Edward Dowden

1843-1913; b. Cork, 3 May, son of landowner and merchant; ed. QCC, TCD, 1859, grad. 1863; m. 1866 [unhappily]; publ. Life of Shelley (1886); appt. Professor of English at TCD, occupying the newly created chair of English, 1867; friend and correspondent of John Butler Yeats (‘if I were to give up my professorship I should be obliged to work for my bread […]’); issued Shakespere: His Mind and Art (1875), postulating ‘Four Periods’ of the playwright’s life corresponding to comedies of youth, histories of middle age, tragedies of Later life, and the mature comedies of his final homeward stage; iss. Shakespeare for School Children (1877), commencing ‘In the closing years of the sixteenth century the life of England ran high’;
attacked by W. B. Yeats in “The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson”, in Irish Fireside (9 Oct. 1886), rep. Dublin University Review (Nov. 1886); elected Pres. of English Goethe Soc., 1888; issued ‘Hopes and Fears for Literature’, Fortnightly Review, Vol. 266 (Feb. 1889), pronouncing inter alia on the ‘wedlock’ of Irish and English literature; answered in time by W. B. in essays such as ‘Hopes and Fears for Irish Literature’(1892); first Taylorian lect., Taylor Inst., Oxon., 1889; RIA Cunningham medal and hon. LLD awarded by Edinburgh and Princeton;
m. Elizabeth Dickinson West, 1895 [see West, RX]; contrib. Contemporary Review; Fortnightly Reivew; Westminster Review; Fraser’s Magazine, and Cornhill Magazine; opposed to Home Rule; resided at Rathgar, a close neighbour of the Yeatses at Harold’s Cross; d. Dublin, 4 April; a sale of his books was executed in 1913 (see The Irish Book Lover, Vol. VI, p.28); there is a signed portrait by Walter Osborne [NGI]; his dg. Hester [m. Travers Smith] was a spiritualist whose dg. Dolly married Lennox Robinson; the Dowden-Allman family was philanthropically associated with the Cork City and County Asylum for the Blind in the late 19th century and after; his home Highfield House, Ranelagh, is noted in Ulysses where he is referred to in the Shakespeare discussion in the Library Scene as “the Doctor”. CAB PI JMC DBIV TAY DIB DIW OCIL


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Letters of Edmund Dowden
  • Shakespere: [A Critical Study of] His Mind and Art (1875);
  • Studies in Literature, 1789-1877 (1875) [incl. an essay on George Eliot];
  • Poems (1876);
  • Life of Shelley (1886);
  • Robert Browning (Dent 1904);
  • ed. & intro., Shelley’s Poetical Works (London: Macmillan 1913), 708pp. [see details];
  • Elizabeth D. Dowden, ed., Poems by Edward Dowden (London: Dent 1914);
  • Elizabeth D. Dowden & Hilda M. Dowden, eds., Letters of Edmund Dowden and his Correspondents, with H. M. Dowden (London: Dent 1914).
  • ‘Hopes and Fears for Literature’, Fortnightly Review, vol. CCLXVI (Feb. 1889), p.166-83 [see extract.]

Shelley’s Poetical Works ed. & intro. by Edward Dowden (London: Macmillan 1913), 708pp. - viz., Intro. [xi-xxxvi; see extracts], Pref. by Mrs. Shelley to 2nd Edn. [xxxvii-xl.]; Pref. by Mrs. Shelley to the Volume of Posthumous Poems, Published in 1924 [xlii], 708 [incl. List of Shelley’s principal Writings, 676, and Index of First Lines, 705ff.]

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John Eglinton, ‘Edward Dowden’s Letters’, in Irish Literary Portraits (London: Macmillan 1935) [chap.], pp.65-82; Herbert O. White, Edward Dowden: An Address (TCD 1943); Terence Brown, ‘Edward Dowden’, [chap. in] The Literature of Ireland (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1988).

See also John P. Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose of W. B. Yeats, Vol. I (London: Macmillan 1970) [Pref., pp.41-42]; Adam Putz, The Celtic Revival in Shakespeare's Wake: Appropriation and Cultural Politics in Ireland, 1867-1922 (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2013), 232pp. [covers Matthew Arnold, Edward Dowden, W. B. Yeats and Joyce].

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W. B. Yeats (1) ‘Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson’, Dublin University Review, Nov. 1886): ‘[The professorial classes] appear at no time to have thought of the affairs of their country till they first feared for their emoluments.’ (Dublin University Review , p.941; quoted in Frayne, ed., Uncoll. Prose, Vol. I, 1970, Pref., pp.42-43.)

W. B. Yeats (2): Yeats points to Prof. Dowden in his essay, ‘Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson - II’ (in Dublin University Review, Dec. 1886), as representative of ‘the shoddy society of “West Britonism” with its ears to the ground listening for the faintest echo of English thought.’ (See Frayne, op. cit., p.104.)

W. B. Yeats (3) writes of Dublin University [Trinity College, Dublin]: ‘It might have opposed the often narrow enthusiasm of nationalism with the great intellectual passions of the world, as I think Professor Dowden would have preferred; but it chose the easier way, that brings the death of imagination and at last the death of character.’ (‘Academic Class and Agrarian Revolution’, letter to Daily Express, 11 March 1899; rep. in John Frayne, Uncollected Prose, Vol. 2, 1975, p.151.)

W. B. Yeats (4), Letter to the Express (7 Feb. 1895): ‘A very amusing proof of the unfounded nature of one of Professor Dowden’s charges against the Irish literary movement has just reached me. At the very time Professor Dowden was sending to the Press an introduction, saying that we indulged in indiscriminate praise of all things Irish, and went about “plastered with shamrocks and raving of Brian Boru”, a certain periodical was giving the hospitality of its pages to a long anonymous letter making a directly contrary charge. The writer of the letter accused some of the members of the Irish Literary Society of discouraging “worthy workers in the field”, of endeavouring to substitute the pursuit of what he called “high art” for the old, easy-going days when every patriotic writer was as good as his neighbour, and even of making allegations against the literary merits of the Young Ireland Party.’ (See John Kelly, ed., Letters, 1, 1986, p.437; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream, 1994, p.16.)

W. B. Yeats (5): ‘I have written at some length on the two paths which lie before us, for we have arrived at a parting of the ways. One path leads, and has already led many Irishmen, of whom Professor Dowden is a type, to obliterate all nationality from their work. The other path winds spirally upwards to a mountain-top of our own, which may be in the future the Meru to which many worshippers will turn.’ (Quoted in Hazard Adams, ‘Yeats and Antithetical Nationalism’, Yeats’s Political Identities, ed. Jonathan Allison (Michigan UP 1996), p.311; see also extract in Mark Storey, Poetry in Ireland since 1800 1988, p.130.)

W. B. Yeats (6), “List of 30 Best Irish Books” [letter] in the Daily Express (27 Feb. 1895): ‘During our recent controversy with Professor Dowden certain of my neighbours here in the West of Ireland asked me what Irish books they should read […] Here then is my list, and I will promise you that there is no book in it that “raves of Brian Boru” or display an “intellectual brogue” more “accentuated” than the Scottish characeristics in Scott and Stevenson.’ ([Wade, ed., Letters, pp.246; see further under W. B. Yeats.)

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W. B. Yeats (7), ‘Dowden, another old friend of my father’s, was our principal enemy, for academic youth admired him and all Dublin looked upon him as our one great man of letters. He did not attack us openly, and was in private friendly, but he managed by silences and evasions and indirect allusioonn to suggest that we were of no account. All his youth had been spent over books, scarcely perhaps even reading the newspapers, and, as is the way with [the] sedentary, he lost his heard with political excitement. The rise of Irish nationality meant to him, as all nationality means to the revolutionary socialist, an affront to his international ideal of progress. He could be complimentary, even enthusiastic in conversation or private letters; he would have thought himself false to Shakespeare and Goethe and above all to Wordsworth did he not discourage us when in the public eye.’ (Draft version of Autobiographies, quoted in Curtis Bradford, Yeats at Work, S. Illinois UP 1965, p.361.)

W. B. Yeats (8), ‘Modern Irish Poetry’ (1904), incls. remarks on Dowden: ‘Except some few Catholic and mystical poets and Professor Dowden in one or two poems, no Irishman living in Ireland has sung excellently of any but a theme from Irish experience, Irish history, or Irish tradition. Trinity College, which desires to be English, has been the mother of many verse writers and of few poets; and this can only be because she has set herself against the national genius, and taught her children to imitate alien styles and choose out alien themes, for it is not possible to believe that the educated Irishman alone is prosaic and uninventive. Her few poets have been awakened by the influence of the farm laborers, potato diggers, peddlers, and hedge schoolmasters of the eighteenth century, and their imitators in this, and not by a scholastic life, which, for reasons easy for all to understand and for many to forgive, has refused the ideals of Ireland, while those of England are but far-off murmurs. An enemy to all enthusiasms, because all enthusiasms seemed her enemies, she has taught her children to look neither to the world about them, nor into their own souls, where some dangerous fire might slumber. (Rep. in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature, NY 1904, Vol. III, pp.vii-xiii; p.xiii.)

W. B. Yeats (9) - Yeats wrote: ‘Professor Dowden lived in Ireland where everything has failed, and he meditated frequently upon the perfection of character which had, he thought, made England successful.’ (“The Literary Movement in Ireland”, Ideals in Ireland, p.101; cited in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.269.) Further, ‘The more I read the worse does the Shakespeare criticism become[,] and Dowden is about the climax of it.’ (Letters, Wade, 349; Kiberd, idem.) Note: Kiberd argues that of Yeats that ‘his was a Celtic Shakespeare who loved Richard’s doomed complexity and despised the usurper’s basely political wiles [of Bolinbroke in Richard II]’ (idem.) Kiberd goes on to argue that James Joyce shared in the dissident vision of a Celtic Shakespeare. (269ff.)

Cf. Edward Hirsch, ‘The Imaginary Irish Peasant’, PMLA, 106, 5 (Oct. 1991), pp.1116-1133: ‘Dowden was reflecting the prevailing Anglo-Irish intellectual opinion when he wrote in 1882, “I am infinitely glad that I spent my early enthusiasm on Wordsworth and Spenser and Shakespeare and not on anything Ireland ever produced.” (Letters of Edmund Dowden, ed. Elizabeth D. Dowden & Hilda M. Dowden, London: Dent 1914, pp.183-84.) It was precisely this position that Yeats set himself against.’ (Notes, p.1130; n.5.)

George [“AE”] Russell: Dowden reviewed George Russell’s Homeward, Songs by the Way, in Illustrated London News, 105, 2885 (4 August 1894), p.142, and was answered in a private letter by Russell replying in particular to the parting remarks about his references to Brahma which Dowden appears to have styled ‘cheap Theosophy of the East’ - causing Russell to demur especially at the term ‘cheap’ in this connection. (See Alan Denson, ed., Letters from AE, London: Abelard Schuman 1961, p.10-11.) Denson’s biographical note on Dowden calls him ‘In scholarship, a prodigy.’ (Ibid., p.10.) Incls. refs. to a letter to W. J. Magee [Eglinton] in Edmund Dowden’s Letters (Dent 1914), giving his opinion of Russell’s The Earth Breath (4 Nov. 1897), and Herbert O. White, Edward Dowden: An Address (TCD 1943). In a following letter (13 Aug. 1894; Denson, op. cit., pp.12-15), Russell begins ‘I find all you say wise, but still I am unable to make use of it. The choice of symbolism and a method of thinking is a matter of temperament. I can only owork within a little space at present; while I see with you quite clearly that the truest mystical spirit will and must finally unite itself with exact observation of fact and mastery of details: still I think that facts and details with many of us hardly subserve the purposes of soul. […]’ (Ibid., p.12.) He also appends a new poem, “In the Womb” [‘Still reasts the heavy share on the dark soil … The ploughboy to the morning lifts his eyes … How in her womb the Mighty Mother moulds /The infant spirit for eternity’], later published in Irish Thesophist (15 Jan. 1895), in the American edition of Homeward (NY: Mosher 1895), and in The Earth Breath (London 1897); see Denson’s note, p.14.

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John Butler Yeats (Letter to W. B. Yeats, 6 April, 1913): ‘I see that Edward Dowden is dead; among his own family and small circle of friends it will be an event of very great importance. Weak health caused him early to withdrawn from this world and this was increased by his mystical doctrines, and so his writing was without actuality, or rather monotonous. A sharp and incessant concussion is necessary to release the fire in the flint. In these days in Ireland he’d have written poetry. (J. H. Hone, ed., Letters, 1944; Faber Edn., intro. John McGahern, 1993, p.112); further, ‘[…] Mahaffy’s statement that Dowden did not work very hard in his professorship was one of those things that endear Mahaffy to all his friends and contemporaries …. Another reason made Dowden a recluse from art as well as from the world; he was with his present wife extraordinarily happy. … Personality is born out of pain. It is the fire shut up in the flint.’ (pp.112-13.)

George Russell [AE] characterised the literary ‘way’ of which Dowden was the ‘type’ as being the decision ‘to obliterate all nationality from their work’. (See ‘Nationality and Cosmopolitanism in Literature’, in Literary Ideals in Ireland, ed. John Eglinton, 1899; rep. Mark Story, Poetry and Ireland since 1800, A Source Book, 1988; quoted in Christopher Corr, UU PhD Diss., 1996).

John Eglinton characterised Dowden’s cosmopolitan mind as ‘probably the first point touched by anything new in the world of ideas outside Ireland.’ (E. A. Boyd, Appreciations and Depreciations, Dublin 1918, p.152; cited in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.159.)

Note: In Irish Literary Portraits (Macmillan 1925) Eglinton speaks of a relationship between Dowden and a student at Alexandra [Girls’] Schools in his later years which became ‘essential’ to him, but without naming the other: ‘An ardent friendship, supplemented by an intimate correspondence, sprang up between the pair, and about the year we have mentioned, 1872, Dowden had fully realised that she was essential to him. This “Platonic” relationship was entirely independent of his family life, which was a happy one. The situation can best be understood in the light of the idealism of Robert Browning, which reigned over it. Browning clearly taught that in every man’s life there is one chance of salvation, through a woman. I never could quite make out the practical application of this doctrine, in such passages as the epilogue to The Statue and the Bust; but he would not have been the great Victorian that he was if he had repudiated convention or the ordinances of society, and the lover carried on the tide of emotion to poetic production would be for Browning the perfect example of ‘emancipation through passion’. This Dowden appears to have believed might be his own case, during a brief period of exaltation, in which he more than once thought of sacrificing everything for poetry.’ (p.70.)

Stephen Gwynn recalls Dowden in Irish Literature and Drama (London 1936): ‘of the old Protestant stock among the business community of Cork City, was by tradition and conviction a strong Unionist; nevertheless … a rallying point for the new literary movement’. (p.117.)

Richard Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks (1948): ‘Dowden advised Aubrey de Vere not to write on Irish subjects: ‘As a fact, whether it ought to be so or not, the choice of an Irish mythical, or early historical, subject confines the full enjoyment of the poem to a little circle.’ (Letter to De Vere, Aug. 22, 1873; in letters of Edward Dowden and His Correspondents, Dent, 1914, p.68; Ellmann, p.48.) Note also that Ellmann prints extensive quotation from Yeats ‘hot-headed’ attack on Dowden: ‘[…] It is a question whether the most distinguished of our critics, Professor Dowden, would not only have more consulted the interests of his country, but more also, in the long run, his own dignity and reputation, which are dear to all Irishmen, if he had devoted some of those elaborate pages when he has spent on the much bewritten George Eliot, to a man like the subject of this article … [&c.]’ (‘The Poetry of Sir Samuel Ferguson’, in Dublin University Review, II, Nov. 1886, pp.923-41; Ellmann, pp.48-49.) See also references to Dowden as friend and correspondent of John Butler Yeats, in Ellmann, op. cit. (1948), p.12ff.

James Joyce: Dowden is mentioned several times in the Library scene of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) [“Scylla and Charybdis” - chap. 9] as a student of Shakepeare.

James Joyce (2): In 1903 Joyce sought support from Dowden for post at National Library of Ireland who found the the young man ‘extraordinary [and] quite unsuitable’. (Quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce [1959] 1965, p.145; citing information of John Eglinton.)

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John P. Frayne, ed., Uncollected Prose of W. B. Yeats, Vol. I (London: Macmillan 1970), Pref., pp.41-42; remarks that Yeat admits near hero-worship of Dowden during adolescence in his Autobiographies, calling him his ‘sage’ (‘Reveries’); Dowden supported Wanderings of Oisin; later accused Dowden of permitting English critics to treat Ferguson with contumely; notes that Dowden praised Conary in a private letter (rep. Lady Ferguson’s Sir Samuel Ferguson in the Ireland of his Day, 1896, Vol. II, pp.270-71), but did not use his prestige to spread Ferguson’s fame; Frayne writes, ‘For an intellectual like Dowden, the pressures to praise all things Irish were irrelevant, and the nationalistic clamo[u]r of young writers such as Yests may have antagonised him against a native Irish literature.’ (p.42.)

Frank Tuohy, Yeats (1976), comments include Mahaffy’s, reported by Yeats, ‘Dowden has been here for thirty years and hasn’t done a pennyworth of good to anyone. Literature is not a subject for tuition.’ (p.39; with further remarks on Yeats’s attack on Dowden.)

A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats, A New Biography (1988), Yeats’s portrait of Dowden in Reveries over Childhood and Youth 1915) was ‘kind of Aunt Sally representing the whole of Dublin’s ascendancy establishment … He had t picture him as unreal in order to contrast with the real image of O’Leary. The result was a decidedly one-sided and ungracious view of Dowden.’

Terence Brown, [‘Edward Dowden’,] in The Literature of Ireland (1988): ‘Throughout his career there seemed something verging on the neurotic in his commitment to a universal and therefore sanitised and severe version of literary culture over against the offensive demands of the local, with all the risks involved in parochialism and misjudgement.’ (p.43).

R. F. Foster, ‘Protestant Magic: W. B. Yeats and the Spell of Irish History’ [1990], rep. in Jonathan Allison, ed., Yeats’s Political Identities (Michigan UP 1996): ‘Yeats’s relationship to Trinity continued highly charged. He did not attend the college (where his father and grandfather had won prizes) for a [95] number of rather disingenuously expressed reasons. He continued to rail against the Trinity establishment, sometimes referring to it as ’the middle class’. In a carefully recorded dream, he visualized ‘a certain portentous professor of Trinity’ as a lap-dog set to guard the gates of hell.’ Most of all, he assailed one emblematic figure with Oedipal passion: the Professor of English Literature, his father’s friend Edward Dowden. Dowden, whom Yeats took as the personification of Protestant Dublin, had been an early supporter of his poetry. In later life Yeats felt somewhat guilty about all this, and wrote nervously to his father that he had treated Dowden rather unfairly as ’a little unreal, a specious moral image … [a symbol] for the whole structure of Dublin, Lord Chancellors and all the rest’. (1915-16; in Letters, ed. Wade, 1954, pp.603-04.) […] In 1910 and again in 1913 he was canvassed (not very enthusiastically) for the succession to Dowden’s chair, and found himself very interested. So was his father, who fantasized happily about Yeats walking in the front gate of Trinity in such august circumstances. Yeats never became a Trinity professor. But here too, by about 1913, a wheel had come full circle and a reconciliation with a tribal tradition had been made.’ (p.96.) Foster goes on to discuss the positive influence of Dowden as the introducer of Shelley, whose biography he read in draft to Yeats and his father [JBY]. Note: It was Dowden’s account of Shelley’s experiments with demoniac invocation that later inspired George Russell and W. B. Yeats to attempt the same in the mid-1880s (Ibid., p.226.)

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Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995), “Writing Ireland, Reading England” [Chap. 15] characterises Dowden as ‘leader of the efficiency-worshipping literary critics of the Victorian age’ (… &c.; ibid., pp.269ff.) ‘There was, necessarily, a thinly-veiled aggressiveness about such readings of the national condition, rooted in a pivotal sense of hurt and grievance. But that mood soon passed as intellectuals began to notice, with interest and surprise, the equally deforming effects of imperialism on the sponsors themselves. Edward Dowden had written that the pervasive idea of The Tempest was that “the true freedom of man consists in service” whereas to a lout like Caliban “service is slavery” (‘The Serenity of the Tempest’, in D. J. Palmer, ed., The Tempest: A Selection of Critical Essays, 1968, p.75). As a Victorian exponent of evolution, Dowden had pronounced himself a scientific gradualist and, therefore, an enemy of the French Revolution: “no true reformation was ever sudden”, he opined (‘The Scientific Movement and Literature’, Studies in English Literatures, London 1878, p.114). [Cont.]

Declan Kiberd (Inventing Ireland (1995) - cont.: ‘There spoke a nervous Anglo-Irishman of the later nineteenth century, the offspring of a family of landlords in a nation convulsed by the Land War and by the rise of a native intelligentsia, who could only read such interpretations of The Tempest with amused contempt.’ (p.273). See also the earlier remarks: ‘The provincial’s inability to imagine a second self […] was a failure of th republican imagination, for which style was always a conscious relation between a past and a putative self. Edward Dowden, the Professor of English at Trinity College, Dublin, was just such a provincial, unable to shape a metropolitan but none the less Irish style, for he employed on himself the received categories of English thought. Failing self-conquest, he became an easy prey to cultural conquest by others and so he refused to trust his own nature while writing on Shakespeare.’ (p.121.)

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[Irish Literature, gen. ed. Justin McCarthy (Washington: Catholic University of America 1904), gives extracts from Transcripts and Studies and Shakespeare: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art, and two lyrics (pp.866-76); available at Internet Archive - online.]

Hopes and Fears for Literature’, Fortnightly Review, vol. CCLXVI (Feb. 1889): ‘Obviously where there is a diversity of tongues the principles of nationality cannot fail to assert itself in literature. But we may feel surprise when within the bounds of a single people, and within the area possessed by one common language, the literary claims of contending nationalities are raised. Shall we in these islands of ours, who ‘speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake’, nurse the dream of our separate streams of literature, or shall we have our pride and our joy in one noble river broadened and deepened by various affluent waters?’ (p.173.) [Cont.]

Hopes and Fears for Literature’ (1889) - cont.: ‘The national spirit was strong in Carlyle because it worked unconsciously … Whenever the genius of a nation is strong it works thus in deep and obscure ways. The attempt to whip up deliberately and by artificial means the national spirit in literature is evidence of the decay of that spirit’ … If there be, indeed, a distinctive genius characterising each of the peoples of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, it is mightily desirable that this should find expression, and that the unity of our literature should be a unity possessing as much variety as possible.’ (p.175). [Cont.]

Hopes and Fears for Literature’ (1889) - cont.: ‘No folly can be greater than that of fancying that we shall strengthen our literary position by living exclusively in our own ideas, and showing ourselves inhospitable to the best ideas of other lands. Every great literary movement of modern Europe has been from the wedlock of two peoples. So the great Elizabethan literature sprang from the love-making of England with Italy … Let an Irish poet teach his countrymen to write a song free from rhetoric, free from false imagery, free from green tinsel, and with thoroughly sound workmanship in the matter of verse, and he will have done a good and needful thing […] We cannot create a school of Irishmen of genius - […] we can try to secure for Ireland the advantage of possessing a school of honest and skilled craftsmen in literature.’ (pp.176-77) [The foregoing quoted in Chris Corr, ‘English Literary Culture and Irish Literary Revival’, PhD Thesis, UUC 1995]. Note, W. B. Yeats answered with ‘Hopes and Fears for Irish Literature’ (1892), and ‘Nationality and Literature’ (1893), both goven in J. P. Frayne, Uncollected Prose, Vol. 1 (Macmillan 1970).

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘Hamlet might have been so easily manufactured into an enigma, or a puzzle; and then the puzzle, if sufficient pains were bestowed, could be completely taken to pieces and explained. But Shakespeare created it a mystery, and therefore it is forever suggestive, and never wholly explicable.’ (Shakespeare, 1875, p.126; cited in Andrew Holland, ‘The Book of Himself: The Shakespeare Theory in Ulysses and its Significance in the Life of James Joyce’, UU MA Diss., 2001, p.33.)

Cf. W. B. Yeats, ‘I feel in Hamlet, as so often in Shakespeare, that I am in the presence of a soul lingering on the stormbeaten threshold of sanctity. Has not that threshold always been terrible, even crime-haunted? Surely Shakespeare, in those last seeming idle years, was no quiet country gentleman, enjoying, as men like Dowden think, the temporal reward of an unvalued toil.’ [?Autobiographies.]

Shelley’s Poetical Works (London: Macmillan 1913), Introduction: ‘With his desire at once to translate his ideas into action for the service of the world, Shelley looked abroad for a battlefield where he might combat on behalf of freedom, and he found it, as he supposed, in Ireland. He prepared an Address to the Irish people, consisting, as he states it, “I of the benevolent and tolerant deductions of philosophy reduced into the simplest language.” He would plead on behalf of Catholic Emancipation, on behalf of the Repeal of the Union; he would endeavour to establish a system of societies in Ireland for the discussion of social, political, and moral questions; he would inculcate principles of virtue and benevolence. With such views he visited Dublin, scattered abroad a couple of pamphlets, spoke at a public meeting where O’Connell had harangued, dined with Curran and felt no liking for his host, discovered that the state of Irish politics and parties was not quite as simple as he had supposed, and, yielding to Godwin’s advice and his own sense of failure, quitted Ireland, having effected little for the cause in which he was interested.’ [Cont.]

Shelley’s Poetical Works (1913), Introduction - cont.: ‘From Dublin Shelley, with Harriet and the inevitable Eliza Westbrook, crossed to Wales, and after a short residence amid wood and stream and mountain at Nantgwillt, proceeded to the coast of North Devon, and took up his abode (June 1812) in a cottage at Lymouth, then a secluded fishing-village. The July and August days were among the happiest of Shelley’s life; his regard for his young wife had deepened into sincere love; he was in communication with the immortal Godwin; his lady of light, Miss Hitchener, visited the cottage, and was not yet discoveed to be an intolerable affliction ; his mind was vigorously occupied with a prose pleading on behalf of liberty of speech - the “Letter to Lord Ellenborough”, - and with certain ambitious enterprises in verse. Of these last some still remain in manuscript ; but the most important, “Queen Mab”, sufficiently expose its author’s spirit at this period, his convictions, his hopes, his dreams, his views of the past, his aspirations towards the future. “It is” I have said elsewhere, “a kind of synthesis which harmonises the political and social fervours of the Irish expedition, with all their wisdom and folly, and the imaginative exaltation to which the the grandeur and loveliness of Welsh hillsides and Devon cliffs and waves had given rise.” It is a pamphlet in verse, but with some of the beauty of poetry underlying its declamatory prophesyings. Its pictorial effects are sometimes rather spectacular than in a high sense imaginative. Its thought is often crude. It suffers from a moral shallowness, derived in part from Godwin, and arising from the supposition that evil exists less in human character than in human institutions. Its survey of the past history of society is superficial and one-sided; its hopes for the future are in great part phantastic. Yet the poem, which, may be held to be midway between Shelley’s “juvenilia” and the works his adult years, has value in its deep sympathy with humanity and its imaginative setting forth of the idea of a cosmos, the unity of nature, the universality of law, the vast and ceaseless flow of Being ever subject to a process of evolution and development. In certain passages the writer ceases to be a doctrinaire rhetorician, and rises into a poet who can interpret alike the facts of external nature and the longings of the human heart. […]’. (pp.xvii-ix.) [Cont.]

Shelley’s Poetical Works (1913, Introduction) - cont.: ‘[…] Some few copies of Laon and Cytha had been issued when voices of protest alarmed Ollier the publisher. He insisted that certain alterations be made. Violent attacks on theism and Christian faith, as he held, were ill-judged and out of place; the relationship of the hero and heroine as brother and sister was a ground of grave offence. And it is true that in this last particular Shelley’s poem gave a flagrant example of the unsoundness of the revolutionary way of thought, which with a solvent of abstract notions, erroneously deduced, proceeds to disintegrate social relations and sentiments that are among the finest products of the evolution of the human race. By some strokes of the pen and a few cancel-pages of Laon and Cytha” was altered in The Revolt of Islam . There was the loss of two admirable lines; but in yielding to the pressure of public feeling, acting through his publisher, Shelly removed an ethical blot which could not fail with many, and those not the least judicious, readers, to mar even the artist effect of his poem.’ (p.xxvi; the sentence ‘[…] unsoundness … of the race” underlined in copy of Sir Derek Birley,held in Cambridge, c.1948 and previously of owner R[obert] Temperley.)’ [See also Shelley’s preface to Revolt of Islam, infra.]

Shelley’s Poetical Works (1913), quotes introductorily the Preface to The Revolt of Islam [by Shelley himself in response to criticisms]: ‘I trust that the reader will carefully distinguish between those opinions which have a dramatic propriety in the reference to the characters which are they are designed to elucidate, and such as are properly my own. The erroneous and degrading idea of a Supreme Being, for instance, is spoken against, but not the Supreme Being itself. The belief which some superstitious persons whom I have brought upon the stage entertain of the Deity, as injurious to the character of his benevolence is widely different from my own. In recommending also a great and important change in the spirit which animates the social institutions of mankind, I have avoided all flattery of those violent and malignant passions of our nature which are ever o the watch to mingle with and to allow the most beneficial innovations. There is no quarter given to Revenge, or Envy, or Prejudice. Love is celebtrated everywhere as the sole law which should govern the world. [End; in Dowden, ed., Shelley’s Poems, 1913 Edn., p.95.)

Letter to John B. Yeats (1896): ‘I wish I could live in the deepest solitude with a few friends, and no acquaintances! But if I were to give up my professorship I should be obliged to work for my bread, and go to London and become a hack for the magazines, which consummation I fully intend to avert.’ (Quoted in Eglinton, ed., Letters of Edward Dowden and his Correspondents, Dent 1914, p.45; quoted in Terence Brown, W. B. Yeats, 1999, p.10.)

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Dictionary of National Biography lists Shakespere, His Mind and Art (1875), and Shakespere Primer (1877) [sic], and so listed in ODNB (1950).

Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); selects from Transcripts and Studies, ‘The Interpretation of Literature’; ‘England in Shakespeare’s Youth’; and ‘Shakespeare’s Portraiture of Women’; also from Shakespeare, A Critical Study of his Mind and Art, ‘The Humour of Shakespeare’; and poems, ‘Aboard the Sea-Swallow’; ‘Oasis’ [‘Let them go by - the heats, the doubts, the strife;/I can sit here and care not for them now, / Dreaming beside the glimmering wave of life / Once more - I know not how.’ (Three quatrains)] and a sonnet, ‘Leonardo’s Monna Lisa’ (sic; with b/w print of Mona Lisa facing [with a ftn., possibly Dowden) [‘Make thyself known, Sibyl, or let despair / Of knowing thee be absolute, I wait/Hour-long and waste a soul … Allure us and reject us at thy will’]. ALSO a Shakespeare Primer in the Literature Primers ser. ed. J. R. Green; Southey, in English Men of Letters, gen. ed. John Morley; other titles, Transcripts and Studies; New Studies in Literature; The French Revolution and English Literature; The History of French Literature, and ed. Shakespeare’s Sonnets; Southey’s Correspondence with Caroline Bowles; The Passionate Pilgrim; The Correspondence of Henry Taylor; and a collection of lyrical ballads.

Note: Introductory note quotes W. MacNeile Dixon writing in A Treasury of Irish Poetry [?1900]: ‘He [Dowden] recalls to us Marvell’s fine simplicity, his unfailing sense of the beautiful, his pervading spirituality, his touch of resolute aloofness from the haste and fever of life, his glad and serious temper, his unaffected charm and movement.’ [Available online; accessed 26.06.2014.]

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John Cooke, Dublin Book of Irish Verse (1910), ‘Awakening’; ‘Swallows’; ‘Sunsets’; ‘Evening’; ‘An Autumn Song’; ‘Life’s Gain’. Elizabeth Dickinson West, Mrs. Edward Dowden, ‘Adrift’; ‘There Shall be no More Sea’ (‘Yet though the Blessed need no more the Seas,/Will not God leave her to the Lost?’).

Margaret Drabble, ed., Oxford Companion of English Literature (OUP: 1985), mentioning ‘editions of many single plays’.

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Seamus Deane, gen ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; quotes D. P. Moran, editorial, The Leader (1900), ‘What have we done, what great sin have we committed that Professor Dowden should be put in an anthology, as if he could possess the cunning to strike a note to which the heart of Ireland would respond?’ [FDA2 971-72]; also 967n.

Daniel Karlin, ed., The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (London: Penguin 1997), incls. Edmund Dowden - with 8 other Irish poets: William Allingham, Jane Barlow, William Larminie, James Clarence Mangan, George William Russell [AE], John Todhunter, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats ... amidst tens of English poets.

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Catalogues & Booksellers
Belfast Public Library holds a centenary life by H. O. White (1943). Whelan Books (Cat. 32) lists Poems by Edward Dowden (Dent n.d.).

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High Dowden?: Dowden’s Shakespeare for School Children (1877) begins: ‘In the closing years of the sixteenth century the life of England ran high.’ (Quoted in Hugh Kenner, Ulysses; rev. edn. London 1987, p.113.)

R. M. Fox gives an unflattering view of Professor Dowden at home in Temple Rd.; see in Fox, Louie Bennet (1950), p.11ff.

J. J. Abraham was lent books by Dowden, who advised him to pursue his medical studies in preference to attempting a literary career. (See Abraham, Surgeon’s Journey: The Autobiography of J. J. Abraham, London: Heinemann 1957, 54ff.)

Kith & Kin (1): Rev. John Dowden, a br. of Edmund Dowden, is the presumed part-model for Rev. Howard - with Yeats himself and Henry Middleton - in Yeat’s John Sherman (1891). See G. J. Watson, W. B. Yeats: Short Fiction, Penguin 1995, p.xxiii.

Kith & Kin (2): his df. Hester became Mrs Travers Smith and author of Voices from the Void (Rider 1919) and Psychic Messages from Oscar Wilde (T. Werner Laurie 1923), products of automatic writing. Her dg. Dolly [Dorothy] married Lennox Robinson.

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