1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edward Moore

Richard Alfred Davenport, in Chiswick British Poets (1822) 56:107-14.



The grandfather of EDWARD MOORE was the Reverend John Moore, an ejected nonconformist minister, of the county of Devon, who died in 1717, leaving two sons, both of whom were in the dissenting ministry. Thomas, one of those sons, removed to Abingdon, in Berkshire; at which place Edward, the poet, was born, on the twenty-second of March, 1711-12. Edward lost his father in 1721, and was for some time brought up by his uncle. He was next placed at the school of East Orchard, in Dorsetshire. To what extent he pushed his studies we have no certain evidence; but it is conjectured, and with probability, that, if he made any acquisition of classical knowledge, the portion which be acquired was but small. There is in his writings nothing which indicates a familiar acquaintance with the classics, in their original languages; and it is on record, that, having projected a magazine, he told the Wartons, in confidence, "that he wanted a dull plodding fellow of one of the universities, who understood Latin and Greek." A speech which implies his own deficiency in those tongues, and betrays somewhat of the pettishniess of a man who undervalues that which he has not been fortunate enough to obtain. It may, therefore, be supposed that his education did not extend beyond what was necessary to fit him for the pursuit of trade.

To trade, the early part of the life of Moore was undoubtedly devoted. He followed, for some years, the business of a linen-draper, both in London and in Ireland. That he did not succeed is certain, though we are left in the dark as to whether his want of success was occasioned by unavoidable misfortunes, or by his mind having been seduced from the dry details of business by the fascinations of the Muse. It would seem, from the Preface to his Fables, the first edition of which was published in 1744, that he was not then necessitous, or negligent of his private concerns. He declares, that he has written only at moments of leisure, that his hopes of profit or applause are not immoderate, and that neither necessity nor request of friends has induced him to print. Yet, at a later period, he affirmed that his "marriage with the Muses, like most other marriages into that noble family, was more from necessity than inclination." These apparently conflicting statements are, however, not irreconcilable. It is probable that, when his trade began to fail him, the credit which he had gained by his verse might encourage him to turn his views towards literary exertion, as being capable of affording him a permanent resource.

The Fables were well received, and they introduced him to the converse and friendship of several of his learned and rich contemporaries. He could no longer say, as he had said in his preface, that his intimates were few, and that he was not solicitous to increase them. His merit as a companion appears also to have contributed to swell the number of his friends; for he is described as having been a man of unimpeachable character, pleasing manners, and humble demeanour. There is, however, no reason to believe that his humility was at all akin to meanness of spirit. Mr. Pelham, the brother of the Duke of Newcastle, was one of his early patrons. The kindness and esteem of Lord Lyttelton, Moore conciliated by his witty and spirited poem of the Trial of Selim; to the complimentary elegance of which it was impossible that his lordship should be insensible.

But, whatever might be his expectations from the great, it was to the theatre that, on his becoming a regular author, he first looked for the means of subsistence. In five years he produced three dramas; two of them comic, the third tragic. The Foundling, a comedy, appeared in 1748. It did not meet with a very flattering reception, and the critics imagined that they traced in it too close a resemblance to The Conscious Lovers. It is, nevertheless, the work of a man of talent. His Gil Blas was represented in 1751, and was still more unfortunate. Johnson, who wrote a criticism upon it, in the Gentleman's Magazine, attributes, and I think with justice, the downfall of the piece to a gross error which the author committed in the delineation of his principal character. "Perhaps (says he) the ill success of this comedy is chiefly the effect of the author's having so widely mistaken the character of Gil Bias, whom he has degraded from a man of sense, discernment, true humour, and great knowledge of mankind, who never discovered his vanity but in circumstances in which every man would have been vain, to an impertinent, silly, conceited coxcomb, a mere lying valet, with all the affectation of a fop, and all the insolence of a coward."

For these disappointments Moore was consoled by the complete success of his tragedy of The Gamester, which was brought out on the seventh of February, 1753, and which still retains, and is likely long to retain, possession of the public favour. In this drama he followed the example of Lillo, in a bold and hazardous innovation upon the custom of the stage, by writing the dialogue in prose. For tragedies of the class to which The Gamester belongs, this departure from established usage ought to be allowed; unless, indeed, the writer have the power of clothing his thoughts in that graceful and appropriate kind of blank verse, which constitutes one of the charms of our elder dramatists. The stately and almost epic blank verse, which many moderns have employed, is, perhaps, never suitable to tragedy, and is peculiarly unsuitable to that species of tragedy which depicts the calamities and sorrows of domestic life. It in some measure disturbs and weakens the feelings, by giving to the scene an air of the mock heroic.

Successful as this piece was, it having for eleven nights been performed to crowded houses, it was, nevertheless, suddenly withdrawn. To account for this circumstance, various conjectures have been offered. We are told by Mr. Chalmers, that, in a letter to Dr. Warton, Moore declared, that Garrick suffered so much from the fatigue of acting the principal character, as to require some repose; but, as Mr. Chalmers justly remarks, "this will not account for the total neglect, for some years afterwards, of a play not only popular, but so obviously calculated to give the alarm to reclaimable gamblers, and perhaps bring the whole gang into discredit." The rumour of the day was, that the suppression of the piece was brought about by the active interference of the leading members of the gaming clubs. If this were really the fact, Garrick cannot be acquitted of weakness, in having thus yielded to men, who, whatever may have been their rank, deserved to be despised for their follies, or punished for their vices.

In the composition of this tragedy, Moore, as he himself acknowledges, received some assistance from Garrick. To the pen of his friend he ascribes "many popular passages;" a degree of assistance which is frequently rendered to each other by literary characters who are in habits of intimacy, and which has never been supposed to detract from the merit of the person who receives it. Davies, however, endeavours to assign to Garrick a larger share of this drama, and thinks that the scene between Lawson and Stukeley, in the fourth act, was almost entirely his. He thinks so, because, during the time of action, Garrick expressed uncommon pleasure at the applause which was bestowed on it — a criterion of authorship so susceptible of being pushed to a ludicrous extent, that the mention of it can scarcely fail to call forth a smile.

The profits of this play were considerable, as it appears that Moore expected to clear about four hundred pounds for his nights, to which must be added the sum arising from the sale of the copyright. Allowing for the change in the value of money, the whole of his gains, perhaps, fell little short of being equivalent to a thousand pounds of the present period.

Whatever were the pecuniary advantages which accrued to him from The Gamester, they were, doubtless, not more than were required to keep up his appearance in society; for Moore was now a husband and a father. His marriage took place in the year 1750, and the object of his choice was a Miss Hamilton, the daughter of Mr. Charles Hamilton, the table-decker to the princesses. She was herself gifted with poetical talent, a proof of which still exists in the stanzas which she wrote in his praise; and she appears to have loved him with the tenderest affection. It was, however, her lot to survive him nearly half a century. In 1758, she obtained an office in the queen's apartments, which she held till her decease, in 1804. Their son died in the navy, in 1773.

With the prospect of a family before him, it was natural that Moore should be anxious to obtain some more certain resource than was to be found in literary toil. His friends were men of rank and political influence, and be looked up to them for the accomplishment of his wishes. How far they had encouraged him to hope that, in the distribution of places, he should not be forgotten, cannot now be ascertained. That his hopes were not realized, is an incontrovertible fact. In his life of Lyttelton, Dr. Johnson has obliquely cast blame upon his lordship, for having excited expectations which were never gratified: and it is known that Moore himself was so much displeased with that nobleman, for having, as be deemed it, overlooked him, and given a small place to Archibald Bower, that a coldness ensued between him and his patron, which was at length removed by the friendly mediation of Horace Walpole. The peer, it is probable, had nothing of more worth to bestow, and thought this boon too trifling for the poet's acceptance; but the anger of Moore at least proves, that, as be was willing to be grateful for small favours, he did not cause his own disappointment by the loftiness of his pretensions.

But though Lyttelton was unable, by pension or office, to provide permanently for Moore, he exerted his literary influence for him with strenuous and beneficial effect. Revived by the genius of Johnson, the partiality for periodical essays was now daily gaining ground; but the task of writing essays had, as yet, been chiefly executed by learned men, of studious and recluse habits. A grave and didactic tone, therefore, generally predominated in such productions. It appeared to Lyttelton, that there was room for a series of papers of a lighter kind, from the pens of men who possessed wit and talent, but who, at the same time, were men of cultivated taste and elegant manners, acquainted with the foibles and follies of polished society. This project he matured in conjunction with Dodsley; a man who deserves the rare praise of having been a liberal minded bookseller, a circumstance which it would be difficult to credit, did we not know that he was endowed with genius and sterling sense. The result of their scheme was the publication of The World, to which Moore was appointed editor. This was no barren occupation for the poet, who was to receive three guineas for each paper, whether furnished by himself, or by volunteer contributors. The volunteers were numerous; Lyttelton having procured the assistance of the Earls of Chesterfield, Corke, and Bath; and of Richard Owen Cambridge, Walpole, Jenyns, and other persons of rank and abilities. Sixty-one papers were written by Moore, and they place him, as an essayist, in an advantageous light.

While he was engaged in this work, and perhaps at an earlier period, Moore wrote songs and light pieces for the public gardens. This employment could scarcely have been productive of much emolument. What other literary labours he performed is not known. A few weeks before his death he projected the magazine which has already been mentioned; for the use of which he professed to stand in need of a dull plodding scholar.

In 1756, Moore collected his poems and dramas, and published them, by subscription, in a quarto volume. He dedicated them to the Duke of Newcastle, the brother of his deceased patron, Mr. Pelham. The list of the subscribers was copious in numbers, and respectable for the portion which it included of men of rank and talent. It would have been still more so, had it contained the names of his Irish friends, which could not be forwarded early enough to obtain a place. In the preface he mentions his book with a degree of modesty which excites a prepossession in his favour. "Such as the work now is (says he), I submit it to the public: defects in it there are many, which I have wanted both time and abilities to amend as I could wish. Its merit (if it has any, and I may be allowed to name it), is its being natural and unaffected, and tending to promote virtue and good humour. Those parts of it that have been published singly had the good fortune to please; those that are now added will, I hope, be no discredit to them."

Moore was superintending a second edition of The World, collected into volumes, and the last paper was in the press, when Death put an end to his exertions. Baying been improperly treated for a fever, an inflammation on his lungs was the consequence, and he expired on the twenty-eighth of February, 1757, at his house at Lambeth.

As a poet, Moore never surprises or enraptures the reader. He is content to please, by dressing sprightly or ludicrous ideas in fluent verse. Occasionally, as in The Lover and the Friend, and the song beginning with "Hark, hark, 'tis a voice from the tomb," he displays pathos and tenderness. His Fables are the most popular of his poems; and, for their ease and spirit, they deserve to be popular; though it must be owned that the moral is not always obvious, nor are the subjects always happily chosen. In complimentary verses, he excels many writers of higher powers. He never spoils the picture by coarse and glaring strokes, but lays on his touches with admirable delicacy and skill. The Trial of Selim is an animated and elegant specimen of panegyrical poetry; and his Trial of Slim Sal, though it has the fault of being a copy, I confess that I should be sorry to lose. His songs are smooth and airy, with quite as much meaning as is supposed to be necessary in a song. The remainder of his poems do not call for any particular mention.