Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

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30.

Oliver Elton: ‘Mr. Swinburne’s Poems’

1907

Oliver Elton (1861-1945) had engaged in private tutoring and reviewing and had lectured on English literature in Owens College, Manchester, before his appointment in 1901 as King Alfred Professor of English Literature at the institution which soon became the University of Liverpool. His chapter on Swinburne in Modern Studies (used by permission of Edward Arnold [publishers], owner of the copyright) was preceded by reviews in the Speaker during 1904 and 1905, and his more mature and rounded estimate of the poet appeared in his Survey of English Literature 1780-1880 (1920), iv, 55-84.

Modern Studies (1907), 208-27.

I. PREFACE TO THE COLLECTED EDITION: THE ODE. II. CONCEPTION OF BEAUTY FOUND IN ROSSETTI, MORRIS, BURNE-JONES, AND IN MR. SWINBURNE. III. FIRST SERIES OF ‘POEMS AND BALLADS’: THE YOUTHFUL LOVE OF DEATH. IV. TRANSITION TO ‘SONGS BEFORE SUNRISE’: INSPIRATION FROM ITALY AND MAZZINI. V. SECOND SERIES OF ‘POEMS AND BALLADS’: GREEK PLAYS. VI. ‘TRISTRAM OF LYONESSE. VII. ‘THE TALE OF BALEN.


I.

After a generation, Mr. Swinburne’s verse comes out in a collected form, happily under the author’s care, and without alteration of the text. There is ‘nothing that he could wish to cancel, or to alter, or to unsay, in any pages he has ever laid before his reader’. This is very well, for his earlier writings, at any rate, are now historic, and any change, even for the better, would change their nature. His preface on his own poetry is a happy example of his critical prose. It is untouched by the flagrant volubility of enormous panegyric or superlative damnation

-218-

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