The Maclise Portrait-Gallery/Thomas Moore


As we look upon the figure opposite, in a bower of vines and roses, and with the head of Anacreon above his own as if to remind us that he is below the bard of Teos, we need to be reminded, as Maginn hints, that in "that little wizened, cunning, crabbed countenance, which is not much better than a caricature of a John-apple of ancient date," we are looking upon "the Epicurean in person— the Thomas Little,—the 'kissing and kissed' of Rosa—the mail-coach companion of 'Fanny of Timmol,'—the poet of all the loves, and all the grapes"!

"What a lucky fellow you are," said Rogers to Moore; "surely you must have been born with a rose on your lips, and a nightingale singing on the top of your bed!" And yet the "Bard of the Butterflies" certainly does not look happy in his Anacreontic retreat; perhaps he is brooding over the Regent's threat to "put him into a wine-cooler;" or haply has Maclise thought appropriate that "expression of hostility to the Church establishment," which Sydney Smith once advised a sculptor to throw into the poet's countenance.

But to descend to facts. Thomas Moore was born May 28, 1779, in Dublin, where his father was a tradesman, respectable, but of the humbler sort. "Tommy dearly loves a Lord," was Byron's memorable saying of his little friend; and remembering this amiable weakness, one cannot but think with amusement of the painful distress of the poet, when, on his introduction in long after-life to Jamie Hogg, in a brilliant assemblage of wit and fashion, the simple Shepherd made crude allusion to his lowly origin, in the words, "You and me maun be freends, Maister Moore, for we're baith leerie pauets, and baith sprung frae the dregs of the people!" He received his earlier education under the care of the well-known Samuel Whyte, of Grafton Street, who will be remembered alike by his own literary productions, and as the early tutor of Sheridan. At the age of fourteen, he became a student of Trinity College, Dublin, when, inter alia, he gained the medal of the Historical Society for a poetical extravaganza entitled "An Ode upon Nothing, with Notes by Trismagistus Rustifustius"; and in 1799, choosing the law as a profession, he proceeded to London to enter at the Middle Temple, with a "little packet of guineas," as a viaticum, and a scapular blessed by the priest as a charm against evil, sewed up by his careful mother in the waistband of his pantaloons. As the classical studies of Lockhart produced that direction of thought to which we owe Valerius, so it is to the college life of Moore that we are indebted for the first fruits of his genius, the translation of Anacreon. This had a considerable success. So long as youth, and beauty, and
Thomas Moore, the Author of Lalla Rookh

The Author of "Lalla Rookh"

love, and mirth, exert their soft influence to gladden the life of man, even so long will the Teian bard, who was even then an ancient when Horace wrote—

"Nec si quid olini lusit Anacreon
 Delevit ætas"—

be immortal on the earth; and thus the version of Moore, which though possibly deficient in scholarship, was yet found sufficiently symphonious with the old Greek spirit of the original to be pretty generally read and admired.[1] His patron. Lord Moira, had made him known to the Prince Regent, and induced that much-maligned man to subscribe to the book, and accept the dedication. By the joint influence of the two, under Addington's administration in 1803, Moore obtained the appointment to a snug sinecure,—or the next thing to it,—of some £400 a year nett, as Registrar to the Admiralty Court of Bermuda. He enjoyed this office for fifteen years, a deputy doing what real work it involved. At the close of this period Moore, who seemed to have forgotten alike the deputy and the office, was disagreeably reminded of his responsibilities by an application for the reimbursement of the proceeds of certain sales,—say some £2000,—which had been embezzled by his subordinate. Moore might easily have paid the money,—or the smaller amount to which it was commuted—as he was in the receipt of large sums from his publishers, who, indeed, offered to advance the whole amount; but he preferred to take sanctuary at Holyrood House to escape from immediate arrest, and next proceeded to Paris, where, in happy oblivion of his liabilities, he lived for a time a Capuan life of gaiety and enjoyment.

In 1806 had been published his Odes and Epistles, in which he recorded his observations on American society and manners, made on a hasty visit to the United States in 1804, on the occasion of his voyage to Bermuda to assume his appointment. These lyrics, the prose preface to which is admirably written, are sparkling with that witty and graceful ease which the poet made his own, but are deservedly branded by Jeffrey for that frequent indecency, which, conspicuous in the "Tales" of Prior,—between whom and Moore so many points of poetical resemblance may be traced,—has escaped the reprehension of so stern a moralist as Dr. Johnson, and not prevented laudatory mention of that poet on his monument in Westminster Abbey. Possibly the evil is exaggerated; any way it seems inherent in this manner of verse. There is an old alliance between the daughters of Mnemosyne and the winged son of Cytheræa. It was the boast of Horace that he sang—

"Liberum, et Musas, Veneremque et ilii
 Semper hærentem puerum"—

and the licentiousness of thought and expression that here and there mars the exquisite polish of his " Odes," may be traced through the "Juvenilia" of Beza, the "Basia" of Secundus, the "Pancharis" of Bonnefonius, the "Chansons" of Béranger, and the " Songs " of Burns, down to the amatory effusions of "Thomas Little," some of which, as the offspring of—

"—————————Talents made
Haply for pure and high designs,
But oft like Israel's incense, laid
Upon unholy, earthly, shrines"—

though powerless enough for real harm,—his friend Atkinson, to whom the poems were addressed, speaks of the poet as a " child playing on the bosom of Venus"—had possibly been better unwritten.

Besides this, the tone of his remarks on the great and often misjudged country which he had so cursorily visited gave considerable offence to those who had given him a frank and hospitable reception. Washington Irving, long before he visited England and made Moore's personal acquaintance, wrote in his earnest production:—

"While in the parlour I delayed.
Till they their persons had array'd,
A dapper volume caught my eye,
That on the window chanc'd to lie;
A book's a friend—I always choose
To turn its pages and peruse:—
It prov'd those poems known to fame
For praising every cyprian dame;
The bantlings of a dapper youth,
Renown'd for gratitude and truth;
A little pest, hight Tommy Moore,
Who hopp'd and skipp'd our country o'er;
Who sipp'd our tea and lived on sops,
Revell'd on syllabubs and slops,
And when his brain, of cobweb fine,
Was fuddled with five drops of wine,
Would all his puny loves rehearse,
And many a maid debauch—in verse."[2]

I am afraid that gratitude was not one of the virtues of Tommy Moore. He never forgave Lord Moira and the Prince Regent for their early friendship and patronage. Like the daughter of the horse-leech he cried for "more" ; and when the former, with "All the Talents," came into office in 1806, he verily thought that his fortune was made. His noble patron did what he could, but it was not much. Fox had promised concurrence, but died. Lord Moira's influence vanished; and the disappointed patriot felt free, as he says with exultation, "to call a rascal a rascal wherever I meet him; and never," adds he, "was I better disposed to make use of my privilege." All this means that Moore then felt at liberty to libel those whose benefits had not kept pace with his demands, and from whom he had nothing more to expect. Then came, as a natural sequence, that series of scurrilous and personal attacks upon the Prince, inspired by an odium in longum jacens, which the poet, thus abandoning the lyre of Catullus for the mace of Juvenal, collected in 1813, in the little volume entitled The Twopenny Post Bag. These satiric verses, which had been produced under the immediate influence of Holland House, are at once easy, polished and witty. But they are flippant and malignant; and reflect deep discredit on their author, as directed against one whose notice he had once been proud to obtain, who had certainly conferred some favours upon him, and whose station, as depriving him of the power of retaliation, should have been his protection from similar insults.

In Satire, it must be admitted that Moore is entitled to a distinguished place. Not, indeed, that he wielded the massive and ruthless weapon of the great Roman, the cutting lash of Ariosto and Dryden, the delicate scalpel of Boileau and Pope, or the poisoned dagger of Junius. The edge of his sarcasm seems turned by its wit, and the smile of the archer to blunt his arrow's point. Yet the blade of Moore is sharply incisive, illustrating in the effect of its practised stroke, the axiom of Lady Mary Wortley Montague,—

"Satire should, like a polish'd razor keen,
 Wound with a touch that's hardly felt or seen."

The Prose of Moore has the same faults as his poetry,—too much glitter and ornament, too little simplicity and repose,—

"Syllabub syllables sweetly strung,
 Seeming so sillily smooth to be sung,
 Sicken some singular sinners they say,
 Scorning soft sentiment's silvery sway"—

— the pendulum of taste has now swung to the opposite extremity of the arc!

In 1825, appeared his Life of Sheridan, which, with all the sparkle and brilliancy of its diction, proved a disappointment to the reading public, in whom expectation had probably been too highly raised. Fair justice is done to the talents and moral character of the orator; but it must be admitted that our estimation of him as a wit suffers no little from what we learn as to the preparation of his impromptus. Dr. Parr, the great scholar,—not the renowned "old Parr," it is necessary to explain, but Parr of Hatton,—whom Moore had often consulted when writing this biography, and after whom his eldest son was named,—by his last will and testament (1825) gave and bequeathed "a Ring to Thomas Moore, of Sloperton, Wilts, who stands high in my estimation, for original genius, for his exquisite sensibility, for his independent spirit, and incorruptible integrity."

Moore may even be mentioned in the character of a Theologian, for he wrote a book of some learning in defence of the chief articles of the Roman Church,—though he had his children baptized in the Anglican communion. This is not the place to speak at length of his Life of Byron, for which he bled Murray to the tune of nearly £5000. It is known that the materials were first confided to Maginn,—not an over squeamish man certainly,—who shrank aghast from the hideous apocalypse. Moore was applied to, and the result is that portraiture of the poet-lord, which, if but an idealized representation, does not at least require to be veiled like his own "Prophet of Khorassan." The problem of Byron's life yet waits an Œdipus for its solution.

In 1817, appeared Lalla Rookh. This is a poem of splendid diction and gorgeous imagery ; too rich in ornament, too dazzling in uncontrasted light. The author, who was to receive £3000 for his task, had prepared himself by an immense amount of preliminary reading, and it is no small proof of his genius that, of ponderous and intractable materials, he has constructed so rich and graceful an edifice. We may presume, too, that the poem is characterized by some truth of local colour, as it has been translated into Persian, and is a favourite with the Orientals themselves. Luttrell has a quatrain: —

"I'm told, dear Moore, your lays are sung—
Can it be true, you lucky man?—
 By moonlight, in the Persian tongue,
Along the streets of Ispahan."

The poem had struck a new key. Eastern scholars could hardly understand how it could have been written by one who had never inhaled the spices of Araby or reclined beneath a palm-tree; while its gorgeous imagery, its brilliant pageantry and its luscious rhythm took the British public fairly by storm.

Then came the Loves of the Angels, which, with much that is beautiful, was felt to be inferior; and which had, moreover, the misfortune to appear in the same year with the fine Heaven and Earth of Byron. Alciphron;—or rather, the Epicurean,—"pretty Epicurean," says Maginn, "who never kisses a girl, or empties a bottle, throughout the whole book!"—is a prose poem, worthy of a place by the side of Vathek and Rasselas, but reminding one too much of the Vie de Sethos. The same remark applies to all these longer-winged flights of the muse of Moore. They all smell too much of the lamp,—they are deficient in inventive genius,—are inspired by books rather than instinct,—and are overlaid, materiam superat opus, both text and notes, with pedantic learning. It has been said that there are more Greek quotations in the works of Moore, than in the entire cycle of English poetry, from Chaucer to Byron. Yet all the time, strange to say, this learned Theban exhibits in his Diary the crassest ignorance of current facts in general literature,—mistaking, for instance, Malesherbes, the minister of Louis XVI., for Malherbe, a poet of the time of Henry IV.; speaking of Swift and Bickerstaff as if they were not one and the same person; apparently thinking that Florus is a Latin poet; getting into a shocking muddle about the origin of Deane Swift's Christian name; ridiculing Paley for shortening the penultimate of profugus; and thinking that the university phrase, "longs and shorts," refers to syllables instead of lines!—with many another blunder as gross as that which he himself relates in his capital story of the Frenchman, who, when Lord Moira pointed out to him the castle of Macbeth in Scotland, complacently corrected his noble cicerone: —"Maccabée, Milord:— nous le prononcons Maccabée sur le Continent—Judas Maccabeus, Empereur Romain!

But these remarks do not apply to Moore's earlier and lyrical pieces; it is as a song-writer that he will live. His genius was essentially lyrical, and his minor pieces are the very diamond-dust of poetry. Here he is the legitimate successor of Carew, Herrick, Surrey, Lovelace, Suckling and Waller; he is what Tasso is to the Venetians, Béranger to the French, and Burns to the Scotch. "To me," says Byron, "some of Moore's last Erin sparks,—'As a beam o'er the face of the waters,' 'When he who adores thee,' ' Oh, blame not the bard,' ' Oh, breathe not his name,'—are worth all the epics that ever were composed." In these exquisite compositions breathes the very soul of sweetness, elegance and pathos; wit the most brilliant, harmony the most perfect, imagery the most felicitous, all shaping into verbal form, as if with the silent music of crystallization. And if in these, Moore is not always perfect; if we miss earnestness of purpose, simplicity, natural impulse and spontaneity of utterance; if there is sometimes too much elaboration of wit and stimulation of fancy,—let it be remembered that no art is more difficult than that of writing a good song, and that compositions worthy of the name, the coinage of the heart rather than of the brain, and inspired by true feeling as distinguished from imitative and febrile sentiment, are much rarer, in this or any other language, than is generally suspected.

I have associated the name of Moore with that of Burns; the comparison, indeed, forces itself upon the mind, and, whether right or not, these two poets must stand forth as the lyrical genii of their respective countries. Each has his merits. We know the profound passion and simple pathos of the Scottish peasant, and regarding Moore as a national poet, cannot but see some truth in the saying of Hazlitt, that he "-changed the wild harp of Erin into a musical snuff-box." Yet Moore has special merits of his own, as is pointed out by an elegant and liberal critic:—" If Moore had been born and bred a peasant as Burns was, or if Ireland had been such a land of knowledge, and virtue, and religion, as Scotland, — and, surely, without offence, we may say that it never was, and never will be, though we love the green island well,—who can doubt that with his fine fancy, warm heart, and exquisite sensibilities, he might have been as natural a lyrist as Burns; while, take him as he is, who can deny that in richness and variety, in grace, and in the power of wit, he is superior to the ploughman?"[3]

Jeffrey draws a fine comparison between the poetry of Moore and that of Byron:—"Mr. Moore's poetry is the thornless rose, its touch is velvet, its hue vermilion, and its graceful form is cast in beauty's mould. Lord Byron's, on the contrary, is a prickly bramble, or sometimes a deadly upas, of form uncouth and uninviting, that has its root in the clefts of the rock, and its head mocking the skies, that wars with the thunder-cloud, and the tempest, and round which the cataracts roar."[4]

But Jeffrey had not been always thus laudatory: Byron asks: —

"Can none remember that eventful day,
That ever glorious, almost fatal fray,
When Little's leadless pistol met his eye
And Bow Street myrmidons stood laughing by?"[5]

—in allusion to the ridiculous duel, when, on the challenge of Moore, the poet and the critic met at Chalk Farm, in 1806, to settle their literary differences.[6] The proceedings were stopped by the interference of the constabulary, when it was found on examination of the weapons that one, if not both, of the pistols was innocent of ball! Moore was always extremely sore on the subject, and wrote a letter to the Morning Chronicle vindicating his conduct, and asserting that his pistol, at least, was regularly loaded. However this may be, that of his antagonist was certainly found to contain nothing but a paper pellet. Moore was so incensed by Byron's jocular allusion to the harmless affray, that he addressed a challenge to him, in turn; this was confided to his friend Hanson, and somehow never reached its destination.

There is another allusion to this ridiculous affair in a forgotten volume, which is worthy of record as the first novel of Theodore Hook This is entitled the Man of Sorrow, and it purports to be written by "Alfred Allendale." One of the portraits sketched in these volumes,—which, by the way, have been republished since the authors death,—is that of our poet, under the name of " Mr. Minus." Here occurs the following epigram, which may be thought the worthier of preservation here, as it has been attributed to one of the authors of Rejected Addresses:—

"When Anacreon would fight, as the poets have said,
A reverse he display'd in his vapour,
 For while all his poems were loaded with lead,
His pistols were loaded with paper!

"For excuses, Anacreon old custom may thank,
Such a salvo he would not abuse,
 For the cartridge, by rule, is always made blank
Which is fired away at Reviews."[7]

There is a necessary correspondence between the mechanical handiwork of man and the instruments by which it is produced. So also with the creations of the mind. Rousseau, we are told, was wont to write the amatory' billets between Julie and Saint-Preux, in what Burke terms his "famous work of philosophic gallantly," La Nouvelle Héloise, on scented note paper, with the finest of crow quills; and, with like fitness of means, Moore, we are told by his countryman, Mr. Percy Boyd, always wore a pair of kid gloves when he was writing, the ends of which he was wont to nibble in the throes of composition, till the tip of each finger was quite bitten through. These memorials were carefully preserved by his sister Ellen; and their possession was competed for with avidity by his lady friends.

It was at Mayfield Cottage, near Ashbourne, on the Staffordshire side of the river Dove, that Moore wrote Lalla Rookh, and spent some of the happiest years of his life. The whole neighbourhood, though not often alluded to in literature, is haunted land to the literary pilgrim. Within a mile or two is Wootton Hall, where Rousseau lived and botanized for years, and where he wrote his Confessions; a mile away, on the other side of the Dove, dwelt Michael Thomas Sadler; at Oakover, within a short walk, was the home of Ward, the author of Tremaine; two miles further up the river, a grotto is preserved in which Congreve wrote his first drama; hard by is the grand entrance to Dovedale, immortalized by old Isaak Walton; at Chatsworth, almost within sight, Hobbes, the philosopher of Malmesbury, smoked and thought; at Lissington lived Richard Graves, the author of the Spiritual Quixote, of whose fine head a pencil sketch by Wilkie is before me as I write; Mayfield Cottage has since been the residence of Alfred Butler, the novelist;[8] and lastly, Dr. Taylor, one of Dr. Johnson's most esteemed friends, was an inhabitant of Ashbourne, and there were recorded by Boswell some of the lexicographer's most amusing conversation and peculiarities.

After the splendid success of Lalla Rookh, Moore paid two visits to the Continent,—one in company with the poet Rogers, and a second with his friend, Lord John Russell. After a stay in Paris, where about 1822, he wrote the Loves of the Angels^ and Fables of the Holy Alliance^ he finally returned to England. Shortly after this, he took up his abode at that charming cottage for all time indissolubly associated with his name, to the quiet and happiness of which—as he so tenderly apostrophizes it,—

"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 round"—

he could ever return with joy, after his occasional visits to London, the tumult and strife of the outward world, and the intoxicating adulation of society. This was Sloperton, in the immediate neighbourhood of the lovely demesne of Bowood, the seat of his friend, the Marquis of Lansdowne. Here, the charm and delight of society, he passed the latter part of his life. Bowood, with its fine library, its lovely scenery and its refined hospitality, was ever open to the poet,—and thus, as they sail down the stream of time, the name of Lansdowne will be for ever associated with that of Moore, as Mecænas is with Horace, Southampton with Shakespeare, Glencairn with Burns, and Lucien Buonaparte with Béranger.

On the thirty-seventh anniversary of the "Literary Fund," a speech was delivered by Moore, a passage in which has a deep and interesting significance, when we think of the calamity with which he was subsequently visited. "Men of genius," he says, "like the precious perfumes of the East, are exceedingly liable to exhaustion; and the period often comes when nothing of it remains but its sensibility, and the life which long gave light to the world terminates by becoming a burden to itself, … and the person who now addresses you speaks the more feelingly, because he cannot be sure that the fate he has been depicting may not one day be his own."

These boding words were, unhappily, prophetical of his own fate. As in the case of another great genius of his country,—Swift—the light of reason was extinguished, and darkness enshrouded the intellect that had so long and brightly shone with the fires of wit and imagination. Thenceforth his existence was purely physical, and after a few years of decrepitude, he sank into the grave on Feb. 25, 1852, in the seventy-third year of his age. His wife survived him, but all his four children had died before their father. He was buried in the graveyard attached to Bromham Church, Wiltshire, where, twenty-five years later, a memorial window in his honour was unveiled by the late Mrs. S. C. Hall.

One word as to his domestic relations. He married in 1811, and has been absurdly charged by the moralists with selfish neglect of his amiable wife. This allegation, supported by extracts from his own Diary, may be best refuted by the statement of one who was surely well able to speak:—"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 were 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 exile; his return restored him to tranquillity and peace."[9]

In the year after his death (1853) appeared his Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence (8 vols. 8vo), by the Right Hon. Lord John Russell, his life-long friend, to whom the task had been confided by will. We have also: Thomas Moore: His Life, Writings and Contemporaries. By H. R. Montgomery, London, 1860, 8vo, pp. 208; and a later gathering: The Hitherto Uncollected Writings of Thomas Moore, Prose and Verse, Humorous, Satirical and Sentimental, chiefly from the Author's MSS., and all hitherto Inedited and Uncollected, edited by Richard Horne Shepherd, 1877, 8vo.

There are portraits of the poet by Sir M. A. Shee; Maclise; Jackson; Richmond; F. Sieurac (engraved in Galignani's excellent edition of the Poetical Works; and Sir Thomas Lawrence,—the last work of the artist, if I mistake not—who has perhaps best succeeded in conferring upon his subject the aristocratic and dignified air which nature had denied him. He was, indeed, but a little fellow at the best;—"What a pity we cannol make him bigger!" ejaculated Lady Holland. The poet Campbell termed him "a fire-fly from heaven"; and N. P. Willis, in the glare and glitter of one of Lady Blessington's soirées, was struck by the appearance of Moore " with a blaze of light on his Bacchus head."—By the way, there is also a scarce caricature etching of the poet, as a winged Grecian youth, by his countryman, Thomas Croften Croker.

The classical reader may care to be reminded that the Irish Melodies—which brought him in £500 a year from James Power, the musicpublisher, and of which his own exquisite vocalization was a thing unique in its way—have been admirably translated into Latin verse under the title of Cantus Hibernici Latine redditi, quibus accedunt Poëmata quædam Anglicorum auctorum item Latine reddita. Editore Nicolas Lee Torre, Coll. Nov. apud Oxon. olim Socio. Leamington, 1856-8-9. 3 vols. 8vo. Mr. Torre was assisted in his task by some of the most elegant scholars of the day, among whom may be mentioned the unfortunate J. Selby Watson, M.A.

I do not think that, after all, it can be said that this gifted man, "the poet of all circles and the idol of his own," as Byron termed him,—the pet alike of peers, peeresses, publishers and public,—

"——who, in all names could tickle the town,
 Anacreon, Tom Little, Tom Moore, or Tom Browne,"[10]

—was illiberally treated by the British Government. As early as 1835 or 1836, the head-clerkship of the State Paper Office, with a salary of £300 a year, Avas placed at his disposal by Lord John Russell. This was, very properly, declined by the poet, who felt that the honour was nil, the emolument small, and that time, which he could more profitably and agreeably employ, would be consumed in dull and tedious routine. Very shortly after, a letter from Lord Lansdowne announced that a pension, involving no duties, had been actually conferred upon him, of like amount.

The library of Thomas Moore was, in 1855, presented by his widow to the Royal Irish Academy, "as a memorial of her husband's taste and erudition."

  1. A lovely edition of Moore's version was published by the late John Camden Hotten, in 1869, "with fifty-four illustrative designs by Girodet de Roussy." These exquisite drawings originally accompanied a French translation of the odes of Anacreon, made by the artist himself, and published in France shortly after his death.
  2. Salmagundi; or the Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstajff, Esq., and Others. London, 1824, 8vo, p. 82.
  3. Recreations of Christopher North, i. 272.
  4. Edinburgh Review, No. lxxv.
  5. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, i vol. ed. of Byron's Poems, p. 428.
  6. The article which provoked the duel will be found in No. xvi. of the Edinburgh Review, July, 1806, where the poet is denounced as "the most licentious of modern versifiers, and the most poetical of the propagators of impiety"; and an additional sting added to the charge by the insinuation of mere mercenary motives.
  7. Life of Theodore Hook.
  8. Author of Elphinstone, The Herberts, etc.
  9. Memoirs, Pref. xi.
  10. Byron, "To Thomas Moore."