Prose & SongCorrespondence & Poetry

More on Lieutenant Moore: identifying the people in Burns’s correspondence

In John Moore’s letter to Burns, dated 8 Nov. 1787, Moore explained somewhat murkily as an excuse for lateness of his reply that ‘I was envolved in a business that gave me a great deal of trouble, this with the Rumour of War which then prevailed, and the efforts I was obliged to make to get my son the Lieut. in the Navy placed in a proper situation’.

The first reaction of a textual editor would almost certainly be: ‘rumour of which war?’; ‘which son the lieutenant in the Navy?’; ‘why was the business troubling Moore?’. (These kinds of questions are familiar ones to reporters and to detectives.)

With this edition, we hope to unravel some of the mysteries of biographical allusion. William Wallace’s index to his edition of the Burns-Dunlop Correspondence (1898) had correctly identified the young son as Sir Graham Moore (1764–1843), but had done no more. In this case, I was able to solve the puzzle of Dr. Moore’s vague allusions with the aid of Tom Wareham’s book Frigate Commander, 2004, reissued 2012), which quotes extensively from Graham Moore’s journals. Moore kept a diary from 1784 until 1843, and it eventually extended to thirty-four volumes, which now survive at the University of Cambridge.

Lt. Moore had entered the Navy in 1777, and was part of a fleet in the West Indies during the American War. He had held the rank of lieutenant since 1782. His previous ship Perseus had been ‘paid off’ in Feb. 1787, and Graham had been living at his parents’ house, unemployed. His father, Burns’s friend Dr. John Moore, was eager to use connections at the Admiralty to help his son into a commission, preferably one in the flagship of a sizeable fleet commanded by an important admiral.

The ‘Rumour of War’ was the September 1787 ‘confrontation with the French…on account of the Dutch troubles.’ (Pitt’s Cabinet supported the Orangists in the Republic who were sometimes nicknamed the ‘British’ party. For background, see J. Holland Rose, ‘Great Britain and the Dutch Question in 1787-1788’, AHR 14, no. 2 (1909): 262-83.) Lt. Moore had applied to the Admiralty for appointment to a frigate, and had been made 2nd Lt. of the Dido, a ship in need of repairs. Lt. Moore wrote that ‘My Father does not wish me to go out in the Dido…as he has an idea that a war is not very distant in which case I should stand a very good chance for getting into a flag ship, if I am at home when war commences…’.

But the rumour that a war was imminent was a damp squib. A naval conflict against Bourbon France which would have brought commissions and promotions to young officers did not take place in 1787, and Lt. Moore was passed over in the Dec. 1787 naval promotions. However, by the time of his death in 1843, Graham Moore, who had distinguished himself in the naval combats of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, was a full admiral.

James J. Caudle

Research Associate, Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century

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