Algernon Charles Swinburne

Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837–1909, English poet and critic. His poetry is noted for its vitality and for the music of its language. After attending Eton (1849–53) and Oxford (1856–60) he settled in London on an allowance from his father. His first published volume, containing two blank verse plays entitled The Queen Mother and Rosamond (1860), attracted little attention, but Atalanta in Calydon (1865), a poetic drama modeled on Greek tragedy, brought him fame. In 1866 he published Poems and Ballads. The poems in this volume were savagely attacked for their sensuality and anti-Christian sentiments, but almost as excessively praised in other quarters for their technical facility and infusion of new energy into Victorian poetry. The poet's enthusiasm for the dreams for Italian unification of Giuseppe Mazzini (whom he met in 1867) found expression in A Song of Italy (1867) and Songs before Sunrise (1871). Swinburne had certain masochistic tendencies that, combined with his chronic epilepsy and his alcoholism, seriously undermined his health. By 1878 he was near death. He was restored to health under the supervision of Theodore Watts-Dunton, with whom he lived after 1879. For the final 30 years of his life he lived a closely supervised and highly ordered existence. Swinburne is equally famous as a poet and as a critic. Although many of his lyrics are weakened by verbosity and excessive use of stylistic devices, these flaws do not obscure the vigor and music in such pieces as the choruses from Atalanta, "The Garden of Proserpine," "The Triumph of Time," "A Forsaken Garden," "Ave atque vale" (an elegy on Baudelaire), and "Hertha." Swinburne also wrote three closet dramas on Mary Queen of Scots—Chastelard (1865), Bothwell (1874), and Mary Stuart (1881). His long poem Tristram of Lyonesse (1882) presents an intensely passionate vision of the medieval legend. Swinburne's critical work is marred by exaggerated vituperation and praise, digressiveness, and a flamboyant style, but he performed useful services in stimulating just appreciation of older English dramatists and of William Blake.

See his complete works (ed. by E. Gosse and T. J. Wise, 20 vol., 1925–27, repr. 1968); his letters (ed. by C. Y. Lang, 6 vol., 1959–62); biographies by G. Lafourcade (1932, repr. 1967), J. O. Fuller (1971), M. Panter-Downes (1971), and P. Henderson (1974); studies by S. C. Chew (1929, repr. 1966), E. Thomas (1912, repr. 1970), and C. K. Hyder, ed. (1970).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: Selected full-text books and articles

The Life of Algernon Charles Swinburne By Edmund Gosse The Macmillan Company, 1917
Swinburne: A Literary Biography By Georges Lafourcade W. Morrow, 1932
Lesbia Brandon By Algernon Charles Swinburne Falcon Press, 1952
FREE! Chastelard: A Tragedy By Algernon Charles Swinburne Chatto & Windus, 1878
Swinburne: A Biographical Approach By Humphrey Hare H.F. & G. Witherby, 1949
Swinburne By Samuel C. Chew Little, Brown, and Company, 1929
From Gautier to Eliot: The Influence of France on English Literature, 1851-1939 By Enid Starkie Hutchinson, 1960
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Swinburne and Pater"
Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism By Richard Dellamora University of North Carolina Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Poetic Perversities of A. C. Swinburne"
The Pre-Raphaelite Poets By Lionel Stevenson University of North Carolina Press, 1972
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VI "Algernon Charles Swinburne"
Creative Spirits of the Nineteenth Century By Georg Brandes; Rasmus B. Anderson Crowell, 1923
Librarian’s tip: Chap. X "Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1909"
A Literary History of England By Albert C. Baugh Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948
Librarian’s tip: "Algernon Charles Swinburne" begins on p. 1439
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