Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Thomas Dunn English

Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, & New Jersey

Physician, lawyer, poet, playwright, novelist, journalist, and politician

Thomas Dunn English was born in Philadelphia on June 29, 1810. His family, Quakers, came to America with William Penn and settled in New Jersey. English graduated from the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1839, and then studied law and was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1842. English moved to New York, edited a daily paper, and commenced publication of The Aristidean, a literary magazine which survived only its initial offering. English continued to write but decided to move to Virginia, in what is now Logan County, West Virginia, to practice medicine. He maintained this residency from 1852 until 1857, when he moved back to New York, and the following year, to New Jersey. In New Jersey he served in the state legislature from 1863 to 1864 and was elected to Congress in 1891 for two terms but was defeated in his 1894 reelection effort. English wrote poetry throughout his life and according to one commentator, published over a thousand poems in magazines and periodicals. English died at Newark, New Jersey in 1902.

Thomas Dunn English, with Thomas Burke, Jonathan W. Gordon, Edward Robeson Taylor, and George D. Prentice, has the distinction of being not only a lawyer-poet, but a lawyer-physician-poet. (Thomas Dale, another poet, while not a lawyer, served as a judge.)

Thomas Dunn English
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress


[Ben Bolt] [Ben Bolt] [The Old Mill] [The Battle of New Orleans]

Gauley River

The waters of Gauley,
     Wild waters and brown,
Through the hill-bounded valley;
     Sweep onward and down;
Over rocks, over shallows,
     Through shaded ravines,
Where the beautiful hallows
     Wild, varying scenes;
Where the tulip tree scatters
     Its blossoms in Spring
And the bank-swallow spaters
     With foam its sweet wing;
Where the dun deer is stooping
     Bears down on his prey—
Brown waters of Gauley,
     That sweep past the shore—
Dark waters of Gauley
     That move evermore.

Brown waters of Gauley,
     At eve on your tide,
My log canoe slowly
     And careless I guide.
The world and its troubles
     I leave on the shore
I seek the wild torrent
     And shout to its roar.
The pike glides before me
     In impulse of fear,
In dread of the motion
     That speaks of the spear—
Proud lord of these waters,
     He fears lest I be
A robber rapacious
     And cruel as he.
He is off to his eddy,
     In wait for his prey;
He is off to his ambush,
     And there let him stay.

Brown waters of Gauley,
     Impatient ye glide,
To seek the Kanawha,
     And mix with its tide—
Past hillside and meadow,
     Past cliff and moralls,
Receiving the tribute,
     Of streams as ye pass,
Ye heed not the being,
     Who floats on your breast,
Too earnest your hurry,
     Too fierce your unrest.
His, his is the duty
     As plain as your own;
But he feels a dullness
     Ye never have known.
He pauses in action,
     He faints and gives, o'er;
Brown waters of Gauley,
     Ye move evermore.

Brown waters of Gauley,
     My fingers I lave
In the foam that lies scattered
     Upon your brown wave.
From sunlight to shadow,
     To shadow more dark,
'Neath the low-bending birches
     I guide my rude barque;
Through the shallows whose brawling
     Falls full on my ear,
Through the sharp, mossy masses,
     My vessel I steer
What care I for honors,
     The world might bestow,
What care I for gold,
     With its glare and its glow:
The world and its troubles
     I leave on the shore
Of the waters of Gualey,
     That move evermore.

[Source: The Southern Literary Messenger (1856) reprinted in Ella May Turner, Stories and Verse of West Virginia 52-54 (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Mennonite Publishing House, rev. ed. 1925) (1923)]


Thomas Dunn English, Zephaniah Doolittle, a Poem (Philadelphia: [s.n.], 2nd ed., 1838)

________________ (ed.), The Book of Rubies: A Collection of the Most Notable Love Poems in the English Language (New York: Charles Scribner's, 1866) [online text]

________________, Gasology (Philadelphia: John Donkey & Co., 1878)(1877)

________________, American Ballads (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880)

________________, The Boy's Book of Battle-Lyrics (New York: Harper & brothers, 1885) [online text] [online text]

_________________, The Select Poems of Dr. Thomas Dunn English (Newark, New Jersey: Private Subscription, 1894)(Alice English ed.) [online text] [online text]


Thomas Dunn English, The Aristidean (New-York: Lane & Co., 1845)

_________________, Walter Woolfe, or, The Doom of the Drinker (New York: William B. Smith, 1847)

________________, The French Revolution of 1848: Its Causes, Actors, Events & Influences (Philadelphia: G.B. Zieber & Co., 1848)(co-authored with G.G. Foster)

________________, The Mormons, or, Life at Salt Lake City: A Drama in Three Acts (New York: S. French, 1858)

________________, Ambrose Fecit, or, The Peer and the Printer, a Novel (New York: Hilton, 1867) [online text] [online text]

________________, Zara, or, The Girl of the Period, a Novel (New York: Hilton and Syme, 186-?)

________________, Jacob Schuyler's Millions, a Novel (New York: D. Appleton, 1886)

________________, Skeleton Essays, or Authorship in Outline; consisting of condensed treatises on popular subjects ... and directions how to enlarge them into essays, or expand them into lectures ... (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1890) [online text]

________________, Hurrah For You, Old Glory (Newark: A. English, 1895)

________________, Fairy Stories and Wonder Tales (1897)

________________, Little Giant, the Big Dwarf and Two Other Wonder-Tales for Boys and Girls from Eight to Eighty Years Old (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Co., 1904)


Mark Canada, "Thomas Dunn English," in American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Research Resources

Roster of Physician Writers