Charles Wolfe (1791-1823)

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
b. 14 Dec. 1791, at Blackhall [Hse.], Co. Kildare; yngst. son of Theobald Wolfe and Frances [née Lombard], dg. of Peter Lombard; cousin of both General James Wolfe [var. Woulfe] (1727-59), and also Wolfe Tone on the premise that the later was a natural son of his grandfather; moved to England at death of his father and sent briefly to school at Bath, 1801-02;
 
tutored at home b by Dr. Evans in Salisbury; proceeded to Winchester Coll.; returned with his family to Ireland, 1808; BA TCD, grad. 1814; passed up a fellowship in view of celibacy clause, being in love with a woman; ordained in the Church of Ireland, 1817; appt. to curacy at Ballyclog, Co. Tyrone and soon after appt. curate of Donoughmore, Co. Down, Co. Down, 1818-21;
 
wrote ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’, in mem. a British officer who died at Corunna in the Peninsular War, 1809; first publ. anonymously in Carrick Morning Post, 1815 and reprinted under his name in The Newry Telegraph (19 April 1817); brought to renewed notice by George Byron after his death; suffered rebuttal in his the love attachment for which he forewent his College fellowship; moved to Queenstown (Cobh, Co. Cork), 1981;
 
contracted T.B. and died on 21 Feb 1823, purportedly hastened to the grave by his romantic disappointment; his works were collected as The Remains of the Rev. C. W. (Dublin, 1825); there is a marble monument with a medallion portrait in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin [var. plaque in Castlecaulfield]; the orig. of the poem, in a letter to a friend, is held in the RIA, having been presented by Dr. Luby; bur. Queenstown Burial Ground. CAB JMC DIW DIB DIL PI MKA RAF ODQ OCIL

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Works
  • The Burial of Sir John Moore and Other Poems, ed. Francis Wrangham [2nd edn.] (London: J. Mawman 1795), 111pp.;
  • Remains of The Late Rev. Charles Wolfe, AB, Curate of Donoughmore, Dioc. of Armagh, with a brief memoir of his life, by the Rev. John A. Russell MA, chaplain to [...] Lord Lieutenant [2nd edn.] (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co. [1825]), 473pp. [incls. prose, poems and sermons]; Do. [another edn.] (Dublin 1825);
  • The Poems of Charles Wolfe (London: Bullen 1903);
  • The Burial of Sir John Moore and Other Poems, with a collotype facsimile of the original manuscript of “The Burial of Sir John Moore”; and an introductory memoir by C. Litton Falkiner (London: Sidgwick & Jackson 1909), xxxviii, 61pp., 19 cm., port. & facs.; and Do. [compiling two works under title of first], introduced by Donald H. Reiman (NY: Garland Press 1979), xxxviii, 61, 111pp.
Sermons
  • The Yoke Easy and the Burden Light [Sermon on Matt. XI.30] by Charles Wolfe, Curate of Donoughmore, Armagh [sic] (1857);
  • Six Plain Sermons preached for a rural congregation [by Curate of Kempsing, Kent] (London 1854) [q.pp.]
Miscellaneous
  • Not a Drum was Heard, music by T. Williams (London: Howard & Co. [1879]), 4pp.; see also Not a Drum was Heard: The popular monody on the death of Sir John Moore [by C. Wolfe] [as] Not a trap was heard [a parody] ([London] [1830]), 1 sh.; 4o.; another parody (Edinburgh [1820]).

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Criticism
  • Robert C. Newick, The Writer of “The Burial of Sir John Moore” Discovered: (Bristol: T. Thatcher 1908), 93pp. [attributing the poem to Joseph Wolfe];
  • Harold Adams Small, The Field of his Fame: A Ramble in the Curious History of Charles Wolfe’s Poem “The Burial of Sir John Moore” [English Studies, 5] (California UP 1953), 49pp., 8o.
[See also Commentary, infra.]

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Commentary
Alfred Perceval Graves, Irish Literary and Musical Studies (London: Elkin Mathews 1913), draws attention to the use of Hiberno-English dialect in the lines ‘That the foe and the stranger would tread on his head, / And we far away on the billow.’ (p.14.)

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Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism [1983] (London: Verso 1991): ‘Seen as both a historical fatality and as a community imagined through language, the nation presents itself as simultaneously open and closed. This paradox is well illustrated in the shifting rhythms of these famous lines on the death of John Moore during the battle of Coruna [Here quotes stanzas 1, 2, 3, 5 & 8.] The lines celebrate a heroic memory with a beauty inseparable from the English language - one untranslatable, audible only to its speakers and readers. Yet both Moore and his eulogist were Irishmen. And there is no reason why a descendant of Moore’s French or Spanish “foes” cannot fully hear the poem’s resonance: English, like any other language, is always open to new speakers, listeners, and readers.’ (p.146.)

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Barbara Hayley, ‘A Reading and Thinking Nation: Periodicals as the Voice of Nineteenth-century Ireland’, in Hayley & Enda McKay, ed., Three Hundred Years of Irish Periodical (Assoc. of Irish Learned Journals: Gigginstown, Mullingar 1987), pp.29-48, p.40: cites Thomas Davis’s contributes to the Citizen (1839-41) articles such as ‘The Irish Parliament of James II’, as well as ‘Udalism and Feudalism’, a history of European land tenure with special application to Ireland; ‘Interestingly, an article on General Woulfe contains the germ of the Nation’s motto: when Peel asked what good corporations were to a country as poor as Ireland, Woulfe is reported to have replied, “they will go far to create and foster public opinion in Ireland, and make it racy of the soil”, which the essayist says should be the object of every Irish patriot statesman.’ (p.40.)

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Quotations
The Burial of Sir John Moore”: ‘Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, / As his corse to the rampart we hurried; / Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot / O’er the grave where our hero we buried. // We buried him darkly at dead of night, / The sods with our bayonets turning, / By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light, / And the lantern dimly burning. // No useless coffin enclosed his breast, / Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him; / But he lay like a warrior taking his rest, / With his martial cloak around him. // Few and short were the prayers we said, / And we spoke not a word of sorrow; / But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead, / And we bitterly thought of the morrow. // We thought as we hollow’d his narrow bed, / And smooth’d down his lonely pillow, / That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head, / And we far away on the billow! // Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone, / And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him, / But little he’ll reck, it they let him sleep on / In the grave where a Briton has laid him. // But half of our heavy task was done, / When the clock struck the hour for retiring; / And we heard the distant and random gun / That the foe was sullenly firing. / Slowly and sadly we laid him down, / From the field of his fame fresh and gory; / We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone — But we left him alone in his glory!’

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References
Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Cath. Univ. of America 1904), gives “The Burial of Sir John Moore”; also “Lines Written to Music”, and “Sonnets Written in College”.

Note: The Wikipedia notice online gives the wrong location for his grave (Clonmel rather than Queenstown) and mistakes a fellowship for a scholarship. See biography and photo of the grave supplied Iain MacFarlaine by at Findagrave.com [online].

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations selects lines from “The Burial ... [&c]” [‘Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note / As his corse to the rampart we hurried ...’.

Arthur Quiller Couch, ed., Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918 (new edn. 1929), selects “The Burial of Sir John Moore”, pp.610-11.

Irish Book Lover, Vols. 5, 14, & 18 [refs. to].

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D. J. O’Donoghue, Poets of Ireland (1912), cites Remains of the Rev. C. W., ed. J. A. Russell, 2 vols. (Dublin 1825); notes that “The Burial of Sir John Moore” was declared by Byron to be the finest ode in English, appeared first in The New[ry] Telegraph and was claimed by many imposters.

Oxford Literary Guide notes that Charles Wolfe is connected with Donaghmore [sic], Co. Tyrone.

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (1980), Vol, 1: Rev. Charles Woulfe’s “The Burial of Sir John Moore” became under Father Prout’s pen “The Burial of Beaumanoir” [25]. See also Do., Vol. 2 (1980), bio-notes: b. Dublin or Co. Kildare, ed. Winchester; and TCD; ordained 1817; d. of T.B., hastened by unhappy love affair. ‘Burial of Sir John Moore’, published in Carrick’s Morning Post in 1815, and reprinted in the Newry Telegraph, April 1817. [Works as supra.]

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Brian McKenna, Irish Literature, 1800-1875: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978) cites commentaries, including anon., in Irish Quarterly Review (1856) [his ‘excessive sensibility’]; Robert Jackson Wyse, ‘Charles Wolfe’, in Bell 9 (1945); Caesar Litton Falkiner (who also ed. The Poems of Charles Wolfe, Bullen 1903), in New Ireland Review 5 (1896). Poems incl. a collatype facsimile of ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’.

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Hyland Books (Cat. 224) lists The Poets Charles Wolfe, with a Memoir by C. L. Falkiner [1st edn.] (1903), with collotype facs. of ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’ in end-pocket; The Burial of Sir John Moore and Other Poems [1st edn.] (1909), with memoir by C. L. Falkiner, port. folding. pl.

Genealogical website: home.alphalink.com.au lists several generations of Woulfes, their homes, their spouses and their children.

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Notes
The Nation - banner: “[t]o create and to foster public opinion in Ireland - to make it racy of the soil”, also appears on the title-page The Spirit of the Nation, ed. Charles Gavan Duffy (1843), is attended by an attribution to “Woulfe” - that is, General Woulfe.

Samuel Beckett, Happy Days: ‘... the little-known Irish poet Charles Wolf [sic]’ (quoted in Harrington, The Irish Beckett, p. 186.)

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