Though an angel should write, still ’tis devils that print.Sir Thomas Moore
To Althea, From Prison
by Richard Lovelace (1617 -1657)
It may seem an odd pairing, Richard Lovelace and Thomas Moore, but each were keenly attuned to the romanticism of their age and very much politically opposed to British Episcopalian rule. Lovelace has faded off into obscurity, while Moore is beloved by the Irish, as much for his biography of his friend Lord Byron as his book Irish Melodies.. Moore was so popular that he was paid exorbitant sums for future work, his publishers confident in his hit making ability. It’s unclear if Lovelace died as penniless as it is sometimes reported, his family connections having bailed him out of prison more than once, but he certainly was diminished in stature at the time of his death.
Moore was the only son of Catholic parents, born in London at a time when Irish Catholics could not vote, serve on juries, bear arms or attend elite schools. Moore was afforded an upper middle class upbringing because of his father’s business success, allowing him the means combined with the talent to give voice to Ireland’s plight of laboring under British rule.
Moore was one of the first Catholics accepted into Trinity College in Dublin. Emboldened by his friends Emmet and Hudson at Trinity, he wrote an impassioned anonymous letter opposing English rule, which was published in an Irish newspaper. His friends were captured following an armed rebellion in 1798, Robert Emmet was hanged for his involvement, Edward Hudson was imprisoned and then exiled. Moore was called to testify against his friends during the investigation, but refused to answer questions about the rebels. Emmet was immortalized by Moore in his poem below, as well as by James Joyce who incorporated Emmet’s words at his sentencing into his poem Ulysses; “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written….”
O Breathe Not His Name
By Sir Thomas Moore
Oh! breathe not his name, let it sleep in the shade,
Where cold and unhonored 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, tho’ in silence it weeps,
Shall brighten with verdure the grave where he sleeps;
And the tear that we shed, tho’ in secret it rolls,
Shall long keep his memory green in our souls.