The Objects

28th Mar 1815

Moore portrait.jpg
Source: © National Portrait Gallery; NPG 1340.

Thomas Moore on Napoleon

Contributed by: Oskar Cox Jensen

Shown here in an early nineteenth-century portrait by an unknown artist, the Irish poet and songwriter Thomas Moore trod a fine line during the Napoleonic Wars: society darling, yet unabashed Bonapartist. Napoleon’s dramatic return in 1815 won round numerous severe critics: Moore needed no such convincing.

In a giddy letter to Lady Donegal, on 27 March, 1815, his language epitomises both the Romantic rhetoric and the popular iconography that wreathed the returning emperor. ‘What do you think now of my supernatural friend, the emperor? ... Milton’s Satan is nothing to him for portentous magnificence – for sublimity of mischief! If that account in the papers be true, of his driving down in his carriage like lightning towards the royal army embattled against him, bare-headed, unguarded, in all the confidence of irresistibility – it is a fact far sublimer than any that fiction has ever invented, and I am not at all surprised at the dumb-founded fascination that seizes people at such daring.’

Moore dwells on the sublime, the elemental, the heroic – features not only of elite poetic responses, but the vernacular song tradition developing in Ireland and the north of Britain that celebrated Napoleon. There are more pragmatic reasons for a wider revival in British Bonapartism, however. Once in Paris, Napoleon's liberal politics and pacific proclamations helped restore the faith of British radicals. Moreover, for the first time, Napoleon was juxtaposed in close geographic and temporal proximity to the Bourbon alternative, against the backdrop of the Congress of Vienna. Such a staging could not but favour Napoleon in the eyes of most (if not all) observers.


Further Reading: The Letters of Thomas Moore, 2 vols (Oxford, 1964)

Return to page