Into double figures with my favourite Napoleon song, and one of my favourite traditional songs on any subject.
I learned it from Nic Jones’s recording, although it took a while to work out what the time signature was supposed to be. I tend to be quite tight in terms of timekeeping, which isn’t always a good thing; the more free-floating approach Nic Jones took to this song showed me how effective it could be to mess with the rhythm a bit, as in the extra beat I throw in to the last line of the first verse (“Conversing with young Napoleon…”)
“Young Napoleon” was Napoleon II, although he was never really Napoleon II of anywhere; in theory he was the King of Rome, among other things, but I don’t think Rome knew much about it. He died of TB at the age of 21. You can see his portrait at the Bandcamp page for this song. There’s something childlike about the way the singer tells the terrible story of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, and promises to succeed where he failed “in spite of all the universe”. And then that awful last verse – there can’t be many situations more heartbreaking than a young man talking to his mother from his deathbed (she was only 40 when he died). I’m particularly fond of a line that was probably only put in for the sake of the rhyme:
Had I lived I might have been clever
I find this incredibly poignant – the idea that Napoleon II died thinking that he’d been a bit of an idiot, and if only he’d had a few more years he could have sorted himself out. Not everyone agrees; Tony Capstick changed the line to “I could have been brave”. It seems in character – I don’t get the feeling Capstick had much admiration for clever people. (His version is also very good, and uses a completely different tune. Maybe later in the year.)