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Edward Dowden to Walt Whitman, 3 September 1872

 loc.01492.001_large.jpg My dear Mr. Whitman,

I can hardly understand how I have left your most welcome letter so long unanswered. In Paris two months ago I saw one morning in a newspaper that "The American Poet, Walt Whitman would shortly visit England", & there & then I sat down & wrote part of a letter to you, but the weariness of illness (I was ailing a good deal) caused it to remain unended & unsent. Now I have just heard from Mr. Burroughs1 that there is, or may be, a fair chance of your coming to us, & of your giving readings from your poems. As far as my own opinion goes, I would say that there is a certainty of success, a sufficient success at the least, & perhaps a complete one, in Dublin. Do come. You do not know how welcome you would be to many of us. I need not say  loc.01492.002_large.jpg that if you would come to our house in Dublin my wife & I would be made abundantly happy, & would remember 1872 as a year good to think of.

There are several things for which I owe you thanks—two copies of "Democratic Vistas"2 & newspapers from time to time. Each I assure you has been valued, (though my thanks are tardy); & your letter has been read or heard of by those who would care for its contents.

Mr Burroughs tells me that you have been not as well as heretofore since the great summer heat. I trust it is only a slight & temporary yielding of your health. You will be best able to feel yourself whether a run across the Atlantic, & the absorbing of new life & scenery in England & Ireland, would not be  loc.01492.003_large.jpg just the tonic you require. We at all events are interested in believing this, & think that you are just the communicator of vitality & joy that we require. I mean by this, besides its more direct personal meaning, that such influences as yours are precisely what our poetry in its latent developments needs to make it sane & masculine. And I have not a doubt that your personal presence in England would do much towards bringing the time when the recognition of your power & soundness in art & literature must become general.

I have written to Mr Burroughs anything about myself that I thought would interest him, & I will not write the same again to you. also I have sent him two or three things I have written, & if he thinks you would care to see them he will give them to you.


I will write to you again before long. I hope you will continue to let me see or hear of such things of yours as otherwise I might miss. "The Mystic Trumpeter"3 I was very glad to have seen.

But chiefly I hope to hear that you are coming, & coming to us.

My address is as before 50, Wellington Road, Dublin.

This has been a year of comparative loss to me as regards physical health, but I am well again now; & in other respects it has been a year of gain & progress. But I don't find in the least find that, with progress, I slip aside or away from your poems.

I am, dear Mr Whitman Very sincerely 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. 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]
  • 2. 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]
  • 3. "The Mystic Trumpeter" first appeared in the Kansas Magazine in February 1872 and in the Washington Daily Morning Chronicle on February 7, 1872. Whitman submitted the poem to William and Francis Church, editors of the Galaxy, for their January 1872 issue in a November 2, 1871 letter; however, they rejected it. "The Mystic Trumpeter" was later published in the small volume As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free, which supplemented Two Rivulets, published in 1876. For digital images of the poem as it appeared in the Kansas Magazine, see "The Mystic Trumpeter." [back]
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