The Journal of Thomas Moore 1818-1841
The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow
Perhaps suspecting that eight volumes made too large a monument to Tom Moore, Lord John Russell prefaced his 1853 edition of Moore’s Journal with a prophetic reference to the academic critical industry in America. Among those unborn English-speaking millions across the sea there would arise, as Russell put it in a stunning metaphor, “communities holding aloft the literature of England through the ocean of time.” For them the most minute, the most lengthy autobiographical record of a poet of Moore’s stature would surely be “the subject of inquiry, of curiosity, and of affectionate concern.” A busy man (Prime Minister during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s), Lord John was not one to waste his time on nonentities: Moore he considered “of English lyrical poets…surely the first.”
When his contemporaries praised Moore’s gift as “lyrical,” they did not mean that his poetry made its own music through sound and rhythm, but that his Irish Melodies (verses he wrote to be sung to Irish tunes) sounded flat without the music. Today hardly a stanza by Moore remains in the anthologies, and his few remembered lyrics (“Believe me if all those endearing young charms,” “The Last Rose of Summer”) have come to pall: words, sentiment, and music. Moore’s poetic legacy perhaps matters now only to Americans, for our own Poe and Oliver Wendell Holmes owed many of their characteristic verses to their enthusiasm for the tinkling sonorities of Tom Moore.
As a writer of prose, however, and as a man standing at the boundary between a literary and a social world, Moore still delights. Peter Quennell, the editor of the present selection from Moore’s Journal, rightly remembers him as author of the Letters and Journals of Lord Byron with Notices of his life, which Macaulay praised as a classic of the age. The work lives as a repository of Byron’s magnificent prose, but Moore’s own mellifluous style, elegant yet manly, sober yet eloquent, dignified yet intimate, provides a cool antiphony to the warm palpitations of Byron’s speaking heart. No one was better placed than Moore to memorialize the Lord among poets. Byron’s closest friend among literary men, Moore was also the only poet of the Romantic age to stay on easy, familiar terms with the Regency “world”—that society whose notorious exclusivism justified the Romantics’ sense of rebellious alienation and prompted the Victorian reaction to follow. In the course of a discussion of Byron’s precarious social position, Lord Holland put the matter as bluntly as anyone. Turning to Moore, the Dublin grocer’s son, he said “you were the only literary person he formed an intimacy with…; the others he was rather inclined to insult.”
Moore’s Journal tells us what it was like to teeter precariously between two hostile worlds, to be, in short, “the immortal Thomas Moore, Esq.,” as someone once directed a note left at his hotel. (“Only think of an immortal esquire,” Moore commented—for he could …