Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 October 2021

Moore, Thomasfree


Moore, Thomasfree

  • Geoffrey Carnall

Thomas Moore (1779–1852)

by William Finden, 1836 (after Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1829)

Moore, Thomas (1779–1852), poet, was born on 28 May 1779 at 12 Aungier Street, Dublin, the only son and eldest child of John Moore (1741–1825), a grocer and wine merchant, and Anastasia Codd (1749–1832).

Education and first writings

Moore's first school was conducted by a Mr Malone, his second by the Samuel Whyte who years earlier had taught R. B. Sheridan, the playwright. Whyte was much involved with Dublin's theatrical life, and encouraged Moore's talents as an elocutionist. It was at this time also that Moore had his first poems published, in the Anthologia Hibernica, a short-lived monthly magazine. Moore and his family were Catholics, and subject therefore to the penalties imposed on Ireland's majority community by her protestant rulers. The French Revolution had reinforced resistance to this regime, and one of Whyte's assistants, Donovan, not only gave Moore a good grounding in Latin but encouraged his Irish patriotism, with his 'ardent passion for poor Ireland's liberties, and a deep and cordial hatred to those who were then lording it and trampling her down' (Russell, 1.21). These sentiments were further encouraged after he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1795, when he became a close friend of Robert Emmet, afterwards executed for treason. Emmet discouraged Moore from involving himself in the conspiracies that led to the rising of 1798, but the young poet acquired some reputation as a political speaker, and presided over a meeting protesting against the removal of an enlightened viceroy—Lord Fitzwilliam—and his replacement by the sternly protestant Lord Camden.

At Trinity, Moore became a sound classical scholar, and undertook the translations from Anacreon which he published in 1800. He had offered them to Dr Kearney, the provost of Trinity, in the hope that they might earn him an academic award, but the provost felt they were too amatory and convivial for this purpose. But amatory and convivial poetry admirably suited the taste of the fashionable London to which Moore was introduced in the spring of 1799, when he was enrolled in the Middle Temple with a view to a legal career.

Travels and early publications, 1799–1806

Moore had been introduced to Joseph Atkinson, secretary to the Irish ordnance board and in his spare time a playwright, who in turn introduced him to Francis Rawdon Hastings, earl of Moira, a friend of the prince of Wales. Moira's patronage was of immediate service to Moore, for he persuaded the prince to allow the poet to dedicate his translations of Anacreon to him. Moira also invited Moore to spend long periods at Donington Park, his palatial country house in Derbyshire, where he spent his days reading in the library, walking, shooting rooks, and on one occasion going down a coalmine. In London there was a round of parties, and his songs were in great request. His performances were brilliant, his face 'sparkling with intelligence and pleasure, whilst Beauty crowded enamoured around him and hung with infectious enthusiasm upon his every tone' (Jerdan, 91). Moore's social success reinforced the sale of his poetry. His songs began to be published and were well received. His Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little appeared in 1801 and was a commercial success, although its mildly erotic flavour eventually caused him some embarrassment. But he rested his chief hopes of advancement on the patronage of Lord Moira, and when Moira's interest served to offer him the post of Irish poet laureate he was half tempted to accept, although the appointment was hardly compatible with his Irish patriotism. Temptation was resisted when Moore's father made strong objections.

There was no such objection to Moore's appointment, in 1803, as registrar of the naval prize court in Bermuda, employment moderately lucrative in time of war, though hardly secure. Moore sailed first to Norfolk, Virginia, and then on to Bermuda, where he stayed only until the end of April 1804. While there he made a notable contribution to the colony's social life, but saw little future in the business of the prize court. So he appointed a deputy, and spent some five months travelling in North America. He found the United States barbarous and disorderly, although he formed a more favourable impression of Philadelphia, where his reception was 'extremely flattering' (Letters, 1.69). In Washington he was presented to President Jefferson, who received him in complete silence. Moore arrived home in November.

Moore set to work on his Epistles, Odes, and other Poems (1806). It was reviewed in the Edinburgh Review by Francis Jeffrey, who denounced both the poet ('the most licentious of modern versifiers') and his book ('a public nuisance') (Jeffrey, 456). He elaborated these charges with such zest that Moore's Irish blood was roused, and, learning that Jeffrey was in London, Moore challenged him to a duel. 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.

Irish Melodies and whig satire

After the embarrassment of the duel, Moore withdrew to Dublin, where he spent the winter of 1806–7. His letters at the time were depressed, describing the city as 'desperately vulgar and dreary' (Letters, 2.111), but it was at this time that he was approached by two music publishers, William and James Power, to take part in a venture which proved astonishingly successful: the series of Irish Melodies (1808–34). He was to write words for characteristic Irish airs arranged by Sir John Stevenson, and Moore's splendid performances were more than enough to recommend the songs to fashionable society. But while this project was very congenial, Moore also saw some prospect in gaining a reputation as a satirist. He told Lady Donegal in April 1808 that he was hoping to 'catch the eye of some of our patriotic politicians', and at least one poem published at this time in the Morning Chronicle is very much in his briskly animated manner. It attacked the bombardment of Copenhagen by a British fleet in 1807, a politically controversial event. But his first formal appearance as a satirist was in a pair of poems in heroic couplets, Corruption: an Epistle and Intolerance (1808), both pleas for better treatment of Ireland. In an appendix he relates the story of the emperor Theodosius and his repressive measures against the people of Antioch. Reasoned appeals for clemency had no effect on him, but their mournful songs were irresistible. Evidently Moore hoped the Irish Melodies might have a similar softening effect on the harsh, scornful, or indifferent English.

At this time Moore also saw some prospect of success in the theatre. Joseph Atkinson had persuaded him to visit Ireland in the autumn of both 1808 and 1809 to take part in the lively theatrical season then held in Kilkenny. His performances in roles such as David in Sheridan's The Rivals were vivacious, and he used his enhanced familiarity with the theatre to good effect in his own musical comedy, M.P., or, The Blue-Stocking. It was performed in London's Lyceum Theatre in September 1811, and was well received.

On 25 March 1811 Moore married Elizabeth Dyke (1796–1865)Bessy, as he always called her. In the Kilkenny season of 1809 she was one of the visiting actresses, and that is presumably where they met. Little is known of how their relationship developed, though in the summer of 1823 Moore revisited Kilkenny and recalled the days of his courtship: 'I used to walk with Bessy on the banks of the river' (Russell, 4.103). The wedding itself, at St Martin's Church, was so private that not even Moore's parents were told of it until months later. The couple lived for a time in Bury Street, but in May 1812 moved to Kegworth in Leicestershire, not far from Donington Park. This gave Moore continued access to Lord Moira's library, and might have suggested continued hopes of advantage from Moira's patronage if the political situation had not blighted his prospects in that quarter. The prince of Wales had been confidently expected to install a whig ministry when he became prince regent early in 1812, giving people like Moira the disposal of many places and pensions. The prince did no such thing, retaining the tory ministers in office for reasons outlined in a letter to his brother the duke of York. Moore composed (anonymously) a scathing parody of this letter which was widely circulated among whig politicians and greatly admired. It confirmed his standing as a leading literary partisan of the whig opposition, a status reinforced by the close friendship that developed with Lord Byron, whom he had met for the first time in November 1811. For many years Moore contributed his lively and accomplished verses to the Morning Chronicle and for a while The Times. It was a useful source of income, The Times paying him £400 in 1826 and 1827, and £200 thereafter. Then there was the £500 a year he received from James Power in consideration of the continued publication of new numbers of Irish Melodies. As he remarked to John Dalby on 10 March 1812, he had 'every certainty of making an ample livelihood by literature' (Letters, 1.181).

Lalla Rookh and the period of exile

But the amplitude of Moore's livelihood was never quite sufficient to cover the expenses of the fashionable society in which he moved, or of his continuing generosity to his parents in Ireland. This was in spite of his regular sources of income being handsomely supplemented by some outstandingly successful publications. The first of these, which appeared in March 1813, was Intercepted Letters, or, The Twopenny Post-Bag, a set of verse epistles purportedly written by associates of the prince regent. A rapid succession of new editions, coupled with the reputation Moore already enjoyed from Irish Melodies, established his position as a leading poet, and when word went round that he was writing an elaborate oriental romance, the two principal London publishers, John Murray and Longman, competed recklessly for the privilege of obtaining it. In December 1814 Lalla Rookh, as it was called, was assigned to Longman for £3000.

By this time Moore had left Kegworth, Lord Moira having departed for India, and was settled in Mayfield Cottage, pleasantly situated near Ashbourne. He was occupied in rewriting Lalla Rookh for many months, still referring to it as unfinished as late as December 1815. It did not appear until May 1817, although a final delay was caused by the difficult conditions of publishing in the immediate aftermath of the French wars. This monument of romantic orientalism, its four tales illustrating different aspects of a sensuously exotic enthusiasm, was immensely successful, going into many editions, and judged by Thomas Longman after twenty years to be the 'cream of the copyrights' (Letters, 2.821, 23 Nov 1837).

Moore had moved to Hornsey near London to oversee the printing of his poem, and stayed there until September, when the death of his first child, Barbara (then six years old), made the place intolerable to both parents. In November they settled into the home that was to be theirs for the rest of their lives, Sloperton Cottage, near Calne in Wiltshire. It was close to Bowood, the seat of Lord Lansdowne, Moore's most considerate and loyal patron in his later years. Politically Lansdowne was congenial, being a supporter of Catholic emancipation and sympathetic to Irish aspirations. He also brought to Bowood some of the fashionable society in which the poet found most fulfilment. Better still, there was a fine library. Moore now returned to his satirical mode in The Fudge Family in Paris (1818), a set of verse epistles attributed to writers ranging from a servile creature of the tories to a passionate champion of Ireland, with some light relief from Miss Biddy Fudge, a young lady of fashion. This too enjoyed considerable success, but Moore now found himself in serious financial difficulties. His deputy in Bermuda absconded, leaving Moore responsible for a debt of £6000. As he could not possibly pay this sum, he went abroad to avoid arrest, and spent three years in France and Italy. It was an unproductive time for him, apart from the pedestrian continuation of the Fudge family travels later published as Rhymes on the Road (1823), and the verse letters (first published as Alciphron in 1839) which were the basis of his prose romance The Epicurean (1827). When in Italy he visited Byron, who presented him with the manuscript of his memoirs, a gift that had troublesome consequences for Moore, but that eventually led to the writing of his biography of the poet.

Later career

Moore's friends were active in extricating him from his difficulties, and in 1821 Lansdowne was able to arrange a settlement which allowed him to return to England. Here he continued to exploit his talent for exotic sensuousness in The Loves of the Angels (1823), and to confirm his reputation as a political satirist in Fables for the Holy Alliance (1823) and Odes upon Cash, Corn, Catholics, and other Matters (1828). But he embarked on a new career as a biographer in his Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1825), an elaborate work which made a genuine attempt to be fair to its sometimes disreputable subject. On the whole it was well received, and made it all the more possible for Moore to extract a handsome fee for the biography of Byron: 4000 guineas from John Murray. Byron had given his manuscript memoirs to Moore in the expectation that his friend might profit from them should he survive him. Moore later sold the manuscript to Murray on the understanding that he would write a biography after Byron's death, but then questions were raised about the propriety of this arrangement, and the money from the sale was converted into a loan, with the manuscript as security. After Byron's death in April 1824 the ownership proved a matter of great perplexity, and the consequent acrimonious legal disputes ended only when agreement was reached to burn the memoirs, much to the relief of Byron's family. Moore none the less remained the best qualified person to write a definitive biography and to edit Byron's poetry. He went diligently in search of materials, and received an abundance of letters and anecdotes from those who had known the poet. The title, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830), distracts attention from the skill with which Moore constructed his portrait. 'Biography', he told Samuel Rogers, 'is like dot engraving, made up of little minute points, which must all be attended to, or the effect is lost' (Letters, 2.608, 21 April 1828). Moore did attend to them, and his biography remains indispensable for students of Byron. His edition of the poetry followed in 1832–3.

During the 1820s the condition of Ireland had increasingly forced itself on the attention of British politicians, and although Moore had no liking for pugnacious nationalists like Daniel O'Connell, he was keenly aware of the centuries of oppression that had generated such a nationalism. A visit with Lord Lansdowne to Ireland inspired him to write his Memoirs of Captain Rock (1824), a fierce indictment of the misgovernment of Ireland. The book established him as a leading Irish patriot, a reputation reinforced by his respectful treatment of a leader of the 1798 rising in The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1831). Moore insisted that his Travels of an Irish Gentleman in Search of Religion (1833), though offered as a defence of the ancient national faith, was 'in its bearings on the popular cause of Ireland deeply political' (Letters, 2.786, 26 Sept 1834). In 1832 he was invited to stand for parliament in the Limerick constituency. He refused, but spent the last years of his active life in writing a History of Ireland (1835–46), illustrating the impressive cultural achievements of Irish people before the blight of an alien rule afflicted them, and narrating in detail the acts of often appalling injustice committed by those alien rulers.

Moore's wife gave him unstinting support and understanding through frequently harassing financial difficulties and domestic distress. They outlived all their children: like Barbara, Anastasia died young, just before her sixteenth birthday; the two sons, Tom and John Russell, died abroad, in Algiers and India respectively. In his last years Moore was overcome by senile dementia: 'I am sinking here into a mere vegetable', he told Samuel Rogers in one of his last letters (Letters, 2.889, 23 June 1847). Fortunately he had been granted a literary pension in 1835 and a civil-list pension in 1850. He died at Sloperton Cottage on 25 February 1852 and was buried on 3 March in Bromham churchyard. Bessy lived on until September 1865.

Moore's contemporaries saw him as a major poet. In Ireland he was pre-eminent, and on his visits there could rely on an ecstatic welcome at any public occasion. Through much of the nineteenth century Lalla Rookh was admired and reprinted, and the popularity of some of the songs from Irish Melodies and its companion series National Airs (1818–27) persisted well into the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, however, he is remembered mainly as an associate of Byron, although there is some specialist interest in his political poetry and in his orientalism as a vehicle for his Irish sympathies. His History of Ireland remains important for anyone who wants to understand the intractable difficulties of Irish politicians in their dealings with the British inheritance.


  • Memoirs, journal and correspondence of Thomas Moore, ed. J. Russell, 8 vols. (1853–6)
  • The letters of Thomas Moore, ed. W. S. Dowden, 2 vols. (1964)
  • H. M. Jones, The harp that once — (1937)
  • Letters and journals of Lord Byron, with notices of his life, ed. T. Moore, 2 vols. (1830)
  • Works of Lord Byron, ed. T. Moore, 17 vols. (1834)
  • T. Moore, Poetical works, ed. A. D. Godley (1915)
  • S. Smiles, A publisher and his friends: memoir and correspondence of the late John Murray, 2 vols. (1891)
  • S. Gwynn, Thomas Moore (1904)
  • W. Jerdan, The autobiography of William Jerdan: with his literary, political, and social reminiscences and correspondence during the last fifty years, 4 vols. (1852–3), vol. 4
  • F. Jeffrey, review of Epistles, odes, and other poems, EdinR, 8 (1806)
  • T. de V. White, Tom Moore the Irish poet (1977)
  • G. Carnall, ‘Robert Southey and Thomas Moore on the battle of Copenhagen’, Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 73 (1969)
  • d. cert.


  • Boston PL, corresp., commonplace book, and literary MSS
  • FM Cam., notes in Anthologia hibernica
  • Hunt. L., letters, literary MSS
  • Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, papers
  • NL Ire., commonplace book and journal [copy]
  • NL Ire., literary MSS and letters
  • NL Scot., journal of a visit to Scotland
  • Rice University, Houston, Texas, Woodson Research Center, corresp.
  • St John's Seminary, Camarillo, papers
  • TCD, papers
  • U. Reading L., corresp., diaries, and papers, Longman Archive II 26B
  • University of Florida Libraries, papers
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville, papers
  • Library of Birmingham, letters to Joseph Strutt
  • BL, letters to A. Bain, RP 1495 [copies]
  • BL, letters to Sir John Easthope, with related papers, M/508 [copies]
  • BL, corresp. with Lord Holland, Add. MS 51641
  • BL, letters to Houlton family, Add. MS 27425 A–C
  • BL, letters to Leigh Hunt, Add. MS 37210
  • BL, letters to Macvey Napier, Add. MSS 34615–34616, 34618
  • BL, letters to Royal Literary Fund, loan 96
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to E. R. Moran, with related papers
  • CKS, letters to Lord Stanhope
  • Fox Talbot Museum of Photography, Lacock, Wiltshire, letters to William Henry Fox Talbot and Lady Elizabeth Fox Strangeways
  • Leics. RO, letters to John Dalby
  • Morgan L., letters to John Wilson Croker
  • NL Scot., letters to J. G. Lockhart
  • TCD, letters to Sir Philip Crampton
  • TNA: PRO, corresp. with Lord John Russell, PRO 30/22
  • Wilts. & Swindon HC, letters to Horatio Nelson Goddard


  • oils, 1800, NPG
  • stipple, 1800–40, NG Ire.
  • E. Hayes, pencil drawing, 1815, NG Ire.
  • J. Jackson, oils, 1818, NG Ire.
  • H. H. Meyer, stipple, pubd 1818 (after miniature), NG Ire.
  • M. A. Shee, oils, 1818, NPG; version, NG Ire.
  • T. Kirk, bust, 1821, Royal Irish Acad.
  • G. S. Newton, chalk drawing, 1821, Athenaeum Club, London
  • J. Thomson, stipple, pubd 1824 (after J. Jackson), NG Ire.
  • stipple, 1825 (after J. Comerford, 1808), NG Ire.
  • T. Lawrence, oils, 1829, priv. coll.
  • D. Maclise, lithograph, pubd 1830 (after drawing by D. Maclise), NG Ire.
  • B. Holl, stipple, pubd 1833, NG Ire.
  • W. Finden, stipple and line engraving, 1836 (after T. Lawrence, 1829), NPG [see illus.]
  • D. Maclise, oils, 1837, NG Ire.
  • G. Mulvany, oils, 1837, NG Ire.
  • W. Essex, oils, 1838, NG Ire.
  • J. Kirkwood, etching, pubd 1842 (after D. Maclise), NG Ire.
  • C. Moore, marble bust, 1842, NPG; version, NG Ire.
  • G. Richmond, chalk drawing, 1843, NG Ire.
  • J. Hogan, plaster statuette, 1852, NG Ire.
  • W. Denning, watercolour drawing, NG Ire.
  • D. Maclise, pencil and watercolour drawing, V&A
  • C. Moore, statue, College Street, Dublin
  • G. S. Newton, oils, Bowood, Wiltshire
  • oils, NG Ire.
  • watercolour drawing, NG Ire.
Page of
Leicestershire, Leicester, and Rutland Record Office, Leicester
Page of
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
Page of
British Library, London
Page of
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
Page of
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Page of
Edinburgh Review, or, Critical Journal
Page of
National Library of Ireland, Dublin
Page of
Trinity College, Dublin
Page of
Boston Public Library, Massachusetts
Page of
Library of Birmingham
Page of
Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Page of
National Portrait Gallery, London
Page of
National Gallery of Ireland
Page of
Royal Irish Academy, Dublin
Page of
Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone, Kent
Page of
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Page of
Bodleian Library, Oxford
Page of
Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Page of
private collection
Page of
University of Reading Library