Thomas Moore (1780-1852). The Irish poet laureate born in Dublin into a mediocre merchant family but because he was an exemplary student he was able to take advantage of the act of 1793, when the Irish Parliament opened Trinity College, Dublin to Catholics. The bar was the career his parents chose for him even though he had already shown a preference for poetry and literature. In 1794 Moore published two pieces of verse in the Anthologia Hibernica which earned him Laureate to the Gastronomic Club of Dalkey followed by membership in the Oratorical Society, and the Historical Society. These seemingly flippant honoraria proved pivotal in furthering his career in social circles.
He graduated at Trinity College in November, 1799 and crossed over to England where he began his law studies. He earned eligibility for the bar but never practiced still determined to make his way in literary pursuits. He brought with him from Ireland his translations of the Odes of Anacreon and published these by subscription in 1800. Here is Ode I:
Female leaders of fashionable society took a fancy to him “he soon found himself a well-accepted guest in the highest circles in London. No clever young fellow—without any advantage of birth or of person, and with intellectual attractions which seem to posterity to be of a rather middling kind—ever won his way more easily or more cheaply into that paradise of mean ambitions, the beau monde.” Or in modern terms “member of the jet set” …“the lapdog of the drawing-room”. Moore had a talent others lacked; he could play the piano. He needed no music but created as he went along making up tunes and lyrics that even the soon to be George IV enjoyed.
Moore published his first volume of original verse, the Poetical Works of the late Thomas Little for sixty pounds in 1801. This was romantic and to some, quite provocative verse as in Sympathy to Julia:
Moore, in his preface wrote “the poems which I take the liberty of publishing were never intended by the author to pass beyond the circle of my friends.” However, Francis Jeffrey. Editor of the Edinburgh Review, took such offense that he wrote this review. (I include it here although it was originally included in the Student Reading Packet)
“A singular sweetness and melody of versification,—smooth, copious, and familiar diction,—with some brilliancy of fancy, and some show of classical erudition, might have raised Mr. Moore to an innocent distinction among the song-writers and occasional poets of his day: But he is indebted, we fear, for the celebrity he actually enjoys to accomplishments of a different description; and may boast, if the boast can please him, of being the most licentious of modern versifiers, and the most poetical of those who, in our times, have devoted their talents to the propagation of immorality. We regard his book, indeed, as a public nuisance; and would willingly trample it down by one short movement of contempt and indignation, had we not reason to apprehend, that it was abetted by patrons who are entitled to a more respectful remonstrance, and by admirers who may require a more extended exposition of their dangers.
This is almost a new crime among us. While France has to blush for so many tomes of "Poesies Erotiques," we have little to answer for, but the coarse indecencies of Rochester and Dryden; and these, though sufficiently offensive to delicacy and good taste, can scarcely be regarded as dangerous. There is an antidote to the poison they contain, in the open and undisguised profligacy with which it is presented. If they are wicked, they have the honesty at least to profess wickedness. The mark of the beast is set visibly on their foreheads; and though they have the boldness to recommend vice, they want the effrontery to make her pass for virtue. In their grossest immoralities, too, they scarcely ever seem to be perfectly in earnest; and appear neither to wish nor to hope to make proselytes. They indulge their own vein of gross riot and debauchery; but they do not seek to corrupt the principles of their readers; and are contented to be reprobated as profligate, if they are admired at the same time for wit and originality.
The immorality of Mr. Moore is infinitely more insidious and malignant. It seems to be his aim to impose corruption upon his readers, by concealing it under the mask of refinement; to reconcile them imperceptibly to the most vile and vulgar sensuality, by blending its language with that of exalted feeling and tender emotion; and to steal impurity into their hearts, by gently perverting the most simple and generous of their affections. In the execution of this unworthy task, he labours with a perseverance at once ludicrous and detestable. He may be seen in every page running round the paltry circle of his seductions with incredible zeal and anxiety, and stimulating his jaded fancy for new images of impurity, with as much melancholy industry as ever outcast of the muses hunted for epithets or metre.
It is needless, we hope, to go deep into the inquiry, why certain compositions have been reprobated as licentious, and their authors ranked among the worst enemies of morality. The criterion by which their delinquency may be determined, is fortunately very obvious: no scene can be tolerated in description, which could not be contemplated in reality, without a gross violation of propriety: no expression can be pardoned in poetry to which delicacy could not listen in the prose of real life.
No writer can transgress those limits, and be held guiltless; but there are degrees of guiltiness, and circumstances of aggravation or apology, which ought not to be disregarded. A poet of a luxuriant imagination may give too warm a colouring to the representation of innocent endearments, or be betrayed into indelicacies in delineating the allurements of some fair seducer, while it is obviously his general intention to give attraction to the picture of virtue, and to put the reader on his guard against the assault of temptation. Mr. Moore has no such apology;—he takes care to intimate to us, in every page that the raptures which he celebrates do not spring from the excesses of an innocent love, or the extravagance of a romantic attachment; but are the unhallowed fruits of cheap and vulgar prostitution, the inspiration of casual amours, and the chorus of habitual debauchery. He is at pains to let the world know that he is still fonder of roving, than of loving; and that all the Caras and the Fannys, with whom he holds dalliance in these pages, have had each a long series of preceding lovers, as highly favoured as their present poetical paramour: that they meet without any purpose of constancy, and do not think it necessary to grace their connexion with any professions of esteem or permanent attachment. The greater part of the book is filled with serious and elaborate description of the ecstasies of such an intercourse, and with passionate exhortations to snatch the joys, which are thus abundantly poured forth from "the fertile fount of sense."
To us, indeed, the perpetual kissing, and twining, and panting of these amorous persons, is rather ludicrous than seductive; and their eternal sobbing and whining, raises no emotion in our bosoms, but those of disgust and contempt. Even to younger men, we believe, the book will not be very dangerous: nor is it upon their account that we feel the indignation and alarm which we have already endeavoured to express. The life and conversation of our sex, we are afraid is seldom so pure as to leave them much to learn from publications of this description; and they commonly know enough of the reality, to be aware of the absurd illusions and exaggerations of such poetical voluptuaries. In them, therefore, such a composition can work neither corruption nor deception; and it will, in general, be despised and thrown aside, as a tissue of sickly and fantastical conceits, equally remote from truth and respectability. It is upon the other sex, that we conceive its effects may be most pernicious; and it is chiefly as an insult upon their delicacy, and an attack upon their purity, that we are disposed to resent its publication.
The reserve in which women are educated; the natural vivacity of their imaginations; and the warmth of their sensibility, renders them peculiarly liable to be captivated by the appearance of violent emotions, and to be misled by the affectation of tenderness or generosity. They easily receive any impression that is made under the apparent sanction of these feelings; and allow themselves to be seduced into any thing, which they can be persuaded is dictated by disinterested attachment, and sincere and excessive love. It is easy to perceive how dangerous it must be for such beings to hang over the pages of a book, in which supernatural raptures, and transcendent passion, are counterfeited in every page; in which, images of voluptuousness are artfully blended with expressions of refined sentiment, and delicate emotion; and the grossest sensuality is exhibited in conjunction with the most gentle and generous affections. They who have not learned from experience, the impossibility of such an union, are apt to be captivated by its alluring exterior. They are seduced by their own ignorance and sensibility; and become familiar with the demon, for the sake of the radiant angel to whom he has been linked by the malignant artifice of the poet.
We have been induced to enter this strong protest, and to express ourselves thus warmly against this and the former publications of this author, both from what we hear of the circulation which they have already obtained, and from our conviction that they are calculated, if not strongly denounced to the public, to produce, at this moment, peculiar and irremediable mischief. The style of composition, as we have already hinted, is almost new in this country: it is less offensive than the old fashion of obscenity; and for these reasons, perhaps, is less likely to excite the suspicion of the moralist, or to become the object of precaution to those who watch over the morals of the young and inexperienced. We certainly have known it a permitted study, where performances, infinitely less pernicious, were rigidly interdicted.
There can be no time in which the purity of the female character can fail to be of the first importance to every community; but it appears to us, that it requires at this moment to be more carefully watched over than at any other; and that the constitution of society has arrived among us to a sort of crisis, the issue of which may be powerfully influenced by our present neglect or solicitude. From the increasing diffusion of opulence, enlightened or polite society is greatly enlarged, and necessarily becomes more promiscuous and corruptible; and women are now beginning to receive a more extended education, to venture more freely and largely into the fields of literature, and to become more of intellectual and independent creatures, than they have yet been in these islands. In these circumstances, it seems to be of incalculable importance, that no attaint should be given to the delicacy and purity of their expanding minds; that their increasing knowledge should be of good chiefly, and not of evil; that they should not consider modesty as one of the prejudices from which they are now to be emancipated; nor found any part of their new influence upon the licentiousness of which Mr. Moore invites them to be partakers. The character and the morality of women exercises already a mighty influence upon the happiness and the respectability of the nation; and it is destined, we believe, to exercise a still higher one: But if they should ever cease to be the pure, the delicate, and timid creatures that they now are—if they should cease to overawe profligacy, and to win and to shame men into decency, fidelity, and love of unsullied virtue—it is easy to see that this influence, which has hitherto been exerted to strengthen and refine our society, will operate entirely to its corruption and debasement; that domestic happiness and private honour will be extinguished, and public spirit and national industry most probably annihilated along with them.
There is one other consideration which has helped to excite our apprehension on occasion of this particular performance. Many of the pieces are dedicated to persons of the first consideration in the country, both for rank and accomplishments; and the author appears to consider the greater part of them as his intimate friends, and undoubted patrons and admirers. Now, this we will confess is to us a very alarming consideration. By these channels, the book will easily pass into circulation in those classes of society, which it is of most consequence to keep free of contamination; and from which its reputation and its influence will descend with the greatest effect to the great body of the community. In this reading and opulent country, there are no fashions which diffuse themselves so fast, as those of literature and immorality: there is no palpable boundary between the noblesse and the bourgeoisie, as in old France, by which the corruption and intelligence of the former can be prevented from spreading to the latter. All the parts of the mass, act and react upon each other with a powerful and unintermitted agency; and if the head be once infected, the corruption will spread irresistibly through the whole body. It is doubly necessary, therefore, to put the law in force against this delinquent, since he has not only indicated a disposition to do mischief, but seems unfortunately to have found an opportunity.”
Unhappy with the review, Moore challenged Jeffrey to a duel at a place called Chalk Farm, but for unloaded pistols, or some say “loaded with paper” and a police tip-off the event fizzled. We read in this account in one biography:
“But neither combatant possessed pistols, and it was left for Moore to borrow them from a friend. Moreover, on reaching the ground, Hume found that Jeffrey's second knew nothing of firearms, and the task of loading both pistols was entrusted to him; while in the meantime the two principals, left together, walked up and down, conversing very agreeably. Presently the seconds returned and placed their men; but, as the pistols were raised, police officers jumped from an ambush. But Moore, after going away, remembered that he had left the pistols behind, and returned to get them. The officer, however, refused to give them up, and made the disagreeable explanation that foul play was suspected; a bullet having been found in Moore's pistol, but none in that taken from Jeffrey. To make matters worse, a report in the newspapers substituted the word "pellet" for "bullet," and pleasantries were rife about author and critic fighting with pellets of paper.”
Later Lord Byron wrote in his satire English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, poked fun at the “unbloody duel.”
And later anonymously:
In 1804 Moore was given the post of Registrar to the Admiralty Court of Bermuda. The remoteness of the colony and the tedium of the duties ill-suited Moore. He left to tour the United States and Canada. Today we have little understanding of the power of social connections that allow such freedom of activity with funds from his first publication of The Odes. The fact that he merited an audience with Thomas Jefferson is even more surprising. The occasion tweaked his wicked wit “the itch for picking little holes, the petty joy of reporting them, and the puny self-pluming upon fancied or factitious superiorities” so when he returned to England in 1806 he published Odes and Epistles where he recorded his views on American society and manners. He recorded this impression in the prefix:
“I went to America with prepossessions by no means unfavorable, and indeed rather indulged in many of those illusive ideas, with respect to the purity of the government and the primitive happiness of the people, which I had early imbibed In my native country, where, unfortunately, discontent at home enhances every distant temptation, and the western world has long been looked to as a retreat from real or imaginary oppression; as, in short, the elysian Atlantis, where persecuted patriots might find their visions realized, and be welcomed by kindred spirits to liberty and repose. In all these flattering expectations I found myself completely disappointed, and felt inclined to say to America, as Horace says to his mistress, "intentata nites." Brissot, in the preface to his travels, observes, that "freedom in that country is carried to so high a degree as to border upon a state of nature;" and there certainly is a close approximation to savage life not only in the liberty which they enjoy, but in the violence of party spirit and of private animosity which results from it. This illiberal zeal imbitters all social intercourse; and, though I scarcely could hesitate in selecting the party, whose views appeared to me the more pure and rational, yet I was sorry to observe that, in asserting their opinions, they both assume an equal share of intolerance; the Democrats consistently with their principles, exhibiting a vulgarity of rancor, which the Federalists too often are so forgetful of their cause as to imitate.
The rude familiarity of the lower orders, and indeed the unpolished state of society in general, would neither surprise nor disgust if they seemed to flow from that simplicity of character, that honest ignorance of the gloss of refinement which may be looked for in a new and inexperienced people. But, when we find them arrived at maturity in most of the vices, and all the pride of civilization, while they are still so far removed from its higher and better characteristics, it is impossible not to feel that this youthful decay, this crude anticipation of the natural period of corruption, must repress every sanguine hope of the future energy and greatness of America.”
But there is this ballad, a la Whitman, written while in a Norfolk, Virginia. The Great Dismal Swamp is ten or twelve miles distant from Norfolk, and the Lake in the middle of it (about seven miles long) is called Drummond's Pond:
He attempted to write musicals, but both were failures. For a few years he published anonymously political sensitive poems that challenged England’s rule of Ireland. In 1808 the poem Corruption and Intolerance anonymously “addressed to an Englishman by an Irishman” with the preface:
“In the first of the two following poems, I have ventured to speak of the Revolution of 1688, in language which has sometimes been employed by Tory writers and which is therefore neither very new nor popular. But an Englishman might be reproached with ingratitude for depreciating the merits and results of a measure which he is taught to regard as the source of his liberties…an Irishman who has none of these obligations to acknowledge, to whose country the Revolution brought nothing but injury and insult…”
This was followed in 1809 by The Scepti, an octavo. Intercepted Letters, or The Twopenny Postbag, by Thomas Brown the Younger, came out in 1812: it was a huge success allowing fourteen editions in one year. These were followed by National Airs in 1815, Sacred Songs, Duets, and Trios in 1816 with accompanying music composed by Stevenson and Moore; in 1818. This single collection was translated into every European language and opened up the world to Irish music. And one particular song is still required of all voice students whether alto, soprano, bass or tenor. I remember as a Freshman being called into Dean Shockley’s office – he opened the Golden Book of Song and said to me “if you can sing this tune you will be excused from Ear Training 1.” The title of the song - ’Tis the Last Rose of Summer, verse by Thomas Moore:
The Fudge Family in Paris was another great hit, followed by the Life of Byron. He wrote a History of Ireland, contributed in 1827 to Lardner's Cyclopaedia, and the Travels of an Irishman in Search of a Religion, published in the same year: and was followed by a Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, issued in 1881. We should also mention that Moore’s satires were written in Pope’s meter as in:
Of his five sons, none survived him. He wrote in his diary: "The last of our five children now are gone and I am left desolate and alone. Not a single relative have I now left in the world." He is buried in Bromham Cemetery, Wiltshire, England.
Our first characteristic is lyricism, melody, passion.
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself:
“A great deal has been said upon the overpowering "lusciousness" of his poetry, and the magical "melody" of his verse: most of this is futile. There is in the former as much of fadeur as of lusciousness; and a certain tripping or trotting exactitude, not less fully reducible to the test of scansion than of a well-attuned ear, is but a rudimentary form of melody—while of harmony or rhythmic volume of sound Moore is as decisively destitute as any correct versifier can well be. No clearer proof of the incapacity of the mass of critics and readers to appreciate the calibre of poetical work in point of musical and general execution could be given than the fact that Moore has always with them passed, and still passes, for an eminently melodious poet.”
“But the special charm which he exercised,—and it was doubtless of greater importance in youth, before his powers as a talker had matured—lay in a gift for singing, which appears to have been something peculiar to himself. He sang always to his own accompaniment, and the performance by all accounts approached declamation rather than ordinary song. Moore is the only poet of modern times who, like the ancient bards, lent to his own verses the added charm of musical expression. Poet first, musician afterwards, he gave the words for all they were worth, and he seems always to have counted it a failure, if there were no wet eyes among his hearers.” Gwynn
“The Poet, who would follow the various sentiments which they express, must feel and understand that rapid fluctuation of spirits, that unaccountable mixture of gloom and levity, which composes the character of my countrymen, and has deeply tinged their Music. Even in their liveliest strains we find some melancholy note intrude—some minor Third or flat Seventh—which throws its shade as it passes, and makes even mirth interesting. If Burns had been an Irishman (and I would willingly give up all our claims upon Ossian for him), his heart would have been proud of such music, and his genius would have made it immortal.” Moore
Our second characteristic is fanciful, fun loving, social, gregarious.
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.
“It is easy to see that Moore's success was mainly social at first rather than literary. Throughout life he exercised an irresistible charm. An infectious gaiety, joined to copious but never ill-natured wit, made his company desired by all; and his physical presence, though not striking, was always agreeable. Diminutive in size, and plain of feature, he gained something approaching beauty by the constant play of expression centred in his vivacious eyes and the mobile and beautiful mouth. More distinctive still, in youth at least, was his hair, which curled in long tendrils over his head.” Gwynn
“constructed with consummate cleverness; the prose story in which the poetical episodes are enshrined, is both interesting and amusing…In versification it displays him at his best and at his worst, it shows his mellifluous charm..”
Our third characteristic is patriotism, satire, righteous indignation.
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.
“Ít was into an atmosphere of refined and frigid reflection that Tom Moore brought the fervor of his Irish heart and the liquid numbers of his Irish Tongue.” Gosse
“But underneath the smooth and faded surface lie much tenderness and pathos…much genuine patriotism in the fate of the Fire-Worshippers” Gosse
“When his genuine and burning love of Irish liberty inspires him, the little amatory bard rises for a moment to the level of Tyrtaeus and Campbell. Gosse
Our fourth characteristic is epicurean, passionate flippancy.
Comments from critics, colleagues and himself.
“Tom Moore's little Pan's-pipe can at odd moments be heard, and interjects an appreciable and rightly-combined twiddle or two. To be gratified with these at the instant is no more than the instrument justifies, and the executant claims: to think much about them when the organ is pealing or the violin plaining (with a Shelley performing on the first, or a Mrs. Browning on the second), or to be on the watch for their recurrences, would be equally superfluous and weak-minded.” Gosse
“No other poet for a hundred years had got such elasticity and gaiety out of English rhythms as were to be found in these two early volumes. One need not claim high rank for this sort of poetry, but it would be ignorant to overlook the service which Moore was doing to all who after him came to handle English metre.” Gwynn
“In one class of writing, liveliness of witty banter, along with neatness; cosmical diapason and august orchestra of poetry.” Gwynn
We close with what devotees believe to be the most thoroughly beautiful and touching lines in the whole of Moore's poetry:
"Come rest in this bosom, mine own stricken deer.”