Arthur O'Shaughnessy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Arthur O'Shaughnessy, ca 1875.

Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy (14 March 1844 – 30 January 1881) was a British poet and herpetologist.[1] Of Irish descent, he was born in London.[2] He is most remembered for his Ode, beginning with the words "We are the music makers, / And we are the dreamers of dreams", which has been set to music by several composers including Edward Elgar as (as The Music Makers), Zoltán Kodály, Alfred Reed and, more recently, Aphex Twin (Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1).

Early life[edit]

At 17, in June 1861, Arthur O'Shaughnessy received the post of transcriber in the library of the British Museum, reportedly through the influence of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Two years later, he became a herpetologist in the museum's zoological department. From 1874 to his premature death, he described six new species of reptiles, and after his death, he was honoured in the specific name, oshaughnessyi, of four new species of lizards described by Albert Günther and George Albert Boulenger.[1]


However, O'Shaughnessy's true passion was for literature. He published his first collection of poetry, Epic of Women, in 1870, followed two years later by Lays of France in 1872, and then Music and Moonlight in 1874. When he was 30, he married and did not produce any more volumes of poetry for the last seven years of his life. He died at only 36 from a "chill" after he walked home from the theatre on a rainy night.[3] His last volume, Songs of a Worker, was published posthumously in 1881.

Personal life[edit]

The artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown were among O'Shaughnessy's circle of friends, and in 1873, he married Eleanor Marston, the daughter of author John Westland Marston and the sister of the poet Philip Bourke Marston. Together, he and his wife wrote a book of children's stories, Toy-land (1875). They had two children together, both of whom died in infancy. Eleanor died in 1879, and O'Shaughnessy himself died in London two years later from the effects of a "chill". He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


The anthologist Francis Turner Palgrave, in his work, The Golden Treasury declared that of the modern poets, despite his limited output, O'Shaughnessy had a gift that in some ways was second only to Tennyson and "a haunting music all his own".

J. T. Nettleship's illustration to O'Shaughnessy's poem "A Neglected Harp" in Epic of Women (1870)


  • An Epic of Women (1870)
  • Lays of France (1872)
  • Music and Moonlight: Poems and Songs (1874)
  • Toy-land (with Eleanor W. O'Shaughnessy) (1875)
  • Songs of a Worker (1881) (published posthumously)


  • Arthur O'Shaughnessy: Music Maker by Molly Whittington-Egan (2013) Bluecoat Press
  • Arthur O'Shaughnessy: His Life and Works by Jordan Kistler (forthcoming from Rivendale Press)


  1. ^ a b Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("O'Shaughnessy", p. 197).
  2. ^ Moulton, Louise (1894). Arthur O'Shaughnessy: his life and his work, with selections from his poems. Cambridge and Chicago: Stone & Kimball. 120 pp. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  3. ^ Poetry Foundation.

External links[edit]