Edward Dowden Plaque

Pictured: The Edward Dowden plaque at 50 Wellington Road.

Pictured: The Edward Dowden plaque at 50 Wellington Road.

Residents of Wellington Road in Ballsbridge might have noticed a new plaque adorning the façade of No 50. The name on it is Edward Dowden, who lived there for several years in the 1870s, referred to it as his “fixed address” and is listed there in both Thom’s and Post Office Dublin Directories.

The same residents could be forgiven for scratching their heads and wondering who Edward Dowden was and why he deserves a plaque. Born in 1843, he has been described by scholars as “the most distinguished literary scholar of Trinity College and indeed all Ireland, and its most internationally recognized teacher and critic.”

He was a poet, biographer, academic, literary critic and in 1867 he was appointed as the first-ever Professor of English Literature at Trinity College. Such was his standing internationally that in 1884 Johns Hopkins University in The United States offered to create a Chair specially for him, but he chose to stay in Dublin and remain in TCD.

He was friends with heavy weight writers such as George Eliot, Browning and Walt Whitman but was also a well-respected poet in his lifetime and influenced Irish writers such as Bram Stoker, who is most famous for writing Dracula.

Dowden received honorary doctorates from Oxford, Edinburgh and Princeton Universities. The famous Dublin writer Lafcadio Hearn regarded him as one of the three greatest literary critics in the world, in French as well as English. Hearn is quoted as saying: “Professor Dowden is a remarkable figure,” and that he “has produced a volume of poems of excellence and two volumes of literary essays of very great excellence. His short history of French literature is perhaps the most interesting of any to read.” High praise indeed from a writer of Hearn’s power.

Certain Unionist political leanings put him at odds with Irish writers such as WB Yeats and James Joyce. This made him unfashionable after his death so recognizing his achievements and contributions to Ireland at home and abroad is long overdue. A plaque on his old home is a good start.

By Steve Kingston