Sunday, February 26, 2012

Doomed to sing

Today is the 160th anniversary of the death of Thomas Moore, the great Irish poet and singer. Much entranced by society, he became a fixture in the London literary scene for periods of his life, and when visiting was often in demand as an entertainer. His extensive diaries - all of which are freely available on the internet - cover thirty years and fill more than six volumes.

Moore was born in Dublin in 1779, and he studied there, at Trinity College, and at Middle Temple in London. Eschewing the law, he found an entrée into English society through his talent as a poet. His Irish Melodies - poems set to music - sold widely and were much performed. He also wrote satirical works such as The Fudge Family in Paris. In 1803, he was appointed registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda, but relinquished the post to a deputy while he travelled in North America.

Back in London, Moore set to work and published more poems, but was so affronted by a reviewer, Francis Jeffrey, that Moore challenged him to a duel. The ODNB biography of Moore (log in required) takes up the story: ‘This was about to take place in woodland near Chalk Farm when the contest was interrupted by police officers, who took both men into custody. Newspapers turned the whole affair into ridicule by alleging that the ammunition to be used consisted of paper pellets, and although the allegation was evidently untrue, it remained to mortify Moore for some years. When Byron repeated the story in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), Moore proceeded to challenge him as well, but fortunately Byron was touring the eastern Mediterranean, and was unaware of Moore’s anger. Both challenges, as it happens, led to warm and lasting friendships, remarkable evidence of the charm and good nature of the Irish poet.’

Moore married an actess, Bessy Dyke, in 1811. But then having lived beyond his means for some years, and having been encumbered with debts incurred by his deputy in Bermuda, he fled Britain in 1819 to avoid imprisonment. He remained in France and Italy until 1822, when his debts were finally paid.

Moore’s friendship with Lord Byron led the latter to entrust his memoirs to Moore. He, however, along with the publisher John Murray, burned these memoirs - thus creating one of the most infamous episodes in literary history. Nevertheless, Moore went on to edit and publish Byron’s letters and journals. He died on 26 February 1852 (though, curiously, both Wikipedia and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography say he died a day earlier, on 25 February - see Postscript below). Further biographical information is available from the Catholic Encyclopedia, The Poetry Foundation or Wikipedia.

Moore’s diary was first published between 1853 and 1856 by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in eight volumes as Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore. This was edited by John Russell, who also wrote prefaces for the first and sixth volumes. Memoirs and letters, in fact, take up the first volume, some of the second and much of the last, but Moore’s diary, starting in August 1818 and concluding in October 1847, take up all the rest of the volumes. All eight tomes are freely available at Internet Archive. In 1925, Cambridge University Press brought out a one volume edition - Tom Moore's Diary: a selection - edited by J B Priestley.

Here is an extract about Moore from Walter Scott’s great diary (see Death of a bandit).

22 November 1825
‘Moore. I saw Moore (for the first time, I may say, this season). We had, indeed, met in public twenty years ago. There is a manly frankness with perfect ease and good breeding about him, which is delightful. Not the least touch of the poet or the pedant. [. . .] His countenance is plain, but the expression is very animated, especially in speaking or singing, so that it is far more interesting than the finest features could have rendered it. I was aware that Byron had often spoken, both in private society and in his journal, of Moore and myself in the same breath, and with the same sort of regard; so I was curious to see what there could be in common betwixt us, Moore having lived so much in the gay world, I in the country, and with people of business, and sometimes with politicians; Moore a scholar, I none; he a musician and artist, I without knowledge of a note; he a democrat, I an aristocrat; with many other points of difierence; besides his being an Irishman, I a Scotchman, and both tolerably national. Yet there is a point of resemblance, and a strong one. We are both good-humoured fellows, who rather seek to enjoy what is going forward than to maintain our dignity as Lions; and we have both seen the world too widely and too well not to condemn in our souls the imaginary consequence of literary people, who walk with their noses in the air, [. . .] He always enjoys the mot pour rire and so do I. It was a pity that nothing save the total destruction of Byron’s memoirs would satisfy his executors; but there was a reason.[. . .] We went to the theatre together, and the house being luckily a good one, received Thomas Moore with rapture. I could have hugged them, for it paid back the debt of the kind reception I met with in Ireland.’

And here is a selection of extracts from Moore’s own diary (one of which is about Scott, who was nearing the end of his life - he died in September 1832).

26 July 1823
‘Sailed in the Ivanhoe; took to my berth and peppermint lozenges, but felt deadly sick all the way. Came in a chaise (Casey and I), from Howth, and broke down when near Dublin; got into a jaunting-car, and arrived at Casey’s, where I dined. Never shall forget the welcomeness of his good mutton broth, to which was added some very old port, and an excellent bottle of claret. Went afterwards in a hackney-coach to Abbey Street. Found my dearest father and mother watching for me at the window; my mother not looking so well as when I last saw her, but my father (though, of course, enfeebled by his great age) in excellent health and spirits. Sweet little Nell, too, quite well.’

23 December 1829
‘Asked to various places to dine, but reserved myself for the chance of seeing Fanny Kemble in Belvidera. Fanny K.’s acting clever, but not touching, at least, to me. Was unmoved enough, during the pathetic parts, to look around the house, and saw but few (indeed, no) symptoms of weeping. One lady was using a handkerchief most plentifully; but I found it was for a cold in the head. Sir Thomas Lawrence in the orchestra, full of anxiety and delight; and I made it a point whenever he looked our way, that he should see me clapping enthusiastically. Came over to speak to us afterwards. Got home between ten and eleven, with all the horrors of correcting the cancel and of packing before me. Dispatched all, and set off in a hackney coach for the Gloucester Coffeehouse, where I slept.’

14 October 1831
‘Spottiswoode and Harness to breakfast at Murray’s, for the purpose of consulting about the new edition of Byron. I have not myself come to any decisive explanation with him as to what my part or share in the business is to be. In one of my letters to him, from Sloperton, I had (in answer to his request that I would suggest what I thought useful towards the imdertaking) said, that, as far as the works were concerned, I thought a running commentary throughout, like that of Warton on Pope, would be the most attractive means of giving them freshness and novelty with the public; but adding, at the same time, that the task would be a very responsible one, particularly if it was a rhymer like me, who undertook to criticise such a poet. Harness very anxious that I should give him an epilogue for the tragedy he is bringing out. A good deal of talk about the projected edition of Byron, in which I saw that Harness took a great lead. Being obliged to leave them soon after breakfast, took Murray out of the room, and impressed upon him, that if I were to have anything to do with this concern it must be left all to myself without any other interference; he said ‘Certainly.’ [. . .]

To dinner at Sir Walter Scott’s (or rather Lockhart’s). On my way to dinner, with Murray, who took me, told him that I had made up my mind to be editor at all events, and that he might announce me as such; which seemed very much to please him. Was rather shocked at seeing and hearing Scott; both his looks and utterance, but particularly the latter, showing strongly the effects of paralysis. [. . .] On looking over at Scott once or twice, was painfully struck by the utter vacancy of his look. How dreadful if he should live to survive that mighty mind of his! It seems hardly right to assemble company round him in this state. Saw that I was doomed to sing. Mrs Lockhart began, and sung her wild song Achin Foane (as the words sound) to the harp with such effect on her Scotch hearers as made me a little despair of being listened to after her. I however succeeded very well, and was made to sing song after song till poor Scott’s time of going to bed; soon after which I came away. Mrs. Macleod also sang some Scotch duets with her sister. It is charming to see how Scott’s good temper and good nature continue unchanged through the sad wreck of almost every thing else that belonged to him. The great object in sending him abroad is to disengage his mind from the strong wish to write by which he is harmed; eternally making efforts to produce something without being able to bring his mind collectively to bear upon it. [. . .]

Called at the Speaker’s; saw both her and him, and he with much kindness asked me to his country place. When I expressed my wonder at his being able to hold out through all these long nights, he said it was all by not eating; if he had lived in his usual way he could not have borne it, but the want of exercise luckily took away his appetite, and this temperance saved him.’

13 August 1836
‘Drove about a little in Mrs Meara’s car, accompanied by Hume, and put in practice what I had long been contemplating - a visit to No 12 Aungier Street - the house in which I was born. On accosting the man who stood at the door, and asking whether he was the owner of the house, he looked rather gruffly and suspiciously at me, and answered ‘Yes’ - but the moment I mentioned who I was - adding that it was the house I was bom in, and that I wished to be permitted to look through the rooms, his countenance brightened up with the most cordial feeling, and seizing me by the hand he pulled me along to the small room behind the shop (where we used to breakfast in old times), exclaiming to his wife (who was sitting there), with a voice tremulous with feeling, ‘Here’s Sir Thomas Moore, who was bom in this house, come to ask us to let him see the rooms; and it’s proud I am to have him under the old roof.’ He then without delay, and entering at once into my feelings, led me through every part of the house, beginning with the small old yard and its appurtenances, then the little dark kitchen where I used to have my bread and milk in the morning before I went to school; from thence to the front and back drawing rooms, the former looking more large and respectable than I could have expected, and the latter, with its little closet where I remember such gay supper-parties, both room and closet fuller than they could well hold, and Joe Kelly and Wesley Doyle singing away together so sweetly. The bedrooms and garrets were next visited, and the only material alteration I observed in them was the removal of the wooden partition by which a little comer was separated off from the back bedroom (in which the two apprentices slept) to form a bedroom for me. The many thoughts that came rushing upon me in thus visiting, for the first time since our family left it, the house in which I passed the first nineteen or twenty years of my life may be more easily conceived than told; and I must say, that if a man had been got up specially to conduct me through such a scene it could not have been done with more tact, sympathy, and intelligent feeling than it was by this plain, honest grocer; for, as I remarked to Hume, as we entered the shop, ‘only think, a grocer’s still.’ When we returned to the drawing room, there was the wife with a decanter of port, and glasses on the table, begging us to take some refreshment, and I with great pleasure drank her and her good husband’s health. When I say that the shop is still a grocer’s, I must add, for the honour of old times, that it has a good deal gone down in the world since then, and is of a much inferior grade of grocery to that of my poor father, who, by the way, was himself one of nature’s gentlemen, having all the repose and good breeding of manner by which the true gentleman in all classes is distinguished.’

15 June 1839
‘Went to the British Museum, and, having been told that it was a holiday, asked for Panizzi, who was full of kindness, and told me the library should be at all times accessible to me, and that I should also have a room entirely to myself, if I preferred it at any time to the public room. He then told me of a poor Irish labourer now at work about the Museum, who, on hearing the other day that I was also sometimes at work there, said he would give a pot of ale to any one who would show me to him the next time I came. Accordingly, when I was last there, he was brought where he could have a sight of me as I sat reading; and the poor fellow was so pleased that he doubled the pot of ale to the man who performed the part of showman. Panizzi himself seemed to enjoy the story quite as much as I did.’

POSTSCRIPT: Thomas Moore DID die on 25 February 1852, exactly as stated in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - my apologies for doubting it! The biographical information in Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore (the source for my information above) says Moore died on the 26th, however, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has now double-checked its information by consulting Moore’s death certificate, and this confirms he died on the 25th.

No comments: