Algernon Swinburne: The Critical Heritage

By Clyde K. Hyder | Go to book overview

22.

W. K. Clifford on Songs before Sunrise

1877

W. K. Clifford (1845-1879), an exceptionally able mathematician who taught at University College, London, and a thinker of rare promise, was a pioneer in the appreciation of an aspect of Songs before Sunrise. Like Swinburne, he admired Mazzini. In his lecture ‘Cosmic Emotion’ (Nineteenth Century, October 1877, ii, 411-29; reprinted in Lectures and Essays, ed. Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock, London, 1879)—‘an emotion which is felt in regard to the universe or sum of things viewed as a cosmos or order’—the young idealist illustrated his views from Songs before Sunrise. In the following extract notes giving Clifford’s references to volumes of poetry have been renumbered, and citation of particular poems has been added.

We arrive thus at a common principle, which at once distinguishes good actions from bad in the internal world, and which has created the external world, so far as it is living. This principle is, then, a fit object for cosmic emotion if we can only get rid of the vagueness of its definition. And it has this great advantage, that it does not need to be personified for poetical purposes. For we may regard the result of this mode of action, extended over a great length of time, as in some way an embodiment of the action itself. In this way the human race embodies in itself all the ages of organic action that have gone to its evolution. The nature of organic action, then, is to personify itself, and it has personified itself most in the human race.

But before we go further two things must be remarked. First, the very great influence of life in modifying the surface of the earth, so great as in many cases to be comparable to the effects of far ruder changes. Thus we have rocks composed entirely of organic remains, and climate changed by the presence or absence of forests. Secondly, although we have restricted our cosmos to the earth in space, and to the history of life upon it in time, there is no necessity to maintain the

-170-

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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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