Algernon Charles Swinburne
|Algernon Charles Swinburne|
Swinburne aged 52
5 April 1837|
|Died||10 April 1909
|Resting place||St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch,
Isle of Wight
|Occupation||Poet, playwright, novelist, and critic|
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Literary movement||Decadence, Pre-Raphaelite, Aestheticism|
|Notable work||Poems and Ballads|
Algernon Charles Swinburne (5 April 1837 – 10 April 1909) was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He wrote several novels and collections of poetry such as Poems and Ballads, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. A controversial figure at the time, Swinburne was a sado-masochist and alcoholic, and was obsessed with the Middle Ages and lesbianism.
Swinburne wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, cannibalism, sado-masochism, and anti-theism. His poems have many common motifs, such as the Ocean, Time, and Death. Several historical people are featured in his poems, such as Sappho ("Sapphics"), Anactoria ("Anactoria"), Jesus ("Hymn to Proserpine": Galilaee, La. "Galilean") and Catullus ("To Catullus").
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 (1797–1877) and Lady Jane Henrietta, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham. He grew up at East Dene in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight.
He 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 for having publicly supported the attempted assassination of Napoleon III by Felice Orsini, returning in May 1860, though he never received a degree.
He spent summer holidays at Capheaton Hall in Northumberland, the house of his grandfather, Sir John Swinburne, 6th Baronet (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', as he called the Scottish border in his Recollections.
In the years 1857–60, Swinburne became one of Lady Pauline Trevelyan's intellectual circle at Wallington Hall. After his grandfather's death in 1860, he would stay with William Bell Scott in Newcastle. In 1861 Swinburne visited Menton on the French Riviera to recover from excessive use of alcohol, staying at the Villa Laurenti. From Menton Swinburne travelled to Italy, where he journeyed extensively. In December 1862, Swinburne accompanied 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 lilting intonation, while the waves 'were running the whole length of the long level sands towards Cullercoats and sounding like far-off acclamations'.
At Oxford, Swinburne met several Pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He also met William Morris. After leaving college he lived in London and started an active writing career, where Rossetti was delighted with his 'little Northumbrian friend', probably a reference to Swinburne's diminutive height—he was just five foot four.
Swinburne was an alcoholic and algolagniac , and a highly excitable character. He liked to be flogged. His health suffered, and in 1879 at the age of 42 he was taken into care by his friend, lawyer Theodore Watts, who looked after him for the rest of his life at The Pines, 11 Putney Hill, Putney SW15. Thereafter he lost his youthful rebelliousness and developed into a figure of social respectability. It was said of Watts that he saved the man and killed the poet. Swinburne died at the Pines, on 10 April 1909 at the age of 72 and was buried at St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight.
Swinburne is considered a poet of the decadent school, although he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged into advertise his deviance – he spread a rumour that he had had sex with, then eaten, a monkey; Oscar Wilde stated 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 bestialiser."
Many critics consider his mastery of vocabulary, rhyme and metre impressive, although he has also been criticised 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, had great praise for his rhyming ability:
- [Swinburne] possessed an altogether unexampled command of rhyme, the chief enrichment of modern verse. The English language is comparatively poor in rhymes, and most English poets, when they have to rhyme more than two or three words together, betray their embarrassment. They betray it, for instance, when they write sonnets after the strict Petrarchian rule: the poetical inferiority of most English sonnets, if compared with what their own authors have achieved in other forms of verse, is largely though not entirely the result of this difficulty. [...] To Swinburne the sonnet was child’s play: the task of providing four rhymes was not hard enough, and he wrote long poems in which each stanza required eight or ten rhymes, and wrote them so that he never seemed to be saying anything for the rhyme’s sake.
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 favour. Atalanta in Calydon in particular has been lauded as one of his best early works, written in 1865, before the passionate excesses of later works earned him a sordid reputation for blasphemy and depravity among contemporary critics.
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 said, of Swinburne, 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 judged Swinburne did not master it to the extent of being able to take liberties with it, which is everything. Furthermore, Eliot disliked Swinburne's prose, about which 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."
Swinburne was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in every year from 1903 to 1907 and again in 1909.
Swinburne's poetic works include: Atalanta in Calydon (1865), Poems and Ballads (1866), Songs before Sunrise (1871), Poems and Ballads Second Series, (1878) Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), Poems and Ballads Third Series (1889), and the novel Lesbia Brandon (published posthumously in 1952).
Poems and Ballads 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 its publication rights to John Camden Hotten. 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 called the 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 influenced by the work of William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Catullus, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Victor Hugo. While he was popular in England during his life, Swinburne's influence has greatly decreased since his death.
After the first Poems and Ballads, Swinburne's later poetry was devoted more to philosophy and politics, notably, in favour of the unification of Italy, particularly in the volume Songs before Sunrise. He did not stop writing love poetry entirely, including his great epic-length poem, Tristram of Lyonesse, but its content is much less shocking. His versification, and especially his rhyming technique, remain in top form to the end.
- The Queen Mother (1860)
- Rosamond (1860)
- Chastelard (1865)
- Bothwell (1874)
- Mary Stuart (1881)
- Marino Faliero (1885)
- Locrine (1887)
- The Sisters (1892)
- Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899)
- Atalanta in Calydon (1865)†
- Poems and Ballads (1866)
- Songs Before Sunrise (1871)
- Songs of Two Nations (1875)
- Erecthus (1876)†
- Poems and Ballads, Second Series (1878)
- Songs of the Springtides (1880)
- Studies in Song (1880)
- The Heptalogia, or the Seven against Sense. A Cap with Seven Bells (1880)
- Tristam of Lyonesse (1882)
- A Century of Roundels (1883)
- A Midsummer Holiday and Other Poems (1884)
- Poems and Ballads, Third Series (1889)
- Astrophel and Other Poems (1894)
- The Tale of Balen (1896)
- A Channel Passage and Other Poems (1904)
- ^† Although formally tragedies, Atlanta in Calydon and Erecthus are traditionally included with "poetry".
- William Blake: A Critical Essay (1868, new edition 1906)
- Under the Microscope (1872)
- George Chapman: A Critical Essay (1875)
- Essays and Studies (1875)
- A Note on Charlotte Brontë (1877)
- A Study of Shakespeare (1880)
- A Study of Victor Hugo (1886)
- A Study of Ben Johnson (1889)
- Studies in Prose and Poetry (1894)
- The Age of Shakespeare (1908)
- Shakespeare (1909)
- The poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 6 vols. London: Chatto & Windus, 1904.
- The Tragedies of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 5 vols. London: Chatto & Windus, 1905.
- The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise, 20 vols. Bonchurch Edition; London and New York: William Heinemann and Gabriel Wells, 1925-7.
- The Swinburne Letters, ed. Cecil Y. Lang, 6 vols. 1959-62.
In popular culture
- Algernon Charles Swinburne features as the companion of Sir Richard Francis Burton in the steampunk alternative-history fiction series "Burton and Swinburne" by Mark Hodder. He first makes an appearance in The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, as a young poet. Burton takes a liking to Swinburne, often referring to him fondly as "Algy".
- The Garden of Proserpine is mentioned in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (where the first line of the poem, "Here, where the world is quiet", was slightly modified to become the motto of the secret organization V.F.D.) and The Lightning Thief. A portion of the poem is quoted, and plays a pivotal role, in the novel Martin Eden by Jack London. A portion of the poem was also used in the Bat Masterson TV episode Wanted: Alive Please of 26 May 1960. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare also quotes the poem. It is also mentioned in A. S. Byatt's book Possession.
- The line "Time and the Gods are at strife" in Hymn to Proserpine inspired the title of Lord Dunsany's Time and the Gods.
- Hymn to Proserpine is quoted by Sue Bridehead in Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel, Jude the Obscure and also by Edward Ashburnham in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier. Hardy wrote an elegy for Swinburne in his book Satires of Circumstance, titled "A Singer Asleep".
- The poem Dolores was parodied in 1872 by Arthur Clement Hilton, then a student at Cambridge, in his poem "Octopus", which substitutes the character of the Lady of Pain for that of the titular mollusc. Where Swinburne begins his poem, in describing the Lady of Pain, "Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel | Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour", Hilton begins "Strange beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed, | Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?".
- The Planescape campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons features a character called the Lady of Pain, inspired by the eponymous character of Dolores.
- The short comics story "How They Met Themselves", by Neil Gaiman (originally published in Vertigo: Winter's Edge #3, reprinted in Absolute Sandman Volume III, pp. 510-519), tells how Swinburne wrote Dolores after meeting Desire, who only told him that its name begins with a "D".
- In his book Dylan's Visions of Sin, literary critic Christopher Ricks shows many parallels between Dolores and Bob Dylan's song "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands".
- The fourth stanza of Dolores was read by the character Persephone in a cinematic in the MMORG The Matrix Online.
- The popular 3.73 million word-long Harry Potter slash fanfiction series "The Sacrifices Arc" by Lightning-on-the-Wave heavily quotes Swinburne, taking all but one of its individual story titles from Swinburne's poetry.
- Swinburne was listed #4 in Time Out's "Top 30 chart of London's most erotic writers" which quotes Jilly Cooper as saying "Oh, he’s so erotic! He talks about exchanging 'the lilies and languours of virtue/For the raptures and roses of vice'."
- Flowers for Algernon, a novel in which the eponymous character is named after Swinburne
- Poems and Ballads
- Decadent movement
- Tristram of Lyonesse
- John O‘Connell (28 February 2008). "Sex and books: London's most erotic writers". Time Out. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
- Walsh, John (2012), An Introduction to Algernon Charles Swinburne, Bloomington: The Algernon Charles Swinburne Project, retrieved 4 December 2015
- Swinburne, Algernon (1919), Gosse, Edmund; Wise, Thomas, eds., The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Volumes 1-6, New York: John Lane Company, retrieved 4 December 2015
- Everett, Glenn. "A. C. Swinburne: Biography". Victorian Web. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
- Swinburne, Algernon (2013), Delphi Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne (Illustrated), Delphi Classics, retrieved 4 December 2015
- Ted Jones (15 December 2007). The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. pp. 185–. ISBN 978-1-84511-455-8.
- Scott, William (1892), Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, London: Forgotten Books, retrieved 4 December 2015
- Edmund Gosse, The Life of Algernon Swinburne, 1917 (The Macmillan Company), p. 258, cited (w/ a Google-book link) at http://www.reelyredd.com/english-1208as-beforedawn.htm.
- Blue Plaques Listing for London, English Heritage, Accessed December 2009.
- Deaths England and Wales 1837–1983
- Alkalay-Gut, Karen (2000). "Aesthetic and Decadent Poetry", in The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry, edited by Joseph Bristow. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 228. ISBN 0521646804.
- A. C. Swinburne: Biography
- Kellett, Ernest Edward (1969). Reconsiderations: Literary Essays. New York: Books for Libraries Press. p. 227. ISBN 0836913566.
- Thomas, Edward (1912). Algernon Charles Swinburne: A Critical Study. New York: M. Kennerley. p. 94.
- A.E. Housman (1910). "Swinburne". Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- Hyder, Clyde. Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
- Eliot T.S. Reflections on Vers Libre New Statesman 1917
- Eliot, T. S. (1998). The Sacred Wood and Major Early Essays. Mineola NY: Dover Publications. p. 10. ISBN 0486299368.
- "Algernon Charles Swinburne". The Nomination Database for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1901–1950. Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
- H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters: Volume 1. Sauk City: WI: Arkham House, 1965, p. 73
- Walter M. Kendrick, "The secret museum: pornography in modern culture", University of California Press, 1996, ISBN 0-520-20729-7, p.168
- Maxwell, Catherine (2012), Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, retrieved 4 December 2015
- Swinburne, Algernon (1919), Gosse, Edmund; Wise, Thomas, eds., The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Volumes 1-6, New York: John Lane Company.
- Rooksby, Rikky (1997) A C Swinburne: A Poet's Life. Aldershot: Scolar Press.
- Louis, Margot Kathleen (1990) Swinburne and His Gods: the Roots and Growth of an Agnostic Poetry. Mcgill-Queens University Press.
- McGann, Jerome (1972) Swinburne: An Experiment in Criticism. University of Chicago Press.
- Peters, Robert (1965) The Crowns of Apollo: Swinburne's Principles of Literature and Art: a Study in Victorian Criticism and Aesthetics. Wayne State University Press.
- Anonymous (1873). Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day. Illustrated by Frederick Waddy. London: Tinsley Brothers. pp. 48–49.
- Wakeling, E; Hubbard, T; Rooksby, R (2008) Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson and Algernon Charles Swinburne by their contemporaries. London: Pickering & Chatto, 3 vols.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Swinburne, Algernon Charles". Encyclopædia Britannica 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Gosse, Edmund (1912). "Swinburne, Algernon Charles". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Rooksby, Rikky. "Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837–1909)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36389. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Algernon Charles Swinburne.|
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|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Algernon Charles Swinburne
- Poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne at the Poetry Foundation.
- "Swinburne as Critic" in T. S. Eliot's essay "Imperfect Critics", collected in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, 1922.
- Works by Algernon Charles Swinburne at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Swinburne, a eulogy by A.E. Housman
- Stirnet: Swinburne02 (subscription required) Swinburne's genealogy.
- No. 2. The Pines, Max Beerbohm's memoir of Swinburne.
- The Swinburne Project: A digital archive of the life and works of Algernon Charles Swinburne.
- Works by Algernon Swinburne at Project Gutenberg (plain text and HTML)
- Works by or about Algernon Charles Swinburne at Internet Archive