Write My Name: Authorship in the Poetry of Thomas Moore by Justin Tonra, Reviewed by Julia M. Wright
 


Write My Name: Authorship in the Poetry of Thomas Moore
By Justin Tonra
(Routledge, 2021) xiv + 193pp.
Reviewed by Julia M. Wright on 2021-02-22.

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Justin Tonra's study offers a welcome new twist in Moore studies. Since the early 1990s, Moore scholarship has largely focussed on three branches of his verse: Irish nationalism (almost exclusively the Irish Melodies), Orientalism (mostly Lalla Rookh), and satire (primarily satires that appeared under the pseudonym Tom Brown). Moore has been an aside or a footnote in other areas, most notably in Byron studies for quite some time as well as for his 1806 poems critical of the United States and for his debts to prominent Irish women writers. His prose continues to get sporadic attention, especially the Memoirs of Captain Rock. But the breadth and diversity of his extensive corpus of about thirty volumes continues to be a largely unmapped field, with just a few well-worn pathways through it.

Tonra helps to carve out two new pathways for Moore studies: book history and stylometry. While scholars (most notably Jane Moore, in her indispensable edition of Moore's satires) have traced some of Moore's publication history, Tonra examines the details of that history to advance our understanding of the marketing of his corpus, including the specific effects of copyright, book piracy, and self-censorship on revisions after initial publication. The four chapters on book history center on his first two volumes of original poetry, The Poetical Works of the late Thomas Little (1801) and Epistles, Odes and Other Poems (1806), and his two major Orientalist poems, Lalla Rookh (1817) and Loves of the Angels (1823). In the fifth and final chapter, Tonra shifts from the bibliographic to the stylometric, using distant reading to analyze the totality of Moore's volumes of poetry before his collected Poetical Works.

Tonra begins by situating Moore's Little poems in the context of a century of English erotic verse from Rochester to the sentimental Della Cruscans (18) as well as tracing Moore's later revisions to tone down some of the more heated lines that shocked a noisy few of his contemporaries. This first chapter offers a salutary warning to be careful when using Moore editions: Moore's works are remarkably unstable. Tonra traces significant alterations between the original Little poems and their appearance in the Poetical Works of Thomas Moore (1840-41) that Moore edited himself. What emerges from this chapter is a Moore who appears sensitive to early criticisms and willing to take the time--decades later--to alter his work to be more palatable. But as Tonra notes, "Victorian ideas of respectability" also shaped what Moore privately termed "the castration of the young Mr Little" (28).

Focussing on Moore's second original volume, Epistles, Odes and Other Poems, the next chapter details Moore's response to US politics and Americans' response to Moore. Tonra notes in particular the importance of the Federalists on the one hand and, on the other, revolutionary anxieties over authorial rights in which there is "a short step from 'vested rights' to hereditary privilege, monarchy, and tyranny" (47). Here, too, Tonra traces evidence that Moore altered his poems, including shifting their political tone for the Poetical Works in ways that recall William Wordsworth's later, more conservative revisions to the Prelude. Tonra then turns to the thornier issue of "Copyright and Authorship" (60), centering on "the Romantic cult of the author" (61) as exemplified by Wordsworth (64).

Tonra thus situates Moore in relation to "British Romanticism" (61)--and, centrally, Byron--rather than the Irish version traced by various scholars since Tom Dunne's influential essay on Irish Romanticism in Romanticism in National Context, ed. Roy Porter (1988). Claire Connolly's "Irish Romanticism, 1800-1830" in the Cambridge History of Irish Literature (2006) is notably absent here, despite sharing a number of concerns with Write My Name. In Irish Romanticism, as scholars such as Connolly have discussed, Moore is not merely the subaltern of Byron but also part of a more diverse Irish literary culture that includes women writers such as Mary Tighe. There is a degree to which national distinctions for Irish poets publishing in the British literary marketplace, and educated in the same literary traditions as Britain's elite, are necessarily limited as well as complicated. But Irish variations on authorship--including a politics in which authors were a kind of national asset--might situate Moore within a very different set of concerns and standards than Wordsworth can offer. After all, the Lake group as a whole had little taste for Moore, while later Romantics have well-established debts to Moore and related Irish authors, including Tighe and Sydney Morgan.

Tonra next turns to Moore's Orientalist tour de force, Lalla Rookh. All the way back to William Hazlitt, commentators have noted the high price that Moore received for Lalla Rookh--the princely sum of 3,000 guineas. Tonra turns this point around by asking why the publisher would pay so high a price. As he makes clear, the publisher, Longmans, viewed the transaction as an investment and one that had to be maintained by responding to a shifting marketplace. This required, for instance, producing new editions that were not always new, changing the format of the volume, and developing illustrated editions as the expiration of the work's copyright began to loom on the horizon. Tonra establishes that the pressure to protect a sizeable investment led to "occasions in which the material nature of the work changes, each with consequences for Moore and his authorial status" (92). Tonra's argument sheds new light on the ways in which copyright terms reconceptualized literature as a long-term investment, urging publishers to think about canonicity as a crucial financial indicator and to adapt to a changing market to protect the value of their investment.

The Loves of the Angels is the focus of the fourth chapter, where the concerns of the first two chapters merge with the third. Once again, negative reviews spur Moore to revise, but much more quickly, to maintain the work's profitability. Soon after Loves was published, "the gathering critical outcry convinced Moore and his publishers, Longmans, of the urgent need to take measures to protect the work's future prospects against controversy" (99). As with Lalla Rookh, Tonra explores the significance of copyright terms to literature as investment rather than property. And, as in other chapters, Tonra details a publishing world in which authorship could be constrained by the very real financial implications of controversial content, and not just in poor sales.

For The Loves of the Angels, Tonra traces a legal context in which charges of immorality or blasphemy could effectively void copyright, making such charges profitable for book pirates--and very costly to the publishers that held copyright. This threat lies behind the "urgent need" to revise the Loves as quickly as possible, within weeks of its first publication (107), to erase its controversial Christian framework and replace it with a nominally Islamic one. As with Lalla Rookh, Tonra goes beyond the Orientalist surface to consider the work's material entanglement with English publishing. Aiming "to reveal the precise degree to which Moore actively responded to criticisms" (112), Tonra examines a number of changes that speak to Moore's sense of Orientalist window-dressing as well as the substantive changes required to avoid further charges of blasphemy.

The final chapter centers on stylometric analyses that look primarily at word frequencies in large text files. Since I do not work in Digital Humanities, I am not qualified to assess its application of this approach, nor do I understand the need for a four-page defence of DH. The more interesting sections in this chapter show rather than tell, using "computational" approaches to analyze Moore's published verse volumes on terms that advance the book's larger interest in Moore as an author. Style is not a marginal concern in Moore studies. As Tonra points out, style lies behind much of Moore's controversiality, including his persistent neoclassicism in the age of British Romanticism (134). In this chapter, the central "question [is] whether the generic diversity of Moore's poetic corpus has any demonstrable effects on his stylistic consistency" (143), though Tonra acknowledges the difficulty of separating out genres (140)--a problem compounded by the "fusion of genres and styles" in many of Moore's volumes (158). After tracing the similarities through DH "distant reading," Tonra then uses "close reading" to analyze passages that are dense in Moore's most commonly used words.

In doing so, Tonra highlights one of the implicit but persistent threads of the volume: Moore's missteps. By examining Moore's responses to attacks on his work in chapters 1, 2, and 4, Tonra necessarily foregrounds the works that were most at odds with the louder conservative voices of the era. But what made Moore the sound investment of chapter 3? The passages presented as most stylometrically typical of Moore come from his less popular and less enduring works. "Fear Not That, While Around Thee" (153), for instance, is one of Moore's many frothy concoctions that are dull to read but originally written for songbooks, where stock phrases and monosyllabic words were likely an advantage. Other passages that float to the stylometric top are from his little-read Popean satires, The Sceptic and Corruption and Intolerance (154-55).

As a non-expert in this approach, I was left wondering if Moore was more successful--better sales, more widely referenced--when he sounded less like himself, and how common that might be. But I wonder too if stylometry might also help us trace the complexity of Moore's literary debts or better understand the national distinctions within Anglophone Romanticism. What if a stylometric analysis showed that Moore "clusters" better with Keats than Wordsworth (I suspect he would, given the shared influence of Tighe and other similarities)--or perhaps better with Swift than Byron?

Tonra's Write My Name is a fascinating foray into the world of publishing in which Moore moved, and through which his works were packaged, revised, and repackaged. There is much here that will not only be useful to Moore scholars but also to British Romanticism scholars, especially those interested in book history. Irish studies scholars may see gaps in the literary context and Moore scholars will miss the names of many of their colleagues in the field because this is not, ultimately, a study of Moore's poetry as such. But understanding the British publishing forces that affected not only Moore but also his Irish contemporaries is crucial to thinking through the complexities of Irish Romanticism. The final chapter also lays the foundation for further discussion of style and a corpus-wide analysis that is otherwise forbidding at the scale of a prolific author such as Moore.

Julia M. Wright is University Research Professor and George Munro Chair in Literature and Rhetoric at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.


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