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


The Schoolboy King

By Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)

A Scene at Brienne

LE PÈRE PETRAULT shut Virgil up

Just as the clock struck ten:

“This little Bonaparte,” he said,

“Is one of Plutarch’s men.

To see him with his massive head,

Gripped mouth, and swelling brow,

Wrestle with Euclid,—there he sat

Not half an hour from now.”

The good old pedagogue his book

Put slowly in its place:

“That Corsican,” he said, “has eyes

Like burning-glasses; race

Italian, as his mother said;

Barred up from friend and foe,

He toils all night, inflexible,

Forging it blow by blow.

“I know his trick of thought, the way

He covers up his mouth:

One hand like this, the other clenched,—

Those eyes of the hot South.

The little Cæsar, how he strides,

Sleep-walking in the sun,

Only awaking at the roar

Of the meridian gun.

“I watched him underneath my book

That day he sprung the mine,

For when the earth-wall rocked and reeled,

His eyes were all a-shine;

And when it slowly toppled down,

He leaped up on the heap

With fiery haste,—just as a wolf

Would spring upon a sheep.

“Pichegru, Napoleon’s monitor,

Tells me he ’s dull and calm,

Tenacious, firm, submissive,—yes,

Our chain is on his arm.

Volcanic natures, such as his,

I dread;—may God direct

This boy to good, the evil quell,

His better will direct.

“Here is his Euclid book,—the ink

Still wet upon the rings;

These are the talismans some day

He ’ll use to fetter kings.

To train a genius like this lad

I ’ve prayed for years,—for years;

But now I know not whether hopes

Are not half choked by fears.

“Last Monday, when they built that fort

With bastions of snow,

The ditch and spur and ravelin,

And terraced row on row,

’T was Bonaparte who cut the trench,

Who shaped the line of sap,—

A year or two, and he will be

First in war’s bloody gap.

“I see him now upon the hill,

His hands behind his back,

Waving the tricolor that led

The vanguard of attack;

And there, upon the trampled earth,

The ruins of the fort,

This Bonaparte, the school-boy king,

Held his victorious court.

“To see him give the shouting crowd

His little hand to kiss,

You ’d think him never meant by God

For any lot but this.

And then with loud exulting cheers,

Upon their shoulders borne,

He rode with buried Cæsar’s pride

And Alexander’s scorn.

“Ah! I remember, too, the day

The fire-balloon went up;

It burnt away into a star

Ere I went off to sup;

But he stood weeping there alone

Until the dark night came,

To think he had not wings to fly

And catch the passing flame.

“O, he is meant for mighty things,

This leader of my class;—

But there ’s the bell that rings for me,

So let the matter pass.

You see that third-floor window lit,

The blind drawn half-way down;

That ’s Bonaparte’s,—he ’s at it now,—

It makes the dunces frown.”