Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

By Clyde K. Hyder | Go to book overview

Introduction

I

Swinburne’s literary career was, at least in part, the story of a man’s conflict with his generation, a generation with social and literary standards very different from our own. The Saturday Review was a leader of the attack on Poems and Ballads (1866). Some statistics that appeared in that periodical on 12 January 1867 emphasize one point of difference: of the more than four thousand new publications of 1866, 849 were religious books; fiction came second, with only 390 titles. At that time an author’s role was considered an exalted one. Carlyle, for instance, had described men of letters as having a mission comparable to that of priests. Even at the risk of seeming platitudinous, one must affirm that every generation finds it hard to be tolerant of points of view cherished by previous generations. In appraising the reception of Swinburne’s work, one must make allowance for varying outlooks in the twentieth and the nineteenth century, when reviewers were conscious of the need for social discipline and were not afraid of seeming moralistic or appearing to take themselves seriously.

Swinburne objected strenuously to contemporary literary standards. As early as February 1858 he mentioned a desire to review himself and describe his ‘models—i.e., blasphemy and sensuality…. I flatter myself the last sentence was worthy of the Saturday Review.1 A few years later this passage would have seemed to him strangely prophetic. So would have some parts of a hoax 2 he attempted to foist on the Spectator, to which he was contributing in 1862—a review of an imaginary French poet. Of a supposititious poem he mockingly observed, ‘Filth and blasphemy defile every line of it. ’ The hoaxing review was not published, but Swinburne’s published review of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and his letter to the Spectator defending Modern Love, a sequence of poems by his friend George Meredith, also indicate antagonism to accepted literary criteria. A more personal antagonism may appear in some answers to his critics—answers often cited in the pages that follow. In other ways he seemingly took account of

-xiii-

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Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • General Editor's Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Notes xlv
  • Acknowledgments l
  • Note on the Text li
  • The Queen-Mother and Rosamond 1
  • 1 - Unsigned Notice, Spectator 1
  • 2 - Unsigned Notice, Athenaeum 2
  • Some Views of the Young Swinburne 3
  • Atalanta in Calydon 9
  • 4 - Unsigned Review, Saturday Review 9
  • Chastelard 17
  • 5 - Unsigned Review, Athenaeum 17
  • Poems and Ballads 22
  • 6 - John Morley, Saturday Review 22
  • 7 - Robert Buchanan, Athenaeum 30
  • 8 - Unsigned Review, London Review 35
  • 9 - Buchanan: 'The Session of the Poets', Spectator 39
  • 10 - Henry Morley, Examiner 42
  • 11 - Swinburne Defends His Poems 49
  • 12 - W. M. Rossetti, Swinburne's Poems and Ballads 57
  • 13 - Alfred Austin: 'Mr. Swinburne' 92
  • Obiter Dicta by Contemporary Men of Letters 112
  • 14(a) - Alfred Tennyson 112
  • 14(b) - Robert Browning 114
  • 14(c) - Matthew Arnold 116
  • 14(d) - Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson 118
  • 14(e) - John Ruskin 120
  • 14(f) - William Morris 123
  • 14(g) - George Meredith 124
  • 14(h) - Edward Lytton Bulwer-Lytton 125
  • Songs Before Sunrise 127
  • 15 - Unsigned Review, Saturday Review 127
  • 16 - Unsigned Review, Edinburgh Review 133
  • 17 - Franz Hüffer, Academy 139
  • 18 - Swinburne on Robert Buchanan's Self-Revelations 146
  • 19 - A. C. Hilton: 'Octopus' 156
  • 20 - E. C. Stedman on Swinburne 158
  • Erechtheus 163
  • 21 - John Addington Symonds, Review, Academy 163
  • 22 - W. K. Clifford on Songs Before Sunrise 170
  • Poems and Ballads: Second Series 177
  • 23 - Theodore Watts, Athenaeum 177
  • 24 - Maupassant on Swinburne 185
  • 25 - F. W. H. Myers on Swinburne's Weltanschauung 188
  • 26 - George Saintsbury: 'Mr. Swinburne' 198
  • 27 - William Morton Payne: 'Algernon Charles Swinburne' 207
  • 28 - An Imaginary Correspondence 213
  • 29 - Swinburne: a Backward Glance 215
  • 30 - Oliver Elton: 'Mr. Swinburne's Poems' 218
  • 31 - Max Beerbohm: 'No. 2 the Pines' 233
  • Index 251
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