Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

by [?]

It would be interesting, though perhaps a little impertinent, to put to any given number of well-informed persons under the age of forty or fifty the sudden query, who was Thomas Brown the Younger? And it is very possible that a majority of them would answer that he had something to do with Rugby. It is certain that with respect to that part of his work in which he was pleased so to call himself, Moore is but little known. The considerable mass of his hack-work has gone whither all hack-work goes, fortunately enough for those of us who have to do it. The vast monument erected to him by his pupil, friend, and literary executor, Lord Russell, or rather Lord John Russell, is a monument of such a Cyclopean order of architecture, both in respect of bulk and in respect of style, that most honest biographers and critics acknowledge themselves to have explored its recesses but cursorily. Less of him, even as a poet proper, is now read than of any of the brilliant group of poets of which he was one, with the possible exceptions of Crabbe and Rogers; while, more unfortunate than Crabbe, he has had no Mr. Courthope to come to his rescue. But he has recently had what is an unusual thing for an English poet, a French biographer.[1] I shall not have very much to say of the details of M. Vallat’s very creditable and useful monograph. It would be possible, if I were merely reviewing it, to pick out some of the curious errors of hasty deduction which are rarely wanting in a book of its nationality. If (and no shame to him) Moore’s father sold cheese and whisky, le whisky d’Irlande was no doubt his staple commodity in the one branch, but scarcely le fromage de Stilton in the other. An English lawyer’s studies are not even now, except at the universities and for purposes of perfunctory examination, very much in “Justinian,” and in Moore’s time they were still less so. And if Bromham Church is near Sloperton, then it will follow as the night the day that it is not dans le Bedfordshire. But these things matter very little. They are found, in their different kinds, in all books; and if we English bookmakers (at least some of us) are not likely to make a Bordeaux wine merchant sell Burgundy as his chief commodity, or say that a village near Amiens is dans le Bearn, we no doubt do other things quite as bad. On the whole, M. Vallat’s sketch, though of moderate length, is quite the soberest and most trustworthy sketch of Moore’s life and of his books, as books merely, that I know. In matters of pure criticism M. Vallat is less blameless. He quotes authorities with that apparent indifference to, or even ignorance of, their relative value which is so yawning a pit for the feet of the foreigner in all cases; and perhaps a wider knowledge of English poetry in general would have been a better preparation for the study of Moore’s in particular. “Never,” says M. Renan very wisely, “never does a foreigner satisfy the nation whose history he writes”; and this is as true of literary history as of history proper. But M. Vallat satisfies us in a very considerable degree; and even putting aside the question whether he is satisfactory altogether, he has given us quite sufficient text in the mere fact that he has bestowed upon Moore an amount of attention and competence which no compatriot of the author of “Lalla Rookh” has cared to bestow for many years.

I shall also here take the liberty of neglecting a very great–as far as bulk goes, by far the greatest–part of Moore’s own performance. He has inserted so many interesting autobiographical particulars in the prefaces to his complete works, that visits to the great mausoleum of the Russell memoirs are rarely necessary, and still more rarely profitable. His work for the booksellers was done at a time when the best class of such work was much better done than the best class of it is now; but it was after all work for the booksellers. His History of Ireland, his Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, etc., may be pretty exactly gauged by saying that they are a good deal better than Scott’s work of a merely similar kind (in which it is hardly necessary to say that I do not include the Tales of a Grandfather or the introductions to the Dryden, the Swift, and the Ballantyne novels), not nearly so good as Southey’s, and not quite so good as Campbell’s. The Life of Byron holds a different place. With the poems, or some of them, it forms the only part of Moore’s literary work which is still read; and though it is read much more for its substance than for its execution, it is still a masterly performance of a very difficult task. The circumstances which brought it about are well known, and no discussion of them would be possible without plunging into the Byron controversy generally, which the present writer most distinctly declines to do. But these circumstances, with other things among which Moore’s own comparative faculty for the business may be not unjustly mentioned, prevent it from taking rank at all approaching that of Boswell’s or Lockhart’s inimitable biographies. The chief thing to note in it as regards Moore himself, is the help it gives in a matter to which we shall have to refer again, his attitude towards those whom his time still called “the great.”