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Algern Charles Swinburne (1837 - 1909) was one of English poetry's truly distinctive stylists. Next to Tennyson and Browning, he was one of the major poets of the Victorian era; and he was almost certainly the most provocative. In this new selection, Swinburne's first major collection, the Poems and Ballads of 1866, is represented much more fully than in earlier selections, and ample extracts are given from his later masterpiece, the Arthurian epic Tristram of Lyonesse (1882). This edition also includes generous passages from the best of Swinburne's five-act tragedies, Chastelard and Bothwell, which have t been reprinted for nearly a century. Above all, the book aims to make Swinburne once again a poet to be read for pleasure.
ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE was born in London in 1837 to an aristocratic family. He spent much of his childhood at the family home on the Isle of Wight, and was educated at Eton from 1849 to 1853. In 1856 he entered Balliol College, Oxford. He failed his examinations in Classics, passing on a second attempt, and in 1860 he left the University without sitting Finals. At Oxford the young Swinburne had made the acquaintance of D. G. Rossetti and William Morris, both of whom had a substantial influence upon his literary work, and Edward Burne-Jones, to whom he would dedicate his first collection of poems. Among this Pre-Raphaelite circle he lived in London, sharing a house with Rossetti for a brief time, and associating with many leading figures of the Aesthetic Movement. His first publication, in 1860, was a volume containing two verse dramas, Rosamund and The Queen Mother; but it was his second publication, Atalanta in Calydon (1865), which established his reputation as an important poet. With Rossetti as an advocate, he followed this success in the following year with a collection, Poems and Ballads, which made him the most controversial English poet of the day. Readers were struck, delighted and appalled by his virtuosic prosody, his penchant for perverse and decadent subjects, and his overt anti-Christian sentiments. Many other volumes followed, including Songs Before Sunrise (1871), two more series of Poems and Ballads (1878 and 1889), the Arthurian epic Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), and several verse plays. He was also an important critic, and published book-length studies of Blake, Chapman, Hugo, Shakespeare and Jonson, besides many other critical essays. During his two decades in London (1860-1879), his bohemian lifestyle was infamous, and the period was marred by ill-health and alcoholism. In 1879 his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton brought Swinburne to his own home in Putney, where he could be looked after. Here Swinburne remained, still writing, until his death in 1909.