Thomas Dermody

Life
1775-1802, b. 17 [var 15] Jan., Ennis, Co. Clare; eldest of the three sons of Nicholas Dermody, a school-teacher in Ennis from 1774 and a respected classicist though later an alcoholic; acted as asst. to his father fron age of nine; ran away to Dublin with Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones in his possession; befriended by Robert Owenson (exchanging letters with Sydney, later Lady Morgan) and others including his biographer, J. Grant Raymond; first collection taken up and housed by Rev. Gilbert Austin, a schoolteacher to whom he was introduced by Owenson, and who undertook to complete his education; Poems (1798) published by Austin and directed at ‘those who might take an interest in the protection of our young poet’;

invited to contrib. to Anthologica Hibernica (1793); ejected by Austin and made the occasion of a celebrity dinner by Gilbert White, which he then failed to turn up to, being found drunk with others; befriended by the Lady Moira [Elizabeth Hastings], and sent to Rev. Henry Boyd, rector of Killyleigh, Co. Offaly, for two years; published The Rights of Justice, a political pamphlet to which was appended The Reform (1792) lamenting Ireland’s indifference to French revolutionary fervour and hence alienating his patron - especially Lady Moira, who had instructed the printer Mercier to publish anything he presented to him; received and refused offer of £30 TCD in college fees from Lord Kilwarden; also secured patronage from Henry Gratten, Bishop Percy, et al.;

enlisted in 108th Regt. (British Army), andserving as second lieutenant in a wagon-corps [ODNB]; shipped to France and suffered wounds to face and limb, a bullet passing through his left hand; discharged on half-pay in England; moved to London; supported by Henry Addington (Viscount Sidmouth, Chanc. of Excheq.) and Sir James Burges; secured £10 from literary fund for clothing, later pawned; wrote The Extravaganza, 1802; lost Burges’s patronage through drunkenness and insolence; moved from Portland Lane in London to a ruined cottage in Sydenham; carried from there to London by Raymond and Allingham; died, 15 July 1802 [aetat. 27]; bur. Lewiston;

Dermody is sometimes regarded as an Irish Chatterton, on whom he wrote a monody; there is a life by James Grant Raymond (1806) which celebrates the poet but recounts the career of ‘another Savage - born in a lower rank of life, and early let loose from the restraints of discipline and morality’; collected poems issued as The Harp of Erin (1807). RR ODNB CAB PI DBIV DIL DIW DIB RAF FDA OCIL WJM

 

[ A page devoted to Dermody on the Clare County Library website [online] includes the following
links to the works in the Internet Archive: ]
  • The life of Thomas Dermody: interspersed with pieces of original poetrymany exhibiting unexampled prematurity of genuine poetical talent; and containing a series of correspondence with several eminent characters, by James Grant Raymond, 2 vols. (London: W. Miller [&c., &c.] 1806) - [Vol. I & Vol. II] .
  • The hHistrionade: or, Theatric tribunal; a poem, by Marmaduke Myrtle, by Thomas Dermody (1802) - online.
  • The Harp of Erin, containing the poetical works by Thomas Dermody (London: Richard Phillips 1807) - online.
Of his drinking, Dermody famously professed: “I am vicious because I like it.”

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Works
Poetry, Poems: Consisting of Essays, Lyric, Elegiac, &c. [...] written between the 13th and 16th year of his age (Dublin: J. Jones, 1792), 112pp.; [Rev.] Austin Gilbert [Guillimannus, Franciscus], ed., Poems (Dublin: Chambers 1789), 31pp.; Poems, Moral, and Descriptive (London: [J. Crowder printer] Vernor and Hood; Lackington, Allen, & Co. 1800), xi, [1], 112pp: ill., pls.; Peace: A poem inscribed to the right honorable Henry Addington (London: J. Hatchard 1801), 19pp.; Marmaduke Myrtle [pseud.,] The Histrionade: or, Theatric tribunal; a poem, descriptive of the principal performers at both houses, &c. (London: R. S. Kirby [et al.] 1802), 56pp.; Poems on Various Subjects (London: printed for J. Hatchard [... et al.] 1802), xi,[1],206,[2]pp.

Miscellaneous, The Rights of Justice ; or, Rational Liberty [pol. pamphl.; with] The Reform [verse] (1793). Reprints, Donald H. Reiman, ed. & intro., The Histrionade; Poems on Various Subjects [rep. of 5 works, 1789-1802] (NY: Garland Publ. 1978).

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Criticism
James Grant Raymond, The Life of Thomas Dermody, interspersed with pieces of Original Poetry / Many exhibiting unexampled prematurity / of / genuine poetical talent / and containing a series of / correspondence ... / with / several eminent characters / by James Grant Raymond / in Two volumes [(London: Printed for William Miller, Albemarle St.; Dublin: J. Archer & M. Mahon, 1806), Vol. 1, 346pp.; Vol. 2, 346pp. [infra]; See also Samuel Whyte, ed., Poems on Various Subjects, illustrated with notes, original letters and curious incidental anecdotes [...; 1st edn. 1792] (3rd. rev. edn. 1796); John Carr, The Stranger in Ireland, or, A Tour in the Southern and Western Parts of that Country in the Year 1805; to which is now first added an appendix, containing an account of Thomas Dermody, the Irish poet [Early American Imprints [microfilm], 2nd Ser., No. 12271; 1st edn. London 1806] (NY: I. Riley & Co. 1807; rep. 1990); Thomas Ollive Mabbott, 2 articles on Dermody, Notes and Queries (1939) [offprints]; T. Bourke, Vagabond and Minstrel: The Adventures of Thomas Dermody (London: [Macmillan] 1936); Michael Griffin, ‘“Infatuated to his Ruin: The Fate of Thomas Dermody, 1775-1802’, in History Ireland (May/June 2006), pp.21-25 [infra].

See also Micheál Ó hAodha, Plays and Places (Dublin: Progress House 1961), q.pp.

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Commentary
James Grant Raymond, The Life of Dermody (1806), ‘The life of few indeed have experienced so liberal, and exalted a patronage as Dermody, and it is infinitely to be regretted that none ever made so unwise a use of it. Unfortunately, he had so connected himself with the lowest associates, that no resolution he possessed could shake off the power which those harpies had gained over his too easy disposition. They knew his foibles; which they nourished in order to profit by them, and this they did at too large a cost. The sacrifice of his happiness was by them considered as trifling and indispensable, provided they were themselves to benefit by [220] it; and even character and honourable feeling (which he sometimes told them, were necessary to be preserved) were, when their exigences pressed, to be given up. [For longer extract, see infra; see also under Michael Griffin, infra.]

James Hardiman, Irish Minstrelsy (1831), Introduction: ‘The bards of Ireland were men of a very different character [from the ‘rude and uneducated’ rhymers of Scotland], but they were a proscribed and persecuted rage, their very very language interdicted, and yet from those outlawed bards, and in that denounced language, do we find specimen of poetic talent, which would do honour to any country. Had the unfortunate DERMODY been born a few years earlier, it is probably his name would appear only in the foregoing enumeration. The English tongue began to spread amongst the people of his native county, Clare, in the middle of the last century; and thus the talents which would have passed unnoticed, if confined to the langauge of his fathers, were universally admired in that of his adoption.’ (ftn., p.xxiv.)

Russell K. Alspach, Irish Poetry from the English Invasion to 1798 (Phil: Pennsylvania UP 1959), dismisses his ‘euphemistically’ named The Harp of Erin on the grounds that it is possible to go through it ‘without stumbling on anything that even faintly resembles poetry.’ (p.54). NOTE, not FDA entry.

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850, Vol 1 (1980), remarks that Dermody plagiarises Thomas Gray, in Poems, 1789, p.13: ‘Now sober Evening, clad in matle grey / In solemn pomp steals on to shadowy night. / The twinkling stars begin their lucid way / And bashful Cynthia shows her silver light // No noise is heard, save yonder hooting owl / that shrieks his mournful dirge in scream of woe.’ Dermody was fourteen at this writing. Other poems are “Night” (p.26f.) and “Ode to Terror” (pp.29ff.) [Rafroidi, op. cit., p.30]. Also quotes, ‘Rank nurse of nonsense, on whose thankless coast; The base weed thrives, the nobler bloom is lost;/parent of pride and pverty, where dwell. Dulness and brogue and calumny - farewell!’ Harp of Erin, I. p.246. [Rafroidi, op. cit., 101]. See also Rafroidi, op. cit. (1980), Vol. 2, quoting his self-written epitaph [‘Unnoticed for the talents he had, and forgot / But most famously noticed for faults he had not.’]

Michael Griffin, ‘“Infatuated to his Ruin: The Fate of Thomas Dermody, 1775-1802’, in History Ireland (May/June 2006), pp.21-25, remarks, ‘Griffin wrote derivative, often dreadful, poems of sensibility; occasionally, very occasionally, he wrote poems of scabrous, honest wit. He found himself buffeted about, politically, by his patrons, to the extent that he had to retract some of his bolder statements, perhaps the most scandalous being his pamphlet on The Rights of Justice, which, in 1793, prooved to be too radical for the tastes of the polite patriot set. For them he was a show-and-tell child prodigy, a volatile young genius, who could be procduced into the public sphere as an ocacsion of self-congratulatory patronage.’ (p.25.) He quotes Raymond’s Life: ‘[A]nother Savage - born in a lower rank of life, and early let loose from the restraints of discipline and morality’, and further: ‘The common method has hitherto been, to encourage the immorality by indulgence, to repress the poetry by extravagant and pernicious applauses, and to exasperate the symptoms of poverty by thoughtless and unmeasured profusion, suceeded by desertion and neglect. The case of the unhappy patient before us, appears indeed to have been very desperate; andit is but justive to his patrons to say, that many of them appear to have followed a very rational system of cure: it failed however entirely, partly through the original bad constitution of the subject, and partly through the mismanagement of certain of his romantic admirers. [...] an alcoholic and a dreadful egomaniac, he was capable of writing poetry of shocking turgidity for his drink.’ (n.p.; here p.21-22.) Griffins recounts his dealings with his patrons and in particular quotes from his exchange of letters with Sir James Burges, ending with advise from the latter suggesting that the ‘bounty ... liberally bestowed’ by him and others would be ‘withheld from him who, having received a more than ordinary share of it, makes new demands in a manner which may not improperly be termed menacing.’ (p.25.) Also quotes the epitaph from his poem “The Fate of Genius” enscribed on his gravestone, calling it ‘unashamedly derived from Thomas Gray’ [see infra].: ‘Bibl., T. Bourke, Vagabond and Minstrel: The Adventures of Thomas Dermody (London: [Macmillan] 1936); J. G. Raymond, The life of Thomas Dermody, interspersed with pieces of original poetry, many exhibiting unexampled prematurity of genuine poetical talent, and containing a series of correspondence with several eminent characters, 2 vols. (London & Dublin 1806).

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Quotations
“The Fate of Genius” [extract on his tombstone]: ‘No titled birth had he to boast: / Son of the desert; Fortune’s child; / Yet, not by rowning Fortune corss’d, / The muses on his cradle smil’d. // He joy’d to con the fabling page / Of prowess’d chiefs, and deeds sublime; / and e’en essay’d in infant age, / Fond task! to weave a wizard rhime. // And though fell passion sway’d his soul, / By Prudence seldom ever won, / Beyond the bounds of her control, / He was dear Fancy’s favour’d son. /// Now a cold tenant does he lie / Of this dark cell, all hush’d his song: / While Friendship bends with streaming eye, / As by his grave she wends along; // On his cold clay lets fall a holy tear, / And cries, “Though mute, there is a poet here.”’ (James Grant Raymond, Life of Dermody, 1806, Vol. 2., p.336; quoted also, after ‘Now a cold tenant ...’, in Michael Griffin, ‘“Infatuated to his Ruin [... &c.]’, in History Ireland, May/June 2006 [see supra].)

Original Elegy on a Country Alehouse”, by Thomas Dermody (1775 - 1802)

Dim burns the taper with a twinkling flame,
The sooty coal forsakes the narrow grate,
Frail glasses broke a broken purse proclaim,
And vacant jugs the landlord’ bill relate.

Here let me, then, the ruined state bewail,
Fair alehouse, fairest of the busy green;
With tears bemoan thy abdicated ale,
With signs survey the cellar’s solemn scene.

Here oft, immersed in politics profound,
The social curate smoak’d his ev’ning pipe;
Here too the clerk hi mantling goblet crown’d,
And press’d the blushful glass in beauty ripe.

Oft did yon bell (a bell no more) with joy
Bound to the smith’s reverberating hand;
Oft did the woodman yon crack’d screw employ,
And bottled nectars bounce at his command.

Ah! Here, the purring, solitary cat,
Musing, the hearth with em’rald eye reviews,
In grand Parnassian pomp the poet sat,
And quaff’d substantial bumpers to the Muse.

Here has he stood, meanwhile in his slumbering crew,
Stretch’d oe’r the floor, in awful silence lay;
(Sad proof how well thy former host could brew!)
And wept them hurried from the light of day.

Full many an epitaph, with cunning lore,
Frolic he muttered oe’r each victim’s head;
To calm his sorrows, claim’d each tankard more,
And made the young sun light him to his bed.

No more the quaint-ey’s catch, the teeming jest,
The loud-continued laugh, the ready wit,
Shall swell with fond applause the simple breast
The shrinking clown with poignant sting shall hit.

Farewell tobacco, mellowing ale farewell!
To higher themes the ardent bosom clings;
Yet let this verse thy alehouse-honours tell,
And if thy landlord shine, enroll’d with kings.

Clare Library - online; accessed 23.10.2016.

Verses on departing for London: ‘For London now happily bound, / For a while we are free from that damnable ground / Where merit is spurned, where virtue is lost, / And invention chok’d up with Hibernian frost. /So bidding farewell to each opulent rogue / Who murder’d our hearing with nonsense and brogue, / We go, the pure air of the muses I breathe, / And smile at dull envy and malice beneath. / Like birds, sir, of passage, from dullness we fly, / To warble and wing in a far bright sky: / Where freedom and fancy are sweet combin’d, / Where the body too feels the fine glow of the mind; / Where bounty, the sun of perfection will blaze, / And ripen at once the full grape and the bays; / Where fortune and genius in amity shine, / And the true spark of poesy beams forth divine; / In short, where no son of St Patrick shall dare, / With a foul-mouthed huff, and a swaggering air, / Meek wisdom so gentle to thrust from the wall; / Then welcome misfortune! We rise from our fall: / At least, we are certain to suffer no curse; / We here were neglected, - they can’t use us worse.’ (Quoted [without title] in Michael Griffin, ‘“Infatuated to his Ruin [... &c.]’, in History Ireland, May/June 2006, p.24.)

Ireland?: ‘Rank nurse of nonsense; on whose thankless coast / The base weed thrives, the nobler bloom is lost: / Parent of pride and poverty, where dwell / Dullness and brogue and calumny - farewell!’ (Quoted in P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland, 1994, p.210, citing Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature, 1979.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB]: much as in Life, supra; of his last years: ‘persisted in dissipated life and died young in London’.

Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English: The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol. 2, lists Poems (Dublin: Chambers 1789), 31pp; Poems consisting of Essays, Lyric, Elegiac, &c, by T.D., written between the 13th and 16th year of his age (Dublin: J Jones 1792), 112pp, small; Poems, Moral, and Descriptive, by Thomas Dermondy (London: Vernon & Hood [et al.] 1800), xi, 112pp, ill, ded. to Countess of Moira [inc. the poem ‘Retrospect’, 34 pp; the epistolary poem ‘The Pursuit of Patronage’, 30pp, and others]; The Histrionade, or Theatric Tribute, poem descriptive of the princ. performers at both houses ... by Marmaduke Myrtle, Esq. (London: ES Kirby [et al.] 1802), 56pp; also unpublished poems in J[ames] G[rant] Raymond, The Life of Thomas Dermody (London W. Miller; Dublin: J. Archer and M. Mahon, 1806), 2 vols; The Harp of Erin, poetical works of the late Thomas Dermody, 2 vols. (London: R Phillips 1807), ed. James Grant Raymond. Bibl., Rafroidi cites titles M. Ó Aodha, ‘The Child Poet from Clare,’ in Plays and Places (1961); Padraic Colum ‘The Child of Sorrow’, in The Dublin Magazine (Autumn 1965); Thomas Burke, Vagabond Minstrel ... (1936) 345p. See also Irish Book Lover, 6.

COPAC (Manchester) lists James G. Raymond, ed., The Harp of Erin, Containing the Poetical Works of the late Thomas Dermody, 2 vols. (London: Richard Phillips 1807); Marmaduke Myrtle [pseud.,] The Histrionade: or, Theatric tribunal; a poem, descriptive of the principal performers at both houses, &c. (London: R. S. Kirby [et al.] 1802), 56pp.; Peace: A poem inscribed to the right honorable Henry Addington (London: J. Hatchard 1801), 19pp.; Poems, Consisting of Essays, Lyric, Elegiac, &c., by Thomas Dermody[,] written between the 13th and 16th year of his age (Dublin: J. Jones, 1792), 112pp.; Austin Gilbert [Guillimannus, Franciscus], ed., Poems (Dublin: Chambers 1789), 31pp.; Poems, Moral, and Descriptive (London: Vernor and Hood; Lackington, Allen, & Co. [J. Crowder printer] 1800), xi, [1], 112pp: ill., pls.; Poems on Various Subjects (London: printed for J. Hatchard [... et al.] 1802), xi,[1],206,[2]pp.; Poems, consisting of essays, lyric, elegiac, etc.; . Also incl. in Samuel Whyte, ed., Poems on Various Subjects, illustrated with notes, original letters and curious incidental anecdotes [...; 1st edn. 1792] (3rd. rev. edn. 1796); Poems, moral and descriptive; The histrionade; Poems on various subjects, intro. by Donald H. Reiman [rep. of 5 works, 1789-1802] (NY: Garland Publ. 1978); James Grant Raymond, The Life of Thomas Dermody (1806); John Carr, The stranger in Ireland, or, A tour in the southern and western parts of that country in the year 1805; to which is now first added an appendix, containing an account of Thomas Dermody, the Irish poet [Early American Imprints [microfilm], 2nd Ser., No. 12271] (NY: I. Riley & Co. 1807; rep. 1990); Thomas Ollive Mabbott, 2 articles on Dermody rep. from Notes and Queries (1939)

Booksellers, CATHACH BOOKS (Cat. 12) listed as The Life of T.D. with original poetry and correspondence with several Eminent Characters. by James Grant Raymond, 2 vols. London 1806). ERIC STEVENS (1992) lists The Harp of Erin, containing the poetical works of the late Thomas Dermody, Richard Phillips 1807 [1st ed.; the only collected ed.] 2vols, 8vo, xvi, 287, 310pp. (£95).

Belfast Central Library holds J. G. Raimond [sic], Life of Dermody, 2 vols. (1806).

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Notes
Anthologica Hibernica: The editor of Anthologica Hibernica, a “superior” literary monthly that only lasted a year, wrote in 1793: ‘Were the abilities of the Irish to be estimated by their literary productions they would scarcely rank higher than those nations who had just emerged from barbarism.’ (Quoted in Mary Campbell, Lady Morgan: The Life and Times of Sydney Owenson, London: Pandora 1988, p.60.)

Nonsense & brogue: notice that Dermody twice conjoins the ideas of nonsense and brogue with Ireland in poetry quoted above.

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