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of-The Burial of Sir John Moore' was his own composition."
The next witness, Samuel O'Sullivan, was present when the poem was professed to be composed. He writes to Archdeacon Russell from Phoenix Park, April 22nd, 1841:
“ I think it was about the summer of 1814 or 1815 (I can't for the moment say for a certainty which), I was sitting in my college rooms. I then occupied the ground floor of No. 26, and was reading the Edinboro' Annual Register, in which
a very striking and beautiful account is given of the burial of Sir John Moore. Wolfe came in, and (as you know my custom was) I made him listen to me as I read the passage, which he heard with deep and sensible emotion. We were both loud and ardent in our commendation of it, and after some time I proposed to our friend to take a walk into the country. He consented, and we bent our way to Simpson's nursery; I believe half-way between Dublin and New Rock. During our stroll Wolfe was unusually meditative and silent, and I remember being provoked a little by meeting with no response or sympathy to my frequent bursts of admiration about the country and scenery, in which on other occasions he used so cordially to join; but he atoned for his apparent dulness and insensibility on his return, when he repeated for me the first and last verses of his beautiful ode, in the composition of which he had been absorbed during our little perambulation. I expressed rapturous approbation, with which he seemed greatly pleased. My brother (Rev. Mortimer O'Sullivan) was present when this
took place, and was also greatly delighted. These were the only verses which our dear friend at first contemplated; but moved, as he said, by our approbation, his mind worked on the subject after he left us, and in the morning he came over to me with the other verses by which it was completed.”
An anonymous work, entitled College Recollections, was published by Longman, 1825. It is not mentioned in the Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature, or included in the British Museum Catalogue. The Dictionary of National Biography states that it was written by Samuel O'Sullivan, but this is certainly a mistake. Its writer must have been Mortimer O'Sullivan. The preface says that Waller was the Rev. Charles Woulfe. Page 37 tells the story thus :
“The Waller of my story was no ordinary person. He was the author of the 'Lines on the Burial of Sir John Moore. I am sure I need not apologise for giving the history of this spirited little composition.
“He called by appointment one fine summer evening on his friend Sydney, who shared my chambers.
“Waller,” said Sydney, ' you must not go until I have read you this account of Sir John Moore. It is quite worthy of Southey, who is, I am persuaded, the author.'
“Sydney was not a man to have his imperatives disputed, and Waller, though eager for his walk, sat down patiently to hear the account of Sir John Moore's burial as given in the Annual Register. He kindled into high enthusiasm as he listened, and during our walk into the country scarcely spoke. When he returned, Waller and Sydney were conferring together, and hearing the latter passing a very eloquent encomium on something Waller had done, I inquired what it was, and found he had just finished two verses of the lines on Sir John Moorethose which appear in the printed copies, the first and last. I joined in the praises of them with great warmth, but Sydney's praise was accounted valuable by his friends ; and whether Waller felt it an encouragement, or that the subject continued to act upon him and to sustain his enthusiasm, on the next morning at breakfast he produced the entire poem."
Rabelais says a well-bred man should believe all he is told, and the Athenæum agrees with him, and adds if any man say he has written a certain work, no one should question it.
It is submitted that the above evidence proves only that Wolfe claimed the authorship; it does not disprove the contention that Wolfe had the completed poem in his possession perhaps years before the time of its professed conception.
The poem is said to have been published first in Carrick's Morning Post for 1815. No file of this paper is kept at the British Museum, but one exists in the Dublin National Library. This was searched, and although the poem could not be found, two cuttings had been made in the journal. It was
certainly published in the Newry Telegraph, April 19th, 1817, and found its way into Blackwood's Magazine for June, 1817. It came under Byron's notice in January, 1822, who so highly praised it that its fame became universal. As Wolfe was its reputed author Archdeacon Russell ,
wrote biography of him, which has the reputation of being the dullest ever written; yet it went through eight editions.
“The Burial of Sir John Moore" has this unique character as a poem, viz. it is a rhymed affidavit. All other poets in singing great events indulge largely in rhetorical figures, but leave facts alone, doing what Coleridge advised poets to do : “ Examine Nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to your imagination than to your memory." Campbell's "Hohenlinden” is entirely false to the facts ; Tennyson's “ Charge of the Light Brigade” indulges only in generalities—the phrase “Valley of Death" was used by the Crimean soldiers months before. Yet some of the highest poetry reads like bald prose. An old Scotswoman hearing Burns' “Cottar's Saturday Night” read, said, “You don't call that poetry, do you? It is just like it is !” One true test of a masterpiece in literature is that everything is so simple and apt that we fancy we ourselves could compose a similar work; when we try we are sadly disabused.
That poetry is best whose generous strains,
The Atheneum states (May 27th, 1882) : “ If the metrical movement of Wolfe's poem had only been as much his own as the sentiments, thoughts and emotions, we must, perhaps, have placed it at the head of all English elegies. Yet in an elegy the metrical music must be original if the poem is to claim transcendent excellence."
It then goes on to say that Wolfe copied his metre from Tom Moore's
Oh! make her a grave where the sunny beams rest
When they promise a glorious to-morrow;
From her own loved Island of sorrow.
But there is a much older example of the same metre quoted in Hutchinson's fugitive poetry, Chandos Classics, and dated 1630 :
BURIAL OF A PILGRIM FATHER IN AMERICA.
We anxiously hollowed the frozen ground,
And heaped up the lonely furrow;
And we feared his whistling arrow.
When the surf on the sea beach heavily beat,
When the breeze in the wilderness muttered ;
Or the watchword cautiously uttered.
And we left the dust of our brother to lie
In its noisome habitation
To its heavenly habitation,