Born: August 2, 1867, in Lee, Kent, England
Died: February 23, 1900, in Lewisham, England
Christopher Ernest Dowson was a member of the aesthetic movement of the late 1800s which was initiated by a group of English artists as a reaction to the attitudes and moral standards of the Victorian period.
Dowson's parents suffered from consumption and attempted to ease their ailments by seeking the more pleasant climatic areas of Europe. As a result, his early education varied as he traveled throughout Europe. He was admitted to Queen's College, Oxford in 1886, but discontinued his studies after two years. His father's business was failing and he hoped to aid in its rescue.
At this time, Dowson had joined the Rhymer's Club which included among its members William Butler Yeats and Lionel Johnson. This group of poets held to the philosophy that art should be produced solely for its artistic value and for no other reason. Their poetry often attempted to shock readers with outrageous topics and unorthodox themes.
Much of Dowson's poetry was inspired by Adelaide Foltinowicz, a woman he met during this period. Although she was only twelve, Dowson was captivated by her and proposed marriage. However, she rejected his offer. Not to be discouraged, Dowson wrote the poem Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae which professed his love for Foltinowicz and contained the notable line "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion".
In 1891, Dowson converted to the Roman Catholic religion. Three years later, his life took a turn for the worse. His father died of consumption, his mother committed suicide shortly after and he learned that he had contracted tuberculosis. His writing was bringing him little in the way of an income so he earned a meager living by doing translations.
Dowson's life took another bad turn when, in 1897, he learned that Foltinowicz had married another man. His hopes and dreams of eventually winning her love were crushed and he fell into a downward spiral of drug addiction and illness. He traveled aimlessly around continental Europe until a friend caught up with him and brought him back to England.
Before his death in 1900, Dowson collaborated on a novel with Collin Moore named Adrian of Rome. This was his second novel with Moore; together they had completed A Comedy of Masks in 1893. Dowson also completed another independent work in 1899 titled Decorations.
Dowson's work is noted for its refined and polished choice of words and lyrical phrasing. His stylistic influence extended to his contemporary Yeats and future authors such as Rupert Brooke.