Thomas Moore, after a painting by Thomas Lawrence
|Born||28 May 1779|
|Died||25 February 1852 (aged 72)|
Sloperton Cottage, Bromham, Wiltshire, England
|Occupation||Writer, poet, lyricist.|
|Notable works||"The Minstrel Boy"|
"The Last Rose of Summer"
Memoirs of Captain Rock
Thomas Moore (28 May 1779 - 25 February 1852) was an Irish writer, poet and lyricist celebrated for his Irish Melodies. Their setting of English-Language verse to old Irish tunes marked the transition in popular Irish culture from Irish to English. Politically, Moore was recognised in England as a press, or "squib", writer for the aristocratic Whigs; in Ireland he was accounted a Catholic patriot. Married to a Protestant actress and hailed as "Anacreon Moore" after the classical Greek composer of drinking songs and erotic verse, Moore made no profession of piety. But in the controversies that surrounded Catholic Emancipation he was seen to defend the tradition of the Church in Ireland against both evangelising Protestants and uncompromising lay Catholics. Longer prose works reveal more radical sympathies: a Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the United Irish leader depicted as a martyr in the cause of democratic reform; and, complementing Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, Memoirs of Captain Rock, a saga, not of Anglo-Irish landowners, but of their exhausted tenants driven to the semi-insurrection of "Whiteboyism". Today, however, Moore is remembered almost alone either for his Irish Melodies (typically "The Minstrel Boy" and "The Last Rose of Summer") or, less generously, for the role he is thought to have played in the loss of the memoirs of his friend Lord Byron.
Thomas Moore was born to Anastasia Codd from Wexford and John Moore from Kerry over his parents' grocery shop in Aungier Street, Dublin, He had two younger sisters, Kate and Ellen. Moore showed an early interest in music and performance, staging musical plays with his friends and entertaining hope of being an actor. In Dublin he attended Samuel Whyte's English grammar school. Whyte had taught Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Irish playwright and English Whig politician, of whom Moore later was to write a biography.
In 1795, Moore was among the first Catholics admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, preparing, as his mother had hoped, for a career in law. Through his friends at Trinity, Robert Emmett and Edward Hudson, Moore was connected to the popular politics of the capital agitated by the French Revolution and by the prospect of a French invasion. With their encouragement, in 1797, Moore wrote an appeal to his fellow students to resist the proposal, then being canvassed by the English-appointed Dublin Castle administration, to secure Ireland by incorporating the kingdom in a union with Great Britain. In April 1798, Moore was acquitted at Trinity on the charge of being a party, through the Society of United Irishmen, to sedition.
Moore had not taken the United Irish oath with Emmett and Hudson, and he played no part in the republican rebellion of 1798, or in the conspiracy for which Emmett was executed in 1803. Later, in a biography of the United Irish leader Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1831), he made clear his sympathies, not hiding his regret that the French expedition under General Hoche failed in December 1796 to effect a landing. To Emmett's sacrifice on the gallows Moore pays homage in the song "O, Breathe Not His Name".
In 1799, Moore continued his law studies at Middle Temple in London. The impecunious student was assisted by friends in the expatriate Irish community in London, including Barbara, widow of Arthur Chichester, 1st Marquess of Donegall, the landlord and borough-owner of Belfast.
Moore's translations of Anacreon, celebrating wine, women and song, were published in 1800 with a dedication to the Prince of Wales. His introduction to the future Prince Regent and King, George IV was a high point in Moore's ingratiation with aristocratic and literary circles in London, a success due in great degree to his talents as a singer and songwriter. In the same year he collaborated briefly as a librettist with Michael Kelly in the comic opera, The Gypsy Prince, staged at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket,
In 1801, Moore hazarded a collection of his own verse: Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little Esq.. The pseudonym may have been advised by their juvenile eroticism. Moore's celebration of kisses and embraces skirted contemporary standards of propriety. When these tightened in the Victorian era, they were to put an end to what was a relative publishing success.
In the hope of future advancement, Moore reluctantly sailed from London in 1803 to take up a government post secured through the favours of Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 2nd Earl of Moira (later Governor-General of India). He was to be the registrar of the Admiralty Prize Court in Bermuda. Although as late as 1925 still recalled as "the poet laureate" of the island, Moore found life on Bermuda sufficiently dull that after six months he appointed a deputy and left for an extended tour of North America. As in London, Moore secured high-society introductions in the United States including to the President, Thomas Jefferson. Repelled by the provincialism of the average American, Moore consorted with exiled European aristocrats, come to recover their fortunes, and with oligarchic Federalists from whom he received what he later conceded was a "twisted and tainted" view of the new republic.
Following his return to England in 1804, Moore published Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems (1806). In addition to complaints about America and Americans (including their defence of slavery), this catalogued Moore's real and imagined escapades with American women. Francis Jeffrey denounced the volume in the Edinburgh Review (July 1806), calling Moore "the most licentious of modern versifiers", a poet whose aim is "to impose corruption upon his readers, by concealing it under the mask of refinement." Moore's challenged Jeffrey to a duel but their confrontation was interrupted by the police. In what seemed to be a "pattern" in Moore's life ("it was possible to condemn [Moore] only if you did not know him"), the two then became fast friends. 
Moore, nonetheless, was dogged by the report that the police had found that the pistol given to Jeffreys was unloaded. In his satirical English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), Byron, who had himself been stung by one of Jeffrey's review, suggested Moore's weapon was also "leadless": "on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated". To Moore this was scarcely more satisfactory, and he wrote to Byron implying that unless the remarks were clarified, Byron, too, would be challenged. In the event, when Byron, who had been abroad, returned there was again reconciliation and a lasting friendship.
Between 1808 and 1810, Moore appeared each year in Kilkenny, Ireland, with a charitable mixed repertory of professional players and high-society amateurs. He favoured comic roles in plays like Sheridan's The Rivals and O'Keeffe's The Castle of Andalusia. Among the professionals, on stage in Kilkenny with her sister, the tragedienne-to-be Mary Ann Duff, was Elizabeth "Bessy" Dyke. In 1811, Moore married Bessy in St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Together with Bessy's lack of a dowry, the Protestant ceremony may have been the reason why Moore kept the match for some time secret from his parents. Bessy shrank from fashionable society to such an extent that many of her husband's friends never met her (some of them jokingly doubted her very existence). Those who did held her in high regard.
The couple first set up house in London, then in the country in Lord Moira's neighbourhood at Mayfield Cottage in Derbyshire, and finally in Sloperton Cottage in Wiltshire near the country seat of another close friend, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne. Tom and Bessy had five children, none of whom survived them. Three girls died young, and both sons lost their lives as young men. One of them, Tom, died in some disgrace as a French Foreign Legionnaire in Algeria. Despite these heavy personal losses, the marriage is generally regarded to have been a happy one.
In 1818, it was discovered that the man Moore had appointed his deputy in Bermuda had embezzled 6,000 pounds sterling, a large sum for which Moore was liable. To escape debtor's prison, in September 1819, Moore left for France, travelling with Lord John Russell (future Whig prime minister and editor of Moore's journals and letters). In Venice in October, Moore saw Byron for the last time. Byron entrusted him with a manuscript for his memoirs, which, as his literary executor, Moore promised to have published after Byron's death.
In Paris, Moore was joined by Bessy and the children. Once he learned the debt was partly cleared with the help of Lord Lansdowne (whom Moore repaid almost immediately by a draft on Longman, his publisher), the family, after more than a year, returned to Sloperton Cottage.
To support his family Moore entered the field of political squib writing on behalf of his Whig friends and patrons. The Whigs had been split by the divided response of Edmund Burke and Charles Fox to the French Revolution. But with antics of the Prince Regent, and in particular his highly public efforts to disgrace and divorce Princess Caroline, proving a lightening for popular discontent, they were finding new unity and purpose.
From the "Whigs as Whigs", Moore claimed not to have received "even the semblance of a favour" (Lord Moira, they "hardly acknowledge as one of themselves"). And with exceptions "easily counted", Moore was convinced that there was "just as much selfishness and as much low-party spirit among them generally as the Tories". But for Moore, the fact that the Prince Regent held fast against Catholic admission to parliament may have been reason sufficient to turn on his former friend and patron. Moore's Horatian mockery of the Prince in the pages of the Morning Chronicle were collected in Intercepted Letters, or the Two-Penny Post-Bag (1813).
Another, and possibly more personal, target for Moore was the Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh. A reform-minded Ulster Presbyterian turned Anglican Tory, as Irish Secretary Castlereagh had been ruthless in the suppression of the United Irishmen and in pushing the Act of Union through the Irish Parliament. In what were the "verbal equivalents of the political cartoons of the day",Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress (1818) and Fables for the Holy Alliance (1823), Moore lampoons Castlereagh's deference to the reactionary interests of Britain's continental allies. Widely read, so that Moore eventually produced a sequel, was the verse novel The Fudge Family in Paris (1818). The family of an Irishman working as a propagandist for Castlereagh in Paris, the Fudges are accompanied by an accomplished tutor and classicist, Phelim Connor. An upright but disillusioned Irish Catholic, his letters to a friend reflect Moore's own views.
Connor's regular epistolary denunciations of Castlereagh have two recurrent themes. The first is Castlereagh as "the embodiment of the sickness with which Ireland had infected British politics as a consequence of the union": "We sent thee Castlereagh - as heaps of dead Have slain their slayers by the pest they spread". The second is that at the time of the Acts of Union Castlereagh's support for Catholic emancipation had been disingenuous. Castlereagh had been master of "that faithless craft", which can "cart the slave, can swear he shall be freed", but then "basely spurns him" when his "point is gain'd".
As a partisan squib writer, Moore played a role not dissimilar to that of Jonathan Swift a century earlier. Moore greatly admired Swift as a satirist, but charged him with caring no more for the "misery" of his Roman Catholic countrymen "than his own Gulliver for the sufferings of so many disenfranchised Yahoos".The Memoirs of Captain Rock might have been Moore's response to those who questioned whether the son of a Dublin grocer entertaining English audiences from Wiltshire was himself connected to the great mass of his countrymen - to those whose remitted rents helped sustain the great houses among which he was privileged to move.
The Memoirs relate the history of Ireland as told by a contemporary, the scion of a Catholic family that lost land in successive English settlements. The character, Captain Rock, is fictional but the history is in earnest. When it catches up with the narrator in the late Penal Law era, his family has been reduced to the "class of wretched cottiers". Exposed to the voracious demands of spendthrift Anglo-Irish landlords (pilloried by Maria Edgeworth), both father and son assume captaincies among the "White-boys, Oak-boys, and Hearts-of Steel", the tenant conspiracies that attack tax collectors, terrorise the landlords' agents and violently resist evictions.
This low-level agrarian warfare continued through, and beyond, the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s. It was only after this catastrophe, which as Prime Minister Moore's Whig friend, Lord Russell, failed in any practical measure to allay, that British governments began to assume responsibility for agrarian conditions. At the time of Captain Rock's publication (1824), the commanding issue of the day was not tenant rights or land reform. It was the final instalment of Catholic Emancipation: Castlereagh's unredeemed promise of Catholic admission to parliament.
Since within a united kingdom Irish Catholics would be reduced to a distinct minority, Castlereagh's promises of their parliamentary emancipation seemed credible at the time of the Union. But the provision was stripped out of the union bills when in England the admission of Catholics to the "Protestant Constitution" encountered the standard objection: that as subject to political direction from Rome, Catholics could not be entrusted with the defence of constitutional liberties. Moore rallied to the "liberal compromise" proposed by Henry Grattan, who had moved the enfranchisement of Catholics in the old Irish parliament. Fears of "Popery" were to be allayed by according the Crown a "negative control", a veto, on the appointment of Catholic bishops.
In an open Letter to the Roman Catholics of Dublin (1810), Moore noted that the Irish bishops (legally resident in Ireland only from 1782) had themselves been willing to comply with a practice otherwise universal in Europe. Conceding a temporal check of papal authority, he argued, was in Ireland's Gallican tradition. In the time of "her native monarchy", the Pope had had no share in the election of Irish bishops. "Slavish notions of papal authority" developed only in consequence of the English conquest. The native aristocracy had sought in Rome a "spiritual alliance" against the new "temporal tyranny" at home.
In resisting royal assent and in placing "their whole hierarchy at the disposal of the Roman court", Irish Catholics would "unnecessarily" be acting in "remembrance of times, which it is the interest of all parties [Catholic and Protestant, Irish and English] to forget". Such argument made little headway against the man Moore decried as a demagogue, but who, as a result of his uncompromising stand, was to emerge as the undisputed leader of the Catholic interest in Ireland, Daniel O'Connell.
Even when, in 1814, the Curia itself (then still in silent alliance with Britain against Napoleon) proposed that bishops be "personally acceptable to the king", O'Connell was opposed. Better, he declared, that Irish Catholics "remain for ever without emancipation" rather than allow the king and his ministers "to interfere" with the Pope's appointment of Irish prelates. At stake was the unity of church and people. "Licensed" by the government, the bishops and their priests would be no more regarded than the ministers of the established Church of Ireland.
When final emancipation came in 1829, the price O'Connell paid was the disenfranchisement of the Forty-shilling freeholders - those who, in the decisive protest against Catholics exclusion, defied their landlords in voting O'Connell in the 1828 Clare by-election. The "purity" of the Irish church was sustained. Moore lived to see the exceptional papal discretion thus confirmed reshape the Irish hierarchy culminating in 1850 with the appointment of the Rector of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, Paul Cullen, as Primate Archbishop of Armagh.
In a call heeded by Protestants of all denominations, in 1822 the new Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, William Magee, declared the absolute necessity of winning an Irish majority for the Reformed faith -- a "Second Reformation".  Carrying "religious tracts expressly written for the edification of the Irish peasantry", the "editor" of Captain Rock's Memoirs is an English missionary in the ensuing "bible war". Catholics, who coalesced behind O'Connell in the Catholic Association, believed that proselytising advantage was being sought in hunger and distress (that tenancies and food were being used to secure converts), and that the usual political interests were at play.
Moore's narrator in Travels of an Irish Gentleman in Search of a Religion (1833) is again fictional. He is, as Moore had been, a Catholic student at Trinity College. On news of Emancipation (passage of the 1829 Catholic Relief Bill) he exclaims: "Thank God! I may now, if I like, turn Protestant". Oppressed by the charge that Catholics are "a race of obstinate and obsolete religionists [...] unit for freedom", and freed from "the point of honour" that would have prevented him from abandoning his church in the face of continuing sanctions, he sets out to explore the tenets of the "true" religion.
Predictably, the resolve the young man draws from his theological studies is to remain true to the faith of his forefathers (not to exchange "the golden armour of the old Catholic Saints" for "heretical brass").. The argument, however, was not the truth of Catholic doctrine. It was the inconsistency and fallacy of the bible preachers. Moore's purpose, he was later to write, was to put "upon record" the "disgust" he felt at "the arrogance with which most Protestant parsons assume [...] credit for being the only true Christians, and the insolence with which [...] they denounce all Catholics as idolators and Antichrist". Had his young man found "among the Orthodox of the first [Christian] ages" one "particle" of their rejection of the supposed "corruptions" of the Roman church - justification not by by faith alone but also by good works, transubstantiation, and veneration of saints, relics and images -- he would have been persuaded.
Moore's own outlook has been described as "cheerful paganism", or, at the very least, à la carte Catholicism favouring "what scriptural Protestantism hated: the music, the theatricality, the symbolism, the idolatry". Despite his mother being a devout catholic, and like O'Connell acknowledging Catholicism as Ireland's "national faith", Moore appears to have abandoned the formal practice of his religion as soon as he entered Trinity.
In 1825, Moore's Memoirs of the Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan was finally published after nine years of work on and off. It proved popular, went through a number of editions, and helped establish Moore's reputation among literary critics. The work had a political aspect: Sheridan was not only a playwright, he was a Whig politician and a friend of Fox. Moore judged Sheridan an uncertain friend of reform. But he has Sheridan articulate in his own words a good part of what was to be the United Irish case for separation from England.
Writing in 1784 to his brother, Sheridan explains that the "subordinate situation [of Ireland] prevents the formation of any party among us, like those you have in England, composed of person acting upon certain principles, and pledged to support each other". Without the prospect of obtaining power - which in Ireland is "lodged in a branch of the English government" (the Dublin Castle executive) - there is little point in the members of parliament, no matter how personally disinterested, collaborating for any public purpose. Without an accountable executive the interests of the nation are systematically neglected.
It is against this, the truncated state of politics in Ireland, that Moore sees Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a "Protestant reformer" who wished for "a democratic House of Commons and the Emancipation of his Catholic countrymen", driven toward the republican separatism of the United Irishmen. He absolves Fitzgerald of recklessness: but for a contrary wind, decisive French assistance would have been delivered by General Hoche at Bantry in December 1796. In his own Memoirs, Moore acknowledges his Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1831) as a "justification of the men of '98 - the ultimi Romanorum of our country".
Moore's History of Ireland, published in four volumes between 1835 and 1846, reads as a further and extended indictment of English rule. It was an enormous work, but not a critical success. Moore acknowledged scholarly failings, some of which stemmed from his inability to read documentary sources in Irish.
In 1832, Moore declined a voter petition from Limerick to stand for the Westminster Parliament as a Repeal candidate. When Daniel O'Connell took this as evidence of Moore's "lukewarmness in the cause of Ireland", Moore recalled O'Connell's praise for the "treasonous truths" of his book on Fitzgerald. The difficulty, Moore suggested, was that these "truths" did not permit him to pretend with O'Connell that reversing the Acts of Union would amount to something less than real and lasting separation from Great Britain. Relations had been difficult enough after the old Irish Parliament had secured its legislative independence from London in 1782. But with a Catholic Parliament in Dublin, "which they would be sure to have out and out", the British government would be continually at odds, first over the disposal of Church of Ireland and absentee property, and then over what would be perennial issues of trade, foreign treaties and war.
So "hopeless appeared the fate of Ireland under English government, whether of Whigs or Tories", that Moore declared himself willing to "run the risk of Repeal, even with separation as its too certain consequence." But with Lord Fitzgerald, Moore believed independence possible only in union with the "Dissenters" (the Presbyterians) of the north (and possibly then, again only with a prospect of French intervention). To make "headway against England" the "feeling" of Catholics and Dissenters had first to be "nationalised". This is something Moore thought might be achieved by fixing upon the immediate abuses of the (Anglican and landed) "Irish establishment". As had been his uncompromising stance on the Veto controversy, O'Connell's promotion of Repeal was, in this respect, unhelpful, at best "premature".
This perspective was shared by some of O'Connell's younger lieutenants, dissidents with the Repeal Association. Young Irelander Charles Gavan Duffy sought to build a "League of North and South" around what Michael Davitt (of the later Land League) described as "the programme of the Whiteboys and Ribbonmen reduced to moral and constitutional standards"--tenant rights and land reform.
In the early years of his career, Moore's work was largely generic, and had he died at this point he would likely not have been considered an Irish poet. From 1806 to 1807, Moore dramatically changed his style of writing and focus. Following a request by the publishers James and William Power, he wrote lyrics to a series of Irish tunes in the manner of Haydn's settings of British folksongs, with Sir John Andrew Stevenson as arranger of the music. The principal source for the tunes was Edward Bunting's A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music (1797) to which Moore had been introduced at Trinity by Edward Hudson. The Melodies were published in ten volumes, together with a supplement, over 26 years between 1808 and 1834. The musical arrangements of the last volumes, following Stevenson's death in 1833, were by Henry Bishop.
The Melodies were an immediate success, the "The Last Rose of Summer", "The Minstrel Boy", "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "Oft in the Stilly Night" becoming immensely popular. There were parodies in England, but translations into German, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, and French, and settings by Hector Berlioz guaranteed a large European audience. In the United States, "The Last Rose of Summer" alone sold more than a million copies.
Byron said he knew them all "by rote and by heart"; setting them above epics and Moore above all other poets for his "peculiarity of talent, or rather talents, - poetry, music, voice, all his own". They were also praised by Sir Walter Scott who conceded that neither he nor Byron could attain Moore's power of adapting words to music. Moore was in no doubt that the Irish Melodies would be "the only work of my pen [...] whose fame (thanks to the sweet music in which it is embalmed) may boast a chance of prolonging its existence to a day much beyond our own".
The "ultra-Tory" The Anti-Jacobin Review ("Monthly Political and Literary Censor")  discerned something more than innocuous drawing-room ballads: "several of them were composed in a very disordered state of society, if not in open rebellion. They are the melancholy ravings of the disappointed rebel, or his ill-educated offspring". Moore was providing texts to what he described as "our national music", and his lyrics did often "reflect an unmistakable intimation of dispossession and loss in the music itself".
Despite Moore's difficult relationship with O'Connell, in the early 1840s his Melodies were employed in the "Liberator's" renewed campaign for Repeal. The Repeal Association's monster meetings (crowds of over 100,000) were usually followed by public banquets. At Mallow, Co. Cork,, before the dinner speeches, a singer performed Moore's "Where is the Slave?":
Oh, where's the slave so lowly, Condemned to chains unholy, Who could be burst His bonds accursed, Would die beneath them slowly?
O'Connell leapt to his feet, threw his arms wide and cried "I am not that slave!" All the room followed: "We are not those slaves! We are not those slaves!"
In the greatest meeting of all, at the Hill of Tara (by tradition the inaugural seat of the High Kings of Ireland), on the feast-day of the Assumption, 15 August 1843, O'Connell's carriage proceeded through a crowd, reportedly of a million, accompanied by a harpist playing Moore's "The Harp that once through Tara's Halls".
In 1821, with Byron's blessing, Moore sold the manuscript, with which Byron had entrusted him three years before, to the publisher John Murray. Although he himself allowed that it contained some "very coarse things", when, following Bryon's death in 1824, Moore learned that Murray had deemed the material unfit for publication he spoke of settling the matter with a duel. But the combination of Byron's wife Lady Byron, half-sister and executor Augusta Leigh and Moore's rival in Byron's friendship John Cam Hobhouse prevailed. In what some were to call the greatest literary crime in history, in Moore's presence the family solicitors tore up all extant copies of the manuscript and burned them in Murray's fireplace.
With the assistance of papers provided by Mary Shelley, retrieved what he could. His Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: With Notices of His Life (1830) "contrived", in the view of Macaulay, "to exhibit so much of the character and opinions of his friend, with so little pain to the feelings of the living". Lady Byron still professed herself scandalised--as did The Times.
With Byron an inspiration, Moore previously published a collection of songs, Evenings in Greece, (1826) and, set in 3rd-century Egypt, his only prose novel The Epicurean (1827). Supplying a demand for "semi-erotic romance tinged with religiosity" it was a popular success.
It is a criticism of Moore that he "wrote too much and catered too deliberately to his audiences". In his lyrics there is a bathos that speaks both to a love of recitation and to an abiding sense of tragedy that is perhaps lost on the modern reader.
Oft, in the stilly night, Ere slumber's chain has bound me, Fond memory brings the light Of other days around me; The smiles, the tears, Of boyhood's years, The words of love then spoken; The eyes that shone, Now dimm'd and gone, The cheerful hearts now broken!...
When I remember all The friends, so link'd together, I've seen around me fall, Like leaves in wintry weather; I feel like one Who treads alone Some banquet-hall deserted, Whose lights are fled, Whose garlands dead, And all but he departed!...
In the late 1840s (and as the catastrophe of the Great Famine overtook Ireland), Moore's powers began to fail. He was reduced ultimately to senility, which came suddenly in December 1849. Moore died on February 25, 1852, preceded by all his children and by most of his friends and companions.
Moore is often considered Ireland's national bard and is to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland. Moore is commemorated in several places: by a plaque on the house where he was born, by busts at The Meetings and Central Park, New York, and by a bronze statue near Trinity College Dublin. There is a road in Walkinstown, Dublin, named Thomas Moore Road, in a series of roads named after famous composers, locally referred to as the Musical Roads.