James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

June 18

Defeat of Napoleon

By Lord Byron (1788–1824)

  • From “Childe Harold”
  • The battle of Waterloo, by which Napoleon’s power was completely broken, was fought on June 18, 1815, between the French and the Allies (English and Prussian).

  • THERE sunk the greatest, nor the worst of men,

    Whose spirit antithetically mixt

    One moment of the mightiest, and again

    On little objects with like firmness fixt,

    Extreme in all things! hadst thou been betwixt,

    Thy throne had still been thine, or never been;

    For daring made thy rise as fall: thou seek’st

    Even now to reassume the imperial mien,

    And shake again the world, the Thunderer of the scene!

    Conqueror and captive of the earth art thou!

    She trembles at thee still, and thy wild name

    Was ne’er more bruited in men’s minds than now

    That thou art nothing, save the jest of Fame,

    Who woo’d thee once, thy vassal, and became

    The flatterer of thy fierceness, till thou wert

    A god unto thyself; nor less the same

    To the astounded kingdoms all inert,

    Who deem’d thee for a time whate’er thou didst assert.

    Oh, more or less than man—in high or low,

    Battling with nations, flying from the field;

    Now making monarch’s necks thy footstool, now

    More than thy meanest soldier taught to yield:

    An empire thou couldst crush, command, rebuild,

    But govern not thy pettiest passion, nor,

    However deeply in men’s spirits skill’d,

    Look through thine own, nor curb the lust of war,

    Nor learn that tempted Fate will leave the loftiest star.

    Yet well thy soul hath brook’d the turning tide

    With that untaught innate philosophy,

    Which, be it wisdom, coldness, or deep pride,

    Is gall and wormwood to an enemy.

    When the whole host of hatred stood hard by.

    To watch and mock thee shrinking, thou hast smiled

    With a sedate and all-enduring eye;—

    When Fortune fled her spoil’d and favorite child,

    He stood unbow’d beneath the ills upon him piled.

    Sager than in thy fortunes; for in them

    Ambition steel’d thee on too far to show

    That just habitual scorn which could contemn

    Men and their thoughts; ’twere wise to feel, not so

    To wear it ever on thy lip and brow,

    And spurn the instruments thou wert to use

    Till they were turn’d unto thine overthrow;

    ’Tis but a worthless world to win or lose;

    So hath it proved to thee, and all such lot who choose.