> Folk Music > Songs > The Dream of Napoleon
The Dream of Napoleon / Napoleon's Dream / One Night Sad and Languid
; Master title: The Dream of Napoleon
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Gale Huntington printed One Night Sad and Languid from the journal of the Cortes (1847) in the section “All from the British Isles Sea” of his book Songs the Whalemen Sang (Barre Publishing, 1964). He commented:
This is another of the songs that show so clearly the strength of the Napoleonic myth. The line, “From that land of your fathers who boast they are free,” seems to indicate that this particular Napoleon song is American. But most of the song has the feel of an Irish lament.
Ralph Vaughan Williams collected A Dream of Napoleon in January 1905 from Mr Charles Crist, formerly able-bodied seaman in the Merchant Navy, but by then a resident of the workhouse in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. It was printed in Roy Palmer (ed.), Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams (J.M. Dent, 1983).
Sam Larner sang a quite similar version as Napoleon’s Dream at home in Winterton in a BBC recording in 1958/69. This was included on the anthology A Soldier’s Life for Me (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 8; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), and in 1974 on his Topic LP A Garland for Sam. According to A.L. Lloyd’s sleeve notes, Larner “was fascinated by Bonaparte’s downfall” but the sleeve notes gave no further information about the song’s history.
Steve Turner sang Napoleon's Dream as the first part of his 1812 Suite on his 1987 Fellside LP Braiding.
Andy Turner sang Charles Crist's version of A Dream of Napoleon in 1990 on his cassette Love, Death and the Cossack and as the 9 September 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week. He commented in his liner notes:
The picture of Napoleon as a friend to radical reform is rather at odds with his record as would-be conqueror of Europe. It is an image which, as a young man, he liked to foster: he apparently told Tom Paine that he slept with a copy of The Rights of Man under his pillow. Perhaps this explains why portraits always seem to show him with a stiff neck. A Dream of Napoleon was collected in 1905 from Mr Crist, at King’s Lynn in Norfolk.
Jon Boden sang Dream of Napoleon as the 15 August 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. This video shows Eliza Carthy and Jon Boden singing Napoleon's Dream at Wath Folk Festival 2007:
Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Napoleon's Dream, “a master song from Sam Larner”, in 2016 on their final album, Coda.
Martin Carthy sang Napoleon's Dream in 2019 on Topic's 80th year anthology, Vision & Revision. He noted:
Sam Larner was the first traditional singer I had heard—I was 17—he was 80! I was completely blown away by his musicality and passion. I walked away amazed and inspired—it was a wonderful moment. Sam Larner was the model for the Ewan MacColl song Shoals of Herring—it's his story. I just love it.
Gale Huntington's One Night Sad and Languid
One night sad and languid I went to my bed
And had scarcely reclined on my pillow
When a vision surprising came into my head
And methought I was crossing the billow
I thought as my vessel sped over the deep
I beheld that rude rock that grows craggy and steep
Where the willow (the willow) is now seen to weep
O'er the grave of the once famed Napoleon
Methought as my vessel drew near to the land
I beheld clad in green his bold figure
With the trumpet of fame he had clasped in his hand
On his brow there shone valour and rigour
He says noble stranger you have ventured to me
From that land of your fathers who boast they are free
If so then a tale I will tell unto thee
'Tis concerning that once famed Napoleon
You remember the day so immortal he cried
When we crossed o'er the Alps famed in story
With the legions of France whose sons were my pride
As I marched them to honour and glory
On the fields of Marien lo I tyranny hurled
Where the banners of France were to me first unfurled
As a standard of liberty all over the world
And a signal of fame cried Napoleon
Like a hero I've borne both the heat and the cold
I have marched to the trumpet and cymbal
But by dark deeds of treachery I now have been sold
Though monarchs before me have trembled
Ye princes and rulers whose station ye bemean
Like scorpions ye spit forth venom and spleen
But liberty all over the world shall be seen
As I woke from my dream cried Napoleon
Charles Crist sings A Dream of Napoleon
One night sad and languid I went to my bed
But I scarce had reclined on my pillow
When a vision surprising came into my head;
Methought I was traversing the billow.
One night as my vessel dashed over the deep
I beheld a rude rock that was craggy and steep,
The rock where the willow now seemèd to weep
O'er the grave of the once famed Napoleon.
Methought that my vessel drew near to the land;
I beheld clad in green this bold figure.
With the trumpet of fame claspèd firm in his hand,
On his brow there was valour and rigour.
“O stranger,” he cried, “hast thou ventured to me
From that land of thy fathers who boast they are free?
If so a tale I'll tell unto thee
Concerning the once famed Napoleon.”
“Remember that year so immortal,” he cried,
“When I crossed the rude Alps famed in story
With the legions of France, for her sons were my pride,
As I led them to honour and glory.
On the plains of Marengo I tyranny hurled
And wherever my banners the eagle unfurled
'Twas the standard of freedom all over the world
And a signal of fame,” cried Napoleon.
“Like a soldier I've been in the heat and the cold,
As I marched to the trumpet and cymbal,
But by dark deeds of treachery I have been sold,
While monarchs before me have trembled.
Now rulers and princes their station demean,
And like scorpions spit forth their venom and spleen,
But liberty soon o'er the world shall be seen,”
As I woke from my dream, cried Napoleon.
Sam Larner sings Napoleon's Dream
One night sad and languid I went to my bed;
I scarcely declined on my pillow,
When a vision surprising came into my head,
I thought I was crossing the billow.
I dreamt, as my vessel dashed over the deep,
I beheld a huge rock standing craggy and steep
That rock where the widows were once known to weep
O'er the grave of that once famed Napoleon
Now I dreamt, as my vessel drew near to the land,
I beheld, clad in green, a bold figure,
With the trumpet of fame he held in his hand,
On his brow there was valour and vigour.
“A stranger,” cried he, “Dost thou venture to me
From the land of thy sires—Old England—where they boast they are free?
Now a story, a true story, I tell unto thee
Concerning that once-famed Napoleon.”
“Now remember the years were immortally told
I crossed through the Alps, famed in story;
For the legions of France were the sons of my pride,
I led them them to honour and glory.
'Twas on the fields of Marengo where I tyranny uphurled.
My banner, the Eagle, was ever unfurled
To a standard of freedom all over the world,
To the signal of fame,” cried Napoleon.
Now, as a soldier, I've borne both the heat and the cold,
I've marched to the trump and the cymbal.
By the dark deeds of tragedy I have been sold
Though mortals before me did tremble.
You rulers and princes their stations demean
Like scorpions they spat out their venomous feen
But as liberty all over the world shall be seen,”
As I awoke from my dreams, cried Napoleon.
Marengo: Italian village at which Napoleon defeated the Austrians in 1800