Thomas Moore is an Irish poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer, now best remembered for the lyrics of The Minstrel Boy and The Last Rose of Summer. He was responsible, with John Murray, for burning Lord Byron's memoirs after his death. In his lifetime he was often referred to as Anacreon Moore.
Thomas Moore was born at 12 Aungier-street in Dublin, Ireland, on 28 May 1779. over his father's grocery shop, his father being from an Irish speaking Gaeltacht in Kerry and his mother, Anastasia Codd, from Wexford. He had two younger sisters, Kate and Ellen.
From a relatively early age Moore showed an interest in music and other performing arts. He sometimes appeared in plays with his friends, such as The Poor Soldier by John O'Keeffe, and at one stage had ambitions to become an actor. Moore attended several Dublin schools including Samuel Whyte's English Grammar School in Grafton Street where he learned the English accent with which he spoke with for the rest of his life. From 1795 He was educated at Trinity College, which had recently allowed entry to Catholic students, in an effort to fulfil his mother's dream of his becoming a lawyer. Moore was initially a good student, but he later worked less hard at his studies. His time at Trinity came amidst the ongoing turmoil following the French Revolution and a number of his fellow students such as Robert Emmett were supporters of the United Irishmen movement who sought support from the French government to launch a revolution in Ireland. In 1798 a rebellion broke out followed by a French invasion, neither of which succeeded.
He studied law at the Middle Temple in London. It was as a poet, translator, balladeer and singer that he found fame. His work soon became immensely popular and included The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls, Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms, The Meeting of the Waters and many others. His ballads were published as Moore's Irish Melodies (commonly called Moore's Melodies) in 1846 and 1852. While Thomas Moore was completing his many works he met a girl with the name of Lena Angese who encouraged him with his works. She also helped him with his future compositions and they became very close. Although she was said to have fallen in love with him she suddenly appeared missing. In search of where she had disappeared to Moore found that she had died just days before he went to look for her.
Moore was far more than a balladeer. He had major success as a society figure in London, meeting the Prince of Wales on several occasions and enjoying in particular the patronage of the Irish aristocrat Lord Moira. Moore stayed repeatedly at Moira's house at Donnington Park in Leicestershire where he enjoyed the use of the extensive library. He collaborated with Michael Kelly to stage The Gypsy Prince in 1801 which was not considered by Moore to be a success. In the wake of the work's failure he chose not to write for the theatre for another decade.
In 1803 he was appointed registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda. He spent around three months on the island, but he found his work very light and uninspiring. There were several other prize courts nearby and very few captured ships were brought to Bermuda leaving him little to do. Although he drew inspiration from the scenery of Bermuda he found its society limited and soon departed for Norfolk. Because of his brief stay there he has sometimes been treated as an unofficial poet laureate of Bermuda.
From Norfolk he travelled across the United States and Canada in a Grand Tour. During this visit Moore developed a deeply critical view of the United States. He particularly disliked the governing Democratic-Republican Party and the President Thomas Jefferson. While in Washington he stayed with the British Ambassador there and met Jefferson briefly. He then travelled through various American towns and cities, enjoying his time most in Philadelphia where he already had an established reputation. He then travelled northwards to British-controlled Canada, stopping at the Niagara Falls. He sailed back to Britain from Nova Scotia aboard a Royal Navy ship arriving home in November 1804.
Duel and Marriage
It was after this trip that he published his book, Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems, which featured a paean to the historic Cohoes Falls called Lines Written at the Cohos [sic], or Falls of the Mohawk River, among other famous verses. A repeated theme in his writing on the United States were his observations of the institution of slavery. Moore's mocking criticisms of the United States provoked outrage in America and led to a number of rebuttals. In Britain, a critical review of the work led to Moore challenging Francis Jeffrey, an editor, to a duel. They met at Chalk Farm but the duel was interrupted by the arrival of the authorities and they were arrested. Reports that Moore's opponent had been given an empty pistol, continued to dog Moore and led to persistent mockery of him.
Lord Byron derisively referred to Moore's "leadless pistol" and wrote "on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated". Moore was angered by this and sent a letter to Byron that hinted that unless the remarks were clarified Moore was prepared to fight Byron. However, Byron had left Britain to travel abroad and the letter did not reach him. When the two men eventually met each other the dispute was settled and they soon became very close friends.
Between 1808 and 1810 Moore appeared each year with the Kilkenny Players in a charitable series of performances in Kilkenny staged by a mixture of the Irish elite and professional actors. Moore appeared frequently in comic roles in plays like Sheridan's The Rivals and O'Keeffe's The Castle of Andalusia.
Moore married an actress, Elizabeth "Bessy" Dyke, in 1811, whom he had met with the Kilkenny players where she was working with her sisters. She was the daughter of an East India Company official, but was raised with her three sisters by her mother. Moore did not initially tell his parents of his marriage, possibly because his wife was an English Protestant, but more probably because his marriage to a woman without a dowry would not help his financial prospects. Moore had expensive tastes, and, despite the large sums he was earning from his writing, soon got into debt, a situation which was exacerbated by the embezzlement of money by the man he had employed to deputise for him in Bermuda. Moore became liable for the £6000 which had been illegally appropriated by his agent in Bermuda, and lost an Admiralty ruling against this.
In the early years of his career, Moore's work was largely generic and had he died at this point he would likely not have been considered an Irish poet. From 1806-1807 Moore dramatically changed his style of writing and focus. Following a request by a publisher he wrote lyrics to a series of Irish tunes, in collaboration with John Stevenson, which were published in several volumes. Moore became best known for these Irish Melodies which were enormously popular containing songs such as The Minstrel Boy, The Last Rose of Summer and Oft, in the Stilly Night. Several examples of his music, such as Farewell! But Whenever You Welcome the Hour are available online.
In 1811 Moore wrote M.P., a comic opera, in collaboration with Samuel Arnold. Although it received positive reviews Moore didn't enjoy writing for the stage and decided not to work in the medium again despite being occasionally tempted. Throughout the 1810s Moore wrote a number of political satires. After originally being a devoted supporter of the Prince of Wales, he turned against him after 1811 when he became Prince Regent and was seen to embrace the Tory government in spite of his past association with the Whigs. Another major target was the Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh who was repeatedly lampooned in Moore's works such as Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress which parodied the Aix-la-Chapelle diplomatic conference between Britain and her Allies portraying it as a boxing match. In 1818 Moore wrote The Fudge Family in Paris, a story in which a British family travels to experience the sights of Paris; a sequel, The Fudge Family in England, followed in 1835.
Around this time Moore also began working on a biography of the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whom he met numerous times, but partly due to legal reasons it was not published until 1825.
Exposed to the debt of £6,000 following the ruling of the Admiralty Court against him in 1819, Moore rejected numerous offers of financial aid from his friends and admirers and was forced to leave Britain. In company with Lord John Russell he went to the European Continent and after a Grand Tour through France, Switzerland and Italy lived in Paris until 1822 (notably with the family of Martin de Villamil), when the debt was finally paid off partly with the help of his latest patron Lord Lansdowne and with an advance given him by his publishers Longmans.
During his travels across Europe he briefly spent time with Lord Byron in Venice: this was to be their last meeting. Byron gave Moore his memoirs with instruction to publish them after his death as a literary executor. Moore was much criticised later for allowing himself to be persuaded to destroy Byron's memoirs at the behest of Byron's family because of their damningly honest content. Moore did, however, edit and publish Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of his Life in 1830, six years after Byron's 1824 death in Greece.
After returning to Britain, Moore published new poetry but in spite of good reviews and good sales, he was growing disillusioned with writing poetry and he began to consider writing novels, a genre made increasingly popular by the success of Walter Scott. In October 1825 Moore's Memoirs of the Life of Richard Brinsley Sheridan was finally published after nine years of work on and off. It proved very popular, went through a number of editions quickly, and helped give Moore a more serious reputation among his literary contemparies.
He finally settled in Sloperton Cottage at Bromham, Wiltshire, England, and became a novelist and biographer as well as a successful poet. Around the time of the Reform Act he was invited to stand for parliament, and considered it, but nothing came of it. In 1829 he was painted by Thomas Lawrence, one of the last works completed by the artist before his death. In 1830 he sang in front of the future Queen Victoria in a duet with her mother, and later composed a song Sovereign Woman in her honour.
Moore was for many years a strong advocate for Catholic Emancipation which he regarded as the source of all problems in Ireland and the sole reason behind the 1798 Rebellion - a point he made in his 1831 biography Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. He experienced a difficult relationship with the leader of the Catholic Association Daniel O'Connell whom Moore regarded as a demagogue, believing "O'Connell and his ragamuffins have brought tarnish upon Irish patriotism". Following the passing of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829 Moore believed his involvement in politics terminated, joking to a friend: "Now that the Paddies are happy... I consider my politics entirely at an end." However he was drawn back into politics by a series of democratic rebellions across Europe in Belgium, France and Poland. Moore had also been a sympathiser with the Greeks in their War of Independence, a passion he shared with his friend Byron.
He received a state pension, but his personal life was dogged by tragedy including the deaths of all his five children within his lifetime (Anne, age 5, d.1817; Anastasia Mary, age 17, d.1829; Olivia as a baby of a few months of age; John Russell, aged 19, d.1842; and Thomas Lansdowne, aged 27, d.1849) and a stroke in later life, which disabled him from performances - the activity for which he was most renowned. Moore died being cared for by his wife at Sloperton on the 26th February 1852. His remains are in a vault at St. Nicholas churchyard, Bromham, within view of his cottage-home, beside his daughter Anastasia.
Moore frequently visited Boyle Farm in Thames Ditton, Surrey, as the guest of Lord Henry Fitzgerald and his wife. One noteworthy occasion was the subject of Moore's long poem, 'The Summer Fete'. The poem was about his daughter, Alex Hassett. Alex had taken her mother's last name because when her mother married Thomas, her parents were against her changing her last name.
Moore is considered Ireland's National Bard and is to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland. Moore is commemorated in several places: by a plaque on the house where he was born, by busts at The Meetings and Central Park, New York, and by a large bronze statue near Trinity College Dublin.
Many composers have set the poems of Thomas Moore to music. They include Gaspare Spontini, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, Charles Ives, William Bolcom, Lori Laitman, Benjamin Britten and Henri Duparc.
The song Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms is often used in a famous gag in a number of Warner Brothers cartoons, usually involving a piano or Xylophone rigged to explode when a certain note is played. The hero, typically Bugs Bunny, tries to play the melody line of the song, but always misses the rigged note (C above middle C). The villain or rival, finally exasperated, pushes the hero aside and plays the song himself, striking the correct note and blowing himself up. In one instance, however, the protagonist plays the melody on a xylophone and, upon striking the rigged note, the antagonist explodes in an "old gag, new twist."
Many songs of Thomas Moore are cited in works of James Joyce, for example Silent, O Moyle! in Two Gallants (Dubliners) or The Last Rose of Summer.