Swinburne: A Biographical Approach

Swinburne: A Biographical Approach

Swinburne: A Biographical Approach

Swinburne: A Biographical Approach

Excerpt

"I AM told," remarked Queen Victoria upon Tennyson's death, "that Mr. Swinburne is the best poet in my dominions." But Mr. Gladstone demurred and the laureateship went eventually to Alfred Austin. Nevertheless, it was the measure of a surrender, the reward of conformity. Watts-Dunton, as chaperon, might be justly proud. Already, like a garden Apollo, Swinburne's nakedness was hedged about with the variegated laurels of nineteenth - century propriety. The shrubbery was to grow more dense. By 1909 twenty-five unimpeachable volumes had issued from Putney, while upon the poet's death Edmund Gosse added the camouflage of a whimsical, if official, biography. A portrait was presented of an excitable elfin creature with flaming hair and green eyes, fluttering hands and "epileptiform" fits, the possessor of a talent which, since it was allied to a perfect gentility, was excusable if regrettably disconcerting. A label was invented to discount the outcry with which Poems and Ballads had been received in 1866 -- an outcry which still lingered in elderly memories. What had it all been about? Songs before Sunrise gave the cue. Swinburne became "The Poet of Revolt".

In a sense this was perfectly true, but in a sense quite other than was intended and infinitely more subtle. It was not until La Jeunesse de Swinburne appeared in 1928 that Swinburne was exhumed from the dank concealing clay to which the literary sextons had consigned him. Without Lafourcade's imaginative scholarship Swinburne would still remain what Gosse and Mr. Harold Nicolson were content to have him be: an inexplicable phenomenon. "There will be those, doubtless," wrote the latter, "who . . . will trace depressing and essentially erroneous analogies to Dr. Masoch and the Marquis de Sade. . . ."

The artist, like the saint and the criminal, tends to be maladjusted. His sensitivity alone forbids him to accept . . .

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