148 years ago

National Portrait Gallery - Herbert Rose Barraud (The Theatre) – Minnie Terry (1889)

National Portrait Gallery – Herbert Rose Barraud (The Theatre) – Minnie Terry (1889)

2 August 1867 marks the birthday of Ernest Dowson, poet, novelist, short-story writer, absinthe drinker, worshipper of Minnie Terry and devoted lover of Adelaide Foltinowicz.

The best tribute to Dowson’s poetry was given by Oscar Wilde in a letter written to him on 28 June 1897:

I write a little line … to tell you how charming you are … Tonight I am going to read your poems—your lovely lyrics—words with wings you write always. It is an exquisite gift, and fortunately rare in an age whose prose is more poetic than its poetry.

In a letter to Leonard Smithers sent from Paris just after hearing news of Dowson’s death on 23 February 1900, Wilde gave also the best tribute to him as a lover:

Poor wounded wonderful fellow that he was, a tragic reproduction of all tragic poetry, like a symbol, or a scene. I hope bay leaves will be laid on his tomb and rue and myrtle too for he knew what love was.

Let us hear the message hidden in a draft of Dowson’s poem Wisdom :

Dream all thy dreams and dream them well, true


The Letters of Ernest Dowson, Desmond Flower and Henry Maas (editors), Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1967, Introduction to Part V, pages 377 and 421.

Ernest Dowson Collected Poems, Robert Kelsey Rought Thornton and Caroline Dowson (editors), Birmingham University Press, 2003, page 261.


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