Grand Conversation of Napoleon
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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This song appeared on numerous broadsides in the mid 1800s. It appears in a manuscript list of ballads in 1837. Barrett refers to this as the Conversation OF Napoleon, but it is also often referred to as Conversation ON Napoleon.

William Barrett notes that "It is impossible to account for the extraordinary popularity of this song. The words grand conversation appear to have had a peculiar fascination for the illiterate ballad poets. There are numbers of grand conversation songs extant, none of which are less inconsequential than the present. Perhaps the tune did much in helping its popularity."

As Barrett notes, "grand conversation" songs were very popular. They include: Grand Conversation on O'Connell, Grand Conversation on Old Ireland, Grand Conversation Under the Rose and Grand Conversation on Brave Nelson-Burns. Copies of these as well as Grand Conversation of/on Napoleon are at the Bodleian Library.

It was over that wild beaten track
'Twas said a friend of Buonaparte,
Did pace the sands and lofty rocks
Of St. Helena's shore,
The wind it blew a hurricane,
The lightning fierce around did dart,
The sea-gulls they were shrieking,
And the waves around did roar
Ah hush, rude winds, the stranger cried,
While I range the spot,
Where last a gallant hero died
His weary eyelids close,
But though at peace his limbs do rest,
His name will never be forgot,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

Alas! He cried, why England
Did you persecute that hero bold?
Much better had you slain him
On the plains of Waterloo:
Napoleon he was a friend
To heroes all, both young and old,
He caused the money for to fly
wherever lie did go
When plans were forming night and day,
The bold commander to betray,
He cried, I'll go to Moscow
And there will ease my woes,
If fortune smiles on me that day,
Then all the world shall me obey,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

His men in thousands then did rise,
To conquer Moscow by surprise,
He led his troops across the Alps
Oppress'd by frost and snow,
But being near time Russian land
He then began to open his eyes,
For Moscow was a burning,
And the men drove to and fro.
Napoleon dauntless viewed the flames,
And in anguish at the same,
He cried, retreat, my gallant men,
For time so swiftly goes,
What thousands died on that retreat,
Some forced their horses for to eat,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

At Waterloo they bravely fought,
Commanded by this Buonaparte,
Field-Marshal Ney did him betray,
For he was bribed by gold,
When Blucher led the Prussians
It nearly broke Napoleon's heart,
He cried my thirty thousand men
Are kill'd, and I am sold.
He view'd the plain and cried All's lost,
Lie then his favourite charger cross'd,
The plain was in confusion
With blood amid dying woes,
The bunch of roses did advance,
And boldly entered into France,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

But Buonaparte was plann'd to be
A prisoner across the sea,
The rocks of St. Helena,
It was the final spot,
And as a prisoner there to be
Till death did end his misery,
His son soon followed to the tomb,
It was an awful plot:
And long enough have they been dead,
The blast of war is round us spread,
And may our shipping float again
To face the daring foes,
And now, my boys, when honour calls,
We'll boldly mount the wooden walls,
This grand conversation on Napoleon arose.

Related Links
  • The Light Dragoons (15th/19th King's Royal Hussars) Museum Collection
  • From English Folk-Songs
    See Bibliography for full information.