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O'Shaughnessy was born on May 14, 1844 in London, England. At the age of seventeen he received the post of transcriber in the library of the British Museum. Two years later at the age of nineteen he was appointed to be an assistant in the natural history department, where he specialized in icthyology. However, his true passion was for literature. He published his Epic of Women in 1870, his first collection. He printed three collections of poetry between 1870 and 1874. When he was thirty he married and did not print any more volumes of poetry for the last seven years of his life. His last volume, Songs of a worker was published after his death the same year.

By far the most noted of any his works are the initial lines of the Ode from his book Music and Moonlight (1874):

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Sir Edward Elgar set the ode to music in 1912 in his work entitled The Music Makers, Op 69. The work was dedicated to Elgar's old friend Nicholas Kilburn and the first performance took place at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival in 1912. Performances available include: The Music Makers, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975 (reissued 1999), paired with Elgar's Dream of Gerontius; and the 2006 a..
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