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The Burns Encyclopedia
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Moore, Dr John

Son of the Rev Charles Moore, and distantly connected with the Mures of Rowallan, John Moore was educated at Glasgow Grammar School and Glasgow University, where he studied medicine under Tobias Smollett's teacher, John Gordon. In 1747, Moore attracted the notice of Colonel Campbell (afterwards Duke of Argyll) of the 54th Regiment and served with it in the Low Countries as surgeon's mate, until peace was declared the following year. Moore then went to Paris to continue his medical studies. There, he became surgeon to the Earl of Albermarle, the British Ambassador. He received the degree of M.D. from Glasgow University in 1770. From 1772 until 17778, he was tutor and travelling companion to two successive young Dukes of Hamilton. In 1778, he settled in London to practice, and the following year brought out a book based on material he had collected during his years abroad with the Hamilton family, View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland and Germany, a book which had considerable success, and was translated into French German and Italian. He followed it up with a similar volume on Italy in 1781, which was less successful. In 1786, he brought out a volume of Natural Sketches, and his first novel Zeluco, which, again, had a considerable vogue, and is said to have given Byron suggestions for the character of Childe Harold. Moore then produced Edward (1796) and Mordaunt (1800) which were less popular.

In 1792 he went to Paris, and there were witnessed the rising of 10th August, the dethronement of the king, and the savage massacres of the following month. He recorded his impressions in A Journal During a Residence in France, which was praised for its objectivity and humanity, and A View of the Causes and Progress of the French Revolution.

He spent his last years at Richmond, and died at his house in Clifford Street, London, leaving five sons, the eldest of whom was Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna.

In the autumn of 1786, Moore's old friend, Mrs Dunlop, sent him a copy of Burns's Kilmarnock Edition. This aroused Moore's interest, and he wrote to Mrs Dunlop, asking her to tell Burns to write to him. Burns put off doing so, for reasons which he gave Mrs Dunlop on 15th January 1787: 'I will tell you the real truth, for I am miserably awkward at a fib. I wished to have written to Dr Moore before I wrote to you; but though every day since I received yours of December 30th, the idea, the wish to write to him has constantly pressed on my thoughts, yet I could not for my soul set about it. I know his fame and character, and I am one of 'the sons of little men'. To write him a mere matter-of-fact affair, like a merchant's order, would be disgracing the little character I have; and to write the author of the View of Society and Manners a letter of sentiment — I declare every artery runs cold at the thought...'

Burns had, of course, a remarkably inflated view of Moore's position, though fortunately he paid little attention to the good doctor's literary advice, which was to write in English and concentrate on producing something like Thomson's Seasons, only livelier. But Moore was aware of at least some aspects of Burns's genius for he wrote: 'In my opinion you should plan some larger work than any you have as yet attempted. I know very well you have a mind capable of attaining knowledge by a shorter process than is commonly used, and I am certain you are capable of making a better use of it, when attained, than is generally done.'

After Moore had written to Burns direct, however, the poet replied from Edinburgh on 15th February 1787: 'Not many months ago I knew no other employment than following the plough, nor could boast anything higher than a distant acquaintance with a country clergyman. Mere greatness never embarrasses me: I have nothing to ask from the Great, and I do not fear their judgement; but genius, polished by learning, and at its proper point of elevation the eye of the world this of late I frequently meet with, and tremble at its approach. I scorn the affectation of seeming modesty to cover self-conceit. That I have some merit I do not deny; but I see with frequent wringings of heart, that the novelty of my character, and the honest national prejudice of my countrymen, have borne me to a height altogether untenable to my abilities.'

Moore sent Burns a copy of his own View of Society and Manners, and, later, of his Zeluco. Burns seems to have been delighted with them both. His veneration for Moore did, however, produce one beneficial result. On 2nd August 1787, in Mauchline, Burns took up his pen and told Moore: 'For some months past I have been rambling over the country, partly on account of some little business I have to settle in various places; but of late I have been confined with some lingering complaints originating as I take it in the stomach. To divert my spirits a little in this miserable fog of Ennui, I have taken a whim to give you a history of MYSELF.' What followed was the famous Autobiographical Letter, the original of which is now in the British Museum, and which has formed the basis of all later biographies of Burns. He followed it with a subsequent letter from Ellisland on 4th January 1789, in which the poet brought his story up to that date. He also took a considerable interest in the works of a somewhat indifferent poetess, Miss Williams(See Williams, Helen Maria), whom Moore was also patronising, and who seems to have acted for a time as his amanuensis.

Only once, towards the end of his life, did Burns criticise Dr Moore, and then in a letter to Mrs Dunlop from Dumfries, dated 20th December 1794. In the Journal During a Residence in France, the author deplored the savagery and the bloodshed. At the time his letter was written, Burns's remarks offended the recipient; since then, they have saddened those upholders of the liberal values who are admirers of Burns's works. For words like these, justifying political murder, have become all too familiar in recent years. Wrote Burns: '... I must beg leave to say, that he [Moore] has not written this last work in his usual happy manner. Entre nous, you know my Politics; and I cannot approve of the honest Doctor's whining over the deserved fate of a certain pair of Personages. What is there in the delivering over a perjured Block head, and an unprincipled Prostitute to the hands of the hangman, that it should arrest, for a moment, in an eventful hour...'

Burns's continuing zeal for the Revolution when the idealistic ardour had been replaced merely by a different colour of repression and brutality lost him many friends in the last year and a half of his life. One of those who ceased to correspond with him, and to whom he no longer wrote, was Moore.

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