Swinburne: A Literary Biography

By Georges Lafourcade | Go to book overview
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NOT only are we in the dark about the reason why Swinburne left Eton, but also about where he went. Some biographers state, not without exaggeration, that the years 1853-56 are, in Swinburne's life, 'almost a blank'. Others have conjectured that he spent those three years 'climbing and swimming'--a remarkable feat of endurance, even if we allow for some intervals of rest. Others there are who believe that he was from the first coached for Oxford. Sir George Young told me that, after so many years, he remembered having heard that Swinburne 'had gone to France with a tutor'. But the poet himself stated that he 'never was out of England till he was eighteen'. Moreover, had he been abroad he would have sent letters home, and it is probable that his very inaccurate but understanding and devoted editor, Mrs. Disney Leith, would have published some extracts from them. We must be content with what evidence there is, but we cannot afford, as many of our predecessors have, to reject or ignore any. A few facts emerge; they will be briefly stated.

In October 1853 Swinburne did not return to Eton; in October-November, 1854, when the news of the Balaklava charge reached England, he was at East Dene, and still fostered hopes that he might be allowed to enter the army; it was in the 'Christmas


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