Maupassant happened to be near at hand in October 1868 when Swinburne narrowly escaped drowning, being swept out to sea by ‘treacherous undercurrents’ while swimming at Étretat, on the Norman coast. The incident led to Maupassant’s becoming acquainted with the English poet. His personal impressions, possibly somewhat coloured after a considerable lapse of time, helped to shape and to reflect the image of Swinburne in France (see Introduction, the last part of section III). The following extract includes everything of special interest, the part omitted being an insignificant factual statement. The translation was made especially for this book by Violette Lang (Mrs. Cecil Y. Lang).
Guy de Maupassant’s ‘Notes on Algernon Charles Swinburne’ introducing Gabriel Mourey’s translation of Poems and Ballads into French prose (Paris, 1891), v-x.
It is very difficult to speak to the French public about an English poet like Mr. Swinburne, when, as in my case, one does not know his language. I once met this poet, whose strange countenance is most interesting, extremely disturbing even, for he made on me the impression of a kind of Edgar Allan Poe, idealized and sensualized, of a writer with a soul more exalted, more depraved, more in love with what is strange and monstrous, more curious—groping after and suggesting subtle, unnatural refinements of life and thought—than the soul of the American poet, itself suggestive merely of phantoms and terrors. The impression I have retained from my several meetings with him is perhaps of the most extravagantly artistic person alive in the world today.
He is at once an artist in the ancient mode and in the modern. A poet adept in lyric and epic, in love with rhythm, poet of the epos,1
1 Since Maupassant uses both ‘épique’ and ‘épopée’, in the latter instance he may well have had in mind the kind of material of which epics are made. In English epic and epopee