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Edward Dowden to Walt Whitman, 16 February 1876

 loc.01496.001_large.jpg My dear Mr. Whitman,1

I received a few days since your last letter.2 It is very pleasant to me to find you liked my Shakspere​ book,3 but much more to know that you are not indifferent to me, myself, & do not think of me as a stranger.

The report of your health makes us both hopeful & anxious. I do not know whether your American Summers are as health-bringing as our Summers, but I should suppose they have a decided advantage over your winters in this respect (notwithstanding all John Burroughs4 says of Winter Sunshine5) for an invalid; so it is chiefly from the summer that we shall look for an advance towards recovery


The newspaper statement of the attitude of the American public towards you is a surprise & a disappointment We had been misled by a correspondent of The Academy,6 which is a paper always friendly to you, into quite a different view of things—I am waiting until next Saturday to see whether Rossetti7 has inserted this statement in the Academy. If he has not, I will write to him & try to get it printed there.

Two friends, Professor Atkinson8 of Trin. Coll.​ Dublin, & Stoker,9 who writes to you,10 have asked me to get copies of your Three volumes, L of G, Two Rivulets11 & Memoranda.12 But I do not doubt that half-a dozen of my friends will wish to have the  loc.01496.004_large.jpg books, so I should be obliged if you would send a parcel containing six copies of Each book—the Autograph 1876-Edition. Stoker wishes me to ask you to put, if you do not object, his name (Abraham Stoker) & your own in the copies for him—

He has told you perhaps of a very lively debate we had at our "Fortnightly Club" on "The genius of Walt Whitman" last Monday Evening Feb 14th A most savage, but ill-planned, attack opened the discussion. I followed with a speech which consisted in the main of apt selections from L. of G. & Democratic Vistas,13 & these were felt by my hearers to be a very effective answer to the previous speaker's extravagant statements. Then, to my surprise & great satisfaction, followed speaker  loc.01496.003_large.jpg after speaker on the Whitman side,—a barrister, a young clergyman, a man in business, & others, while the remaining speakers were three, one who placed you below Victor Hugo14 on the ground of alleged deficiency of form & beauty in your poems, one who announced that he had never read your books but was sure you could have written nothing as good as Burns'15 "Cotter's Saturday Night", & a third recently introduced to L. of G. & who confessed to having discovered some few great poems, but much that baffled him, & that should be challenged.

The result was on the whole highly satisfactory. It was the 2nd Evening occupied by you during the present session.

These little skirmishes, however, are only occasional incidents in the quiet progress which as I said before I am  loc.01496.005_large.jpg convinced your writings are making.

I was very glad to hear of Burroughs. I still owe him a letter of thanks for his Winter Sunshine.

I Enclose a draft for the Equivalent of sixty dollars. Please send the parcel to me at the following address Winstead, Temple Road, Rathmines. Dublin.

And now, dear friend, goodbye. Be sure that any tidings of you, good or the reverse of good, will always be of great concern to me, & write a line when it suits you, but at no other time.

Yours always, Edward Dowden  loc.01496.006_large.jpg

P.S. If you have any Magazine articles why not try The Gentlemans Magazine16—if a poem, or—better—if prose The Fortnightly Review?17

But have a 2nd copy of the MS made to avoid the risk of its being lost—

I strongly incline to think Morley18 of the Fortnightly Review would be glad to hear from you, if you have anything suitable.

It also occurs to me that some arrangement might be come to with Messrs​ Chatto & Windus19 to publish your Two Rivulets &c., & give you a royalty on copies sold. I will write to Rossetti about this.

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, 299). 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. Dowden has written and then crossed out a note at the top of the page: "My former draft (for 10 dollars) was on London. I hope it has not caused you inconvenience. I send one now on New York." [back]
  • 2. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 3. Dowden is likely referring to his book Shakespere: a Critical Study of his Mind and Art (London: Henry S. King, 1875). [back]
  • 4. The naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921) met Whitman on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1864. After returning to Brooklyn in 1864, Whitman commenced what was to become a decades-long correspondence with Burroughs. Burroughs was magnetically drawn to Whitman. However, the correspondence between the two men is, as Burroughs acknowledged, curiously "matter-of-fact." Burroughs would write several books involving or devoted to Whitman's work: Notes on Walt Whitman, as Poet and Person (1867), Birds and Poets (1877), Whitman, A Study (1896), and Accepting the Universe (1924). For more on Whitman's relationship with Burroughs, see Carmine Sarracino, "Burroughs, John [1837–1921] and Ursula [1836–1917]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. John Burroughs' "Winter Sunshine. A Trip from Camden to the Coast" appeared in the Philadelphia Times on January 26, 1876; it was reprinted by Herbert Bergman in Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, 66 (October 1948), 139–154. [back]
  • 6. Founded by the scholar and entrepreneur Charles Appleton (1841–1879), The Academy was a literature review published monthly in London at its inception in 1869 and, later, published as a weekly until 1902, when it merged with another periodical, entitled Literature. [back]
  • 7. William Michael Rossetti (1829–1915), brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, was an English editor and a champion of Whitman's work. In 1868, Rossetti edited Whitman's Poems, selected from the 1867 Leaves of Grass. Whitman referred to Rossetti's edition as a "horrible dismemberment of my book" in his August 12, 1871, letter to Frederick S. Ellis. Nonetheless, the edition provided a major boost to Whitman's reputation, and Rossetti would remain a staunch supporter for the rest of Whitman's life, drawing in subscribers to the 1876 Leaves of Grass and fundraising for Whitman in England. For more on Whitman's relationship with Rossetti, see Sherwood Smith, "Rossetti, William Michael (1829–1915)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 8. Robert Atkinson (1839–1908) was a professor of romance languages at Trinity College, Dublin. [back]
  • 9. Abraham ("Bram") Stoker (1847–1912) was the author of Dracula, secretary to Sir Henry Irving, and editor of Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906). As a young man, on February 18, 1872, Stoker wrote a personal, eccentric letter to Walt Whitman, which he did not send until February 14, 1876 (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Tuesday, February 19, 1889). In the earlier letter he had written: "How sweet a thing it is for a strong healthy man with a woman's eyes and a child's wishes to feel that he can speak so to a man [Walt Whitman] who can be if he wishes, father, and brother and wife to his soul" (Charles E. Feinberg Collection; Horace Traubel, ed., With Walt Whitman in Camden, Wednesday, May 15, 1889). Stoker visited Whitman in 1884 (Gay Wilson Allen, The Solitary Singer (1955), 516). [back]
  • 10. See Bram Stoker's letter to Whitman of February 14, 1876. [back]
  • 11. During the centennial celebration of the U.S. in 1876, Whitman reissued the fifth edition of Leaves of Grass in the repackaged form of a "Centennial Edition" and "Author's Edition," with most copies personally signed by the poet. Two Rivulets was published as a companion volume to the book. Notable for its experimentations in form, typography, and printing convention, Whitman's two-volume set marks an important departure from previous publications of Leaves of Grass. For more information, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, " Leaves of Grass, 1876, Author's Edition," "Two Rivulets, Author's Edition [1876]," and "Preface to Two Rivulets [1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 12. Memoranda During the War (1875) chronicles Whitman's time as a hospital volunteer during the American Civil War. Whitman began planning the book in 1863; see his letter to publisher James Redpath of October 21, 1863, in which he describes his intended book. For more about the completed volume, see Robert Leigh Davis, "Memoranda During the War [1875–1876]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 13. Whitman's Democratic Vistas was first published in 1871 in New York by J.S. Redfield. The volume was an eighty-four-page pamphlet based on three essays, "Democracy," "Personalism," and "Orbic Literature," all of which Whitman intended to publish in the Galaxy magazine. Only "Democracy" and "Personalism" appeared in the magazine. For more information on Democratic Vistas, see Arthur Wrobel, "Democratic Vistas [1871]," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 14. Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist best known for Les Misérables (1862) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1833). [back]
  • 15. Robert Burns (1759–1796) was widely regarded as Scotland's national poet. An early Romantic poet who wrote in both Scots and English (often though not exclusively inflected by Scottish dialect), Burns is perhaps best known for his poems "Auld Lang Syne," "Tam o' Shanter" and "To a Mouse" (from which the title of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men is derived). Of Burns, Whitman wrote in November Boughs: "Though so much is to be said in the way of fault-finding, drawing black marks, and doubtless severe literary criticism . . . after full retrospect of his works and life, the aforesaid 'odd-kind chiel' remains to my heart and brain as almost the tenderest, manliest, and (even if contradictory) dearest flesh-and-blood figure in all the streams and clusters of by-gone poets." For Whitman's full opinion of Burns as it appeared in November Boughs, see "Robert Burns as Poet and Person," November Boughs (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1888), 57–64. [back]
  • 16. The Gentleman's Magazine was founded in London by the printer and editor Edward Cave (1691–1754), and the monthly periodical had an uninterrupted run of more than one hundred and ninety years from 1731 to 1922. The magazine published extracts from numerous publications as well as original works aimed at an educated readership. [back]
  • 17. The London Fortnightly Review was an English magazine founded in 1865 by a group of novelists, historians, and intellectuals. The Fortnightly Review was noted for being one of the first magazines to identify contributors by name rather than publish their work anonymously. The magazine ceased publication in 1954. [back]
  • 18. John Morley (1838–1923), a statesman as well as a man of letters, was editor of the Fortnightly Review from 1867 to 1882. He had visited Whitman in February 1868; see Whitman's February 17, 1868, letter to Moncure D. Conway and Morley's Recollections (1917), 2:105. Morley replied on January 5, 1869, that he could not print Walt Whitman's poem ("Thou vast Rondure, Swimming in Space") until April: "If that be not too late for you, and if you can make suitable arrangements for publication in the United States so as not to interfere with us in point of time, I shall be very glad." Unaccountably, the poem did not appear in print. [back]
  • 19. In 1886, the London publisher Chatto & Windus printed the second edition of William Michael Rossetti's Poems by Walt Whitman. [back]
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