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Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon

CET 11 May 05 - 08:05 PM
Peace 11 May 05 - 08:14 PM
CET 11 May 05 - 08:39 PM
Peace 11 May 05 - 09:30 PM
Peace 11 May 05 - 09:41 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 May 05 - 09:44 PM
Peace 11 May 05 - 09:58 PM
Peace 11 May 05 - 10:06 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 May 05 - 10:19 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 May 05 - 10:33 PM
Peace 12 May 05 - 01:13 PM
CET 12 May 05 - 07:24 PM
GUEST,Dick Holdstock 12 May 06 - 07:45 PM
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Subject: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: CET
Date: 11 May 05 - 08:05 PM

I've just been listening to "Napoleon's Death" on "Fishes and Fine Yellow Sand" by Waterson & Carthy. It's sung by Tim van Eyken, with accompaniment by Martin Carthy. The singing and the guitar playing are both extraordinary. The liner notes say that the song is in the Journal of the Folk Song Society under the title "The Deeds of Napoleon". I've tried Googling "The Deeds of Napoleon", but haven't found the lyrics. Does anybody have them, or know of a link?



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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Peace
Date: 11 May 05 - 08:14 PM

This it?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: CET
Date: 11 May 05 - 08:39 PM

Thanks, Brucie. Those are the lyrics as sung on the album, which I am very glad to have. However, I was also looking for the longer version in the Joural of the Folk Song that Martin Carthy refers to in the liner notes.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Peace
Date: 11 May 05 - 09:30 PM

These ballads do not lose sight of the fact that Napoleon was Britain's enemy but seem to take a detached view. The Deeds of "Napoleon, a catalogue of military exploits in ballad form, negotiates this difficulty in a interesting way:

Then the Norfolk hero bold, he was never bribed by gold,
Great honour to Lord Nelson, now a long time dead.
To Copenhagen, and the Nile, he led them rank and file,
But alas! at Trafalgar he fell and bled.
When Captain Hardy he did his duty so free
And Collinwood [sic] he acted like a true Britannia's son,
He made a dreadful crash, and there enemies did thrash
But now I must tell the deeds of bold Napoleon.

Thus the ballad swerves back on to course after a short patriotic diversion, 'The Norfolk hero bold' and 'bold Napoleon' are but a stanza apart."

Edmund, I will keep looking. I am thinking that the song has various titles.


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From: Peace
Date: 11 May 05 - 09:41 PM

I hope I am not confusing an issue here, Edmund.

Much more typical of what survived in oral tradition is THE GRAND CONVERSATION ON NAPOLEON. This is how Henry Burstow had the song:


'Twas over that wild beating track, a friend of the bold Bonaparte
Did pace the sands and lofty rocks of St Helena's shore;
The wind blew in an hurricane, the lightening flash around did dart,
The seagulls were shrieking and the waves all round did roar.
Ha hush, rude winds, the stranger cried, while I do range this dreary spot
Where alas this gallant hero his heavy eyes did close;
But while his valiant limbs do rot, his name shall never be forgot,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

Ha England, he cried, why did you persecute that hero bold?
Much better had you slain him on the plains of Waterloo.
Napoleon was a friend to heroes all, both young and old,
He caused the money for to fly wherever he did go.
Plans were arranging night and day, this bold commander to betray,
He cries, I'll go to Moscow and then it will ease my woes,
If fortune shine without delay, all the world shall me obey,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

Thousands of thousands he then did rise, to conquer Moscow by surprise,
He led his men across the Alps oppressed by frost and snow
But being near the Russian land, he then began to open his eyes,
All Moscow was a-blazing and his men drove to and fro.
Napoleon dauntless viewed the flames and wept in anguish for the same,
He cried, Retreat my gallant men, for time do swiftly go.
What thousands died on that retreat, some were their horses forced to eat,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

At Waterloo his men they fought, commanded by great Bonaparte,
Attended by Field Marshall Ney and he was bribed with gold.
When Blucher led the Prussians in it nearly broke Napoleon's heart;
He cried, My thirty thousand men are slain and I am sold.
He viewed the plains and cried, "'Tis lost," 'twas then his favourite charger crossed,
The plains were in confusion with blood and dying woes,
The bunch of roses did advance and boldly entered into France,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose. 22

[The broadside adds another stanza Burstow forgot or never knew:]

The Buonaparte was plann'd to be a prisoner across the sea,
The rocks of St Helena, it was the fatal spot,
Doom'd as a prisoner there to be till death did end his misery,
His son soon followed to the tomb; it was an awful plot.
It's long enough they have been dead, the blast of war around is spread
And may our shipping float again to face the daring foes.
And now my boys when honours call we'll boldly mount the wooden walls,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose. 23

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 May 05 - 09:44 PM

Not all the sum of human knowledge has been put, quite yet, onto websites by altruistic, unpaid volunteers so that people can find it via a simple google search at no cost or effort to themselves. Sometimes real-world libraries still have to be used, and instant gratification isn't always possible.

That sounds rather harsh, I expect, but it isn't meant to be. The point is, though, that somebody does actually have to do the work in the first place so that others can benefit from it. The Journal of the Folk-Song Society is a cause particularly close to me, as I currently run the website for its successor, The Folk Music Journal. One of EFDSS's many ongoing projects involves digitisation of materials from the Journals so that they will be more readily available to people with a genuine interest. It will cost money, though, which a small charitable organisation, however venerable, doesn't have easy access to. It will take time.

Having said all that (and it does need saying from time to time, though it isn't your fault that so many people take things for granted) you don't need to go to the Journal for the full text that Martin Carthy mentions. Ralph Vaughan Williams noted Henry Burstow's tune and the first verse as he sang it; but, as was his habit, RVW supplied the rest of the text from a broadside copy that he knew of. The whole was published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, vol II, issue 8 (1906), 186-187.

The broadside text was taken from an edition by R Barr of Leeds (1840-ish). Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, (which was only made possible by very serious funding!) has copies of that and a good few other issues from other printers of the day. See

Deeds of Napoleon.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Peace
Date: 11 May 05 - 09:58 PM

Absolutely, Malcolm. They are the lyrics that come from the link in post two. However, are there others that extend the song?

PS The site you manage is excellent. Thank you.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Peace
Date: 11 May 05 - 10:06 PM

PS Malcolm,

It seems to irritate you that I try to help. That won't stop me from trying; however, I know you are more skilled and educated in this area than I will ever be. Understand that, OK?

PPS Edmund, I knew that sooner or later Malcolm would provide the definitive answer. You take care.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 May 05 - 10:19 PM

I see that we cross-posted there, more or less. Henry Burstow of Horsham in Sussex was a prolific singer, having a good 400 songs in his active repertoire at the age of 80. Several "collectors" noted songs from him, but that really only scratched the surface of what he knew. Vaughan Williams recorded him on wax cylinder at one point; sadly, the recording hasn't survived.

Henry was a boot-maker by trade; a singer and bell-ringer by inclination. He was an atheist and Darwinist, and, unusually for someone of his social position, published an autobiography (1912). Actually it was of the "as told to" kind; not that he wasn't perfectly literate in his own right. He was elderly and in poor health by then, though, and his friends sold the book by subscription to raise money to allow him to continue to live independently and not have to end his days in the Workhouse.

Not so long ago, it was the default assumption that songs treating sympathetically of Napoleon "must" have been Irish. That was to ignore the growing radical movement in Britain at the time of the Napoleonic wars, however. Many made the same mistake that Irish Republicans did; seeing Bonaparte as a force for revolution and freedom rather than for what he was; an imperialist exploiting revolutionary sentiment for his own ends. Some, like Frank Harte, still seem to be labouring under those same misapprehensions. Nevertheless, Napoleon (in the rosy afterglow of retrospect, and safely far away) does make a good romantic hero; and, like Julius Caesar or Tamburlaine, a fitting subject for tragic drama.

Henry Burstow was fond of "Napoleon" songs, and had a good stock of them; some are the only examples ever found with tunes. See other threads here, and DT files, deriving from -but not always credited to- his repertoire.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 May 05 - 10:33 PM

More cross-posting; sorry about that. I wasn't irritated with you, Bruce, though the sequence in which our posts appeared may give that impression. My message of 9.44, properly speaking, should be read before yours of 9.41; and mine of 10.19 before yours of 9.58; at any rate in order to make better sense as a sequence!

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: Peace
Date: 12 May 05 - 01:13 PM

My apologies, Malcolm.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: The Deeds of Napoleon
From: CET
Date: 12 May 05 - 07:24 PM

Which suggests that Malcolm must be irritated with me for asking in the first place, for which I am sorry. I am not so stupid as to think that every folk song must be on the web, and I am well aware that the resources that are available online don't get there by magic. I was simply looking for information and hoping (with justification as it turned out) that somebody on Mudcat might be able to point me in the direction of a source. The fact is that there are a few thousand miles between me and the Bodleian and the chances of me getting my hands on the back issues of the Journal of the Folk Song Society are somewhere between slim and nil.

Thanks for the link to the Broadside Ballad collection, which I have bookmarked. I will now be able to check there first the next time I want to look up a ballad, before asking for help on Mudcat.


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Subject: Lyr Add: DEEDS OF NAPOLEON (from Bodleian)
From: GUEST,Dick Holdstock
Date: 12 May 06 - 07:45 PM

I am looking for the melody of the Deeds of Napoleon and hope the lead to the Waterson's album will be the answer.

I found the words at the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads Site, it is listed there under Firth c.16(98). I see the ballad as yet another non-hostile Napoleon song that ignores Wellington at Waterloo circulated during a time of extreme crisis in 1840. Perhaps the impact of the Napoleonic war was so great that it left an indelible impression on the minds of the people who lived through it, or was it that they continued to wonder what life would have been like if only Napoleon had won?

The occasion of this obviously hastily put together song was the arrangements for the removal of Napoleon from his lonely grave on Saint Helena and ultimate placement in his extravagant shrine in Paris. Bonaparte was exhumed on Saint Helena in 1840 but it took until 1942 when Adolf Hitler arranged for the remains of his son (Napoleon ll), to be buried along side his father.   

Marshal Soult served as the representative of France at the coronation of Queen Victoria and apparently was successful in arranging for Napoleons disinternment in 1840. It was at Victoria's coronation ceremony that Wellington finally caught up with Soult whose French army had led the British army such a chase through Spain. It is said that Wellington came up behind him and grabbed Soult by the arm and said, "caught you at last."

Here are the words from the Broadside ballad.

Deeds of Napoleon
Tune the "Mouth of the Nile"

You heroes of the day, who are lively, brave and gay,
Only think of former Champions by land and sea
'Midst the battles fierce array, when canons round did play,
Like hearts of oak they smil'd and met their enemy;
The total pride of France, with his eagles did advance.
That hero came from Corsica and proved himself a don,
Tho' kings he did dethrone, and some thousands cause to groan,
Yet we miss the long-lost Emperor Napoleon.

Duncan, Jarvis, and Lord Howe, long the ocean they did plough,
They fought the French, the Spaniards, and the Danish Fleet;
When the crimson gore did flow, then true courage they did show,
They fought with desperation and never was beat;
The French did cry Mon Dieu! While their decks to pieces flew,
The Spaniards did surrender, the Danish fleet was quite undone;
Bold Boney fought on land, like an Emperor so grand,
And his soldiers cried 'long life to Napoleon."

The Brave Norfolk hero bold he never was bribed by gold
Great honor to Lord Nelson, now a long time dead;
Copenhagen and the Nile, he had men rank and file,
But alas at Trafalgar he fell and bled;
When Captain Hardy did his duty so free,
And Collingwood he acted like a true Britannia's son,
He made a dreadful crash, and their enemies did thrash,
But I know must tell the deeds of bold Napoleon.

Then Boney in a rage, did his enemies engage,
And 'twas on the Peninsular he did declare a war,
He maneuvered his men like the bold council of ten,
When he went to Valenciennes and Victoria;
Then at Bezacca hill, where the blood would turn a mill,
From whence to Egypt he did go, but soon away did run,
To France he went again and raised a powerful train,
Now "come on my lads to Moscow" cried Napoleon.

'Twas o'er the Alps so wild, he led his men and smil'd
Over hills and lofty mountains, and a barren plain;
When Moscow was in view, they their trumpets loudly blew,
But soon it turned their joy to grief and pain;
For Boney in amaze, beheld old Moscow blaze,
Then his gallant army vanish'd like snow before the sun;
To France he went near craz'd. And another army rais'd
Now "come on to death and glory" cried Napoleon.

Then he away from France, with his army did advance,
He made the Dutch, and Germans before him fly,
And then at Quatre Bras, he let loose the dogs of war,
Where many thousand Prussians did fall and die,
And then at Waterloo many thousand he slew!
Causing many a mother to weep for her son,-
Many a maid to shed a tear, for her lover so dear,
Who had died in the battles of Napoleon.

Tho' so bravely he fought, he at Waterloo was bought:
He was took to St. Helena, where he pin'd and died,
Long time he there did lay, 'till Soult did come this way
To beg the bones of Bounaparte the Frenchman's pride -
Oh! Bring him back again it will ease the Frenchman's pain,
And in a tomb of marble, we will lay him with his son
We will decorate his tomb, with the glories he has won.
And in letters of bright Gold inscribe Napoleon.

W. Fortney, Printer, Monmouth Court, Seven Dials

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