Walter Scott was one of the first tourists to visit the battlefield of Waterloo, arriving there in August, just weeks after the battle. He had the laudable idea of publishing an epic poem on the theme with the proceeds to go to a fund for the widows and orphans of British casualties. Scott was fortunate in being shown around the battlefield by senior officers who had fought there and later, in Paris, met Wellington himself.
This short extract gives a taste of the poem –
Ay, look again–that line, so black and trampled, marks the bivouac,
Yon deep-graved ruts the artillery’s track, so often lost and won;
And close beside, the hardened mud still shows where, fetlock-deep in blood,
The fierce dragoon, through battle’s flood, dashed the hot war-horse on.
These spots of excavation tell the ravage of the bursting shell –
And feel’st thou not the tainted steam, that reeks against the sultry beam,
From yonder trenched mound? The pestilential fumes declare
That Carnage has replenished there her garner-house profound…
Unfortunately it was badly received and critics panned it. One wit wrote:
On Waterloo’s ensanguined plain
Full many a gallant man was slain,
But none, by sabre or by shot,
Fell half so flat as Walter Scott.
When I recently visited Abbotsford, Scott’s home in the Borders, I discovered that he had taken more than impressions and notes away with him. In my book To The Field of Waterloo: the First Battlefield Tourists I had written of the insatiable souvenir-hunting of the visitors and I suppose I should not have been surprised to discover that Scott had collected a very superior set of trophies for the vast and eclectic collection that decorates the walls of the house. Photographs of some of them illustrate this post, handsome examples of the arms and armour of Napoleon’s vast army.