While attending Oxford, Swinburne met and fell under the influence of the charismatic poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti lived a bohemian existence and believed in the principle of “art for art’s sake.” As a disciple of Rossetti, Swinburne expressed his disdain for conventional Victorian mores. While Swinburne had tried his hand at writing before meeting Rossetti, the association sparked Swinburne to take his writing far more seriously. He left Oxford without taking a degree and set off for a life away from the repression he had known during his school years. After settling in London, he made a complete break with Victorian conformity and lived the life of a bohemian. He was influenced by the poetry of French author Charles Baudelaire and the sexually explicit works of the Marquis de Sade.
Although some of Swinburne’s earlier works touched upon sexual matters, it was the publication of his first collection of poetry, Poems and Ballads, in 1866, that thoroughly scandalized Victorian England. The collection was vehemently condemned by reviewers for being heretical and immoral. With such poems as “Anactoria,” “Dolores,” and “Laus Veneris,” Swinburne used his vast technical skill to speak about finding pleasure in the inflicting of pain during sexual love. The collection...
(The entire section is 350 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Algernon Charles Swinburne was born into two of England’s proudest old aristocratic families, the Swinburnes and the Ashburnhams. His father was Captain (later Admiral) Charles Henry Swinburne; his mother, the former Lady Jane Henrietta Hamilton, the daughter of the third earl of Ashburnham. He enjoyed a privileged childhood, dividing his time between the estate of his parents, East Dene on the Isle of Wight, and Capheaton Hall, the Swinburne family seat in Northumberland near the Scottish border. For the rest of his life, he would be fascinated by Scottish history and myth, using it as subject matter for works of such diverse merit as the early poem “The Queen’s Tragedy” (1854) and his dramatic trilogy centering on Mary Stuart. He was never close to his father—a conventional man who was away much of the time—but he was pampered by his mother, to whom he remained close until her death in 1896. His paternal grandfather, Sir John Swinburne, was a surrogate father to the boy, treating him with an affection and respect that the poet never forgot.
Although he was the eldest of six children, young “Hadji” Swinburne was a lonely child, made, from early childhood, to feel like an outcast. He was at best unusual in appearance, with bright red hair, a too-slight build, and a perpetual nervous twitch. In the midst of a notably red-blooded extended family, Swinburne appeared effeminate, reared as he was in the company of his mother and four sisters....
(The entire section is 1165 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Algernon Charles Swinburne was born in London on April 5, 1837. His family on both sides was aristocratic, the Swinburnes being clearly traceable to the time of Charles I and the Ashburnhams dating back before the Norman Conquest. As the eldest of six children, Swinburne had an active childhood, spent mainly at the family seat on the Isle of Wight with regular visits to another family house in Northumberland. The contrasting beauty of these diverse parts of England left a lasting impression on Swinburne, who as a child displayed an almost Wordsworthian responsiveness to nature. He early developed a passion for the sea, which is reflected in much of his poetry.
From the beginning, Swinburne was surrounded by books and fine paintings. His mother, Lady Jane, introduced him to a wide range of literature, including the Bible, William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, Dante, and Molière. She also taught her son French and Italian, laying the foundation for his cosmopolitanism. In April of 1849, Swinburne entered Eton College. In the four years he spent there, he received a thorough grounding in Greek and Latin poetry and some acquaintance with the French and Italian classics. He independently acquired a remarkable knowledge of English literature. He was especially attracted to the Elizabethan dramatists, an interest that would remain constant for the remainder of his life. The Unhappy Revenge, a bloodcurdling fragment in the manner of...
(The entire section is 1768 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Algernon Charles Swinburne was born on April 5, 1837, in London, England, to Captain (later Admiral) Charles Henry Swinburne and Lady Jane Swinburne. Much of Algernon Swinburne’s early life was spent in the wild, idyllic setting of his family’s estate on the Isle of Wight, where, with his brother and four sisters, he could enjoy the freedom of nature. This freedom contrasted sharply with the discipline of tutors who were to prepare the young Algernon to enter Eton at the age of twelve.
All of his life, Swinburne was to suffer the effects of his unusual physique. His slight and delicate body, punctuated by a great mass of red hair, might have earned him harsh hazings in the atmosphere of the English public school had his considerable courage not allowed him to stand up to all possible tormenters. He could not escape the physical discipline of Eton, however, and, like many other schoolboys of his time, he retained a perverse desire for the floggings that were then regularly administered. Swinburne’s slight physique was joined to a nervous disposition that caused him to alternate between frenzied bursts of energy and corresponding periods of depressed reverie. The same energy that allowed him to read and recite poetry for hours on end turned to violence under the influence of drink and caused Swinburne to be barred from certain households....
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
At odds with the dominant culture of his day, Algernon Charles Swinburne turned to the beliefs of pagan antiquity and to kindred poets such as Baudelaire to forge a personal philosophy compatible with his desires. He expressed his views in an equally personal style dominated by alliteration and eccentric rhythms and heavy with description that emphasized female beauty and the desire for pain. While Swinburne may have deliberately exaggerated the unusual elements of his expression, it reflected a sensitive poet ill at ease in his world.
(The entire section is 86 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Algernon Charles Swinburne’s fame as a poet rests on several claims: his dexterity in manipulation of verse; his subject matter, which often glorified the life of the senses or argued for the necessity of social change; and certain oddities in his actual career. In all of these claims, the man can be seen at odds with his age and yet drawing strength from it.
Swinburne was descended from English nobility. His mother was the daughter of the earl of Ashburnham, and his father was Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne. Algernon Charles Swinburne enjoyed fully the advantages of his background. From his mother he acquired a literary taste, a love of the French and Italian languages and literatures, and a thorough knowledge of the Bible. He was also allowed to read such critical writers as Victor Hugo and W. S. Landor, both advocates of republicanism and both objects of Swinburne’s hero worship. From a grandfather in Northumberland Swinburne learned hatred of monarchy and disapproval of the hereditary privileges of the House of Lords.
Swinburne early discovered his poetic vocation. Acquaintance in childhood with William Wordsworth and Samuel Rogers confirmed his intent by the time he was fifteen. The next decade brought Swinburne the companionship and encouragement of some leading literary figures of the period, among them Alfred, Lord...
(The entire section is 700 words.)