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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Thomas Moore (1779–1852)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Thomas Walsh
 
ALTHOUGH of late years, through the gradual change of taste, the importance of Thomas Moore to the critical reader has grown to be more that of a personality than that of a poet, yet, in large and steady demand at the libraries, his works outrank those of Byron, Scott, and all other popular poets.  1
  Whether this be a tribute to his sentimentality or his music, there can be no doubt that Moore, who came of the people,—his father a small grocer and liquor-dealer of Dublin,—understood their feelings better than he is generally supposed to have done; and while he was singing to the languishing ladies of London, never forgot the less fashionable though no less sentimental audience beyond.  2
  For it is by his songs that his name has made its place in the poet’s corner of the heart: not by his elaborated pictures of an Orient that he never beheld; his loves of angelic (and too earthly) spirits; nor his high-flown and modish ‘Evenings in Greece.’ Fate has its ironies, and this is one of them: Tom Moore, the darling of English aristocracy, the wit of fashionable Bohemia, lives for us principally as the pretty Irish lad from Dublin; his boyish fad of Anacreon and Thomas Little forgotten, and only the songs that came from his heart remembered.  3
  Born in a humble though decent quarter of Dublin, on the 28th of May, 1779, he inherited that love of country which is so characteristic of his race. Ireland has cause indeed to be grateful to Moore. It is true that his tastes and his friendships were placed far from her unfortunate shores. But in those days she offered no future to a literary man; and it required more than ordinary courage to espouse her cause when even sympathy with her was considered treasonable to England. Among his English friends, who thought Ireland synonymous with barbarity and ignorance, he moved about amiably patriotic, striking down the barriers of intolerance with the shafts of his conciliating wit. Sunday after Sunday, though his controversial works in favor of Catholicism would fill many volumes, he was to be found in an Anglican chapel.  4
  While Moore never deserted or neglected his humble parents, of whom he was justifiably proud, nor forgot his early friends and helpers, yet as he rose in life, his diaries contain few names but those of the great. With his gifts of social wit and gayety he was more courted than courting, however; and in this light should be received the saying that “Tommy dearly loved a lord.” Few men ever surpassed him in that art of brilliant conversation that contributed so largely to his successful career. He is the past-master in that art among the moderns; and Golzan, when he asserted that the footmen in the old French salons were more distinguished in their conversation than the great writers since their day, should have excepted the Irish poet.  5
  While not a great linguist, he was certainly endowed with the gift of tongues; so that when he left the University in Dublin in 1799, with his classical studies completed, he was proficient in both French and Italian. His name was now entered at the Middle Temple, London. His youth,—he was only twenty,—his humble parents and meager fortunes, had not prevented him from gaining some foothold in Dublin society. For besides his personal gifts, he was already known as a poet, from some published effusions; and it was whispered that the pretty youth who had dabbled in the plot that sent his college-mate, Robert Emmet, to the gallows, had under his arm the manuscript of the ‘Odes of Anacreon,’ which, to the unsophisticated aristocrats of Dublin, must have given the young bard an air of fascinating worldliness.  6
  His first business in London was to obtain a patron; and we soon hear of him as supping, through Lord Moira’s influence, with the Prince Regent, at the table of Mrs. Fitzherbert. A subscription for the publication of the ‘Odes,’ headed by the name of his Royal Highness, soon enabled Moore to produce his dainty translations of the Teian bard, with all the conventional footnotes and pretty pieces of learning that the time so much admired; with every nymph and cup-bearer pictured in corkscrew curls and voluminous draperies. It is an epitome of the spirit of its time,—this little volume,—so bland in its pretensions to learning, at the same time so fashionable and so seemingly erudite. Quotations in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian meet the eye on almost every page; and pretty conceits from outside sources, that can be brought by any straining of means into some connection with the main work, are scattered with a lavish hand.  7
  The success of this volume was so great that we hear no more of Moore in the Middle Temple. In the years of prosperity and gayety that followed,—years of bewildering successes for so young a man,—a laureateship is offered and declined. The great men of the day stood anxious to be of use to the youth whom fashion had taken by the hand; and, again through the influence of Lord Moira, Moore was made Registrar of the Admiralty Court of Bermuda. But the island of “the still-vext Bermoothes” was not to the taste of the gay little dancer in the sun; and tarrying there only long enough to appoint a deputy, he proceeded on the American tour that resulted in his ‘Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems.’ In America Moore naturally found little to admire. He was shocked at “the rude familiarity of the lower orders”; and on his arrival in Washington, took sides with the British minister and his wife in that historic quarrel with the President on the subject of social precedence, that mystified the magnates of the republican court.  8
  He shared, indeed, the national aptitude for quarreling; on one occasion challenging Jeffrey to a duel, because of a critique in the Edinburgh,—a duel which the police interrupted at the crucial moment, and which resulted in the lifelong friendship of the combatants. It happened, however, that when the pistols were seized, one of them was discovered to be without a bullet; whereupon Byron in his ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers’ so ridiculed the affair that Moore challenged him in turn. Friends however interfered, and a friendship was founded between the combatants that has for its memorial the ‘Life and Journals of Lord Byron’ by Thomas Moore.  9
  In 1811 the poet married Miss Bessie Dyke, an Irish actress of some note, whose beauty had gained her from the fastidious Rogers the names of “Madonna della Sedia” and “Psyche.” She had all the womanly qualities of self-control, patience, and economy, that were needed by the wife of the spoiled little bard, who gave her until his death all the devotion of a lover.  10
  His life after his marriage was to be one series of social and literary triumphs, shadowed only by the money difficulties by which his own carelessness and his Bermudan deputy’s dishonesty threatened at one time to overwhelm him. He paid his debts, however, by means of the success of his satires, the generous terms of the Longmans in ordering ‘Lalla Rookh,’ and the pension of £300 given him by the government through the grace of Lord John Russell, who was one day to be his biographer. Fond as he was of dancing and dining, however, he was both industrious and persevering at his work-bench, where he turned out not less than thirty volumes, among the best known of which are—‘The Odes of Anacreon,’ ‘The Fudge Family in Paris,’ ‘Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems,’ ‘The Two-penny Post Bag,’ ‘Lalla Rookh,’ ‘Rhymes on the Road,’ ‘The Epicurean, a Prose Story,’ ‘The Loves of the Angels,’ ‘The Life of Sheridan,’ ‘The Life of Lord Byron,’ and ‘The Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.’  11
  During his sojourns in France, while his friends compromised the Bermudan suits. Continental society united to do him honor. Royalty listened to his charming drolleries, and languished over the songs which he sang and accompanied on the piano with an elegance that great musicians envied for its effect. ‘Lalla Rookh’ was presented by the Imperial personages on the court stage of St. Petersburg. The Duchess of Kent and the little Princess Victoria sang his own songs to him. For “Moore,” says Lady Morgan,—a very capable judge,—“now belongs to gilded saloons and grand pianofortes.”  12
  When he goes to Ireland, he must kiss every woman on board the Dublin packet; and the galleries of the theatres ring with “Come, show your Irish face, Tom!” That he had the tastes of a dandy, we learn from a letter of the time describing his “smart white hat, kid gloves, brown frock coat, yellow cassimere waistcoat, gray duck trousers, and blue silk handkerchief carelessly secured in front by a silver pin.” At another time he orders a coat of “blue with yellow buttons”; but meanwhile he complains that he has been obliged to wear his white hat in the winter rains for want of a better. In spite of his toilets, however, the good-natured crowd that followed the “Great Poet” in his Irish wanderings were so disappointed that there were frequent outcries of “Well, ’tis a darling little pet, at any rate;” “Be dad, isn’t he a dawny creature, and doesn’t he just look like one of the good people!” (fairies). But there was never any lack of enthusiasm and cheering.  13
  At length the shadows began to darken on the spirit of Moore, as one by one his five children died, and he was left at last alone with his devoted Bessy. His wit and brilliancy began to fade; and though, as Willis relates, he continued to stumble in his short-sighted way into the salons of the great houses where he was worshiped, and though he still sat among the wits and peers at table,—the light fancy, the store of anecdote and droll allusion, diminished until all that made his greatness became mere tradition. It was too late to hope that he would change his life,—retire to the privacy of his home, hiding the eclipse of mind that has so often darkened the last years of men of genius. It was in the midst of the gay and worldly throng in which he had passed his golden days that he lapsed into silence, and became the spectre of the feasts to which, above all, he was once welcome.  14
  The end came in February 1852, when he had reached his seventy-third year. Of all his family, he was survived only by the noble woman who saw him laid beside their five children in the churchyard of Bromham in Wiltshire.  15
 
 
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