Meredith’s remark about Swinburne’s ‘internal centre’, concerned with an early work of fiction (now accessible in New Writings by Swinburne), has often been quoted in disregard of chronology and Meredith’s other statements. His novel Emilia in England (later entitled Sandra Belloni) introduced a Tracy Runningbrook, whose last name may be equated with the second syllable of ‘Swinburne’ and who has several Swinburnian characteristics. Though the fictional portrait was by no means offensive, the hypothesis that Swinburne did not relish it may be supported by textual changes in the revision of the early version.
(i) From a letter written to a friend in 1861 (Letters of George Meredith , p. 55): Swinburne read me the other day his French novel La Fille du Policeman: the funniest rampingest satire on French novelists dealing with English themes that you can imagine. One chapter, ‘Ce qui peut se passer dans un Cab Safety, ’ where Lord Whitestick, Bishop of Londres, ravishes the heroine, is quite marvellous. But he is not subtle; and I don’t see any internal centre from which springs anything that he does. He will make a great name, but whether he is to distinguish himself solidly as an Artist, I would not willingly prognosticate.
(ii) From a letter to Frederick Greenwood, 1 January 1873 (Letters of George Meredith, 240): I hope when Swinburne publishes his ‘Tristram’ you will review him. Take him at his best he is by far the best—finest poet; truest artist—of the young lot—when he refrains from pointing a hand at the genitals.
(iii) From a letter to Theodore Watts-Dunton, 13 April 1909 (Letters, ii, 634): That brain of the vivid illumination is extinct. I can hardly realize it when I revolve the many times when at the starting of an idea the whole town was instantly ablaze with electric light. Song was his natural voice. He was the greatest of our lyrical poets—of the world, I could say, considering what a language he had to wield.