Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

By Clyde K. Hyder | Go to book overview
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11.

Swinburne defends his poems

1866

The following selection from Notes on Poems and Reviews (for fuller discussion see the Introduction, section II) contains Swinburne’s comments on several of the poems that had been attacked, short notes on ‘Faustine’, ‘Hermaphroditus’ and ‘Laus Veneris’ being omitted. The text, that of my critical edition in Swinburne Replies: Notes on Poems and Reviews, Under the Microscope, Dedicatory Epistle (Syracuse, New York, 1966), is reproduced by special permission of the Syracuse University Press, owner of the copyright.

Certain poems of mine, it appears, have been impugned by judges, with or without a name, as indecent or as blasphemous. To me, as I have intimated, their verdict is a matter of infinite indifference: it is of equally small moment to me whether in such eyes as theirs I appear moral or immoral, Christian or pagan. But, remembering that science must not scorn to investigate animalcules and infusoria, I am ready for once to play the anatomist.

With regard to any opinion implied to expressed throughout my book, I desire that one thing should be remembered: the book is dramatic, many-faced, multifarious; and no utterance of enjoyment or despair, belief or unbelief, can properly be assumed as the assertion of its author’s personal feeling or faith. Were each poem to be accepted as the deliberate outcome and result of the writer’s conviction, not mine alone but most other men’s verses would leave nothing behind them but a sense of cloudy chaos and suicidal contradiction. Byron and Shelley, speaking in their own persons, and with what sublime effect we know, openly and insultingly mocked and reviled what the English of their day held most sacred. I have not done this. I do not say that, if I chose, I would not do so to the best of my power; I do say that hitherto I have seen fit to do nothing of the kind.

It remains then to inquire what in that book can be reasonably offensive to the English reader. In order to resolve this problem, I will not

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