The Life of Algernon Charles Swinburne

By Edmund Gosse | Go to book overview

NOTE

SOME additional information regarding Swinburne's early youth has reached me too late for insertion in the body of this volume. In each case, though by a coincidence, the Sewell family is involved.

PAGE 27

Immediately after leaving Eton, Swinburne met, at the house of Miss Elizabeth Sewell and her sisters, Ashcliffe, Bonchurch, an Italian lady who was staying in the Isle of Wight. This was Signora Annunziata Fronduti, who still survives in her eighty-fifth year, and who now resides at Gubbio, in Umbria. Miss Fronduti was greatly impressed by the simplicity of the boy, whose "great shock of red hair, fits of silence, and earnest gaucherie" she still vividly recalls. She discovered that he had a passion for Italian poetry, and she exercised for his benefit her practised gifts of reading and recitation. He would "make her do it by the hour," and would sit gazing into space, absolutely transfigured and absorbed by the magic and the music of the classic Italian verse. Signora Fronduti remembers that on these occasions his great eyes were filled with a sort of devouring flame"for the poetry, not the reciter," as she naïvely protests. It seems to have been Dante that she chiefly read to him, as Ariosto had already been introduced to him by Lady Jane Swinburne. Signora Annunziata Fronduti was a friend of Lord Houghton, and it is possible that it was she who, in 1860, made Algernon known to him. I have to thank Miss Janet H. Blunt for having kindly made this communication to me.

PAGE 34

Some light is thrown on Swinburne's religious convictions as an undergraduate by reminiscences very obligingly transmitted to me by Mr. Walter Bradford Woodgate, who was educated at St. Peter's College, Radley, near Oxford, from 1850 to 1858. The Warden of Radley was William Sewell

-337-

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