1799.1 - "Buonaparte"

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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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The Meteors, I (1799), pp. 17-25

Good courteous reader, I am sure the name
    Of Buonaparte must have reach'd thine ear;
But, lest thou be deceived in his fame,
    E'en from my Muse his glories shalt thou hear.

And first, this hero, like to other men,
    Has capabilities to eat and drink:
In stature, he is five feet nine, or ten,
    A goodly size, as many ladies think.

A year or two ago his face was pale,
    But now, they say, it is a dingy brown;
And thence at Paris sprung an idle tale,
    They said 'twas Gen'ral Toussaint come to town.

In science he is deep—his rapid pen
    At once describes a vict'ry and a bust;
And fighting in a swamp and marshy fen,
    He tells how many thousands bit the dust.

His travelling has of course begot a skill
    In lands and soils; but this I will advance,
That let his knowledge be whate'er it will,
    He knows the difference 'twixt Cayenne & France.

But we must trace the hist'ry of his life;
    Observe how, inch by inch, his greatness grew;
At ten years old, we find him deep in strife,
    Vowing in a balloon to take a view.

There first his mighty genius was unfurl'd,
    (Admire his wise foresight and prudence true)
He wish'd to see the huge unwieldy world,
    His infant ardour panted to subdue.

Light o'er his head his youthful hours roll,
    He hastes to Genoa[2]—What do we behold!
The hero asking, "What's o'clock?" no soul
    The hero can resolve; each watch is sold.

On ev'ry side the dreadful clamours rise;
    No watches, shirts, or shoes do we possess;
Nor thee, nor the Directory we prize,
    Unless ye save us from our sad distress.

"Courage! my lads; allons! see yonder plains
    "And armies given us by Fate's decree;
"The Austrian spoils shall well reward your pains,
    "Watches enough, and Wurmser's[3] watch for me."

Soon ca ira and civic hymns resound,
    In horrid joy the reg'ments dance and jump;
And, as imagination wins the ground,
    Each feels his bay'net in a hostile rump.

'Tis said dame Fortune is not over chaste,
    Nor does she much delight in ancient men;
She found our hero most unto her taste,
    And smil'd on Wurmser only now and then.

Thus victory to victory succeeds,
    Armies retreat, and towns are render'd up;
The fields are spoil'd—and poor Italia bleeds,
    And soon at Mantua[4] will the victor sup.

He came—and told the people they were free,
    Deliver'd from the tyranny of knaves,
Bade them to plant the emblematic tree
    Whose shadow would disdain to shelter slaves.

Bade them to be the right good friends of France,
    And plac'd some thousand men within their walls,
Lest that by any accidental chance,
    They chang'd their minds, and struggled in street

Next with th' Emp'ror's courtiers, tete-a-tete
    At Campo Formio[6] he plans a peace,
Which done, he vows that either soon or late,
    He'll go and drive the English troops like geese.

His dreadful grenadiers, his boast and pride,
    Borne on huge rafts shall strike us all with fears;
Sail up the Thames upon the faithless tide,
    And knock the antique Tower 'bout our ears.[7]

March thence unto the Bank, whose facile doors
    Shall yield up all to their rapacious claw,
Swift bounds the echo from the Gallic shores
    Voila bank notes, at par with assignats!

But he, or the Directory soon found
    This plan beneath the genius of France;
And then, the Turks and Mam'lukes to confound
    He led his grenadiers a pretty dance.[8]

Tost on the seas full many a stormy day,
    At length his navy reach'd the Egyptian strand,
Only at Malta—stopping by the way,
    To play the Devil, did the hero land.[9]

Safe in Aboukir's bay the navy rode
    Approaching victories the warriors greet,
Nor could they find one Scavan to forebode
    That Nelson hasten'd with his conqu'ring fleet.

Brave Nelson came—and while his vengeance flew
    And claim'd the victory as Britain's right,
Great Buonaparte took a bird's-eye view,
    Securely mounted on a turret's height.

The navy lost—no logic can prevail
    On Afric's citizens to change one mind,
Those people thought he look'd just like a snail
    Who came abroad, and left his shell behind.

Yet generalship like his was never found,
    Hail, Ali Buonaparte! Vive l'Hero!
His faith like any weathercock veer'd round,
    A pious Musselman from top to toe!

But here the Devil interferes, and bids
    Each thing run counter to the prophet's will;
Still must be battle near the pyramids,
    And in their mosques some more old women

Lo! on a dromedary, full of pride
    To Syria now the hero bends his way;[10]
Those soldiers who can steal a camel, ride,
    The rest march after in their best array.

Rejoice, ye Jews! the Israelitish walls,
    Require but workmen to be built apace,
A mighty Rabbi loudly on you calls,
    In ev'ry Syrian town to raise Duke's Place.

Gen'ral again, he summons Acre with
    Fraternal offers; strange, they wont go down;
But that uncivil Knight, Sir Sydney Smith,[11]
    Was rude enough to fortify the town.

He taught the Turks to banish idle fears,
    And make incursions on the hostile French;
They sally—and find Jacobins have ears,
    Which as superfluous lux'ries they retrench.

To desperation drove, the town they storm,
    And storm again; but it is all in vain:
At length they take their leave, without much form,
    And storming, march to Egypt back again.

In the retreat the Arabs were unkind,
    Honor 'mongst thieves—yet they committed theft,
But soon the hero has the bliss to find
    The pyramids stand just where they were left.

He calls a council; finds the season past,
    When men can fly to India in a day;
And after much debate, concludes at last,
    From Egypt he had better slip away.

And as the Hebrew youths in days of old,
    Went into Egypt to preserve their lives,
So out of Egypt, Buonaparte bold,
    Escap'd to Paris, where I hear he thrives.[12]


1. [Author's note]: "The verses upon this renowned chief were written before he had assumed the new part which he is now playing in the political drama of the French Revolution; and if our readers should relish his past history, as we have given it, we do not absolutely despair of his supplying them with further amusement".

2. Napoleon was appointed commander in chief of the Army of Italy on March 2, 1796. Upon arriving at his Italian headquarters near Genoa he found his army ill-equipped, ill-housed and ill-clothed. He instilled spirits into the army by promising them booty.

3. Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser, leader of the Austrian army who came to Italy's defense.

4. Austrian armies advanced four times from the Alps to defend Mantua. Finally, after a long siege, Napoleon took Mantua after the Austrians were defeated at Rivoli in January 1797.

5. Napoleon took an interest in unifying Italy into a Republic; he was careful, however, to be certain the leaders in power were friends of France. As a further precaution he maintained an army of occupation.

6. The treaty of Campo Formia (October 17, 1797) restored peace to the Continent after five years of war, and raised Bonaparte's popularity greatly. With the advent of peace on the Continent, Bonaparte was then able to concentrate his efforts on the continuing war with Britain.

7. In 1798, the Directory appointed Napoleon to command the army assembled along the Channel to invade Britain.

8. Napoleon, with the assistance of Tallyrand, convinced the Directory that, instead of invading England, France should cut off the route to India by occupying Egypt.

9. Malta was occupied by Napoleon's forces on June 10, 1798.

10. Napoleon marched into Syria in February, 1799.

11. Sir Sydney Smith turned back Napoleon's armies at Acre. The French suffered a disastrous defeat and retreated to Egypt in May, 1799.

12. A Coup d'etat in June, 1799 expelled the moderates from the Directory. One of the new directors, Emmanuel Sieyès, let it be known that only a military dictatorship could prevent restoration of the monarchy. Upon hearing this news, Napoleon left his army in Egypt and returned to Paris where he arrived on October 14, 1799.

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Published @ RC

September 2004