Transcription and Notes on Julia Moore's "A Sketch of Lord Byron's Life"

Transcription and Notes on Julia Moore's
"A Sketch of Lord Byron's Life"

by Tom Dillingham

At the risk of taking us very far afield, indeed, I might remind us of the work of Julia A. Moore, "Sweet Singer of Michigan," whose "A Sketch of Lord Byron's Life" might well be worth including in a course exploring attitudes toward the Byronic hero. Julia A. Moore has usually been the butt of ironic admiration when not the occasion of outright hilarity, but especially in our present political jungle, the ambivalences (several, at a quick count) of her expressions on Byron may seem surprisingly apt. The poem is too long to post here, but some sample verses might show the reasons for tracking it down:

"A Sketch of Lord Byron's Life"

"Lord Byron" was an Englishman
  A poet I believe,
His first works in old England
  Was poorly received.
Perhaps it was "Lord Byron's" fault
  And perhaps it was not.
His life was full of misfortunes,
  Ah, strange was his lot.

The character of "Lord Byron"
  Was of a low degree,
Caused by his reckless conduct,
  And bad company.
He sprung from an ancient house,
  Noble, but poor indeed,
His career on earth was marred
  By his own misdeeds.

Generous and tender hearted,
   Affectionate by extreme,
In temper he was wayward,
  A poor "Lord" without means;
Ah, he was a handsome fellow
  With great poetic skill,
His great intellectual powers
  He could use at his will.

He was a sad child of nature,
  Of fortune and of fame;
Also sad child to society,
  For nothing did he gain
But slander and ridicule,
   Throughout his native land.
Thus the "poet of the passions,"
   Lived, unappreciated, man.

Yet at the age of 24,
   "Lord Byron" then had gained
The highest, highest pinnacle
  Of literary fame.
Ah, he had such violent passions
  They was beyond his control,
Yet the public with its justice,
   Sometimes would him extol.

Sometimes again "Lord Byron"
  Was censured by the press,
Such obloquy, he could not endure,
  So he done what was the best,
He left his native country,
  This great unhappy man;
The only wish he had, "'tis said,"
  He might die, sword in hand.

He had joined the Grecian Army,
  This man of delicate frame;
And there he died in a distant land,
  And left on earth his fame.
"Lord Byron's" age was 56 years,
  Then closed a sad career,
Of the most celebrated "Englishman"
   Of the nineteenth century.

Well, I got carried away and could not resist the whole. I have no idea whether Julia A. Moore gets proper credit for inventing the use of "scare quotes" but she certainly should. I assume their presence here is, at least in part, an expression of her strong republican values. I copy this from a 1900 issue of the Cornhill Booklet, but as near as I can tell from the editorial comments, the poem would have been published in 1878. I also note that there is an edition of Moore's works (Mortal Remains: The Complete Poetry, Prose and Songs of Julia A. Moore, the Sweet Singer of Michigan is published by Michigan State University Press, edited by Thomas J. Riedlinger; previous edition 1928) so anyone who wishes to enjoy her elegy for "William House and Family," all of whom died of smallpox or her response to "The Great Chicago Fire." By the way, though I may have been quilty of a couple of typos (including just here -- quilty instead of guilty), there should be a comprehensive [sic] with the poem, since I have reproduced her spelling and punctuation as it appears in the Cornhill.

--Tom Dillingham
2 March 1998