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Dowden, Edward

Category: Poet

Edward Dowden (1843 –1913), was principally a critic, but also a poet, born in Cork, southern Ireland. 

His education and literary career included school at Queen's College, Cork, university education at Trinity College, Dublin [winning the vice-chancellor's prize for English verse and prose] until in 1867 he was elected professor of oratory and English literature in Dublin University. 

From 1892 to 1896 he served as Clark lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge.  He was also  commissioner of education in Ireland (1896–1901), trustee of the National Library of Ireland, secretary of the Irish Liberal Union and vice-president of the Irish Unionist Alliance.

 

He wrote numerous books such as  Shakespeare, his Mind and Art (1875) and Shakespeare Primer (1877), all of which were critiques of others’ work. In 1878, the Royal Irish Academy awarded him the Cunningham gold medal "for his literary writings, especially in the field of Shakespearian criticism."

Later works by him in this field included: Shakespeare's Sonnets (1881), his article (in the National Review, July 1902) on "Shakespeare as a Man of Science, "Studies in Literature" (1878), "Transcripts and Studies" (1888), "New Studies in Literature" (1895) and Life of Shelley (1886),  Southey's Correspondence , Select Poems of Southey (1895), French Revolution and English Literature (1897; History of French Literature (1897), and his devotion to Goethe led to his succeeding Max Müller in 1888 as president of the English Goethe Society.

But in amongst all this criticism and appraisal of the works of other people are a few little gems of his own.  They can now be found in books like Poems by Edward Dowden (1914)

 

One is tempted to say that his poems may have been fuelled by grief.  Dowden married twice, first (1866) Mary Clerke, and secondly (1895) Elizabeth Dickinson West, daughter of the dean of St Patrick's, both of whom died. But I don’t think this was the principle means of his inspiration. 

Several of his poems show an understanding of the non drugs based techniques for inducing spiritual experiences  – particularly spinning.

But he may also have had a natural gift.  His daughter, Hester Dowden, was a well-known spiritualist medium.  And the icing on the cake?  He was left handed.

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