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John Sydney Taylor
The Ballad on Sir John Moore.
Morning Chronicle  No. 17,338  (11 November 1824)
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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No. 17,338. LONDON, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 1824. Price Sevenpence.



John Sydney Taylor, Byron and Wolfe

Sir—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.

Medwin, Conversations of Lord Byron

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.

Mr. Stewart, the Editor of the Belfast News-letter, has also written on the subject to the Editor of the Courier, in consequence of having seen the mutilated copy of the verses in that Journal. The respectable evidence of this Gentleman minutely substantiates my statement—he having been Editor of the Newry Telegraph when the poem was inserted in that Paper on its first publication. He mentions the exact date, which also gives the poem in a corrected state, according to the original copy, which he received from an intimate friend of Wolfe—he laments the bad taste which injured those beautiful lines. His corrections from the copy agree in all essential points with those which I had made from memory. I gave the lines as Wolfe recited them to me long before they were published; that he altered a word or two in transcribing them afterwards is consonant with the practice of Poets, and that is all the difference that exists between Mr. Stewart’s copy and mine, making an alteration, not in the sense, but in the melody of two lines. In publishing this Gentleman’s letter, The Courier, which became at first the dupe of a silly and malicious imposture against the fame of Wolfe, has made adequate reparation to his memory.

H. Marshall, in The Courier
Z, in Morning Chronicle

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.

I am not, however, surprised that other Papers were deceived by this letter at first, from the ostensible manner in which The Courier put it forward. It was printed in the same type with the leading article of that paper, and the more elegant passages of the epistle were honoured with the emphatic distinction of Roman capitals. I saw at once the writer was an ignorant quack, incapable of higher minstrelsy than what is accustomed to delight the literati of the Seven Dials—but I was bound to answer the letter, since the press gave it circulation, and I had appeared in the lists, for Wolfe, against all claimants. I, however, made inquiries on the subject, and was informed of particulars, which have since been explained in The Durham Chronicle. Out of several letters, which I received on this subject, I shall take the liberty of subjoining the following, dated from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the 6th of November, 1824:

Sir—Being well acquainted with the city of Durham, I have no hesitation in stating, that there is no Dr. Marshall, M.D., residing there, nor do I believe there is such a person as the Reverend Mr. Adderson, of Battersby, that place being merely an old farm-house. I am satisfied, therefore, the letter in The Courier is altogether a hoax. Just as I am writing this, a Durham paper has reached me, which developes the whole mystery, and which I shall transmit to you. Your letters are conclusive and satisfactory to every one with whom I have conversed. I have the honour to be, Sir, your very obedient servant,

“To John Sydney Taylor, Esq.
George Miller, in St. James’s Chronicle

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. I remain, Sir,

Your obedient humble Servant,
No. 1, Garden-court, Middle Temple.