Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Critical Introduction by Edmund W. Gosse
Charles Wolfe (17911823)
[Charles Wolfe was born in Dublin, Dec. 14, 1791. He was educated at the University of Dublin, was ordained in 1817, became Curate of Donoughmore in Downshire, and died at the Cove of Cork, Feb. 21, 1823. He printed no book during his life-time, but his slender remains in prose and verse were collected some years after his death by Archdeacon Russell.]
THE FAMOUS ode on The Burial of Sir John Moore was first printed in The Newry Telegraph, an Ulster newspaper, in 1817, with the initials C. W. It was copied into the English papers, and won an instant popularity, but the slight evidence of authorship seems to have dropped out of sight at once. Byrons friends charged him with its composition, but he regretfully disowned it, reading it meanwhile to all his friends with enthusiasm, among others to Shelley, who remarked, I should have taken the whole for a rough sketch of Campbells. Almost immediately it took its place among the four or five best martial poems in our language, preeminent for simplicity, patriotic fervour, and manly pathos. It was presently discovered that this poem had been written some years before it was printed, by a young Irishman of much promise who died of a decline in his thirty-second year.1 When this fact became known, public curiosity was attracted to his name, and an attempt was made by one of his early friends to collect what he had written. Only twelve short pieces, besides the ode, could be discovered; they were mostly songs of love and friendship, full of ardour, and not uninfluenced by the popular Irish manner of Moore. We give one of these, as a favourable specimen of Wolfes ordinary style.
Note 1. It has been usually said that Wolfe paraphrased very closely the report of the death of Sir John Moore in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1808. A reference to the report in question relegates this statement to the province of fable; the newspaper account is quite bald and commonplace, and the poet has supplied all the salient points out of his own imagination. [back]