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Referring to this Article

J. MOORE. ‘Thomas Moore, Anacreon and the Romantic Tradition’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 21 (Winter 2013).

Online: Internet (date accessed):

Thomas Moore, Anacreon and the Romantic Tradition

Abstract Abstract

Abstract: This essay offers a historical and generic account of the inter-cultural British and Irish nexus of imitation surrounding Thomas Moore’s first published volume of verse, his remarkably successful Odes of Anacreon, Translated into English Verse, with Notes (1800). I situate Moore’s volume, imitative of the sixth-century BC poet Anacreon’s lyrics of wine, women and song, within the dual Irish and British contexts of Anacreontic verse published in Ireland in the eighteenth century, in the contemporary cultural milieu of glee clubs, bodies such as the Hibernian Catch Club, the Beefsteak Club, the Humbug Club and the tellingly named Anacreontic Society, whose members frequently performed Anacreontic sentimental and drinking songs, and in the Cockney School Romanticism of Leigh Hunt and John Keats. In doing so, the paper repositions Moore, in his role of Anacreontic versifier as a formative presence at the genesis of British Romanticism as the turn of the nineteenth century, in ways that allow a deeper understanding of the culturally complex formation of Four Nations Romanticism.


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As an historical and generic account of poetic imitation and a study of literary (albeit male) coteries and influences in early nineteenth-century Ireland and Britain, this essay focuses on Thomas Moore’s first published volume of verse, his remarkably successful Odes of Anacreon, Translated into English Verse, with Notes (1800) as a formative presence at the genesis of British Romanticism. I argue that placing Moore’s ’prentice work within its most significant Irish and British contexts—poetic, musical, social—the eighteenth-century Irish Anacreontics of George Ogle and Matthew Pilkington, among others, the contemporary cultural milieu of Dublin and London glee clubs, bodies such as the Hibernian Catch Club, the Beefsteak Club, the Humbug Club and the tellingly named Anacreontic Society, whose members performed Anacreontic sentimental songs and drinking chants, the experimental Romanticism of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, and the Cockney School of Leigh Hunt and John Keats, can be seen to change the way in which we might address the author’s whole career, both as an Irish poet and as a poet of late Georgian Britain.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentSome contemporary scholarship has elaborated upon lines of correspondence between canonical British Romantic poetry and Moore’s Anacreontic volume. [1] Marshall Brown, for instance, writing in 2010, argues that the language of Moore’s Anacreontics foreshadows the work of John Keats, offering a corpus which—like several of the odes of Keats’s ‘Great Year’—‘entails a reckoning with the poetry of wine and love’. [2] However, despite this willingness to trace the impact and influence of Moore’s verse on the articulation of personal and public emotion in some of the most significant early nineteenth-century British poetry, scant attention has been paid to the equally significant Irish context of Moore’s Anacreon Odes, either for an understanding of the development of the poet’s own career or for a fuller appreciation of the interrelated Irish/British nexus in which he wrote. Perhaps paradoxically, reading early Moore in Irish terms actually serves to reposition him, in his role of Anacreontic versifier, as an influential presence at the origin of British Romanticism at the turn of the nineteenth century and inform a deeper understanding of the culturally complex formation of four nations Romanticism. By apprehending the deeply felt emotional but also national strains in the poetry of Moore and his British contemporaries we can gain a fuller picture of the composition of British and Irish Romanticism in both their national and aesthetic concerns.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThere is continuity in Moore’s methods and preoccupations, even amidst the apparent generic diversity of his poetic career. As a channel for collective male self-identification with a type of polished and urbane (sometimes risqué) Irishness, eighteenth-century musical clubs provide the immediate backdrop to Moore’s translation of the Anacreon Odes. They offer a culturally significant context for thinking about Moore’s Anacreon translation but also about his second volume of verse, the lubricious (almost bawdy) Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little, Esq. (1801), which are Anacreontic in subject matter, and his best-known songs of national sentiment, A Selection of Irish Melodies (10 volumes, 1808–34), which were produced in collaboration with John Stevenson, who was active in the Hibernian and London Catch Clubs.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentMy analysis is part of the history of poetry in the classical mode in Ireland from Elizabethan to late Georgian times, [3] a narrative unfolding from the early modern period to the Act of Union and spanning high and popular culture, and one which at once links the young Moore firmly back into a late eighteenth-century context of Irish drinking songs and Anacreontic poetry while simultaneously propelling him forward into a nineteenth-century aesthetics and politics of song evident both in Ireland and England during the Romantic period. Thomas Moore, like Wordsworth and Coleridge only just before him, launched his career with a volume which, though innovative, also consistently echoed rather more elderly traditions of song. In some ways the Odes of Anacreon, like the Lyrical Ballads, move forward by looking back.


In terms of the western poetic tradition, the sixth-century BC poet Anacreon was one of the original lyricists of wine, women and song, an ancient tradition of erotic verse that survives to this day, and one that has provided the inspiration for a corpus which spans the early modern, neoclassical and Romantic periods from at least the mid-sixteenth century. In 1554, Henricus Stephanus (Henri Estienne), or Henry Stephen as Moore calls him in his self-consciously learned Preface to the Odes of Anacreon, published in Paris a volume of some sixty poems, the Anacreontea, focused on mainly erotic themes which he (mistakenly) attributed to the classical Greek poet. Stephanus provided the Greek text alongside his own Latin translations. [4] Genuine poems of Anacreon survive only in fragmentary form and Stephanus’s volume is actually constituted from a number of imitators of Anacreon active in later antiquity. (Strictly speaking, it is the work of these imitators of Anacreon Moore translates, rather than that of the Greek master himself. It was only later, by the mid-nineteenth century, that the true status of the Anacreontic poems of the Carmina Anacrontea, the Louvain manuscript source for Stephanus’s translation, was clearly established.)

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentPrior to Moore’s Odes of Anacreon, the vogue for ‘Anacreontics’, or imitations of Anacreon, thrived as a minor if enormously popular poetic tradition in Europe. The Anacreontic tradition of English verse—as opposed to Stephanus’s neo-Latinism—stretches from Cowley, Herrick and Prior in the seventeenth century to Burns and Wordsworth, [5] who imitated Anacreon in the eighteenth, and, in terms of the centrality of their work, to the nineteenth-century neoclassicism of the so-called ‘Cockney School’ of Keats and Hunt. [6] In eighteenth-century Ireland, there are many names on the Anacreontic roster. They include Matthew Concanen, editor of Miscellaneous Poems (1724), an anthology which, in Andrew Carpenter’s words, is ‘particularly important as the first substantial collection of verse in English from Ireland’, which features an anonymous ‘Imitation of Anacreon’s Grasshopper’. [7] Jonathan Swift and his friend Matthew Pilkington produced their collaborative Poems on Several Occasions (1730), which includes Pilkington’s ‘An Essay towards a Translation of Anacreon’, and contains several poems in his own Anacreontic translation. The famous dramatist, parliamentarian, occasional poet—and friend of Thomas Moore—Richard Brinsley Sheridan, also wrote in the Anacreontic mode, notably in his famous ‘Song’: ‘Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen’, from The School for Scandal (1777). [8] By far the richest gathering of Irish Anacreontics, however, is by George Ogle the Elder (1704–46), the author of some nineteen Anacreontic Odes, which were collected in his Translations from Various Greek Authors. Anacreon, Sapho [sic] , Julian, Theocritus, Bion, Moschus, Homer, which is included in James Sterling’s book The Loves of Hero and Leander (1728). Moore later stood accused of plagiarising Ogle’s translations in the antipathetic pages of the ultra-Tory scandal sheet John Bull, on 13 September 1824. [9] He quickly denied the charge in his diary entry for 22–30 September:

A letter from Corry, mentioning the accusation of plagiary against me in my Anacreon. The translation which I am accused of plundering is by Ogle, and it is odd enough if there should be (as Corry seems to intimate) any coincidences between us, as this is the first time I ever heard of such a translation. [10]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIn addition to the drinking songs and Anacreontic secular hymns to love which pepper eighteenth-century Irish anthologies of verse, contemporary schoolboys and university students were sometimes encouraged to pen poetry in the Anacreontic manner. William Wordsworth’s second surviving poem ‘Anacreon Imitated’ (dated ‘Hawkshead August 7th 1786’) is such a classroom exercise. [11] Seven years later, Thomas Moore was to follow in his footsteps under the tutelage of one of Dublin’s most influential schoolmasters, Samuel Whyte, of the English Grammar School, an accomplished poet and writer on rhetoric and education whose pupils included the aforementioned Sheridan. At school, Moore acquired skills in rhetoric and poeticising—the latter in the style of the flowery pastorals sometimes favoured by his master. In 1793, at the age of fourteen, the young Moore successfully submitted two poems to a new Dublin-based monthly magazine, which ran briefly from 1793–94, the Anthologia Hibernica, or Monthly Collections of Science, Belles Lettres, and General History, Irish History, Antiquities, Topography, etc. Forty years later, in his unfinished ‘Memoirs of Myself’ (1833), Moore recalled his pride at having his youthful contributions accepted, and wrote of the magazine that it was ‘one of the most respectable attempts at periodical literature that have ever been ventured on in Ireland’. [12] The aspiring poet was keen to join the ranks of the native-born literati associated with the Anthologia, whose subscription lists included the names of leading United Irishmen such as Wolfe Tone and Napper Tandy alongside MPs and bishops (as well as Moore’s tutor Whyte and the budding novelist, Sydney Owenson, later Lady Morgan).

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentMoore’s contributions to the Anthologia, ‘A Pastoral Ballad’ and To Zelia, on Charging the Author with Writing Too Much on Love’, were published in the issue for October 1793. [13] The former is an exercise in Whytean post-Popean pastoral but the latter bears the imprint of the Anacreontic style that would soon come to define his early reputation and appeared, appropriately enough, under the name of ‘Romeo’ (an anagram of Moore). The following year, in February 1794, Moore continued his contributions to the Anthologia with his first explicit Anacreontic, ‘A Paraphrase of Anacreon’s Fifth Ode’, a schoolboy exercise marinated in a kind of salacious sentimentality, which is worth quoting in full although the eroticised metaphors and Bacchic salutations scarcely need comment:

Let us, with the clustering vine,
The rose, Love’s blushing flower, entwine.
Fancy’s hand our chaplet’s wreathing,
Vernal sweets around us breathing,
We’ll gayly drink, full goblets quaffing,
At frightened Care securely laughing.

Rose! thou balmy-scented flower,
Rear’d by Spring’s most fostering power,
Thy dewy blossoms, opening bright,
To gods themselves can give delight;
And Cypria’s child, with roses crown’d,
Trips with each Grace the mazy round.

Bind my brows—I’ll tune the lyre
Love my rapturous strains shall fire,
Near Bacchus’ grape-encircled shrine,
Where roses fresh my brows entwine,
Led by the winged train of Pleasures,
I’ll dance with nymphs to sportive measures. [14]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIn 1795, the apprentice poet entered Trinity College Dublin, where he would begin working in earnest on the translations later collected in Odes of Anacreon. By the time of his graduation in 1799, Moore had completed most of the work and selected twenty of the Odes to show to Dr Kearney (who would shortly succeed the then Provost of the University, Murray, who died in 1799) in the hope of securing an academic prize from the University Board. [15] Kearney was impressed; he loaned Moore his own copy of Spaletti’s edition (1781) of the Anacreontic poems and encouraged him to publish the poems because, he said, ‘the young people will like it’, although he also warned Moore against seeking approbation for a work ‘so amatory and convivial’ from the august university. [16] Moore also researched in Marsh’s library, established by the Protestant Archbishop Marsh in 1707 in the lee of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Closeted within the peaceful seclusion of this gothic edifice, he perused at length the Greek and Latin folios and other historical sources that fill the distinctive voluminous footnotes accompanying (and at times even threatening to overtake in length) the text of his Anacreon translations. The librarian at Marsh’s, the Reverend Cradock, helped Moore by opening the library’s doors to him after hours. He also introduced Moore during this period to the celebrated composer John Stevenson, who afterwards produced a series of glees from Moore’s Odes of Anacreon (the folios are held in Marsh’s Library together with the first edition of Moore’s 1800 volume) and famously later collaborated with him on his Irish Melodies.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe structural economy of Anacreontic verse is one of imitation, rather than innovation: it is the aim of the Anacreontic poet, Patricia A. Rosenmeyer points out, ‘not to surpass the model but it to equal it’. [17] A mode of literary exchange and inheritance that is not based on the aggressive rivalry more often found in ancient Greek narratives of literary inheritance, the Anacreontic model is grounded instead in friendship and co-operation. This becomes clear in the opening Ode in Moore’s Anacreontic sequence, a poem that narrates the passing on of the poetic baton from Anacreon to his unnamed successor and which offers in miniature a manifesto of the Anacreontic ethos of conviviality and friendship.

I saw the smiling bard of pleasure,
The minstrel of the Teian measure;
’Twas in a vision of the night,
He beam’d upon my wondering sight;
I heard his voice, and warmly prest
The dear enthusiast to my breast.
His tresses wore a silv’ry die,
But beauty sparkled in his eye;
Sparkled in his eyes of fire,
Through the mist of soft desire.
His lip exhal’d, whene’er he sigh’d,
The fragrance of the racy tide;
And, as with weak and reeling feet,
He came my cordial kiss to meet,
An infant, of the Cyprian band,
Guided him on with tender hand—
Quick from his glowing brows he drew
His braid, of many a wanton hue;
I took the braid of wanton twine—
It breath’d of him and blush’d with wine!
I twin’d it round my thoughtless brow,
And ah! I feel its magic now!
I feel that ev’n his garland’s touch
Can make the bosom love too much! [18]

In place of the aggressive anxiety of influence often encountered in the rivalry between poets of classical times, [19] ‘Ode I’ presents a convivial scene in which the Anacreontic poet (Moore), happily accepting his role in continuing the process of poetic imitation, greets his predecessor (Anacreon) with a ‘cordial kiss’. A scene of potential conflict is recast as something more akin to an erotic encounter; the cheerfully sensual language—‘smiling’, ‘bard of pleasure’, ‘warmly press’d’, ‘eyes of fire’, ‘soft desire’, ‘lip exhaled’, ‘tender hand’, ‘breathed of him’, ‘blush’d with wine’—climaxes in the unnamed poet, touched by the symbolic garland, being absorbed in love:

And ah! I feel its magic now:
I feel that ev’n his garland’s touch
Can make the bosom love too much.’

The poem demonstrates the Anacreontic logic that it is the anonymous poet’s (Moore’s) task to imitate Anacreon and thereby continue the Anacreontic tradition, not to coin a new corpus. Moore’s note to ‘Ode I’ praises it as ‘a beautiful imitation of the poet’s [Anacreon’s] happiest manner’. [20]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentGiven the lack of emphasis on originality and the conversant stress on perpetuating an ancient tradition, it is notable that Moore’s self-consciously learned volume nowhere acknowledges the part played by his Irish forerunners, the poets George Ogle and Matthew Pilkington, among others, in the transmission within Ireland of the Anacreontic tradition. The Preface to Moore’s Odes provides an annotated catalogue of ‘all the different editions and translations of Anacreon’, yet it makes no mention of the extant Irish translations. [21] Neither does Moore highlight his book’s Irish provenance. Instead, Ireland is erased entirely from the volume’s title page, where the author’s name appears as ‘Thomas Moore, Esq., of the Middle Temple’ (one of the four Inns of Court in London where Moore planned to take up a legal career following his graduation). Furthermore, the volume is dedicated, with consent, to the Prince Regent, then of course a Whig partisan. In what might seem like a contradiction, I want to suggest that the missing Irish dimension of Moore’s volume establishes him, sui generis, at the head of a nineteenth-century tradition of Irish lyric. There is a direct line of continuity from the Odes of Anacreon to the Irish Melodies and on to Moore’s erotic ‘Oriental Romance’, Lalla Rookh (1817). The latter poem has been read by modern critics as an allegory of Irish oppression, which, in common Moore’s with Anacreontic volume, complicates questions of tradition and authenticity and demonstrates the ways in which Moore’s poetry could be redrafted or reapplied to political events. [22]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentImitation is never a straightforward act of repetition. Moore does not simply perpetuate the Anacreontic ethos; he simultaneously modifies it, softening and sentimentalising ancient material for a modern age. His method is to infuse the simplicity of the Anacreontic source text with a pleasurable eroticism that transforms the bluntness of the original carpe diem lyrics into a sensual jeu d’esprit. For example, ‘Ode VII’, which in the Anacreontea, begins

The women say
‘Anacreon, you are old;
take this mirror and look
at your hair—which is no longer there—
and at your balding head.’ [23]

It is transformed by Moore thus:

The women tell me every day
That all my bloom has past away
‘Behold’, the pretty wantons cry,
‘Behold this mirror with a sigh;
The locks upon thy brow are few,
And like the rest, they’re withering too.’IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(‘Ode VII’, p. 38)

The ‘pretty wantons’ and the vaguely sexual connotations of ‘sigh’ provide a sentimentalised picture of old age that is gentler and more inviting than the plainer version in the Anacreontea. Where the Anacreontea translates the Ode’s final lines as ‘for an old man, | it is even more appropriate | to enjoy life’s pleasures | the closer one is to Fate’ (that is, death), [24] Moore’s version closes with the preferable idea of bliss: ‘And had I but an hour to live, | That little hour to bliss I’d give.’ (‘Ode VII’, p. 39) Characterised as an old man with white hair (he reputedly lived until the advanced age of eighty-five), Anacreon penned implicitly louche songs on drink and love which actually shy away from the explicitly sexual (which Greek culture did not always avoid). [25] Moore was aware of this aspect: ‘His descriptions are warm’, states the Preface to his translation, ‘but the warmth is in the ideas not the words. He is sportive without being wanton, and ardent without being licentious’. [26] By the same token, Moore’s Anacreontic translations avoid the potentially more threatening or disturbing aspects of their carpe diem subject matter (inebriety, sexuality, death). Instead, the reader of Moore’s volume is drawn into a controlled, oddly suspended world, an Anacreontic sphere in which drinking occurs without intoxication and eroticised language never tips into wanton unrestraint. Here, sexual desire is unconsummated (one is reminded of those other pagan lovers in Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’: ‘Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, | Though winning near the goal’ (ll. 17–18)).

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe suspended animation of the Anacreontic translations, whereby the fulfilment of desire is permanently deferred, is a forerunner of the repetitiveness and circularity of structure and emotion that also characterises the Irish Melodies. Non-consummation and the lack of a linear chronology developed to a definite conclusion create an emotional stasis in a set of poems that deal primarily with Ireland’s ‘remembered glory’. [27] Take, for example, the opening lines of ‘Go Where Glory Waits Thee’, the famous lyric that begins the first number of the Irish Melodies (1808):

Go where glory waits thee,
But, while fame elates thee,
Oh! still remember me […] [28]

The injunction to remember Ireland’s past (‘Then let memory bring thee | Strains I us’d to sing thee’) results in a paradox of inactivity. The ancient glory of which the poet sings is buried irretrievably in the past and impinges on the present only in the form of a memory (of the loss of that past) leaving a remainder of negativity. The second lyric in the sequence, ‘Remember the Glories of Brien the Brave’ repeats the dormancy of memorialising a past that is forever ‘o’er’: ‘Remember the glories of Brien the brave, | Tho’ the days of the hero are o’er’ (Ibid., p. 181). Even those songs that recall more recent events in Irish history, such as the plaintive lament for the ill-fated Robert Emmet, hero of the doomed 1803 uprising, unroll narratives of inactivity and non-consummation. Remembrance can lead to a renewal of activity, but here it does not:

Oh! breathe not his name, let it sleep in the shade,
Where cold and unhonoured his relics are laid:
Sad, silent, and dark be the tears that we shed,
As the night-dew that falls on the grass o’er his head!

But the night dew that falls, though in silence it weeps,
Shall brighten with verdure the grave where he sleeps;
And the tear that we shed, though in secret it rolls,
Shall long keep his memory green in our souls.IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(Ibid., p. 181)

The suggestion that the tears of the mourners in keeping Emmet’s memory ‘green’ will renew the spirit of Emmet’s uprising remains an unfulfilled proposition. In Robert Welch’s words: ‘The implication […] is that the souls, kept green by tears, will put forth fresh shoots, but this “uprising” remains very much an implication; the word-pattern draws our attention to little else but the mood and its soft rhythm’. [29] Time in the Melodies does not advance; rather it stands still in a past that is revitalised only as memory.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentAnd yet it might be argued that the strength of the Irish Melodies lies precisely in the repetitive mode of non-consummation that is continued from Moore’s earlier volume, the Odes of Anacreon. Rather than attenuating the power of a past long o’er, the force of the Irish Melodies like that of the Odes of Anacreon resides in a shared structure of circularity and repetition. Closure is deferred in both sets of lyric and in this way the traditions they represent (whether of ancient Greece or ancient Ireland) are kept permanently alive. In many senses the Irish Melodies deserve the moniker, awarded by Norman Vance, of ‘Moore’s Irish Anacreontics’. [30]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentOne of the ways in which Moore keeps the value of tradition alive in both works is through his use of the discursive footnote to record classical allusions and imitations. These hefty footnotes separate his translation from the work of earlier Irish scholars such as Ogle and Pilkington, whose Anacreontic translations are free of the weighty scholarly apparatus adopted by Moore. There were precedents in European translations, for example the 1692 French edition of Les Oeuvres d’Anacreon et de Sapho, by Hilare Bernard de Requeleyne Longpierre, an author cited by Moore. However, Moore is the first Irish author to import the practice into an Irish translation of the Anacreontics as part of the neoclassical method that he never entirely abandoned.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTypical of Moore’s method of annotation, which, in showcasing his scholarship, frequently incorporates text from the ancient Greek, is the following note from ‘Ode I’:


Strictly speaking, this note on the physiognomy of the ‘look’ is not needed to aid the reader’s comprehension; its value, however, resides not so much in its debate on the veracity of the bard’s glittering eye as in its underscoring of the tradition itself.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIn general terms, the role of the footnote is to acknowledge a debt of information to other sources; the note copies, cites or recycles information. Claire Connolly has written about the use of the footnote in Irish Romantic prose fiction as a space of ‘cultural mediation’ that in the national tales of Sydney Owenson, for example, work to ‘frame and contain’ (one might also say ‘copy’) ancient tales and legend. [31] Moore’s extensive and repeated use of the footnote across his oeuvre (in satire, in prose fiction and in Romantic lyric) can be seen in the light of his early interest in imitation to take on a national inflection. While it is not my purpose to pursue that argument in depth here, it is nonetheless worth observing the role of the copy in Moore’s Irish context. The Anacreontic corpus, by virtue of its imitative nature, is already a kind of copy and it is notable that Moore took up the Anacreontic baton of imitation at a moment in Irish history when Ireland herself was about to become, in legislative terms, a copy as a consequence of the 1801 Act of Union. Moore’s Anacreontic translation is part of the broader political landscape at the turn of the century when Dublin’s parliamentary independence ceded in power to London. His volume is caught in a moment of significant change, both for its author and for the island of Ireland. At the turn of the nineteenth century, legislatively, Ireland becomes part of the British cultural nexus; geographically, Moore moves from Ireland to England, taking with him his Anacreon volume which is his passport into London high society; aesthetically, the Anacreontic poems merge with the new fascination in British Romantic poetry with imitating earlier poetic traditions. The Lyrical Ballads, are, it might be pointed out, imitative, at least in part, of ancient tradition—the medieval ballad—and signal that debt in the volume’s very title. Both Moore and the authors of Lyrical Ballads are part of the poetic revolution which marks its modernity by making a self-conscious return to earlier genres. Moore’s Preface to the Odes emphasises Anacreon’s ‘simplicity’, [32] an emphasis that can be viewed as a response to the rhetorical excesses of the post-Augustan lyric, as well as the disappointments of contemporary politics: the failure of the French Revolution to deliver the promised bliss of liberty, the loss of Irish legislative independence under the Union and the repressive Tory regime that ruled British and Irish politics for three difficult decades.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTurning back to the Greeks but also moving forward from them, Moore restored music to verse, revitalising the poetry of the neoclassical tradition berated by Wordsworth for its moribund formalism and laboured decorativeness, the ‘poetic diction’ of eighteenth-century poetry. It is true that Moore’s Anacreontics are not entirely rid of the ornamental rhetoric of Georgian poetry bemoaned by Wordsworth, but the intoxicating sensuality and musicality of the Odes was something new in the annals of nineteenth-century poetry in English. Indeed, it is remarkable just how much the Odes anticipate the concerns and methods of British Romanticism, a point that literary history has been remarkably slow to acknowledge.


It might be said that the presence of music in Moore’s Anacreon Odes, in their rhythm and their tone, is largely metaphorical in the sense that Moore did not specifically write his ancient Greek translations to be performed, in contrast to the Irish Melodies, although (as I have pointed out) Stevenson set several of the poems to music. Song has a literal existence, however, in the performance of Anacreontic lyrics (sometimes taken directly from Moore’s volume) in the singing, dining and drinking clubs that burgeoned in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Dublin and London. It is to these clubs, which form part of the hinterland of Moore’s own interest in song, that I shall now turn.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe Hibernian Catch Club, founded in Dublin c. 1690 by the Vicars Choral of Christchurch and St Patrick’s Cathedrals, is the oldest—and still surviving—Irish musical society and is the model for a group of similar bodies that formed in eighteenth-century London. The Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club, known simply as the Catch Club, for example, founded in 1761 to support the amateur composition of catches and glees, was London’s answer to her sister club in Ireland. [33] Actual sisters, of course, like wives, were not permitted as members of the club. [34] The gender politics of these clubs, although worthy of further investigation, is in one sense straightforward enough: an exclusive male membership was governed by an ethos of conviviality. Well-heeled gentlemen (membership was by nomination and subscription) would pay to meet frequently, very often in taverns or on the site of theatres, to eat, drink and sing. Their performance lists are dominated in the eighteenth century by two big Irish names: the celebrated Dublin composer, John Stevenson (1762–1833, Sir John from 1803) and the Cork-born bacchanalian songster and bard-elect of the London Beefsteak Club, Captain Charles Morris (1745–1838), author of Songs Political and Convivial (24th edn, 1802). In the early nineteenth century, Thomas Moore’s name joined the ranks and is often included next to John Stevenson’s on the diet of Anacreontic songs in praise of Bacchus. A particular favourite, which appears in several collections, is ‘Give me the Harp of Epic Song’, the second Ode in Moore’s Anacreontic collection, set to music by Stevenson, for which the latter was knighted by Lord Hardwicke, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, when Hardwicke dined with the Irish Harmonic Society in 1803. The theme of the song, with its chorus to Bacchus, is love, not war.

Give me the harp of epic song,
Which Homer’s finger thrill’d along;
But tear away the sanguine string,
For war is not the theme I sing.
Then Bacchus! we shall sing to thee,
In wild but sweet ebriety!IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(‘Ode II’, pp. 27–28)

While the extent of Moore’s participation in the Dublin and London Catch Clubs is difficult to establish, it is clear that he was aware of their existence. Songs from his Anacreontic repertoire were included in their programmes and Moore was keenly alert to the success of his volume in the wider culture. ‘Tell Stevenson’, he wrote to his mother in February 1802, ‘he could not at present choose anything more likely to catch the public than his publication of the glees from Anacreon: it is universally read, and can hardly be said to have been known till now.’ [35] There are in addition a couple of intriguing entries, dated 20 October 1801 and 10 November 1801, respectively, in the Hibernian Catch Club volumes held by Marsh’s library.

Thos. Moore Esq [requested?] as a Catch singer proposed as an Honorary Member of this club by George Ewing seconded by Doctor Stevenson of many [glees?]

Mr Thos. Moore and Mr Frederick William McHanes were this night unanimously admitted Honorary Members. [36]

History’s chronicle does not record which Thomas Moore it was who received the title of Honorary Member (there must have been plenty who went by that name in contemporary Dublin), but Stevenson appears as the seconder and it is quite a coincidence for the names of both friends to be listed next to each other if the Moore in question is not, indeed, the Moore of the Anacreon Odes.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentFurther, more substantial evidence of the poet’s involvement in the early nineteenth-century milieu of popular catch-club glees and song comes in the Preface to the fifth volume of Moore’s Poetical Works, Collected by Himself (1840–41). Here, Moore gives a retrospective account of his ‘thoughts and recollections’ on the state of musical verse at the moment when he embarked on his own career in that line. The ‘convivial lyrics’ of Captain Morris, glee master of the Beefsteak Club (and lewd songster extraordinaire) are cited as an example of ‘perfect sympathy between poet and musician’. [37] Morris is also of interest as a political songster of anti-Tory satires, such as ‘Billy’s Too Young to Drive Us’ and ‘Billy Pitt and the Farmer’, satirising the regime of William Pitt, the Younger. [38] His Whig political leanings and his success in London society in some ways foreshadow that of his later Irish compatriot, Moore. Moore appears to have felt an affinity with Morris, and quotes him (directly from memory, or so he says) in the Preface to the Poetical Works, where he gives the following verses from Morris’s Anacreontic ‘Reasons for Drinking’:

My muse, too, when her wings are dry,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentNo frolic flights will take;
But round a bowl she’ll dip and fly,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentLike swallows round a lake.
If then the nymph must have her share,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentBefore she’ll bless her swain,
Why, that I think’s a reason fair
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTo fill my glass again.

Then, many a lad I lik’d is dead,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentAnd many a lass grown old;
And, as the lesson strikes my head,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentMy weary heart grows cold.
But wine awhile holds off despair,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentNay, bids a hope remain;—
And that I think’s a reason fair
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTo fill my glass again. [39]

This gay air, simply expressed, and with limited emotional depth, prompts Moore to ponder his own impulse to poeticise in song:

I only know that in a strong and inborn feeling for music lies the source of whatever talent I may have shown for poetical composition; and that it was the effort to translate into language the emotions and passions which music appeared to me to express, that first led to my writing any poetry deserving of the name. [40]

To borrow a phrase from Wordsworth’s 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Moore seeks in poetry and song the ‘essential passions of the heart’.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentWhether Morris’s more lewd songs answer that request is a moot point. An example is ‘Jenny Sutton’, a splendid Anacreontic exercise in the mock-heroic about the downfall of an army whore, which appeared in The Festival of Anacreon: Being a Complete Selection of Songs by Captain Morris (1790). The lines begin:

Come, charge your glasses, let us raise
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentFrom dull oblivion’s slumber;
A gallant nymph, well worth the praise,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentWhose feats no man can number.
Her hand, like Caesar’s, grasp’d at all,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTill envy mark’d her station:
Then like great Caesar, did she fall,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentBy foul assassination. [41]

Such amiable indecency appears mild in comparison with other songs in Morris’s near-pornographic distortion of the Anacreontic canon. A striking example is the fifteen-stanza bawd-fest, ‘The Plenipotentiary’, sung to the Irish air ‘The terrible Law, or Shawnbuee’:

The Dey of Algiers, when afraid of his ears,
A messenger sent to our Court, Sir,
As he knew in our state that the women had weight,
He chose one well hung for good sport, Sir.
He search’d the Divan, till he found out a man,
Whose b – – – s were heavy and hairy;
And he lately came o’er from the Barbary shore,
As the great Plenipotentiary.

Whence to England he came, with his p – – k in a flame,
He shew’d it his hostess at landing,
Who spread its renown thro’ all parts of the town,
As a pintle past all understanding:
So much there was said of its snout and its head,
That they called it the Great Janissary; [42]
Not a lady could sleep ’till she got a peep
At the great Plenipotentiary.     (p. 28)

The humour becomes increasingly crude. Witness Stanza IX: ‘The next to be try’d was an Alderman’s bride, | With a c – – t that would swallow a turtle.’ (p. 31) And so it goes on …

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentMorris’s lewd humour is a long way from the prettified eroticism of Moore’s Anacreontic verses. Even so, it is of interest here as part of the fabric of the musical culture that forms the backdrop to Moore’s Anacreontic songs, and, more particularly, to the poet’s second published book of verse, Poetical Works of the Late Thomas Little, Esq. (1801), a collection of erotic poetry which represents Moore’s own contribution to the risqué side of the Anacreontic tradition. [43] The book was, however, a notorious succés de scandal for Moore that brought mainly antipathetic criticism from the literary quarter, with the noble exception of Lord Byron, who thrilled to Little’s licentious strains. [44] ‘The Catalogue’, for example, charms with its longer anapaestic line, which is well suited to its tones of languid eroticism:

‘Come, tell me,’ says Rosa, as kissing and kist,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentOne day she reclin’d on my breast;
‘Come, tell me the number, repeat me the list
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentOf the nymphs you have lov’d and carest.—’
Oh Rosa! ’twas only my fancy that rov’d,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentMy heart at the moment was free;
But I’ll tell thee, my girl, how many I’ve loved,
IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentAnd the number shall finish with thee.IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(Poetical Works, p. 72)

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentEven in the lewder lines of his Little poems, Moore remains at some considerable distance from Morris’s indecent lyrics. He does not emulate Morris’s bawdy Irishness, and Harry White, in his important contribution to Moore studies, Music and the Irish Literary Imagination (2008), is right to remark of Moore that he ‘self-evidently’ identified ‘Irish music in new terms (principally as an intelligence of Irish history)’. [45] The musical societies and Anacreontic clubs that exist on the borderline of sexual morality are important, however, insofar as they form part of a broader culture of sociability that is rooted in the Anacreontic tradition inaugurated by Moore. It also resounded through some rather better known aspects of nineteenth-century literature in the neoclassicism of Keats and Hunt and it is this more canonical aspect of late Georgian culture—and Moore’s involvement within it—that I will now examine.


The poetry of Robert Herrick and Matthew Prior in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries popularised Anacreontic poems in English, but it was Thomas Moore who made them newly popular in nineteenth-century Romanticism, and, most notably, in the Anacreontics of two figures commonly associated with the so-called ‘Cockney School’ of Leigh Hunt and John Keats. And this is more than a simple generic similarity. Following the publication of Jeffrey Cox’s Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School (1996), we have learnt to think of much of the school’s curriculum as being dominated by neoclassicism, a coterie vision, sociability and ‘pretty Paganism’—to use Wordsworth’s telling dig at Keats. [46] Moore’s role in the Cockney School of sociability has been less well observed, however. I wish to correct that oversight here in the assertion that ‘Anacreon’ Moore was an unacknowledged governor of the Cockney School.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentOn 20 May 1813, Thomas Moore introduced Lord Byron, who was initially drawn to Moore by his experience of reading the Thomas Little poems, to Leigh Hunt on a visit to Horsemonger Gaol in Surrey, where the radical journalist and poet had been recently incarcerated for libelling the Prince Regent in the pages of the Examiner. Hunt was already an admirer of Moore; on 8 August 1812, he had written to his wife asking her to ‘Pray send me down, my love, as many of Moore’s Irish Melodies as you can collect, & what additional songs you chuse to put with them’. [47] He also had the courage to publish Moore’s famous satire ‘Parody of a Celebrated Letter’—though without Moore’s name on it—on the Prince Regent’s betrayal of the Whigs. [48] The meeting went well and Hunt and Moore began a friendship which would last for over a decade until its acrimonious collapse in the late 1820s over their rival accounts of Lord Byron. [49]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIn a conscious act of intertextual recognition, Hunt took on the name ‘Harry Brown’ in several of his series of poems ‘Harry Brown to his Friends’, which were published in the Examiner in 1816, and included verse epistles to Moore, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt. Moore receives more than one letter (four in all), each addressed to ‘Thomas Brown, Jun.’, which was Moore’s nom de plume in his satirical guise as editor of Intercepted Letters; or, the Two-penny Post Bag. ‘An’t I your cousin DEAR TOM?’ asked Hunt in the second of the epistles ‘Harry Brown to his Cousin Tom, Jun., Letter’ in the 1816 Examiner series, and he writes happily in July 1816 that ‘Moore expressed great enjoyment at sight of them’. [50] That second poem, in breezy anapaests, which begins in explicitly ‘pastoral’ mode but then turns into a sharp political satire on the Tory government, the restored Bourbons and, inevitably, the turncoat Laureate Robert Southey, explicitly aligns Hunt in a fraternal alliance of poets who work within a classical frame of reference, and yet espouse oppositionist politics.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTwo years afterwards in Foliage (1818), Hunt himself translated from Anacreon. Here, in the Preface to Foliage, Hunt says interesting things about the Anacreontic poems, declaring in the self-deprecating manner so common in his discursive prefaces, [51] that it is ‘so difficult transplant those delicate Greek flowers into rhyme, without rendering them either languid and diffuse, or too much cramping them up.’ [52] Even so, he offers under the title of ‘Anacreon’ four short poems, two of which are ‘The Dance’ and ‘The Banquet’:

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent‘THE DANCE’
When a set of youths I see,
Youth itself returns to me.
Then, ah then, my old age springs
To the dance on starting wings.
Stop, Cybeba;—roses there
To adorn a dancer’s hair,—
Grey-beard age away be flung,
And I’ll join ye, young for young.
Some one then go fetch me wine
Of a vintage rare and fine,
And I’ll shew what age can do,—
Able still to warble too,
Able still to drink down sadness,
And display a graceful madness.IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(Foliage, p. 87)

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent‘THE BANQUET’
Often fit we round our brows,
One and all, the rosy boughs,
And with genial laughs carouse.

To the twinkling of the lute
Trips a girl with delicate foot,
Bearing a green ivy stick
Rustling with its tresses thick;
While a boy of earnest air,
With a gentle head of hair,
Plays the many-mouthed pipe,
Rich with voices breathing ripe.

Love himself the golden-tressed,
Bacchus blithe, and Venus blessed,
Come from heaven to join our cheer,
So completely does appear
Comus, youth’s restorer, here.IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(Foliage, pp. 85–86)

Hunt is certainly working in the Anacreontic mode here and with the lightness of tone set by his mentor, Moore. Yet it bears remarking that his tetrameter couplets lack the liquid movement and lusciousness of Moore’s longer lines. Hunt does capture very well, however, the pared-back simplicity that he admired in Anacreon’s verse. In his essay ‘Anacreon’, published in 1840, some two decades after the appearance of his own Anacreontic poems in Foliage, Hunt wrote: ‘the compositions of Anacreon are remarkable above all for being “short and sweet.” ’ [53] The same can be said of Hunt’s efforts.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe Anacreontic lineage in British Romanticism reaches back beyond Hunt, and beyond Moore himself, briefly to Wordsworth. Wordsworth, the most famous modern poet of the nineteenth century, was the first of his age, ahead of Moore and Hunt, to translate an Anacreon Ode. All three poets made loose translations of the Anacreontic Ode XVI (retitled by Wordsworth, ‘Anacreon Imitated’), which narrates a lover’s injunction to a painter to produce a likeness of his mistress. Wordsworth’s markedly chaste version of the Anacreontic concludes thus:

Which, like a Veil of flowing light,
Hides half the landskip from the sight.
Here I see the wandering rill,
The white flocks sleeping on the hill,
While Fancy paints beneath the Veil
The pathway winding through the dale. [54]

The future Poet Laureate simultaneously expands and chastens the conclusion of an Ode that in its original form, and in both Moore’s and Hunt’s translations, is highly erotic. In Duncan Wu’s words, ‘Wordsworth turns the mistress’ body into a vision of Grasmere “veiled” by mist. In an imaginative transformation Anacreon’s mistress merges into the “landskip” onto which she confers an inexplicable magic.’ [55]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIn contrast to Wordsworth’s resituating of Anacreon’s Ode to the Lake District, Moore and Hunt retain the attic location of the original. The mistress of their odes is suspended in ancient time, which is perhaps a safer place than the present for the unfolding of their libidinous imaginations. Here are Moore’s equivalent concluding lines to Wordsworth’s:

Now let a floating, lucid veil,
Shadow her limbs, but not conceal;
A charm may peep, a hue may beam,
And leave the rest to Fancy’s dream.IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndent(‘Ode XVI’, p. 71)

And here is Hunt’s version of the same:

Now then,—let the drapery spread,
With an under tint of red,
And a glimpse left scarcely drest;
So that what remains be guessed. [56]

With Hunt, as with Moore, it is tempting to catalogue his Anacreontic verses as self-consciously playful indulgences in affective poetry. And, while Wordsworth’s poem remained unpublished, Moore is a principal inspiration for Hunt’s work.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentLeigh Hunt, the man who first published ‘On First looking into Chapman’s Homer’ in 1816, is a bridging figure between Thomas Moore and John Keats, the poet whom he mentored, both to his advantage, in bringing him to a measure of public attention, and to his cost, in the younger poet being drawn into the post-Napoleonic ‘Cockney School’ controversies between the Examiner crowds and their Tory rivals in the Quarterly Review and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. But Keats, it might be said, excels his master in terms of his Anacreontism, as, of course, in so much else. Keats is the poet in the Romantic canon who delights most in the luxuriant sensuality of the Mooreian Anacreontic, someone who engages with the poetry of wine and love in his own inimitable fashion, but similarly in a line of influence and imitation that reaches from Moore to Hunt and from Hunt to Keats. Keats was a protégé of Hunt just as Hunt was an early disciple and Anacreontic imitator of Moore’s. All there were ‘charioted by Bacchus and his pards’. In such works as the ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, as in the Lyrical Ballads, something startling and new is fashioned from ancient imitation.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentKeats’s Anacreontic poems include such titles as ‘Give me, women, wine and snuff’ (1815–16), and ‘Lines on the Mermaid Tavern’ (1818) as well as ‘Fill for me a brimming bowl’ (1814), a melancholic poem that in spite of its carefree title anticipates in poignant theme and tone the great sonnet of 1818, ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’. Miriam Allott, in her edition of Keats’s poems, points out that Keats was by this time already familiar with Moore’s Anacreontics. [57] She suggests that ‘Fill for me a brimming bowl’ echoes the opening lines of Moore’s translation of Ode LXII: ‘Fill me, boy, as deep a draught, | As e’er was fill’d, as e’er was quaff’d’. Allott has a point. Witness Keats’s lines: ‘But I want as a deep a draught | As e’er from Lethe’s wave was quaffed’ (‘Fill for me a brimming bowl’, ll. 7–8). But of course there is an important difference too: Keats’s melancholy imagination transforms Moore’s careless quaffing into Lethe’s draught of oblivion. In his preoccupation with mortality and loss, Keats lends a psychological complexity and intensity to the simple portrait of Anacreon as a good-humoured old man delighting in remembering the fleeting pleasures of his youth. Nevertheless, Moore’s Anacreontic idiom endures in transmuted form in many of Keats’s works and stands as testimony, I would argue, to the network of influence and sociability constructed around Moore, Hunt and Anacreon in the early nineteenth century. Though Keats rejected Moore as a juvenile influence in a letter written just weeks before the publication of his ‘Ode to Psyche’ (1819), some of his early work clearly demonstrates the cross-fertilisation between Irish and British poetry that Moore’s early, classically influenced oeuvre facilitated.


The pagan name ‘Anacreon Moore’, given in tribute to the popular success of Moore’s volume, was often cited in the 1810s, notably by Lord Byron in his famous tribute to Moore in Canto I of Don Juan (1819):

When Julia sat within as pretty a bower
As e’er held houri in that heathenish heaven
Described by Mahomet and ‘Anacreon’ Moore
To whom the lyre and laurels have been given
With all the trophies of triumphant song;
He won them well, and may he wear them long! [58]

Again, as late as 1825, long after the start of the Irish Melodies series, and after the highly successful Lalla Rookh (1817) and the Fudge Family in Paris (1818), Moore was still being labelled ‘our English Anacreon’ in William Hazlitt’s The Spirit of the Age, in an essay which prefers the older book to the ‘verbal tinsel’ of the Irish Melodies. [59]

Odes of Anacreon, as its title more than suggests, is a volume of verse of the pagan caste. Certainly the volume helped to position Moore in the ‘Cockney School’ circle of a sociable, largely pagan Romanticism but it also, as I have shown, placed him with Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads at the point of what is commonly thought of as a revolution in British poetry. The networks of sociability engendered by Moore are networks that travel across and between national borders and aesthetic boundaries, so that rather than viewing Moore’s eighteenth-century Irish Anacreontics in opposition to or as a rival tradition to British Romanticism, I have argued that they can be seen as a significant presence that reconfigures the traditional understanding of British–Irish nexus. That volume’s anticipatory recognition of the power of song which is so important to the first generation of Romantic poets in their return to the earlier ballad forms; its sensual warmth, which prepared the way for the erotic lyricism of Keats’s odes; its pre-empting of the Hellenistic interests of Hunt, Byron and Shelley, not forgetting Mary Tighe. In all these ways, Moore was a poet of several Romantic traditions, who anticipated and helps to illuminate the current critical positioning of British and Irish Romanticism as interwoven, rather than insular, traditions.


I am grateful to Dr Jason McElligott and the fellowship selection committee at Marsh’s Library, Dublin, for a Muriel McCarthy Research Fellowship that allowed me to work for a month in the library’s holdings of early Irish literary and musical material. I am also grateful to Emeritus Professor Andrew Carpenter (University College, Dublin) for sharing with me his expertise.

1. See Jonathan Bate, ‘Tom Moore and the Making of “Ode to Psyche” ’, Review of English Studies, new ser. 41/163 (1990), 325–33. Bate traces the links connecting the early poetry of Keats to Moore and to the Irish poet Mary Tighe’s ‘Psyche, or the Legend of Love’ (completed in 1795 and privately circulated but published in 1811). An arresting tale of love in exile in six Spenserian cantos, Tighe’s poem influenced Keats, who wrote his ‘Ode to Psyche’ in its shadow. Moore also recognised the poem’s power and paid homage to Tighe in his lyric ‘To Mrs Henry Tighe’ (1802), the early date suggesting that he had seen a copy of her poem prior to its publication. Another link in the chain between Keats and Moore is the gift to Keats in the summer of 1815 from Caroline and Anne Mathew (cousins of Keats’s poet-friend George Felton Mathew) of a shell and Moore’s amatory poem ‘The Wreath and the Chain’ (from his 1806 volume Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems). Keats responded with two poems of his own composition: ‘To Some Ladies’ and ‘On Receiving a Curious Shell, and a Copy of Verses from the Same Ladies’, both written in the summer of 1815. The latter poem, which pastiches Moore, may be read as an early exercise in the poet’s style.

2. Marshall Brown, The Tooth that Nibbles at the Soul: Essays on Music and Poetry (Washington: University of Washington Press, 2010), p. 219.

3. For scholarship on Ireland’s classical tradition, see W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (Dublin: Allen Figgis, 1976). See also my essay, ‘Nineteenth-century Irish Anacreontics: The Literary Relationship of James Clarence Mangan and Thomas Moore’, Irish Studies Review, 21.4 (2013), 1–19.

4. A full translation of the Anacreontic collection is included as ‘Appendix C’ in Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, The Poetics of Imitation: Anacreon and the Anacreontic Tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 239–66.

5. Leigh Hunt viewed Burns as a poet in the Anacreontic mode. ‘Many passages in Burns’s songs’, writes Hunt, ‘are Anacreontic, inasmuch as they are simple, enjoying, and full of the elegance of the senses’—Leigh Hunt, ‘XII. Anacreon’, in Hunt, The Seer or Common-Places Refreshed, in Two Parts (London: Edward Moxon, 1840), I, 31.

6. Jeffrey N. Cox’s ground-breaking book Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School: Keats, Shelley, Hunt and their Circle (Cambridge: CUP, 1998) demonstrates the influence of classicism on the Cockney School of Romanticism.

7. Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland, ed. by Andrew Carpenter (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998), p. 90.

8. Sheridan’s ‘Song’ is reprinted in Carpenter, Verse from Eighteenth-Century Ireland, pp. 357–58.

9. Moore wrote in his diary entry for 21 Sep 1824: ‘Find that there is some pamphlet published (and mentioned in “John Bull,”) which accuses me of having borrowed my translation of Anacreon from another translation’—The Journal of Thomas Moore, ed. by Wilfred S. Dowden, 6 vols (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983–1991), II, 768.

10. Ibid.

11. Wordsworth’s ‘Anacreon Imitated’ is in William Wordsworth: The Earliest Poems 1785–1790, ed. by Duncan Wu (Manchester: Carcanet, 2002), pp. 4–5.

12. Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, ed. by Lord John Russell, 6 vols (London: Longmans, 1853–57), I, 23. Moore also reflects here on the magazine’s short-lived existence with a bitterness that stemmed perhaps from a recognition that the Great Reform Act of 1832 had done little to change the lot of the majority of his countrymen, culturally or politically: ‘it died’, he wrote of the Anthologia Hibernica, ‘as all things die in that country for want of money—and of talent; for the Irish never either fight or write well on their own soil’ (ibid.).

13. The poems are cited in Moore’s ‘Memoirs of Myself’ (1833), included in Russell’s edition of the Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence of Moore, I, 23.

14. The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, Collected by Himself, 10 vols (London: Longman, 1840–41), I, xxiii.

15. See Howard Mumford Jones, The Harp that Once—A Chronicle of the Life of Thomas Moore (New York: Henry Holt, 1937), pp. 42–43.

16. Ibid.

17. Rosenmeyer, Poetics of Imitation, p. 62.

18. Thomas Moore, ‘Ode I’, Odes of Anacreon, Translated into English, with Notes (London: J. Stockdale, 1800), pp. 23–26. All further references to the Odes are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the text.

19. Rosenmeyer points out that Greek examples of imitation are characteristically based on the notion of competition, agon, not co-operation—Poetics of Imitation, p. 70.

20. Moore, Odes of Anacreon, p. 24.

21. Ibid., pp. 20–22.

22. Ronan Kelly, for example, interprets ‘The Fire-Worshippers’ episode in Lalla Rookh as ‘an unmistakable allegory of British–Irish relations’—Bard of Erin: The Life of Thomas Moore (Dublin: Penguin Ireland, 2008), p. 284.

23. See ‘Appendix C’ to Rosenmeyer’s Poetics of Imitation, p. 241.

24. Ibid.

25. Oliver Taplin, Greek Fire (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989) offers a vivid visual and narrative history of sexual violence and rivalry in ancient Greek myth and art. It might also be noted that the sexually lewd songs of the eighteenth-century glee master Captain Morris, discussed below, highlight the sexual aspect of Greek myth. See, for example, ‘The Amours of the Gods’, in The Festival of Anacreon. Containing a Collection of Modern Songs, Written for the Anacreontic Society, The Beef-Steak, and Humbug Clubs. By Captain Morris, Mr Brownlow, Mr Hewardine, Sir John Moore, Capt. Thompson, and Other Lyric Writers, Whose Compositions are the Delight of the Festive Board, 7th edn (London: Peacock, 1790), pp. 57–58. Stanza II depicts Jove, disguised as a swan, visiting Leda: ‘On stroking his neck, whish [sic] she scarcely could span, | It quickly became a sweet Langolee’. Langolee is Irish slang for an erect penis.

26. Moore, Odes of Anacreon, p. 14.

27. The phrase is Ronan Kelly’s—see Bard of Erin, p. 164.

28. The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, ed. by A. D. Godley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1910), p. 180. All further references to the Irish Melodies are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the text.

29. Robert Welch, Irish Poetry from Moore to Yeats (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1980), p. 29.

30. Norman Vance, Irish Literature: A Social HistoryTradition Identity and Difference, 2nd edn (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999), p. 106.

31. Claire Connolly, A Cultural History of the Irish Novel, 1790–1829 (Cambridge: CUP, 2012), pp. 1, 69.

32. ‘Simplicity is the distinguishing feature of these odes’, writes Moore in his prefatory ‘Remarks on Anacreon’—Odes of Anacreon, p. 14.

33. Other London societies included the Whig-leaning Beefsteak Club, the full title of which was the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, formed in England in 1735, whose noble ranks were swelled by the membership of the Prince of Wales in 1785, then a Whig. Members of the club were required to wear a uniform of buff and blue (the Whig colours) and pledge the society motto: ‘beef and liberty’. The Beefsteak Club in Ireland, which was founded c. 1753 by Thomas Sheridan, father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was a vehicle for politics as well as song, and was attacked in two Catholic newspapers, the Dublin Herald and Morning Register in 1823 for its anti-Catholic feeling. Other active Anglo-Irish musical societies in Ireland included the Irish Harmonic Society, which lasted from 1803 to 1810, and the Anacreontic Society, an orchestral society that counted many of the nobility among its members but which, in sympathy with the Anacreontic ethos of harmony, welcomed both Catholic and Protestant members. See Robert Joseph Allen, The Clubs of Augustan London, vol. 7 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), pp. 137–42 and Margaret Hogan, Anglo-Irish Music, 1780–1830 (Cork: Cork University Press), p. 74.

34. Some clubs did, however, hold ladies’ nights. There is much in Marsh’s library a volume entitled The Ladies Collection of Catches, Glees, Canons, Canzonets, Madrigals, &c., Selected from the Works of the Most Eminent Composers, vol. 3 (London: Windsor Catch Club, 1790). The songs contained therein include drinking songs and amatory verses, although they are markedly restrained in comparison with those in other volumes.

35. Letters of Thomas Moore, ed. by Wilfred S. Dowden, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), I, 33.

36. The entries are from the multi-part volume, catalogued by Marsh’s as Hibernian Catch Club: Minute Book. Rules Agreed 20 June 1797. Minutes of meetings—15 Dec. 1812. List of members 1811.

37. The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, Collected by Himself, 10 vols (London: Longmans, 1840–41), V, xiii.

38. ‘Billy’s too Young to Drive us’ and ‘Billy Pitt and the Farmer’ are included in Morris’s Songs, Political and Convivial, 24th edn (London: Davis, 1802), pp.16–29.

39. The Poetical Works of Thomas Moore, Collected by Himself, 10 vols (London: Longmans, 1840–41), V, xiv–v.

40. Ibid., p. xv.

41. The Festival of Anacreon: Being a Complete Selection of Songs by Captain Morris (Dublin: Ridgway, 1790), p. 37.

42. The Janissaries were the elite infantry units, highly respected for their military prowess, that formed the standing army of the Ottoman Empire from the late fourteenth century to 1826.

43. It is notable how frequently Morris’s name crops up in Moore’s personal correspondence. An entry in Moore’s journal for 26 Sep 1818 observes that Morris had seen singing at the Beefsteak Club and that it was popularly known that having tried his hand with R. B. Sheridan’s sister, he had ‘took to drinking at last in despair of winning her’—Journal of Thomas Moore, I, 53. Morris was on Moore’s mind again as late as 1839, when his publisher Murray informed him that he had received two manuscript volumes of Morris’s songs from which his widow, indulging ‘in most extravagant notions of what she was to make by them—talked of 10,000 pounds!’ (ibid., V, 2024). In terms of popular music culture of the first half of the nineteenth century, Morris was a name to be reckoned with.

44. Criticism of the Little poems was mainly of a moral nature. Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred pejoratively to the ‘wanton poems of Thomas Little Esqre ’—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected Letters, ed. by Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956–71), II, 905. Meanwhile, the Tory J. G. Lockhart, writing in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine under the pseudonym ‘Baron von Lauerwinkel’, took the opportunity to air his political rivalries with Moore by condemning him as a poet of bad taste and vulgar sensibility, especially in his treatment of women. Lockhart warns Ireland not to align herself politically with what he calls the ‘gaudy impurities and tinsel Jacobinism of this deluded poet’—‘Remarks on the Poetry of Thomas Moore’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 4/19 (Oct 1818), 4.

45. Harry White, Music and the Irish Literary Imagination (Oxford: OUP, 2008), p. 75.

46. On hearing lines recited from Keats’s ‘Song to Pan’, from Endymion (1818), Wordsworth is said to have remarked ‘a very pretty piece of paganism’—cited in Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent (Oxford: OUP, 1997), p. 85.

47. Quoted in Luther A. Brewer, My Leigh Hunt Library, 2 vols (New York: B. Franklin, 1970), I, 56.

48. The ‘Parody’ appeared in The Examiner, 5/219 (Mar 1812), 157–58 and was later reprinted in Moore’s Intercepted Letters; or, the Two-penny Post-Bag (1813). See my headnote to the satire The Satires of Thomas Moore, vol. 5 of British Satire, 1785–1814, ed. by Jane Moore (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2003), p. 57.

49. Moore’s friendship with Hunt was embittered in 1828 over the publication of Hunt’s Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries, a volume that, in Moore’s eyes, despoiled his deceased friend Byron’s memory.

50. The Harry Brown epistles to his cousin Thomas Brown, jun., are reprinted in The Selected Writings of Leigh Hunt, vol. 5: Poetical Works, 1801–21, ed. by John Strachan (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2003), pp. 135–40, 143–48.

51. For discussion of this common tonal register in Hunt’s Preface see ibid., p. xxiii.

52. Leigh Hunt, Foliage; or, Poems Original and Translated (London: C. & J. Ollier, 1818), p. 32.

53. Hunt, ‘Anacreon’, see n. 5 above.

54. ‘Anacreon Imitated’, ll. 39–44; in The Earliest Wordsworth: Poems 1785–1790, ed. by Duncan Wu (Manchester: Carcanet, 2002), p. 5.

55. Ibid., p. 86.

56. ‘Portrait of his Mistress’, ll. 29–32. This piece was first published in Hunt’s journal The Indicator on 13 Oct 1819 and not subsequently reprinted. It is included in The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, ed. by H. S. Milford (Oxford: OUP, 1923), p. 392.

57. Keats: The Complete Works, ed. by Miriam Allott (London: Longman, 1970), p. 28.

58. Don Juan, Canto I, 104.827–32; in Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, ed. by Jerome J. McGann, 7 vols (Oxford: OUP, 1980–93), V, 41.

59. William Hazlitt, ‘Mr. T. Moore—Mr. Leigh Hunt’, The Spirit of the Age (Oxford: OUP, 1911), pp. 254, 251.