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Monday, 26 March 2018

Thomas Hardy and Napoleon; The Trumpet-Major and The Dynasts

WHEN Lawyers strive to heal a breach, 
And Parsons practise what they preach; 
Then Little Boney he’ll pounce down, 
And march his men on London town! 

    Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lorum, 
Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lay! 

When Husbands with their Wives agree, 
And Maids won’t wed from modesty; 
Then Little Boney he’ll pounce down, 
And march his men on London town! 

     Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lorum,
Rollicum-rorum, tol-lol-lay!

(This verse is not included in The Trumpet Major)

"Students of the Oxford University Dramatic Society parade through a street in their costumes for Thomas Hardy's play of the "Dynasts".  A VIDEO FROM BRITISH PATHÉ.

Thomas Hardy, from the Preface to The Dynasts, An Epic-Drama of the War with Napoleon:

"The Spectacle here presented in the likeness of a Drama is concerned with the Great Historical Calamity, or Clash of Peoples, artificially brought about some hundred years ago.

The choice of such a subject was mainly due to three accidents of locality. It chanced that the writer was familiar with a part of England that lay within hail of the watering-place in which King George the Third had his favourite summer residence during the war with the first Napoleon, and where he was visited by ministers and others who bore the weight of English affairs on their more or less competent shoulders at that stressful time. Secondly, this district, being also near the coast which had echoed with rumours of invasion in their intensest form while the descent threatened, was formerly animated by memories and traditions of the desperate military preparations for that contingency. Thirdly, the same countryside happened to include the village which was the birthplace of Nelson's flag-captain at Trafalgar.

When, as the first published result of these accidents, The Trumpet Major was printed, more than twenty years ago, I found myself in the tantalizing position of having touched the fringe of a vast international tragedy without being able, through limits of plan, knowledge, and opportunity, to enter further into its events; a restriction that prevailed for many years. But the slight regard paid to English influence and action throughout the struggle by those Continental writers who had dealt imaginatively with Napoleon's career, seemed always to leave room for a new handling of the theme which should re-embody the features of this influence in their true proportion; and accordingly, on a belated day about six years back, the following drama was outlined, to be taken up now and then at wide intervals ever since...

Readers will readily discern, too, that The Dynasts is intended simply for mental performance, and not for the stage...To say, then, in the present case, that a writing in play-shape is not to be played, is merely another way of stating that such writing has been done in a form for which there chances to be no brief definition save one already in use for works that it superficially but not entirely resembles".


September 1903.

Here's a scene, set in Dorchester, that would work well on the stage:

The Dynasts, Act V, Scene VI


 [On a patch of green grass on Durnover Hill, in the purlieus of Casterbridge, a rough gallows has been erected, and an effigy of Napoleon hung upon it. Under the effigy are faggots of brushwood. It is the dusk of a spring evening, and a great crowd has gathered, comprising male and female inhabitants of the Durnover suburb and villagers from distances of many miles. Also are present some of the county yeomanry in white leather breeches and scarlet, volunteers in scarlet with green facings, and the REVEREND MR. PALMER, vicar of the parish, leaning against the post of his garden door, and smoking a clay pipe of preternatural length. Also PRIVATE CANTLE from Egdon Heath, and SOLOMON LONGWAYS of Casterbridge. The Durnover band, which includes a clarionet, {serpent,} oboe, tambourine, cymbals, and drum, is playing “Lord Wellington's Hornpipe.”] 

RUSTIC [wiping his face]

 Says I, please God I'll lose a quarter to zee he burned! And I left Stourcastle at dree o'clock to a minute. And if I'd known that I should be too late to zee the beginning on't, I'd have lost a half to be a bit sooner. 


 Oh, you be soon enough good-now. He's just going to be lighted. 


 But shall I zee en die? I wanted to zee if he'd die hard, 


 Why, you don't suppose that Boney himself is to be burned here? 


 What—not Boney that's to be burned? 


 Why, bless the poor man, no! This is only a mommet they've made of him, that's got neither chine nor chitlings. His innerds be only a lock of straw from Bridle's barton. 


 He's made, neighbour, of a' old cast jacket and breeches from our barracks here. Likeways Grammer Pawle gave us Cap'n Meggs's old Zunday shirt that she'd saved for tinder-box linnit; and Keeper Tricksey of Mellstock emptied his powder-horn into a barm-bladder, to make his heart wi'.
RUSTIC [vehemently] 

 Then there's no honesty left in Wessex folk nowadays at all! “Boney's going to be burned on Durnover Green to-night,”— that was what I thought, to be sure I did, that he'd been catched sailing from his islant and landed at Budmouth and brought to Casterbridge Jail, the natural retreat of malefactors!—False deceivers—making me lose a quarter who can ill afford it; and all for nothing! 


 'Tisn't a mo'sel o' good for thee to cry out against Wessex folk, when 'twas all thy own stunpoll ignorance. 

 [The VICAR OF DURNOVER removes his pipe and spits perpendicularly.] 


 My dear misguided man, you don't imagine that we should be so inhuman in this Christian country as to burn a fellow creature alive? 


 Faith, I won't say I didn't! Durnover folk have never had the highest of Christian character, come to that. And I didn't know but that even a pa'son might backslide to such things in these gory times—I won't say on a Zunday, but on a week-night like this—when we think what a blasphemious rascal he is, and that there's not a more charnel-minded villain towards womenfolk in the whole world. 

 [The effigy has by this time been kindled, and they watch it burn, the flames making the faces of the crowd brass-bright, and lighting the grey tower of Durnover Church hard by.] 

WOMAN [singing] 

 Bayonets and firelocks!
 I wouldn't my mammy should know't
 But I've been kissed in a sentry-box,
 Wrapped up in a soldier's coat! 


 Talk of backsliding to burn Boney, I can backslide to anything when my blood is up, or rise to anything, thank God for't! Why, I shouldn't mind fighting Boney single-handed, if so be I had the choice o' weapons, and fresh Rainbarrow flints in my flint-box, and could get at him downhill. Yes, I'm a dangerous hand with a pistol now and then!... Hark, what's that? [A horn is heard eastward on the London Road.] Ah, here comes the mail. Now we may learn something. Nothing boldens my nerves like news of slaughter! 

 [Enter mail-coach and steaming horses. It halts for a minute while the wheel is skidded and the horses stale.] 


 What was the latest news from abroad, guard, when you left Piccadilly White-Horse-Cellar! 


 You have heard, I suppose, that he's given up to public vengeance, by Gover'ment orders? Anybody may take his life in any way, fair or foul, and no questions asked. But Marshal Ney, who was sent to fight him, flung his arms round his neck and joined him with all his men. Next, the telegraph from Plymouth sends news landed there by The Sparrow, that he has reached Paris, and King Louis has fled. But the air got hazy before the telegraph had finished, and the name of the place he had fled to couldn't be made out. 

 [The VICAR OF DURNOVER blows a cloud of smoke, and again spits perpendicularly.] 


 Well, I'm d—- Dear me—dear me! The Lord's will be done. 


 And there are to be four armies sent against him—English, Proosian, Austrian, and Roosian: the first two under Wellington and Blucher. And just as we left London a show was opened of Boney on horseback as large as life, hung up with his head downwards. Admission one shilling; children half-price. A truly patriot spectacle!—Not that yours here is bad for a simple country-place. [The coach drives on down the hill, and the crowd reflectively watches the burning.] 

WOMAN [singing] 


 My Love's gone a-fighting 
 Where war-trumpets call, 
 The wrongs o' men righting 
 Wi' carbine and ball, 
 And sabre for smiting, 
 And charger, and all


 Of whom does he think there 
 Where war-trumpets call?
 To whom does he drink there, 
 Wi' carbine and ball
 On battle's red brink there, 
 And charger, and all? 


 Her, whose voice he hears humming 
 Where war-trumpets call, 
 “I wait, Love, thy coming 
 Wi' carbine and ball, 
 And bandsmen a-drumming 
 Thee, charger and all!” 

 [The flames reach the powder in the effigy, which is blown to rags. The band marches off playing “When War's Alarms,” the crowd disperses, the vicar stands musing and smoking at his garden door till the fire goes out and darkness curtains the scene.]

Another scene, from the beginning of The Dynasts:



 [The time is a fine day in March 1805. A highway crosses the ridge, which is near the sea, and the south coast is seen bounding the landscape below, the open Channel extending beyond....A stage-coach enters, with passengers outside. Their voices after the foregoing sound small and commonplace, as from another medium.] 


There seems to be a deal of traffic over Ridgeway, even at this time o' year. 


Yes. It is because the King and Court are coming down here later on. They wake up this part rarely!... See, now, how the Channel and coast open out like a chart. That patch of mist below us is the town we are bound for. There's the Isle of Slingers beyond, like a floating snail. That wide bay on the right is where the “Abergavenny,” Captain John Wordsworth, was wrecked last month. One can see half across to France up here. 


Half across. And then another little half, and then all that's behind—the Corsican mischief! 


Yes. People who live hereabout—I am a native of these parts—feel the nearness of France more than they do inland. 


That's why we have seen so many of these marching regiments on the road. This year his grandest attempt upon us is to be made, I reckon. 


May we be ready! 


Well, we ought to be. We've had alarms enough, God knows.

[Some companies of infantry are seen ahead, and the coach presently overtakes them.] 

SOLDIERS [singing as they walk] 

We be the King's men, hale and hearty,
Marching to meet one Buonaparty;
If he won't sail, lest the wind should blow,
We shall have marched for nothing, 
                              O! Right fol-lol! 

We be the King's men, hale and hearty, 
Marching to meet one Buonaparty; 
If he be sea-sick, says “No, no!”
We shall have marched for nothing,
                              O! Right fol-lol!

[The soldiers draw aside, and the coach passes on.]

From The Trumpet-Major, Chapter XXVI:

"Everywhere expectation was at fever heat. For the last year or two only five-and-twenty miles of shallow water had divided quiet English homesteads from an enemy’s army of a hundred and fifty thousand men. We had taken the matter lightly enough, eating and drinking as in the days of Noe, and singing satires without end. We punned on Buonaparte and his gunboats, chalked his effigy on stage-coaches, and published the same in prints. Still, between these bursts of hilarity, it was sometimes recollected that England was the only European country which had not succumbed to the mighty little man who was less than human in feeling, and more than human in will; that our spirit for resistance was greater than our strength; and that the Channel was often calm. Boats built of wood which was greenly growing in its native forest three days before it was bent as wales to their sides, were ridiculous enough; but they might be, after all, sufficient for a single trip between two visible shores.

The English watched Buonaparte in these preparations, and Buonaparte watched the English. At the distance of Boulogne details were lost, but we were impressed on fine days by the novel sight of a huge army moving and twinkling like a school of mackerel under the rays of the sun. The regular way of passing an afternoon in the coast towns was to stroll up to the signal posts and chat with the lieutenant on duty there about the latest inimical object seen at sea. About once a week there appeared in the newspapers either a paragraph concerning some adventurous English gentleman who had sailed out in a pleasure-boat till he lay near enough to Boulogne to see Buonaparte standing on the heights among his marshals; or else some lines about a mysterious stranger with a foreign accent, who, after collecting a vast deal of information on our resources, had hired a boat at a southern port, and vanished with it towards France before his intention could be divined".

From Chapter I:

"Widow Garland’s thoughts were those of the period. ‘Can it be the French,’ she said, arranging herself for the extremest form of consternation. ‘Can that arch-enemy of mankind have landed at last?’ It should be stated that at this time there were two arch-enemies of mankind—Satan as usual, and Buonaparte, who had sprung up and eclipsed his elder rival altogether. Mrs. Garland alluded, of course, to the junior gentleman".

Thomas Hardy's The Trumpet Major – A Minor Masterpiece With a Flaw, Dr. Andrzej Diniejko, D. Litt,, The Victorian Web

The New Hardy Players, The Trumpet-Major, 2018 Summer Production

My closest encounters with the Napoleon legend:

At Austerlitz (Slavkov, near Brno) on 9 April 1988, below the Peace Monument (I had no time to visit the Napoleon Exhibition, but there were other Hardy-esque alerts). The Battle of Austerlitz took place on December 2nd, 1805.

Austerlitz – Commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz, Nov 30 - Dec 2, 2018

On Aix Island, France, 8 August, 2014:

Photo: JP

"It was on Aix Island where Napoleon spent his last days on French soil, July 12 to 15, 1815, before embarking for his exile. Settled into the commander's house that he himself had ordered constructed in 1808, the Emperor composed the rough draft of the famous letter that was placed under the protection of the British government" (

P. B. Shelley: from To the Emperors of Russia and Austria

Ye hear the groans of those who die,
Ye hear the whistling death-shots fly,
And when the yells of Victory
    Float o'er the murdered good
  Ye smile secure....

                            Be sure
The tyrant needs such slaves as you.
Think ye the world would bear his sway
     Were dastards such as you away?

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