Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

By Clyde K. Hyder | Go to book overview
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26.

George Saintsbury: ‘Mr. Swinburne’

1895

George Saintsbury (1845-1933), prolific literary critic and historian, was a journalist and editor before his appointment to the chair of English at Edinburgh University in 1895, the year in which he published Corrected Impressions: Essays on Victorian Writers, from which this essay comes. ‘Mr. Swinburne’ is used by permission of the publisher, William Heinemann.

I do not suppose that anybody now alive (I speak of lovers of poetry) who was not alive in 1832 and old enough then to enjoy the first perfect work of Tennyson, has had such a sensation as that which was experienced in the autumn of 1866 by readers of Mr. Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads. And I am sure that no one in England has had any such sensation since. The later revelation had indeed been preceded by more signs and tokens than the earlier. Tennyson’s first work had passed unknown or had been laughed at; at least two remarkable volumes (not to mention The Queen Mother and Rosamond) had already revealed to fit readers what there was in Mr. Swinburne. The chorus in Atalanta, ‘Before the beginning of years’, had attracted the highest admiration from impartial and unenthusiastic judges, while it had simply swept younger admirers off their legs with rapture; and the lyrics of Chastelard had completed the effect in the way of exciting, if not of satisfying, expectation.

Now we were told, first, that a volume of extraordinarily original verse was coming out; now, that it was so shocking that its publisher repented its appearance; now, that it had been reissued, and was coming out after all. The autumn must have been advanced before it did come out, for I remember that I could not obtain a copy before I went up to Oxford in October, and had to avail myself of an expedition to town to ‘eat dinners’ in order to get one. Three copies of the precious volume, with ‘Moxon’ on cover and ‘John Camden Hotten’ on title page, accompanied me back that night, together with divers

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