Edward Dowden

gigatos | January 31, 2022


Edward Dowden († April 4, 1913 in Dublin) was an Irish literary historian and poet.

Edward Dowden was a son of the merchant and landowner John Wheeler Dowden and a younger brother of the future Bishop of Edinburgh, John Dowden. He showed literary interests at an early age, writing several treatises around the age of 12. After first receiving private instruction, he was further educated at Queen”s College, Cork, and then studied at Trinity College Dublin. At the latter institute, he became president of the Philosophical Society, won the Rector”s Prize for English Poetry and Prose, and in 1867, at the age of 24, received the professorship of English Literature and Eloquence.

Dowden distinguished himself in particular with fundamental studies of Shakespeare. He already took up this topic in his first book, Shakspere: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (German by Wilhelm Wagner, Shakspere, sein Entwickelungsgang in seinen Werken, Heilbronn 1879), which was written as a revision of a series of lectures and in which he tried to give a well-rounded picture of Shakespeare”s development as an artist. It made him widely known as a critic. In 1877 he published the Shakespeare primer, translated into German and Italian, among other languages, which was also intended for a non-academic readership. In 1878, the Royal Irish Academy awarded him the Cunningham Gold Medal for his literary merits, especially for his critical opinions in the field of Shakespeare. He later edited Shakespeare”s Sonnets (1881), Passionate Pilgrim (1883), Hamlet (1899), Romeo and Juliet (1900), and Cymbeline (1903), and also wrote an introduction to the International Shakspere (1887) and the Introduction to Shakespeare (1893).

From Dowden”s early creative period comes a volume of deeply interior poems (3rd edition, 1887); Transcripts and Studies (new edition, 1902) show his profound knowledge of literary trends in various countries and ages. He wrote several biographies, of which his Life of Shelley (2 vols., 1886) in particular made him widely known. In 1900 he also arranged an edition of Shelley”s works.

Furthermore, Dowden wrote a book on Robert Southey (in the English Men of Letters series, 1879), whose correspondence with his bride he edited as Southey”s Correspondence with Anne Bowles (1881) and selected works as Select Poems of Southey (1895). He also edited the correspondence of the English playwright Henry Taylor (Correspondence of Sir Henry Taylor, 1888) and William Wordsworth”s Poetical Works (1892) and Lyrical Ballads (1890). His literary interests are further revealed in his works French Revolution and English Literature (comprehensive lectures given at Princeton University in 1896), History of French Literature (1897), Puritan and Anglican (1900), Robert Browning (1904), and Michel de Montaigne (1905). Because of his fondness for Goethe, he succeeded Friedrich Max Müller as president of the English Goethe Society in 1888, a post he held until 1890. He provided an introduction to the 1890 edition of Goethe”s Wilhelm Meister.

In 1889 Dowden was the first lecturer in the annual Taylorian Lecture series held at Oxford University, treating the topic “Literary Criticism in France.” In 1892-1896 he was a lecturer at Trinity College Cambridge. His astute researches include the first account of Thomas Carlyle”s Lectures on periods of European culture, the identification of Shelley as the author of an account (in The Critical Review of December 1814) of a lost novel by the Scottish poet James Hogg, a description of Shelley”s Philosophical View of Reform, and the discovery of a handwritten diary by Fabre d”Églantine and a record by Doctor Wilhelm Weissenborn of Goethe”s last days and death. He also found A Narrative of a Prisoner of War under Napoleon (published in Blackwood”s Magazine), an unknown pamphlet by Bishop George Berkeley, some unedited writings by the English author William Hayley about William Cowper, and a unique copy of Tales of Terror.

As commissioner of education in Ireland (1896-1901), curator of the Irish National Library, secretary of the Irish Liberal Union, and vice president of the Irish Unionist Alliance, Dowden pushed the view that literature should not be separated from practical life.

Dowden, who was one of the first to pay tribute to the U.S. poet Walt Whitman, was married twice, first to Mary Clerke from 1866 and then to Elizabeth Dickinson West, daughter of the dean of St. Patrick, from 1895. He died in 1913 at the age of nearly 70. His daughter from his first marriage, Hester Dowden (1868-1949), was a well-known spiritualist medium.


  1. Edward Dowden
  2. Edward Dowden
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