Swinburne, Algernon Charles

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Swinburne, Algernon Charles

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 Mazzini (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-Dunton, 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.


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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


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.


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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(7-13) Wilcox's "throbs" and "pulses" echo Walter Pater's edict that aesthetes should "[get] as many pulsations as possible into the given time" (238), but her prosody, as Dana noted, clearly derives from Algernon Swinburne. Wilcox herself claimed that, when she was writing Poems of Passion, "bit[s]" of "Shakespeare, Swinburne, and Byron (I had never possessed an entire volume of any of these poets) no doubt lent to my imagination and temperamental nature the flame which produced the censured verses" (The Worlds and I 81).
Lesbianism had been notoriously celebrated in the verse of Baudelaire and his English champion Algernon Swinburne, whose poem "Anactoria" likewise paired Sappho and Erinna.
William Morris, Algernon Swinburne and Alfred Tennyson, (1) to mention but a few, employed Arthurian motifs and created their own versions of medieval stories.
For Shelley, Italy was that "Paradise of Exiles" - a land without constant censure, but for Algernon Swinburne, Italy was a monstrous place and he wondered how any Christian soul who had been in France or England could bear the country at all.
His delicate, fastidious style and sensitive appreciation of Renaissance art in these essays made his reputation as a scholar and an aesthete, and he became associated with Algernon Swinburne and the Pre-Raphaelites and was the center of a small group of admirers in Oxford.
In one of its surprises, Algernon Swinburne reads unpublished verses sent to him by Gissing and praises their "genuine power of language" and their strength of "thought and feeling"--literary balm for a struggling young writer.
In this aspect of their thinking they were very much akin to another Victorian critic, one whose ideas are no less provocative but whose criticism, like their own, has been largely forgotten or cast aside: Algernon Swinburne. Virtually no scholarly ink has been spilled on this subject of Swinburne's formidable critical output over the last three decades: following Thomas E.
Versions of the story can be found in works by Matthew Arnold, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Algernon Swinburne.
Wilcox's best-selling book of poetry, Poems of Passion, was published in 1883, and, as Sorby informs us, drew "heavily on the popularity of Wilde, and even more heavily on the extravagant style of Algernon Swinburne" (p.
The family used to call them rising suns." See Hutchings and Turley, Young Algernon Swinburne (Brighstone: Hunnyhill Publications, 1978), p.
Despite the very different conclusions to Atalanta and Callirrhoe, I suggest that Algernon Swinburne and Michael Field essentially share the same aesthetic impulse, that the pursuit of pleasure can be seen as virtuous and spiritually and philosophically enhancing.
"In the high Victorian era," Louis notes, "as Christinaity grew ever more embattled, the prospect of immortality became one of the most emotionally powerful weapons in every Christian's arsenal." Thus to "an atheist like Algernon Swinburne ...