Reviews

Jeffery W. Vail. The Literary Relationship of Lord Byron and Thomas Moore. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. ISBN 0 8018 6500 X. Price: US$45. [Record]

  • William D. Brewer

…more information

  • William D. Brewer
    Appalachian State University

In the summer of 1806, Thomas Moore (1779–1852) read a review of his Epistles, Odes and Other Poems by Francis Jeffrey that denounced him as "the most licentious of modern versifiers." Stung by this attack, he challenged the critic to a duel, but when the two men met on the field of honor they seemed more inclined to befriend than to kill each other, and the police intervened before the duel got underway. According to newspaper reports, the police subsequently examined the adversaries' pistols and found that they were unloaded. Much to Moore's chagrin, these reports led many to conclude that the duel was a farce and that he and Jeffrey were cowards. Moore immediately wrote to the newspapers defending his honor, and the controversy eventually died down. The public was, however, reminded of the abortive duel when English Bards and Scotch Reviewers was published in 1809. The anonymous author of English Bards mockingly alluded to Moore's "leadless pistol" and supplied an explanatory note: "The duel was prevented by the interference of the Magistracy; and, on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated." After the second edition of English Bards appeared under Lord Byron's name, Moore sent a letter challenging the young poet to a duel. However, Byron had embarked on his Grand Tour and did not read the letter until he returned to England in 1811. By that time, Moore had become a married man and his anger had cooled. He readily accepted Byron's explanation that he had not known about Moore's letter to the newspapers and thus had not intended to question its veracity. The poet Samuel Rogers invited them both to dinner, and they swiftly became close friends. In fact, the thin-skinned Irishman who had challenged Byron to a duel ultimately became his biographer, publishing the important two-volume Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of His Life in 1830 and 1831. Many of Byron's and Moore's contemporaries regarded them as political allies (promoting the Whig cause) and as members of the same "school" of poetry. An 1817 article in the British Review associated the poets with the "new Oriental school," and Robert Southey's dedication to A Vision of Judgment attacked them as members of the Satanic School of poetry. Moreover, Byron and Moore pay homage to the dead Keats together in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Adonais : "The Pilgrim of Eternity" (Byron) is closely followed by "The sweetest lyrist of [Ireland's] saddest wrong" (Moore). In The Literary Relationship of Lord Byron and Thomas Moore, Jeffery Vail contends that "Moore was a larger presence in Byron's life and work than any other contemporary writer. Byron's writing, his sense of identity as a poet and a man, and the understanding of him left to posterity were all strongly influenced and affected by his association with Moore" (189). According to Vail, whereas Byron and Shelley conducted philosophical debates with each other through their works, the literary influence that Byron and Moore had on each other was "positive" and "down-to-earth" (10), reflecting their preoccupation with contemporary politics and social issues. He also maintains that critics have failed to recognize the importance of Moore's multifarious writings and their influence on early-nineteenth-century English and Irish culture. Nearly nine years Byron's senior, Moore was a nationalistic Irishman, a Catholic, and the son of a prosperous grocer. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College in Dublin, he achieved fame with Odes of Anacreon (1800), a volume of sensual ...