Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

By Clyde K. Hyder | Go to book overview
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8.

Unsigned review, London Review

4 August 1866, xiii, 130-1

In his Notes on Poems and Reviews Swinburne paid special attention to this review, which he admitted was the work of a gentleman. It appeared on the same day as the reviews by Morley and Buchanan.

From the concluding verses of Mr. Swinburne’s new volume, we infer that most, if not all, of these poems were written some years ago, when the author was very young. We hardly know whether or not to hope that this may be so. On the one hand, it would be a relief to think that possibly the diseased state of mind out of which many of them must have issued may have passed away; on the other hand, it would be an additional pain (certainly not wanted) to suppose that such corrupt and acrid thoughts could have proceeded from the very spring and blossoming of youth. For we do not know when we have read a volume so depressing and misbegotten—in many of its constituents so utterly revolting. Mr. Swinburne, in his address to Victor Hugo, speaks of having been brought up in France;1 and it would seem as if he had familiarized himself with the worst circles of Parisian life, and drenched himself in the worst creations of Parisian literature (to the exclusion of the better parts of both), until he can see scarcely anything in the world, or beyond it, but lust, bitterness, and despair. Being a poet, he sees beauty also, of necessity; and this is the one redeeming feature in what would otherwise be a carnival of ugly shapes. But even the beauty of poetic expression, of which he is so great a master, cannot hide the truly horrible substratum of a large part of the present volume. The writer seems to have taken pains to shock in the highest degree, we will not say English conventional morals, but the commonest decencies of all modern lands. For the counterpart

1 An erroneous interpretation apparently due to a hasty reading of ‘To Victor Hugo’, in which France is called the ‘sweet mother-land’.

-35-

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