This article argues that Thomas Moore's collection of narrative poems Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance (1817), by presenting disguised versions of the French Revolution and the Irish Rebellion of 1798, condemns the former but justifies the latter. As the “National Poet” and preeminent literary voice of Ireland, as well as a witness of the 1798 Rebellion, Moore was particularly concerned with the subjects of national independence and armed revolution. The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan depicts a monstrous embodiment of French Jacobinism in the form of the eighth-century false prophet Mokanna, who hides his horrific face behind a beautiful veil. In contrast to Mokanna's corrupt and evil revolution, the national uprising depicted in The Fire-worshippers is depicted as noble and justified. Moore intended this story of Persian resistance to Arab Muslim colonizers as an allegory of Irish Catholic resistance to England, with special reference to the 1798 Rebellion. The prose linking narrative of Lalla Rookh also contains a political dimension, looking forward to possible political reforms that would make armed struggle unnecessary.
Thomas Moore’s poem Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance, published 22 May 1817, has largely faded into obscurity even among scholars of Romantic literature, despite the fact that it was one of the most successful, widely read, and frequently translated poems of the entire nineteenth century. Confident modern pronouncements that Moore’s poem “cannot [...] interest” the “modern reader” aside (Fischer 205), Lalla Rookh can in fact be classed amongst the most intriguing and representative texts of British Romanticism because of its vital engagement with the political legacies of the French Revolution and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. A quartet of verse narratives connected by prose interludes, Lalla Rookh features two long tales that, taken together, constitute a defence and attempted rehabilitation of the idea of revolution at a time when the defenders of revolution had largely fallen silent or were in retreat. The message of these tales was and is all the more plangent because it is delivered by a writer who was the “National Poet” and preeminent literary voice of Ireland, as well as a witness of the 1798 Rebellion, a prominent liberal, and an opponent of English colonial policy in Ireland. One of the few modern critics to appreciate the political dimension of Moore’s poem, Marilyn Butler calls the tales that comprise Lalla Rookh “fables of contemporary imperialism” (426). Moore’s narratives of oppressors and oppressed are not only part of the trend of politicized poetry about the East, but are also, and much more urgently for Moore, reflections upon the state of Europe, upon “the long night of bondage and mourning, / That dark o’er the kingdoms of earth [was] returning” (Complete Poetical Works [CPW] 3: 347) after the Allies’ long conflict with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Like Percy Shelley’s tale of Eastern revolt, Laon and Cythna (1817), a poem very much influenced by Lalla Rookh, Moore’s depictions of the ancient East could well have been subtitled “A Vision of the Nineteenth Century.”
Since there has not been a new edition of Lalla Rookh in nearly a hundred years and it is only very rarely and briefly excerpted in any anthology, a discussion of the work first requires a brief summary of its contents. The four poems that comprise the bulk of Lalla Rookh are The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, Paradise and the Peri, The Fire-Worshippers, and The Light of the Haram. The prose narrative linking these poems together tells the story of Lalla Rookh, princess of India and daughter of the Emperor Aurungzebe (Aurangzeb), who is being taken in a ceremonial procession to Cashmere (Kashmir) in order to marry the newly-ascended young ruler of Bucharia (Bukhara), whom she has never seen. On the way she is entertained by the bard Feramorz, who sings her the four verse tales. She falls in love with him, and to her joy, at the end of their journey he is revealed to be her intended husband, the Prince Aliris. The “critical and fastidious” eunuch Fadladeen, Chamberlain of the Harem, also accompanies Lalla Rookh. A toady to royalty, Fadladeen derides the aesthetic quality and ideological content of Feramorz’s tales until the conclusion of the group’s journey, when the revelation of Feramorz’s true identity causes Fadladeen hurriedly to change his tune. The framing narrative can be read as a playful, ironic commentary on Moore’s career: Fadladeen is a composite portrait of Francis Jeffrey and others of Moore’s critics in the journals and newspapers; the name “Feramorz” contains Moore’s own surname; and Lalla Rookh, wealthy, young, and full of sensibility, can be seen as an embodiment of the English readers (many or most of them female) that Moore tried throughout his career to entertain, charm, and persuade. The detailed criticisms of subject and style that Fadladeen levels against Feramorz’s songs are nearly identical in substance to the kinds of criticisms Moore perpetually received, usually from conservatives who found his work impious, indecent, or politically mischievous. The frame tale enacts a battle between the poetry of Moore and the prose of the conservatives for the heart of Britannia; Moore, of course, gets the girl in the end.
The Veiled Prophet and The Fire-Worshippers are long, tragic, and bloody treatments of the theme of violent resistance against a tyrannical state. Far shorter and lighter in tone, Paradise and the Peri and The Light of the Haram were the favourites of Victorian readers, and it is chiefly the soothing piety and sentimentality of Paradise and the Peri that has tarnished Lalla Rookh’s reputation since the late nineteenth century. Yet Paradise and the Peri and The Light of the Haram can be seen as merely the sugar that helped Moore’s readers to swallow the more potent medicine of The Veiled Prophet and The Fire-Worshippers, which are the core and the real achievement of Lalla Rookh. (To imagine Lalla Rookh without the two lighter poems is to imagine an unrelentingly grim and violent work that would never have been as widely read.) The Veiled Prophet and The Fire-Worshippers depict what Moore considered to be the very different motivations and consequences of two distinct forms of revolution: the aggressive, internationalist, utopian Jacobinism of the radical French revolutionaries, and the indigenous anticolonial resistance of the rebellious Irish Catholics of 1798. While Lalla Rookh’s depiction of the failure of both brands of violent struggle may seem “pessimistic,” as Nigel Leask has written, in fact the work as a whole condemns the injustice of autocratic power and colonialism and affirms the heroism of colonized peoples who revolt against their oppressors in order to re-establish religious liberty and achieve national self-determination.
1. The Veiled Prophet and the French Revolution
The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan tells the story of a revolution whose putative aim is to free all the nations of the earth from bondage and inaugurate a utopian golden age. The Muslim lovers Azim and Zelica are swept up in this revolution, whose first goal is to overthrow the autocratic eighth-century Caliph Mahadi (al-Mahdi). The revolution is led by Mokanna (al-Muqanna’), the Veiled Prophet, a charismatic messiah-figure who tells his followers that the silver veil he wears over his face hides features so beautiful and holy that mortals must not look upon them. The rallying-cry of his revolution is “Freedom to the World,” and he promises to bring about “man’s enfranchisement” (line 895). The young, the idealistic, and the oppressed flock to his banner from all of the Levantine nations, deceived by his promises to “free / This fettered world from every bond and stain, / And bring its primal glories back again!” (lines 149-151). Unbeknownst to his followers, Mokanna is sadistic and deformed, concealing a horrifically disfigured face behind his veil. He leads men to their destruction as a way of taking revenge upon God, whom he hates for sending him “maim’d and monstrous upon earth” (line 775). Mokanna makes the beautiful Zelica his high-priestess in order to inspire his troops, but in order to bond her to him he forces her to swear an oath of allegiance by drinking blood in an underground tomb filled with corpses, after which he apparently rapes her.
Zelica first joined Mokanna’s crusade, we learn, because she had been driven half-mad by the reported death of her beloved Azim, who had left her some years previously to fight against the Greeks, promising to return. However, Azim had not been killed but had been taken prisoner, and during his imprisonment in Greece he had encountered and been inspired by ancient Greek ideas on liberty. Consequently, Azim became determined to free his people from the rule of Mahadi, and at the beginning of the The Veiled Prophet Azim arrives to volunteer for Mokanna’s supposedly noble cause. Commanded by Mokanna to seduce the new enlistee, a tearful Zelica veils herself and approaches Azim, but the young man recognizes and confronts her. The maddened and grief-stricken girl reveals Mokanna’s evil nature to Azim, but then, recalling her binding oath of allegiance to Mokanna, she flees Azim in shame. Despairing and disillusioned, Azim begins to leave the country, but when he hears that the Caliph’s armies are massing for an attack on Mokanna, Azim returns, joins the troops, and helps the Caliph rout Mokanna’s forces in a series of savage battles. Defeated and besieged, Mokanna invites his chieftains to a climactic banquet, at which he poisons them and unveils himself as they die in agony. Mokanna then leaps into a pool of acid, leaving Zelica to put on his veil and impale herself on Azim’s spear as he and the Caliph’s forces storm the stronghold.
The Veiled Prophet’s allegory of tyranny and revolution is chiefly animated by Moore’s response to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Like many liberals, Moore saw the degeneration of the French Revolution’s egalitarian and democratic promises into anarchy and terror as a tragic betrayal of a noble cause. Yet in the late 1790s, the young Moore, in common with many other Irish liberals, had looked to Revolutionary France for aid and inspiration. In 1796, the secret and outlawed society of the United Irishmen had sent Wolfe Tone and other emissaries to France in order to negotiate a French invasion of Ireland that would liberate the Irish from English domination. A number of abortive invasion attempts foundered, but nevertheless, in the year 1798, the efforts of the United Irishmen, several of whose members Moore knew and some of whom he idolized, did result in the great Irish Rebellion, an uprising that broke out in several parts of the country and in which 30,000 rebels, loyalists, and innocents were killed over the space of a few months. This tragic episode in Irish history haunted Moore’s memory and writings for the entirety of his long career. Moore was a young, radical student at Trinity College, Dublin when the rebellion broke out and was interrogated along with his fellow students by the pro-English authorities of the Protestant Ascendancy just before the violence began. His close college friend Robert Emmet took part in the Rebellion, escaping the British only to lead a more desperate uprising in 1803, after which he was captured, hanged, and beheaded. Although Moore has sometimes been thought of as a political moderate, he always defended the instigators of the 1798 violent uprising, whom he called “the ultimi Romanorum of our country” (Journals 4: 1634), and condemned the “bigotry and misrule” of England (Life and Death 153), forcefully vindicating the United Irish cause, point by point, in his 1831 Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, a book published during the perilous political atmosphere preceding the Reform Act of 1832 and against the explicit wishes of his powerful Whig friends.
Moore’s 1815 Irish Melody “‘Tis gone, and for ever,” written after Napoleon’s abdication but before his escape from Elba, connects 1798 with 1789, recalling Wordsworth’s famously blissful dawn and attempting to express the anguish of the Irish at the failure of the French Revolution to become the catalyst for Irish independence:
CPW 3: 347-48
‘Tis gone, and for ever, the light we saw breaking,
Like Heaven’s first dawn o’er the sleep of the dead—
When Man, from the slumber of ages awaking,
Looked upward, and blest the pure ray, ere it fled.
‘Tis gone, and the gleams it has left of its burning
But deepen the long night of bondage and mourning,
That dark o’er the kingdoms of earth is returning
And darkest of all, hapless Erin, o’er thee.
For high was thy hope, when those glories were darting
Around thee, thro’ all the gross clouds of the world;
When Truth, from her fetters indignantly starting,
At once, like a Sun-burst, her banner unfurled.
Oh! never shall earth see a moment so splendid!
Then, then—had one Hymn of Deliverance blended
The tongues of all nations—how sweet had ascended
The first note of Liberty, Erin, from thee!
But, shame on those tyrants, who envied the blessing!
And shame on the light race,[] unworthy its good,
Who, at Death’s reeking altar, like furies, caressing
The young hope of Freedom, baptized it in blood,
Then vanished for ever that fair, sunny vision,
Which, spite of the slavish, the cold heart’s derision,
Shall long be remembered, pure, bright, and elysian,
As first it arose, my lost Erin, on thee.
Moore’s song portrays the Irish as being betrayed both by the monarchs of Europe (“those tyrants”) as well as the French (“the light race”), who between them have destroyed the Revolution’s ideals and Ireland’s dream of liberty. In Lalla Rookh, the oppressed Eastern peoples of The Veiled Prophet flock to Mokanna’s banner with the same desperate hope that the Irish flocked to embrace French ideals and symbols in the 1790s. Moore suggests this specific parallel when he describes, among the brave but deluded peoples, “fir’d by zeal, or by oppression wrong’d” (line 1479), who comprise Mokanna’s international army,
Iran’s outlawed men,
Her Worshippers of Fire—all panting then
For vengeance on the’ accursed Saracen;
Vengeance at last for their dear country spurn’d,
Her throne usurp’d, and her bright shrines o’erturn’d
From Yezd’s eternal Mansion of the Fire,
Where aged saints in dreams of Heav’n expire.
“Iran” readily suggested “Erin” to Moore’s readers, and the use of the word “saints” suggests Catholicism. The parallel, hinted at here, between the Persians’ outlawed religion and culture and that of the Irish, is much more fully developed in The Fire-Worshippers.
Although “‘Tis Gone, and For Ever” does not deal with Napoleon, Moore believed that the Emperor’s hubris and ambition helped doom “the young hope of Freedom.” Mokanna has sometimes been called a figura of Napoleon, yet this reading is wholly inconsistent with the enthusiastic remarks about Napoleon in Moore’s letters during the several years (1811-1816) he was writing Lalla Rookh. For instance, writing to Byron on 24 February 1814, Moore exclaimed,
there is but one great man in this world, besides yourself, that I feel interested about—and that is Bonaparte—we owe great gratitude to this thunder-storm of a fellow, for clearing the air of all the old legitimate fogs that settled upon us, and I seriously hope his task is not yet quite over—When he is once off the stage, the Play is over for me—the rest of the Kings may strut over their hour & be d—d!Letters 1: 306
Moore shared with Byron a common Whig ambivalence toward the French Emperor: he admired Napoleon for his daring, his genius, and his defiance of the monarchs of Europe while at the same time abhorring his imperial ambitions. Moore stayed away from London during the summer of 1814, when the European sovereigns were visiting the city and the national celebration of the defeat of Napoleon was in full swing. He declared in a letter to his mother, “I have no great curiosity after emperors (except ex-ones)” (Letters 1: 315). When the stunning news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached England, Moore exulted to his Tory friend Lady Donegal:
What do you think now of my supernatural friend, the emperor? If ever tyrant deserved to be worshipped, it is he: Milton’s Satan is nothing to him for portentous magnificence—for sublimity of mischief! If that account of the papers be true, of his driving down in his carriage like lightning towards the royal army embattled against him, bare-headed, unguarded, in all the confidence of irresistibility—it is a fact far sublimer than any fiction has ever invented, and I am not at all surprised at the dumb-founded fascination that seizes people at such daring. For my part, I could have fancied that Fate herself was in that carriage.Letters 1: 355-56
Three days later Moore repeated the substance of these remarks to Leigh Hunt, adding,
I perfectly agree with you on the subject of [Napoleon’s] restoration—or rather I go beyond you for I am decidedly glad of it—but—then—I am an Irishman—ferae-naturae—beyond the pale—and my opinions, I believe, are more the result of passion than of reason—If however there is a single Norwegian, Genoese, Saxon or Pole that doesn’t agree with me, why—he is a very worthy, loyal sort of gentleman, and I wish his masters joy of him, that’s all—Letters 1: 356-57
Moore told his friend Mary Godfrey, “What [Napoleon] has done will be thought madness if it fails; but it is just the same sort of thing that has made heroes from the beginning of the world; success makes all the difference between a madman and a hero” (Letters 1: 358).
Such remarks illustrate Moore’s conflicted feelings about Napoleon; the Emperor is a Satanic figure, but like Milton’s Satan he has admirable as well as despicable qualities. Mokanna is more akin to Milton’s Satan than he is to any other literary figure; although he is malevolent, he is also fearless, brilliant, daring, and inspiring. Yet he is far too malevolent for Moore to have intended him merely as a representation of Napoleon. Mokanna is fundamentally motivated by lust, sadism, and hatred of mankind, forms of evil that Moore would no more attribute to Napoleon than would Byron. In 1797, as a student, Moore had written and published in a United Irish newspaper an anonymous, treasonous letter to his fellow students, calling on them to rise up against the English and to be the Irish peoples’ “heroes—their Buonapartes!”; in 1815 Moore no longer worshipped Napoleon, yet Napoleon still seemed to be the only (forlorn) hope of liberals who fantasized about the old order being swept away. Moore’s continuing admiration for Napoleon made itself felt in the fiery epistles of the Catholic patriot Phelim Connor in The Fudge Family in Paris, published in 1818, the year after the publication of Lalla Rookh.
Mokanna is most accurately seen as a representation of radical Jacobinism, concealing its moral deformity behind a beautiful mask. He is an embodiment of the seemingly uncontrollable thirst for murder, destruction, and revenge that emerged from behind or beneath the philosophy of liberté, egalité, fraternité during the Reign of Terror. His rule features the two qualities that Coleridge identified as the “effects of Jacobinism:” “In private life, an insufferable licentiousness, and abroad an intolerable despotism!” (139). An American reviewer saw Mokanna as a “thorough French Jacobin, in every thing but his white flag [...] a sour Jacobin, some low, clamorous ruffian, suddenly grown up to be a gentleman”—comments that demonstrate how much more evident Moore’s political message was to his first readers than it is to those modern critics who read the poem without paying due regard to its historical context (“Lalla Rookh” 9, 11). In Moore’s 1806 Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems, Moore called French Jacobinism “the child of Gallia’s school / The foul Philosophy that sins by rule, / With all her train of reasoning, damning arts, / Begot by brilliant minds on worthless hearts, / Like things that quicken after Nilus’ flood, / The venom’d birth of sunshine and of mud” (CPW 2: 288). Elsewhere in the same volume he condemned “The Gallic dross” (CPW 2: 317), “The poisonous drug of French philosophy, / That nauseous slaver of these frantic times, / With which false liberty dilutes her crimes” (CPW 2: 300). Yet despite his hostility to “French philosophy,” Moore never believed that the sins of the revolutionaries excused the sins of the monarchs and aristocrats whom they overthrew; in a diary entry for 8 July 1821, Moore mentioned that a “long series of misrule and profligacy in the upper orders led to [the French Revolution] & made it necessary” and that his friend Lord John Russell’s forthcoming book on the Revolution would “be useful, as reminding those people who now talk of nothing but ‘the horrors of the French Revolution’ that there were horrors antecedent to it and which must, in fairness, be taken into the account” (Journals 2: 466). Yet despite his belief that a revolution had been “necessary” in France, Moore also believed that the revolutionaries’ attempt to impose a system of sweeping, radical egalitarianism in their own nation, as well as to export it abroad, could have led nowhere else but to bloodshed and anarchy. Mokanna does not stand for Liberty, but for “false liberty.”
The depiction of the false prophet recalls the personifications of ravenous and lustful French Jacobinism often depicted in conservative English periodicals, prints, and literary works in the two decades following the Reign of Terror. Mokanna’s monstrosity finds its parallel in such popular antijacobin cartoons as Gillray’s “The Genius of France Triumphant—or—Britannia Petitioning for Peace” (2 February 1795) in which the personification of French Jacobinism is seated arrogantly on a throne marked “LIBERTAS,” a dagger thrust into his belt, his feet resting on the sun and the moon, and his face veiled by a screen of black clouds behind which is glimpsed a shining guillotine. Analogues of Mokanna’s veil also appear in the Anti-Jacobin satires of the 1790s, such as “Ode to Jacobinism”: “Thy sophist veil, dread Goddess, wear, / Falsehood insidiously impart; / Thy philosophic train be there, / To taint the mind, corrupt the heart [...] / Time sanction’d Truths despise, and preach THE RIGHTS OF MAN” (Canning 76-77; lines 41-44, 48). In another poem the horrors of “French Fraternity” are concealed behind the beautiful “vizor” of “Freedom”:
“To the Author,” lines 7-14
Fair was her form, and FREEDOM’S honoured name
Conceal’d the horrors of her secret shame:
She claim’d some kindred with that guardian pow’r
Long worshipp’d here in Britain’s happier hour:
Virtue and peace, she said, were in her train,
The long-lost blessings of Astraea’s reign—
But soon the vizor dropp’d—her haggard face
Betray’d the Fury lurking in the Grace— .
The recurring image of Jacobinism “veiling” its true ugliness may partly originate in a notorious letter written to the French National Assembly by Jean-Marie Roland, Minister of the Interior from March 1792 until his arrest in May 1793. This letter of 3 September 1792 was a justification of the massacres of 2-6 September in which 1,200 prisoners were systematically murdered. Roland called the September massacres “effervescence” and “excess,” and wrote, “Yesterday was a day upon the events of which it is perhaps necessary to leave a veil; I know that the people with their vengeance mingled a sort of justice” (qtd. in Burke, On Empire 452). The above English translation was quoted in a pamphlet published in England in 1794 called The Address of M. Brissot to his Constituents, with a preface by Edmund Burke in which Burke expresses his disgust with Roland: “In the midst of this carnage he thinks of nothing but throwing a veil over it; which was at once to cover the guilty from punishment, and to extinguish all compassion for the sufferers” (On Empire 452). The September Massacres were described in detail in the Morning Chronicle, the London Times, and other newspapers, and became a potent symbol of the “true face” of Jacobinism. Even when the specific image of the veil was not employed, conservative writers often referred to Jacobinism concealing its monstrous nature behind a beautiful or benevolent mask or screen. In 1796 Burke described the Jacobins as “obscene harpies, who deck themselves, in I know not what divine attributes, but who in reality are foul and ravenous birds of prey” (On Empire 480). Coleridge’s 1798 “France: An Ode” describes France’s “front deep-scarred and gory, / Concealed with clust’ring wreaths of glory” (lines 51-52). James Gillray’s 1798 print “A Peep Into the Cave of Jacobinism” portrays Truth knocking a benevolent-looking mask off of the face of a serpentine Jacobin crouching in his cave. An anonymous poem in the Christian Observer in 1803, entitled “Modern Philosophy, and the Godwynian System,” depicts an English knight who confronts a personification of English Jacobinism in order to strip “off the gorgeous covering which conceals / Her bloated form, her shapeless limbs reveal; / The gazing eye, with horror fix’d beholds / A fiend with angel’s face, and dragon folds” (qtd. in Duff 29). Instead of reading every veil in every oriental tale as “an embodiment of the orientalist’s desire for control” (Taylor, par. 15), critics in this case at least ought to recognize that Mokanna’s veil is more accurately associated with the tropes of antijacobin satire and iconography.
If Mokanna represents the veiled horror of Jacobinism, what then of Azim and Zelica, his acolyte-turned-enemy and his Priestess, respectively? In regard to the principal characters of The Veiled Prophet, the reviewer in the North American Review complained that Moore “rarely looks upon a character as an individual, or a consistent whole. He appears to have certain prominent abstract qualities, virtues or vices, in store, which he has determined to attach to the first poetical personage that comes in his way” (“Lalla Rookh” 12). To a certain extent this is a fair observation, but the tendency is also appropriate in this case since Moore is writing what is essentially a political allegory. Lalla Rookh is, after all, subtitled “an Oriental Romance,” a generic distinction that is justified not only by its poems’ marked tendencies toward allegory but also by their adaptation of such tropes of medieval and renaissance romance as the Spenserian “Bower of Bliss,” which makes its appearance in the poem as Mokanna’s harem, in which Azim’s virtue is tested. Allegorically, then, Azim is constantly and explicitly associated with the quality of “Virtue” in the poem, whereas Zelica is constantly associated with “Reason.” When Zelica was first separated from Azim, her reason became marred and distorted and she was driven into the arms of Mokanna’s crusade. While she is under Mokanna’s thrall, she is described as insane, but whenever she thinks of Azim or comes close to him, her reason begins to recover. While criticizing Feramorz’s tale in one of the prose interludes, the eunuch Fadladeen derides Zelica as “a young lady whose reason went and came according as it suited the poet’s convenience to be sensible or otherwise” (CPW 6: 149), but Fadladeen fails to recognize Moore’s point: that Reason disintegrates when it is appropriated as the idol of Jacobinism, and flourishes when it is linked with virtue. Mokanna’s unholy marriage-rape of Zelica, with its corpses and bowl of blood, replicates the action of the French revolutionaries in “‘Tis gone, and for ever” who “baptized in blood” “Freedom’s young hope” at “Death’s reeking altar.” Zelica is the most important component of Mokanna’s cult, and he decorates her and displays her for the inspiration of his followers just as the French revolutionaries displayed beautiful women dressed as the Goddess of Reason in the innumerable festivals and processions that occurred during and after the period of “dechristianization” in France in 1793-94. Mokanna needs Zelica, whom he uses as a cynical combination of inspiring goddess-figure and sexual lure, in order to eroticize his cult of revolution. Zelica is “thou whose smile / Hath inspiration in its rosy beam / Beyond the Enthusiast’s hope or Prophet’s dream, / Light of the Faith! who twin’st religion’s zeal / So close with love’s, men know not what they feel, Nor which to sigh for, in their trance of heart, / The heaven thou preachest or the heaven thou art!” (lines 580-86). Without Zelica’s allure, Mokanna declares, his banner of “Freedom” would be “but half divine” (line 590).
At the end of the poem, Mokanna and the corrupted, deranged Zelica become visually indistinguishable from each other: after Mokanna’s suicide, Zelica puts on Mokanna’s veil and is slain by Azim. Nevertheless, Moore suggests that the ghost of radical Jacobinism will live on in other, future incarnations. By dissolving himself in acid, Mokanna exults that he will leave no physical trace behind and will therefore all the more easily be transformed into an undying, chaos-bringing spirit: “So shall my banner, through long ages, be / The rallying sign of fraud and anarchy;— / Kings yet unborn shall rue MOKANNA’S name, / And, though I die, my spirit, still the same, / Shall walk abroad in all the stormy strife, / And guilt, and blood, that were its bliss in life” (lines 1998-2003). This revolution of eighth-century Persia will be repeated in the future, especially in France in 1789. Moore feared the raising of Mokanna’s banner in the decades following the wars with France as well. Moore was to complain bitterly in future years when men whom he considered dangerous, charismatic demagogues, like Daniel O’Connell, Orator Hunt, and William Cobbett, attempted to raise the potent banner of revolt in order to further their own ambitions. Moore insisted throughout the rest of his life that the political classes and institutions of England were thoroughly corrupt and in dire need of reform, but he also believed that the country was far too close to a 1789-style revolution for public figures to risk “inflaming” the masses with provocative rhetoric. He called England in 1819 “a desolated country & hastening fast to its ruin” (Journals 1: 243), and for years afterward he warned his friends in politics that a devastating revolution was imminent.
Although Azim switches his allegiance from the revolutionary Mokanna to the autocratic Caliph, he is not meant to be an apostate in the manner of Robert Southey. Moore had nothing but contempt for the poet laureate and radical-turned-reactionary, whom he viewed, as did his fellow second-generation Romantics Byron, Shelley, Hazlitt, and Keats, as an opportunist and a hypocrite. Azim joins the Caliph’s armies for the sole purpose of destroying Mokanna, and after he leads an attack that routs the rebels, he spurns the gratitude of the Caliph and coldly turns away from the troops’ accolades: “For [vengeance] he still lives on, careless of all / The wreaths that Glory on his path lets fall; / For this alone exists—like lightning-fire, / To speed one bolt of vengeance and expire!” (lines 1621-24). Azim is not converted to the Caliph’s cause, which his exposure to Greek ideals of liberty has taught him to resist. Azim represents virtue, which is the vital quality that is lacking on either side of the conflict. When Azim first wanders through the harem of Mokanna, he is repulsed by the opulence, “pomp,” and “voluptuousness” of the place:
So on, thro’ scenes past all imagining,
More like the luxuries of that impious King,
Whom Death’s dark Angel with his lightning torch
Struck down and blasted even in Pleasure’s porch,
Than the pure dwelling of a Prophet sent
Armed with Heaven’s sword for man’s enfranchisement—
Young AZIM wandered, looking sternly round,
His simple garb and war-boots’ clanking sound
But ill according with the pomp and grace
And silent lull of that voluptuous place.
There is an echo in these lines of the innumerable satirical attacks (many of them Moore’s) upon another “impious King,” the Prince Regent, and his own sybaritic love of opulence and luxury. Azim reacts incredulously to the sensual pleasures that surround him:
“Is this, then,” thought the youth, “is this the way
“To free man’s spirit from the deadening sway
“Of worldly sloth,—to teach him while he lives,
“To know no bliss but that which virtue gives,
“And when he dies, to leave his lofty name
“A light, a landmark on the cliffs of fame?
“It was not so, Land of the generous thought
“And daring deed, thy god-like sages taught;
“It was not thus, in bowers of wanton ease,
“Thy Freedom nurs’d her sacred energies;
“Oh! not beneath the’ enfeebling, withering glow
“Of such dull luxury did those myrtles grow
“With which she wreath’d her sword, when she would dare
“Immortal deeds [...].”
This conflation of Jacobinism and Regency-style luxury, as well as Azim’s references to Greek liberty, is the key to Azim’s status as the lonely representative of virtue caught within the struggle between corrupt autocracy and corrupt revolution. Azim’s joyless choice to side with the Caliph’s armies against Mokanna does not re-enact the political apostasy of the Lake Poets; rather it is a version of the predicament of the post-Fox Whigs during the wars against France. In the years 1807-1815, the Whigs sporadically carped at and criticized the Liverpool administration’s handling of the war effort, but in general they had little choice but to heed public opinion and support the war. Moore was typical of his close friends among the Whig Opposition in that he was trapped between his loathing of the Regent and the Tories and his loathing of French aggression. Azim’s references to Greece also link him with the Whigs’ advocacy of “Liberty,” bolstered as it often was by the appeal to historical examples like Greece’s “god-like sages” and classical martyrs to freedom like the legendary tyrannicide Harmodius, whose sword was famously wreathed with myrtle (Harmodius is also invoked in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, canto 3, lines 179-80, and Moore’s songs “Oh! blame not the bard”  and “Thou art not dead”  [CPW 4: 264; 5: 60]. Although he has no love for the Caliph, Azim turns away from Mokanna, for the same reason that many liberals had to abandon the hopes they had invested in France: the revolution is compromised by rapacity, self-indulgence, and disdain for traditional forms of virtue, including sexual modesty and firmly-delineated gender roles, which in the case of France were seen to be threatened by Jacobin egalitarianism. Yet the choice is all the more painful because the cause of the monarchs is also infected with different versions of many of the same vices.
In the cases of Mokanna’s “Freedom to the World” and the French cause upon which it is modeled, then, virtue is ultimately forced to oppose the revolution and its perversion of reason. Yet Moore is no enemy to all revolutions. In his biography of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Moore argues that the Irish rebels of 1798, whom he calls “the generous martyrs of [mankind’s] common cause,” had every right to “[raise] the standard of revolt,” and he accuses of hypocrisy those English liberals who approve of national uprisings in any foreign country but Ireland (Life 256). Moore insists,
Of the right of the oppressed to resist, few in these days, would venture to express a doubt,—the monstrous doctrine of passive obedience having long since fallen into disrepute [...]. In the natural course of affairs, indeed, the whole question of resistance, as well as recourse to foreign succour, lies within a very simple compass. Where the great bulk of the people are disposed to change their government for a better, they have not only the right to do so, but, being the majority, have also the power.255, 259
However, because the Irish were inferior in number and power to the English, Moore reasons that the United Irishmen had every right to seek the aid of the French, just as the Americans had, and for the same reason. As it happened, the French disappointed the Irish, and left them to fight the English (and their Irish collaborators) largely on their own.
Moore’s ideas regarding a people’s right of resistance appear briefly but significantly in an episode of Paradise and the Peri, in which a Hindu warrior dies defiantly resisting the conqueror Mahmood in the name of “Liberty.” Moore appends a note to this passage that foreshadows the ideal of just rebellion that will be portrayed in the succeeding tale, The Fire-Worshippers. Noting that “objections may be made” to the applicability of the concept of “Liberty” to the places and times he is describing, Moore observes,
Though I cannot, of course, mean to employ [the word “Liberty”] in that enlarged and noble sense which is so well understood at the present day, and, I grieve to say, so little acted upon, yet it is no disparagement to the word to apply it to that national independence, that freedom from the interference and dictation of foreigners, without which, indeed, no liberty of any kind can exist; and for which both Hindoos and Persians fought against their Mussulman invaders with, in many cases, a bravery that deserved much better success.CPW 6: 163
A story of this kind of revolution of “national independence”—the kind epitomized for Moore by the Irish Rebellion of 1798—is told, as many of Moore’s contemporaries could see quite plainly, in The Fire-Worshippers.
2. The Fire-Worshippers and the Irish Rebellion
Mohammed Sharafuddin notes that in The Veiled Prophet Moore focuses his attention on Mokanna in order to undertake “a multi-level exploration of the nature and origin of his tyranny,” arguing that in this tale Moore attempted to put the “emphasis [...] on the tyrant,” whereas “in ‘The Fire-Worshippers’ the emphasis is on the tyrannized” (169). In The Veiled Prophet, the tyrant is internationalist Jacobinism, whose aim is not to restore a lost freedom to one particular oppressed people, but to bring “Freedom to the World.” It is a universalizing crusade based upon an abstract ideal of liberty and substituting a new apocalyptic cult for traditional religious forms. It seeks to impose one rule, one philosophy, on all the peoples of the earth, for their own good. Conversely, The Fire-Worshippers is the story of a popular uprising in a country that has been colonized and whose religion has been outlawed. The rebels wish to free themselves and to eject their colonizers, and have no interest in a wider war of aggression or in revolutionary proselytizing. Their resistance arises from within instead of being imported from without, is based upon an intuitive understanding of justice rather than an abstract philosophy or grand utopian ideal, and is an austere, self-sacrificing movement, lacking any elements of the personality-cult, propaganda, or worldly enticements (like the French-style culte de la patrie, involving special ritualized slogans, banners, and ceremonies) with which Mokanna manipulates his followers. It is based upon religious devotion and a sense of threatened cultural identity rather than upon a belief-system that becomes its own substitute for religion, as in the case of French Jacobinism or Mokanna’s cult.
At least since 1813 it had been Moore’s intention to “shadow out [...] the national cause of Ireland” in one of his tales (Letters 1: 433). Decades after the publication of Lalla Rookh Moore recalled that before beginning The Fire-Worshippers he had abandoned several stories half-finished and had become frustrated with his task:
Had this series of disheartening experiments been carried on much further, I must have thrown aside the work in despair. But, at last, fortunately, as it proved, the thought occurred to me of founding a story on the fierce struggle so long maintained between the Ghebers, or ancient Fire-worshippers of Persia, and their haughty Moslem masters. From that moment, a new and deep interest in my whole task took possession of me. The cause of tolerance was again my inspiring theme; and the spirit that had spoken in the melodies of Ireland soon found itself at home in the East.CPW 6: xvi
Moore called this spirit “that most home-felt of all my inspirations, which has lent to the story of The Fire-worshippers its main attraction and interest” (CPW 6: xv). As has been mentioned, the word “Iran” suggested “Erin” to his readers (Moore also refers to the Persian Gulf as “the Green Sea”), and Moore makes it clear in a footnote that the defeated, colonized, but defiant Persian Ghebers, whose ancient religion has been outlawed by their Arab conquerors, represent the Catholic Irish. The footnote, occurring at the beginning of the poem, alerts his reader to the allegory that is to follow, while slyly baiting his conservative critics: “Voltaire tells us that in his Tragedy, ‘Les Guebres,’ he was generally supposed to have alluded to the Jansenists. I should not be surprised if this story of the Fire-worshippers were found capable of a similar doubleness of application” (CPW 6: 201). Moore satirizes the often hysterical reactions of Tory organs such as John Bull to his Irish writings by describing Fadladeen’s “almost speechless horror” at Feramorz’s “profane and seditious story” (CPW 6: 201, 282). Feramorz’s evident “sympathy with Fire-worshippers!” (201) leads Fadladeen to resolve to alert the government in hopes that the poet will be whipped or imprisoned.
The Fire-Worshippers is the story of Irish resistance to England that Moore wanted to write, but it needed to be allegorized so that Moore could avoid the very real possibilities of severe censure or punishment. On 4 March 1817, less then three months before the publication of Lalla Rookh, the government had suspended Habeas Corpus, and on 27 March 1817, the Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth issued his notorious “circular letter” urging magistrates to prosecute the authors and publishers of “seditious and blasphemous” literature. The radical publisher William Hone was arrested and endured three separate trials in 1817. Laon and Cythna, Shelley’s own Eastern tale “illustrative of such a revolution as might be supposed to take place in an European nation,” was composed in the months immediately following the publication of Lalla Rookh, and Thomas Love Peacock recalled that Shelley was forced to revise the work because he had given his own sentiments too free a rein “in those days of persecution of the press” (qtd. in Shelley 44).
Moore was careful about his political writings throughout his career, often protecting himself with pseudonyms, anonymous publication, or allegorical treatment of sensitive subjects, and in the perilous and repressive climate of 1817, caution was certainly called for. The American Lady’s and Gentleman’s Weekly Museum recognized this fact in observing that in The Fire-Worshippers Moore “has given, as far as he dare, an outline of the persecutions of Ireland.” (“Byron and Moore” 79-80). Byron Porter Smith correctly describes Moore’s characters as “patriotic Irishmen in disguise” (196), but when Moore dressed his Irish revolutionaries in veils and turbans it was not primarily for the purposes of fancy-dress entertainment; it was a deadly serious matter, and the threat of prosecution made “the East” a terrain potentially much more perilous for Moore than for such writers as Byron (who drew no parallels with Ireland, except in his dedication of The Corsair, which was roundly attacked by conservatives) or Southey (whose tales tended to reinforce negative stereotypes of the East).
Howard Mumford Jones and Norman Vance see The Fire-Worshippers not as a version of 1798, but as a retelling of Emmet’s abortive 1803 uprising. Jones declares, “Hafed is a Persian Robert Emmet, Hinda the unfortunate Sarah Curran [Emmet’s lover], and the traitor a composite portrait of government spies” (181). Informers and spies were the bane of Irish rebels throughout the revolutionary years; the spy who betrayed Emmet was said to have been paid 1000 pounds, and an informer named Thomas Reynolds brought about the dramatic arrest of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his fellow conspirators in 1798, thereby decapitating the planned revolt before it started. Vance’s and Jones’s attempts to assign a particular real-world identity to Hafed are probably as wrong-headed as reading Mokanna as a particular historical figure. It is true that Emmet cast a long shadow over Moore’s life as a man and a poet, becoming a central figure not only in The Fire-Worshippers but also in the Irish Melodies and in his biography of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Yet Hafed is the ideal revolutionary, and as such is probably a composite of men like Emmet, Fitzgerald, Tone, and many others whom Moore admired. Likewise, it makes the most sense to associate the Ghebers’ apocalyptic revolt with the uprising of 1798 and not the farcical one of 1803, but in a larger sense it represents the Irish struggle against the English generally. A practical man and a sometime historian, Moore knew that armed resistance was sometimes justified, and as a skeptic he was always aware that history was deeply partisan, branding victorious rebels as heroes and failed ones as traitors:
The Fire-Worshippers, lines 546-61
Rebellion! foul, dishonouring word,
Whose wrongful blight so oft has stain’d
The holiest cause that tongue or sword
Of mortal ever lost or gain’d.
How many a spirit, born to bless,
Hath sunk beneath that withering name,
Whom but a day’s, an hour’s success
Had wafted to eternal fame!
As exhalations, when they burst
From the warm earth, if chill’d at first,
If check’d in soaring from the plain,
Darken to fogs and sink again;—
But, if they once triumphant spread
Their wings above the mountain-head,
Become enthron’d in upper air,
And turn to sun-bright glories there!
This passage echoes Moore’s comment to Mary Godfrey on success determining “the difference between a madman and a hero,” made only two years before the publication of Lalla Rookh. It also allows Moore to voice his outrage at the many slanders upon and partisan attacks against the memories of such men as Emmet and Fitzgerald.
The Fire-Worshippers begins with a description of the Emir Al Hassan, the bloodthirsty religious bigot who has conquered Iran and outlawed the Ghebers’ religion. Al Hassan sleeps in his tower, “in moonlight luxury”:
Calm, while a nation round him weeps;
While curses load the air he breathes,
And falchions from unnumber’d sheaths
Are starting to avenge the shame
His race hath brought on IRAN’S name.
Hard, heartless Chief, unmov’d alike
Mid eyes that weep, and swords that strike;—
One of that saintly, murderous brood,
To carnage and the Koran given,
Who think through unbelievers’ blood
Lies their directest path to heaven;—
One, who will pause and kneel unshod
In the warm blood his hand hath pour’d,
To mutter o’er some text of God
Engraven on his reeking sword;—
Nay, who can coolly note the line,
The letter of those words divine,
To which his blade, with searching art,
Had sunk into its victim’s heart!
Al Hassan is a “satrap of a bigot Prince”(line 538), a fact that invites the reader to identify him with one of the Prince Regent’s underlings, such as the hated Castlereagh, but, once again, Al Hassan is perhaps more usefully seen as representing many such English oppressors throughout Irish history. Interestingly, Moore turns the tables on Burke, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) lamented the death of French chivalry as evidenced by the execution of Marie Antoinette. Burke famously declared, “I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult” (Reflections 170). In Moore’s lines, the rebel Ghebers-Irish are more chivalrous and honorable than the Muslims-English: “falchions from unnumber’d sheaths / Are starting to avenge the shame / [Al Hassan’s] race hath brought on IRAN’s name” (lines 23-25). The following lines are an implicit condemnation of those Irish Protestants and others who collaborated with the English:
Never was Iran doom’d to bend
Beneath a yoke of deadlier weight.
Her throne had fall’n—her pride was crush’d—
Her sons were willing slaves, nor blush’d,
In their own land,—no more their own,—
To crouch beneath a stranger’s throne.
Her towers, where Mithra once had burn’d,
To Moslem shrines—oh shame!—were turn’d,
Where slaves, converted by the sword,
Their mean, apostate worship pour’d,
And curs’d the faith their sires ador’d.
Like much of The Fire-Worshippers, these lines echo many similar sentiments and expressions from the Irish Melodies.
Hafed’s fierce speeches are filled with images and metaphors from Moore’s patriotic songs: the same chains, proud invaders, avenging swords, ruined temples, and forlorn exiles. Hafed has seen the “fierce invaders pluck the gem / From Iran’s broken diadem, / And bind her ancient faith in chains” (lines 494-96), reducing Iran to “A land of carcasses and slaves, / One dreary waste of chains and graves!” (lines 1497-98). The plucking of the gem recalls one of the most memorable images in one of the most memorable Irish Melodies: “Let Erin remember the days of old” (1808) urges the Irish to cherish the days of their heroic kings, “Ere the emerald gem of the western world, / Was set in the crown of a stranger” (CPW 4: 252). Feramorz, the narrator of the poem, burns with rage when referring to the destruction of the Persians’ temples, the outlawing of “their country’s ancient rites,” and the way the Ghebers are forced to “[crouch] to the conqueror’s creed” (lines 569, 509). The predicament of the Irish Catholics, forced to either practice the religion of their oppressors or secretly practice their own in caves or other hidden places, is depicted time and again in Moore’s work, such as in “The Irish peasant to his mistress” (1810), an allegory about the Protestant and Catholic Churches in Ireland.
When The Fire-Worshippers opens, it is some months after the outbreak of the rebellion, when the Persians fought Al Hassan: “Upon the threshold of that realm / He came in bigot pomp to sway, / And with their corpses block’d his way— / In vain—for every lance they rais’d, / Thousands around the conqueror blaz’d; / For every arm that lin’d the shore, / Myriads of slaves were wafted o’er” (lines 634-41). The description recalls the shiploads of reinforcements sent to Ireland from England to assist the Protestant militias in quelling the Irish Rebellion, and the image of the raised lances suggests the thousands of homemade pikes that were the primary weapons of the Irish rebels. Since then, Hafed and his remaining forces have fled to the mountains and the “conquerors” have spread slanderous tales of Hafed’s evil, bloodthirstiness, and “monstrous birth” (line 587). Hafed is in actuality a man of pure motives, a reluctant and sorrowful hero who, “though fram’d for IRAN’S happiest years, / Was born among her chains and tears” (lines 617-18). In Moore’s Life of Fitzgerald, he would speak of Emmet and the conspirators of 1798 in similar terms, as having had “gifts that would have made them the ornaments and supports of a well-regulated community, [but who were instead] driven to live the lives of conspirators and die the death of traitors by [an unjust] system of government” (152-53).
Hinda, the daughter of the Emir, thoughtlessly and uncritically imbibes her father’s tales of the Ghebers’ evil, and brings “with footstep light / Al Hassan’s falchion for the fight” (line 817), until she meets and falls in love with Hafed himself. Hinda’s isolation in her high, gorgeous tower room, surrounded by little pets and frivolous toys, and her blind acceptance of the Muslim anti-Gheber propaganda make her the perfect representative of those complacent members of the English public whom Moore tried to awaken to the Irish cause through his Melodies and other writings. Hinda’s eyes are opened once she meets Hafed and she realizes that the Ghebers are not monsters, but the defenders of a righteous cause. Remembering afterwards his words, “For my sake weep for all” (line 807), she is won over, not by arguments, but through the development of a sense of emotional sympathy with an oppressed people, through ceasing to see them as the feared “other.” Moore wrote pro-Irish songs that in effect constituted the English pop culture of his day because he understood that the generation of this kind of sympathy could effect changes that polemical tracts or political speeches could never accomplish. The Fire-Worshippers is the argument of the Melodies recast in the form of a narrative poem.
The real radicalism of The Fire-Worshippers lies not only in the fact that the unjust Muslim colonizers are so obviously meant to represent England, but also in that Moore celebrates in so unqualified a manner Hafed’s bloody war against them. Here is a eulogy of violent revolution—and a prediction of its future renewal—arguably more extreme in nature than anything ever written by any of the other, supposedly more radical, Romantics:
‘Tis come—his hour of martyrdom
In Iran’s sacred cause is come;
And, though his life hath pass’d away
Like lightning on a stormy day,
Yet shall his death-hour leave a track
Of glory, permanent and bright,
To which the brave of after-times,
The suffering brave, shall long look back
With proud regret,-—and by its light
Watch through the hours of slavery’s night
For vengeance on the’ oppressor’s crimes.
This rock, his monument aloft,
Shall speak the tale to many an age;
And hither bards and heroes oft
Shall come in secret pilgrimage,
And bring their warrior sons, and tell
The wondering boys where Hafed fell;
And swear them on those lone remains
Of their lost country’s ancient fanes,
Never—while breath of life shall live
Within them—never to forgive
The’ accursed race, whose ruthless chain
Hath left on Iran’s neck a stain
Blood, blood alone can cleanse again!
“Blood, blood alone”: the extreme hostility toward Moore in such conservative publications as John Bull is perfectly understandable when works such as Lalla Rookh are read in their proper context. Moore had trained his audience to expect defiant statements on Ireland from him in nearly all of his works since about 1808, and in 1817 many would readily have read these lines as an attack on the restoration of the European monarchs (“the hours of slavery’s night”) and English triumphalism, and as a prediction of Irish revenge upon England.
The poem ends with a climactic battle in the rebels’ mountain redoubt, where Hafed’s remaining troops have taken refuge. Their last stand in the mountains suggests that of those rebels of 1798 who took refuge in the Wicklow Mountains in County Wexford after their main forces were defeated; perhaps it also suggests the legendary last stand of another group of pikemen on Enniscorthy’s Vinegar Hill. Hafed’s troops are ultimately decimated and he is forced to retreat to a high summit, where he immolates himself on a flaming shrine. Aboard a boat, Hinda sees the flames from afar and leaps into the ocean, drowning herself. The poem ends with a coda addressed by undersea peris (spirits) to the dead girl, promising that her tale will someday make other young people turn away from their frivolities and weep:
And still, when the merry date-season is burning,
And calls to the palm-groves the young and the old,
The happiest there, from their pastime returning
At sunset, will weep when thy story is told.
The young village-maid, when with flowers she dresses
Her dark flowing hair for some festival day,
Will think of thy fate till, neglecting her tresses,
She mournfully turns from the mirror away.
Hafed has turned Hinda away from her narcissistic self-absorption, Feramorz has stirred Lalla Rookh’s sympathy for the Ghebers, and Moore hopes that his tale will make readers weep for Ireland. Moore has been faulted for giving pleasure to the pleasure-loving Regency, but the quiet goal of many of Moore’s poems and songs was to move the gaze of his readers and listeners away from their own reflections and toward a greater awareness of, or at least sympathy with, those who paid the price for England’s victories. The final prophecy of the lasting power of Hinda’s story is really a statement of Moore’s hope that his own art will reach and influence the hearts of the “oppressors” and gradually bring about the kinds of changes in attitudes and policies that will make Hafed’s brand of “patriot vengeance” unnecessary. One of the final stanzas of the poem alludes to the real dangers of speaking too openly about Ireland, which make it necessary for Moore to shroud his story in allegory. Yet the lines also suggest that the inspiring power of such heroes as Emmet will remain even though expressions of patriotism are silenced: “Nor shall Iran, beloved of her Hero! forget thee— / Though tyrants watch over her tears as they start, / Close, close by the side of that Hero she’ll set thee, / Embalm’d in the innermost shrine of her heart” (lines 2207-2210). The Irish are not even able to lament their condition because “tyrants” are ever watchful. As Moore wrote in his Melody “Oh! blame not the bard,” “O’er the ruin [Ireland’s] children in secret must sigh, / For ‘tis treason to love her, and death to defend” (lines 11-12). Yet the heroic myths endure, and Hinda is set close “by the side” of Hafed in the peris’ song, just as Sarah Curran, Emmet’s lover, is associated with him in the romantic myth of Emmet’s capture and execution (Moore wrote of Curran and Emmet in the Melody, “She is far from the land” ).
Moore is of course aware that in writing The Fire-Worshippers he is turning the complex and messy realities of 1798 into a simplified nationalist myth. The Rebellion was planned by well-educated Ulster Protestants inspired by the secular ideals of Revolutionary France, yet after the main conspirators were arrested, the uprising that actually broke out took the form of a sectarian blood-feud, with rural Catholic peasants and priests battling militias of the Protestant Ascendancy. Different areas of the country spawned separate groups of rebels with separate grievances and agendas. As R. F. Foster observes, “How far a ‘national’ spirit inflamed the rebels is very doubtful; land hunger, increased taxes, crisis in the local agrarian economy (notably the grain market) all helped dictate the pattern of the rising [...]. [T]he radical alliance that had attempted to combine so many disparate elements split apart in confusion” (153). Moore understood all this, but his business during the decades after 1798 was not to write “objective” history, but instead to develop a powerful counter-myth of Irish suffering, sacrifice, and bravery with which to oppose the prevailing stereotype of the Irish as a people too drunken, irresponsible, savage, and ignorant for the English to let them govern themselves.
In The Veiled Prophet and The Fire-Worshippers, Moore tries to reclaim the idea of revolution. It is not the “standard of revolt” itself that is everywhere and always evil, but it can be raised by corrupt people, with impure motives. Hafed’s revolution is a virtuous assertion of what Moore called “the right of the oppressed to resist”; in contrast, Mokanna’s revolution is a war of aggression, striking out in all directions and fought by deluded soldiers who have been manipulated by a cult of personality and revenge. Moore wants to rescue 1798 from the ashes of 1789 and vindicate the Irish “traitors,” whom he believes were heroes fighting for a just cause. Such a defence of revolution was rare in 1817, after the Congress of Vienna and the restoration of the monarchies. The anti-Englishness of Moore’s writing became even more biting in his great satire The Fudge Family in Paris, published the year after Lalla Rookh, leading a delighted Hazlitt to celebrate Moore’s defiance of the conservative zeitgeist: “The spirit of poetry in Mr. Moore is not a lying spirit. ‘Set it down, my tables’—we have still, in the year 1818, three years after the date of Mr. Southey’s laureateship, one poet, who is an honest man [...]. Mr. Moore unites in himself two names that were sacred, till they were prostituted by our modern mountebanks, the Poet and the Patriot.” Hazlitt would turn against Moore in time, but his admiration for him in 1818 demonstrates the extent to which Moore was in important ways swimming against, not with, the tide.
One last crucial aspect of Lalla Rookh’s political message must not be overlooked. The prose narrative concerns the marriage of a young princess, who is the daughter of the Emperor Aurungzebe. On May 2, 1816, a year before the publication of Moore’s poem, Princess Charlotte Augusta, the daughter of the Prince Regent, was married to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Charlotte’s pregnancy was announced in early 1817, sparking countrywide celebrations, and the popular princess and prince were much in the minds of Moore’s readers as his poem was being read. The political significance of the framing narrative lies in what we are told about Lalla Rookh’s father and what we learn about the liberal sentiments of Lalla Rookh and Feramorz, who is really Prince Aliris in disguise. When Moore mentions Aurungzebe, he appends a footnote: “This hypocritical Emperor would have made a worthy associate of certain Holy Leagues” (4: 5). Moore follows this with a quoted passage from Alexander Dow’s History of Hindostan (1768) that describes Aurungzebe as wicked, a pious hypocrite, and a builder of magnificent edifices. The footnote is clearly an attack on Moore’s eternal bete noire, the Regent, whom Moore assailed, most scathingly in his Fables for the Holy Alliance (1823), for supporting Czar Alexander I’s “Holy Alliance” of Austria, Russia, and Prussia. Like many other liberals, Moore despised the religious pretensions of the Alliance, which he believed was designed to perpetuate tyranny and to stamp out democratic movements. The main reason for the popularity of Princess Charlotte and her husband (and the enormous grief when she died after giving birth to a stillborn son on 6 November 1817) was that the couple were thought to be more politically liberal than the Regent, who was generally despised by his subjects. The populace (and especially Whigs, long out of power) looked forward to Charlotte’s future reign with great expectations. During the course of Lalla Rookh, we discover that Feramorz-Aliris is a man of particularly liberal ideas—so much so that when he voices his sympathy with “the sufferings of the persecuted Ghebers,” Fadladeen considers his words a threat to “legitimate government” and looks forward to alerting the authorities (6: 322). Feramorz-Aliris is a native of Cashmere, and he explains that “that fair and Holy Valley [...] had in the same manner as [Persia] become the prey of strangers and seen her ancient shrines and noble princes swept away before the march of her intolerant invaders” (CPW 6: 202). When the Princess and Prince are married at the end of Lalla Rookh, it is therefore more than just a happy ending: it is a sign of hope for the future of England and Ireland. Moore is signalling to his audience that he shares their hope that the corrupt political order of the present, embodied in the Prince Regent, will in time be replaced by something better and more compassionate. The marriage of the Princess portends that the evil of 1789 and the horror of 1798 will one day fade into the past, and that new rulers might bring new understanding, better policies, and, perhaps, reform instead of revolution.
Aurangzeb (1618-1707), Mughal Emperor of India from 1658 until his death. I give modern English renderings of Arabic and Persian names in parentheses throughout.
“On one level, Laon and Cythna’s revolt against the Sultan Othman figures Shelley’s reaction against the negativity of Tom Moore’s 1817 account of oriental revolution, ‘The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan’ in Lalla Rookh” (Leask 110).
The name Zelica is an Anglicizing of Zuleika or Zalikha. In Muslim tradition the name is given to Potiphar’s wife, who is unnamed in the Bible.
Al-Mahdi (ruled 775-785 AD), third ‘Abbasid caliph, who persecuted the Manichaeans.
The historical Mokanna was Hashim ibn Hakim (d. 779 AD), who was a cloth processor from Merv in Khorasan before declaring himself a messianic prophet, renaming himself al-Muqanna’ (“the Veiled One”), and leading an uprising against the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Mahdi in 776. He committed suicide while under siege in his fortress.
It is important to note that Moore’s Mokanna is not intended to be a satirical version of Muhammad. Muhammad was conventionally depicted in Islamic art (when depicted at all) as having a veiled face. Yet in Moore’s poem, Mokanna blasphemously declares himself to be latest, final, and supreme of a long line of prophets to have arisen in the world, and explicitly proclaims himself superior to Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses (lines 142-51). Mokanna’s crusade is not Islamic but a perversion of Islam. Mokanna and his followers “hurl’d / Defiance fierce at Islam and the world” (lines 1445-46).
There is evidence that Moore took the oath of the United Irishmen at Trinity College, Dublin, just before the outbreak of the rebellion. See my “Thomas Moore in Ireland and America: The Growth of a Poet’s Mind.”
Coleridge earlier referred to the French as a “light race” in his poem “Fears in Solitude” (1798): “Impious and false, a light yet cruel race / That laugh away all virtue, mingling mirth / With deeds of murder” (lines 137-39).
The letter appears, incorrectly dated, in Dowden’s edition of Moore’s letters, but the correct date is supplied by Pearsall 105-17.
Recently Susan B. Taylor has written that “if we apply the allegory Moore suggests elsewhere to this tale, then the Veiled Prophet and his followers represent the Irish Catholics, and the Moslem Caliph and his army stand for the British” (par. 29). By “elsewhere” Taylor means the footnote at the beginning of The Fire-Worshippers that indicates that that particular poem is an allegory of Irish resistance to English rule. However, Moore’s footnote specifically refers to The Fire-Worshippers and not to any other of the tales in Lalla Rookh. Taylor’s mis-identification of the evil Mokanna with Irish Catholicism leads to a misreading of The Veiled Prophet that is unsupported by evidence and that flies in the face of Moore’s lifelong public defence of the legitimacy of Irish Catholicism. Taylor claims that Moore’s “metaphors fall apart,” but she fails to recognize that different metaphors stand for different things in Moore’s different tales.
“To Lord Viscount Forbes, from the City of Washington,” lines 81-86.
“To the Honorable W. R. Spencer, from Buffalo, Upon Lake Erie,” line 73.
“To Thomas Hume, Esq., M.D., from the City of Washington,” lines 76-78.
The print is in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery: http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/portrait.asp?LinkID=mp04244&rNo=14&role=sit
The print is in the collections of the British Library: http://www.imagesonline.bl.uk/britishlibrary/controller/subjectidsearch?id=8780&&idx=1&startid=3120
For more on the French “Cult of Reason” and the representations of female deities (such as Reason, Victory, and Liberty) associated with it, see Vovelle.
See Roberts 103-171, and Mitchell 81-99.
The first five volumes of John Bull (1820-25) feature at least 39 separate attacks on Moore in the form of articles, parodies, or references to him in other articles.
Vance points out that Moore’s (apparent) identification of Hafed with Emmet was a simplification since Emmet was in fact not a Catholic but a Protestant (as were most of the leaders of the United Irish conspiracy, although the great majority of those Irish who rebelled were Catholics). Vance notes that Moore was taking part in the “increasing tendency to identify Catholic and national causes” in Irish writing (112). Moore himself alludes to this trend in his unfinished Memoirs, where he writes that in the early 1790s, “the cause of the Catholics was becoming every day more national” (Memoirs 1: 18).
For Moore’s discussion of Reynolds’s exposure of the United Irish leaders, see his Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald 159-64.
Later, Moore treads on more dangerous ground when he has Hafed refer to Iran’s “priests, her warriors driven / Before a sensual bigot’s nod, / A wretch who shrines his loves in heaven, / And makes a pander of his God” (lines 720-23)—language that more clearly invokes the widespread image of the Prince Regent as a debauchee.
Another striking image from the Melodies recurs near the end of the poem: before the Ghebers’ final battle, a blood-red cloud hangs over their mountain redoubt, “As ‘twere the flag of destiny / Hung out to mark where death would be!” (lines 1244-45). This recalls the ominous “red cloud which hung over Conor’s dark dwelling” in “Avenging and bright” (1811), a fierce song about the murderous treachery of a king of Ulster.
- Burke, Edmund. On Empire, Liberty, and Reform: Speeches and Letters, Edmund Burke. Ed. David Bromwich. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.
- ———. Reflections on the Revolution in France. New York: Penguin, 1986.
- Butler, Marilyn. “Orientalism.” The Penguin History of Literature: The Romantic Period. Ed. David B. Pirie. London: Penguin, 1994. 395-447.
- “Byron and Moore.” Lady’s and Gentleman’s Weekly Museum and Philadelphia Reporter 3 (1818): 79-80.
- Canning, George. “Ode to Jacobinism.” Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. Ed. L. Rice Oxley. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1924. 76-77.
- Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Friend. London: Bell and Daldy, 1866.
- Duff, David. Romance and Revolution: Shelley and the Politics of a Genre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
- Fischer, Hermann. Romantic Verse Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
- Foster, R. F. “Ascendancy and Union.” The Oxford History of Ireland. Ed. R.F. Foster. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992. 134-173.
- Hazlitt, William. Review of The Fudge Family in Paris, by Thomas Moore. Yellow Dwarf 1 (25 Apr. 1818): 132-35.
- Jones, Howard Mumford. The Harp that Once—: A Chronicle of the Life of Thomas Moore. New York: Henry Holt, 1937.
- “Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance.” Rev. of Lalla Rookh, by Thomas Moore. North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal 6.16 (November 1817): 1-25.
- Leask, Nigel. British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
- Mitchell, Austin. The Whigs in Opposition 1815-1830. Oxford: Clarendon, 1967.
- Moore, Thomas. The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Moore. 10 vols. London: Longmans, 1840-41.
- ———. The Journals of Thomas Moore. Ed. Wilfred S. Dowden. 6 vols. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1983-91.
- ———. The Letters of Thomas Moore. Ed. Wilfred S. Dowden. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1964.
- ———. The Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald. London: Longmans, 1831.
- ———. Memoirs, Journals, and Correspondence of Thomas Moore. Ed. Lord John Russell. 8 vols. London: Longmans, 1853-56.
- Oxley, L. Rice, ed. Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1924.
- Pearsall, Robert Brainard. “Chronological Annotations to 250 Letters of Thomas Moore.” PBSA 63 (1969): 105-17.
- Roberts, Michael. The Whig Party 1807-1812. London: Frank Cass, 1965.
- Sharafuddin, Mohammed. Islam and Romantic Orientalism: Literary Encounters with the Orient. New York: I. B. Tauris, 1994.
- Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ed. George Edward Woodberry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1901.
- Smith, Byron Porter. Islam in English Literature. New York: Caravan, 1977.
- Romantic Circles Praxis Series: The Containment and Re-Deployment of English India. Ed. Daniel O’Quinn. November 2000. http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/containment/taylor/taylor.html.
- Vail, Jeffery. “Thomas Moore in Ireland and America: The Growth of a Poet’s Mind.” Romanticism 10.1 (2004): 41-62.
- Vance, Norman. Irish Literature: A Social History. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
- Vovelle, Michel. “The Adventures of Reason; or, From Reason to the Supreme Being.” Rewriting the French Revolution: The Andrew Browning Lectures 1989. Ed. Colin Lucas. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991. 132-150.