“Saint Helena (Boney on the Isle of St. Helena)”

Alternate titles: “Napoleon”; “Bone Part”
Author: James Watt? (source: broadside Bodleian Firth c.16(84))
Earliest date: 1835 (Forget-Me-Not Songster)
Keywords: exile lament Napoleon death grief
Found in: Britain(England(South)) Ireland US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf)

Description

A lament for Napoleon, "gone from his wars and his fightings." His past splendor is contrasted with his current fate. The sorrow of his wife Louisa is alluded to. His death is attributed to the malice of his enemies.

Supplemental text

Saint Helena (Boney on the Isle of St. Helena)
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

Almost certainly originally a broadside, possibly Irish. Now lost.
Surviving versions clearly damaged -- the damage perhaps being
caused by a rather elaborate original. The text below is composite,
an attempt to reconstruct the approximate original; source notes
and critical data follows the text:

Saint Helena

1 Oh, Boney has gone from his wars and his fighting;
 He has gone to the place where he never took delight in.
 And there he may sit down and tell the scenes that he has seen of
 While forlorn he doth mourn on the Isle of Saint Helena.

2 Louisa doth mourn for her husband's departing
 She dreams when she sleeps and she wakes broken-hearted.
 Not a friend to console her, even those who might be with her
 But she mourns when she thinks on the Isle of Saint Helena.

3 Now the rude rushing waves all around the shores are washing
 And the great billows' heaves on the wild rocks are dashing.
 He may look to the moon o'er the great Mount Diana
 With his eyes o'er the waves [that] roll around Saint Helena.

4 No more in St. Cloud he'll be seen in such splendor,
 Or go on with his wars like the great Alexander,
 For the young king of Rome and the prince of Gehenna
 They have caused him to die on the Isle of Saint Helena.

5 O you Parliaments of war* and your Holy Alliance
 To a prisoner of war you may now bid defiance.
 For your base intrigues and your base misdemeanors
 Have caused him to die on the Isle of Saint Helena.

6 All you that have wealth, beware of ambition
 For by some degree of fate you might change your condition
 Be steadfast in time, for what's to come you know not
 For fear you may be changed like he on the Isle of St. Helena

* The variant reading, "Parliament of England," is more reasonable
 (England was the one major enemy of Napoleon not to join the Holy
 Alliance), and may well be original -- but it won't scan.
 
***

Sources: 

B: Belden, p. 146, "The Isle of St. Helena" (verses 1, 2 , 3 6, 4)
Bl: Popular recording by Mary Black (rarely cited explicitly; used
 primarily as a source of emendations)
E: Eddy #96, p. 220, "Lonely Louisa" (verse 2 only, and missing 2C)
F: Flanders & Brown, p. 11, "Bonaparte on St. Helena" (verse 2 only)
H: Gale Huntingdon, "Songs the Whalemen Sang," pp. 205-206,
 "Bonaparte on St. Helena" (collated from two versions)
R: Brown II #146, p. 385, "The Isle of St. Helena," text A
 (see also R2, R3, R4). From C. K. Tillet or his wife in 1922
R2: Brown's B text (fragment; verses 1, 2, 3, 4AB); from Fanny Grogan
R3: Brown's C text (fragment; verses 1, 4, 2, 3A); from Alva Wise
R4: Broen's D text (fragment; verses 1AB+4AB, 2ABC, 4CD); from Mrs. Ira Reese
S: J. A. Scott, "The Ballad of America," pp. 102-104,
 "Napoleon Bonaparte"
W: Warner 143, p. 331, "Bony on the Isle of St. Helena," collected 1940
  from C. K. "Tink" Tillett (note that this may be the same informant
  as R, but with substantial variations including an extra verse!)

Of these, W is probably the best text, and the verses follow
its order. S and Bl may have been modified.

cj. = conjectural reading
txt: Indicates that the text printed above is supplied from the
 witnesses cited
Note: No notice has been made of variants regarding terminal
g (i.e. -ing versus -in') or of "St." versus "Saint." Punctuation
is generally ignored as being editorial.

 ***

References preceding variant readings are to stanza and line,
e.g. 1B refers to the second line of the first stanza.
If no lemma is quoted, then the entire line is the variant
under discussion. Separate variants within lines are
distinguished by asterisks (*):

1A * txt: cj.
     W: Oh,  Bony    he has gone from his wars                all a-fightin'
     R:      Bony    he has gone from his wars of             all   fighting
     R2:     Bone's         gone  to  the war in the battle he is   fighting
     R3: Now Bony       is  gone from the wars of             all   fighting
     R4: Bonaparte   he's   gone from the wars of             all   fighting
     H:  Bonaparte      is  gone from his wars            and his   fightings
     B: He is gone,  he is  gone from the wars of             all   fighting
     S: Now Napoleon he has done with his wars and            his   fighting
1B * txt: cj.;
     S:   He has gone to the land   he  can take   no   delight in
     B:   He is  gone to the place that  he never  took delight in
     W:   He has gone to the place where he takes  no   delight in
     R:   He has gone to the place where he never  took delight in
     R2:  He has gone to  a  place where he never  took delight in
     R3:  He's   gone to  a  place where he never  took delight in
     R4:  He's   gone to the land  where [he] doth take delighting
     H:   He has gone to  a  place that  he never  took delight in
     cj.: He has gone to  a  land  where naught    can  delight him
1C * txt: W;
     R: And there he may  set     down and tell the sence  he  has         seen of
     R2: Oh there he may  sit     down and tell all that   he  has         seen of
     R3: Oh there he'll   sit     down to the       scene where he's       seen her
     S:           He  may set him down and tell of battles he  has         been in
     H:           He  may sit     down and tell-o what great sights he has seen-o
     B: No more   he will sit     down and tell of scenes  he's            seen of
1D * txt: S;
     W: Whilst full long he doth mourn                 on the Isle of St. Helena
     H: Yet alone he must        mourn                 on the Isle of St. Helena
     B: But he                   mourns when he thinks on the Isle of St. Helena
     R: For long he does         mourn                 on the Isle of St. Helena
     R2: While for home he doth  weep                  on the Isle of St. Tellena
     R3: While for Boney he doth warm                  on the Isle of St. Helena
Verse 2: Verse 4 in H, apparently verse 3 in R3
2A * txt: cj.
     E:     Louisa she doth mourn for  her loved one departed
     B:     Louisa     doth mourn of   her loved one departed
     F:     Louisa     doth mourn for  her husband   departed
     H:     Louisa she     mourns from her husband   she is parted
     S:     Louisa     does  weep for  her husband's departing
     W: Oh, Louisy she      weeps for  her husband's departin'
     R:     Eloisa she     mourns of   her husband's departing
     R2:    Louise she doth  weep for  her husband   hath departed
     R3: The wife  she doth mourn for  her husband's departure
     R4:    Louise     doth  weep for  her husband   departed
2B * txt: F R W (S "and she wakens"; B "and awakes"; R2 "wakes all broken-hearted;
         R4 "and wakes"));
     H: And she dreams when  she sleeps and    awakes broken-hearted
     E:     She weeps  as    she sleeps and    awakes broken-hearted
     R3:    She dreams while she sleeps and she wakes broken-hearted
2C * txt: R R2 W
     F:  Not a friend      to console her     even those that might be        with her
     S:  Not a friend      to console or      even those who  might be        with her
     H:  There is none     to console her          those who  might be        with her
     B:  Not a friend      to console her     even those who  might be        with her
     R3: Not a  soul       to console her     even those who  might have been with her
     R4: There's no friend to contol  her not even those near her
     cj.: Not a friend to console her though there's many would be with her
2D * txt cj.
   R+W: For she mourns        when she thinks  on the Isle of St. Helena
     B:     She mourns        when she thinks  on the Isle of St. Helena
     E: While forlorn he doth mourn            on the Isle of St. Helena
     F: But she mourns        when she thinks  of the Isle of St. Helena
     H: Yet alone she mourns  when she thinks              on St. Helena
     S: While forlorn she does mourn           on the Isle of St. Helena
     R2: For she weeps        when she thinks  on the Isle of St. Tellena
     R3: Oh, she mourns       when she thinks  of the Isle of St. Helena
3A * txt: R R2
     H:  Where the great white-top waves on the rocks they are dashing
     W:  Oh, the rude rushin' waves all around the shores a-washin'
     R:  Now the rude rushing waves all around the shores are washing
     S:  The rude rushing waves all around the shores are washing
     B:  The rude rushing waves all around the shores are washing
     R3: The rude rushing waves beat around St. Helena
     cj. (cf. Bl; I much prefer this reading though I doubt it is original):
        Now the rude rushing waves o'er the oceans are fleeting
3B * txt: R
     H:  And the proud foaming billows on the shores they are washing
     W:  And the great billows heaves on the wild rocks are dashin'
     S:  Now the high billows roar, on the rough rocks are dashing
     B:  And the great billows heave and the wild rocks are dashing
     R2: And the great Bill of loo   and the wild rocks are burting
     cj. (cf. Bl; I much prefer this reading though I doubt it is original):
        And the great billows' roar on the shore's rocks are beating
3C * txt: W (R "...moon over the great...")
     B:  He may look to the moon  on the great mount    Diana
     S:  He may look to the moon, to the great mount of Diana
     H:  He may sigh to the winds on the       mount of Diana
     R2: He may look to the moon  of the great omount   taema
3D * txt: (W omits "that")
     R:  With his eyes over the waves rolded around St. Helena
     B:  With his eyes  on  the waves that surround St. Helena
     S: While forlorn he does mourn on the Isle of  St. Helena
     H: Yet alone he must mourn     on the Isle of  St. Helena
     R2: With his eyes over the waves that around   St. Tellena
verse 4: found in R+W, R3, and B (as verse 5) only; R2 and R4 have fragments;
     the text given is that of W without emendation; S omits; H (as verse 2)
     has a portion of this verse conflated with v. 3.
     Texts of the other versions (the differences between R and W are shown
     in caps):
4A * H:  Where the (Magalene) clouds come forth in such splendor
     B:  No more in St. Cloud shall he be seen  in such splendor
     R:  No more in St. CLOUD'S he'll  be seen  in such splendor
     R2: No more at church      he'll  be seen  in such splendor
     R3: No more in St. Cloud's he'll  be seen  in such splendor
     R4: No more in such clouds he'll  be seen  in such splendor
4B * H:  They come forth in crowds like the great Alexander
     B:  Or go on with  his crown  like the great Alexander
     R:  Or go on with  his CROWDS like the great Alexander
     R2: Nor again with his crowd   not the great Alexander
     R3: Nor gone with  his crowd  like the great Alexandria
     R4: Not roing with his crowds and  the great Alexander
4C * H:  He may sigh to the winds on the great Mount Diana
     B:  For the young king of Rome and the prince of Igana
     R:  For the GREAT king of Rome and the prince of GAHANAH
     R3: But the great king of Rome and the prince of Gay Hanna
     R4:     The young king of Rob  and the prince of Gemira
4D * H:  Yet alone he must mourn on the Isle of St. Helena
     B:  Say they will bring  their father back from the Isle  of St. Helena
     R:  SAYS THEY      BRING THEIR FATHER HOME FROM the Isle  of St. Helena
     R3:      They will bring their father home from the Isle  of St. Helena
     R4: Say  they will bring their father home from the Isles of St. Delina
verses 5-6: This order W; S places 6 before 5; B H omit verse 5; B has the
 1 2 3 6 4 (!); R omits verse 6
5A * txt cj. (S omits "O")
     W: O   you Parliaments of England and you Holy Alliance
     R: Now you Parliaments of England and you Holy Alliance
5B * a prisoner: R W; S "the prisoner"
5C * txt cj. (cf. S "...your baser misdemeanors")
     W: For his base intrudin' and his base misdemeanors
         (R "base INTRUDING")
5D * Have caused: R "has caused"
6A * txt S;
     W: Come all you's got           wealth, pray beware of ambition
     H: Come all you that have great wealth, now  beware of ambition
     B:      All ye  that have       wives,  pray beware of ambition
6B * txt: cj.
     S: Lest in some degree of health    you should change your condition
     B: 'Tis     a   decree in fate  that    might  change your condition
     W: For it's a   degree of fate  that     may   change your condition
     H: Or by some   degree or other     you might  change your condition
6C * txt: S;
     B: Be ye steadfast in time for  what is to come ye  know not 
     H: Be    steadfast in time-o[,] what is to come you can  not tell-o
     W: Be'est it best  in time for  what's  to come you know not
6D * txt: cj. (variant "like him," "like his")
     S: And   your days   they may end          on the Isle of St. Helena
     W: For fear you may   be  changed  like he on the Isle of St. Helena
     B: For fear you might be  changed  like he on             St. Helena
     H: Or by chance you might     end          on the Isle of St. Helena
     cj.: Or  your days they may end, like he on               St. Helena
     cj.: Or  your days they may end          on the Isle of Saint Helena

Notes

The grief of Marie Louisa of Austria (Napoleon's second wife) has become the only surviving theme in certain American versions of this ballad. Historically, there is little basis for this; she refused to go into exile with him to Elba, let alone St. Helena.

In fact, even before Napoleon went to Elba, she is reported to have taken General Adam Adelbert Neipperg as a lover. When he came back during the Hundred Days, she not only refused to join him, she wouldn't even allow him to see his son. By the time Napoleon died, Louisa had borne two children to other fathers.

"Mount Diana," referred to in some texts, is properly Diana's Peak, the highest point on Saint Helena (about 825 ft/250 meters above sea level). The link of Diana with the moon clearly reveals that this piece began life as a broadside; someone was using classical analogies.

The "Holy Alliance" is the coalition formed immediately after Napoleon's downfall. Its purpose was to prevent the rise of any Bonapartist pretenders. Ironically for an alliance that called itself "holy," the primary nations involved (Austria, Prussia, Russia; England was not a member) were more regressive than France. In addition, it eventually failed of its purpose, as Napoleon III later took over France.

This song seems to be known mostly from broadsides in Britain; its popularity and firm hold in tradition in the U. S. probably derives from its inclusion in the _Forget-Me-Not Songster_.

Ben Schwartz brought to my attention the attribution of this song to James Watt found in broadside Bodleian Firth c.16(84). This is a broadside; there are two poems (which is rare but not unknown), and this one has an extended prose introduction (which is even more rare). What is more, the two songs do not appear to come from the same printing house: "Bonaparte's Departure for St. Helena" appears to be self-published, while the accompanying item, "Napoleon is the Boy For Kicking up a Row," is from one of the Poet's Box outlets (though the exact one has been scratched out).

Is this the original? It lacks one of the six standard stanzas, and there are many verbal differences from the usual texts. Even more curious is the occasional hints of confornity with Scots dialect. I can only say that there appears to have been recensional activity -- but whether that activity was applied by Watt to create this text, or by the Forget-Me-Not Songster, or by someone else, I cannot tell. I'm not ready to concede authorship on the rather thin basis of one broadside. - RBW

The ballad is recorded on one of the CD's issued around the time of the bicentenial of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. See:

Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "The Isle of St Helena" (on Franke Harte and Donal Lunny, "My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte," Hummingbird Records HBCD0027 (2001)) - BS

Historical references

Cross references

Broadsides

Recordings

References

  1. Moylan 209, "The Isle of Saint Helena" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Eddy 96, "Lonely Louisa" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
  3. Belden, pp. 146-147, "The Isle of St. Helena" (1 text plus reference to 1 more)
  4. Warner 143, "Bony on the Isle of St. Helena" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Huntington-Whalemen, pp. 205-207, "Bonaparte on St. Helena" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. BrownII 146, "The Isle of St. Helena" (4 texts, mostly defective)
  7. Chappell-FSRA 109, "Napoleon" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. SharpAp 173, "Boney's Defeat" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. Flanders/Brown, pp. 111-112, "Napoleon Song," "Bonaparte on St. Helena" (1 text plus a fragment, 1 tune)
  10. Greenleaf/Mansfield 83, "Napoleon the Exile" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Scott-BoA, pp. 102-104, "Napoleon Bonaparte" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. DT, BNYSTHEL* BNYSTHE2
  13. ST E096 (Full)
  14. Roud #349
  15. BI, E096