Then Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, 1910-1911Scroll to "Now" essay

MOORE, THOMAS (1779-1852)

MOORE, THOMAS (1779-1852), Irish poet, was born in Dublin on the 28th of May 1779. His father was John Moore, a prosperous grocer and wine merchant, and his motherʼs maiden name was Anastasia Codd. In 1793 Tom Mooreʼs name first appeared in print, as a contributor of some verses To Zelia, to a. Dublin periodical, the Anthologia Hibernica. In the same year Roman Catholic students began to be admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1794 Mooreʼs name was entered on the books, curiously enough, as a Protestant. At Trinity he made friends with Robert Emmet, and was nearly dragged into the plots of the United Irishmen. The events of 1798 and the execution of Emmet in 1803 made a deep impression on him. The words of Emmetʼs address to his judges, asking the charity of silence—Let no man write my epitaph—are enshrined by Moore in one of his lyrics, Oh, breathe not his name! (Irish Melodies, 1808). The next song in the same collection—When he who adores thee—also owes its inspiration to Emmetʼs fate, and the conscientious Orientalism of Lalla Rookh does not conceal the pre-occupation of the writer with the United Irishmen when he writes of The Fire Worshippers, and with Emmet and Sarah Curran when he describes the loves of Hafed and Hinda, especially in the well-known song, She is far from the Land where her young Hero sleeps. In 1798 Moore graduated, and in the next year left for England to keep his terms at the Middle Temple.

He rapidly became a social success in London. Joseph Atkinson, secretary in Ireland to the ordnance board, had been attracted to Moore in Dublin at first by his gifts as a singer. He now gave him an introduction to Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd earl of Moira, who invited him to his country seat at Donington Park, Leicestershire. Here Moore became a frequent guest. He had brought with him from Ireland a translation of the Odes of Anacreon, and the prince of Wales consented to have the volume dedicated to him. It was issued in 1800 with notes and a list of distinguished subscribers. His social successes involved him in expenses far beyond his means. His publisher had advanced him money, and he resolved to pay his debt by the anonymous publication of his juvenile poems, The Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little, Esq. (1801), a collection of love poems which Moore afterwards regretted. Through Lord Moiraʼs influence he was, in 1803, appointed registrar of the admiralty prize-court, at Bermuda. He went there to take possession of the post, but soon tired of the monotonous life, and in 1804, after appointing a deputy, returned to England by way of the United States and Canada. In 1806 he published Epistles, Odes and other Poems, chiefly dealing with his impressions of travel. The volume contained the Canadian Boat Song (Faintly as tolls the evening chime), and some love poems of the same kind as those connected with the name of Mr Little. Jeffrey made an unjustifiable onslaught on this collection in the Edinburgh Review for July 1806. Moore was in his view the most licentious of modern versifiers, and the most poetical of those who, in our time, have devoted their talents to the propagation of immorality, and the book was a public nuisance. Moore challenged Jeffrey, and a duel was arranged at Chalk Farm. The police interrupted the proceedings. Jeffreyʼs pistol was found to be unloaded, and the ludicrous affair ended in a fast friendship between them.

The success of the satirical epistles in the 1806 volume encouraged Moore to produce further work of a similar kind, Corruption and Intolerance, Two Poems (1808), and The Sceptic: a Philosophical Satire (1809), but the heroic couplet and the manner of Pope did not suit his talents. At the end of 1806 he went to Dublin, and, with the exception of about six months in 1807 spent at Donington Park, the next three years were spent in Ireland. Here he met Miss Elizabeth Dyke, an actress, who became his wife in March 1811. They lived at first in London, but soon removed into the country, to Kegworth, near Lord Moiraʼs seat, and then to Mayfield Cottage, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Moore had to spend much of his time in London, for the popularity of his songs led to an agreement with his publisher to increase the success of these by singing them himself at great houses. The inception of his Irish Melodies dates from 1807, and many of the best were written during the three years of his Irish visit. He had already published separate songs, some of them set to music of his own, when William Power suggested to him in 1807 the task of fitting words to a series of Irish airs supplied by Sir John Stevenson. He could not have found a task more exactly suited to his powers, and for a quarter of a century he enjoyed a regular income of £500 a year from Power for writing words to music. The first number of the Irish Melodies appeared in 1808, and contained some of his best and most popular work. The rest appeared between 1808 and 1834. In 1816 Stevenson and Moore published Sacred Songs, followed by a second number in 1824. In 1818 they began to adapt melodies from other nations. The first number of National Airs appeared in 1818, and was followed by others in 1820, 1822, 1826, and 1827.

After 1812 he broke ground in a new field—political squib writing. His first butt was the prince regent, once his friend and patron, whose foibles, fatness, love for cutlets and curaçoa, for aged mistresses and practical jokes, were ridiculed with the lightest of clever hands. His earlier political poems appeared in the Morning Chronicle, but in 1813 he published a thin volume of Intercepted Letters: The Twopenny Post Bag. Other volumes of squibs, most of which passed through several editions, followed: The World at Westminster (1816), The Fudge Family in Paris (1818), The Journal of a Member of the Pococurante Society (1820), Fables for the Holy Alliance (1823), Odes on Cash, Corn, Catholics, and other Matters (1828), The Fudge Family in England (1835). The only failure among his satirical writings was Tom Cribʼs Memorial to Congress (1819) for which he had made an elaborate study of thievesʼ argot.

In 1814 he contracted with the firm of Longmans to supply a metrical romance on an Eastern subject, which should contain at least as many lines as Scottʼs Rokeby, the publishers binding themselves to pay 3000 guineas on delivery. Moore had begun Lalla Rookh two years before. He was a careful and laborious writer, and retired to a cottage in the neighbourhood of Donington Park, where with the help of Lord Moiraʼs library he read himself slowly into familiarity with Eastern scenery and manners. He was already far advanced in his work when Byron in The Giaour and again in The Bride of Abydos largely forestalled him. The depression following on the peace of 1815 deferred the publication of Lalla Rookh until 1817. It was an immediate success. The Eastern local colouring which dazzled Mooreʼs contemporaries has, however, faded, and the interest still existing in the poem is chiefly due to the undercurrent of Irish patriotism which he cleverly worked into it. Immediately after the completion of Lalla Rookh, Moore removed with his family to Sloperton Cottage, Wiltshire, where he was close to Bowood, Lord Lansdowneʼs country seat. Mooreʼs plans were interrupted by the embezzlement of some £6000 by the deputy he had left in Bermuda, for whose default he was fully liable. To avoid a debtorsʼ prison Moore retired to the Continent. He visited Byron in Italy, and in October 1819 received from him the first part of the Memoirs. The continuation was sent to Moore in Paris the next year, with Byronʼs suggestion that the reversion of the MS. should be sold. Moore did not remain long in Italy, but made his home in Paris, where he was joined by his wife and children. He was not able to return to England until 1822, when the Bermuda affair was compromised by a payment through Longmans of £1000. Moore had had many offers of help, but preferred to be indebted to his publishers only. During his exile he had written another Oriental poem, The Loves of the Angels (1822), which was hardly less popular than Lalla Rookh. He now became a contributor of satirical verse to The Times, the connexion lasting until 1827. He now wrote his Memoirs of the Life of Sheridan, first contemplated in 1814, which appeared, after some delay, in 1825. The Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824), in which he gives a humorous but convincing account of English misgovernment in Ireland, was the result of a tour with Lord Lansdowne in western Ireland. His prose tale, The Epicurean, appeared in 1827, and the Legendary Ballads in 1830. In 1831 he completed his Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, probably his best piece of prose work.

The death of Byron in 1824 raised the question of the publication of his Memoirs. Moore had parted with them in 1821 to John Murray for £2000. After they had come into Murrayʼs possession, Moore began to have doubts about the propriety of publishing them, and an arrangement was therefore made that the £2000 should be regarded as a loan, to be repaid during Byronʼs lifetime, and that the MS. should be retained as security. When Byron died the Memoirs were still unredeemed, and the right of publication therefore rested with Murray. Moore now borrowed the money from Longmans and induced Murray to give up his claim. The money was paid, and, after a heated discussion with Byronʼs executors, the MS. was burnt. It was partly the pressure of the debt thus contracted, and partly the expressed wish of Byron, that induced Moore to undertake for Murray The Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of his Life (1830). The difficult task was executed with great skill and tact, and it remains, with all its defects and omissions, a valuable record.

Mooreʼs countrymen desired him to accept a seat in parliament for Limerick. The offer was accompanied by a scheme to present Moore with an estate in the county worth £300 a year. It was made through the poet Gerald Griffin, who has left on record an account of the interview. Moore declined the honour. In 1830 he allowed himself to be drawn into a project for writing a History of Ireland (4 vols., 1835, 1837, 1840 and 1846) for Lardnerʼs Cyclopaedia. He hoped that by writing the history of Ireland he might arouse in his own countrymen an interest in their past, and open the eyes of Englishmen to the misgovernment of the country. He had neither the historical training nor the despatch in writing which enabled Scott to scribble off the companion volumes on Scotland, and the history sat like a nightmare on him, and was left unfinished on the melancholy collapse of his powers in 1845. He had, however, the temper of the student, and was always a voracious reader.

Mooreʼs last years were harassed by pecuniary difficulties, and by the weakness and misconduct of his sons, the elder of whom retired from the English army to enter the foreign legion of France. After the death of his last child in 1845, Moore became a total wreck, but he lived until the 25th of February 1852. He left sufficient provision for his wife in the Diary which he kept chiefly on her behalf.

His other works are, A Letter to the Roman Catholics of Dublin (1810); A Melologue upon National Music (1811); an operetta, M.P. or The Blue Stocking (1811); A Set of Glees (1827); The Summer Fête (1831); Evenings in Greece (1826-1832); Travels of an Irish Gentleman in Search of a Religion; Alciphron, a Poem (1839). See Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore (8 vols., 1853-1856), ed. by Lord John Russell, which contains an immense quantity of biographical material; The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, Collected by Himself (10 vols., 1840-1842); also Notes from the Letters of Thomas Moore to his Music Publisher, James Power (1851); and Prose and Verse, Humorous, Satirical and Sentimental, by Thomas Moore, with suppressed passages from the Memoirs of Lord Byron . . . (1878), which includes Mooreʼs contributions to the Edinburgh Review (1814-1834). Among modern editions of Mooreʼs Poetical Works may be mentioned that by Charles Kent (the Centenary ed., 1879), and that by W. M. Rossetti (1880). Memoirs of Moore are prefixed to these editions. There are many contemporary references to him, especially in the journals and letters of Byron. There is an excellent life, by Stephen Gwynn, Thomas Moore (1905), written for the English Men of Letters Series. See also monographs on Moore, by G. Vallat (1886 and 1895), an essay on him as the poet of Irish opposition and revolt in Georg Brandes, Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature (vol. iv., 1875; Eng. trans., 1905).

& Now A 21st-century viewpointScroll to original Britannica article

MOORE, Thomas (1779-1852) by Jeffery Vail

The 1910-1911 Encyclopædia Britannica entry on Thomas Moore is a respectable summation of the author’s life and literary career, written during a period when many British, Irish, American, and European readers would still have been familiar with at least some of Moore’s songs, and perhaps even known them by heart. Moore’s literary stock would plunge over the course of the twentieth century, however, as critical tastes shifted and Moore’s Whiggish politics increasingly became seen as too moderate, too timid, or even (to some) craven or servile. For most of the century, surveys of Romantic-era writing often mentioned Moore only briefly and sometimes not at all. Anthologies typically included a handful of brief lyrics at most. Academic articles on Moore were quite rare.

Thomas Moore
Meyer, Henry. Thomas Moore. 1818, © National Portrait Gallery, London Original image

Happily, scholarly interest in Moore has experienced a resurgence during the first two decades of the twenty-first century, and he is now largely seen by scholars as he was during much the nineteenth century, as one of the towering figures of early nineteenth-century Irish literature. In the early nineteenth century, Moore was one of the most widely read authors in Ireland, Britain, the rest of Europe and America, and by 1810 had established his worldwide reputation as Ireland’s National Poet. In Regency England, he was often viewed as one of a triumvirate of incomparable modern authors, along with Lord Byron and Walter Scott. Moore was a multi-talented writer, producing a vast corpus of poetry and songs, political satires in verse and prose, three biographies (of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Lord Byron, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald), a four-volume history of Ireland, and a scholarly two-volume defense of Catholicism. He was a captivating performer of his own songs and one of the most charming and witty men of his age. Such was his transatlantic success that in 1840 Edgar Allan Poe called him the most popular poet now living—if not the most popular that ever lived.

In our own time, reading Moore broadens our understanding of the different varieties of poetry being written and performed in the Romantic Era beyond those of the traditional Big Six. Moore is aligned with his friend Lord Byron as a liberty-loving satirist, worldly skeptic, and materialist, looking askance as Byron often does at the more extravagant claims for poetry made by the other Romantics. Being Irish, and thus a member of a colonized and mistreated people, Moore can give us a critical, satirical outsider’s view of the British cultural milieu; as a high-flying celebrity in demand at London parties, he was in a position to sing of Ireland’s wrongs directly to English politicians, aristocrats, their wives, and daughters. His stirring, plaintive and powerful songs, popular throughout the world, ensured that his message and his influence would spread far and wide throughout the nineteenth century.

Since the Britannica article was published, several biographies of Moore have appeared, three of them indispensable. The Harp that Once – : A Chronicle of the Life of Thomas Moore, by Howard Mumford Jones (1937), featured careful archival work, judicious commentary on the poetry, and an appropriate sensitivity to the politics of the period. Bolt Upright: The Life of Thomas Moore, by Hoover H. Jordan (1975), is an exhaustively researched two-volume work that took Moore seriously as an artist during a time when almost no one wrote about or read him. (Unfortunately this work, part of the Salzburg Studies in English Literature series, is scarce and lacks an index, to the eternal frustration of Moore scholars.) Ronan Kelly’s Bard of Erin: The Life of Thomas Moore (2008) is the new standard biography, unmatched for its acuity, thoroughness, and eloquence.

The author of the Britannica entry had to rely upon Lord John Russell’s notoriously badly-edited eight-volume edition of Moore’s Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence (1853-56). Today we have the two-volume edition of Moore’s Letters edited by Wilfred S. Dowden (1964), the six-volume edition of his Journal edited by Dowden (1983-91), and the two-volume Unpublished Letters edited by Jeffery Vail (2013). There are also recordings of Moore’s songs and scholarly studies of Moore as a musician, especially by Una Hunt, who has produced a six-CD box set of the Irish Melodies, and the books Sources and Style in Moore’s Irish Melodies (2017) and The Thomas Moore Songbook (2022).

The works of Moore that have attracted the most scholarly interest in recent years have been the Melodies, his vast, 5,000-line narrative poem Lalla Rookh, An Oriental Romance (1817), and Memoirs of Captain Rock, the Celebrated Irish Chieftain, with Some Account of His Ancestors, Written by Himself (1824), a history of England’s mistreatment of the Irish narrated by Captain Rock, the mythical leader of the violent underground resistance groups of the early 1820s who committed outrages against Protestant landowners, farmers, and soldiers. The first scholarly edition of the latter work, edited by Emer Nolan, was published in 2009. To this day, there has never been a scholarly edition of Lalla Rookh published, despite that poem’s historical importance as one of the most successful and widely read poems of the entire nineteenth century. Lalla Rookh is an aesthetically uneven work, but of great interest, partly because the two longer of the four verse tales that make up the bulk of the book are both political allegories, the first of the French Revolution and its collapse into bloodshed and war and the second of Irish Catholic resistance to their English oppressors. Moore’s two-volume Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of His Life (1830) is also a work of permanent value and interest. Moore’s publication of many hundreds of Byron’s letters as well as his insightful and eloquent analyses of his close friend’s character have formed the basis of all biographies of Byron since.

Just as in 1911, Irish Literature and Romantic studies are badly in need of scholarly editions of Moore’s collected or even selected poetry; the last collected edition of Moore’s poems, edited by A.D. Godley, was published in 1910. A splendid edition of The Satires of Thomas Moore, edited by Jane Moore, was published as Volume Five of Pickering & Chatto’s series British Satire 1785-1840, in 2003.

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