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13 September, 2011

THE INTERESTING STORY OF THOMAS MOORE AND HIS LAST ROSE OF SUMMER MELODY


Two-hundred-year-old books from my grandmother's collection.
When I wasn't preparing meals last week, taking care of household chores, catering to the increasing needs of Rosanne, catching up on outside yard work, purchasing a new car in Owen Sound, making a dozen-and-one trips to grocery and drug stores, taking Lucy out for walks, writing a few posts on Wrights Lane, adding my two cents to Dresden Virtual History Group discussions and daily late morning siestas that have become an essential to surviving the balance of the day (I would "get a life" if I wasn't so occupied with the current one), I managed to do some pretty extensive and long over-due research.

The research involved a tiny 180-year-old, palm-sized book from a collection originally belonging to my grandmother, Louise Wright (1862-1932).  The collection consists primarily of spiritual publications of Anglican (Church of England) persuasion printed in Ireland in the early 1800s, but "Irish Melodies and Other Poems" by Thomas Moore, ESQ. in particular has haunted me over the years, to the point where I finally decided to learn as much as possible about the author.

I was first surprised to learn that the year 2008 marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Moore's collection of songs -- 124 poems set to traditional Irish tunes published in 10 volumes between 1808 and 1834.  Moore is today considered Ireland's "National Bard" and is to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland.  How the work of a staunch Irish Catholic found its way into a collection of antique Church of England books is beyond me, but all the more interesting and intriguing.

Thomas Moore (28 May 1779 – 25 February 1852) was a poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer, now best remembered for the lyrics of The Minstrel Boy and The Last Rose of Summer (more about that later).
Introduction pages from Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies.

 

 

 

From a relatively early age Moore showed an interest in music and other performing arts. He sometimes appeared in plays with his friends, such as The Poor Soldier by John O'Keeffe, and at one stage had ambitions to become an actor.  Moore attended several Dublin schools including Samuel Whyte's English Grammar School on Grafton Street where he learned the English accent with which he spoke for the rest of his life. From 1795 he was educated at Trinity College, which had recently allowed entry to Catholic students, in an effort to fulfil his mother's dream of his becoming a lawyer. 

 

It was as a poet, translator, balladeer and singer that he found fame, however. His work soon became immensely popular and included The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls, Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms, The Meeting of the Waters and many others. His ballads were published as Moore's Irish Melodies (commonly called Moore's Melodies) in 1846 and 1852. While Thomas Moore was completing his many works he met a girl with the name of Lena Angese who encouraged him with his works. She also helped him with his future compositions and they became very close. Although she was said to have fallen in love with him she suddenly appeared missing and was later found dead.

In 1803 he was appointed registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda. He spent about three months on the island, but he found his work very light and uninspiring. There were several other prize courts nearby and very few captured ships were brought to Bermuda leaving him little to do. Although he drew inspiration from the scenery of Bermuda he found its society limited and soon departed for Norfolk. Because of his brief stay there he has sometimes been treated as an unofficial poet laureate of Bermuda.

From Norfolk he travelled across the United States and Canada in a Grand Tour. During this visit Moore developed a deeply critical view of the United States. He particularly disliked the governing Democratic-Republican Party and the President Thomas Jefferson. While in Washington he stayed with the British Ambassador there and met Jefferson briefly. He then travelled through various American towns and cities, enjoying his time most in Philadelphia where he already had an established reputation. He then travelled northwards to British-controlled Canada, stopping at the Niagara Falls. He sailed back to Britain from Nova Scotia aboard a Royal Navy ship arriving home in November 1804.
Thomas Moore
from a painting

 

It was after this trip that he published his book, Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems, which featured a paean to the historic Cohoes Falls called Lines Written at the Cohos [sic], or Falls of the Mohawk River, among other famous verses. A repeated theme in his writing on the United States were his observations of the institution of slavery. Moore's mocking criticisms of the United States provoked outrage in America and led to a number of rebuttals.  In Britain, a critical review of the work led to the overly sensitive and firey Moore challenging Francis Jeffrey, an editor, to a duel. They met at Chalk Farm but the duel was interrupted by the arrival of the authorities and they were arrested. Reports that Moore's opponent had been given an empty pistol, continued to dog Moore and led to persistent mockery of him.


Lord Byron derisively referred to Moore's "leadless pistol" and wrote "on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated".  Moore was angered by this and sent a letter to Byron that hinted that unless the remarks were clarified Moore was prepared to fight Byron. However, Byron had left Britain to travel abroad and the letter did not reach him. When the two men eventually met each other the dispute was settled and they soon became very close friends.

Moore married an actress, Elizabeth "Bessy" Dyke, in 1811. She was the daughter of an East India Company official, but was raised with her three sisters by her mother. Moore did not initially tell his parents of his marriage, possibly because his wife was an English Protestant, but more probably because his marriage to a woman without a dowry would not help his financial prospects. Moore had expensive tastes, and, despite the large sums he was earning from his writing, he soon found himself in debt.  He and Bessy stayed together, however, and raised five children, all of whom predeceased their father.


Around the time of the Reform Act he was invited to stand for parliament, and considered it, but nothing came of it.  In 1829 he was painted by Thomas Lawrence, one of the last works completed by the artist before his death (see painting above).  In 1830 he sang in front of the future Queen Victoria in a duet with her mother, and later composed a song Sovereign Woman in her honour.
Moore was for many years a strong advocate for Catholic Emancipation which he regarded as the source of all problems in Ireland and the sole reason behind the 1798 Rebellion - a point he made in his 1831 biography Life and Death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald.


The victim of a stroke some time earlier, Moore died in the care of his loyal wife on the 26th of February, 1852.


In the early years of his career, Moore's work was largely generic and had he died at this point he would likely not have been considered an Irish poet.  From 1806-1807 Moore dramatically changed his style of writing and focus. Following a request by a publisher he wrote lyrics to his series of Irish tunes, in collaboration with John Stevenson.  He became best known for these enormously popular "Irish Melodies" including songs such as The Minstrel Boy, The Last Rose of Summer and Oft in the Stilly Night.



The Last Rose of Summer is of particular significance to me because it was an expression often used by my mother and consequently by me to this day, i.e. "I absolutely feel like the last rose of summer" or "He/she looks like the last rose of summer".  Little did I know up to a few days ago that the expression we have used all these years actually originated with Thomas Moore. 


"The Last Rose Of Summer": The lyrics

'Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone
All her lovely companions are faded and gone
No flower of her kindred, no rosebud is nigh
To reflect back her blushes and give sigh for sigh


I'll not leave thee, thou lone one, to pine on the stem
Since the lovely are sleeping, go sleep thou with them
Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves o'er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden lie scentless and dead


So soon may I follow when friendships decay
And from love's shining circle the gems drop away
When true hearts lie withered and fond ones are flown
Oh who would inhabit this bleak world alone?
This bleak world alone


I have created a link (below) to a wonderful piano rendition of "The Last Rose of Summer".  It is a fitting conclusion to this post and helps one feel a little closer to a most unusual man with an undeniable gift of music.  It cost me some sleep, but I am glad I did the research.     

"The Last Rose of Summer"
http://youtu.be/Vr9uYgwvNpE

NOTE:  Other books in my inherited collection include A Church of England Prayer Book, Daily Steps Towards Heaven, Solomon's Temple Spiritualized by John Bunyan, The History of Joseph and The Lord's Supper by Rt. Rev. Thomas Wilson.  Don't worry, I do not intend to write about them on Wrights Lane!

1 comment:

Donald J Van Epps said...

The last rose of summer One of the most beautiful songs EVER written.