The Dustbin of History
When in dire times all hope expires
fate may fain the jester play
and lease another act
upon those characters
who have outpaced their day.
Here then stands an Emperor
who once commanded mountain tops
and ocean waves to subordinate
their wills and strength to his design
perforce disarmed, but not prostrate.
Oh, woe betide that nameless thing
who rained upon the continent
the cannonballs and thunderbolts
of titans drunk upon democracy
that warped with praxis’ caveats.
Who carves the epitaphs of kings
but bureaucrats and sycophants who
insure postage stamps scan true,
all the while the sovereign rests
his eyes upon the works of pests.
Who compares edicts and screeds
to the Arc de Triomphe following Austerlitz?
What base wretch, clerk’s messenger, considers
paperwork equal to Jena Auerstädt in which
the End of Historywas begat?
King of France, and Italy,
with Spain and Westphalia
nepotic states, here was demotic
royalty, wild meteor of citizenship
made rampantly Olympian.
But, alas, can one be a Sultan
without a realm; what can a General
direct without martial force? And
if the Tuileries is reduced to Longwood,
is the man inside the man reduced withal?
Not so; the monarch, who with sword
and regiment, outraged Heaven
with liberty, fraternity, gunpowder
and audacity, thus revolutionizing
crimes apotheosizing Rights of Men.
Now — here stands Prometheus,
confined to dismal chains and rocks,
shorn of flames and triumphs past;
all is past, except a souvenir spyglass,
the one he held at Waterloo.
The exile of an Emperor — his Highness
now a General; stripped of rank but not
hauteur — was mitigated, with no irony,
by domestic whiles, rustic repose, and
the company of a captor’s child.
Betsy Balcombe was her name, a most
unusual English girl; she lived on St. Helena
isle, her father owned the summer home
that housed the ‘Corsican ogre’ — a
monster who deigned to amuse.
Betsy, who was then thirteen, enjoyed the company
of Lucifer. And who could better teach a lass
to speak French right, or drink cordials, or break a horse,
or break the rules of decorum by severing
a Marquis’ tail?
And, let us not omit to note,
the ‘Anecdote of the Sabre’ —
in which the Emperor did grandly
show Betsy his foil, with which
the girl wielded au fait.
And, who to better play the part
of a phantom than Napoleon?
With spectres of mad men and ghosts
to chill a child with felicity,
why not an Emperor to haunt an isle?
’Tis Shakespearean — this volatile commingling
of farce and tragedy; why not Lear and his Fool
in one person; why should gravity not have a laugh
since life performs in several acts, and humans
make discrepant themes?
This life at times was far from death,
resembling a fairy tale —
of architectural pastries, and
toy carriages drawn by live mice;
imagine a magical uncle King.
Alas, as all storybooks must do,
the ending page was turned in time
and one sad day the English lass
bade fare thee well to Napoleon,
her friend and timeless confidant.
Tender may a sovereign’s time
upon the globe be so inclined;
and who can fault perversity
this trifle of trite piquancy? Not I;
dare you? Now let us bid Betsy adieu.
Sequestered on a mountain isle,
an Emperor exiled, a commoner —
such a bitter final act, a defiled
denouement; who arrogates to comprehend
such trenchancy of destiny?
Now we add to the tale
the ignominious villain
all modern sagas crave —
and, veritably, here begins
politics as novelty.
Battles once surged across continents —
the bloody soil of human skulls that
decomposed at Austerlitz —
were then recast, typeset with ink,
an innovation decadent.
St. Helena was the stage of combat
in the media — Napoleon, the paladin,
and his gaoler, Hudson Lowe, the Governor
of the dustbin this history
The outrage and indignity,
to treat the fallen conqueror
like some infirm or bedlamite
chained to a dungeon’s penury,
deprived of rote amenity.
What is Lowe to History?
A petty marshal, comptroller,
a bookkeeper, a desk-jockey,
a micromanaging cashier,
a surtax in a uniform; a no one.
When victors fall the felled exult,
promoting averageness en masse —
yet legislating insipidness
can ne’er inspire the forward thrust
a populace desires as much as bread.
There will be heroes and legends
despite justice or exigence; a
thousand bayonets may
pay the rent, but triumph
woos the press— and a good jest.
 “Tis done — but yesterday a King!
And armed with Kings to strive —
And now thou art a nameless thing:
So abject — yet alive!”
— Lord Byron, Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, 1814.
Hegel, then a professor at the University of Jena during the fall of Prussia to Napoleonic forces, considered this battle to be “the end of the history,” representing the evolution of human societies towards what economist-historian Francis Fukuyama called the “universal [modern] homogeneous state.”
“The Emperor Napoleon, who lately possessed such boundless power and disposed of so many crowns, now occupies a wretched hovel, a few feet square, which is perched upon a rock, unprovided with furniture, and without either shutters or curtains to the windows. This place must serve him for bedchamber, dressing room, dining room, study, and sitting room; and he is obliged to go out when it is necessary to have this one apartment cleaned. His meals, consisting of a few wretched dishes, are brought to him from a distance, as though he were a criminal in a dungeon.” — Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases, The Memorial of Saint Helena, 1822-23.
“The earliest idea I had of Napoleon was that of a huge ogre or giant, with one large flaming red eyeball in the middle of his forehead, and long teeth protruding from his mouth, with which he tore to pieces and devoured naughty little girls, especially those who did not know their lessons. [Yet] his manner was so unaffectedly kind and amiable, that in a few days I felt perfectly at ease in his society, and looked upon him more as a companion of my own age, than as the mighty warrior at whose name ‘the world grew pale.’ His spirits were very good, and he was at times almost boyish in his love of mirth and glee, not unmixed sometimes with a tinge of malice. I never met with any one who bore childish liberties so well as Napoleon. He seemed to enter into every sort of mirth or fun with the glee of a child, and though I have often tried his patience severely, I never knew him lose his temper or fall back upon his rank or age, to shield himself from the consequences of his own familiarity, or of his indulgence to me. […] I think his love of children, and the delight he felt in their society — and that, too, at the most calamitous period of his life, when a cold and unattachable nature would have been abandoned to the indulgence of selfish misery — in itself, speaks volumes for his goodness of heart. After hours of laborious occupation, he would often permit [me, my sister and my two little brothers] to join him, and that which would have fatigued and exhausted the spirits of others, seemed only to recruit and renovate him. His gaiety was often exuberant at these moments; he entered into all the feelings of young people, and when with them was a mere child, and, I may add, a most amusing one.” — Mrs. [Betsy Balcombe] Abel, Recollections of the Emperor Napoleon, 1844.
 “Is this the Man of thousand thrones,
Who strewed our earth with hostile bones,
And can he thus survive?
Since he, miscalled the Morning Star,
Nor man nor fiend hath fallen so far. ”
— Byron, ibid. Byron annotated ‘Morning Star’ with: “Lucifer was Satan’s name before he rebelled and fell.”
“Amongst other sottises [silly activities], was a letter written by the Marquess de M—, in which he described all the romping games that had taken place between Napoleon and our family, such as blindman’s buff, the sword scenes, and ending his communication by observing, that ‘Miss Betsee’ was the wildest little girl he had ever met; and expressing his belief, that the young lady was folle [insane]. This letter had been translated into the German and English journals. On hearing of the affront that ‘Miss Betsee’ had received from the ‘imbecile,’ as Napoleon generally denominated him, he […] let me know how I might revenge myself. It so happened, that the marquess prided himself on the peculiar fashion of his wig, to which was attached a long cue. This embellishment to his head Napoleon desired me to burn off with caustic. I was always ready for mischief, and in this instance had a double inducement, on the emperor’s promise to reward me, on the receipt of the pigtail, with the prettiest fan [local merchant] Mr. Solomon’s shop contained.” — Abel, ibid.
“His hand was the fattest and prettiest in the world; his knuckles dimpled like those of a baby, his fingers taper and beautifully formed, and his nails perfect. I have often admired its symmetry, and once told him it did not look large and strong enough to wield a sword. Napoleon then produced from a richly embossed case, the most magnificent sword I ever beheld. The sheath was composed of an entire piece of most splendidly marked tortoise-shell, thickly studded with golden bees. The handle, not unlike a fleur-de-lys in shape, was of exquisitely wrought gold. It was indeed the most costly and elegant weapon I had ever seen. I requested Napoleon to allow me to examine it more closely; and then a circumstance which had occurred in the morning, in which I bad been much piqued at the emperor’s conduct, flashed across me. The temptation was irresistible, and I determined to punish him for what he had done. I drew the blade out quickly from the scabbard, and began to flourish it over his head, making passes at him, the emperor retreating, until at last I fairly pinned him up in the corner; I kept telling him all the time that he had better say his prayers, for I was going to kill him. […] When I resigned my sword, Napoleon took hold of my nose, which he pulled heartily, but quite in fun; his good humour never left him during the whole scene.” — Abel, ibid.
“My young brother had a kind of tutor, a curious character, whose name was Huff; he had been an inhabitant of the island I believe at that time nearly half a century. This old man, since the arrival of Napoleon, had taken many strange fancies into his brain; among others, that he was destined to restore the fallen hero to his pristine glory, and that he could at any time free him from thralldom. All argument with this old man upon the folly of his ravings was useless; he still persisted in it, and it soon became evident that old Huff was mad, and, though strictly watched, he found an opportunity one fatal morning to destroy himself. The nearest to the scene where the act was committed was the road leading to the Briars [where the Balcombes resided a few miles from Napoleon at Longwood house], and there they buried the old man. I had amongst many other follies a terror of ghosts, and this weakness was well known to the emperor, who, for a considerable time after the suicide of poor Huff, used to frighten me nearly into fits. Every night, just before my hour of retiring to my room, he would call out, ‘Miss Betsee, ole Huff, ole Huff.’ I used generally to fly out of my bed during the night, and scramble into my mother’s room, and remain there till morning’s light dispelled the terrors of darkness.” — Abel, ibid.
 “The emperor possessed among his suite the most accomplished confiseur in the world. M. Piron daily supplied his table with the most elaborate, the most elegant designs in patisserie — spun sugar, and triumphal arches, and amber palaces glittering with prismatic tints, that looked as if they had been built for the queen of the fairies, after her majesty’s own designs. Napoleon often sent us in some of the prettiest of these architectural delicacies, and I shall always continue to think the bon-bons from the atelier of Monsieur Piron more exquisite than any thing I ever tasted.” — Abel, ibid.
 “Amongst the emperor’s domestics was a very droll character, his lamplighter, a sort of Leporello, a little fellow, most ingenious in making toys and other amusing mechanical contrivances. Napoleon would often send for the scaramouche [rascal] to amuse my brothers, who were infinitely delighted with his tricks and buffooneries. Sometimes he constructed balloons, which were inflated and sent up amidst the acclamations of the whole party. One day he contrived to harness four mice to a small carriage, but the poor little animals were so terrified that he could not get them to move, and after many ineffectual attempts, my brothers entreated the emperor to interfere. Napoleon told them to pinch the tails of the two leaders, and when they started the others would follow. This he did, and immediately the whole four scampered off, to our great amusement, Napoleon enjoying the fun as much as any of us, and delighted with the extravagant glee of my two brothers.” — Abel, ibid.
 “[M]y father, my sister, and myself rode to Longwood, to bid adieu to the emperor. He was in his billiard room, surrounded by books, which had arrived a few days before. He seemed much depressed at our leaving the island, and said […] ‘Soon you will be sailing away towards England, leaving me to die on this miserable rock. Look at those dreadful mountains — they are my prison walls. You will soon hear that the Emperor Napoleon is dead.’ I burst into tears, and sobbed, as though my heart would break. He seemed much moved at the sorrow manifested by us. I had left my handkerchief in the pocket of my side-saddle, and seeing the tears run fast down my cheeks, Napoleon took his own from his pocket and wiped them away, telling me to keep the handkerchief in remembrance of that sad day.” — Abel, ibid.
“Napoleon had shortly determined, after finding out he was to be exiled to St. Helena, that his only hope of getting off the island was to create sympathy from his former followers in France, as well as sympathetic liberals in England. It was pure politics, of which Napoleon was a master. To Lowe, Napoleon appeared to be a petulant adolescent not content with his situation nor having a reasonable understanding of it. […] Napoleon was very afraid if he acquiesced to Lowe and the regulations, he would be forgotten by the public. He was undoubtedly correct — out-of-sight, out-of-mind. The fact that Napoleon has been elevated in history as a martyr has kept his name alive. The antagonist of course, had to be Sir Hudson Lowe, which is very far from the actual truth. […] Napoleon consistently complained about the lack of decent food. He complained also that food was in short supply because England had refused him an increase in his monthly allowance. This, of course, was completely untrue. […] Even so, as a propaganda stunt, Napoleon had his valet, Cipriani, take a large amount of Napoleon’s silver to Jamestown to sell it at public auction, making sure that everyone knew it was being sold because Lowe was treating Napoleon so badly. […] One should not think ill of Napoleon and his manipulation of people on St. Helena. His behavior should be taken in context. Napoleon, in fact, was a prisoner of war. Anyone who has a military background knows that it is incumbent upon captives during wartime to provide minimal information to their captors, assist fellow captives, and attempt to escape at every opportunity. With a complete understanding of Napoleon’s actions, it becomes obvious that his intentions were to be released from captivity through public sympathy. The Whig party in England, being liberals, was greatly in sympathy with Napoleon; Napoleon had supporters in the British Government, not to mention intellectuals such as Lord Byron. Napoleon acted precisely the way any prisoner of war would be expected to act, especially one so very brilliant in political acumen.” — Peter Friedman, “General Sir Hudson Lowe, KCB: Napoleon’s Jailer,” History of the Two Empires, 2008.
“[A] majority of publications excoriated Lowe for his cruel and harsh treatment of Napoleon. Many have cited it as the proximate cause of his death. Lowe, while on St. Helena, was somewhat unaware of the accusations made against him in England and France. However, when confronted with them upon his return to England after Napoleon died in 1821, Lowe assumed, as the good soldier he was, that the British Government would defend him publicly. The false accusations remained publicly unchallenged, which only gave credence to them by silence. His detractors took great advantage and continued to publish further accusations against him. Once the liberal Whig party was back in office, they supported the accusations purely for political purposes against the conservative Tory party. [Lowe] died impoverished in 1844 and was buried without honors in St. Marks Church on North Audley Street in London.” — Friedman, ibid.
“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” — Napoleon Bonaparte.
In Defense of Tyrants
Let’s hear it for the clods,
three cheers for all the frauds;
God bless the fatheads & crumbums —
but . . . it’s tyrants who deserve a hug.
Cain & Abel were such fine fellows
at least until they had their troubles;
History claims that Cain was no good
but he was simply misunderstood.
Caligula was sensitive
at least when he was sober;
It’s true he had a churlish temper
but it’s ’cause he wasn’t well-adjusted.
Attila the Hun is known as a sadistic, savage villain
but keep in mind the era of his cultural upbringing;
Sure, he burned alive civilians by the dozen —
developmental privation made him as well a victim.
Genghis Khan had ostensive merits
at least when he wasn’t impaling peasants;
He accrued a rap as a barbarian
but a lack of nurturing did him in.
Alexander the Great someone said was a prick
but that analysis actually quite fails to gel;
Under blustering world conquest (and a few oceans of blood)
he had insecurities, and really did mean well.
Richard the III’s everyone’s favorite bastard
but legend omits all his introspective acts;
In-between decapitations & that sort of stuff
his intentions were nice, his heart was all fluff.
Henry the VIII had a sweet disposition
if you looked close enough under his defensive bluff;
It’s true he had issues, prob’ly stemming from childhood —
monarchs’ cries for help don’t get much mindfulness.
Marie Antoinette was conscientious
’tho she’s gotten bad press as one heartless bitch;
While it’s true she wasn’t was quite a philanthropist
that’s because her inner child was prematurely depressed.
Katherine the Great was an awesome role model,
never mind oppressing serfs in pillories & stocks;
Sour grapes & sore losers point to her pogroms
whilst ignoring that she socked it to the patriarchy.
Andrew Jackson had a rather cud’ly inclination
at least when he wasn’t exterminating all the injuns;
The lefties cry about war crimes & other indignations
but, give the guy a break, he had sexual dysfunction.
King George the III’s famous as a despot
but running the world puts a man under stress;
Colonies this, taxation that, revolt all the time —
no wonder he hated democracy, he couldn’t relax.
Mussolini as well gets undeserved infamy
’tho in all likelihood he was traumatized;
a few thousand hung, a few million shot —
blame it on low self-esteem, it’s society’s fault.
Hooray for the dopes,
three cheers for the boobs;
God bless the dimwits & numskulls —
but . . . it’s tyrants who need a good hug.
Craig Kurtz lives at Twin Oaks Intentional Community where he writes poetry while simultaneously handcrafting hammocks. Recent work has appeared in The Artistic Muse, Bird’s Thumb, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, BlazeVOX, Blotterature, Digital Papercut, Drunk Monkeys, Literati Quarterly, The Rainbow Journal, The Recusant, Teeth Dreams, Three and a Half Point 9, Tower Journal and Veil: Journal of Darker Musing.