Bob Dylan And Thomas Hardy (Part XIII)

By Larry Fyffe

Gather what you can from coincidence – from Thomas Hardy’s interest in British history, and from Bob Dylan’s interest in American history.

Below, the song lyrics mock General Napoleon Bonaparte’s chances of sacking London:

When lawyers strive to heal a breach
And parsons practice what they preach
Then little Boney he'll pounch down
And march his men on London town

(Thomas Hardy: The Sergeant’s Song ~ “The Trumpet-Major”)

Beneath, the song lyrics mock a gal who wants a ‘tough-guy’ lover:

You need a different kind of man, babe
One that can grab, and hold your heart 
Yuo need a different kind of man
You need Napoleon Bony-Part
 (Bob Dylan: Hero Blues)

The following song lyrics lament the sacking of Washington by General Robert Ross in the War of 1812:

Ever since the British burned the White House down
There's been a bleeding wound in the heart of town
I saw you drinking from an empty cup
I saw you buried, and I saw you dug up
(Bob Dylan: Narrow Way)

Hardy’s history-romance novel “The Trumpet-Major” is set in England at the time there’s anxiety about an invasion by Napoleon; George III still rules, but replaced a bit later by the Regent Prince.

She’s lives near a bivouac camp, and country-girl Anne gains the interest of three men – gallant John who trains trumpeters; his brother Bob, a womanizing sailor; and boastful officer Festus.

After John’s younger brother returns home from Admiral Nelson’s Trafalgar sea battle, Anne and Bob are left to get married; the loyal trumpet-major heads off to fight along side General Wellington against Napoleon’s armies – “to blow his trumpet till silenced forever upon one of the bloody battlefields of Spain”.

A tragic ending akin to the one depicted in the song lyrics below:

John Brown went off to was to fight on a foreign shore
His mother was sure proud of him
He stood so straight and tall in his uniform and all ....
Oh, his face was all shot up, and his hand blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
(Bob Dylan: John Brown)

Thomas Hardy in the novel quotes from a sailor’s ode that takes note of mentally-afflicted George III’s happy days after he no longer bore the duties of Head of State:

Portland road, the King aboard, the King aboard
Portland road, the King aboard
We weighed and sailed from Portland road
The King he sat with a smile on his face, a smile on his face
To see the after-guard splice the main brace
(Portland Road).

Said it could be that historical accuracy is thrown overboard in the lyrics beneath:

Wellington he was sleeping
His bed began to slide
His valiant heart was beating
He pushed the tables aside
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

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