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ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837-1909)

The poet's parents were Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne and Lady Henrietta Jane, daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham. After a schooling of five years at Eton, Swinburne went to Balliol College, Oxford, where he contributed prose and verse to Undergraduate Papers, distinguished himself in Latin, Greek, French, and Italian, and began friendships with William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Edward BurneJones. After leaving Oxford, in 1860, he traveled on the continent, visiting Landor in Florence. The greater part of his life Swinburne spent quietly in England. After living for a time in London, with the Rossetti brothers, he retired to spend most of his later years at Putney Hill.

Swinburne first distinguished himself in literature as a dramatist, by the publication of Rosamond (1860), The Queen Mother (1860), Atalanta in Calydon (1865), and Chastelard (1865). By the publication of Poems and Ballads (1866), he aroused a moral commotion that has never been equaled in the history of English literature. To his assailants,some of whom admired his rhythmical mastery as genuinely as they deprecated his unbridled utterances of passion,- Swinburne replied scornfully in Notes on Poems and Reviews (1866). The huge volume of Swinburne's poetical production, in which the lapses from lyrical and dramatic power are only occasional, is best represented by such publications as Songs before Sunrise (1871), Bothwell: a Tragedy (1874), Erechtheus (1876), Studies in Song (1880), Mary Stuart: a Tragedy (1881), Tristram of Lyonesse, and Other Poems (1882), The Tale of Balen (1896), and A Channel Passage, and Other Poems (1904). Swinburne's achievement in poetry, moreover, did not prevent his attaining a firm place in prose, chiefly through his critical studies of Elizabethan dramatists, such as George Chapman (1875), A Study of Shakspere (1880), A Study of Ben Jonson (1889), and The Age of Shakspere (1908).

Swineburne's earlier poems expressed, no doubt, a definite defiance of established social, political, and religious conventions that probably prevented, ultimately, his succession to the laureateship upon the death of Tennyson. His later poems are less defiant, and contain a more incisive appreciation of nature and more narrative charm. The severest of Swinburne's critics have never questioned his absolute mastery of the rhythmical possibilities of the English language, a mastery that resulted in his most serious poetical defect,the substitution, in some cases, of a superb sonorousness for genuine ideas.

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