Life & Letters


About this Item

Title: Edward Dowden to Walt Whitman, 26 June 1889

Date: June 26, 1889

Whitman Archive ID: loc.01502

Source: The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Kirby Little, Caterina Bernardini, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock

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June 26. 1889.

My dear Mr. Whitman,

Your kind remembrance of me on your birthday, & the gifts of copies of your new edition of Leaves of Grass1 have given me the greatest pleasure. I have to thank you also for November Boughs,2 a most welcome gift, which reached me after some delay through Mr Lewis Fry3 of Bristol. But more even than your kind thought of me it rejoices me to know that you are somewhat better in health, & that the love & honour due to you by your own country has come to you—all in good time. I wrote a few lines to a friend of yours on the occasion of your 70th birthday which I believe will be printed in a pamphlet.4 But I want also, at least in fancy, to reach my hand across the sea, & to take your hand, & to tell you that your friendship is a good possession for me. I think of seventy years as quite the vestibule of age, because my own father is rigorous, at least in mind, now in his ninetieth year. And the recent songs you have sung have only the maturity & flavour of well-ripened fruit, growing on a sound-timbered tree. At eighty perhaps you may have even a happier birthday, with yet more new friends & still the old ones.

Always dear friend yours
Edward Dowden

Edward Dowden (1843–1913), professor of English literature at the University of Dublin, was one of the first to critically appreciate Whitman's poetry, particularly abroad, and was primarily responsible for Whitman's popularity among students in Dublin. In July 1871, Dowden penned a glowing review of Whitman's work in the Westminster Review entitled "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman," in which Dowden described Whitman as "a man unlike any of his predecessors. . . . Bard of America, and Bard of democracy." In 1888, Whitman observed to Traubel: "Dowden is a book-man: but he is also and more particularly a man-man: I guess that is where we connect" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, June 10, 1888). For more, see Philip W. Leon, "Dowden, Edward (1843–1913)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998).


1. Whitman probably sent Dowden a copy of the 1889 special issue of Leaves of Grass, issued in honor of Whitman's 70th birthday. Only 300 copies were printed, and Whitman signed the title page of each one. For more information on the book, see Ed Folsom, Whitman Making Books/Books Making Whitman: A Catalog and Commentary[back]

2. Whitman's November Boughs was published in October 1888 by Philadelphia publisher David McKay. For more information on the book, see James E. Barcus Jr., "November Boughs [1888]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]

3. Lewis Fry (1832–1921) was a British lawyer and Liberal Unionist politician who served as a Member of Parliament for Bristol for three terms between 1878 and 1900. [back]

4. Dowden is referring to the letter that he wrote regarding Whitman's birthday and the growth of his fame. The letter was printed, along with numerous other notes and addresses honoring Whitman on the occasion of his 70th birthday, in Camden's Compliment to Walt Whitman: May 31, 1889: Notes, Addresses, Letters, Telegrams, ed. Horace L. Traubel (Philadelphia: David McKay), 51–52. [back]


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