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Byron & politics: ‘born for opposition’
Home|Special Collections Exhibitions|Byron & politics: ‘born for opposition’|Napoleon: Emperor, expectation & exile|18. Manuscript of Byron’s additional stanzas to ‘Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte,’ 1814 

18. Manuscript of Byron’s additional stanzas to ‘Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte,’ 1814

NLS Ms.43348, f.30v

The first and perhaps finest of Byron’s Napoleonic poems, the ‘Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte’, was begun the day after Byron received news of Napoleon’s abdication. Byron was devastated by the Emperor’s fall and his failure to fulfil his grand destiny, in politics and as a human being. Rather than eulogising Napoleon, Byron criticises him for accepting abdication rather than taking his own life.

The original poem was published anonymously on 16 April 1814. Three further stanzas were written at the encouragement of John Murray, but not, as some have suggested, for the avoidance of stamp duty. Byron added a stanza (5) to the third edition but suppressed three additional stanzas (17-19) which were not published until after his death. ‘I don’t like the additional stanzas at all – and they had better be left out,’ Byron wrote to Murray on 26 April 1814. Stanza 18 is quoted below.

Byron had previously admired Napoleon’s imperial regalia, writing in his journal on 27 February 1814 that the Emperor ‘became his robes as if he had been hatched in them’, and he had a framed engraving of Napoleon wearing them. Here however he mocks his ‘foolish robe’ and decorations.

But thou forsooth must be a King –
A Man And wear the purple vest
As if that foolish robe could bring wring
One sorrow Remembrance from thy breast –
Look on Where is that tattered faded garment – now where
The gewgaws thou wert fond to wear
The word commanding laurel circled crest?
What – all thy playthings torn away –
Vain Child of empire –

Vain froward Child of Empire say
Are all thy playthings torn away? –

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