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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


Napoleon and the British Sailor

By Thomas Campbell (1777–1844)

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.