Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Moore was born on 28 May 1779, in Dublin, Ireland, into a Catholic family. His father, John Moore, was a successful shoemaker and a prosperous grocer. His mother, Anastasia nee Codd, cultivated in him an artistic taste and the courage to fight against the discrimination faced by the Catholics.
Born the eldest of his parents’ three children, he had two younger sisters named Kate and Ellen. As a young boy, he showed an interest in music and acting, often appearing in musical plays with his friends, aspiring to be an actor.
Moore began his formal education at a private classical English school run by T. S. Malone. Later in 1786, he was enrolled at a reputed grammar school run by Samuel Whyte. Here, he learned to speak with an English accent, a practice he continued for the rest of his life.
Samuel Whyte was also a man of immense poetic, theatrical and musical talent, and under his guidance Moore began to develop his oratory as well as literary skills. A good student, he also appeared in school plays with enthusiasm and sang at concerts.
Moore’s family wanted him to join the bar. But as a Catholic, he was barred from university education and to bypass it, his father thought of enrolling him at Trinity College, Dublin, as a Protestant, an idea vehemently opposed by his mother, leading to intense debate.
In 1793, with the removal of the Penal Law, Moore was enrolled at Dr. Carr’s Latin School, which prepared students for university education. Also in the same year, he contributed his first verse to ‘Anthologia Hibernica,’ a Dublin periodical.
In June 1794, Moore became the first Catholic to enter the Trinity College, Dublin. Although he was very high on the list of meritorious students, he was refused a scholarship solely because he was Roman Catholic. Therefore, his father had to pay for his education.
In Trinity College, he became friends with Robert Emmet and Edward Hudson, members of the Society of United Irishmen, which was trying to organize a revolution to end the British rule in Ireland. In 1797, at their request, Moore wrote an impassionate plea, opposing the Act of Union with England.
His plea, titled ‘Letter to Students of Trinity College’, was published in the December 1797 edition of ‘The Press’, run by the United Irishmen. Although he signed it as ‘A SOPHister’, his family came to know about this. At their request, Moore began to moderate his writings, punctuating his words with humor.
Apart from his political views, Moore was influenced by his friends in other areas too. It was Edward Hudson who introduced him to ‘A General Collection of the Ancient Irish Music’ (1797), by Edward Bunting. It later became one of the principle sources for ‘Irish Melodies’.
In 1798, an armed rebellion broke out under the leadership of Emmet and Hudson. After it was put down, Moore was called in to testify about his association with the rebels in a college investigation. He answered only those questions which involved himself and was allowed to continue his studies.
In 1799, Moore earned his B.A. degree from Trinity College, Dublin, and then moved to London to study law at Middle Temple, mainly to fulfill his mother’s wish. By then, he had started translating the poems of Anacreon.
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Early Writing Career
In London, Thomas Moore started paying more attention to his literary pursuits than to his studies, becoming known among the expatriates of the Irish community as a poet, translator, balladeer and singer. Initially, his financial condition was so pathetic that he could not pay bills without the help of his friends.
Among his patrons were Barbara, widow of Arthur Chichester, 1st Marquess of Donegall, and her sister. But more significant was his acquaintance with Joseph Atkinson, secretary in Ireland to the Ordnance Board, whom he had met while in Dublin.
In 1800, Moore completed his first book, ‘Odes of Anacreon,’ and had it published. The book sold well and he began to be known as “Anacreon Moore.” By then, Atkinson had introduced him to Francis Rawson-Hastings, Second Earl of Moira, who took an instant liking to him.
In August 1800, Moore met the Prince of Wales. By then, he had advanced socially, albeit more for his singing ability than for his literary acumen. He often stayed at Lord Moira’s estate, where he could use his extensive library. Very soon, he gave up his study of law.
Sometime in 1800 or 1801, Atkinson and Moira arranged to create the title of Irish Poet Laureate, especially for him. But Moore rejected it, fearing that it would bar him from expressing his views independently on controversial matters.
In 1801, he wrote the libretto for his first opera, ‘The Gypsy Prince,’ and collaborated with Michael Kelly and Charles Edward Horn in staging it. The opera was premiered on 24 July 1801, at the Theatre Royal in London. It was reasonably successful.
Also in 1801, he had ‘Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little Esq’ published. The proceeds from its sales helped to repay his debt, additionally enhancing his reputation as a ladies’ man.
In 1803, with the help of Lord Moira, Moore reluctantly secured the position of Registrar of the Admiralty Prize Court in Bermuda. He did not want to leave London, but his financial condition made it imperative that he take up this post. He set sail for Norfolk, Virginia, on 25 September 1803.
Moore stayed in Virginia for two months and then moved to Bermuda. Since there were just a few captured ships there, he had little to do and found life boring. After nine months, he left Bermuda for a tour of the eastern United States and Canada, appointing a deputy in his place.
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He returned to Britain in November 1804 and recorded his experiences in his next book, ‘Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems.’ It included a number of passages and was far too romantic by the standard of the time.
When ‘Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems’ was published in 1806, it led to outrage both at home and abroad. In July, Francis Jeffrey, the editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review’, denounced it as "the most licentious of modern versifiers” and Moore as a poet whose main aim was to corrupt readers.
In retaliation, Moore challenged him to a duel, which was stopped by the police before a single shot could be fired. Later, it was revealed that Jeffrey’s gun was unloaded and according to some, Moore had also carried the same, making him an object of ridicule.
Also from 1806, Thomas Moore changed his style and focus, writing lyrics to a series of Irish tunes at the request of the publishers James and William Power. The first volume of the work, titled ‘Irish Melodies,’ became immensely popular, helping him to regain his position in the society.
In 1808, he published ‘Corruption and Intolerance, Two Poems’, which was followed by ‘The Sceptic: A Philosophical Satire (1809). All this while, he continued working on ‘Irish Melodies,’ eventually adding nine more volumes to it. Sir John Andrew Stevenson arranged the music for him.
In 1811, Moore wrote the libretto for his second opera ‘M. P., or The Blue Stocking,’ a collaboration with Charles Edward Horn. Premiered at the Lyceum Theatre on 9 September 1811, it received good reviews and had a respectable run. But Moore realized that he did not enjoy writing for the stage and resolved to stay away.
Also from 1811, Moore began to write political satires, especially attacking the Prince Regent, who at one time was his friend and patron, in the pages of ‘Morning Chronicle’. In 1813, he published those as ‘Intercepted Letters, or the Two-Penny Post-Bag’ under the pseudonym of Thomas Brown the Younger.
In 1814, Moore was contracted by publisher Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown to write an oriental romance, choosing ‘Lalla Rookh,’ the daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, as the subject. Published in 1817, ‘Lalla Rookh’ earned him three thousand pounds, making him famous and rich.
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In 1818, Thomas Moore published ‘The Fudge Family in Paris’. Shortly thereafter, it came to the limelight that the deputy he had left in Bermuda had embezzled six thousand pounds, leaving Moore liable for it. All his efforts to save himself failed and he was faced with the prospect of imprisonment.
In September 1819, accompanied by Lord John Russell, Moore left for France, traveling to Venice in October to meet Lord Byron for the last time. Byron handed the manuscripts of his memoirs to him with the instruction that it should be published after his death.
After the trip to Venice, Moore settled down in Paris, where he was joined by his wife and children. In 1822, he returned to England on hearing that the debt had been partially paid by his deputy’s relatives and the rest by Lord Lansdowne.
Back in England
Back in England, Thomas Moore paid back Lord Lansdowne by a draft on Longman and concentrated on completing ‘The Love of the Angels’, his last long poem, which was published in 1823. Also in 1823, he visited western Ireland with Lord Lansdowne.
In 1825, he completed ‘Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan’. His next work, ‘The Epicurean’ (1827), is a philosophical romance. It was followed by ‘Letters and Journals of Lord Byron: With Notices of His Life’ (1830) and ‘The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’ (1831).
In 1833, with the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829), Moore published his last political work, ‘Travels of an Irish Gentleman in Search of a Religion.’ It was followed by two more works, ‘Fudge Family in England’ (1835) and ‘History of Ireland’, which he wrote between 1835 and 1846.
Family & Personal Life
In March 1811, Thomas Moore married Elizabeth Dyke, an Irish actress. They had five children: three daughters named Anne Barbara, Anastasia Mary and Olivia, and two sons named John Russell and Thomas Lansdowne. Unfortunately, all of them died young.
In December 1849, Moore suffered a stroke. He spent his last years cared for by his wife at Sloperton Cottage, his home in Wiltshire. He died there on 25 February 1852. He lies buried in a vault at St. Nicholas churchyard, Bromham, beside his daughter Anastasia.
Moore’s memory is honored by a plaque on the house of his birth and by a bronze statue near Trinity College in Dublin. The Thomas Moore Road in Walkinstown, Dublin, has been named after him. He has also been commemorated by busts at The Meetings and Central Park, New York.