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Poem by Thomas Campbell
Napoleon and the British Sailor
I LOVE contemplating, apart From all his homicidal glory, The traits that soften to our heart Napoleon’s story! ’T was when his banners at Boulogne Armed in our island every freeman, His navy chanced to capture one Poor British seaman. They suffered him—I know not how— Unprisoned on the shore to roam; And aye was bent his longing brow On England’s home. His eye, methinks, pursued the flight Of birds to Britain half-way over With envy, they could reach the white Dear cliffs of Dover. A stormy midnight watch, he thought, Than this sojourn would have been dearer, If but the storm his vessel brought To England nearer. At last, when care had banished sleep, He saw one morning, dreaming, doating, An empty hogshead from the deep Come shoreward floating. He hid it in a cave, and wrought The livelong day laborious; lurking Until he launched a tiny boat By mighty working. Heaven help us! ’t was a thing beyond Description wretched; such a wherry Perhaps ne’er ventured on a pond Or crossed a ferry. For ploughing in the salt sea-field, It would have made the boldest shudder; Untarred, uncompassed, and unkeeled, No sail, no rudder. From neighboring woods he interlaced His sorry skiff with wattled willows; And thus equipped he would have passed The foaming billows; But Frenchmen caught him on the beach, His little Argo sorely jeering; Till tidings of him chanced to reach Napoleon’s hearing. With folded arms Napoleon stood, Serene alike in peace and danger; And in his wonted attitude, Addressed the stranger:— “Rash man that wouldst yon channel pass On twigs and staves so rudely fashioned, Thy heart with some sweet British lass Must be impassioned.” “I have no sweetheart,” said the lad; “But, absent long from one another, Great was the longing that I had To see my mother.” “And so thou shalt,” Napoleon said; “Ye ’ve both my favor fairly won; A noble mother must have bred So brave a son.” He gave the tar a piece of gold, And with a flag of truce commanded He should be shipped to England Old, And safely landed. Our sailor oft could scantly shift To find a dinner plain and hearty; But never changed the coin and gift Of Bonaparte.
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