WE know surprisingly little about the childhood of most great men. Only in exceptional cases do they provide genuine and precise information on their early years. It is not so much that memory is at fault as that school education with its intellectual discipline cuts them adrift from a world of instincts and sensations through which they find it difficult to retrace their steps. It was not, I think, until Rousseau that it became possible to read about a writer's childhood; Rousseau had had practically no education, which made things easier for him; yet he found the task hard and unpleasant enough at times. But Swinburne went through a long and strict academic career, although with somewhat disconcerting results; and while refusing to submit himself regularly to any form of mental exercise, he carried on from the beginning an extensive reading in the five greatest literatures of the world. This is exactly why we turn all the more eagerly to his pre-Etonian days in the hope of reconstituting some of his experiences which were not derived from a literary source. If it can be proved that, before books began to speak to him, Swinburne was in a marked degree affected by the influences of nature, most of the charges of rhetoric and insincerity so commonly brought against his inspiration will run wide of the mark or fall short of it.