Having read Atalanta in Calydon, which he thought ‘promising and vigorous’, Bulwer-Lytton came to Swinburne’s aid with advice and moral support after Moxon withdrew Poems and Ballads. The poet gratefully accepted an invitation to spend a few days at Knebworth. Bulwer-Lytton’s later remarks show some misgivings about Swinburne’s future. His son Robert expressed depreciatory opinions of Swinburne, as in letters to John Morley and in a note which he published in his father’s novel The Parisians. Swinburne always remembered Bulwer-Lytton with gratitude but responded to what he referred to as the son’s ‘scribblings’ by composing epigrams and a merciless parody for his Heptalogia, ‘Last Words of a Seventh-Rate Poet’.
(i) Letter of 20 August 1866 to his son Robert (quoted in The Life of Edward Bulwer First Lord Lytton by his Grandson , ii, 437-8, by permission of Macmillan & Co. Ltd. ): Staying here also is A. Swinburne, whose poems at this moment are rousing a storm of moral censure. I hope he may be induced not to brave and defy that storm, but to purgate his volume of certain pruriences into which it amazes me any poet could fall. If he does not, he will have an unhappy life and a sinister career. It is impossible not to feel an interest in him. He says he is 26; he looks 16—a pale, sickly boy, with some nervous complaint like St. Vitus’ dance. But in him is great power, natural and acquired. He has read more than most reading men twice his age, brooded and theorised over what he has read, and has an artist’s critical perceptions. I think he must have read and studied and thought and felt much more than Tennyson; perhaps he has over-informed his tenement of clay.1 But there is plenty of stuff in him. His volume of poems is infested with sensualities, often disagreeable in themselves, as well as offensive to all pure and manly taste. But the beauty of diction and mastership of craft in melodies really at first so dazzled me, that I did not see the naughtiness till pointed out. He certainly ought to become a considerable poet
1 Cf. Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, l. 158.