American poet/physician/lawyer, 1819-1902

Also a journalist, playwright, and Congressional representative.

Although over his career he wrote hundreds of poems, he is mainly remembered now for his feud with another American writer: throughout the 1840s, he made fun of Edgar Allan Poe, at first for being a hack writer, and then for being a drunkard. Also unprincipled. And a poltroon. Also base and depraved. Silly, vain, and ignorant. And a forger. And a quack when it came to writing.

It hadn't helped that Poe had savaged English in his six-part hit piece, The Literati of New York (He described Dunn English as a man "without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind on topics of polite literature"). The two carried on their feud in print in various journals, as well as in the streets-- the two of them came to fisticuffs. Although the feud provided some of the venom for Poe's story, The Cask of Amontillado, as well as a successful libel suit against English, Poe's reputation among the literati changed from "drunk outsider" to "drunk and insane outsider." Having lost the suit, English left off direct attacks in the press to assassinate Poe's character via satire.

English moved from Philadelphia to Virginia, then New York (where he not only wrote, but found time to found The American Numismatic Society), and finally New Jersey, where he set up a medical practice in 1859. Politics beckoned, and English was swept into office after capturing the votes of the state's poets, physicians, lawyers, novelists, dramatists, lawyer-physicians, poet-lawyers, physician-poets, and fans of both his hit single "Ben Bolt" (This was his only poem set to music (by Nelson Kneass)) and his hit poem "The Gallows-goers" (a "rough but vigorous" screed against hanging-- English was a Quaker). He served in the State Assembly in 1863 and 1864; and later elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-second and Fifty-third Congresses (March 4, 1891-March 3, 1895), although he is remembered more nowadays as a one-hit wonder.

Sources:
James R. Elkins. "Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and Poetry." <http://www.wvu.edu/~lawfac/jelkins/lp-2001/english.html> (April 22, 2005)
Ronald Weber. Hired Pens: Professional Writers in America's Golden Age of Print. Ohio University Press, 1997. <http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/weber-pens.html> (April 22, 2005)
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. <http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=E000188> (April 22, 2005)

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