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Edward Dowden to Walt Whitman, 4 October 1876

 loc.01499.003_large.jpg My dear Mr. Whitman,

Some days ago came my parcel—many thanks—Mr. Grosart's2 books included. That for Mr. Graves3 had come previously—I have waited a few days expecting to hear from my brother4 (from Edinburgh) of the arrival of his copies, but it is sometimes his way to put off writing to me too long, & I have little doubt he has got the books safely.

Rossetti5 let me know from time to time any news of you that reached him, and I have to thank you for some newspapers now & again.


It was a real sorrow to us, dear friend, to hear of the loss of your little nephew & name–sake.6 A friend of mine Harold Littledale7 watched this summer by the side of a little sister (about twenty years younger than himself) who died, and he told me that in the presence of death & with its consciousness enveloping him it was words of yours which expressed the deepest truths of the hour & the event. Littledale is President this year of our principal society of students—in Trinity College, the Philosophical Society, & I believe his Opening address, which is the event of the  loc.01499.005_large.jpg Session, is to be partly concerned with your poetry. It was a great satisfaction to me this year also, to get a kind of confession or self–revelation from one of the most promising men in my class of the really saving & delivering power of your writings when he was lapsing in that lethargy & cynicism which is one of the diseases of youth in our Old World, if not in your New one—(but in both I shd​ suppose).

I have done too little this last summer. I copied out about 200 pp​ of verse, & am about to have them published. I will send you a copy, but I doubt whether you  loc.01499.006_large.jpg will care for them—I don't claim to be an "Answerer"; but I do assert a right to be one of the tribe of the singers—"eye–singer, ear-singer, head–singer, sweet–singer, echo–singer, parlor–singer, love–singer, or something else".8 And these have their place & raison d'être. Probably my next bit of work will be the arranging for publication a volume of Essays on 19th century writers, including Tennyson9 & Browning,10 Victor Hugo,11 & the Westminster Article12 (somewhat altered) on your poetry.

You asked for O'Grady's13 address. I don't know it at this moment; but he would like to get your photograph (of which you spoke)14 & if you address it to my care he will get it.

I hope the cooler weather (after so hot a summer) may do your health good. We are all well.

Always affectionately yours Edward Dowden  loc.01499.001_large.jpg from Dowden dated Oct 4 '76 Prof​ Dowden see notes Aug 3 1888 also 4th  loc.01499.002_large.jpg

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 letter is addressed: Walt Whitman, | Camden | N. Jersey. | U. S. America. It is postmarked: DUBLIN | I3 | OC 4 | 76; NEW YORK | []. [back]
  • 2. Alexander Balloch Grosart (1827–1899) was born in Stirling, Scotland, and he attended the University of Edinburgh. He became a Presbyterian minister and literary editor, and he reprinted numerous works of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature. [back]
  • 3. Probably Arthur Perceval Graves (1846–1931), an Anglo-Irish poet and father of British poet-critic Robert Graves; he was instrumental in the nineteenth-century revival of interest in Irish and Welsh literature. [back]
  • 4. John Dowden (1840–1910), brother of Edward Dowden, was an Episcopalian clergyman. Ordained in 1865, John Dowden was elected bishop of Edinburgh in 1886, a position he held until his death. In a September 5, 1871, letter to Walt Whitman, Edward Dowden described his brother as one "who finds his truth halved between John H. Newman (of Oxford celebrity) & you." [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. Walter Orr Whitman was Walt Whitman's nephew, the son of George Washington (1829–1901) and Louisa Orr Whitman (1842–1892). The boy was born November 4, 1875, and died on July 12, 1876. [back]
  • 7. After graduating from Trinity College, Harold Littledale (1853–1930) accepted a position at Baroda College in India. He published commentaries on the works of English writers and poets and documented the lives of birds in western India. [back]
  • 8. Dowden refers here to two poems from Leaves of Grass. The "Answerer" originated in an untitled section of the 1855 edition, which in the 1867 edition became "Now List to My Morning Romanza." Dowden's second quotation is from "The Indications" (1867), formerly "Poem of the Singers and the Words of Poems" (1856). In the 1881 edition, Whitman combined the two poems to create "Song of the Answerer." [back]
  • 9. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892) succeeded William Wordsworth as poet laureate of Great Britain in 1850. The intense male friendship described in In Memoriam, which Tennyson wrote after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, possibly influenced Whitman's poetry. Whitman wrote to Tennyson in 1871 or late 1870, probably shortly after the visit of Cyril Flower in December, 1870, but the letter is not extant (see Thomas Donaldson, Walt Whitman the Man [New York: F. P. Harper, 1896], 223). Tennyson's first letter to Whitman is dated July 12, 1871. Although Tennyson extended an invitation for Whitman to visit England, Whitman never acted on the offer. [back]
  • 10. Robert Browning (1812–1889) was one of the foremost Victorian poets and playwrights, and was married to the famous poet Elizabeth Barret Browning (G. K. Chesterton, Robert Browning [New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1908]. [back]
  • 11. Victor Hugo (1802–1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist best known for Les Misérables (1862) and Notre-Dame de Paris (1833). [back]
  • 12. The Westminster Review had been published in London at least since the 1820s. A favorable anonymous review in 1871 sent Whitman inquiring after its writer; Rossetti indicated it was Edward Dowden. (For this review, see "The Poetry of Democracy: Walt Whitman.") [back]
  • 13. Standish James O'Grady (1846–1928), a lawyer and later a celebrated Irish poet, published (under the pseudonym Arthur Clive) "Walt Whitman: the Poet of Joy," the Gentleman's Magazine, 15 (December 1875), 704–716, in which he concluded that Walt Whitman "is the noblest literary product of modern times, and his influence is invigorating and refining beyond expression." See Harold Blodgett, Walt Whitman in England (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1934), 180–182, and Hugh Art O'Grady, Standish James O'Grady—The Man & the Writer (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1929). See also Joann P. Krieg, chapter 8, "Dublin," Walt Whitman and the Irish (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000), 190–231. [back]
  • 14. In his letter to Dowden of March 4, 1871, Whitman remarked that he was "deeply pleased" with O'Grady's article, "Walt Whitman: the Poet of Joy," and wished to send him a photograph. [back]
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