Algernon Charles Swinburne: Wikis

  
  

Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Encyclopedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Sketch By Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Born 5 April 1837(1837-04-05)
London, England
Died 10 April 1909 (aged 72)
London, England
Occupation Poet

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) was an English poet, controversial in his own day. He invented the roundel form, wrote some novels, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Contents

Biography

Swinburne was born at 7 Chester Street, Grosvenor Place, London, on 5 April 1837. He was the eldest of six children born to Captain (later Admiral) Charles Henry Swinburne and Lady Jane Henrietta, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham. He grew up at East Dene in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight and attended Eton college 1849-53, where he first started writing poetry, and then Balliol College, Oxford 1856-60 with a brief hiatus when he was rusticated from the university in 1859, returning in May 1860.

He spent summer holidays at Capheaton Hall in Northumberland, the house of his grandfather, Sir John Swinburne (1762-1860) who had a famous library and was President of the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle upon Tyne. Swinburne considered Northumberland to be his native county, an emotion memorably reflected in poems like the intensely patriotic 'Northumberland', 'Grace Darling' and others. He enjoyed riding his pony across the moors (he was a daring horseman) 'through honeyed leagues of the northland border'. He never called it the Scottish border.

Swinburne caricatured by 'Ape' In Vanity Fair in 1874

In the years 1857-60, Swinburne became one of Lady Pauline Trevelyan's intellectual circle at Wallington Hall and after his grandfather's death in 1860, would stay with William Bell Scott in Newcastle. In December 1862, Swinburne accompanied Bell Scott and his guests, probably including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, on a trip to Tynemouth. Scott writes in his memoirs that as they walked by the sea, Swinburne declaimed the as yet unpublished 'Hymn to Proserpine' and 'Laus Veneris' in his strange intonation, while the waves 'were running the whole length of the long level sands towards Cullercoats and sounding like far-off acclamations'.

At university Swinburne associated with the Pre-Raphaelites and counted among his best friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti. After leaving college he lived in London and started an active writing career, where Rossetti was delighted with his 'little Northumbrian friend', a reference to Swinburne's diminutive height - he was just over five feet tall[1].

His poetic works include: Atalanta in Calydon (1865), Poems and Ballads I (1866), Songs before Sunrise (1871), Poems and Ballads II, (1878) Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), Poems and Ballads III (1889), and the novel Lesbia Brandon (published posthumously).

Poems and Ballads I caused a sensation when it was first published , especially the poems written in homage of Sappho of Lesbos such as "Anactoria" and "Sapphics": Moxon and Co. transferred their publication rights to John Camden Hotten.[2] Other poems in this volume such as "The Leper," "Laus Veneris," and "St Dorothy" evoke a Victorian fascination with the Middle Ages, and are explicitly mediaeval in style, tone and construction. Also featured in this volume are "Hymn to Proserpine", "The Triumph of Time" and "Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs)".

Swinburne devised the poetic form Roundel, a variation of the French Rondeau form, and some were included in A Century of Roundels dedicated to Christina Rossetti. Swinburne wrote to Edward Burne-Jones in 1883: "I have got a tiny new book of songs or songlets, in one form and all manner of metres ... just coming out, of which Miss Rossetti has accepted the dedication. I hope you and Georgie [his wife Georgiana, one of the MacDonald sisters] will find something to like among a hundred poems of nine lines each, twenty-four of which are about babies or small children". Opinions of these poems vary between those who find them captivating and brilliant, to those who find them merely clever and contrived. One of them, A Baby's Death, was set to music by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar as the song Roundel: The little eyes that never knew Light.

Swinburne was an alcoholic and algolagniac, and a highly excitable character. His health suffered as a result, and in 1879 at the age of 42 he had a mental and physical breakdown and was taken into care by his friend Theodore Watts, who looked after him for the rest of his life at 11 Putney Hill, Putney SW15 [3] . Thereafter he lost his youthful rebelliousness and developed into a figure of social respectability. He died in South West London,[4] on 10 April 1909 at the age of 72 and was buried at St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight.

Criticism

Swinburne is considered a decadent poet, although he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged in, a fact which Oscar Wilde famously and acerbically commented upon, stating that Swinburne was "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer."[5]

His mastery of vocabulary, rhyme and metre is impressive, although he has also been criticized for his florid style and word choices that only fit the rhyme scheme rather than contributing to the meaning of the piece. He is the virtual star of the third volume of George Saintsbury's famous History of English Prosody, and A. E. Housman, a more measured and even somewhat hostile critic, devoted paragraphs of praise to his rhyming ability.

Painting by William Bell Scott

Swinburne's work was once quite popular among undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, though today it has gone out of fashion. This is at least somewhat contextual, as it tends to mirror the popular and academic consensus regarding his work, although his Poems and Ballads, First Series and his Atalanta in Calydon have never been out of critical favor.

It was Swinburne's misfortune that the two works, published when he was nearly 30, soon established him as England's premier poet, the successor to Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. This was a position he held in the popular mind until his death, but sophisticated critics like A. E. Housman felt, rightly or wrongly, that the job of being one of England's very greatest poets was beyond him.

After the first Poems and Ballads, Swinburne's later poetry is devoted more to philosophy and politics (notably, in favour of the unification of Italy, particularly in the volume Songs before Sunrise). He does not stop writing love poetry entirely (including his great epic-length poem, Tristram of Lyonesse), but the content is much less shocking. His versification, and especially his rhyming technique, remain in top form to the end.

T. S. Eliot read Swinburne's essays on the Shakespearean and Jonsonian dramatists in The Contemporaries of Shakespeare and The Age of Shakespeare and Swinburne's books on Shakespeare and Jonson. Writing on Swinburne in 'The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism', Eliot found that as a poet writing notes on poets, he had mastered his material, writing "'he is more reliable to them than Hazlitt, Coleridge, or Lamb: and his perception of relative values is almost always correct." However, Eliot disliked Swinburne's prose. About this he wrote "the tumultuous outcry of adjectives, the headstrong rush of undisciplined sentences, are the index to the impatience and perhaps laziness of a disorderly mind."

Publications

  • Algernon Charles Swinburne, A Century of Roundels, London: Chatto and Windus 1883
  • The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise. London: William Heinemann, 1926

Further reading

A modern study of his religious attitudes:

References

  1. ^ New World Encyclopedia,Swinburne, Algernon Accessed December 2009
  2. ^ Walter M. Kendrick, "The secret museum: pornography in modern culture", University of California Press, 1996, ISBN 0520207297, p.168
  3. ^ Blue Plaques Listing for London, English Heritage, Accessed December 2009.
  4. ^ Deaths England and Wales 1837-1983
  5. ^ A. C. Swinburne: Biography

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Though our works
Find righteous or unrighteous judgment, this
At least is ours, to make them righteous.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-04-051909-04-10) was an English poet.

Contents

Sourced

Our way is where God knows
And Love knows where:
We are in Love’s hand to-day.
Fear that makes faith may break faith; and a fool Is but in folly stable.
At the door of life by the gate of breath,
There are worse things waiting for men than death.
  • Life is the lust of a lamp for the light that is dark till the dawn of the day that we die.
    • "Nephelidia", line 16, from The Heptalogia (1880); Swinburne intended "Nephelidia" as a self-parody.
  • A crown and justice? Night and day
    Shall first be yoked together.
    • Marino Faliero (1885)
  • God by God flits past in thunder, till His glories turn to shades;
    God to God bears wondering witness how His gospel flames and fades.

    More was each of these, yet they were, than man their servant seemed:
    Dead are all of these, and man survives who made them while he dreamed.
    • "The Altar of Righteousness" in Harper's Monthly (June 1904)

Atalanta in Calydon (1865)

  • Before the beginning of years
    There came to the making of man
    Time with a gift of tears
    ,
    Grief with a glass that ran,
    Pleasure with pain for leaven,
    Summer with flowers that fell,
    Remembrance fallen from heaven,
    And Madness risen from hell,
    Strength without hands to smite,
    Love that endures for a breath;
    Night, the shadow of light,
    And Life, the shadow of death.
    • Second chorus, lines 1-12.
  • His speech is a burning fire.
    • Second chorus, line 51.
  • His life is a watch or a vision
    Between a sleep and a sleep.
    • Second chorus, lines 57-58.
  • When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,
    The mother of months in meadow or plain
    Fills the shadows and windy places
    With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain.
    • First chorus, line 65.

Poems and Ballads (1866-89)

  • Wilt thou fear that, and fear not my desire?
    • "Anactoria", line 8
  • Ah, ah, thy beauty! like a beast it bites,
    Stings like an adder, like an arrow smites.
    • "Anactoria", line 115
  • Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
    We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
    • "Hymn to Proserpine", line 35
  • If love were what the rose is,
    And I were like the leaf,
    Our lives would grow together
    In sad or singing weather,
    Blown fields or flowerful closes,
    Green pasture or gray grief;
    If love were what the rose is,
    And I were like the leaf.
    • "A Match", line 1
  • She hath wasted with fire thine high places,
    She hath hidden and marred and made sad
    The fair limbs of the Loves, the fair faces
    Of gods that were goodly and glad.
    She slays, and her hands are not bloody;
    She moves as a moon in the wane,
    White-robed, and thy raiment is ruddy,
    Our Lady of Pain.
  • Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name.
    • "A Ballad of Francois Villon", lines 10, 20 and 30
  • Forget that I remember
    And dream that I forget.
  • Time found our tired love sleeping,
    And kissed away his breath;
    But what should we do weeping,
    Though light love sleep to death?
    We have drained his lips at leisure,
    Till there's not left to drain
    A single sob of pleasure,
    A single pulse of pain.
  • Dream that the lips once breathless
    Might quicken if they would;
    Say that the soul is deathless;
    Dream that the gods are good;
    Say March may wed September,
    And time divorce regret;
    But not that you remember,
    And not that I forget.

Under the Microscope (1872)

  • It is long since Mr. Carlyle expressed his opinion that if any poet or other literary creature could really be "killed off by one critique" or many, the sooner he was so despatched the better; a sentiment in which I for one humbly but heartily concur.
  • To wipe off the froth of falsehood from the foaming lips of inebriated virtue, when fresh from the sexless orgies of morality and reeling from the delirious riot of religion, may doubtless be a charitable office.
  • The more congenial page of some tenth-rate poeticule worn out with failure after failure and now squat in his hole like the tailless fox, he is curled up to snarl and whimper beneath the inaccessible vine of song.
  • The tadpole poet will never grow into anything bigger than a frog; not though in that stage of development he should puff and blow himself till he bursts with windy adulation at the heels of the laureled ox.

Bothwell : A Tragedy (1874)

  • Sins are sin-begotten, and their seed
    Bred of itself and singly procreative
    ;
    Nor is God served with setting this to this
    For evil evidence of several shame,
    That one may say, Lo now! so many are they;
    But if one, seeing with God-illumined eyes
    In his full face the encountering face of sin,
    Smite once the one high-fronted head, and slay,
    His will we call good service.
    For myself,
    If ye will make a counsellor of me,
    I bid you set your hearts against one thing
    To burn it up, and keep your hearts on fire,
    Not seeking here a sign and there a sign,
    Nor curious of all casual sufferances,
    But steadfast to the undoing of that thing done
    Whereof ye know the being, however it be,
    And all the doing abominable of God.
    Who questions with a snake if the snake sting?
    Who reasons of the lightning if it burn?
    While these things are, deadly will these things be;
    And so the curse that comes of cursed faith.
    • John Knox as portrayed in Bothwell : A Tragedy (1874) Act I, Sc. 2
  • Fear that makes faith may break faith; and a fool Is but in folly stable.
    • Queen Mary Stuart as portrayed in Bothwell. Act I. Sc. 3
  • I have no remedy for fear; there grows
    No herb of help to heal a coward heart.
    • Queen Mary Stuart as portrayed in Bothwell. Act II, Sc. 13

Marino Faliero (1885)

My loss may shine yet goodlier than your gain
When time and God give judgment.
A play based upon the life of Marino Faliero
  • God's own hand
    Holds fast all issues of our deeds
    : with him
    The end of all our ends is, but with us
    Our ends are, just or unjust: though our works
    Find righteous or unrighteous judgment, this
    At least is ours, to make them righteous.
    Go.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1
  • What sentence shall be given on mine? Of man,
    As ill or well God means me, well or ill
    Shall judgment pass upon me : but of God,
    If God himself be righteous or be God,
    Who being unrighteous were but god of hell,
    The sentence given shall judge me just...
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1
  • A poor man's wrong and mine and all the world's,
    Diverse and individual, many and one,
    Insufferable of long-suffering less than God's,
    Of all endurance unendurable else,
    Being come to flood and fullness now, the tide
    Is risen in mine as in the sea's own heart
    To tempest and to triumph. Not for nought
    Am I that wild wife's bridegroom — old and hoar,
    Not sapless yet nor soulless.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1
  • So be it the wind and sun
    That reared thy limbs and lit thy veins with life
    Have blown and shone upon thee not for nought—
    If these have fed and fired thy spirit as mine
    With love, with faith that casts out fear, with joy,
    With trust in truth and pride in trust — if thou
    Be theirs indeed as theirs am I, with me
    Shalt thou take part and with my sea-folk — aye,
    Make thine eyes wide and give God wondering thanks
    That grace like ours is given thee — thou shalt bear
    Part of our praise for ever.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1
  • Friends, citizens, and brethren. This our friend
    Hath given you by my charge to know of me
    Thus much, that if your ends and mine be one,
    As one our wrongs are, and this people's need
    One, toward the goal forefelt of our desire
    No heart shall beat, no foot shall press, no hand
    Strain, strive, and strike with steadier will than mine
    And faith more strenuous toward the purpose.
    This
    If ye believe not, here our hope hath end;
    If ye believe, here under happier stars
    Begins the date of Venice.
    • Faliero, Act III, Sc. 1
  • I believe
    Not more in God's word than in yours; and this
    Not for your station's sake, nor yet your fame's,
    How high soe'er the wind of war have blown
    The splendour of your standard: but, my lord,
    Your face and heart and speech, being one, require
    Of any not base-born and servile-souled
    Faith: and my faith I give you.
    • Calendaro, Act III, Sc. 1
  • Farewell, and peace be with you if it may.
    I have lost, ye have won this hazard: yet perchance
    My loss may shine yet goodlier than your gain
    When time and God give judgment.
    If there be
    Truth, true is this, that I desired the right
    And ye with hands as red sustain the wrong
    As mine had been in triumph. Have your will:
    And God send each no bitterer end than mine.
    • Faliero, Act V. Sc. 2
  • They do not ill, being lords of ours, to slay
    Me; nay, they could not spare: but thee to slay,
    To spill thy strong young life for truth to me,
    In all men's eyes would mark them monstrous : thou
    Must live, and serve my slayers, and serving them
    Sustain my memory by the proof — if God
    Shall give thee grace to prove it — that thy name,
    Thy father's name and mine, in true men's ears
    Rings truth, and means not treason.
    • Faliero, Act V. Sc. 3
  • Though they be
    Ill rulers of this household, be not thou
    Too swift to strike ere time be ripe to strike,
    Nor then by darkling stroke, against them: I
    Have erred, who thought by wrong to vanquish wrong,
    To smite by violence violence, and by night
    Put out the power of darkness: time shall bring
    A better way than mine, if God's will be —
    As how should God's will be not? — to redeem
    Venice.
    I was not worthy — nor may man,
    Till one as Christ shall come again, be found
    Worthy to think, speak, strike, foresee, foretell,
    The thought, the word, the stroke, the dawn, the day,
    That verily and indeed shall bid the dead
    Live, and this old dear land of all men's love
    Arise and shine for ever: but if Christ
    Came, haply such an one may come, and do
    With hands and heart as pure as his a work
    That priests themselves may mar not.
    • Faliero, Act V. Sc. 3

Astrophel and Other Poems (1894)

Not from without us, only from within,
Comes or can ever come upon us light
Whereby the soul keeps ever truth in sight.
  • Not from without us, only from within,
    Comes or can ever come upon us light
    Whereby the soul keeps ever truth in sight.

    No truth, no strength, no comfort man may win,
    No grace for guidance, no release from sin,
    Save of his own soul's giving.

Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899)

  • Did I bid thee
    Mock, and forget me for thy friend — I say not,
    King? Is thy heart so light and lean a thing,
    So loose in faith and faint in love? I bade thee
    Stand to me, help me, hold my hand in thine
    And give my heart back answer. This it is,
    Old friend and fool, that gnaws my life in twain —
    The worm that writhes and feeds about my heart —
    The devil and God are crying in either ear
    One murderous word for ever, night and day,
    Dark day and deadly night and deadly day,
    Can she love thee who slewest her father? I
    Love her.
    • Alboine, Act 1, Scene 1
  • I. But he hears not. Now, my warrior guests,
    I drink to the onward passage of his soul
    Death. Had my hand turned coward or played me false,
    This man that is my hand, and less than I
    And less than he bloodguilty, this my death
    Had been my husband's: now he has left it me.
    [Drinks]
    How innocent are all but he and I
    No time is mine to tell you. Truth shall tell.
    I pardon thee, my husband: pardon me. [Dies]
    • Rosamund, Act 5, Scene 1

The Age of Shakespeare (1908)

Full text online
  • Æschylus is above all things the poet of righteousness. "But in any wise, I say unto thee, revere thou the altar of righteousness": this is the crowning admonition of his doctrine, as its crowning prospect is the reconciliation or atonement of the principle of retribution with the principle of redemption, of the powers of the mystery of darkness with the coeternal forces of the spirit of wisdom, of the lord of inspiration and of light. The doctrine of Shakespeare, where it is not vaguer, is darker in its implication of injustice, in its acceptance of accident, than the impression of the doctrine of Æschylus. Fate, irreversible and inscrutable, is the only force of which we feel the impact, of which we trace the sign, in the upshot of Othello or King Lear. The last step into the darkness remained to be taken by "the most tragic" of all English poets. With Shakespeare — and assuredly not with Æschylus — righteousness itself seems subject and subordinate to the masterdom of fate: but fate itself, in the tragic world of Webster, seems merely the servant or the synonym of chance. The two chief agents in his two great tragedies pass away — the phrase was, perhaps, unconsciously repeated — "in a mist": perplexed, indomitable, defiant of hope and fear bitter and sceptical and bloody in penitence or impenitence alike. And the mist which encompasses the departing spirits of these moody and mocking men of blood seems equally to involve the lives of their chastisers and their victims. Blind accident and blundering mishap — "such a mistake", says one of the criminals, "as I have often seen in a play" — are the steersmen of their fortunes and the doomsmen of their deeds. The effect of this method or the result of this view, whether adopted for dramatic objects or ingrained in the writer's temperament, is equally fit for pure tragedy and unfit for any form of drama not purely tragic in evolution and event.

Undated

These quotes need further sourcing and sorting by publication dates
  • At the door of life by the gate of breath,
    There are worse things waiting for men than death.
    • The Triumph of Time.
  • And lo, between the sundawn and the sun
    His day’s work and his night’s work are undone:
    And lo, between the nightfall and the light,
    He is not, and none knoweth of such an one.
    • Laus Veneris.
  • Ah, yet would God this flesh of mine might be
    Where air might wash and long leaves cover me;
    Where tides of grass break into foam of flowers,
    Or where the wind’s feet shine along the sea.
    • Laus Veneris.
  • Marvellous mercies and infinite love.
    • Les Noyades.
  • Our way is where God knows
    And Love knows where:
    We are in Love’s hand to-day.
    • Love at Sea.
  • From too much love of living,
    From hope and fear set free,
    We thank with brief thanksgiving
    Whatever gods may be
    That no man lives forever,
    That dead men rise up never;
    That even the weariest river
    Winds somewhere safe to sea.
    • The Garden of Proserpine.
  • For in the days we know not of
    Did fate begin
    Weaving the web of days that wove
    Your doom.
    • Faustine.
  • I remember the way we parted,
    The day and the way we met;
    You hoped we were both broken-hearted
    And knew we should both forget.
    • An Interlude.
  • And the best and the worst of this is
    That neither is most to blame,
    If you have forgotten my kisses
    And I have forgotten your name.
    • An Interlude.
  • Change lays not her hand upon truth.
    • Dedication.
  • Stately, kindly, lordly friend
    Condescend
    Here to sit by me.
    • To a Cat.
  • Not with dreams, but with blood and with iron,
    Shall a nation be moulded at last.
    • A Word for the Country.
  • Who knows but on their sleep may rise
    Such light as never heaven let through
    To lighten earth from Paradise?
    • A Baby’s Death.
  • A baby's feet, like sea-shells pink
    Might tempt, should heaven see meet,
    An angel's lips to kiss, we think,
    A baby's feet.
    • Etude réalistique.
  • Like rose-hued sea-flowers toward the heat,
    They stretch and spread and wink
    Their ten soft buds that part and meet.
    • Etude réalistique.
  • The sweetest flowers in all the world—
    A baby's hands.
    • Etude réalistique.
  • Is not Precedent indeed a King of men?
    • A Word from the Psalmist.
  • The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
    The rocks are left when he wastes the plain;
    The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
    These remain.
    • A forsaken Garden.
  • Though one were fair as roses
    His beauty clouds and closes.
    • The Garden of Proserpine.
  • Gone deeper than all plummets sound.
    • Félise.
  • Ah that such sweet things should be fleet,
    Such fleet things sweet!
    • Félise.
  • Those eyes the greenest of things blue
    The bluest of things grey.
    • Félise.

About Algernon Charles Swinburne

  • Mr. Swinburne … expresses in verse what he finds in books as passionately as a poet expresses what he finds in life.
  • Swinburne was perpetually talking shop: the bookish spirit in which he looked on nature and mankind, with his head full of his own trade, is essentially the same as the spirit in which The Tailor and Cutter annually criticises the portraits in the Royal Academy, interested, not in the artist, not in the subject, but in the cut of the subject's clothes.
    • A. E. Housman, "Swinburne", a lecture delivered at University College, London in 1910, published posthumously in the Cornhill Magazine (Autumn 1969)
  • Mr. Swinburne is already the Poet Laureate of England. The fact that his appointment to this high post has not been degraded by official confirmation renders his position all the more unassailable. He whom all poets love is the Laureate Poet always.
  • I attempt to describe Mr. Swinburne; and lo! the Bacchanal screams, the sterile Dolores sweats, serpents dance, men and women wrench, wriggle and foam in an endless alliteration of heated and meaningless words, the veriest garbage of Baudelaire flowered over with the epithets of the Della Cruscans.

External links

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikisource has original works written by or about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837-1909), English poet and critic, was born in London on the 5th of April 1837. He was the son of Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne (of an old Northumbrian family) and of Lady Jane Henrietta, a daughter of George, 3rd earl of Ashburnham. It may almost be said to have been by accident that Swinburne owned London for his birthplace, since he was removed from it immediately, and always felt a cordial dislike for the surroundings and influences of life in the heart of a great city. His own childhood was spent in a very different environment. His grandfather, Sir John Edward Swinburne, bart., owned an estate in Northumberland, and his father, the admiral, bought a beautiful spot between Ventnor and Niton in the Isle of Wight, called East Dene, together with a strip of undercliff known as the Landslip. The two homes were in a sense amalgamated. Sir Edward used to spend half the year in the Isle of Wight, and the admiral's family shared his northern home for the other half; so that the poet's earliest recollections took the form of strangely contrasted emotions, inspired on the one hand by the bleak north, and on the other by the luxuriant and tepid south. Of the two, the influences of the island are, perhaps naturally, the stronger in his poetry; and many of his most beautiful pieces were actually written at the Orchard, an exquisite spot by Niton Bay, which belonged to relatives of the poet, and at which he was a constant visitor.

After some years of private tuition, Swinburne was sent to Eton, where he remained for five years, proceeding to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1857. He was three years at the University, but left without taking a degree. Clearly he must have cultivated while there his passionate and altogether unacademic love for the literature of Greece; but his undergraduate career was unattended by university successes, beyond the Taylorian prize for French and Italian, which he gained in 1858. He contributed to the "Undergraduate Papers," published during his first year, under the editorship of John Nichol, and he wrote a good deal of poetry from time to time, but his name was probably regarded without much favour by the college authorities. He took a second class in classical moderations in 1858, but his name does not occur in any of the "Final" honour schools. He left Oxford in 1860, and in the same year published those remarkable dramas, The Queen Mother and Rosamond, which, despite a certain rigidity of style, must be considered a wonderful performance for so young a poet, being fuller of dramatic energy than most of his later plays, and rich in really magnificent blank verse. The volume was scarcely noticed at the time, but it attracted the attention of one or two literary judges, and was by them regarded as a first appearance of uncommon promise.

It is a mistake to say, as most biographers do, that Swinburne, after leaving Oxford, spent some time in Italy with Walter Savage Landor. The facts are quite otherwise. The Swinburne family went for a few weeks to Italy, where the poet's mother, Lady Jane, had been educated, and among other places they visited Fiesole, where Landor was then living in the house that had been arranged for him by the kindness of the Brownings.

Swinburne was a great admirer of Landor, and, knowing that he was likely to be in the same town with him, had provided himself with an introduction from his friend, Richard Monckton 1VIilnes. Landor and Swinburne met and conversed, with great interest and mutual esteem; but the meetings were not for more than an hour at a time, nor did they exceed four or five in number. Swinburne never lived in Italy for any length of time. In 1865 appeared the lyrical tragedy of Atalanta in Calydon, followed in the next year by the famous Poems and Ballads, and with them the poet took the public gaze, and began to enjoy at once a vogue that may almost be likened to the vogue of Byron. His sudden and imperative attraction did not, it is true, extend, like Byron's, to the unliterary; but among lovers of poetry it was sweeping, permeating and sincere. The Poems and Ballads were vehemently attacked, but Dolores and Faustine were on everyone's lips: as a poet of the time has said, "We all went about chanting to one another these new, astonishing melodies." Chastelard, which appeared between Atalanta and Poems and Ballads, enjoyed perhaps less unstinted attention; but it is not too much to say that by the close of his thirtieth year, in spite of hostility and detraction, Swinburne had not only placed himself in the highest rank of contemporary poets, but had even established himself as leader of a choir of singers to whom he was at once master and prophet.

Meanwhile, his private life was disturbed by troublous influences. A favourite sister died at East Dene, and was buried in the little shady churchyard of Bonchurch. Her loss overwhelmed the poet's father with grief, and he could no longer tolerate the house that was so full of tender memories. So the family moved to Holmwood, in the Thames Valley, near Reading, and the poet, being now within sound of the London literary world, grew anxious to mix in the company of the small body of men who shared his sympathies and tastes. Rooms were found for him in North Crescent, off Oxford Street, and he was drawn into the vortex of London life. The Pre-Raphaelite movement was in full swing, and for the next few years he was involved in a rush of fresh emotions and rapidly changing loyalties. It is indeed necessary to any appreciation of Swinburne's genius that one should understand that his inspiration was almost invariably derivative. His first book is deliberately Shakespearian in design and expression; the Atalanta, of course, is equally deliberate in its pursuit of the Hellenic spirit. Then, with a wider swing of the pendulum, he recedes, in Poems and Ballads, to the example of Baudelaire and of the Pre-Raphaelites themselves; with the Song of Italy (1867) he is drawing towards the revolt of Mazzini; by the time Songs before Sunrise are completed (in 1871) he is altogether under the influence of Victor Hugo, while Rome has become to him "first name of the world's names." But, if Swinburne's inspiration was derivative, his manner was in no sense imitative; he brought to poetry a spirit entirely his own, and a method even more individual than his spirit. In summing up his work we shall seek to indicate wherein his originality and his service to poetry has lain; meanwhile, it is well to distinguish clearly between the influences which touched him and the original, personal fashion in which he assumed those influences, and made them his own. The spirit of Swinburne's muse was always a spirit of revolution. In Poems and Ballads the revolt is against moral conventions and restraints; in Songs before Sunrise the arena of the contest is no longer the sensual sphere, but the political and the ecclesiastical. The detestation of kings and priests, which marked so much of the work of his maturity, is now in full swing, and Swinburne's language is sometimes tinged with extravagance and an almost virulent animosity. With Bothwell (1874) he returned to drama and the story of Mary Stuart. The play has fine scenes and is burning with poetry, but its length not only precludes patient enjoyment, but transcends all possibilities of harmonious unity. Erechtheus (1876) was a return to the Greek inspiration of Atalanta; and then in the second series of Poems and Ballads (1878) the French influence is seen to be at work, and Victor Hugo begins to hold alone the place possessed, at different times, by Baudelaire and Mazzini. At this time Swinburne's energy was at fever height; in 1879 he published his eloquent Study of Shakespeare, and in 1880 no fewer than three volumes, The Modern Heptalogia, a brilliant anonymous essay in parody, Songs of the Springtides, and Studies in Song. It was shortly after this date that Swinburne's friendship for Theodore Watts-Dunton (then Theodore Watts) grew into one of almost more than brotherly intimacy. After 1880 Swinburne's life remained without disturbing event, devoted entirely to the pursuit of literature in peace and leisure. The conclusion of the Elizabethan trilogy, Mary Stuart, was published in 1881, and in the following year Tristram of Lyonesse, a wonderfully individual contribution to the modern treatment of the Arthurian legend, in which the heroic couplet is made to assume opulent, romantic cadences of which it had hitherto seemed incapable. Among the publications of the next few years must be mentioned A Century of Roundels, 1883; A Midsummer Holiday, 1884; and Miscellanies, 1886. The current of his poetry, indeed, continued unchecked; and though it would be vain to pretend that he added greatly either to the range of his subjects or to the fecundity of his versification, it is at least true that his melody was unbroken, and his magnificent torrent of words inexhaustible. His Marino Faliero (1885) and Locrine (1887) have passages of power and intensity unsurpassed in any of his earlier work, and the rich metrical effects of Astrophel (1894) and The Tale of Balin (1896) are inferior in music and range to none but his own masterpieces. In 1899 appeared his Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards; in 1908 his Duke of Gardia; and in 1904 was begun the publication of a collected edition of his Poems and Dramas in eleven volumes.

Besides this wealth of poetry, Swinburne was active as a critic, and several volumes of fine impassioned prose testify to the variety and fluctuation of his literary allegiances. His Note on Charlotte Bronte (1877) must be read by every student of its subject; the Study of Shakespeare (1880) - followed in 1909 by The Age of Shakespeare - is full of vigorous and arresting thought, and many of his scattered essays are rich in suggestion and appreciation. His studies of Elizabethan literature are, indeed, full of "the noble tribute of praise," and no contemporary critic did so much to revive an interest in that wonderful period of dramatic recrudescence, the side-issues of which have been generally somewhat obscured by the pervading and dominating genius of Shakespeare. Where his enthusiasm was heart-whole, Swinburne's appreciation was stimulating and infectious, but the very qualities which give his poetry its unique charm and character were antipathetic to his success as a critic. He had very little capacity for cool and reasoned judgment, and his criticism is often a tangled thicket of prejudices and predilections. He was, of course, a master of the phrase; and it never happened that he touched a subject without illuminating it with some lightning-flash of genius, some vivid penetrating suggestion that outflames its shadowy and confused environment. But no one of his studies is satisfactory as a whole; the faculty for sustained exercise of the judgment was denied him, and even his best appreciations are disfigured by error in taste and proportion. On the other hand, when he is aroused to literary indignation the avalanche of his invective sweeps before it judgment, taste and dignity. His dislikes have all the superlative violence of his affections, and while both alike present points of great interest to the analyst, revealing as they do a rich, varied and fearless individuality, the criticism which his hatreds evoke is seldom a safe guide. His prose work also includes an early novel of some interest, Love's Cross-currents, disinterred from a defunct weekly, the Tatler, and revised for p ublication in 1905.

Whatever may be said in criticism of Swinburne's prose, there is at least no question of the quality of his poetry, or of its important position in the evolution of English literary form. To treat first of its technique, it may safely be said to have revolutionized the whole system of metrical expression. It found English poetry bound in the bondage of the iambic; it left it revelling in the freedom of the choriambus, the dactyl and the anapaest. Entirely new effects; a richness of orchestration resembling the harmony of a band of many instruments; the thunder of the waves, and the lisp of leaves in the wind; these, and a score other astonishing poetic developments were allied in his poetry to a mastery of language and an overwhelming impulse towards beauty of form and exquisiteness of imagination. In Tristram of Lyonesse the heroic couplet underwent a complete metamorphosis. No longer wedded to antithesis and a sharp caesura, it grew into a rich melodious measure, capable of an infinite variety of notes and harmonies, palpitating, intense. The service which Swinburne rendered to the English language as a vehicle for lyrical effect is simply incalculable. He revolutionized the entire scheme of English prosody. Nor was his singular vogue due only to this extraordinary metrical ingenuity. The effect of his artistic personality was in itself intoxicating, even delirious. He was the poet of youth insurgent against all the restraints of conventionality and custom. The young lover of poetry, when first he encounters Swinburne's influence, is almost bound to be swept away by it; the wild, extravagant licence, the apparent sincerity, the vigour and the verve, cry directly to the aspirations of youth like a clarion in the wilderness. But, while this is inevitable, it is also true that the critical lover of poetry outgrows an unquestioning allegiance to the Swinburnian mood more quickly than any other of the diverse emotions aroused by the study of the great poets. It is not that what has been called his "pan-anthropism" - his universal worship of the holy spirit of man - is in itself an unsound philosophy; there have been many creeds founded on such a basis which have impregnably withstood the attacks of criticism. But the unsoundness of Swinburne's philosophy lies in the fact that it celebrates the spirit of man engaged in a defiant rebellion that leads nowhere; and that as a "criticism of life" it has neither finality nor a sufficiently high seriousness of purpose. Walt Whitman preaches very much the same gospel of the "body electric" and the glory of human nature; but Whitman's attitude is far saner, far more satisfying than Swinburne's, for it is concerned with the human spirit realizing itself in accordance with the unchangeable laws of nature; while Swinburne's enthusiasm is, more often than not, directed to a spiritual revolution which sets the laws of nature at defiance. It is impossible to acquit his poetry entirely of the charge of an animalism which wars against the higher issues of the spirit - an animalism sometimes of love, sometimes of hatred, but, in both extremes, out of centre and harmony.

Yet, when everything has been said that can be said against the unaesthetic violences of the poet's excesses, his service to contemporary poetry outweighed all disadvantages. No one did more to free English literature from the shackles of formalism; no one, among his contemporaries, pursued the poetic calling with so sincere and resplendent an allegiance to the claims of absolute and unadulterated poetry. Some English poets have turned preachers; others have been seduced by the attractions of philosophy; but Swinburne always remained an artist absorbed in a lyrical ecstasy, a singer and not a seer. When the history of Victorian poetry comes to be written, it will be found that his personality was, in its due perspective, among the most potent of his time; and as an artistic influence it will be pronounced both inspiring and beneficent. The topics that he touched were often ephemeral; the causes that he celebrated will, many of them, wither and desiccate; but the magnificent freedom and lyrical resource which he introduced into the language will enlarge its borders and extend its sway so long as English poetry survives.

On the 10th of April 1909, after a short attack of influenza followed by pneumonia, the great poet died at the house on Putney Hill, "The Pines," where with Mr Watts-Dunton he had lived for many years. He was buried at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight. (E. G.)


<< Swimming

Swindon >>








Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message