Saint Helena (Boney on the Isle of St. Helena)
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.
AUTHOR: James Watt? (source: broadside Bodleian Firth c.16(84))
EARLIEST DATE: 1830 (broadside cited by Samuel Lover; see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: exile lament Napoleon death grief
1815 - Defeat at the Battle of Waterloo forces Napoleon into exile
1821 - Death of Napoleon
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South)) Ireland US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (16 citations):
Moylan-TheAgeOfRevolution-1776-1815 209, "The Isle of Saint Helena" (1 text, 1 tune)
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 96, "Lonely Louisa" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 146-147, "The Isle of St. Helena" (1 text plus reference to 1 more)
Thompson-APioneerSongster 30, "Napoleon Bonaparte" (1 text)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 143, "Bony on the Isle of St. Helena" (1 text, 1 tune)
Huntington-SongsTheWhalemenSang, pp. 205-207, "Bonaparte on St. Helena" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 146, "The Isle of St. Helena" (4 texts, mostly defective)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 146, "The Isle of St. Helena" (3 excerpts, 3 tunes, with 2 of the tunes from C. K. TIllett but the "E" tune, and text, entirely unlike the others)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 109, "Napoleon" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 173, "Boney's Defeat" (1 text, 1 tune)
Boswell/Wofle 90, p. 143, "Bonaparte" (1 short text, 1 tune, clearly this but with most of the names badly damaged)
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 111-112, "Napoleon Song," "Bonaparte on St. Helena" (1 text plus a fragment, 1 tune)
Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland 83, "Napoleon the Exile" (1 text, 1 tune)
Forget-Me-Not-Songster, pp. 205-206, "Buonaparte on St. Helena" (1 text)
Scott-TheBalladOfAmerica, pp. 102-104, "Napoleon Bonaparte" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, BNYSTHEL* BNYSTHE2
ST E096 (Full)
Charles K. "Tink" Tillett, "Bony on the Isle of St. Helena" (on USWarnerColl01) [called simply "Bony" on the CD sleeve; the longer title is in the interior notes]
Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 205, "The Island of St. Helena," J. Catnach (London), 1813-1838; also Harding B 11(1517), Firth c.16(99), Firth b.34(201), Harding B 11(847) [some words illegible], Harding B 11(1810), Harding B 11(1811), "Isle of St. Helena"; Harding B 25(1716), Harding B 11(3955), "The Island of St. Helena"; Harding B 25(245), "Bonapate's Lamentation at the Island of St. Helena"; Firth c.16(84), "Bonaparte's Departure for St. Helena"
cf. "Farewell to Mackenzie" (meter)
cf. "Napoleon's Farewell to Paris" (subject)
cf. "The Royal Eagle" (subject: Marie Louisa's grief for Napoleon)
cf. "The New Bunch of Loughero" (theme: Marie Louise's grief for Napoleon)
cf. "The Removal of Napoleon's Ashes" (theme: Marie Louise's grief for Napoleon)
cf. "The Braes of Balquhither" (tune, per broadside Bodleian Firth c.16(84))
NOTES [539 words]: 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). There are two poems on ths broadside (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.
That said, it appears that James Moulden accepts the attribution -- at least, he cites it while mentioning Samuel Lover's quotation of parts of the song; see John Moulden, "Ballads and Ballad Singers: Samuel Lover's Tour of Dublin in 1830," -- essay found in David Atkinson and Steve Roud, Editors, Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America: The Interface between Print and Oral Tradition, Ashgate, 2014, p. 139. - 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
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