Ernest Dowson

Ernest Christopher Dowson (2 August 1867 – 23 February 1900) was an English poet, novelist, and short-story writer who is often associated with the Decadent movement.

Ernest Dowson
Ernest Dowson.jpg
Ernest Christopher Dowson

(1867-08-02)2 August 1867
Lee, Kent, England
Died23 February 1900(1900-02-23) (aged 32)
Catford, Kent, England
Alma materThe Queen's College, Oxford
OccupationPoet, novelist, and short-story writer
RelativesAlfred Domett (great-uncle)


Ernest Dowson was born in Lee, then in Kent, in 1867. His great-uncle was Alfred Domett, a Prime Minister of New Zealand. Dowson attended The Queen's College, Oxford, but left in March 1888 without obtaining a degree.[1]

In November 1888, Dowson started work at Dowson and Son, his father's dry-docking business in Limehouse, east London, Dawson led an active social life, carousing with medical students and law pupils, visiting music halls and taking the performers to dinner.

Dowson, was a member of the Rhymers' Club and a contributor to literary magazines such as The Yellow Book and The Savoy.[2] He collaborated on two unsuccessful novels with Arthur Moore, worked on a novel of his own, Madame de Viole, and wrote reviews for The Critic. Later in his career, Dowson was a translator of French fiction, including novels by Balzac and the Goncourt brothers, and Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos.[3]

In 1889, Dowson became infatuated with 11 year-old Adelaide "Missie" Foltinowicz, the daughter of a Polish restaurant owner. In 1892, Dowson converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1893, he proposed to Foltinowicz, then age 15.[4] However, his proposal was refused and she later married a tailor.[5]

In August 1894, Dowson's father, suffering from tuberculosis, died of an overdose of chloral hydrate. In February 1895, his mother, who also had tuberculosis, hanged herself. Soon after her death, Dowson's health began to decline rapidly.[6] Soon afterwards, Leonard Smithers gave Dowson an allowance to live in France and write translations for him.[7] However, in 1897, Dowson returned to London to live with the Foltinowicz family.[8]

In 1899, Robert Sherard found Dowson almost penniless in a wine bar. Sherard brought him to his cottage in Catford, where Dowson spent his last six weeks.

On 23 February 1900, Dowson died in Catford at age 32. He was interred in the Roman Catholic section of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries in London.[9]


Dowson is best remembered for three phrases from his poems:

  • "Days of Wine and Roses", from the poem "Vitae Summa Brevis"
  • "Gone with the wind", from the poem ''Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae"
  • "I have been my fashion", from "Cynarae"

The phrase "Days of Wine and Roses" was used by JP Miller as the title of his 1958 television drama Days of Wine and Roses and the 1962 film adaptation.[10] The phrase also inspired the title of the song "Days of Wine and Roses".

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

– Ernest Dowson, from "Vitae Summa Brevis" (1896).

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

– Ernest Dowson, from Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae,[a] third stanza (1894).

Margaret Mitchell, touched by the "far away, faintly sad sound I wanted" of the third stanza's first line in "Cynarae", chose that line as the title of her novel Gone with the Wind.[11]

"Cynarae" is also the source of the phrase 'I have been my fashion'. That phrase was used in the title of the 1946 film, Faithful in My Fashion. Cole Porter paraphrased Dowson in the song "Always True to You in My Fashion" from the musical Kiss Me, Kate. Morrissey used the lines, "In my own strange way,/I've always been true to you./In my own sick way,/I'll always stay true to you," in the song "Speedway," on the album Vauxhall & I.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dowson provides the earliest use of the word soccer in written language (although he spells it socca, presumably because it did not yet have a standard written form).[b]

Dowson's prose works include the short stories collected as Dilemmas (1895), and the two novels A Comedy of Masks (1893) and Adrian Rome (each co-written with Arthur Moore).

"Cynarae" was first published in The Second Book of the Rhymer's Club in 1894,[12] and was noticed by Richard Le Gallienne in his "Wanderings in Bookland" column in The Idler, volume 9.[13]


  • A Comedy of Masks: a Novel (1893) With Arthur Moore.
  • Dilemmas, Stories and Studies in Sentiment (1895)
  • Verses (1896)
  • The Pierrot of the Minute : a Dramatic Phantasy in One Act (1897)
  • Decorations in Verse and Prose (1899)
  • Adrian Rome (1899) With Arthur Moore.
  • Cynara: a Little Book of Verse (1907)
  • Studies in Sentiment (1915)
  • The Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson, With a Memoir by Arthur Symons (1919)
  • Letters of Ernest Dowson (1968)
  • Collected Shorter Fiction (2003)


  • In a letter to Leonard Smithers, Oscar Wilde wrote of the death of Dowson: "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 is."[14]
  • Arthur Moore wrote several comic novels about the young adult duo of Anthony 'Tony' Wilder and Paul Morrow. Tony is based on Dowson, while Paul is based on Moore. The Moore novel The Eyes of Light is mentioned by E. Nesbit in her book The Phoenix and the Carpet.
  • The Dowson poem "Days of Wine and Roses" was recited in the TV series, The Durrells in Corfu; Season 2, Episode 4.
  • Frederick Delius set several Dowson poems to music in his Songs of Sunset and Cynara.
  • John Ireland set the Dowson poem "I Was Not Sorrowful (Spleen)" from Verses (1896) in his 1912 song cycle Songs of a Wayfarer.
  • T. E. Lawrence quotes from the Dowson's poem "Impenitentia Ultima" in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, chapter LIV.
  • In anticipation of the anniversary of Dowson's birth on 2 August 2010, his grave, which had fallen derelict and been vandalized, was restored. The unveiling and memorial service were publicised in the local (South London Press) and national (BBC Radio 4 and the Times Literary Supplement) British press, and dozens paid posthumous tribute to the poet 110 years after his death.
  • In the Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson, a 1919 memoir, Arthur Symons, Symons describes Dowson as: "... a man who was undoubtedly a man of genius ... There never was a poet to whom verse came more naturally ... He had the pure lyric gift, unweighed or unballasted by any other quality of mind or emotion..."[15]


  1. ^ Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae ("I am not what I was, under the reign of the good Cynara"), is a quotation from Horace's Odes, Book IV,1 "vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam..."
  2. ^ "I absolutely decline to see socca' matches." (letter by Dowson, 21 February 1889). Soccer , in Oxford English Dictionary online, (subscription required), retrieved 30 April 2014.



  1. ^ Jad 2000, p. 17.
  2. ^ Richards, (n.d.)
  3. ^ Richards, (n.d.)
  4. ^ Anon (1968), pp. 61-2.
  5. ^ Richards, (n.d.)
  6. ^ Anon (1968), p. 62.
  7. ^ Richards, (n.d.)
  8. ^ Anon (1968), p. 63.
  9. ^ Richards, (n.d.)
  10. ^ "Days of Wine and Roses, a CurtainUp London review". Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  11. ^ "Awesome Stories".
  12. ^ Mathews & Lane 1894, pp. 60–61.
  13. ^ The Idler Volume 9, p. 889.
  14. ^ Ernest Christopher Dowson, ed., The Letters of Ernest Dowson, Epilogue, p. 421; retrieved 10 August 2013
  15. ^ Dowson 2007, Memoir from 1990 edition.


Further readingEdit

Primary Works (modern scholarly editions)

  • The Stories of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Mark Longaker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1947)
  • The Poems of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Mark Longaker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962)
  • The Letters of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Desmond Flower and Henry Maas (London: Cassell, 1967)
  • The Poetry of Ernest Dowson, ed. by Desmond Flower (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970)
  • The Pierrot of the Minute, restored edition with Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations (CreateSpace, 2012)
  • Le Pierrot de la Minute, bilingual illustrated edition with French translation by Philippe Baudry (CreateSpace, 2012)


  • Jad Adams, Madder Music, Stronger Wine: The Life of Ernest Dowson, Poet and Decadent (London: I.B. Tauris & Co., 2000)
  • Mark Longaker, Ernest Dowson: A Biography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945)
  • Henry Maas, Ernest Dowson: Poetry and Love in the 1890s (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2009)

Critical Studies on Dowson and the 1890s

  • Elisa Bizzotto, La mano e l'anima. Il ritratto immaginario fin de siècle (Milano: Cisalpino, 2001)
  • Jean-Jacques Chardin, Ernest Dowson et la crise fin de siècle anglaise (Paris: Editions Messene, 1995)
  • Linda Dowling, Language and Decadence in the Victorian Fin de Siècle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986)
  • B. Ifor Evans, English Poetry in the Later Nineteenth Century (London: Methuen, 1966)
  • Ian Fletcher, Decadence and the 1890s (London: Edward Arnold, 1979)
  • Jessica Gossling and Alice Condé (eds), In Cynara’s Shadow: Collected Essays on Ernest Dowson (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang UK, 2019)
  • Graham Hough, The Last Romantics (London: Duckworth, 1949)
  • Holbrook Jackson, The Eighteen Nineties (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927)
  • Agostino Lombardo, La poesia inglese dall'estetismo al simbolismo (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1950)
  • Franco Marucci, Storia della letteratura inglese dal 1870 al 1921 (Firenze: Le Lettere, 2006)
  • William Monahan (11 October 2000). "A Gallows Sermon: Life & Death Among the Decadents". New York Press. Archived from the original on 7 June 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2007.
  • Murray G. H. Pittock, Spectrum of Decadence: The Literature of the 1890s (London: Routledge, 1993)
  • Mario Praz, La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica (Firenze: Sansoni, 1976)
  • Bernard Richards, English Poetry of the Victorian Period (London: Longman, 1988)
  • Thomas Burnett Swann, Ernest Dowson (New York: Twayne, 1964)
  • Arthur Symons, The Memoirs of Arthur Symons, ed. by Karl Beckson (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977)
  • William Butler Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955)

External linksEdit