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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
George Moore (1852–1933)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Harry Morgan Ayres (1881–1948)
 
WHEN George Moore was a little boy in Dublin he one day broke away from his nurse, stripped off his clothes, and ran naked about Stephen’s Green, with the object, as he explained, of enjoying the helpless consternation of the nurse. It is tempting to see in this episode a symbol and a portent of the later Moore. But it would probably be wrong to do so, unless it could be made to appear that he was only very secondarily interested in the sensations of the nurse, representing for the moment the public, and wholly and delightfully concerned with the sensations of his own slender body cleaving the cool air, and the picture of his gleaming little self against a vaguely agitated but attentive background. His whole concern in the incident, if on this occasion the child really was father of the later man, was artistic; the nurse was necessary to him in contriving an effect, but she and her emotions were no ends in themselves. There have been few men who have so wholly identified themselves with art, without any of the reserves or the restraints which a lesser, or a greater, man would insist upon. In his life, he is not, like a lesser man, posing; he is composing; but he is not, like a greater man, transmuting crude experience into a new and higher reality; he is, for the most part, merely improvising. Few men have tasked themselves more severely than he to perfect their gift for writing. Whistler, he says, once remarked to him, “Nothing, I suppose, matters to you except your writing.” It frightened him a little to think it quite possibly true that family, friends, painting, music, convictions, and the precious privacies of life existed for him as only so much copy. But what is a man to do in whom, as he says, writing is inveterate? He must have something on which to spend his prodigious talent. Writing is his business; he has authority to be about it. If he breaks into your house it is not the random personal enterprise of a burglar; it is a domiciliary visitation for which he has a duly executed search-warrant. Je prens mon bien où je le trouve, he says, and he takes it because in spite of everything it really is his, or what amounts to the same thing, art’s.  1
  Moore was born an Irishman, but his father’s political career transferred the family from the feudal life of Moore Hall in County Mayo to London, and Moore grew up an Englishman. In the late eighteen-seventies, a young man with yellow hair, champagne-bottle shoulders, and female hands, together with a competence left him at the death of his father, he betook himself to Paris to study painting. The story of these years may be read in ‘Confessions of a Young Man’ (1888) and more retrospectively in the opening pages of ‘Vale’ (1914). In the end it became plain that though he might find a great deal to say about painting—his volume of papers called ‘Modern Painting’ (1893) gives the measure of that—a painter he was not to be. Two volumes of poems, written with the best will in the world to be devilish, ‘Flowers of Passion’ (1878) and ‘Pagan Poems’ (1881), represent the first attempts of the young artist to find a new medium for the expression of those sensations with which the act of living so violently affected him.  2
  Poetry, however, was not the destined means. His long career as a writer of prose, in the course of which he has grown so enamored of the texture and rustle of his style that he is now ready to take the trouble of rewriting them in order to reclothe his early works in the latest fashion, began with ‘A Modern Lover’ (1883) and ‘A Mummer’s Wife’ (1884). The latter is the story of the sentimental wife of a shopkeeper, who drifts from her slender moorings in the wake of the good-natured, sensual, and efficient actor-manager, follows his fortunes as his wife, herself a player in a small way, and finally, for no reason but a vague boredom and to the complete puzzlement of her kindly intentioned husband, drinks herself to death. This novel looks definitely forward to the larger measure of success which he attained, after ‘A Drama in Muslin’ (1886) and ‘Spring Days’ (1888), in ‘Esther Waters’ (1894). Here, against a background of racing (his father had kept a stable), he succeeds in making of absorbing interest the simple annals of a servant-girl. It was the Englishman in him, as he says, that wrote this book. Beyond question it is among all his books the one that most people will longest care to read. In it he sets himself no problem to work out, as in imitation of his continental masters he had done in certain of his earlier works; he is not furnishing a portrait gallery, as in ‘Celibates’ (1895); he confuses his story with no flummery of æstheticism, which quite destroys the outlines of ‘Evelyn Innes’ (1898) and its languid sequel, ‘Sister Theresa’ (1901); he is not yet obsessed with Ireland and the incompatability, since the Reformation, of Catholicism and art, though he had vented a little spleen in ‘Parnell and his Island’ (1887); and for the moment he forgets himself, while he tells a sound story in the best tradition of the English novel.  3
  Moore, however, was not content to remain an Englishman. Art seemed to have in the Empire no place, the mintage of the language was worn by much handling; art, which never revisits last year’s nests, was to be found in small countries and in uncheapened languages. The outbreak of the Boer War alienated him still more from England, and Ireland seemed to offer the untilled field which would yield the artistic harvest. Dublin, the Gaelic League, the National theatre, his cousin Edward Martyn, Yeats, Lady Gregory, “Æ,” and John Eglinton offered a splendid background; and not naked this time but with all his household goods—including his modern paintings—he rushed among them. Nakedness is, however, characteristic of the remarkable trilogy ‘Hail and Farewell’—‘Ave’ (1911), ‘Salve’ (1912), and ‘Vale’ (1914)—which tells the story of his ten-year Irish Odyssey. It is a story of the disillusioned messiah, a theme to which he returns in what he announces as his last book, ‘The Brook Kerith’ (1916). In the interests of the Irish dramatic revival he labored, collaborating with Yeats in ‘Dermuid and Grania,’ and shamelessly remaking Edward Martyn’s play, which appeared as ‘The Bending of the Bough’ (1900), into the likeness of his own earlier play, ‘The Strike at Arlingford’ (1893). In the interests of the Gaelic League he labored, writing the stories published as ‘The Untilled Field’ (1903) that they might be turned into Irish and form the nucleus of a native literature which should induce folk to undergo the rigors of learning the language. In the end, however, he reached the conviction—it is all told in ‘Salve’—that it was futile to attempt the artistic regeneration of Ireland so long as the Catholic church was there to make art an impossibility.  4
  Such, at any rate, is his version, though perhaps the whole story has not yet been told; in any case, he abjured a Catholicism which he never professed and, publicly announcing himself a Protestant, departed by way of England on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Such a summary, however, gives no notion of this amazing trilogy. The exhaustless and delighted malice with which he holds up to us the actors in the literary movement whose historian he is must be somewhat sourly relished, if they allow themselves to read the books, by his “dear Edward,” his Gill with Henri quatre beard, and his Douglas Hyde. His hero-worship can be hardly more palatable to the reluctant “Æ.” But Moore makes literary history more interesting than fiction; and as an experiment in its kind, unique at any rate in England, his trilogy will in no future, however distant, be wholly neglected.  5
  No amount of mere reading in his books will qualify one to predict what Mr. Moore will do next. But on that basis alone one may easily imagine what it will be. When he has done with the task of revising the novels of his youth, when he has surveyed the world afresh and concluded that there is no cause in which as a messiah he is at all likely to succeed, he will dedicate, with beautifully appropriate ritual, an altar “to the Unknown Cause,” and, appointing himself perpetual high-priest thereof, proceed to write a most entertaining book about it. And when the account is made up and there are no more books to write, he can close his eyes and with perfect truth murmur in the French he loves, “Je ne me suis pas trompé de mon métier.”  6
 
 
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