Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

By Clyde K. Hyder | Go to book overview

29.

Swinburne: a backward glance

1904

Swinburne’s Dedicatory Epistle introducing his Collected Poems of 1904, addressed to Theodore Watts-Dunton, contains his most extended discussion of his own work. The extracts that follow will indicate that he did not forget his critics: the first recalls the reception of Poems and Ballads, and the second is his response to a recurring complaint of bookishness (see the last part of section VI of the Introduction).

To my best and dearest friend I dedicate the first collected edition of my poems, and to him I address what I have to say on the occasion.

You will agree with me that it is impossible for any man to undertake the task of commentary, however brief and succinct, on anything he has done or tried to do, without incurring the charge of egoism. But there are two kinds of egoism, the furtive and the frank: and the outspoken and open-hearted candour of Milton and Wordsworth, Corneille and Hugo, is not the least or the lightest of their claims to the regard as well as the respect or the reverence of their readers. Even if I were worthy to claim kinship with the lowest or with the highest of these deathless names, I would not seek to shelter myself under the shadow of its authority. The question would still remain open on all sides. Whether it is worth while for any man to offer any remarks or for any other man to read his remarks on his own work, his own ambition, or his own attempts, he cannot of course determine. If there are great examples of abstinence from such a doubtful enterprise, there are likewise great examples to the contrary. As long as the writer can succeed in evading the kindred charges and the cognate risks of vanity and humility, there can be no reason why he should not undertake it. And when he has nothing to regret and nothing to recant, when he finds nothing that he could wish to cancel, to alter, or to unsay, in any page he has ever laid before his reader, he need not be seriously troubled

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