Swinburne, Algernon Charles


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Swinburne, Algernon Charles,

1837–1909, English poet and critic. His poetry is noted for its vitality and for the music of its language. After attending Eton (1849–53) and Oxford (1856–60) he settled in London on an allowance from his father. His first published volume, containing two blank verse plays entitled The Queen Mother and Rosamond (1860), attracted little attention, but Atalanta in Calydon (1865), a poetic drama modeled on Greek tragedy, brought him fame. In 1866 he published Poems and Ballads. The poems in this volume were savagely attacked for their sensuality and anti-Christian sentiments, but almost as excessively praised in other quarters for their technical facility and infusion of new energy into Victorian poetry. The poet's enthusiasm for the dreams for Italian unification of Giuseppe MazziniMazzini, Giuseppe
, 1805–72, Italian patriot and revolutionist, an outstanding figure of the Risorgimento. His youth was spent in literary and philosophical studies. He early joined the Carbonari, was imprisoned briefly, and went into exile.
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 (whom he met in 1867) found expression in A Song of Italy (1867) and Songs before Sunrise (1871). Swinburne had certain masochistic tendencies that, combined with his chronic epilepsy and his alcoholism, seriously undermined his health. By 1878 he was near death. He was restored to health under the supervision of Theodore Watts-DuntonWatts-Dunton, Theodore
(Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton), 1832–1914, English poet, novelist, and critic. A member of the staff of the Examiner (1874–76), he became editor of the Athenaeum (1876–98).
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, with whom he lived after 1879. For the final 30 years of his life he lived a closely supervised and highly ordered existence. Swinburne is equally famous as a poet and as a critic. Although many of his lyrics are weakened by verbosity and excessive use of stylistic devices, these flaws do not obscure the vigor and music in such pieces as the choruses from Atalanta, "The Garden of Proserpine," "The Triumph of Time," "A Forsaken Garden," "Ave atque vale" (an elegy on Baudelaire), and "Hertha." Swinburne also wrote three closet dramas on Mary Queen of Scots—Chastelard (1865), Bothwell (1874), and Mary Stuart (1881). His long poem Tristram of Lyonesse (1882) presents an intensely passionate vision of the medieval legend. Swinburne's critical work is marred by exaggerated vituperation and praise, digressiveness, and a flamboyant style, but he performed useful services in stimulating just appreciation of older English dramatists and of William Blake.

Bibliography

See his complete works (ed. by E. Gosse and T. J. Wise, 20 vol., 1925–27, repr. 1968); his letters (ed. by C. Y. Lang, 6 vol., 1959–62); biographies by G. Lafourcade (1932, repr. 1967), J. O. Fuller (1971), M. Panter-Downes (1971), and P. Henderson (1974); studies by S. C. Chew (1929, repr. 1966), E. Thomas (1912, repr. 1970), and C. K. Hyder, ed. (1970).

Swinburne, Algernon Charles

 

Born Apr. 5, 1837, in London; died Apr. 10, 1909, in Putney (London). English poet, playwright, and critic.

Swinburne studied at Eton and at Oxford University, where he became closely associated with D. G. Rossetti and other Pre-Raphaelites. His first series of verse collections, Poems and Ballads (1866), was fiercely attacked by bourgeois conservative critics for its daring treatment of “forbidden” (erotic) themes and for its pagan hedonism. In his later works—which included tragedies, novels, and literary monographs, as well as poems— Swinburne coupled his call for moral freedom with an appeal for political freedom. In A Song of Italy (1867) and Songs Before Sunrise (1871), for example, the poet reveals himself to be a confirmed republican and enemy of the church. The theme of man’s struggle against the supreme divine will runs through his verse drama Atalanta in Calydon (1865). Swinburne’s collections of the 1870’s are marked by their romantic, pastoral, and philosophical lyrics; fatalism and the impossibility of happiness occur there, too, as themes. Swinburne reformed English prosody and imparted a special beauty of sound to his poetry. He was also the author of tragedies, dramas in verse, novels, and literary criticism.

WORKS

Complete Works, vols. 1–20. London, 1925–27.
Letters, vols. 1–6. New Haven, Conn., 1959–62.
New Writings. Syracuse, N.Y., 1964.
In Russian translation:
Antología novoi angliiskoi poezii. Leningrad, 1937.

REFERENCES

Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 3. Moscow, 1958.
Fuller, J. O. Swinburne: A Critical Biography. London, 1968.
Swinburne: The Critical Heritage. London, 1970.
Raymond, M. R. Swinburne’s Poetics. The Hague-Paris, 1971.