Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837 - 1909)

Biography: 

Swinburne was born April 5, 1837, in London, the child of an admiral, Captain Charles Henry Swinburne, and Lady Henrietta Swinburne. He spent his childhood at Capheaton Hall, Bonchurch, the Isle of Wight, moved on to receive his education in classics, French and Italian and metrics at Eton (1849-54) and then Balliol College, Oxford (January 1856), but eventaully left university without a degree in 1860. His first two published works were plays, The Queen Mother and Rosamond, which came out in 1861. In the years before his first triumph, Atalanta in Calydon, published in 1865, Swinburne visited Italy, where he met Walter Savage Landor, and he lived for a time in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, with D. G. Rossetti and George Meredith. In 1864 Swinburne's cousin Mary Julia Charlotte Gordon announced that she would marry (June 1865). This news much disappointed Swinburne and is perhaps reflected in poems like "Dolores." In 1865 Swinburne brought out Chastelard, a Tragedy, the first part of a Mary Queen of Scots trilogy, to be completed by Bothwell (1874), and Mary Stuart (1881). Swinburne published his greatest volume of poems, Poems and Ballads, in 1866. It contains "Dolores," "Hymn to Proserpine," "Faustine," and a dozen other dark, exquisitely musical poems. Their voice has proved unique in English poetry, but they caused an unequalled scandal by flouting accepted Victorian moral, religious and social standards. Controversy spilled over in personal attacks on his character by John Morley (Saturday Review August 4, 1866) and others. Swinburne defended his poems as art for the sake of art, and his interests in sado-masochism as impersonal, in Notes on Poems and Reviews; and W. M. Rossetti followed suit in Swinburne's Poems and Ballads: A Criticism the same year. Swinburne's later volumes of poetry less often matched the creativity of his early years. These include Song of Italy (1867), Songs before Sunrise (1871), Erechtheus (1876), Poems and Ballads, second series (1878), Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), A Century of Roundels (1883), A Midsummer Holiday (1884), Marino Faliero (1885), Locrine (1887), Poems and Ballads, third series (1889), The Sisters (1892), Astrophel (1894), The Tale of Balen (1896), Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899), A Channel Passage (1904), and The Duke of Gandia (1908). In 1879 Swinburne's alcoholism caused his legal advisor and friend Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton to take him away from London to The Pines near the bottom of Putney Hill. This personal care extended Swinburne's life by 30 years, during which he wrote astute criticism of Shakespeare, Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Blake, and Victor Hugo (cf. Essays and Studies [1875]) as well as two novels, A Year's Letters (1877), reissued in 1905 as Love's Cross Currents, and Lesbia Brandon (1952). Swinburne never married. He died 10 April 1909.

  • New writings by Swinburne; or, Miscellanea nova et curiosa. Being a medley of poems, critical essays, hoaxes and burlesques, ed. Cecil Y. Lang (Syracuse: University Press, 1964; PR 5502 .L3).
  • Panter-Downes, Mollie. At The Pines: Swinburne and Watts-Dunton in Putney (Boston: Gambit, 1971; PR 5513 .P3 Trinity College Library)
  • Rooksby, Rikky. A. C. Swinburne: A Poet's Life (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1997; PR 5513 R66)
  • --. "Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837–1909)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. May 2009.
  • Shepherd, Richard Herne. The bibliography of Swinburne: a bibliographical list, arranged in chronological order, of the published writings in verse and prose of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1857-1883 (1883; Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1969; Z 8857 .S54 1969 Robarts Library)
  • Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Complete Works, 20 vols., ed. Sir Edmund Gosse and T. J. Wise (London: Heinemann, 1925-27; PR 5501 .G78 Robarts Library).
  • Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Letters, 6 vols., ed. Cecil Y. Lang (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959-62; PR 5513 .A32 Robarts Library)
  • Wise, Thomas James. A Swinburne library : a catalogue of printed books, manuscripts and autograph letters by Algernon Charles Swinburne (London: for private circulation, 1925). BIB W813.5sw 1925 Massey College Library
Given Name: 
Algernon Charles
Family Name: 
Swinburne
Birth Date: 
April 5, 1837
Death Date: 
April 10, 1909
Nationality: 
Family Relations: 
father : Charles Henry Swinburne
mother : Jane Henrietta Swinburne
sister : Isabel Swinburne

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Cause of Death: 
First RPO Edition: 
1999