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Thomas Moore 1779-1853

Thomas Moore

Born in Dublin, Tom Moore was the son of a Catholic grocer. He was educated at Trinity College and the Middle Temple where he obtained a considerable reputation for wit and literature. His first poetry was composed in 1793 and he was subsequently to find a patron in the Prince of Wales, to whom he was personally introduced in 1800, probably through the influence of Lord Moira.

The secret of his social success came through his remarkable musical gifts which opened the mansions of the English aristocracy to him. Partly to meet the debts of his high living, he published anonomously in 1801, The Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little.

In 1803 he was appointed registrar of the Admiralty Prize Court at Bermuda, but he soon became bored and returned to England by way of America and Canada.

In 1806 he published Epistles, Odes and Other Poems and then began work on his 'Irish Melodies' (1808-1834) writing words to traditional tunes of 18th century origin. These enjoyed enormous success, as did Lalla Rookh (1817) an oriental romance for which Longman's paid 3 000 guineas before it was started. This was the summit of his fame and fortune.

In 1811 Moore married Bessie Dyke, a young actress who had no claim to aristocratic birth. The couple resolved to live mainly in the country and twice settled near Lord Moira's estate at Kegworth and later at Ashboume. Thus Bessie was saved from rejection by a society which would not have welcomed her. This involved a great sacrifice for Moore, but to have renounced society entirely, for the patronage it provided, would have been destructive to his wife's interests as well as his own.

Alone among modern poets Tom Moore united the arts of poetry and music and revived the traditions of the minstrel and troubadour of the Middle Ages.

We are of course chiefly interested in his short stay in Kegworth, where he settled between the summer of 1812 and the May of the following year, to be near Lord Moira's country seat at Donington Hall. It was here that he made the acquaintance of the Rev John Dalby, Vicar of Castle Donington, who allowed him access to his extensive library.

The most suitable house which Moore could find vacant was 'The Cedars' in London Road, Kegworth. A rent of 30 Guineas a year was agreed upon, plus property tax. Instructions were left to make ready for the move. 'The water must be laded out of the cellars, fires must be kept lighted in all the rooms and the gentleman upstairs must be ejected.' (By the gentleman, he meant the ghost of the former occupant. Today the house still has the reputation of being haunted.)

Bessie was charmed both with the house and garden. Tom, who loved to compose out-of-doors, found inspiration here and along the pine walk on the summit of Broad Hill. It was here, enchanted by the peal of the 'bells of Bonington' he penned 'Those Evening Bells.'


Those evening bells! those evening bells!
How many a tale their music tells,
Of youth, and home, and that sweet time,
When last I heard their soothing chime.

Those joyous hours are pass'd away;
And many a heart, that then was gay,
Within the tomb now darkly dwells,
And hears no more those evening bells.

And so 'twill be when I am gone;
That tuneful peal will still ring on,
While other hards shall walk these dells,
And sing your praise, sweet evening bells.


While at Kegworth their daughter, Anastasia, was born. She was baptised in the parish church on 6 April 1813, by Dr Thomas Parkinson, the Rector.

Undoubtedly Moore's reason for leaving Kegworth was Lord Moira's departure for India. Moore was extremely upset when Lord Moira announced that all the Indian patronage he was allowed to exercise had exhausted.

'In Lord Moira's departure I see the end of the long hope of my life; I intend to go far into the country, there to devote the remainder of my life to the dear circle I am forming around me, to the quiet pursuit of literature and I hope, of goodness.'

For a while he lived at Mayfield Cottage, Ashboume. Later he moved to Soperton Cottage, Wiltshire, where he had found a new patron in Lord Lansdowne. Scarcely was he established there when the default of his deputy in Bermuda rendered him liable to £6000. He took refuge on the Continent, returning to England in 1822 when his debt to the Admiralty, reduced to £1000 was paid with the help of Lord Lansdowne.

Bessie and Tom Moore were most unfortunate with their children. Two daughters died in infancy, (Anastasia died of consumption in 1829). Their second son, John, died while in the cadetship of the East India Company.

Their eldest son, Thomas, a wild and gifted youth, after causing his parents great trouble and expense by his extravagance, disposed of an army commission and eventually died in Algeria as an officer of the French Foreign Legion.

Moore had not only lost his parents, but also his sisters and was absolutely distraught by the loss of his children. Together with consciousness of his own failing powers he was reduced to imbecility. In 1849 he was seized with a fit after which his memory almost entirely failed him. He died on 25 February 1852 and was interred at Bromham.

Engraved on his tomb stone are the simple words, 'Thomas Moore, the Poet and Patriot of Ireland'.

Moore had a close friendship with Lord Byron and was also the confidante to numberous leading political figures and writers of the nineteenth century. He wrote about them freely - including Byron and his mistresses - and sometimes scathingly in his 'journal', a diary he kept for nearly thirty years. After his death, the diary was heavily expurgated by Moore's friend, Lord John Russell, who edited an eight-volume collection of Moore's writings for the London publishing house of Longmans. Copies of volumes 1 -4 are in Leicester City Library, volumes 1 -3 are in Nottingham University (for reference only). Volumes 4-8 are unavailable in the East Midlands.

In 1968, an American professor, William S Dowding, Professor of English at Rice University, found by accident the original manuscripts of Moore's 'journal' as he searched the archives for another work by Moore. Dr Dowding is now preparing to publish the first unexpurgated version of the book, according to a report in the Sunday Times of 31 October 1971.

Byron left his memoirs to Moore, who sold them to the publisher, John Murray. These memoirs discussed Byron's sexual exploits up to the summer of 1816 and were sent to Moore in 1819 (only seven years after he left Kegworth). They were later ceremoniously burnt at John Murray's home in the presence of Byron's two intimate friends, Moore and John Cam Hobhouse.

It has been said that the burning of these memoirs was one of the greatest disasters that English literature has sustained through 'the misplaced scruples of well meaning people'.

Moore instead went on to produce his Letters and Journals of Lord Byron (1830) a copy of which is in the County Record Office, Nottingham, although many other libraries will possess copies.

Byron's exploits, whether imagined or real, had scandalized nineteenth century society and would raise eyebrows even in today's so-called 'permissive' society. Moore obviously had a difficult decision to make.

Epilogue

The image of the dreamy Irish poet, innocently strolling the leafy glades of Kegworth must be seen as a myth. He stayed here for less than a year and must have been both worldly and ambitious. He is one of our major poets - indeed he merits five pages in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Despite his short stay in Kegworth, Thomas Moore left his mark in the consciousness of the village. The room at 'The Cedars' where he worked is still known as 'Tom Moore's Study' and the pine walk he loved is known as 'Tom Moore's Walk'.

The last pine tree still stands, somewhat forlorn and lonely, waiting to be recognised. But perhaps we will best remember Moore's brief sojourn by his words on finding a happy home for his wife in Kegworth:


'I knew by the smoke that so gracefully curled
Above the green elms that a cottage was near;
And I said: 'If there's peace to be found in this world,
A heart that was humble might hope for it here.'


Thomas Moore





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