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The Lines on Sir John Moore.
Globe and Traveller  No. 6848  (11 November 1824)
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH

The Globe & Traveller.

No. 6848. FRIDAY EVENING, NOVEMBER 11, 1824. Price 7d.


We insert the following letter of Mr. Taylor, on the claim of the late Rev. C. Wolfe, to the Lines on Sir J. Moore. Mr. Taylor, we think, “guards a title which was strong before;” for his former communications were quite conclusive. We give his remarks, however, which derive interest from the talents of the advocate, as well as the importance of the subject.

J. S. Taylor, Ballad on Sir John Moore

“Having originally vindicated the claim of the late Rev. Charles Wolfe to the honourable distinction of being the author of the Ode on Sir John Moore, I may now fairly submit to the public, that the accuracy of my statement has been placed beyond dispute. The letter of mine which appeared in The Chronicle on the 29th ult. was never fairly opposed in any of its particulars. The general assertions of adverse claimants left the circumstantial account which I then gave still unimpeached. I knew that if any one really doubted the conclusive nature of that statement, other testimony would soon appear to satisfy the most sceptical of the validity of my conclusion. That testimony has been adduced in abundance from sources with which I had no communication, and from Gentlemen of whom I had no personal knowledge, several of those authorities have written from remote places, at a date when they could not have possibly seen my letter, and yet by an exact coincidence they have verified the most minute circumstances which it detailed. The question must now be set at rest as a matter of controversy, however it may live as a subject of curious interest in the history of literature.

“I believe there never occurred an instance in which so small a work was contended for by so many ambitious claimants, but in no instance have the rivals of Wolfe supported their assertions by the evidence of talents above mediocrity, or been enabled to shew any thing but a contrast between the humility of their known works, and the solitary excellence to which they had laid claim.

“It is highly deserving of observation, that all the spurious candidates have aspired to the fame of the spurious copy of the verses. In my original letter I explained the absurdity into which they had fallen. I corrected from memory the many errors which Captain Medwin’s copy gave to the world; some of these so marred the beauty and fire of the original as to bring down the inspiration of the poet to the level of no very musical prose. Indeed, if the person who first made the alterations in Wolfe’s poem, had himself undertaken to indite an epic on military affairs, his work might well deserve the name which was given to a former unpoetic enterprize of the kind, and which obtained the descriptive appellation of a Gazette in Verse. Some of Wolfe’s lines had been so mutilated and debased, as to be more worthy of a pedagogue, with a sprig of birch about his temples, than of the poet with his immortal laurel. The man who spoiled these verses was indeed guiltless of any commerce with the Muses. Apollo would acquit him of the charge of having stolen fire from heaven, yet this was the author whom the spurious claimants for the authorship of the Ode on Sir John Moore have chosen to follow. Such is their taste, that the crime which he has committed against poetry appears to have enchanted them; they honor his delinquency, because it has debased genius to the level of the mediocrity which they practise. They look for literary fame while they venerate instinctive vandalism.

“The corrections which I made in the Ode, and by which it has been restored to its original excellence, did not, at first, seem to daunt those intrepid candidates for notoriety. It was of little consequence to them what essential differences existed between the original and the copy, though should any of them make out a claim to the latter, it would be the most conclusive evidence that he never wrote the former. He who metamorphosed the verses into the state in which Lord Byron found them, acted in the same manner as one who would place a nose of wax and a flaxen wig on a statue by Praxiteles.

“Since my statement was published in The Chronicle, the Paper called The Dublin Mail has corroborated all which I had advanced; I mentioned that I had heard, long ago, the Verses were first published in an Irish Newspaper, but that I had never seen them so published. The writer in The Dublin Mail states that the Paper was The Newry Telegraph, and that they were published there some time in the month of April, 1817, that is about two months before on Gentleman says he saw Lord Byron write them, and more than two years after they had been recited to me by Wolfe.—That Lord Byron took a copy of them, I believe, but it is to be regretted that the original, in its perfect state, had not fallen into his hands.

“However dull and ridiculous the letter signed ‘H. Marshall, M.D.’ appeared, it was copied with alacrity into several Papers, which have since, very properly, felt ashamed of the cause into which some stupid pretenders to wit betrayed them. But however despicable that composition was, I felt it right to have its calumny repelled in every vehicle of intelligence, in which I could learn that it had been inserted, for some Papers had given a conspicuous place in their columns to that precious specimen of ignorance and folly, who had not done me, as well as the public, the justice of copying my answer.—The Editor of The Times, on inserting the short note which I addressed to him on the subject, annexed a comment, observing that I ought to have sent it privately to Dr. or Mr. Marshall; I thank him for his advice, but I know when a private communication is necessary, without applying for instruction to his code of honour; there is no use in fighting with shadows. The Editor of The Times knew well, when he volunteered this opinion, that the letter which he had too readily copied was a paltry deception; that the signature was fictitious, and that there were no responsible parties but the publishers. The Chronicle had detailed the particulars of the hoax two days before this advice was given to me; but as The Times had circulated the offensive matter, I thought it fair that its readers should know with what contempt I treated the Dr.’s letter, and with what terms I branded any one who would avow himself to be its author. Were it even a case for private communication, I should still have thought it right to repel the grossness of the charge as publicly as it had been applied. Where a public attack is made, it ought to be as openly confuted; when an insult is blown with a trumpet, I do not like to answer it merely in a whisper.

“So much for the Durham letter, which has, however, been productive of some good, as it has provoked much of the evidence which the friends of Wolfe have since given to the public on this interesting subject. It has also served to elicit the clever and humorous parody which first appeared in The Globe and Traveller, and which is likely to survive the occasion, which called it forth, like the Ode on which it is s felicitous a burlesque. A letter has also appeared in The St. James’s Chronicle, from the high authority of Dr. Miller, known to literature by his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, which he delivered in the College of Dublin, where Wolfe was a student; his testimony in favour of the latter is not merely expressed in terms of affectionate friendship; it conveys the sentiments of a mind full of admiration of his genius, and his virtues; his letter was written at Armagh, on the same day that mine was published in The Morning Chronicle, so that he could not possibly have seen my statement, yet he draws the character of Wolfe with the closest resemblance to the sketch which I had given of him. He laments his untimely death, as a loss to religion and letters, in the language of one who knew how to estimate the qualities of mind and heart which the grave too early closed upon.

“I will now add, that however competent the evidence on behalf of Wolfe is to produce a clear and satisfactory conviction on every rational mind, yet but a small part of the testimony has been advanced that is possible to be adduced on this question. There are several of the contemporaries and intimate friends of the lamented author, whose statements, if it were necessary to have recourse to them in this case, would alone constitute moral demonstration. He who gave the gallant and traduced Moore his merited fame, ought to have the unimpaired enjoyment of his own. He who, when detraction was busy in depriving the martyred soldier of his last great reward—the good opinion of his country—planted the laurel on his forsaken grave, should not in his own tomb be deserted and forsaken. Poetic talent but too often stoops below the loftiest ambition, to
——‘Heap the shrine of luxury and pride,
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.’

“But when its splendour is given to the last asylum of departed worth, which the ingratitude of man had darkened, it fulfils the noblest purpose of its mission upon earth. It gives a new charm to truth, and makes even successless virtue attractive. Though the Spartan devotion with which Moore bled for his country was long denied the honours of impartial history, his fame was, at once, and splendidly, avenged, by the inspired retribution of the poet.

“No. 1, Garden-court, Middle Temple.”

H Marshall, Ode on the Burial of Moore

As for H. Marshall, M.D., the Courier’s claimant and fifteen years’ reader, we are happy to be enabled, by the kindness of a Durham correspondent, to lay before our readers some of his real poetry, on a subject, too, similar to that of the ballad which he claims; though it must be confessed in a style somewhat different. But it was said of Homer, that he far surpassed all men in every kind of eloquence (omnes et in omni genere eloquentiæ longe antecessit), the Margites being, as Parson Adams informs us, as excellent in the comic style as the Iliad and Odyssey were in the epic. What, too, might not be expected from a man who had read the Courier fifteen years? The following are the real lines, extracted from the Durham Chronicle, Dec. 8, 1821:—


Bolton, the great mechanic, is no more;
I hope he’s landed on the Elysian shore.
He died on Saturday—collected—sober—
The twenty-seventh day of last October;
His age was sixty years, though many men
Survive, indeed, to three score years and ten,
And buried on the Monday afternoon,
Which some were pleased to say was over soon;
Yet, notwithstanding, many friends attended;
And when the sacred ceremony ended,
It might be written for the world to read—
This is a Christian funeral indeed.
The day was fine, the people all sedate,
The hearse mov’d on in solitary state:
And more propriety I never saw
Observ’d at such a solemn scene of awe.
Replete with due decorum was the day
On which this man of genius got away,
With credit to himself,—no more to truck—
In this vain world,—his latest clock had struck
The hour of twelve. His morning is begun,
Where he may view the never-setting sun.
The planetary system he could scan
As well, perhaps, as any other man;
He knew astronomy and optics too,
Could make surprising glasses to look through,
As well as clocks of magnitude and size;
Could read the signs and wonders of the skies;
Had various curiosities in store—
And now I’ll say but very little more.

I held a friendship with this man in life,
And I respect his poor old widow’d wife,
Whose grief is not a little, that is sure;
Her loss of property she must endure,
As well as him who merited regard:
Her own fidelity has its reward.
In death his skill can hardly he diminish’d,
Some works of consequence remain unfinish’d,
And must remain as lumber on the shelf,
Since few, I apprehend, but his own self,
Could put together (such his genius run)
What he invented and what he began.
South-street, Durham, November, 1821.

There is a truth and modesty in the whole which entitles them to the highest praise. These two lines,
“The planetary system he could scan
“As well, perhaps, as any other man,”
are just, but cautious. The next couplet,
“He knew astronomy and optics too,
“Could make surprising glasses to look through;
not only conveys approbation, but instruction; for it shows us that the use of optics is to make glasses, and the use of glasses is to look through. This is real information, which we have never derived from any modern ode, with the exception of our good friend Dr. Peppermint’s, which is fraught with peptic precepts as well as poetic pathos. It reminds us of the early and pure ages of poetry.

There is one touch of Dr. Marshall’s which should not be forgotten—“He died on Saturday, collected, sober.” Having died on Saturday, the Doctor imagined that it might be hinted that “the great mechanic” died drunk. Malicious and unfounded insinuations on this head are at once quashed by the concluding word.