The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 7. Moore
With respect to Moore, on the other hand, the debt to music, though it may be exaggerated, certainly exists. It has been a critical observation, ever since dispassionate reviewing came into occasional existence, that the rhythm of Irish poets, though sometimes a little facile and jingly, is usually varied and correct; whether this, in its turn, has something to do with any general musical attitude need not be discussed. In his longer poems, Moore, perhaps, shows the correctness rather than the variety; and he has a considerable liking for that heroic couplet to which, as we have seen, no one of the greater elders born in the same decade with himself was much inclined. In fact, there is no metre like this for poetical satire; and it need hardly be said that Moore is a very expert satirist in verse. But it is when we come to his lyrics that the strength of his prosodic power, its exemplification of the new variety, colour and outline, and, withal, its direct connection with actual “setting,” are clearly seen. Most of these, as is well known, are definitely adjusted to certain musical airs; and it is probably not rash to say that Moore (who, it must be remembered, was a skilled composer as well as practitioner of music) never wrote a lyric without an actual or possible accompaniment sounding in his ears at the time. But it is greatly to his credit that this has not resulted either (as has been too frequent with others) in mere facile sing-song, or (as has not been unknown) in mechanically rhythmical but spiritless stuff, in which the whole burden of charm is left to the musical setting itself. And no ear that is an ear can possibly deny, even if it tries to discount, the sound-charm of not a little of Moore’s lyrical work. Also, he has a virtuosity, in this respect, which it is difficult to discover anywhere else. Some of the airs to which he composed “words” are, as he most frankly confesses (accompanying the confession with a really unnecessary apology), so odd and “catchy” that it is necessary to violate at least eighteenth-century laws to get their equivalent in metre at all. The once enormously popular Eveleen’s Bower and the less known but much more beautiful At the mid Hour are capital instances. But Moore has conquered the difficulty by an extension certainly—but only by an extension at least occasionally licensable—of those laws of equivalence and substitution which, perhaps, he himself doubtfully approved and, in theory, may have hardly comprehended.