Irish literature revolves around a rich culture and extensive history. In the Irish Literature 101 series, the focus was on the general outline of the literary eras in Ireland. However, to better understand this literary tradition, Irish Literature 102 dives deeper into the key literary figures that influenced the literary movements. Additionally, this series constitutes a wide-ranging study on works that are examined in the context of documented events and critical cultural movements.
Irish Literature 102 is divided into the following chapters:
Portrait of Thomas Moore, (1779-1852), painting by Martin Archer Shee.
Thomas Moore remains a prominent figure in the history of Irish Literature. He was born on the 28th of May, 1779, in the outskirts of Dublin. Although his family belonged to a humble class of society, his mind was nurtured with idealism and thoughts of revolution from childhood. From a very young age, Thomas was inclined towards fine inspirations like music, poetry, and stage play. His linguistic education went beyond the English language; he was schooled and fluent in French, Latin, and Greek.
Rebellious Youth & Education
In 1794, he broke the first norm in his society by becoming the first Catholic student at Trinity College of Dublin. As he was the only son of his family, his parents guided him towards a white-collar career in law, instead of pursuing arts. A hope that came to an end in Ireland sooner than expected.
Moore became one of the early associates of the Society of United Irishmen and consequently was expelled from Trinity. The united society was founded on a noble cause of providing equal rights for everyone by a national government. However, it was stamped as a politically rogue association against the British-ruled government. He parted ways with the heedless rebels who later led the republican rebellion of 1798.
The United Irish Patriots of 1798, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London
At the time of the rebellion, Moore had already left Dublin for London to continue his education in Law. The London world agreed with his senses and changed his temperament - but never his liberal vocations.
Although he chose a different way of life, he was nonetheless affected by the consequences of the rebellion; both in the political sense of the British government oppression and in the emotional sense of losing his close friends. The rebellion leader, Robert Emmett, was a close friend and colleague of Moore, who was executed for treason in 1803.
Moore had become a civil officer by then and was on a commission on behalf of the British government in Bermuda. He visited parts of North America throughout the only year of his service on the American continent - coming back with a great deal of experience, awe for new-found-lands, and much criticism for the actions of Canadian and American government.
Early Publications & Criticism
Moore’s first published work was one of his earliest poems written at the age of 14. However, his first well-established publication was a translation of the hedonist poetry of Anacreon. These poems were, perhaps, much in harmony with the social class he was acquainted with in early 19th century London society; from the high-born Irish, to English peers, and all to the way to Prince Regent himself. In 1801, Moore published his own poetry collection, Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little Esq. much to the disdain of society, this collection was labeled as inappropriately erotic.
“Wake my life, thy lover’s arms, Are twined around thy sleeping charms, Wake, my love! and let desire Kindle those op’ning orbs of fire Yet, sweetest, though the bliss delight thee, If the guilt, the same affright thee, Still those orbs in darkness keep; Sleep, my girl, or seem to keep” -A passage from Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little Esq., Thomas Moore
Return to Ireland & Marriage
Whether it was an inner call to return to his homeland, or purely for the sake of the arts, Moore frequented the city of Kilkenny at the age of 30 and 31. He attended several plays and found the spotlight on the stage himself. He acted in numerous plays from 1808 to 1810.
He also met and fell in love with Elizabeth Dyke, or “Bessy”. She was the sister of Mary Ann Duff, one of the greatest Tragédien of all time, though, at the time, she was an aspiring actress. Moore’s marriage was another expression of rebellion against social boundaries. He, being a Catholic, took his Protestant bride to the city of his youth, London. The pair were wedded in 1811, in an Anglican church, St Martin-in-the-Fields. Against all odds, the marriage and even his bride were kept a secret for an extended period: the discrepancy included most of Moore’s friends and his family.
Despite five successful pregnancies, none of their offspring lived a prosperous or long life. Most died as young children or adolescents, while one of their sons died as a young soldier, astonishingly, while in a battle against England and fighting on behalf of the French army.
During his first year of marriage, Moore published one of his noteworthy, and evidently rebellious works, the Two-Penny Post-Bag. It was a Horatian mockery of the Prince Regent and his autocratic conduct in opposition to the Catholics. The collection was published in a morning newspaper.
Embezzlement & Prison
Thomas Moore was known as a man of honor with a high-regarded reputation to back this claim. However, he was fated to be associated with embezzlement. In 1818, the news came from the American continent, which connected Moore to his past. While in Bermuda, he entrusted a man to the role of a local deputy. An amount of 6000 pounds were embezzled, and Thomas Moore was directly linked to the crime as a culprit. During the time, embezzlement was punished by death.
He was eventually sentenced to prison, but he escaped to Italy to remain in exile until he could prove his innocence. After much chaos, the case came to a conclusion in 1822, after the full payment of the embezzled sum.
Lord Byron & his Memoir
Fate truly takes strange turns, often with a pearl of discreet wisdom that may be discovered in the years to come. Though their acquaintance went back to 1811, Moore had become an object of interest to Lord Byron while he was still in England in 1822. Lord Byron mentioned the strange story of embezzlement in one of his satirical pieces. He exclaimed: “TOMMY loves a Lord.”
Portrait of Lord Byron, British poet (1788–1824), by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1813.
In 1824, Moore and Byron met for the last time in Venice. Lord Byron was on his way to fight a battle in Greece and, consequently, meet his feverish end. He endowed his memoir to Moore before leaving and asked Moore to publish it in case of his death. The manuscript was rewritten as a biography by Moore and published in 1830 as Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830) - six years after that Lord Byron was revered as a folk hero by the Greeks.
Literary Rise & Publications
In 1835, Moore received a literary pension. He published several works then, including; The Fudges in England - the sequel to The Fudge Family in Paris (1818). In essence, most of his writing had a political stance. However, his poetic soul occasionally seeped out in the form of love poetry and delicate prose. Some of his notable works include: Fables for the Holy Alliance (1823) and Odes upon Cash, Corn, Catholics, and Other Matters (1828), The Loves of the Angels (1823), and Lord Byron’s biography as well as Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1825).
While his fellow compatriots suffered in the Great Famine that had plagued the whole of Ireland at the end of the 1840s, Moore lost his spirit and health. He witnessed the death of his five children, his beloved wife, and then his nation. His life came to an end on February 25, 1852, and he was buried in St. Nicholas churchyard grave.
Dear Harp of my Country! in darkness I found thee, The cold chain of silence had hung o’er thee long; When proudly, my own Island Harp, I unbound thee And gave all thy chords to light, freedom and song! -Thomas Moore grave memorial by Edward Benjamin Britten
S. Gwynn, T M. (London, 1905); W. Trench, T M. (Dublin, 1934); J. Flannery, T M.: Minstrel of Ireland (Pinellas Park, Fla., 1991).
J. Moore. ‘Thomas Moore, Anacreon and the Romantic Tradition, Romantic
Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 2013
Thomas Moore (1779–1852; Irish), Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 February 2021
Liber Liber, Portrait of Thomas Moore, (1779-1852), painting by Martin Archer Shee.
Wikimedia, Portrait of Lord Byron, British poet (1788–1824), by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1813.
The United Irish Patriots of 1798, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London