The Objects

27th Mar 1815

Source: Manuscripts and Special Collections, The University of Nottingham, with permission.

Lord Byron Reacts to the News

Contributed by: Peter S. Cochran

Lord Byron (1788-1824) had been an ardent admirer of Napoleon since boyhood. Thus upon hearing of the Emperor’s abdication in April 1814, the poet wrote: ‘Out of town six days. On my return, found my poor little pagod, Napoleon, pushed off his pedestal;—the thieves are in Paris. It is his own fault. Like Milo, he would rend the oak; but it closed again, wedged his hands, and now the beasts—lion, bear, down to the dirtiest jackall—may all tear him.’ In his subsequent ‘Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte’ (published 16 April 1814), he regretted his hero's humiliation, and expressed disappointment that the Emperor hadn't killed himself rather than abdicate. (Napoleon did in fact attempt suicide shortly after).

The brief reversal of Napoleon’s fortunes in 1815 prompted Byron’s droll letter to the Irish poet Thomas Moore on 27 March 1815 (see Thomas Moore’s own letter to Lady Donegal on 28 March]), in which he declared his forgiveness for Napoleon rendering his ‘Ode’ redundant. His amazement at Napoleon’s good fortune in his journey towards Paris found a poetic outlet in the letter:

Once fairly set out on his party of pleasure,
Taking towns at his liking and crowns at his leisure,
From Elba to Lyons and Paris he goes,
Making balls for the ladies, and bows to his foes.

Byron’s conclusion leaves no doubt as to his continued admiration: ‘It is impossible not to be dazzled and overwhelmed by his character and career. Nothing ever so disappointed me as his abdication, and nothing could have reconciled me to him but some such revival as his recent exploit; though no one could anticipate such a complete and brilliant renovation.’

For a fuller transcription of the letter, see further information. The images are taken from The University of Nottingham's Special Collections,  Letters and Journals of Lord Byron with Notices of his Life by Thomas Moore (London: John Murray, 1830). Shelfmark: Oversize PR4381.A3.M6

Geolocation

Lord Byron to Thomas Moore, 27 March 1815

Napoleon—but the papers will have told you all. I quite think with you upon the subject, and for my real thoughts this time last year, I would refer you to the last pages of the Journal I gave you. I can forgive the rogue for utterly falsifying every line of mine Ode—which I take to be the last and uttermost stretch of human magnanimity. Do you remember the story of a certain Abbé, who wrote a treatise on the Swedish Constitution, and proved it indissoluble and eternal? Just as he had corrected the last sheet, news came that Gustavus III. had destroyed this immortal government. ‘Sir,’ quoth the Abbé, ‘the King of Sweden may overthrow the constitution, but not my book!!’ I think of the Abbé, but not with him.

Making every allowance for talent and most consummate daring, there is, after all, a good deal in luck or destiny. He might have been stopped by our frigates—or wrecked in the Gulf of Lyons, which is particularly tempestuous—or—a thousand things. But he is certainly Fortune’s favourite, and

Once fairly set out on his party of pleasure,
Taking towns at his liking and crowns at his leisure,
From Elba to Lyons and Paris he goes,
Making balls for the ladies, and bows to his foes.

You must have seen the account of his driving into the middle of the royal army, and the immediate effect of his pretty speeches. And now if he don’t drub the allies, there is ‘no purchase in money’. If he can take France by himself, the devil’s in’t if he don’t repulse the invaders, when backed by those celebrated sworders—those boys of the blade, the Imperial Guard, and the old and new army. It is impossible not to be dazzled and overwhelmed by his character and career. Nothing ever so disappointed me as his abdication, and nothing could have reconciled me to him but some such revival as his recent exploit; though no one could anticipate such a complete and brilliant renovation.

[The manuscript has not been found; the earliest record of the letter is in Letters and Journals of Lord Byron with Notices of his Life by Thomas Moore (London: John Murray, 1830).


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