Read CHAPTER VI - MOORE of Essays in English Literature‚ 1780-1860 , free online book, by George Saintsbury, on

It would be interesting, though perhaps a little impertinent, to put to any given number of well-informed persons under the age of forty or fifty the sudden query, who was Thomas Brown the Younger?  And it is very possible that a majority of them would answer that he had something to do with Rugby.  It is certain that with respect to that part of his work in which he was pleased so to call himself, Moore is but little known.  The considerable mass of his hack-work has gone whither all hack-work goes, fortunately enough for those of us who have to do it.  The vast monument erected to him by his pupil, friend, and literary executor, Lord Russell, or rather Lord John Russell, is a monument of such a Cyclopean order of architecture, both in respect of bulk and in respect of style, that most honest biographers and critics acknowledge themselves to have explored its recesses but cursorily.  Less of him, even as a poet proper, is now read than of any of the brilliant group of poets of which he was one, with the possible exceptions of Crabbe and Rogers; while, more unfortunate than Crabbe, he has had no Mr. Courthope to come to his rescue.  But he has recently had what is an unusual thing for an English poet, a French biographer. I shall not have very much to say of the details of M. Vallat’s very creditable and useful monograph.  It would be possible, if I were merely reviewing it, to pick out some of the curious errors of hasty deduction which are rarely wanting in a book of its nationality.  If (and no shame to him) Moore’s father sold cheese and whisky, lé whisky d’Irlande was no doubt his staple commodity in the one branch, but scarcely lé fromage de Stilton in the other.  An English lawyer’s studies are not even now, except at the universities and for purposes of perfunctory examination, very much in “Justinian,” and in Moore’s time they were still less so.  And if Bromham Church is near Sloperton, then it will follow as the night the day that it is not dans lé Bedfordshire.  But these things matter very little.  They are found, in their different kinds, in all books; and if we English bookmakers (at least some of us) are not likely to make a Bordeaux wine merchant sell Burgundy as his chief commodity, or say that a village near Amiens is dans lé Béarn, we no doubt do other things quite as bad.  On the whole, M. Vallat’s sketch, though of moderate length, is quite the soberest and most trustworthy sketch of Moore’s life and of his books, as books merely, that I know.  In matters of pure criticism M. Vallat is less blameless.  He quotes authorities with that apparent indifference to, or even ignorance of, their relative value which is so yawning a pit for the feet of the foreigner in all cases; and perhaps a wider knowledge of English poetry in general would have been a better preparation for the study of Moore’s in particular.  “Never,” says M. Renan very wisely, “never does a foreigner satisfy the nation whose history he writes”; and this is as true of literary history as of history proper.  But M. Vallat satisfies us in a very considerable degree; and even putting aside the question whether he is satisfactory altogether, he has given us quite sufficient text in the mere fact that he has bestowed upon Moore an amount of attention and competence which no compatriot of the author of “Lalla Rookh” has cared to bestow for many years.

I shall also here take the liberty of neglecting a very great ­as far as bulk goes, by far the greatest ­part of Moore’s own performance.  He has inserted so many interesting autobiographical particulars in the prefaces to his complete works, that visits to the great mausoleum of the Russell memoirs are rarely necessary, and still more rarely profitable.  His work for the booksellers was done at a time when the best class of such work was much better done than the best class of it is now; but it was after all work for the booksellers.  His History of Ireland, his Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, etc., may be pretty exactly gauged by saying that they are a good deal better than Scott’s work of a merely similar kind (in which it is hardly necessary to say that I do not include the Tales of a Grandfather or the introductions to the Dryden, the Swift, and the Ballantyne novels), not nearly so good as Southey’s, and not quite so good as Campbell’s.  The Life of Byron holds a different place.  With the poems, or some of them, it forms the only part of Moore’s literary work which is still read; and though it is read much more for its substance than for its execution, it is still a masterly performance of a very difficult task.  The circumstances which brought it about are well known, and no discussion of them would be possible without plunging into the Byron controversy generally, which the present writer most distinctly declines to do.  But these circumstances, with other things among which Moore’s own comparative faculty for the business may be not unjustly mentioned, prevent it from taking rank at all approaching that of Boswell’s or Lockhart’s inimitable biographies.  The chief thing to note in it as regards Moore himself, is the help it gives in a matter to which we shall have to refer again, his attitude towards those whom his time still called “the great.”

And so we are left with the poems ­not an inconsiderable companion seeing that its stature is some seven hundred small quarto pages closely packed with verses in double columns.  Part of this volume is, however, devoted to the “Epicurean,” a not unremarkable example of ornate prose in many respects resembling the author’s verse.  Indeed, as close readers of Moore know, there exists an unfinished verse form of it which, in style and general character, is not unlike a more serious “Lalla Rookh.”  As far as poetry goes, almost everything that will be said of “Lalla Rookh” might be said of “Alciphron”:  this latter, however, is a little more Byronic than its more famous sister, and in that respect not quite so successful.

Moore’s life, which is not uninteresting as a key to his personal character, is very fairly treated by M. Vallat, chiefly from the poet’s own authority; but it need not detain us very long.  He was born at Dublin on 28th May 1779.  There is no mystery about his origin.  His father, John Moore, was a small grocer and liquor-shop keeper who received later the place of barrack-master from a patron of his son.  The mother, Anastasia Codd, was a Wexford girl, and seems to have been well educated and somewhat above her husband in station.  Thomas was sent to several private schools, where he appears to have attained to some scholarship and to have early practised composition in the tongue of the hated Saxon.  When he was fourteen, the first measure of Catholic Emancipation opened Trinity College to him, and that establishment, “the intellectual eye of Ireland” as Sir William Harcourt has justly called it, received him a year later.  The “silent sister” has fostered an always genial, if sometimes inexact, fashion of scholarship, in which Moore’s talents were well suited to shine, and a pleasant social atmosphere wherein he was also not misplaced.  But the time drew near to ’98, and Moore, although he had always too much good sense to dip deeply into sedition, was, from his sentimental habits, likely to run some risk of being thought to have dipped in it.  Although it is certain that he would have regarded what is called Nationalism in our days with disgust and horror, he cannot be acquitted of using, to the end of his life, the loosest of language on subjects where precision is particularly to be desired.  Robert Emmet was his contemporary, and the action which the authorities took was but too well justified by the outbreak of the insurrection later.  A Commission was named for purifying the college.  Its head was Lord Clare, one of the greatest of Irishmen, the base or ignorant vilifying of whom by some persons in these days has been one of the worst results of the Home Rule movement.  It had a rather comic assessor in Dr. Duigenan, the same, I believe, of whom it has been recorded that, at an earlier stage of his academic career and when a junior Fellow, he threatened to “bulge the Provost’s eye.”  The oath was tendered to each examinate, and on the day before Moore’s appearance Emmet and others had gone by default, while it was at least whispered that there had been treachery in the camp.  Moore’s own performance was, by his own account, heroic and successful:  by another, which he very fairly gives, a little less heroic but still successful.  Both show clearly that Clare was nothing like the stage-tyrant which the imagination of the seditious has chosen to represent him as being.  That M. Vallat should talk rather foolishly about Emmet was to be expected; for Emmet’s rhetorical rubbish was sure to impose, and has always imposed, on Frenchmen.  The truth of course is that this young person ­though one of those whom every humane man would like to keep mewed up till they arrived, if they ever did arrive, which is improbable, at years of discretion ­was one of the most mischievous of agitators.  He was one of those who light a bonfire and then are shocked at its burning, who throw a kingdom into anarchy and misery and think that they are cleared by a reference to Harmodius and Aristogeiton.  It is one of the most fearful delights of the educated Tory to remember what the grievance of Harmodius and Aristogeiton really was.  Moore (who had something of the folly of Emmet, but none of his reckless conceit) escaped, and his family must have been exceedingly glad to send him over to the Isle of Britain.  He entered at the Middle Temple in 1799, but hardly made even a pretence of reading law.  His actual experience is one of those puzzles which continually meet the student of literary history in the days when society was much smaller, the makers of literature fewer, and the resources of patronage greater.  Moore toiled not, neither did he spin.  He slipped, apparently on the mere strength of an ordinary introduction, into the good graces of Lord Moira, who introduced him to the exiled Royal Family of France, and to the richest members of the Whig aristocracy ­the Duke of Bedford, the Marquis of Lansdowne and others, not to mention the Prince of Wales himself.  The young Irishman had indeed, as usual, his “proposals” in his pocket ­proposals for a translation of Anacreon which appeared in May 1800.  The thing which thus founded one of the easiest, if not the most wholly triumphant, of literary careers is not a bad thing.  The original, now abandoned as a clever though late imitation, was known even in Moore’s time to be in parts of very doubtful authenticity, but it still remains, as an original, a very pretty thing.  Moore’s version is not quite so pretty, and is bolstered out with paraphrase and amplification to a rather intolerable extent.  But there was considerable fellow-feeling between the author, whoever he was, and the translator, and the result is not despicable.  Still there is no doubt that work as good or better might appear now, and the author would be lucky if he cleared a hundred pounds and a favourable review or two by the transaction.  Moore was made for life.  These things happen at one time and do not happen at another.  We are inclined to accept them as ultimate facts into which it is useless to inquire.  There does not appear to be among the numerous fixed laws of the universe any one which regulates the proportion of literary desert to immediate reward, and it is on the whole well that it should be so.  At any rate the publication increased Moore’s claims as a “lion,” and encouraged him to publish next year the Poems of the late Thomas Little (he always stuck to the Christian name), which put up his fame and rather put down his character.

In later editions Thomas Little has been so much subjected to the fig-leaf and knife that we have known readers who wondered why on earth any one should ever have objected to him.  He was a good deal more uncastrated originally, but there never was much harm in him.  It is true that the excuse made by Sterne for Tristram Shandy, and often repeated for Moore, does not quite apply.  There is not much guilt in Little, but there is certainly very little innocence.  He knows that a certain amount of not too gross indecency will raise a snigger, and, like Voltaire and Sterne himself, he sets himself to raise it.  But he does not do it very wickedly.  The propriety of the nineteenth century, moreover, had not then made the surprisingly rapid strides of a few years later, and some time had to pass before Moore was to go out with Jeffrey, and nearly challenge Byron, for questioning his morality.  The rewards of his harmless iniquity were at hand; and in the autumn of 1803 he was made Secretary of the Admiralty in Bermuda.  Bermuda, it is said, is an exceedingly pleasant place; but either there is no Secretary of the Admiralty there now, or they do not give the post to young men four-and-twenty years old who have written two very thin volumes of light verses.  The Bermoothes are not still vexed with that kind of Civil Servant.  The appointment was not altogether fortunate for Moore, inasmuch as his deputy (for they not only gave nice berths to men of letters then, but let them have deputies) embezzled public and private moneys, with disastrous results to his easy-going principal.  But for the time it was all, as most things were with Moore, plain sailing.  He went out in a frigate, and was the delight of the gun-room.  As soon as he got tired of the Bermudas, he appointed his deputy and went to travel in America, composing large numbers of easy poems.  In October 1804 he was back in England, still voyaging at His Majesty’s expense, and having achieved his fifteen months’ trip wholly on those terms.  Little is heard of him for the next two years, and then the publication of his American and other poems, with some free reflections on the American character, brought down on him the wrath of The Edinburgh, and provoked the famous leadless or half-leadless duel at Chalk Farm.  It was rather hard on Moore, if the real cause of his castigation was that he had offended democratic principles, while the ostensible cause was that, as Thomas Little, he had five years before written loose and humorous verses.  So thinks M. Vallat, with whom we are not wholly disposed to agree, for Jeffrey, though a Whig, was no Democrat, and he was a rather strict moralist.  However, no harm came of the meeting in any sense, though its somewhat burlesque termination made the irreverent laugh.  It was indeed not fated that Moore should smell serious powder, though his courage seems to have been fully equal to any such occasion.  The same year brought him two unquestioned and unalloyed advantages, the friendship of Rogers and the beginning of the Irish Melodies, from which he reaped not a little solid benefit, and which contain by far his highest and most lasting poetry.  It is curious, but by no means unexampled, that, at the very time at which he was thus showing that he had found his right way, he also diverged into one wholly wrong ­that of the serious and very ineffective Satires, “Corruption,” “Intolerance,” and others.  The year 1809 brought “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” with a gibe from Byron and a challenge from Moore.  But Moore’s challenges were fated to have no other result than making the challenged his friends for life.  All this time he had been more or less “about town.”  In 1811 he married Elizabeth Dyke ("Bessy"), an actress of virtue and beauty, and wrote the very inferior comic opera of “The Blue Stocking.”  Lord Moira gave the pair a home first in his own house, then at Kegworth near Donington, whence they moved to Ashbourne.  Moore was busy now.  The politics of “The Two-penny Postbag” are of course sometimes dead enough to us; but sometimes also they are not, and then the easy grace of the satire, which is always pungent and never venomed, is not much below Canning.  Its author also did a good deal of other work of the same kind, besides beginning to review for The Edinburgh.  Considering that he was in a way making his bread and butter by lampooning, however good-humouredly, the ruler of his country, he seems to have been a little unreasonable in feeling shocked that Lord Moira, on going as viceroy to India, did not provide for him.  In the first place he was provided for already; and in the second place you cannot reasonably expect to enjoy the pleasures of independence and those of dependence at the same time.  At the end of 1817 he left Mayfield (his cottage near Ashbourne) and Lord Moira, for Lord Lansdowne and Sloperton, a cottage near Bowood, the end of the one sojourn and the beginning of the other being distinguished by the appearance of his two best works, next to the Irish Melodies ­“Lalla Rookh” and “The Fudge Family at Paris.”  His first and almost his only heavy stroke of ill-luck now came on him:  his deputy at Bermuda levanted with some six thousand pounds, for which Moore was liable.  Many friends came to his aid, and after some delay and negotiations, during which he had to go abroad, Lord Lansdowne paid what was necessary.  But Moore afterwards paid Lord Lansdowne, which makes a decided distinction between his conduct and that of Theodore Hook in a similar case.

Although the days of Moore lasted for half an ordinary lifetime after this, they saw few important events save the imbroglio over the Byron memoirs.  They saw also the composition of a great deal of literature and journalism, all very well paid, notwithstanding which, Moore seems to have been always in a rather unintelligible state of pecuniary distress.  That he made his parents an allowance, as some allege in explanation, will not in the least account for this; for, creditable as it was in him to make it, this allowance did not exceed one hundred pounds a year.  He must have spent little in an ordinary way, for his Sloperton establishment was of the most modest character, while his wife was an excellent manager, and never went into society.  Probably he might have endorsed, if he had been asked, the great principle which somebody or other has formulated, that the most expensive way of living is staying in other peoples houses.  At any rate his condition was rather precarious till 1835, when Lord John Russell and Lord Lansdowne obtained for him a Civil List pension of three hundred pounds a year.  In his very last days this was further increased by an additional hundred a year to his wife.  His end was not happy.  The softening of the brain, which set in about 1848, and which had been preceded for some time by premonitory symptoms, can hardly, as in the cases of Scott and Southey, be set down to overwork, for though Moore had not been idle, his literary life had been mere child’s play to theirs.  He died on 26th February 1852.

Of Moore’s character not much need be said, nor need what is said be otherwise than favourable.  Not only to modern tastes, but to the sturdier tastes of his own day, and even of the days immediately before his, there was a little too much of the parasite and the hanger-on about him.  It is easy to say that a man of his talents, when he had once obtained a start, might surely have gone his own way and lived his own life, without taking up the position of a kind of superior gamekeeper or steward at rich men’s gates.  But race, fashion, and a good many other things have to be taken into account; and it is fair to Moore to remember that he was, as it were from the first, bound to the chariot-wheels of “the great,” and could hardly liberate himself from them without churlishness and violence.  Moreover, it cannot possibly be denied by any fair critic that if he accepted to some extent the awkward position of led-poet, he showed in it as much independence as was compatible with the function.  Both in money matters, in his language to his patrons, and in a certain general but indefinable tone of behaviour, he contrasts not less favourably than remarkably, both with the ultra-Tory Hook, to whom we have already compared him, and with the ultra-Radical Leigh Hunt.  Moore had as little of Wagg as he had of Skimpole about him; though he allowed his way of life to compare in some respects perilously with theirs.  It is only necessary to look at his letters to Byron ­always ready enough to treat as spaniels those of his inferiors in station who appeared to be of the spaniel kind ­to appreciate his general attitude, and his behaviour in this instance is by no means different from his behaviour in others.  As a politician there is no doubt that he at least thought himself to be quite sincere.  It may be that, if he had been, his political satires would have galled Tories more than they did then, and could hardly be read by persons of that persuasion with such complete enjoyment as they can now.  But the insincerity was quite unconscious, and indeed can hardly be said to have been insincerity at all.  Moore had not a political head, and in English as in Irish politics his beliefs were probably not founded on any clearly comprehended principles.  But such as they were he held to them firmly.  Against his domestic character nobody has ever said anything; and it is sufficient to observe that not a few of the best as well as of the greatest men of his time, Scott as well as Byron, Lord John Russell as well as Lord Moira, appear not only to have admired his abilities and liked his social qualities, but to have sincerely respected his character.  And so we may at last find ourselves alone with the plump volume of poems in which we shall hardly discover with the amiable M. Vallat “the greatest lyric poet of England,” but in which we shall find a poet certainly, and if not a very great poet, at any rate a poet who has done many things well, and one particular thing better than anybody else.

The volume opens with “Lalla Rookh,” a proceeding which, if not justified by chronology, is completely justified by the facts that Moore was to his contemporaries the author of that poem chiefly, and that it is by far the most considerable thing not only in mere bulk, but in arrangement, plan, and style, that he ever did.  Perhaps I am not quite a fair judge of “Lalla Rookh.”  I was brought up in what is called a strict household where, though the rule was not, as far as I can remember, enforced by any penalties, it was a point of honour that in the nursery and school-room none but “Sunday books” should be read on Sunday.  But this severity was tempered by one of the easements often occurring in a world which, if not the best, is certainly not the worst of all possible worlds.  For the convenience of servants, or for some other reason, the children were much more in the drawing-room on Sundays than on any other day, and it was an unwritten rule that any book that lived in the drawing-room was fit Sunday-reading.  The consequence was that from the time I could read, till childish things were put away, I used to spend a considerable part of the first day of the week in reading and re-reading a collection of books, four of which were Scott’s poems, “Lalla Rookh,” The Essays of Elia (First Edition, ­I have got it now), and Southey’s Doctor.  Therefore it may be that I rank “Lalla Rookh” rather too high.  At the same time, I confess that it still seems to me a very respectable poem indeed of the second rank.  Of course it is artificial.  The parade of second, or third, or twentieth-hand learning in the notes makes one smile, and the whole reminds one (as I daresay it has reminded many others before) of a harp of the period with the gilt a little tarnished, the ribbons more than a little faded, and the silk stool on which the young woman in ringlets used to sit much worn.  All this is easy metaphorical criticism, if it is criticism at all.  For I am not sure that, when the last age has got a little farther off from our descendants, they will see anything more ludicrous in such a harp than we see in the faded spinets of a generation earlier still.  But much remains to Lalla if not to Feramorz.  The prose interludes have lost none of their airy grace.  Even Mr. Burnand has not been able to make Mokanna ridiculous, nor have the recent accounts of the actual waste of desert and felt huts banished at least the poetical beauty of “Merou’s bright palaces and groves.”  There are those who laugh at the bower of roses by Bendemeer’s stream:  I do not.  “Paradise and the Peri” is perhaps the prettiest purely sentimental poem that English or any other language can show.  “The Fire Worshippers” are rather long, but there is a famous fight ­more than one indeed ­in them to relieve the monotony.  For “The Light of the Harem” alone I have never been able to get up much enthusiasm; but even “The Light of the Harem” is a great deal better than Moore’s subsequent attempt in the style of “Lalla Rookh,” or something like it, “The Loves of the Angels.”  There is only one good thing that I can find to say of that:  it is not so bad as the poem which similarity of title makes one think of in connection with it ­Lamartine’s disastrous “Chute d’un Ange.”

As “Lalla Rookh” is far the most important of Moore’s serious poems, so “The Fudge Family in Paris” is far the best of his humorous poems.  I do not forget “The Two-penny Postbag,” nor many capital later verses of the same kind, the best of which perhaps is the Epistle from Henry of Exeter to John of Tchume.  But “The Fudge Family” has all the merits of these, with a scheme and framework of dramatic character which they lack.  Miss Biddy and her vanities, Master Bob and his guttling, the eminent turncoat Phil Fudge, Esq. himself and his politics, are all excellent.  But I avow that Phelim Connor is to me the most delightful, though he has always been rather a puzzle.  If he is intended to be a satire on the class now represented by the O’Briens and the McCarthys he is exquisite, and it is small wonder that Young Ireland has never loved Moore much.  But I do not think that Thomas Brown the Younger meant it, or at least wholly meant it, as satire, and this is perhaps the best proof of his unpractical way of looking at politics.  For Phelim Connor is a much more damning sketch than any of the Fudges.  Vanity, gluttony, the scheming intrigues of eld, may not be nice things, but they are common to the whole human race.  The hollow rant which enjoys the advantages of liberty and declaims against the excesses of tyranny is in its perfection Irish alone.  However this may be, these lighter poems of Moore are great fun, and it is no small misfortune that the younger generation of readers pays so little attention to them.  For they are full of acute observation of manners, politics, and society by an accomplished man of the world, put into pointed and notable form by an accomplished man of letters.  Our fathers knew them well, and many a quotation familiar enough at second hand is due originally to the Fudge Family in their second appearance (not so good, but still good) many years later, to “The Two-penny Postbag” and to the long list of miscellaneous satires and skits.  The last sentence is however to be taken as most strictly excluding “Corruption,” “Intolerance,” and “The Sceptic.”  “Rhymes on the Road,” travel-pieces out of Moore’s line, may also be mercifully left aside:  and “Evenings in Greece;” and “The Summer Fête” (any universal provider would have supplied as good a poem with the supper and the rout-seats) need not delay the critic and will not extraordinarily delight the reader.  Not here is Moore’s spur of Parnassus to be found.

For that domain of his we must go to the songs which, in extraordinary numbers, make up the whole of the divisions headed Irish Melodies, National Airs, Sacred Songs, Ballads and Songs, and some of the finest of which are found outside these divisions in the longer poems from “Lalla Rookh” downwards.  The singular musical melody of these pieces has never been seriously denied by any one, but it seems to be thought, especially nowadays, that because they are musically melodious they are not poetical.  It is probably useless to protest against a prejudice which, where it is not due to simple thoughtlessness or to blind following of fashion, argues a certain constitutional defect of the understanding powers.  But it may be just necessary to repeat pretty firmly that any one who regards, even with a tincture of contempt, such work (to take various characteristic examples) as Dryden’s lyrics, as Shenstone’s, as Moore’s, as Macaulay’s Lays, because he thinks that, if he did not contemn them, his worship of Shakespeare, of Shelley, of Wordsworth would be suspect, is most emphatically not a critic of poetry and not even a catholic lover of it.  Which said, let us betake ourselves to seeing what Moore’s special virtue is.  It is acknowledged that it consists partly in marrying music most happily to verse; but what is not so fully acknowledged as it ought to be is, that it also consists in marrying music not merely to verse, but to poetry.  Among the more abstract questions of poetical criticism few are more interesting than this, the connection of what may be called musical music with poetical music; and it is one which has not been much discussed.  Let us take the two greatest of Moore’s own contemporaries in lyric, the two greatest lyrists as some think (I give no opinion on this) in English, and compare their work with his.  Shelley has the poetical music in an unsurpassable and sometimes in an almost unapproached degree, but his verse is admittedly very difficult to set to music.  I should myself go farther and say that it has in it some indefinable quality antagonistic to such setting.  Except the famous Indian Serenade, I do not know any poem of Shelley’s that has been set with anything approaching to success, and in the best setting that I know of this the honeymoon of the marriage turns into a “red moon” before long.  That this is not merely due to the fact that Shelley likes intricate metres any one who examines Moore can see.  That it is due merely to the fact that Shelley, as we know from Peacock, was almost destitute of any ear for music is the obvious and common explanation.  But neither will this serve, for we happen also to know that Burns, whose lyric, of a higher quality than Moore’s, assorts with music as naturally as Moore’s own, was quite as deficient as Shelley in this respect.  So was Scott, who could yet write admirable songs to be sung.  It seems therefore almost impossible, on the comparison of these three instances, to deny the existence of some peculiar musical music in poetry, which is distinct from poetical music, though it may coexist with it or may be separated from it, and which is independent both of technical musical training and even of what is commonly called “ear” in the poet.  That Moore possessed it in probably the highest degree, will I think, hardly be denied.  It never seems to have mattered to him whether he wrote the words for the air or altered the air to suit the words.  The two fit like a glove, and if, as is sometimes the case, the same or a similar poetical measure is heard set to another air than Moore’s, this other always seems intrusive and wrong.  He draws attention in one case to the extraordinary irregularity of his own metre (an irregularity to which the average pindaric is a mere jog-trot), yet the air fits it exactly.  Of course the two feet which most naturally go to music, the anapaest and the trochee, are commonest with him; but the point is that he seems to find no more difficulty, if he does not take so much pleasure, in setting combinations of a very different kind.  Nor is this peculiar gift by any means unimportant from the purely poetical side, the side on which the verse is looked at without any regard to air or accompaniment.  For the great drawback to “songs to be sung” in general since Elizabethan days (when, as Mr. Arber and Mr. Bullen have shown, it was very different) has been the constant tendency of the verse-writer to sacrifice to his musical necessities either meaning or poetic sound or both.  The climax of this is of course reached in the ineffable balderdash which usually does duty for the libretto of an opera, but it is quite as noticeable in the ordinary songs of the drawing-room.  Now Moore is quite free from this blame.  He may not have the highest and rarest strokes of poetic expression; but at any rate he seldom or never sins against either reason or poetry for the sake of rhythm and rhyme.  He is always the master not the servant, the artist not the clumsy craftsman.  And this I say not by any means as one likely to pardon poetical shortcomings in consideration of musical merit, for, shameful as the confession may be, a little music goes a long way with me; and what music I do like, is rather of the kind opposite to Moore’s facile styles.  Yet it is easy, even from the musical view, to exaggerate his facility.  Berlioz is not generally thought a barrel-organ composer, and he bestowed early and particular pains on Moore.

To many persons, however, the results are more interesting than the analysis of their qualities and principles; so let us go to the songs themselves.  To my fancy the three best of Moore’s songs, and three of the finest songs in any language, are “Oft in the stilly Night,” “When in Death I shall calm recline,” and “I saw from the Beach.”  They all exemplify what has been pointed out above, the complete adaptation of words to music and music to words, coupled with a decidedly high quality of poetical merit in the verse, quite apart from the mere music.  It can hardly be necessary to quote them, for they are or ought to be familiar to everybody; but in selecting these three I have no intention of distinguishing them in point of general excellence from scores, nay hundreds of others.  “Go where Glory waits thee” is the first of the Irish melodies, and one of those most hackneyed by the enthusiasm of bygone Pogsons.  But its merit ought in no way to suffer on that account with persons who are not Pogsons.  It ought to be possible for the reader, it is certainly possible for the critic, to dismiss Pogson altogether, to wave Pogson off, and to read anything as if it had never been read before.  If this be done we shall hardly wonder at the delight which our fathers, who will not compare altogether badly with ourselves, took in Thomas Moore.  “When he who adores thee” is supposed on pretty good evidence to have been inspired by the most hollow and senseless of all pseudo-patriotic delusions, a delusion of which the best thing that can be said is that “the pride of thus dying for” it has been about the last thing that it ever did inspire, and that most persons who have suffered from it have usually had the good sense to take lucrative places from the tyrant as soon as they could get them, and to live happily ever after.  But the basest, the most brutal, and the bloodiest of Saxons may recognise in Moore’s poem the expression of a possible, if not a real, feeling given with infinite grace and pathos.  The same string reverberates even in the thrice and thousand times hackneyed Harp of Tara.  “Rich and rare were the Gems she wore” is chiefly comic opera, but it is very pretty comic opera; and the two pieces “There is not in the wide world” and “How dear to me” exemplify, for the first but by no means for the last time, Moore’s extraordinary command of the last phase of that curious thing called by the century that gave him birth Sensibility.  We have turned Sensibility out of doors; but he would be a rash man who should say that we have not let in seven worse devils of the gushing kind in her comparatively innocent room.

Then we may skip not a few pieces, only referring once more to “The Legacy” ("When in Death I shall calm recline"), an anacreontic quite unsurpassable in its own kind.  We need dwell but briefly on such pieces as “Believe me if all those endearing young Charms,” which is typical of much that Moore wrote, but does not reach the true devil-may-care note of Suckling, or as “By the Hope within us springing,” for Moore’s war-like pieces are seldom or never good.  But with “Love’s Young Dream” we come back to the style of which it is impossible to say less than that it is quite admirable in its kind.  Then after a page or two we come to the chief cruces of Moore’s pathetic and of his comic manner, “The Last Rose of Summer,” “The Young May Moon,” and “The Minstrel Boy.”  I cannot say very much for the last, which is tainted with the unreality of all Moore’s Tyrtean efforts; but “The Young May Moon” could not be better, and I am not going to abandon the Rose, for all her perfume be something musty ­a pot-pourri rose rather than a fresh one.  The song of O’Ruark with its altogether fatal climax ­

    On our side is virtue and Erin,     On theirs is the Saxon and guilt ­

(which carries with it the delightful reflection that it was an Irishman running away with an Irishwoman that occasioned this sweeping moral contrast) must be given up; but surely not so “Oh had we some bright little Isle of our own.”  For indeed if one only had some bright little isle of that kind, some rive fidèle où l’on aime toujours, and where things in general are adjusted to such a state, then would Thomas Moore be the Laureate of that bright and tight little island.

But it is alarming to find that we have not yet got through twenty-five pages out of some hundred or two, and that the Irish Melodies are not yet nearly exhausted.  Not a few of the best known of Moore’s songs, including “Oft in the stilly Night,” are to be found in the division of National Airs, which is as a whole a triumph of that extraordinary genius for setting which has been already noticed.  Here is “Flow on thou shining River,” here the capital “When I touch the String,” on which Thackeray loved to make variations.  But “Oft in the stilly Night” itself is far above the others.  We do not say “stilly” now:  we have been taught by Coleridge (who used to use it freely himself before he laughed at it) to laugh at “stilly” and “paly” and so forth.  But the most acrimonious critic may be challenged to point out another weakness of the same kind, and on the whole the straightforward simplicity of the phrase equals the melody of the rhythm.

The Sacred Songs need not delay us long; for they are not better than sacred songs in general, which is saying remarkably little.  Perhaps the most interesting thing in them is the well-known couplet,

    This world is but a fleeting show     For man’s illusion given ­

which, as has justly been observed, contains one of the most singular estimates of the divine purpose anywhere to be found.  But Moore might, like Mr. Midshipman Easy, have excused himself by remarking, “Ah! well, I don’t understand these things.”  The miscellaneous division of Ballads, Songs, etc., is much more fruitful.  “The Leaf and the Fountain,” beginning “Tell me, kind seer, I pray thee,” though rather long, is singularly good of its kind ­the kind of half-narrative ballad.  So in a lighter strain is “The Indian Bark.”  Nor is Moore less at home after his own fashion in the songs from the Anthology.  It is true that the same fault which has been found with his Anacreon may be found here, and that it is all the more sensible because at least in some cases the originals are much higher poetry than the pseudo-Teian.  To the form and style of Meleager Moore could not pretend; but as these are rather songs on Greek motives than translations from the Greek, the slackness and dilution matter less.  But the strictly miscellaneous division holds some of the best work.  We could no doubt dispense with the well-known ditty (for once very nearly the “rubbish” with which Moore is so often and so unjustly charged) where Posada rhymes of necessity to Granada, and where, quite against the author’s habit, the ridiculous term “Sultana” is fished out to do similar duty in reference to the Dulcinea, or rather to the Maritornes, of a muleteer.  But this is quite an exception, and as a rule the facile verse is as felicitous as it is facile.  Perhaps no one stands out very far above the rest; perhaps all have more or less the mark of easy variations on a few well-known themes.  The old comparison that they are as numerous as motes, as bright, as fleeting, and as individually insignificant, comes naturally enough to the mind.  But then they are very numerous, they are very bright, and if they are fleeting, their number provides plenty more to take the place of that which passes away.  Nor is it by any means true that they lack individual significance.

This enumeration of a few out of many ornaments of Moore’s muse will of course irritate those who object to the “brick-of-the-house” mode of criticism; while it may not be minute enough, or sufficiently bolstered by actual quotation, to please those who hold that simple extract is the best, if not the only tolerable form of criticism.  But the critic is not alone in finding that, whether he carry his ass or ride upon it, he cannot please all his public.  What has been said is probably enough, in the case of a writer whose work, though as a whole rather unjustly forgotten, survives in parts more securely even than the work of greater men, to remind readers of at least the outlines and bases of his claim to esteem.  And the more those outlines are followed up, and the structure founded on those bases is examined, the more certain, I think, is Moore of recovering, not the position which M. Vallat would assign to him of the greatest lyrist of England (a position which he never held and never could hold except with very prejudiced or very incompetent judges), not that of the equal of Scott or Byron or Shelley or Wordsworth, but still a position high enough and singularly isolated at its height.  Viewed from the point of strictly poetical criticism, he no doubt ranks only with those poets who have expressed easily and acceptably the likings and passions and thoughts and fancies of the average man, and who have expressed these with no extraordinary cunning or witchery.  To go further in limitation, the average man, of whom he is thus the bard, is a rather sophisticated average man, without very deep thoughts or feelings, without a very fertile or fresh imagination or fancy, with even a touch ­a little touch ­of cant and “gush” and other defects incident to average and sophisticated humanity.  But this humanity is at any time and every time no small portion of humanity at large, and it is to Moore’s credit that he sings its feelings and its thoughts so as always to get the human and durable element in them visible and audible through the “trappings of convention.”  Again, he has that all-saving touch of humour which enables him, sentimentalist as he is, to be an admirable comedian as well.  Yet again, he has at least something of the two qualities which one must demand of a poet who is a poet, and not a mere maker of rhymes.  His note of feeling, if not full or deep, is true and real.  His faculty of expression is not only considerable, but it is also distinguished; it is a faculty which in the same measure and degree nobody else has possessed.  On one side he had the gift of singing those admirable songs of which we have been talking.  On the other, he had the gift of right satiric verse to a degree which only three others of the great dead men of this century in England ­Canning, Praed, and Thackeray ­have reached.  Besides all this, he was a “considerable man of letters.”  But your considerable men of letters, after flourishing, turn to dust in their season, and other considerable or inconsiderable men of letters spring out of it.  The true poets and even the true satirists abide, and both as a poet and a satirist Thomas Moore abides and will abide with them.