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First as Farce, then as Tragedy: Waterloo in British Song.

A moment pause, ye British Fair,
While pleasure's phantom ye pursue;
And say, if sprightly dance or air
Suit with the name of Waterloo?
Awful was the victory!
Chasten'd should the triumph be;
'Midst the laurels she has won,
Britain mourns for many a Son.

Shall scenes like these the dance inspire?
Or wake the enlivening notes of mirth?
O! shiver'd be the recreant lyre
That gave the base idea birth!
Other sounds, I ween were there,
Other music rent the air!
Other waltz the warriors knew
When they closed on Waterloo.

--Robert Shorter, stanzas one and five of "On Seeing
in a List of New Music, The Waterloo Waltz" [1817] (1)

THE EXTRACTS ABOVE ARE FROM A POEM PUBLISHED IN SHERWIN'S POLITIcal Register, a Painite weekly sold for two pence and therefore aimed at a mass market. The journal was published in Fleet Street by William Sherwin and Richard Carlile and would be forcibly closed by the administration in the wake of Peterloo two years later. (2) Shorter's title makes clear that he has neither read nor heard the waltz in question; the mere fact of its existence is enough to move him to versification. His ire, and the reasons behind it, bear a good deal of scrutiny if we are interested in how people from the general mass of society responded to Waterloo in Britain, especially via the medium of popular song. But before considering the significant implications of Shorter's apparent indignation at so slight a thing as the title of a dance tune, I would like to consider what other ears, less stoppered by outrage, might have heard in a "Waterloo Waltz."

There is a piece by that name of far more recent vintage: it is part of Nino Rota's soundtrack for the 1970 film Waterloo, available on YouTube. (3) The orchestra strikes up exactly three minutes into the clip and does not down instruments until 8:25, when the serious business of men looking at maps demands silence and a closed door. The scene enacted is of course the Duchess of Richmond's ball, June 15, 1815--though the surroundings imagined here by the director, Sergei Bondarchuk, are rather grander than the probable reality of a low-ceilinged coach house. The five minutes in question are quite literally melodramatic, the waltz's sprightly A-section accompanying sweeping shots of dancers and frivolous discussion of Frenchmen's helmets, with the turn to the more troubling B-section timed to soundtrack somber discussion of death and bloodshed. When battle literally intrudes in the form of the mud-spattered General Muffling, the Duchess remarks to Wellington, "that gentleman will spoil the dancing," and, as tension mounts, the music slurs to a halt. Wellington requests that it continue and a sweeping, turbulent C-section follows, whilst candles gutter in an equally intrusive thunderstorm, and officers mill about in disarray. It is to my mind a perfectly conceived and exceedingly silly piece of cinema, but more to our purpose is its proposition that waltzes and warfare are fundamentally incongruous and may thus be juxtaposed to considerable dramatic effect.

Rota's composition, crafted to serve these ends, is a complex piece of music embedded with a very obvious succession of meanings; it returns later in the film as a sonic ghost, the ironic and pathetic echo of a very corporeal tragedy. If, by contrast, we go hunting for the waltz that upset Shorter, we find no such sophistication of intent. At least three plausible candidates are extant: a "Waterloo Waltz" that was "composed expressly" for the women's magazine La Belle Assemblee by a Charlotte Reeve, and included as an embellishment in its October 1815 issue; (4) a waltz with flute or string accompaniment by the obscure I. C. Mencke printed in London "for the author" in that year and subsequently reissued; (5) and Federigo Fiorillo's "The Waterloo or Belle Alliance Military Waltz, Composed for the Piano Forte, and Dedicated to his Grace The Duke of Wellington & Prince Blucher." (6) All three resist sustained musical analysis by virtue of their extreme generic conformity: the first two in particular boast no distinguishing features, and none contains any music that could be interpreted as martial tone-painting, or in any way representational of or allusive to the titular battle. Fiorillo's has a more memorable (if trite) theme--he was after all an experienced and well-travelled Neapolitan composer--but it is his score's dedication, not its notation, that proves most illuminating. Like Mencke's, his waltz was printed "for the author" by Robert Birchall of New Bond Street and sold for one shilling and sixpence, a competitive market price. Birchall also printed Fiorillo's swift follow-up, "The Duke of Wellington's Quick step into Paris, a Second Military Waltz, Composed for the Piano Forte." (7) When coupled with his first composition's opportunistic dedication and the generic simplicity of all three pieces (Reeve's is built upon a mere two chords), the theme becomes clear: these pieces were functional ephemera, composed for profit. In the wake of total military and diplomatic victory, London's polite society was in the mood for dancing, at grand balls and intimate gatherings, thus generating a demand for light, unchallenging, new music that could be linked, however spuriously, to the event being celebrated. Our three composers, far from being incompetent, clearly knew their business, and supplied what was required in exchange for social capital (Reeve), financial capital (Mencke), or both (Fiorillo). As Erica Buurman makes clear, this was not without precedent: throughout the latter part of the Napoleonic Wars, British victories such as Salamanca had occasioned hastily produced (or cannily retitled) dance music. (8) One has only to think of the Vittoria fete of 1813, held at Vauxhall Gardens, to appreciate the need.

The best-known representation of this fete is, not coincidentally, a lacerating satirical caricature by George Cruikshank. (9) Cruikshank contrasts a crippled veteran, reduced to begging, with scenes of elite excess: overindulgence, drunkenness, licentiousness. As Buurman observes, the waltz was a dance form particularly implicated with immorality in Britain, due in part to its foreign origin, and in part to the close contact between the sexes it required. One indignant writer of c. 1811, in denouncing the dance form, signs off under the pseudonym "Cato," a classical allusion implying criticism of decadence and degeneration. (10) In the postwar period, the waltz's negative connotations became linked to the scandalous excesses (in both the political and moral sense) of the Congress of Vienna. Charles Lawler, writing as the satirist "Peter Pindar," found savage irony in a juxtaposition similar to that in the ball scene from Bondarchuk's film:
I tune my lay to sacred things,
The deeds of Emperors and Kings,
Who met to fix the fate of millions,
And practise waltzes and cotill[i]ons,--(11)

Some years later, Thomas Moore mined the same theme in a satirical dream of Europe's monarchs engaged in a waltz, recalling the earlier Congress. (12)

Informed by this frame of reference--and remembering particularly Cruikshank's cripple--we may return to Shorter's 1817 poem with a deeper appreciation of how toxic a juxtaposition the words "Waterloo Waltz" would have been to a contemporary radical. Indeed, Shorter's becomes in this light a less marginal voice, the reformist campaigner finding unlikely allies in advocates of propriety and order. A clear social division emerges between a high-spirited beau monde and a wider public sobered by the human cost of victory. To quote Shorter's second stanza:
How unfit for courtly ball,
Or the giddy festival,
Was the grim and ghastly view
Ere evening closed on Waterloo!

Were this to remain a story of metropolitan polite society, one might be tempted to detect here a prefiguring of the crinoline, the ascent of middle-class morality in the face of Georgian hedonism's final fling. Yet in writing for a tuppenny paper Shorter draws the argument into an explicitly plebeian public sphere, one wherein literary responses to Waterloo more usually took the form of songs, in a discourse extending far beyond London, across the entire Atlantic archipelago. In what remains of this article, I wish to consider the broader plebeian reception of Waterloo in song, framed by this opposition of jubilation (a word of some etymological pertinence) and mournfulness. It is a reception story with clearly drawn battle lines--between metropolitan propagandists and regional writers; between immediate triumphalism and somber, even angry reflection--and one that returns us, in the end, to that enduring symbol of incongruity, the Waterloo waltz.

"Wellington Triumphant"

As with the waltzes, plebeian responses to Waterloo were not without precedent. For more than twenty years, song culture had been the site of a pitched battle between intrusive loyalists and radical activists, a battle countered by the cultural indigenes: those using song as a platform for self-expression as much as or more than a tool of ideological manipulation. This song culture was a cocktail of traditional repertoire, spiritual or political indoctrination, working-class poetry in the Burns model, and pirated works from the polite stage or periodical, set to tunes drawn from country dances, sacred music, military bands, the theater, and of course original composition. These songs circulated orally, in manuscript, and in printed broadsides, garlands, and chapbooks, and were performed and sold by ballad singers in streets, markets, fairs, and public houses. The publication of topical songs had peaked in 1803, when the medium was temporarily saturated by bellicose patriotic material responding to the threat of French invasion, and by wry responses to that patriotic war effort from skeptics across Britain. In late 1805, songwriters reached a consensus in mourning the death of Nelson (though the most famous song on that subject, by John Braham, was not composed until 1811 for his opera The Americans). Thereafter, mass-produced celebrations of Britain's successes and Napoleon's setbacks were offset by local, bottom-up effusions attacking the press gang and army crimpers, and by laments for lovers lost in Spain. Royal jubilees in 1809 and 1814 prompted sanctioned expressions of loyalty. Napoleon's first abdication occasioned both gleeful songs set to danceable tunes, and bitter reflections on the losses incurred for the ambiguous end of the Bourbon restoration. Napoleon's improbable return and Louis xvIII's flight, executed against a backdrop of Viennese decadence and despotism, were received as high drama, even farce, rather than crisis. Topical broadsides by London printers reveled in the situation's pantomimic qualities, perhaps in part to minimize the threat of a Bonapartist popular reaction in Britain--the more audiences were encouraged to laugh at Napoleon's astonishing antics, the less likely they were to take inspiration from his example. Such was the culture that responded to news of Waterloo: metropolitan printers, subsidized or leaned upon by the authorities, published light-hearted but patriotic pieces at great speed, and the wider nation reacted to events in its own way and at its own pace. Above all, it was a nation whose celebrations and sorrows, debates and dinners, were all mediated by the presence of song. (13)

John Pitts of Seven Dials, London, Britain's preeminent printer of ephemeral song (though increasingly under threat from his rival Jemmy Catnach, recently arrived from Newcastle) was at the center of this culture, and rushed out several songs in immediate response to news of Waterloo. (14) Presumably in recognition of the importance of the event, some of these were accorded a full sheet each, and sold for a full penny--twice the usual price for a single song. One, by "Samuel Wheeler, trumpeter, in His Majesty's First or King's Regiment of Dragoons," is clearly designed to convey news--but news bearing the stamp of authenticity. (15) It is in many ways a throwback to the border ballads of an earlier era, with echoes of "Chevy Chase" in its sixteen long, detailed verses and rich battle narrative. At the same time, it is very poorly written, rarely scans, and is hindered by Wheeler's narrow perspective as a participating cavalryman: the story is confined and distorted as a result. It is, however, supplemented by an annotated woodcut purporting to depict key persons and stages in the battle: this was a material document to be pored over as much as listened to, its status derived, not from any literary or musical quality, but from that pseudo-diagrammatical illustration and Wheeler's military credentials as a flesh-witness of the fight.

One imagines Wheeler, newly returned and short on funds, approaching Pitts with his narrative, and receiving a lump sum. Pitts had already produced at least one other song describing the battle, albeit in rather less myopic detail: a song credited to "J. Thompson," whom we must suppose to have been a jobbing hack. As a ballad writer for hire, Thompson is likely to have received a one-off payment of a shilling for his work, regardless of how many thousands of copies were then sold. (16) We know that it ran to at least three editions, first as a whole sheet, then as a single slip, so it is likely to have sold well. (17) A shilling was in all respects but scant recompense, for this song, "Boney's Total Defeat, and Wellington Triumphant," is a supremely competent piece of songwriting:
You've heard of a battle that's lately been won,
By our brave British troops under Duke Wellington,
How they bang'd the French army, & made Boney run
Before the brave lads of Old England,
Huzza for Old England's brave boys.

Little Boney brought all his best troops in the field,
Determin'd to conquer he swore not to yield;
But prick'd by the bayonet they stagger'd and reel'd.
Before the brave lads of Old England,
Huzza for Old England's brave boys.

No quarter! no quarter! was heard from the ranks,
While Blucher and Bulow were galling their flanks,
And Wellington's centre still play'd 'em such pranks.
A custom for lads of Old England,
Huzza for Old England's brave boys.

Confusion at length in their lines had begun,
Save yourselves was the cry, and away they all run;
And scarce would they stop to take one single gun.
But left them a prize for Old England,
Huzza for Old England's brave boys.

Their cannon in number, three hundred or near,
And all Boney's baggage was left in the rear.
His Eagles Imperial he priz'd too most dear
[W]as seized by the lads of Old England,
Huzza for Old England's brave boys.

In this glorious battle some thousands were slain,
The slaughter was dreadful, I tell it with pain.
They all fought like lions the victory to gain
A custom with lads of Old England,
Huzza for Old England's brave boys.

Now Boney's defeated, his army destroy'd,
No Emp'ror now, all his titles are void,
May Peace with all Europe at length be enjoy'd,
A reward for the lads of Old England.
Huzza for Old England's brave boys. (18)

To appreciate Pitts's decision to hire Thompson, in contrast to Wheeler's professional perspective or the moralizing agenda of a well-educated activist, one must engage with this lyric, not as verse, but as song: something to be performed, aloud, in specific time and space. The first superficial but by no means inconsiderable observation is how well it fits the tune, which as some readers may have guessed is "Roast Beef of Old England"--information not specified on the song sheet but readily apparent to contemporaries from the distinctive meter and refrain. In common with many of the best-known tunes of the day, this dates back to the early eighteenth century: the lyrics are by Henry Fielding and the tune by Richard Leveridge, both canonical writers, so far as a canon existed, of the English ballad tradition. William Hogarth had even named a 1748 painting in the original song's honor. (19) Familiar, patriotic, and eminently respectable, its associations are appropriate for the subject--yet its sonic qualities are just as crucial. Unlike more "anthemic" patriotic favorites such as "Rule, Britannia!" or "God save the King," the melody is easily sustained by a single voice and has an undemanding range and moderate tempo well suited to the transmission of an unfamiliar, news-bearing narrative where comprehension of each line is important. It is also succinct, those seven verses taking some two and a half minutes, and thus likely to hold an audience's attention at a time of great impatience for news. (20) Generically, it epitomizes the drinking song: though the verse melody is relatively complex and therefore both memorable and compelling, it leads into an emphatic two-line chorus designed for communal singing, configured in this lyrical setting as a call and response, so that each step in the triumphant narrative could be greeted with a mass rendition of "Huzza for Old England's brave boys!" from the assembled listeners in approbation. While a strong enough tune for the street, it would come into its own in the working-class public house or commercial tavern: it is easy to imagine a gathering round a table, all taking a hearty swig from their tankards at the end of each chorus. Indeed, the ritual might prove enjoyable enough to be worth reliving.

In this performative context, the workmanlike lyrics display a masterful grasp of their required function, from the strong choice of syllable to anchor each AAA rhyme--un, ield, anks, un, ear, ain, oid--to the smooth progression of the first verse: from the "come all ye" address of "You've heard," thereby instantly constructing a collective audience, to "our brave British troops," an act of identification that elides the singer's voice with her or his audience. Thereafter, established as one with the listener, the singer is free to describe events in the third person: he is not an actor in the story, but the articulator of their communal witnessing, a perspective that lends affective sincerity to what may otherwise appear to be a rather glib couplet in the penultimate verse: "In this glorious battle some thousands were slain, / The slaughter was dreadful, I tell it with pain"--a pain transmitted to the audience, but at once transmuted into the ennobling thought that they "all fought like lions."

In its entirety, then, Thompson's composition exemplifies the views of Viktor Zuckerkandl, a somewhat mystical musicologist of the mid-twentieth century, when he writes of the difference between spoken poetry and song, and specifically what musical tones do to language. Song of this sort, which Zuckerkandl calls "folk," for which we might substitute "common" or "vernacular," is about collective abandonment rather than concentration, and entails a unity rather than bifurcation of perspective:
The moment tones resound, the situation where one party faces another
is transmuted into a situation of togetherness... the tones fulfill
their purpose: remove the barrier between person and thing, and clear
the way for what might be called the singer's inner participation in
that of which he sings. (21)

In the context of 1815, Thompson's singer becomes a mediatory conduit between civilians and soldiers, and moreover in the act of singing transforms them into a single collectivity. Unlike Wheeler, above, there is no literal claim that "I was there"--yet for all that, the singer invites us to imagine, collectively, precisely that. Note also that the lyric avoids any dogma or ideological controversy: Napoleon is "Little Boney," but that is the sum total of personal invective. The concluding moral is inclusive: "May Peace with all Europe at length be enjoy'd": there is no risk here of dividing a convivial audience into political factions. This is the power, when done well, of patriotic song in an era of nation building.

This sort of thing was not always done well. Other metropolitan songwriters adopted the mind-set of the Waterloo waltz, continuing in the jocular vein with which they had greeted not only Napoleon's return from Elba, but every turn of events since his second marriage to Marie Louise of Austria in 1810. (22) Yet we may observe a class- and occasion-based shift in responses to Waterloo. Those songs which appear to have originated as (rather than simply to have become) halfpenny broadsides all tend to include at least one verse commemorating the unprecedented (for the British) loss of life, valorizing the fallen and often calling for relief for their widows and orphans, however celebratory the remainder of the narrative. These are rarely effected as well as Thompson's example above, and make for rather incongruous hearing when the narrative flips between dead working men and their starving widows, and the glory of titled commanders, usually glamorous cavalrymen such as Uxbridge, Paget, and Somerset. (23) Of the many songs simply called "The Battle of Waterloo," one featured the consecutive verses:
Three hundred captive cannons show,
Our Victory's complete,
While Boney's Eagle crouching low,
Now kiss our Regent's feet.

For our brave men who nobly died,
Let Pity's tear be shed,
Relieve their hapless widow's wants
And give their orphans bread, (24)

So total is the reversal of sentiment, from glory as calculated by weight of metal to suffering generated by human death, so unfortunate the juxtaposition of the notoriously gluttonous, disreputable Prince Regent with the orphans' want of bread, that the song admits a pointedly radical reading, whether or not this was the writer's intention. And indeed, in the general elision of named heroes, lords and generals all, with the sacrifices of the ordinary soldier, these broadside responses to Waterloo were following a trend apparent from the earlier Peninsular War: a subtle gathering of rhetorical weight behind the importance of the ordinary, disenfranchised, working man's contribution to the war effort that would be put to more explicit use in the coming months and years--so that there are shades of the ironically-nicknamed Peterloo Massacre of 1819 even in the genuine celebration of the 1815 original.

These unexpectedly nuanced street originals, whether clumsy or cunning in their uneven sentiments, stand in marked contrast to those songs immediately produced for the middling stage, where a mood of less complicated triumphalism obtained. Most exemplary of these is "Nappy's Napped," sung by the comic actor Charles Sloman at Sadler's Wells, the Islington theater best known at the time for its aquatic spectaculars and pantomimes. Rather than anticipating the exceptional nature of Waterloo in the British imagination, such songs figured the battle as merely one incident in a derogatory comic narrative of Napoleon:
Ney brought Boney back,
The Marshals Emperor sound him,
Louis forc'd to pack,
Th'Allies all rallied round him;
Nap didn't care a rush,
He said for what they'd do, sir,
And vow'd he'd have a brush,
So brush'd at Waterloo, sir! (25)

The register here is self-consciously witty: appropriate enough for the stage, but far less so for the subsequent broadside edition of the song published by Thomas Batchelar. The battle itself is reduced to a punning couplet of the rather forced sort known as a "clench," in a reference to corporal punishment that infantilizes and trivializes not only Napoleon, but the whole campaign. The choice of imagery is not without precedent: in the previous year, at least three separate London caricatures by George Cruikshank, Charles Williams, and John Lewis Marks had depicted Napoleon being "brushed" or birched, in the first two by Bliicher, and in the third by Wellington. (26) The motif was revived after Waterloo in the William Heath caricature "Flog[g]ing a naughty Boy," in which the two allied commanders share the role of chastiser. (27) The Sloman song is thereby in dialogue with a relatively elite visual discourse, in which trivialization was an acknowledged and indiscriminate mode of political satire: a register made doubly inappropriate for the battle when removed by Batchelar's edition to the world of street song. This was not the only occasion that summer when the theatrical response could be construed as displaying poor taste: the Licenser of Plays was moved to forbid the performance of a light musical farce, adapted from a French original, entitled The Duke's Coat; or, The Night After Waterloo, citing as grounds for the censorship its frivolous treatment of a serious subject. (28) Evidently, even figures of authority were aware that the popular mood was turning somber, as Britain absorbed the literal and psychological scale of the slaughter.

"Mingled in Butchery"

I have repeatedly written "Britain," and told of London, the metropolis being the obvious place to look for the most immediate responses to news of Waterloo. To gain any sense of the broader reaction, however, one must venture further afield. No analysis derived from the ephemeral medium of song can pretend to comprehensiveness, yet from what remains extant, clear patterns emerge. If, for example, one turns to Welsh songs, many of which have recently been translated and edited by Ffion Mair Jones, one encounters a unique cultural perspective. (29) Here, songs of Waterloo are deeply inflected by religious faith, which prompts not only compassion for the fallen, but a severely fatalistic reading of the battle:
Britain! Britain! Great is your success!
Give the King of heaven the glory!
It was He himself--neither man nor angel--
Who caused success to our men of war. (30)

Throughout these songs, the language is that of the Old Testament, and God a severe and righteous smiter, with the result that there can be no forgiveness for Napoleon, who variously deserves to "have his windpipe broken" or "be buried in the pigsty." (31) Yet if mercy and forgiveness are absent, so too is fraternity: that pious fatalism is to some degree a means of foreclosing any discussion of the working man's agency and, consequently, the political question of his reward. This suggests the suppression, rather than the absence, of a more radical Welsh perspective--it was, after all, a country known for its radical Dissenters--and we may link the religious orthodoxy of its printed songs in 1815 to Tory-controlled networks of print patronage. (32) Indeed, region-by-region, it appears that, while there was no obvious unity of feeling, one mode of expression was more audible than others. In most regions other than Wales and the south, this mode was far from the loyalist orthodoxy.

A consideration even of the titles of these songs, from across the north of England and Ireland, suggests a shift in functionality--and, indeed, in the speed of their creation: these songs almost certainly postdate the battle by some time. Thomas Wilson, a prolific Mancunian songwriter from a radical plebeian family that was famed for its songs, penned "Young Edward Slain at Waterloo," (33) a titular proposition that immediately takes us from the realm of news and celebration to both tragedy and the situational song. (34) A named everyman is inserted into the story, at once universalizing and particularizing the battle, whilst framing it as indisputably tragic. Wilson's apparently incongruous choice of tune is "Garland of Love," popularized nine years earlier by Maria Bland's rendition in James Hook's melodrama Tekeli. (35) The original is pastoral, romantic, the air elaborate and sprightly: connotations Wilson is perhaps exploiting for their dissonant potential, as his narrative moves from the "brave salamander" over whom Aurora glimmers, to Edward's "sad" death, lamented by his "poor Susan" who dies from her grief. Waterloo itself becomes the setting, not the subject: at most, tragedy's agent, not a battle won.

This reconfiguration is common to multiple, distinct Irish songs called "The Plains of Waterloo," where Willie Reilly is parted from his Nancy. These merged with the existing genre of "broken token" love songs, in which parted lovers each hold half of a locket or ring, which serves to identify them to each other when the man returns, transformed by hardship, and often tests his beloved's faithfulness before revealing himself--yet in a tragic twist, these Waterloo variations often end with a denial of expectation: the male character really is just a friend of the lover, whose reported death on the field of battle concludes the song. (36) Surveying nineteenth-century song more widely, it becomes apparent that, once the character of Waterloo had become fixed in collective memory, no lesser event would do for a song of sorrow: it was the tragedy to end all tragedies for precisely one hundred years, so that many of these songs became less responses to Waterloo than reflections of how that response had become encoded in the mass imaginary.

Samuel Bamford, a weaver from Middleton near Manchester, wrote at least one song of this nature in the battle's aftermath, "The Dying Dragoon." (37) Yet Bamford, a notable radical activist who would be imprisoned following his prominent role in the 1819 St Peter's Field demonstrations, introduces us to the harder edge of working-class responses. His "Waterloo" is a savage polemic, concerned not merely with "the soldier slain," but with the broader political implications: "Hell, in her darkness, triumph'd then, / For freedom fell by Englishmen!" (38) His most contentious reaction was his most immediate: "The Patriot's Hymn" was written in July 1815 directly upon hearing the news. (39)
O THOU Great Power Divine,
Wisdom and might are thine,
And majesty.
Hear thou thy people's cry,
Behold their misery,
Groaning in slavery,
Let man be free.

Emperors, and lords, and kings,
Gaudy and glittering things,
Unlov'd by thee.
If they but nod the head,
Armies are mustered,
Thousands to slaughter led,
For tyranny.

Gory is Europe's plain,
Whelmed beneath her slain,
Dreadful to see.
Bleeding promiscuously,
Victors and vanquish'd lie,
Mingled in butchery;
Let man be free.

See Britain's patriot band,
Guarding their native land,
From tyranny.
Rise, rise, thou God of might,
All her oppressors smite,
Sweep them to death and night.
Let man be free.

Blest be our native isle,
Heaven upon it smile,
Let it be free.
Sheath'd be the warrior's brand,
Love shall go hand in band,
Triumphing o'er the land,
With liberty.

There is not much to unpick here: Bamford, writing in demagogic mode, trumpets his arguments aloud. His song is an exhortation of early Christian socialism: a radical Dissenter's war cry against privilege, nation, militarism, and oppression. In the third verse, Waterloo is elevated from its Belgian particularity to become "Europe's plain," synecdoche for a generation's folly and suffering entailed by the Ancien Regime's suppression of the French Revolution. There are no winners of this battle, no French or British even, but simply men, "Bleeding promiscuously" and "Mingled in butchery." This brotherhood without borders is thereafter relocated to the specificity of Britain as Bamford moves from universal woe to national solution. For his is no lament, but an ode to action: a "Patriot's Hymn" in every sense. As many scholars have discussed, patriotism was a much-contested term, monopolized by reactionary forces after a long battle in the 1790s, but open once again to reclamation by reformers in the postwar period. (40) To turn to the other half of the title, Bamford's song is a hymn in more than a figurative or even a religious sense: it was material for communal singing on specific occasions. In his memoirs, he details the uses to which he put "heart-inspiring song," such as his "Union Hymn" and "Lancashire Hymn," and records the ambiguous fact that, at Peterloo itself, the only music sung consisted of "national and loyal airs." (41) "The Patriot's Hymn" epitomizes this definition, as the "air" is transparently that of "God save the King." It is from this choice of tune that the song gains its potency as a parody, an unmistakable and provocative bid to reclaim the legitimating discourse of patriotism, even if the king himself is excluded from this definition of nation, as "Unlov'd" by God.

In the short term, Bamford's call to metaphorical arms was amplified by the effect of widespread postwar economic depression and unemployment. Unsurprisingly, we find embittered interpretations of Waterloo right across the industrial north, focusing on the cost of victory to the working classes and contrasting the state-sanctioned propaganda of wartime with the subsequent downturn. (42) "Waterloo Fashions" is perhaps the epitome of these productions, a song published in London, Manchester, and in a variant form at North Shields, and probably printed and circulated more widely still. (43) While not explicitly radical, its most common lyrics are wearily cynical, contrasting a bitter picture of poverty and starvation for the masses with the doubtful official story of a suspect, othered "Duke." Set to a highly conventional ballad meter, the lyrics lend themselves to interpretation by individual street singers, who could select a tune to suit their own delivery: this song is a message being delivered, not a communal experience shared, although the narrator identifies with and thus to some extent speaks for her or his audience.
But a few months ago we were taught to rejoice,
And sing and give thanks with a loud cheerful voice,
For a victory great, if the tale be told true,
That was won by a Duke, at or near Waterloo.

We are told that he conquer'd all France by his sword
Upset little Boney and Bourbon restor'd,
And so great was his fame that the fashions now new
And the times that we live in are call'd Waterloo.

There are Waterloo boots, and Waterloo shoes,
And plenty we've had of Waterloo news,
But the Waterloo wars are all over and past,
And the Waterloo peace has set us all fast,

Our Waterloo weavers are grown very thin,
And their Waterloo faces are all bone and skin.
And their Waterloo bellies it runs in my mind
Have not much in them but Waterloo wind.

Our Waterloo farmers who us'd for to boast,
While "God save the King" was their song and their toast
Their wine rum and brandy and finery fail
And now they are glad to drink Waterloo ale

There are Waterloo tradesmen and Waterloo trade
And Waterloo workmen distrest and dismay'd
Whose Waterloo faces are clam'd till they grin
And Waterloo noses grown down to their chin

Social injustice is leavened with comedy: the singer is constructed as articulating the plight of the dispossessed from a position of rather arch omniscience. The song offers only observation, rather than Bamford's exhortations, yet the society portrayed is a society divided between the unseen masters personified in the Duke and the honest workers, into whose camp even the once-fat farmers are now shown to fall. In this oppositional realignment of society, the song is rather less passive than it may at first appear.

"Mourn without ceasing"

For much of the population across the Isles, then, the legacy of Waterloo was one of division rather than unification, along primarily sociopolitical but also geographic fault lines. We may conclude with the case of Scotland. The traditional narrative here is one of post-Jacobite reconciliation, the highly visible iconography of kilt and claymore being by 1815--thanks in no small part to the losses sustained by Scottish regiments at both Waterloo and Quatre Bras--thoroughly reintegrated into a loyalist British patriotic discourse. The poet, weaver, and ex-cavalryman Walter Watson essayed a more localized, vernacular healing of old wounds in his comic song "Adventures of Sawney and Donal at Waterloo," a song much reprinted, wherein Sawney is a lowlander and Donal a highlander, who come together to win the battle. (44) Yet even here, the victory is attributed "to auld Scotland's glory," without a mention of the English, thereby attempting to ameliorate one longstanding division at the expense of reinscribing another.

Watson's is a division caused by omission: there is another Scottish song composed in the battle's immediate aftermath--it has a fair claim to be the very first song of Waterloo--that is more explicit in the oppositions it draws. "The Eighteenth of June" was written by an unnamed Scottish soldier in a Brussels dressing-station, and there learnt by Jim Shoubridge, who had it published in a Falkirk garland of songs on his return home. (45) A couplet in its fifth verse establishes national distinctions: "Let England rejoice in her heroes, and Ireland in great Wellington; / But Scotia may mourn without ceasing, her best and her bravest are gone!" Its indictments are reserved, however, for a civilian social elite, addressed in a near-accusatory manner in the song's opening couplet: "Ye people at home, who live easy, and free from the riots of war, / Let thought take a place in your bosoms, and sigh for the sorrows of war." The sixth verse in particular is explicitly antagonistic:
Ye fops, and ye fine gaudy mortals,
whose life's like the mist of the morn,
An hour in this terrible conflict
would told you what for you was born.
The groans of the dying and wounded,
would sent thro' your bosoms a stoun!
You would learn'd to have danc'd a new figure,
at the Ball on the 18th of June.

Here the songwriter, a literal casualty of the battle, anticipates his successors who will voice themselves as victims of a costly, unjust, and bloody war: from strikers in the Tyne shipyards (46) to Bamford's marching weavers. He distinguishes between those who have suffered corporeally and an elite that is almost literally untouchable--"like the mist of the morn." And his choice of imagery returns us, prophetically, to Shorter's poem of 1817. In responding to Waterloo, Britain was split, rhetorically at the very least, into two camps that found themselves ever more at odds as the postwar reformist cause took hold: into suffering, because working, bodies, and the dancers of the Waterloo waltz.

Queen Mary University of London


Anon. The Duke's Coat; or, The Night After Waterloo. London, 1815.

Ashton, John. Modem Street Ballads. London, 1888.

Bamford, Samuel. Passages in the Life of a Radical. London, 1841. Reprinted Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

--. Homely Rhymes and Reminiscences. Revised edition. Manchester, 1864.

Bodleian Ballads.

British Library Music Collections.

Buurman, Erica. "'Buonaparte's Return to Elba' and other Waltzes: European Politics in the Regency Ballroom." Paper presented at Popular Reactions and State Responses to the 100 Days. University of Warwick, 7 July 2015.

Cambridge University Library Madden Collection.

Constantine, Mary-Ann, and Edwards, Elizabeth. '"Bard of Liberty': Iolo Morganwg, Wales and Radical Song." In United Islands? The Languages of Resistance, edited by John Kirk, Andrew Noble, and Michael Brown, 63-76. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012.

Cox Jensen, Oskar. Napoleon and British Song, 1797-1822. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Cunningham, Hugh. "The Language of Patriotism, 1750-1914." History Workshop 12 (1981): 8-33.

Fables for the Holy Alliance, Rhymes on the Road, &c. &c. London, 1823.

The Famous Battle of Waterloo, Fought the 18th day of June 1815. Falkirk, 1815.

Hindley, Charles. The History of the Catnach Press. London, 1887.

Jones, David J. V. Before Rebecca: Popular Protests in Wales, 1793-1835. London: Viking, 1973.

Jones, Ffion Mair. Welsh Ballads of the French Revolution, 1793-1815. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012.

Lawler, Charles F. The German Sausages; or the Devil to Pay at Congress! London, 1815.

Loffler, Marion. Welsh Responses to the French Revolution: Press & Public Discourse, 1789-1802. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012.

Mayhew, Henry. London Labour and the London Poor. 4 Vols. London, 1851-61.

Palmer, Roy. The Sound of History: Songs and Social Comment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Scrivener, Michael. Poetry and Reform: Periodical Verse from the English Democratic Press, 1792-1824. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992.

Shepard, Leslie. John Pitts, Ballad Printer of Seven Dials, London, 1765-1844. London: Pinner: Private Libraries Association, 1969.

Slteru'in's Political Register 1 (1817).

Smith, Charles Manby. The Little World of London. London, 1857.

The Songs of the Wilsons: With a Memoir of the Family. Manchester, [1842]. Edited by John Harland.

Town Talk; or, living manners. British Museum 1862, 1217.309.

Watson, Walter. Poems and Songs, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Clasgow, 1853.

Zuckerkandl, Viktor. Man the Musician. 2 Vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.

The writing of this article was made possible by the funding of the European Research Council, through the research project "Music in London, 1800-1851."

(1.) Sherwin's Political Register 1 (1817): 303-4.

(2.) Michael Scrivener, Poetry and Reform: Periodical Verse from the English Democratic Press, 1792-1824 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 201.

(3.) At the time of writing you could enjoy it as diegetic music at, accessed 1 February 2016. Also available as track three of the published CD (Legend, 1995).

(4.) I am indebted to Erica Buurman tor this information.

(5.) "Waltz composed in Honour of the grand Victory at Waterloo," British Library Music Collections h.721.uu (1).

(6.) British Library Music Collections H.311 (2).

(7.) British Library Music Collections H.311 (3).

(8.) Erica Buurman, "'Buonaparte's Return to Elba' and other Waltzes: European Politics in the Regency Ballroom" (paper presented at Popular Reactions and Stale Responses to the too Days, University of Warwick, 7 July 2015).

(9.) "Vauxhall fete," 1 August 1813, published for Town Talk; or, living manners. British Museum 1862, 1217.309.

(10.) Buurman, "'Buonaparte's Return to Elba.'" The allusion is presumably to either Cato the Censor, or Cato the Younger--the implication is the same in both cases.

(11.) Charles F. Lawler, The German Sausages; or the Devil to Pay at Congress! (London, 1815), 5.

(12.) Thomas Moore, "Fable 1, The Dissolution of the Holy Alliance, A Dream," in idem, Fables for the Holy Alliance, Rhymes on the Road, &c, &c (London, 1823), 1-8.

(13.) Rather than offer exhaustively meticulous footnotes to this paragraph, I would direct the reader to a fuller (and fully-referenced) discussion in my Napoleon and British Song, 1797-1822 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

(14.) See Leslie Shepard, John Pitts, Ballad Printer of Seven Dials, London, 1765-1844 (London: Private Libraries Association, 1969).

(15.) Bodleian Ballads Harding B 4(69). The song may be heard at

(16.) A shilling is the longstanding fee stated in, variously: Charles Manby Smith, The Little World of London (London, 1857), 254; Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 4 vols. (London, 1851-61), 1:220, 2:196-97; and Charles Hindley, The History of the Catnach Press (London, 1887), xiv. However, see also John Ashton, Modern Street Ballads (London, 1888), viii, who gives the fee as half a crown.

(17.) Bodleian Ballads Harding B 12 (6), Curzon b.33 (162), and Firth c.14 (43).

(18.) The song can be heard at

(19.) Tate Britain No 1464.

(20.) On this mass fever for news, see Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 99-102.

(21.) Zuckerkandl, Man the Musician, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 2:28-29.

(22.) Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 79-85, 113-16.

(23.) Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 117-19.

(24.) Bodleian Ballads: Johnson Ballads fol. 112.

(25.) Cambridge University Library Madden Collection, 5:652.

(26.) British Museum: respectively 1X59, 0316.1066; 1868, 0808.8162; 1868, 0808.8153.

(27.) British Museum 1872, 1012.12560.

(28.) Anon, The Duke's Coal; or. The Night After Waterloo (London, 1815), v-vi.

(29.) Ffion Mair Jones, Welsh Ballads of the French Revolution, 1793-1815 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012).

(30.) Thomas Jones, "A new song about the success which our soldiers had over Bonaparte and his army in France on the 16th, 17th and 18th of last June," in Jones, Welsh Ballads, 333-39.

(31.) Jones, "A new song"; Ioan Daffyd, "A new song on the retaking of Bonaparte, together with his sending to St Helena," in Jones, Welsh Ballads, 319-22.

(32.) See also David J. V.Jones, Before Rebecca: Popular Protests in Wales, 1793-1835 (London: Viking, 1973); Mary-Ann Constantine and Elizabeth Edwards, "'Bard of Liberty': Iolo Morganwg, Wales and Radical Song," in United Islands? The Languages of Resistance, eds. John Kirk, Andrew Noble, and Michael Brown (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012), 63-76; and Marion Loffler, Welsh Responses to the French Revolution: Press & Public Discourse, 1789-1802 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012).

(33.) The song can be heard at

(34.) The Songs of the Wilsons: With a Memoir of the Family, ed. John Harland (Manchester, [1842]), 29-31; Roy Palmer, The Sound of History: Songs and Social Comment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 27-28.

(35.) British Library Music Collections G.295.ff (7).

(36.) Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 123-24.

(37.) Bamford, Homely Rhymes and Reminiscences (revised ed., Manchester, 1864), 192-93.

(38.) Samuel Bamford, The Weaver Boy; or, Miscellaneous Poetry (Manchester, 1819), 10-11.

(39.) Bamford, Homely Rhymes, 47-48. The song can be heard at

(40.) A discussion that of course goes back to E. P. Thompson, but that may be located more specifically in, e.g. Hugh Cunningham, "The Language of Patriotism, 1750-1014," History' Workshop 12 (1981): 8-33.

(41.) Samuel Bamford, Passages in the Life of a Radical (London, 1841; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 123; 76, 85, 173, 207; 237.

(42.) Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 124-26, 157-59.

(43.) Bodleian Ballads: Johnson Ballads 3019; 2806 c.17 (451); Harding B 25 (2005).

(44.) Watson, Poems and Songs, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Glasgow, 1853), 17-19. The song can be heard at,

(45.) The Famous Battle of Waterloo, Fought the 18th day of June 1815 (Falkirk, 1815), 2-4. The song can be heard at

(46.) For more on whose songs, see Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 125-26; 158.
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Author:Jensen, Oskar Cox
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Sep 22, 2017
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