Under the Microscope, discussing topics several critics had raised—the merits of Byron, Tennyson, Walt Whitman particularly—answered some of Swinburne’s critics—foremost among them an anonymous writer for the Quarterly Review, Alfred Austin (cf. No. 13), and, above all, Robert Buchanan, author of the article and book attacking D. G. Rossetti and the ‘fleshly school’ (for a fuller discussion see the Introduction, section IV). The following extract, part of the invective aimed at Buchanan, relies chiefly on the device of turning Buchanan’s own words against him. The text, that of my critical edition in Swinburne Replies, is used by special permission of the Syracuse University Press, owner of the copyright.
A notable example of this latter sort was not long since (in his Fors Clavigera) selected and chastised by Mr. Ruskin himself with a few strokes of such a lash as might thenceforward, one would think, have secured silence at least, if neither penitence nor shame, on the part of the offender. This person, whose abuse of Mr. Carlyle he justly described as matchless ‘in its platitudinous obliquity’,1 was cited by the name of one Buchanan—
but whether by his right name or another, who shall say? for the god of song himself had not more names or addresses. Now yachting among
1 ‘Notable example’ refers to abuse of Carlyle. In reality Ruskin describes Buchanan’s abuse as ‘unmatchable…for obliquitous platitude in the mud-walks of literature’ (The Works of John Ruskin, ed. Cook and Wedderburn, xxvii, 180).
2 Æschylus, Agamemnon, ll. 160-1: ‘Whosoever he be, if by this name it well pleaseth him to be invoked’ (tr. Herbert Weir Smyth).