English Literature Of The 19th Century:
John Richard Green
Alexander William Kinglake
Poets Of The Later Victorian Period
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Sir Edwin Arnold
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
Algernon Charles Swinburne
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Swinburne has been recognized from his first appearance as a poet unmatched in the mastery of rhythm and melody, and in the serious beauty of his descriptions. In spite of his continuous writing, he has not attained a higher place than he reached by his first effort. But that place was high, so that he was even regarded by some as superior to Tennyson and Browning. He still remains next to these among the poets of the later Victorian era.
Little is known of the life of Algernon Charles Swinburne. His father was a British Admiral, his mother a daughter of the Earl of Ashburnham. He was born in 1837 near Henley on the Thames. He was educated partly in France, partly in Eton, and then went to Balliol College, Oxford, but left in 186o, and went to Italy. He afterward lived in London with Rossetti, and later at Wimbledon. He entered literature as a dramatic poet, publishing "Rosamond" and "The Queen Mother" in 1860, "Atlanta in Calydon" in 1864, and "Chastelard" in 1865. Of these "Atalanta" attracted most attention, as being a noble imitation of Greek tragedy. But in 1866 the public were amazed and shocked by his "Poems and Ballads," which displayed his wonderful poetical powers, but in some instances dwelt on forbidden subjects. The objectionable pieces are said to have been written in pro-test against conventional morality. The American edition bore the title "Laus Veneris." After a time Swinburne issued more "Poems and Ballads," full of sweetness and beauty, and free from the sins of his youth; then "Songs Before Sunrise," dedicated to Mazzini, and hailing the revolution in Italy; "Songs of Two Nations," in which the "Song of Italy" is conspicuous; "Songs of the Spring-tides," and other volumes. As the titles of these indicate, Swinburne is above all a musician, who elicits, even from the harsh and crabbed Saxon tongue a wonderfully sweet and unprecedented harmony. "Tristram of Lyonesse," though a narrative in rhyme, is strongly dramatic; "The Tale of Balen" (1896) is derived from Sir Thomas Malory's "Morte d'Arthur." To his former dramas several others have been added. "Erechtheus" is another Greek tragedy; "Bothwell" and "Mary Stuart" treat the story of the beautiful Queen of Scots, but with bitter prejudice against her. "Marino Faliero" is from Venetian history.
Besides his poetical work, Swinburne has done much in prose, critical, controversial and miscellaneous. The work of the Elizabethan dramatists has been examined and expounded with exhaustive skill in monographs and essays. Swinburne's eulogies are often extravagant, his controversial writings are sometimes rabid. His prose style is vehement and often obscure from his recondite allusions and strange use of words. Though an aristocrat by birth and training, he is a Republican by conviction, and has given unqualified utterance to his views. Even his poetry is marred by the fierceness of his hatred to Napoleon III, whom he regarded as the betrayer of liberty.