Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Waterloo Remembered: Thomas Moore and the Diplomatic Legacy of the Battle of Waterloo in the Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Waterloo Remembered: Thomas Moore and the Diplomatic Legacy of the Battle of Waterloo in the Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

Missing or lost, last Sunday night, A Waterloo coin, wheron was trac'd Th' inscription, 'Courage!' in letters bright, Though a little by rust of years defac'd. The metal thereof is rough and hard, And ('tis thought of late) mix'd up with brass; But it bears the stamp of Fame's award, And through all Posterity's hands will pass. How it was lost God only knows, But certain City thieves they say, Broke in on the owner's evening doze, And filch'd this 'gift of gods' away! (1) 

IN LIGHT OF JEFFREY VAIL's ASSESSMENT THAT THE IRISH POET THOMAS Moore "shaped international perceptions of an entire culture for a generation," one would expect Moore's response to the Battle of Waterloo to

The research for this article was made possible by the generous support of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Research Foundation of Flanders. have carried significant weight. (2) Curiously, however, such a response seems to be absent in his oeuvre. With the exception of a handful of scattered references, the unassumingly titled "Advertisement" (1830) that serves as epigraph of the present essay is his most notable explicit engagement with this landmark event in European history. It is, by all standards, a markedly muted response. (3) The central conceit of this six-stanza poem, the search for a lost coin, is all too banal for an event that many of his contemporaries saw as heralding a new era. Just as critics of Beethoven's music point to the "Rage Over a Lost Penny" ("Die Wut uber den verlorenen Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice," op. 129) as the banausic counterpart to his more transcendent compositions, so Moore's humorous poem stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming or even sublime feelings articulated in the poems of Lord Byron and William Wordsworth, as well as the more sentimental and serious spirit captured by Walter Scott and Robert Southey. (4) Even as Moore's poem recognizes the importance of the Battle of Waterloo, it reduces its significance to a memorial coin, which is not only debased and defaced, but missing or lost as well--hardly a cenotaph. As such, the tone of this little caprice is one of belatedness; it is a reflection on the legacy of the Battle of Waterloo, rather than the Battle itself.

Moore may have skirted the Battle of Waterloo in his writings, but he did write two popular poems about the diplomatic aftermath of this military event: The Fudge Family in Paris (1818) and Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress (1819). (5) These two satires examine how in the months and years following Waterloo many disputes between European nations were resolved at a number of diplomatic summits, among which the Congress of Vienna was the first and the most important. Even if sabers occasionally rattled, after Waterloo the Powers settled their affairs at these gatherings through negotiation rather than military prowess, thus ushering in a period of European peace that would last until the Crimean War in the 1850s. This article posits that this new system fired Moore's imagination for two reasons. On the one hand, he recognized that the Congress of Vienna may have seemed a restoration of the ancicn regime (which it to a certain extent certainly was), but in fact it also marked the beginning of a wholly new way of conducting foreign policy. On the other hand, his experience of life in Ireland--a part of the British Isles that was more prone to rebellion than the metropolis--meant that Moore was aware of a contradiction in foreign policy: while on an international level these decades were relatively peaceful, on a domestic level they were marked by upheaval and revolution.

Since the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), thinking about international relations had been dominated by a particular interpretation of the idea of a balance of power. This was essentially a bellicist interpretation, resting on the notion, most famously encapsulated by Thomas Hobbes, that the state of nature is essentially one of war: as long as one military bloc was kept from becoming powerful enough to dominate all others, then there would be no chance of conflicts escalating into war. …

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