, it was to be published anonymously. A first edition consisting of fifteen stanzas, and numbering fourteen pages, was issued on the 16th of April, 1814. A second edition followed immediately, but as publications of less than a sheet were liable to the stamp tax on newspapers, at Murray's request, another stanza, the fifth, was inserted in a later (between the second and the twelfth) edition, and, by this means, the pamphlet was extended to seventeen pages. The concluding stanzas xvii., xviii., xix., which Moore gives in a note (Life, p. 249), were not printed in Byron's lifetime, but were first included, in a separate poem, in Murray's edition of 1831, and first appended to the Ode in the seventeen-volume edition of 1832.

Although he had stipulated that the Ode should be published anonymously, Byron had no objection to "its being said to be mine." There was, in short, no secret about it, and notices on the whole favourable appeared in the Morning Chronicle, April 21, in the Examiner, April 24 (in which Leigh Hunt combated Byron's condemnation of Buonaparte for not "dying as honour dies"), and in the Anti-Jacobin for May, 1814 (Letters, 1899, iii. 73, note 3).

Byron's repeated resolutions and promises to cease writing and publishing, which sound as if they were only made to be broken, are somewhat exasperating, and if, as he pleaded in his own behalf, the occasion (of Napoleon's abdication) was physically irresistible, it is to be regretted that he did not swerve from his self-denying ordinance to better purpose. The note of disillusionment and disappointment in the Ode is but an echo of the sentiments of the "general." Napoleon on his own "fall" is more original and more interesting: "Il céda," writes Léonard Gallois (Histoire de Napoléon d'après lui-même, 1825, pp. 546, 547), "non sans de grands combats intérieurs, et la dicta en ces termes.

'Les puissances alliées ayant proclamé que l'empereur Napoléon était le seul obstacle au rétablissement, de la paix en Europe, l'empereur Napoléon fidèle à son serment, déclare qu'il renonce, pour lui et ses héritiers, aux trônes de France et d'Italie, parce qu'il n'est aucun sacrifice personnel, même celui de la vie, qu'il ne soit prêt à faire à l'intérêt de a France.



'Tis done—but yesterday a King!
And armed with Kings to strive—
And now thou art a nameless thing:
So abject—yet alive!
Is this the man of thousand thrones,
Who strewed our earth with hostile bones,
And can he thus survive?[decimal 4]
Since he, miscalled the Morning Star,[decimal 5]
Nor man nor fiend hath fallen so far.

II.[decimal 6]
Ill-minded man! why scourge thy kind
Who bowed so low the knee?
By gazing on thyself grown blind,
Thou taught'st the rest to see.
With might unquestioned,—power to save,—
Thine only gift hath been the grave
To those that worshipped thee;
Nor till thy fall could mortals guess
Ambition's less than littleness!

Thanks for that lesson—it will teach
To after-warriors more
Than high Philosophy can preach,
And vainly preached before.
That spell upon the minds of men[decimal 7]
Breaks never to unite again,
That led them to adore
Those Pagod things of sabre-sway,
With fronts of brass, and feet of clay.

The triumph, and the vanity,
The rapture of the strife—[decimal 8]
The earth quake-voice of Victory,
To thee the breath of life;
The sword, the sceptre, and that sway
Which man seemed made but to obey,
Wherewith renown was rife—
All quelled!—Dark Spirit! what must be
The madness of thy memory!

V.[decimal 9]
The Desolator desolate![decimal 10]
The Victor overthrown!
The Arbiter of others' fate
A Suppliant for his own!
Is it some yet imperial hope
That with such change can calmly cope?
Or dread of death alone?
To die a Prince—or live a slave—
Thy choice is most ignobly brave!

He who of old would rend the oak,
Dreamed not of the rebound;[decimal 11]
Chained by the trunk he vainly broke—
Alone—how looked he round?
Thou, in the sternness of thy strength,
An equal deed hast done at length,
And darker fate hast found:
He fell, the forest prowlers' prey;
But thou must eat thy heart away!

The Roman,[decimal 12] when his burning heart
Was slaked with blood of Rome,
Threw down the dagger—dared depart,
In savage grandeur, home.—
He dared depart in utter scorn
Of men that such a yoke had borne,
Yet left him such a doom!
His only glory was that hour
Of self-upheld abandoned power.

The Spaniard, when the lust of sway
Had lost its quickening spell,[decimal 13]
Cast crowns for rosaries away,
An empire for a cell;
A strict accountant of his beads,
A subtle disputant on creeds,
His dotage trifled well:[decimal 14]
Yet better had he neither known
A bigot's shrine, nor despot's throne.

But thou—from thy reluctant hand
The thunderbolt is wrung—
Too late thou leav'st the high command
To which thy weakness clung;
All Evil Spirit as thou art,
It is enough to grieve the heart
To see thine own unstrung;
To think that God's fair world hath been
The footstool of a thing so mean;

And Earth hath spilt her blood for him,
Who thus can hoard his own!
And Monarchs bowed the trembling limb,
And thanked him for a throne!
Fair Freedom! we may hold thee dear,
When thus thy mightiest foes their fear
In humblest guise have shown.
Oh! ne'er may tyrant leave behind
A brighter name to lure mankind!
Thine evil deeds are writ in gore,
Nor written thus in vain—
Thy triumphs tell of fame no more,
Or deepen every stain:
If thou hadst died as Honour dies,
Some new Napoleon might arise,
To shame the world again—
But who would soar the solar height,
To set in such a starless night?[lower-roman 1]

Weigh'd in the balance, hero dust
Is vile as vulgar clay;[lower-roman 2]
Thy scales, Mortality! are just
To all that pass away:
But yet methought the living great
Some higher sparks should animate,
To dazzle and dismay:
Nor deem'd Contempt could thus make mirth
Of these, the Conquerors of the earth.

XIII.[decimal 15]
And she, proud Austria's mournful flower,
Thy still imperial bride;
How bears her breast the torturing hour?
Still clings she to thy side?
Must she too bend, must she too share
Thy late repentance, long despair,
Thou throneless Homicide?
If still she loves thee, hoard that gem,—
'Tis worth thy vanished diadem![decimal 16]

Then haste thee to thy sullen Isle,
And gaze upon the sea;[lower-roman 3]
That element may meet thy smile—
It ne'er was ruled by thee!
Or trace with thine all idle hand[lower-roman 4]
In loitering mood upon the sand
That Earth is now as free!
That Corinth's pedagogue[decimal 17] hath now
Transferred his by-word to thy brow.

Thou Timour! in his captive's cage[lower-roman 5][decimal 18]
What thoughts will there be thine,
While brooding in thy prisoned rage?
But one—"The world was mine!"
Unless, like he of Babylon,[decimal 19]
All sense is with thy sceptre gone,[decimal 20]
Life will not long confine
That spirit poured so widely forth—
So long obeyed—so little worth!

Or, like the thief of fire from heaven,[decimal 21]
Wilt thou withstand the shock?
And share with him, the unforgiven,
His vulture and his rock!
Foredoomed by God—by man accurst,[lower-roman 6]
And that last act, though not thy worst,
The very Fiend's arch mock;[decimal 22]
He in his fall preserved his pride,
And, if a mortal, had as proudly died![lower-roman 7][decimal 23]

There was a day—there was an hour,
While earth was Gaul's—Gaul thine—[lower-roman 8]
When that immeasurable power
Unsated to resign
Had been an act of purer fame
Than gathers round Marengo's name
And gilded thy decline,
Through the long twilight of all time,
Despite some passing clouds of crime.

But thou forsooth must be a King
And don the purple vest,
As if that foolish robe could wring
Remembrance from thy breast.
Where is that faded garment? where[lower-roman 9]
The gewgaws thou wert fond to wear,
The star, the string, the crest?[lower-roman 10][decimal 24]
Vain froward child of Empire! say,
Are all thy playthings snatched away?

Where may the wearied eye repose[lower-roman 11]
When gazing on the Great;
Where neither guilty glory glows,
Nor despicable state?
Yes—One—the first—the last—the best—
The Cincinnatus of the West,
Whom Envy dared not hate,
Bequeathed the name of Washington,
To make man blush there was but one![lower-roman 12][decimal 25]

  1. But who would rise in brightest day
    To set without one parting ray?—[MS.]}}
  2. ——common clay.—[First Proof.]
  3. And look along the sea;
    That element may meet thy smile,
    For Albion kept it free.
    But gaze not on the land for there
    Walks crownless Power with temples bare
    And shakes the head at thee
    And Corinth's Pedagogue hath now.—[Proof ii.]

  4. Or sit thee down upon the sand
    And trace with thine all idle hand.—[A final correction made in Proof ii.]

  5. There Timour in his captive cage.—[First Proof.]
  6. He suffered for kind acts to men
    Who have not seen his like again,
    At least of kingly stock
    Since he was good, and thou but great
    Thou canst not quarrel with thy fate.—[First Proof, stanza x.]

  7. And—were he mortal had as proudly died.—[Alteration in First Proof.]
  8. While earth was Gallia's, Gallia thine.—[MS.]
  9. Where is that tattered ——.—[MS.]
  10. —— the laurel-circled crest.—[MS.]
  11. Where may the eye of man repose.—[MS.]
  12. Alas! and must there be but one!—[MS.]


    London: Printed for J. Murray, Albemarle Street, By W. Bulmer and Co. Cleveland-Row, St. James's, 1814.—First Proof, title-page.]

  2. [The quotation from Juvenal was added in Second Proof.

    "Produce the urn that Hannibal contains,
    And weigh the mighty dust which yet remains;
    And is This All!"

    "I know not that this was ever done in the old world; at least with regard to Hannibal: but in the statistical account of Scotland, I find that Sir John Paterson had the curiosity to collect and weigh the ashes of a person discovered a few years since in the parish of Eccles. . . . Wonderful to relate, he found the whole did not exceed in weight one ounce and a half! And is This All? Alas! the quot libras itself is a satirical exaggeration."—Gifford's Translation of Juvenal (ed. 1817), ii. 26, 27.
    The motto, "Expende—Quot Libras In Duce Summo Invenies," was inscribed on one side of the silver urn presented by Byron to Walter Scott in April, 1815. (See Letters, 1899, iii. 414, Appendix IV.)]
  3. ["I send you . . . an additional motto from Gibbon, which you will find singularly appropriate."—Letter to Murray, April 12, 1814, ibid., p. 68.]
  4. ["I don't know—but I think I, even I (an insect compared with this creature), have set my life on casts not a millionth part of this man's. But, after all, a crown may not be worth dying for. Yet, to outlive Lodi for this!!! Oh that Juvenal or Johnson could rise from the dead! 'Expende—quot libras in duce summo invenies?' I knew they were light in the balance of mortality; but I thought their living dust weighed more carats. Alas! this imperial diamond hath a flaw in it, and is now hardly fit to stick in a glazier's pencil;—the pen of the historian won't rate it worth a ducat. Psha! 'something too much of this.' But I won't give him up even now; though all his admirers have, 'like the thanes, fallen from him.'"—Journal, April 9, 1814, Letters, 1898, ii. 409.]
  5. [Compare "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!"—Isaiah xiv. 12.]
  6. [Stanzas ii. and iii. were added in Proof iv.]
  7. [A "spell" may be broken, but it is difficult to understand how, like the two halves of a seal or amulet, a broken spell can "unite again."]
  8. "Certaminis gaudia"—the expression of Attila in his harangue to his army, previous to the battle of Chalons, given in Cassiodorus. ["Nisi ad certaminis hujus gaudia præparasset"—Attilæ Oratio ad Hunnos, caput xxxix., Appendix ad Opera Cassiodori, Migne, lxix. 1279.]
  9. [Added in Proof v.]
  10. [The first four lines of stanza v. were quoted by "Mr. Miller in the House of Representatives of the United States," in a debate on the Militia Draft Bill (Weekly Messenger, Boston, February 10, 1815). "Take warning," he went on to say, "by this example. Bonaparte split on this rock of conscription," etc. This would have pleased Byron, who confided to his Journal, December 3, 1813 (Letters, 1898, ii. 360), that the statement that "my rhymes are very popular in the United States," was "the first tidings that have ever sounded like Fame to my ears."]
  11. ["Like Milo, he would rend the oak; but it closed again, wedged his hands, and now the beasts—lion, bear, down to the dirtiest jackal—may all tear him,"—Journal, April 8, 1814, Letters, 1898, ii. 408. For the story of Milo and the Oak, see Valerius Maximus, Factorum, Dictorumque Memorabilium, lib, ix. cap. xii. Part II. example 9.]
  12. Sylla. [We find the germ of this stanza in the Diary of the evening before it was written: "I mark this day! Napoleon Buonaparte has abdicated the throne of the world. 'Excellent well.' Methinks Sylla did better; for he revenged, and resigned in the height of his sway, red with the slaughter of his foes—the finest instance of glorious contempt of the rascals upon record. Dioclesian did well too—Amurath not amiss, had he become aught except a dervise—Charles the Fifth but so so; but Napoleon worst of all."—Journal, April 9, 1814, Letters, 1898, ii. 409.]
  13. ["Alter 'potent spell' to 'quickening spell:' the first (as Polonius says) 'is a vile phrase,' and means nothing, besides being commonplace and Rosa-Matildaish."—Letter to Murray, April 11, 1814, Letters, 1899, iii. 68.]
  14. [Charles V. resigned the kingdom to his son Philip, circ. October, 1555, and the imperial crown to his brother Ferdinand, August 27, 1556, and entered the Jeronymite Monastery of St. Justus at Placencia in Estremadura. Before his death (September 21, 1558) he dressed himself in his shroud, was laid in his coffin, "joined in the prayers which were offered up for the rest of his soul, mingling his tears with those which his attendants shed, as if they had been celebrating a real funeral."—Robertson's Charles V., 1798, iv. 180, 205, 254.]
  15. [Added in Proof v.]
  16. [Count Albert Adam de Neipperg, born 1774, an officer in the Austrian Army, and, 1811, Austrian envoy to the Court of Stockholm, was presented to Marie Louise a few days after Napoleon's abdication, became her chamberlain; and, according to the Nouvelle Biographie Universelle "plus tard il l'épousa." The count, who is said to have been remarkably plain (he had lost an eye in a scrimmage with the French), died April 12, 1829.]
  17. ["Dionysius at Corinth was yet a king to this,"—Diary, April 9. Dionysius the Younger, on being for the second time banished from Syracuse, retired to Corinth (B.C. 344), where "he is said to have opened a school for teaching boys to read" (see Plut., Timal., c. 14), but not, apparently, with a view to making a living by pedagogy.—Grote's Hist. of Greece, 1872, ix. 152.]
  18. The cage of Bajazet, by order of Tamerlane.
    [The story of the cage is said to be a fable. After the battle of Angora, July 20, 1402, Bajazet, whose escape from prison had been planned by one of his sons, was chained during the night, and placed in a kafes (kàfess), a Turkish word, which signifies either a cage or a grated room or bed. Hence the legend.—Hist. de l' Empire Othoman, par J. von Hammer-Purgstall, 1836, ii. 97.]
  19. [Presumably another instance of "careless and negligent ease."]
  20. ["Have you heard that Bertrand has returned to Paris with the account of Napoleon's having lost his senses? It is a report; but, if true, I must, like Mr. Fitzgerald and Jeremiah (of lamentable memory), lay claim to prophecy."—Letter to Murray, June 14, 1814, Letters, 1899, iii, 95.]
  21. Prometheus.
  22. [We believe there is no doubt of the truth of the anecdote here alluded to—of Napoleon's having found leisure for an unworthy amour, the very evening of his arrival at Fontainebleau.—Note to Edition 1832.
    A consultation of numerous lives and memoirs of Napoleon has not revealed the particulars of this "unworthy amour." It is possible that Murray may have discovered the source of Byron's allusion among the papers "in the possession of one of Napoleon's generals, a friend of Miss Waldie," which were offered him "for purchase and publication," in 1815.—See Memoir of John Murray, 1891, i. 279.]
  23. [Of Prometheus—

    "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 be stolen from thy native Hell."

    —Attached to Proof v., April 25.]
  24. [Byron had recently become possessed of a "fine print" (by Raphael Morghen, after Gérard) of Napoleon in his imperial robes, which (see Journal, March 6, 1814, Letters, 1898, ii. 393, note 2) became him "as if he had been hatched in them." According to the catalogue of Morghen's works, the engraving represents "the head nearly full-face, looking to the right, crowned with laurel. He wears an enormous velvet robe embroidered with bees—hanging over it the collar and jewel of the Legion of Honour." It was no doubt this "fine print" which suggested "the star, the string [i.e. the chain of enamelled eagles], the crest."]
  25. ["The two stanzas which I now send you were, by some mistake, omitted in the copies of Lord Byron's spirited and poetical 'Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte,' already published. One of 'the devils' in Mr. Davison's employ procured a copy of this for me, and I give you the chance of first discovering them to the world.
    Your obedient servant,
    "J. R."

    "Yes! better to have stood the storm,
    A Monarch to the last!
    Although that heartless fireless form
    Had crumbled in the blast:
    Than stoop to drag out Life's last years,
    The nights of terror, days of tears
    For all the splendour past;
    Then,—after ages would have read
    Thy awful death with more than dread.

    "A lion in the conquering hour!
    In wild defeat a hare!
    Thy mind hath vanished with thy power,
    For Danger brought despair.
    The dreams of sceptres now depart,
    And leave thy desolated heart
    The Capitol of care!
    Dark Corsican, 'tis strange to trace
    Thy long deceit and last disgrace."

    Morning Chronicle, April 27, 1814.]