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Swinburne: A Literary Biography

By Georges Lafourcade | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

WRITING a life of Swinburne needs no justification: for, to set aside the importance of his work in the field of literature and the inevitable biographical connections, this life as such is interesting. It is indeed no small paradox that, comparatively uneventful as it was, it should compel to such an extent attention and even sympathy : to have known such people as Landor, Burton, Mazzini, Menken, Hugo, the Pre-Raphaelite painters, etc., is not in itself an exceptional experience; a few short trips to France and Italy are common occurrences in the life of a man of letters; Eton, Oxford and chambers in London form a very ordinary curriculum for a young aristocrat of literary proclivities. Yet these things acquire flavour and piquancy as soon as we know that Swinburne is concerned; which is the test of personality. It is the sentimental force behind the man, his impulses and reactions, which give a new and unexpected significance to otherwise commonplace facts.

Interest in Swinburne was at its height between 1865 and 1880 : he aroused in friends or foes admiration, love, alarm, indignation, envy, hate, almost every feeling except indifference. To religious preachers as well as to undergraduates throughout the country he became a by-word and a symbol. He stood for revolt, for the justification of sin and for many other things. Famous artists, like G. F. Watts, accounted it a

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