See also

Family of John TODHUNTER and Doral Louisa DIGBY

Husband: John TODHUNTER (1839-1916)
Wife: Doral Louisa DIGBY (c. 1853-1935)
Children: Edith Florence Digby TODHUNTER (1880-1946)
John Reginald Arthur TODHUNTER (1885-1968)
Margery Dorothea TODHUNTER (1887-1968)
Marriage 11 Nov 18791

Husband: John TODHUNTER

Name: John TODHUNTER2,3
Sex: Male
Name Prefix: Dr
Name Suffix: MD
Father: Thomas Harvey TODHUNTER (1799-1884)
Mother: Hannah HARVEY (1806-1857)
Birth 30 Dec 1839 19 Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin1
Occupation Doctor
Title MD
Education Quaker schools in Dublin; Mountmellick, Queen's county; York
MOVE: Moved 1874 (age 34-35) London
MOVE: Moved 1881 (age 41-42) Bedford Park
Death 25 Oct 1916 (age 76) Bedford Park1
cremated Golders Green
SCHL: School Attendance Mountmellick
SCHL: School Attendance Friends' School, York

Wife: Doral Louisa DIGBY

Name: Doral Louisa DIGBY1,3
Sex: Female
Father: William Arthur DIGBY ( -1889)
Mother: Louisa MORRISON ( -1879)
Birth c. 1853
Death 1935 (age 81-82)

Child 1: Edith Florence Digby TODHUNTER

Name: Edith Florence Digby TODHUNTER2
Sex: Female
Spouse: Ambrose HEAL (1872-1959)
Birth 4 Sep 1880 King Henry's Rd, London NW
Death 1946 (age 65-66)4

Child 2: John Reginald Arthur TODHUNTER

Name: John Reginald Arthur TODHUNTER1
Sex: Male
Spouse: Margery Ethel STENSON (1893-1988)
Birth 18851
Death 15 Mar 1968 (age 82-83)1

Child 3: Margery Dorothea TODHUNTER

Name: Margery Dorothea TODHUNTER1
Sex: Female
Spouse: Francis Carleton GREENE (1881-1926)
Birth 18871
Death 1968 (age 80-81)1

Note on Marriage

DNB entry


Todhunter, John (1839–1916), playwright and poet, was born on 30 December 1839 at 19 Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin, the eldest of the five surviving children of Thomas Harvey Todhunter (1799–1884), timber merchant, and his wife, Hannah Harvey (1806–1857), a cousin, and daughter of Joseph Massey Harvey, also a timber merchant, both members of the Society of Friends.


He was educated in Quaker schools in Dublin, and later in Mountmellick, Queen's county, and York. Apprenticed to importing firms from the age of sixteen, he left that employ to study medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, taking his BA in 1867, MB and MCh in 1868, and MD in 1871, and studying in Vienna and Paris. He was assistant physician at Cork Street Fever Hospital in Dublin until 1874, but in 1870 also succeeded his friend and confidant Edward Dowden as professor of English literature at Alexandra College for Women.


In 1872 he published an aesthetic treatise, A Theory of the Beautiful, to favourable comment in British and German intellectual circles. He contributed to the Cornhill Magazine under Thackeray's editorship.


Todhunter's marriage to Katharine Gresley Ball (d. 1871), daughter of Robert Ball, on 18 May 1870, ended with her death the following year in childbirth. Their son, Arthur, survived only until 1874.


After experiencing this dual blow Todhunter resigned from the Society of Friends, ceased to practise medicine, and moved to London to pursue the artistic life. He was described by friends during this period as a large imposing man of sallow complexion and melancholic disposition. Although determined at first to become a painter like his college friend John Butler Yeats, Todhunter found himself gradually in London's Irish literary orbit, helping to found the Irish Literary Society and becoming a member of the Gaelic League, but also joining the Rhymers' Club, the Sette of Odd Volumes, and the Order of the Golden Dawn, along with his friend's son, William Butler Yeats, then an emerging poet.


On 12 July 1879, Todhunter married Dora Louisa, née Digby (1853?–1935). They had three children, Edith (1880–1946), John Reginald Arthur (1885–1968), and Margery Dorothea (1887–1968).


Todhunter's earliest literary success came with the publication of The Banshee and other Poems in 1888, which contains his most anthologized poem, ‘Aghadoe’, known to generations of Irish schoolchildren. It was, however, in the theatre that he would make his lasting literary contribution, initially with the staging of his verse play, Helena in Troas, in Hengler's Circus in 1886. Herbert Beerbohm Tree played a leading role and the newly wed Constance Wilde a minor one. Edward Godwin provided its elaborately authenticated stage design. Todhunter's most popular play, A Sicilian Idyll, a verse pastoral, was first performed in 1890 in the theatre in the model suburb and artists' colony at Bedford Park, Chiswick, where he lived.


In 1893 Todhunter's next theatrical success abandoned verse in an effort to keep pace with changing popular taste. The Black Cat, an Ibsenite prose play, was praised as avant-garde by William Archer. In the following year a fellow adept in the Order of the Golden Dawn, Florence Farr Emery, an actress, undertook with Todhunter and Annie Horniman to mount a season at the Avenue Theatre. Todhunter's A Comedy of Sighs (1894) was a play similarly constructed to The Black Cat, but with a contrived happy ending which avoided the earlier play's Hedda-esque suicide. Yeats's Land of Heart's Desire served as the curtain-raiser (in the event a disastrous choice, and unable to be heard by the audience). However, it was Todhunter's, not Yeats's, play that was replaced on the bill, by Shaw's Arms and the Man, a development that helped to launch that playwright's career. A Comedy of Sighs has an additional place in theatrical history in that the poster that advertised the production was an early commission for Aubrey Beardsley. It defied the convention that theatre posters be mostly typographic information. Beardsley's poster for the Yeats–Todhunter double bill, in vivid teal blue and lime green (considered a ghastly combination of colours at the time), featured a ‘wanton’ pre-Raphaelite beauty, and drew as much attention as the plays.


After the failure of A Comedy of Sighs Todhunter, who had enjoyed nearly two decades of literary success, seems to have withdrawn from public life. His considerable means provided a comfortable income. He is likely to have suffered from senility in his later years, and died after a long illness on 25 October 1916 at his home, Orchardcroft, 3 The Orchard, Bedford Park, Chiswick. He was cremated at Golders Green.


Todhunter experimented with many genres, writing a biography of Patrick Sarsfield and translating Goethe's Faust and Heine's Book of Songs. He provided the libretto for an oratorio, The Legend of Stauffenberg, which was composed by J. C. Culwick and performed to acclaim in Dublin in 1890, and another (unpublished and unperformed) for a children's opera Pat in Fairyland.


John Todhunter's literary achievement is, at its highest level, worthy. Most of his writing does not sustain that degree of attainment, but is a valuable record of the artistic taste of his era. His close connection with the Yeats family and minor role in the Irish literary revival earn him a secure place in literary history, as does the significance of his aesthetic, literary, and social affiliations in fin de siècle London.


Christina Hunt Mahony



The collected letters of W. B. Yeats, 1, ed. J. Kelly and E. Domville (1986) · W. M. Murphy, Prodigal father (1978) · B. Cleeve, ed., Dictionary of Irish writers, 1 (1966) · B. J. P. McDermott, ‘John Todhunter, MD, a minor figure in Anglo-Irish literature’, MA diss., University College Dublin, 1968 · D. J. Moriarty, ‘John Todhunter: child of the coming century’, PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1979 · ‘John Todhunter, MD, an account of his life’, Religious Society of Friends, Dublin, Cup B, nos. 65–118 · H. Jackson, The eighteen nineties (1913); repr. (1976) · J. Johnson, Florence Farr: Bernard Shaw's new woman (1975) · R. S. Harrison, A biographical dictionary of Irish Quakers (1997) · H. Boylan, A dictionary of Irish biography, 2nd edn (1988) · m. cert. (1870) · d. cert.



priv. coll., family papers · U. Reading L., corresp. and papers, MS 202.1–5 | Religious Society of Friends, Dublin, pedigree, John Todhunter of Cumberland and his descendants · TCD, corresp. with Edward Dowden, MS 3147–3154a, nos. 1–1132 · U. Leeds, Brotherton L., letters to Bram Stoker





H. M. Paget, portrait, NG Ire. · J. Yeats, pencil sketch (Portrait of Dr Todhunter at a calumet), U. Reading



Wealth at death


£8750 1s. 6d.: probate, 18 Jan 1917, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

© Oxford University Press 2004–6



All rights reserved: see legal notice Oxford University Press



Christina Hunt Mahony, ‘Todhunter, John (1839–1916)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 8 Feb 2006]


John Todhunter (1839–1916): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/62934

Note on Husband: John TODHUNTER (1)

Description: (from dublin)


Description: after mountmellick


lived at Orchard Croft, Bedford Park


1862 Medical studies

BA '66 Mchir '68

1869 studying in Vienna

1871 MD

after marriage lived in 116 Lower Bagehot St, Dublin

'70-74 Prof. English, Alexandra College

'73 English Lakes

'75 Meditarranean tour

'77 Italy

'79 married again

'80 Italy

before 88 moved to Bedford Pk

Note on Husband: John TODHUNTER (2)


apprenticed to an importing firm from age of 16 (dnb)

Trinity College, Dublin: BA 1867; MB and MCh in 1868; MD 1871

studied in Vienna and Paris

1870 succeeded Edward Dowden as professor of English literatore at Alexandra College for women.

Assistand physicication at Cork St Fever Hospital in Dublin til 1874

Note on Husband: John TODHUNTER (3)

eldest of 5 surviving children (DNB)

Note on Husband: John TODHUNTER (4)

He was of 3 Orchard Croft, Bedford Park, London


Orchardcroft, 3 The Orchard, Bedford Park, Chiswick

Note on Husband: John TODHUNTER (5)

his mother was a Harvey, and his paternal g'father was a Harvey. I don't know if there's any connection.


1John Gauntlett (Benedict) Heal, "Information provided by John Gauntlett (Benedict) Heal" (Received Oct 2003, prepared ?2001).
2Ambrose Heal & Edith Heal, with Charles A. Bernau, "The Records of the Heal Family" (Privately Printed & Published (75 copies only), 1932).
3"File (merged): C:\docs\bh\familyhistory\heal26-1jun04.ged". Record originated in...
4Oliver Standerwick Heal, "Information provided by Oliver Heal" (Prepared 1986).