The Objects

24th Jul 1815

Source: Wordsworth Trust, by permission.

Capturing Napoleon's likeness for Wordsworth

Contributed by: Simon Bainbridge

Heugh Parry sent this image of Napoleon to William Wordsworth in a letter on 29 July 1815. Parry, like Wordsworth, was an Inspector of Stamps and had stayed with the poet at his home Rydal Mount. The drawing was made while the defeated French Emperor was a prisoner on board HMS Bellerophon at Plymouth, before his exile to St. Helena.

The original had been drawn by Napoleon's chamberlain and Parry, who was on a ship moored next to the Bellerophon, traced this copy and sent it to Wordsworth, who preserved it.

Wordsworth had followed Napoleon’s career since its earliest stages, making Bonaparte the subject of his first mature sonnet in 1802, lamenting that the Corsican’s military upbringing was not the education required for ‘the Governor who must be wise and good'. In December 1804 he described the First Consul's coronation as emperor as ‘the dog returning to its vomit’ and after the Napoleon’s fall at Waterloo declared that ‘My whole soul was with those who were resolved to fight it out with Bonaparte’.

Wordsworth’s response to Napoleon, and the war more generally, is the subject of the Wordsworth Museum exhibition, ‘Wordsworth, War & Waterloo’, in Grasmere until 1stNovember 2015.