The Moores of Moore Hall were a prominent Catholic family in the west of Ireland. Their home, a large, gray, stone mansion presiding over 12,500 acres, was built in 1795 by George Moore, the novelist’s great-grandfather. The founder of Moore Hall was a businessman. His eldest son, Peter, was certified insane for most of his life; the second son, John, was martyred in the 1798 rebellion (see Thomas Flanagan’s novel The Year of the French, 1979); the youngest son, George, the novelist’s grandfather, was a scholarly historian. George inherited the estate and through marriage established an intimate connection with the Brownes of Westport. His eldest son was George Henry Moore (1810-1870), a keeper of excellent racing stables and member of Parliament for the nationalist cause. In 1851, he married Mary Blake (1829-1895), daughter of a neighboring landlord.
George Augustus Moore, the eldest of G. H. Moore’s five children, was born at Moore Hall on February 24, 1852. He was a robust but rather backward child: a late talker, then an endearing but poor pupil under a succession of governesses. Beginning in 1861, he attended Oscott College, Birmingham, a famous preparatory school designed as the Catholic complement of Eton or Harrow. He remained at Oscott until 1868, when his learning disabilities finally convinced the headmaster that further attempts at instruction would be futile.
After leaving Oscott, Moore lived with his parents in London while Parliament was in session. His time was divided between military tutors and amusements, including betting shops, music halls, and painting studios. When his father died suddenly in 1870, the quest for an army commission was dropped, and soon Moore was devoting most of his energy to the study of painting.
From 1873 until 1879, he lived mostly in Paris, first as a student painter at the École des Beaux Arts and Académie Julian. Before setting aside his brushes in 1875, he had received instruction from James Whistler, John Millais, Alexandre Cabanel, and several less famous painters in France and England. Education did not make a painter of him, but it did help make him a sensitive art critic later in life. His first steps in literature during the later 1870’s were likewise tentative. He was enraptured with French Romantic drama and Parnassian poetry. By the time the income from his property suddenly failed and he was forced to leave France, he had published two volumes of exotic juvenile verse and a large Romantic drama that was intended for but declined by Henry Irving.
Moore’s literary career properly began in London in 1881. He was then settled in inexpensive rooms near the Strand and determined to make a living by his pen. While developing the plan of a naturalistic novel, he contributed paragraphs and reviews to the weekly press. Among his friends he numbered several poets and critics of the...
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