Page images
PDF
[graphic][merged small]

THOMAS MOORE was born in Dublin on the 28th of May 1779. Both his parents were Roman Catholics; and he was, as a matter of course, brought up in the same religion, and adhered to it—not perhaps with any extreme zealthroughout his life. His father was a decent tradesman, a grocer and spirit-retailer-or “spirit-grocer,” as the business is termed in Ireland. Thomas received his schooling from Mr. Samuel Whyte, who had been Sheridan's first preceptor, a man of more than average literary culture. He encouraged a taste for acting among the boys; and Moore, naturally intelligent and lively, became a favourite with his master, and a leader in the dramatic recreations.

His aptitude for verse appeared at an early age. In 1790 he composed an epilogue to a piece acted at the house of Lady Borrows, in Dublin ; and in his fourteenth year he wrote a sonnet to Mr. Whyte, which was published in a Dublin magazine.

Like other Irish Roman Catholics, galled by the hard and stiff collar of Protestant ascendency, the parents of Thomas Moore hailed the French Revolution, and the prospects which it seemed to offer of some reflex ameliorations. In 1792 the lad was taken by his father to a dinner in honour of the Revolution ; and he was soon launched upon a current of ideas and associations which might have conducted a person of more self-oblivious patriotism to the scaffold on which perished the friend of his opening manhood, Robert Emmet. Trinity College, Dublin, having been opened to Catholics by the Irish Parliament in 1993, Moore was entered there as a student in the succeeding year. He became more proficient in French and Italian than in the classic languages, and showed no turn for

Latin verses. Eventually, his political proclivities, and intimacy with many of the chiefs of opposition, drew down upon him (after various interrogations, in which he honourably refused to implicate his friends) a severe admonition from the university authorities; but he had not joined in any distinctly rebellious act, and no more formidable results ensued to him.

In 1793 Moore published in the Anthologia Hibernica two pieces of verse; and his budding talents became so far known as to earn him the quality of Laureate to the Gastronomic Club of Dalkey, near Dublin, in 1794. Through his acquaintance with Emmet, he joined the Oratorical Society, and afterwards the more important Historical Society; and he published An Ode on Nothing, with Notes, by Trismegistus Rustifucius, D.D., which won a party success. About the same time he wrote articles for The Press, a paper founded towards the end of 1797 by O'Connor, Addis, Emmet, and others. He graduated at Trinity College in November 1799.

The bar was the career which his parents, and especially his mother, wished Thomas to pursue ; neither of them had much faith in poetry or literature as a resource for his subsistence. Accordingly, in 1799, he crossed over into England, and studied in the Middle Temple ; and he was afterwards called to the bar, but literary pursuits withheld him from practising. He had brought with him from Ireland his translations from Anacreon; and published these by subscription in 1800, dedicated to the Prince Regent (then the illusory hope of political reformers), with no inconsiderable success. Lord Moira, Lady Donegal, and other leaders of fashionable society, took him up with friendly warmth, and he soon found himself a well-accepted guest in the highest circles of 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. Moore has not escaped the stigma which attaches to almost ali men who thus succeed under the like conditions—that of tuft-hunting and lowering compliances. He would be a bold man who should affirm that there was absolutely no sort of ground for the charge ; or that Moore--fêted at Holland House, and hovered round by the fashionable of both sexes, the men picking up his witticisms, and the women languishing over his songs—was capable of the same sturdy selfreliance and simple adhesion to principle which might possibly have been in him, and forthcoming from him, under different conditions. Who shall touch pitch, and not be defiled; who treacle, and not be sweetened ? At the same time, it is easy to carry charges of this kind too far, and not always through motives the purest or most exalted. It may be said without unfairness on either side that the sort of talents which Moore possessed brought him naturally into che society which he frequentcd ; that very possibly the world has got quite as much out of him by that development of his faculties as by any other which they could have been likely to receive ; and that he repaid patronage in the coin of amusement and of bland lenitives, rather than in that of obsequious adulation. For we are not required nor permitted to suppose that there was the stuff of a hero in "little Tom Moore;" or that the lapdog of the drawing-room would under any circumstances have been the wolfhound of the public sheepfold. In the drawing-room he is a sleeker lapdog, and lies upon more and choicelier-clothed laps than he would in “che three-pair back;" and that is about all that needs to be said or speculated in such a case. As a matter of fact, the demeanour of Moore among the socially great seems to have been that of a man who respected his company, without failing to respect himself also—any ill-natured cavilling or ready-made imputations to the contrary notwithstanding.

In 1802 Moore produced his first volume of original verse, the Poetical Works of the late Thomas Little (an allusion to the author's remarkably small stature), for which he received £60. There are in this volume some erotic improprieties, not of a very serious kind either in intention or in harmfulness, which Moore regretted in later years. Next year Lord Moira procured him the post of Registrar to the Admiralty Court of Bermuda : he embarked on the 25th of September, and reached his destination in January 1804. This work did not suit him much better than the business of the bar : in March he withdrew from personal discharge of the duties; and, leaving a substitute in his place, he made a tour in the United States and Canada. He was presented to Jefferson, and felt impressed by his republican simplicity. Such a quality, however, was not in Moore's line; and nothing perhaps shows the essential smallness of his nature more clearly than the fact that his visit to the United States, in their giant infancy, produced in him no glow of admiration or aspiration, but only a recrudescence of the commonest prejudices—the itch for picking little holes, the petty joy of reporting them, and the puny self-pluming upon fancied or factitious superiorities. If the washy liberal patriotism of Moore's very early years had any vitality at all, such as would have qualified it for a harder struggle than jeering at the Holy Alliance, and singing

TES

after-dinner songs of national sentimentalism to the applause of Whig lords and ladies, this American experience may be held to have been its deathblow. He now saw republicans face to face; and found that they were not for him, nor he for them. He returned to England in 1806; and soon afterwards published his Odes and Epistles, comprising many remarks, faithfully expressive of his perceptions, on American society and manners.

The volume was tart'y criticised in the Edinburgh Review by Jeffrey, who made some rather severe comments upon the improprieties chargeable to Moore's early writings. The consequence was a challenge, and what would have been a duel at Chalk Farm, but for unloaded pistols and police interference. This fiasco soon led to an amicable understanding between Moore and Jeffrey; and a few years later, about the end of 1811, to a friendship of closer intimacy between the Irish songster and his great poetic contemporary Lord Byron. His lordship, in his youthful satire of English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, had made fun of the unbloody duel. This Moore resented, not so much as a mere matter of ridicule as because it involved an ignoring or a denial of a counter-statement of the matter put into print by himself. He accordingly wrote a letter to Byron on the ist of January 1810, calculated to lead to further hostilities. But, as the noble poet just then left England for his prolonged tour on the Continent, the missive did not reach him; and a little skirmishing, after his return in the following year, terminated in a hearty reconciliation, and a very intimate cordiality, almost deserving of the lofty name of friendship, on both sides.

Re-settled in London, and re-quartered upon the pleasant places of fashion, Moore was once more a favourite at Holland House, Lansdowne House, and Donington House, the residence of Lord Moira. His lordship obtained a comfortable post to soothe the declining years of Moore's father, and held out to the poet himself the prospect—which was not however realised-of another snug berth for his own occupancy, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland never received the benefits of the Irish patriot's services in any public capacity at home-only through the hands of a defaulting deputy in Bermuda : it did, however, at length give him the money without the official money'sworth, for in 1835, under Lord Melbourne's ministry, an annual literary pension of £300 was bestowed upon the then elderly poet. Nor can it be said that Moore's worth to his party, whether we regard him as political sharpshooter or as national lyrist, deserved a less recognition from the Whigs : he had at one time, with creditable independence,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

refused to be indebted to the Tories for an appointment. Some obloquy has at times been cast upon him on account of his sarcasms against the Prince Regent, which, however well-merited on public grounds, have been held to come with an ill grace from the man whose first literary effort, the Anacreon, had been published under the auspices of his Royal Highness as dedicatee, no doubt a practical obligation of some moment to the writer. It does not appear, however, that the obligation went much beyond this simple acceptance of the dedication : Moore himself declared that the Regent's further civilities had consisted simply in asking him twice to dinner, and admitting him, in 1811, to a fête in honour of the regency.

The life of Moore for several years ensuing is one of literary success and social brilliancy, varied by his marrying in 1811 Miss Bessy Dyke, a lady who made an excellent and devoted wife, and to whom he was very affectionately attached, although the attractions and amenities of the fashionable world caused from time to time considerable inroads upon his domesticity. After a while, he removed from London, with his wife and young family, to Mayfield Cottage, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire-a somewhat lonely site. His Irish Melodies, the work by which he will continue best known, had their origin in 1797, when his attention was drawn to a publication named Bunting's Irish Melodies, for which he occasionally wrote the words. In 1807 he entered into a definite agreement with Mr. Power on this subject, in combination with Sir J. Stevenson, who undertook to compose the accompaniments. The work was prolonged up to the year 1834; and contributed very materially to Moore's comfort in money matters and his general prominence-as his own singing of the Melodies in good society kept up his sentimental and patriotic prestige, and his personal lionising, in a remarkable degree. He played on the piano, and sang with taste, though in a style resembling recitative, and not with any great power of voice : in speaking, his voice had a certain tendency to hoarseness, but its quality became flute-like in singing. In 1811 he made another essay in the musical province; writing, at the request of the manager of the Lyceum Theatre, an operetta named. M.P., or the Bluestocking. It was the reverse of a stage success; and Moore, in collecting his poems, excluded this work, save as regards some of the songs comprised in it. In 1808 had appeared, anonymously, the poems of Intolerance and Corruption, followed in 1809 by The Sceptic. Intercepted Letters, or The Twopenny Postbag, by Thomas Brown the Younger, came out in 1812 : it was a huge

« PreviousContinue »