The Field of Waterloo

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The Field of Waterloo is a poem by Sir Walter Scott, written and published in 1815.[1] After the allied victory at the battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815, Scott travelled to Belgium in August, and was one of the first British civilians to visit the battlefield. Scott was hoping to recover his expenses by publishing an account of his travels (in the form of imaginary letters), published as Paul's Letters to His Kinsfolk (1816).

The profits from Scott's poem about the battle were intended to go to a fund for widows and orphans of soldiers. He mixed personal observation with information received from his escorts, general Adam's aide-de-camp Campbell and major Pryse Gordon and other officiers, including the Duke of Wellington himself, with whom he met in Paris. The finished poem was sent to James Ballantyne before the end of August, and was printed in October, the original run of 6,000 copies being published on 23 October 1815. Ballantyne disliked the poem, and specifically objected to the opening line Fair Brussels, thou art far behind. Scott reluctantly agreed to tone the text down somewhat, but the poem was still very poorly received by critics. The Critical Review judged it as "absolutely the poorest, dullest, least interesting composition that has hitherto issued from the author of Rokeby. Even the gazette of the battle contains more information, and the style of the poem is very little, if at all, superior to that of Marshal Wellington's modest dispatches."[2] The poor reception of the poem led to widespread joking about Sir Walter Scott like Napoleon meeting his greatest defeat at Waterloo, as in the widely circulated squib attributed to Lord Erskine:

"On Waterloo's ensanguined plain / Lie tens of thousands of the slain; / But none, by sabre or by shot, / Fell half so flat as Walter Scott."[3]


  1. ^ The Field of Waterloo; A Poem. By Walter Scott, Esq. Edinburgh; Printed by James Ballantyne and Co. For Archibald Constable and Co. Edinburgh; And Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, and John Murray, London, 1815.
  2. ^ The Critical Review Series the Fifth, vol. II, no. I, pp. 457–463.
  3. ^ Baron John Campbell, The lives of the lords chancellors and keepers of the great seal of England: from the earliest times till the reign of King George IV, vol. 6 (1851), p. 518
  • Gottlieb, Evan. 'Fighting Words: British Poetry and the Napoleonic Wars', in Romantic Globalism: British Literature and Modern World Order, 1750–1830, University of Ohio Press, 2014, pp. 68–94.
  • Semmel, Stuart. 'Reading the Tangible Past: British Tourism, Collecting, and Memory after Waterloo', Representations, 69 (2000), pp. 9–37.
  • Shaw, Philip. 'Walter Scott: The Discipline of History', in Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, pp. 35–66.

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