To Edmund Clarence Stedman, Wall Street broker, critic, and poet, Swinburne wrote some of his most important autobiographical letters, and Stedman became his most effective American champion. The following extracts include the first and last part of Stedman’s essay.
From chapter xi, ‘Latter-Day Singers: Algernon Charles Swinburne’, in Edmund Clarence Stedman’s Victorian Poets (sixth edition: Boston, 1882; first edition, 1875).
Ten years have passed since this poet took the critical outposts by storm, and with a single effort gained a laurel-crown, of which no public envy, nor any lesser action of his own, thenceforth could dispossess him. The time has been so crowded with his successive productions—his career, with all its strength and imprudence, has been so thoroughly that of a poet—as to heighten the interest which only a spirit of most unusual quality can excite and long maintain.
We have just observed the somewhat limited range of William Morris’s vocabulary. It is composed mainly of plain Saxon words, chosen with great taste and musically put together. No barrenness, however, is perceptible, since to enrich that writer’s language from learned or modern sources would disturb the tone of his pure English feeling. The nature of Swinburne’s diction is precisely opposite. His faculty of expression is so brilliant as to obscure the other elements which are to be found in his verse, and constantly to lead him beyond the wisdom of art. Nevertheless, reflecting upon his genius and the chances of his future, it is difficult for any one to write with cold restraint who has an eye to see, an ear to hear, and the practice which forces an artist to wonder at the lustre, the melody, the unstinted fire and movement, of his imperious song.