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Edward Dowden to Walt Whitman, 16 March 1876

 loc.01497.001_large.jpg see notes May 8 1888 from Dowden March 16 '76 My dear Mr. Whitman,

Yesterday your post-card1 & your very welcome books reached me. I spent a good part of the day over Two Rivulets,2 the Preface, & the Memoranda of the War,3 & was not far from you, I think, in feeling, however separated in place. I seem to see some gains from the illness which has grieved us. Tones & tints have passed from it into your writings which add to their comprehensiveness & their truth & tenderness. At the same time I hold to L. of G. & accept it,—taking it as a whole,—with entire satisfaction. It seems to me more for the soul, &  loc.01497.002_large.jpg for things beyond physiology than you, contrasting it with your projected songs more specially for the soul, quite recognize. The non-moral parts of it, such parts as simply are the "tally" of nature are taken up into other portions of L. of G. & are spiritualized; & each part belongs to the other. In L. of G. I find a complete man, not body alone, or chiefly, but body & soul. That its direct tendency (& not alone its indirect) is to invigorate & reinforce the soul I feel assured. But in contrast to the pride & buoyancy, & resonant tones of L. of G. the tenderer, more penetrating, more mystic & withdrawn tones of Passage to India,4 & of the recent poems & prose seem to me to be a gain, as serving the same, & not other, purposes but for other moments,  loc.01497.003_large.jpg other moods & natures,—& I think many of your future readers may gain an entrance to your earlier writings through your later & that for some persons this will be the fittest way—

At present I have little doubt you ought not to set yourself to any brain-work, but at the same time you ought not to think of ceasing to write, for every now & again the mood will come, & you will write something as admirable as anything you have written heretofore. Your friends here want to think of you as free from all pressure to write, & anxieties about material well-being, with your spirit open to all pleasant & good influences the Earth, & the Season, & your own thoughts bring to you. The Newspaper paragraph you sent Rossetti5 & me has made us  loc.01497.004_large.jpg fear it may not be so with you, & we remain in suspense as to whether we might not make some move which would relieve us from some of this dissatisfied feeling on your behalf. Ought it not to be a duty, too, of—not the American public to recognize your gift to America as a writer but—the American Government to recognize your services, as of one who saved the lives, & lightened the sufferings of many American citizens—It would be honourable to the Government & to you. I write knowing little of the actual probability of this, but I believe in England we would be careful of such a voluntary public servant.

We are all well, my wife & children & I.6

Always affectionately 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, 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. This postal card has not been located. [back]
  • 2. Published as a "companion volume" to the 1876 Author's edition of Leaves of Grass, Two Rivulets consisted of an "intertwining of the author's characteristic verse, alternated throughout with prose," as one critic from the The New York Daily Tribune wrote on February 19, 1876 (4). For more information on Two Rivulets, see Frances E. Keuling-Stout, "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]
  • 3. 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]
  • 4. First printed as a separate publication containing the title poem, some new poetry, and a number of poems previously published in Leaves of Grass, "Passage to India" was Whitman's attempt to "celebrate in my own way, the modern engineering masterpieces . . . the great modern material practical energy & works," including the completion of the Suez Canal (1869), the Union and Central Pacific transcontinental railroad (1869), and the completion of the Atlantic Cable (1866) (see Whitman's April 22, 1870, letter to Moncure D. Conway). Although Whitman submitted the poem to the Overland Monthly on April 4, 1870, it was rejected on April 13, 1870, for being "too long and too abstract for the hasty and material-minded readers of the O. M." Conway, Walt Whitman's agent in England, was not able to sell the poem to an English journal. John Burroughs observed in the second edition of his Notes on Walt Whitman as a Poet and Person (1871), 123: "The manuscript of Passage to India was refused by the monthly magazines successively in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and London." The poem was eventually included in the final three editions of Leaves of Grass, published in 1871, 1881, and 1891. For more information on "Passage to India," see John B. Mason, "'Passage to India' (1871)," Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]
  • 5. 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]
  • 6. Dowden's first wife was Mary Clerke, whom he had married in 1866. The couple's daughter, Hester Downden (1868–1949), was a noted spiritualist medium. [back]
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