The first passage quoted below indicates that Browning had expressed misgivings about some of Swinburne’s early poems, though one may doubt whether he thus discouraged Chapman & Hall from publishing Swinburne’s work. Apparently the incident prompted Swinburne to write his essay on ‘The Chaotic School’ (in New Writings by Swinburne, ed. Cecil Y. Lang, who, on 198 ff., discusses the reasons for the essay), which exaggerates Browning’s weaknesses and neglects merits of which Swinburne later showed himself aware, as in his digression on Browning in George Chapman. The two men were occasionally friendly correspondents, and Browning, like Tennyson, became the subject of a kindly poetic tribute (‘A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Browning’).
(i) From Browning’s letter to Richard Monckton Milnes, 7 July 1863 (Lang, i, 84, quoted by permission of the Yale University Press): I know next to nothing of Swinburne, and like him much: I have received courtesy from him, and been told he feels kindly to me—I believe it, indeed. Of his works, since his first volume, I know not a line, except a poem which I looked over a long while ago at Rossetti’s, and the pieces he recited the other night: I could only have an opinion, therefore, on these. I thought them moral mistakes, redeemed by much intellectual ability. They may be a sample of the forthcoming book, —or just the exceptional instances—I hope so.
When I was abruptly appealed to, some days after, for my estimate of Mr. Swinburne’s powers, —I don’t know what I could do but say ‘that he had genius, and wrote verses in which to my mind there was no good at all’.
If I referred, —as I probably did, —to a similarity of opinion on the part of others present, it was from the reluctance I had to stand forward and throw even this cherry-stone at a young poet.
(ii) From a letter to Isa Blagden, 22 March 1870 (Dearest Isa: Robert
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Publication information: Book title: Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage. Contributors: Clyde K. Hyder - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 114.
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