Thomas Moore

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Moore, Thomas, poet and prose writer, was born at 12 Aungier-street, Dublin, 28th May 1779. His father, John Moore, kept a grocer's shop, which he had probably established with the small fortune he received with his wife, Anastasia Codd, a Wexford girl. Both parents were Catholics. Young Moore's cheerful and sprightly disposition made him a favourite with many besides his own family. One of his earliest recollections was of being taken to a public dinner in honour of Napper Tandy, and sitting on that gentleman's knee.

At an early age he was sent to a school kept by a Mr. Malone, and a little later to the academy of the well-known teacher Samuel Whyte, where Sheridan and many distinguished men received their education. Whyte was passionately fond of the stage, and encouraged young Moore's declamatory and histrionic powers; and before he was twelve years of age his name appeared in the handbills of his master's private theatricals. He soon began to scribble verses, and when fourteen was referred to in the Anthologia Hibernica as "our esteemed correspondent, T. M." His family were anxious he should go to the Bar, and such were then the disqualifications to which Catholics were subjected, that it was seriously debated whether he should not be entered on the books of Trinity College as a Protestant. His mother strongly opposed such a step, which was, however, rendered unnecessary by the legislation of 1793, which opened the University to Catholics, and he entered in 1794 with much credit, under his true designation.

At college he showed more disposition to cultivate the modern than the ancient languages. He joined the College Historical Society, of which Robert Emmet and Arthur O'Connor were then the most prominent members. Edward Hudson, one of those afterwards arrested at Bond's, and Robert Emmet, were among his most intimate friends; and nothing but his mother's influence prevented Moore himself becoming perhaps fatally involved in the revolutionary movement of 1798. In his diary he gives a graphic account of the difficulty with which he pulled through without implicating any of his friends, at the visitation of the Chancellor (Lord Clare) for the purpose of clearing the College of students infected with revolutionary principles.

Thanks to a friendship with the librarian of Marsh's Library, Moore had free access to it even during the summer months, when it was closed to the public, and in exploring its shelves he laid up much of that out-of-the-way information which afterwards appeared in his works. He acquired a tolerable knowledge of Italian from a Catholic clergyman, and of French from a refugee. In 1799 he took the degree of B.A., and next year entered at the Middle Temple, London. An introduction to Lord Moira soon made him at home at his seat near London, and the best literary society of the metropolis was opened to him.

He delighted all by his pleasant manners, literary tastes, and effective, although not brilliant, musical abilities. He brought with him to London his Odes of Anacreon in manuscript, which, published by subscription in 1800, were much admired, and established his reputation as a poet. In 1801, under the pseudonym of "Thomas Little," he published a volume of light poetical pieces, which brought him £60, but did not add much to his reputation. In 1803, through Lord Moira's influence and the friendship of Lady Donegal, Moore received the appointment of Admiralty Registrar at Bermuda, and proceeded thither in the Phaeton frigate. The seclusion of the Bermuda islands was, however, little to his taste, and after a residence extending only from January to April 1804, he confided his duties to a deputy, and made an extended tour through the United States and Canada, during which he wrote his poems relating to America, and had the good fortune to be presented by the British minister to President Jefferson.

The institutions of the country were little to his taste; but we can scarcely excuse the coarse terms in which he afterwards wrote of it and its inhabitants. His conception of the enormity of slavery was clear and decided. In October 1804 Moore returned to England in the Boston frigate, with his friend Captain Douglas, to the great joy of his numerous friends. Lord Moira now procured a situation for his father in the Customs; but Moore for himself preferred trusting to his talents for a livelihood.

In 1806 he published a volume of Odes, Epistles, and other Poems, for which he was criticised in the Edinburgh Review as "the most licentious of modern versifiers, and the most poetical of the propagators of immorality." His Odes of Anacreon had perhaps given some ground for these charges, but it is possible that Jeffrey was prejudiced against him on account of his aristocratic tendencies. A duel between them, at Chalk Farm, in the month of August 1806, was interrupted by the police. Both gentlemen were subjected to much ridicule, when it was stated that the bullet had fallen out of Jeffrey's pistol, and it was suggested that, by consent, both pistols were leadless. Jeffrey and Moore after this became fast friends. The latter says: "He had taken a fancy to me from the first moment of our meeting together in the field, and I can truly say that the liking for him is of the same early date."

Lord Byron mentioned the duel with ridicule in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and in his turn was challenged by Moore. The letter was delayed some months in reaching its destination, and the affair terminated in a good-humoured explanation from Byron, and a life-long friendship between them. In 1807 Moore entered into an arrangement with Mr. Power, the musical publisher, to write suitable words to a collection of old Irish tunes, which were to be arranged by Sir John Stevenson. The Irish Melodies were completed in ten numbers, issued between 1807 and 1834.

Supposing him to have received the full remuneration agreed upon (£500 per annum), he was paid for them £5 a line. They are the most lasting monuments of his genius, and have been translated into both Latin and Irish. Byron declared some of them were "worth all the epics that ever were composed;" while the Biographic Générale says: "Thomas Moore has vividly reproduced in his Melodies the characteristic traits of Irish music. Originality is the special claim of these short pieces. They have neither the vigour, nor the nature, nor the profound and passionate sensibility of the works of another national poet, Robert Burns; but, at the same time, they have not the same air of rudeness. A sustained elegance, a lightness, a tenderness, an esprit, a rich and brilliant imagery, give them a durable, though perhaps a somewhat artificial charm."

Of the same character as the Irish Melodies are the National Melodies, published 1815, and the Sacred Songs, in 1816. Three satirical pieces, Corruption, Intolerance, and the Sceptic, appeared in 1808 or 1809. In 1811 one of the happiest events of his life occurred — his marriage to a Protestant lady, Miss Bessy Dyke. Lord John Russell says: "From 1811, the year of the marriage, to 1852, that of his death, this excellent and beautiful person received from him the homage of a lover, enhanced by all the gratitude, all the confidence, which the daily and hourly happiness he enjoyed was sure to inspire. Thus, whatever amusement he might find in society, whatever sights he might behold, whatever literary resources he might seek elsewhere, he always returned to his home with a fresh feeling of delight. The time he had been absent had always been a time of exertion and of exile; his return restored him to tranquillity and peace." "I'd Mourn the Hopes that Leave me," "'Tis all for Thee," and others of his poems were addressed to her.

In public life he lost none of his home affections. With a never-dying love, he wrote regularly twice a week to his parents, and settled £100 a year on them as soon as he could afford it. At first he and his wife lived at Lord Moira's; in the spring of 1812 he took a house at Keyworth; whence they removed next summer to Mayfield Cottage, near Ashbourne. His independence was strikingly shown in 1814 by the publication of the Twopenny Postbag, by Thomas Brown the Younger, a bitter satire directed against the Prince of Wales and his ministers. It immediately became popular, and ran through fourteen editions in one year. In 1812 Messrs. Longman offered him £3,000 for an oriental romance he had in contemplation.

The work, Lalla Rookh, was not written until after the most careful and extensive reading on eastern subjects — until he had thoroughly imbued his mind with oriental tradition and romance. It was published in 1817, and was received most favourably; but the estimate of his contemporaries, and even of Lord John Russell writing in 1853, has not been endorsed by more recent critics — Lalla Rookh now holding a far inferior place to the Irish Melodies, and many of his lighter pieces. In the autumn of 1817 Moore occupied Sloperton Cottage, near Devizes, at the moderate rent of £40 a year. It continued, with intervals, to be his residence during the rest of his life. Next year he visited Ireland, where he was received with the most flattering attentions, and hailed as the national bard of the country. In the same year he went to Paris with his friend Rogers, and laid up materials for his humorous piece, The Fudge Family in Paris. In 1818 it was found that his deputy at Bermuda had absconded, leaving him responsible for some £6,000, and next year, pending a settlement, he was obliged to retire to the Continent.

With Lord John Russell he travelled through France and Switzerland to Milan, and spent some time at Venice with Lord Byron. Moore returned by the south of France to Paris, where his wife and family joined him in January 1820. During the three years he resided abroad he wrote The Epicurean and The Loves of the Angels, At length a settlement was made with his creditors (chiefly by means of a loan from Lord Lansdowne, which he was soon enabled to repay), and in November 1822 he returned to his home at Sloperton Cottage. During Moore's visit to Italy, Byron made him a present of his manuscript autobiography, upon condition that it should not be published until after his death. Pressed for money in April 1824, he sold it to Murray, the publisher, for £2,100. Byron died the same month.

Lady Byron and her family desired its destruction, and offered to reimburse the publisher what he had paid upon it. Moore resisted the proposition for some time, and at last, nobly resolving to meet the loss himself, paid Murray the £2,100, with interest, and burned the manuscript. Scarcely any action of his life has been more canvassed: there can, however, be little doubt of his disinterestedness and conscientious desire to do what was right.

A delightful episode was his visit to Abbotsford in October 1825, where he was received with all the warmth of Sir Walter Scott's nature. His Life of Richard B. Sheridan was published in the same year, and in 1827 The Epicurean, which, "though perhaps the least popularly known of Moore's works, is by some considered among the most chaste and exquisite." Macaulay says that, "considered merely as a composition, his Life of Lord Byron, published in 1830, deserves to be classed among the best specimens of English prose our age has produced."

In 1831 was published his Life of Lord Edward FitzGerald, a feeling tribute to the memory of that nobleman. Moore had visited Ireland with his wife in the previous year, principally to collect materials for this work. His plodding literary labours were often lightened by visits to London, where his wit and musical talents made him ever welcome at the gayest and most brilliant assemblages. In 1832 an ineffectual effort was made to induce him to stand as candidate for Limerick, under O'Connell's banner. In 1835, under the ministry of Lord Melbourne, a Civil List pension of £300 was settled on him. In the same year he again paid a flying visit to Ireland — and was lionized in Dublin, enjoyed the beauties of the County of Wicklow from the top of a four-in-hand drag, and was feted at Wexford, and at Bannow, where his friends, Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall then resided. This was one of several visits necessitated by his preparation of the History of Ireland.

In his Captain Rock, already published, he showed that a protracted residence in England had not extinguished his love of country, or lessened his indignation at the disabilities under which his co-religionists suffered. His History of Ireland (which appeared between 1839 and 1846), forming four volumes of Lardner's Cyclopaedia brings the history of the country down to the death of Owen Roe O'Neill in 1646. Although written in an easy and attractive style, it does not possess much merit. The Athenaeum remarked at the time of its publication: "Mr. Moore fortunately brings to his labours not only extensive learning in the rarely trodden paths of Irish history, but strict impartiality, rendered still more clear and uncompromising by an ennobling love of liberty. Every page of his work contains evidence of research; and innumerable passages might be cited in proof of the independent and truth-seeking spirit of the author."

This History was Moore's last important work. In 1841 he collected and published his Poetical Works in 10 vols. crown 8vo., with illustrations. The prefaces contain many interesting particulars regarding his life. His latter days were embittered by the death of the last of his children. Anne, aged 5, died in 1817; Anastasia Mary, aged 17, in 1829; Olivia Byron lived but a few months; John Russell, died in India, aged 19, in 1842, a cadet in the East India Company's service; and Thomas Lansdowne, his eldest son, a wild youth, died in Algiers, in the French service, in 1849, aged 27. Like Swift, Scott, and Southey, the end of Moore's life was passed in an increasingly depressed condition, owing to softening of the brain. Sustained to the last by the tender solicitude of his wife, he died at Sloperton —

"That dear home, that saving ark,
Where love's true light at last I've found,
Cheering within when all grows dark,
And comfortless, and stormy around"—

26th February 1852, aged 72.

He was buried in Bromham churchyard, within view of his cottage-home, and beside his beloved daughter Anastasia. Mrs. Moore was laid beside him, 4th September 1865, aged 68.[36] She made an appropriate gift to the Royal Irish Academy of his library, portrait, and view of Sloperton Cottage.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica concludes an appreciative notice of Moore, with the words: "Her [Ireland] he served with all his soul and strength, uplifting her banner in the hour of darkest danger; and with the names of Grattan and Curran, as Irish patriots, that of Thomas Moore will be for ever associated." He was small in stature and slight, his eyes were bright and sparkling, his mouth delicately cut and expressive, his " slightly-tossed" nose confirming the fun that lurked on his countenance.

Concerning his religious opinions and character, Lord John Russell writes: "He was bred a Roman Catholic, and in his mature years he published a work [Captain Rock] of some learning in defence of the chief articles of the Roman Catholic faith, yet he occasionally attended the Protestant Church; he had his children baptized into that Church... Of two things all who knew him must have been persuaded: the one, his strong feelings of devotion, his aspirations, his longing for life and immortality, and his submission to the will of God; the other, his love of his neighbour, his charity, his Samaritan kindness for the distressed, his goodwill to all men. In the last days of his life he frequently repeated to his wife: 'Lean upon God, Bessy; lean upon God.' That God is love was the summary of his belief; that a man should love his neighbour as himself, seems to have been the rule of his life... Never did he make his wife and family a pretext for political shabbiness; never did he imagine that to leave a disgraced name as an inheritance to his children was his duty as a father... Mingling careful economy with an intense love of all the enjoyments of society, he managed, with the assistance of his excellent wife, who carried on for him the detail of his household, to struggle through all the petty annoyances attendant upon narrow means — to support his father, mother, and sister, beside his own family, and at his death he left no debt behind him."

The very high estimate of his literary abilities entertained by Byron, Scott, Russell, and his contemporaries generally, has scarcely stood the test of time; but there is little doubt that his Melodies, wedded as they are to such appropriate music, will continue to delight generations — melodies whose grace and tenderness were never more effectively rendered than when sung by himself. Lord John Russell, his literary executor, edited his Memoirs, in 8 vols. in 1853-'6. The first volume and half the second are occupied with an unfinished autobiography and a selection from his letters, the rest of the work chiefly with a slightly abridged diary, extending from August 1818 to October 1847. Allibone devotes five pages to an exhaustive critical enumeration of Moore's writings.

His father died in 1825, and his mother in 1832: they lie buried with his sister in St. Kevin's churchyard, Dublin. A beautiful stained-glass window has been inserted in Bromham church, to the memory of his wife. An interesting commnnication on the present condition of Sloperton Cottage will be found in the Athenaeum for 7th July 1877. A statue of Thomas Moore was erected in Dublin shortly after his decease.

Sources

15. Athenaeum, The—Principally referred to under No. 233.

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

36. Biographical Dictionary: William R. Cates. London, 1867.

124. Encyclopaedia Britannica. London, 1860.

244. Moore, Thomas, Memoir, Journal and Correspondence: Lord John Russell. 8 vols. London, 1850-'6.

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