5 April: Algernon Charles Swinburne born to Captain Charles Henry Swinburne, later Admiral, the second son of Sir John Edward Swinburne (the baronetcy went back to the seventeenth century) and Lady Jane Henrietta Swinburne, daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham; he was the first of six surviving children.


Much of Swinburne’s childhood spent on the Isle of Wight (East Dene, Bonchurch) and at his paternal grandfather’s estate, Capheaton in Northumberland, with visits to Ashburnham Place in Sussex. His religious formation was Anglo-Catholic. Riding, swimming and reading in the libraries at Capheaton and Ashburnham were principal pastimes.

Browning’s Sordello published in 1840.


Educated at Eton. Suffered bullying; was probably flogged and a witness of floggings, a recurrent interest throughout his creative life. It is not known why he left Eton. He read Shakespeare unexpurgated, Lamb’s Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets, and steeped himself in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama; wrote at least three imitations of Elizabethan drama. Also read Sappho, Hugo and Landor, lifelong idols. Presented to Wordsworth in 1849, and later to Samuel Rogers.

Arnold’s The Strayed Reveller in 1849 and Empedocles on Etna in 1852. Théophile Gautier’s Émaux et camées in 1852. Dickens’s Bleak House in serial publication 1852–3. Hugo’s Châtiments in 1853.

In France, the coup d’état of 1851 and the formation of the Second Empire under Napoleon III, Swinburne’s bête noire, in 1852; Hugo in exile.


Prepared for Oxford by two private tutors, the first near Capheaton and the second near Bristol. While in Northumberland he was befriended and encouraged by Lady Pauline Trevelyan, who lived nearby and exercised a stabilizing influence on Swinburne until she died in 1866. Visited France and Germany in 1855.

Tennyson’s Maud in 1855; first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1855.


Matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, where at first he studied in the School of Classical Greats (Benjamin Jowett was his tutor) but later decided to read for Honours in Law and Modern History. He was an original member of the Old Mortality Society, a radical group which discussed literary and political topics; he wrote essays for its magazine Undergraduate Papers. In 1857 he met William Morris, Edward Burne Jones (later Burne-Jones) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who were painting Arthurian murals for the Union debating hall. Rejected Christianity and became an enthusiastic republican. Continued his intensive study of French literature and Elizabethan drama; also read and imitated medieval and Pre-Raphaelite poetry. Rusticated in November 1859, he returned to Oxford in April 1860, but failed to take a degree. Wrote the earliest of the poems in Poems and Ballads.

William Morris’s The Defence of Guenevere published in 1856; in 1857 Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal published; he is prosecuted, found guilty of obscenity and blasphemy, and fined. First part of Hugo’s La Légende des siècles published in 1859. Tennyson’s Idylls of the King also published in 1859.


The Admiral gave Swinburne an allowance to live in London, where he visited Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Morris and Ford Madox Brown. The Queen-Mother and Rosamond attracted little attention. Death of Swinburne’s paternal grandfather, Sir John Edward Swinburne, whom he had greatly admired.


Travelled to Mentone and several Italian cities. Back in London he developed friendship with Richard Monckton Milnes (Lord Houghton from 1863). Met Simeon Solomon, and met Richard Burton at Milnes’.

The Risorgimento culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy; Venetia would be annexed in 1866 and Papal Rome in 1870. Mazzini, however, true to his republican principles, opposed the new Italian state.


Travelled to Paris and then to the Pyrenees. Published poems in Once a Week and Spectator; reviewed Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal and Hugo’s Les Misérables. He wrote an epistolary novel, A Year’s Letters. After the death of Rossetti’s wife, Elizabeth Siddal, he moved with him into Tudor House in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. Besides Morris and Burne-Jones, visitors included James McNeill Whistler and Simeon Solomon.

Swinburne defended George Meredith’s Modern Love, the morality of which had been attacked in the Spectator.


Travelled to Paris with Whistler, and met the painters Édouard Manet and Henri Fantin-Latour. Back in London, Swinburne’s drinking and behaviour became immoderate. His favourite sister Edith died in September of tuberculosis. The family travelled to Italy after her death, except for Swinburne, who stayed for four months with relatives. He developed a romantic interest in his cousin Mary Gordon; they collaborated on stories, rode; he worked on Atalanta in Calydon.


Travelled to Paris with Houghton and then to Italy where he visited Landor. Break-up of Tudor House; friendship with Rossetti was strained. Mary Gordon announced her marriage to Colonel Disney-Leith, probably the greatest romantic disappointment of Swinburne’s life. Perhaps began work on the novel Lesbia Brandon, never finished. Completed Atalanta in Calydon while staying three months in Cornwall with the painter John William Inchbold.

Browning’s Dramatis Personae.


Published Atalanta in Calydon in March, which brought him fame. His father sold East Dene and the family soon moved to Holmwold, Shiplake, Henley-on-Thames. Swinburne found new lodgings in London and in November published Chastelard, a verse drama based on an episode in the life of Mary Stuart, the first in a trilogy of plays about her; an early draft of the drama was nearly complete in 1861. The reviews were not favourable. Close friendship with George Powell, with whom he shared an interest in flagellation.

Death of Landor, to whom Swinburne dedicated Atalanta in Calydon.


Published Poems and Ballads in July, which brought him notoriety and much angry critical abuse. Fearing litigation, the publisher Moxon & Co. withdrew the book in early August; by mid-September it was on sale again, reissued by John Camden Hotten, one of whose specialties was erotic literature. At Hotten’s request, Swinburne responded to his critics with Notes on Poems and Reviews (see Appendix 1).

First volume of the anthology Le Parnasse contemporain (later volumes in 1871 and 1876).


Met his idol Mazzini, who encouraged him to write political poetry. His convulsive fits, followed by fainting, to which he had been subject since the early 1860s, became more serious in July; he stayed with his family until September. This became a pattern: dissolute life in London threatening his health followed by recuperation in Holmwood. Late in the year he began an affair with Adah Isaacs Menken, a famous American actress and performer; it lasted about six months. Published William Blake: A Critical Study, begun in the early 1860s; included a statement of art for art’s sake.

Baudelaire died in August; a premature rumour of his death in May inspired Swinburne to write ‘Ave atque Vale’. William Morris’s Life and Death of Jason appeared, for which Swinburne published an appreciation.


Frequented a flagellation brothel (as he had perhaps done earlier). In September he stayed with Powell at a cottage in Normandy; rumours of the irregular domestic ménage circulated. Further fits followed by recovery upon his removal from London. Read a French translation of the Mahabharata, with excessive enthusiasm according to William Rossetti.

First part of Browning’s The Ring and the Book.


Travelled with Burton through France, stayed again with Powell in Normandy. Back in London, then in Holmwood.

Tennyson’s Holy Grail, in reaction to which Swinburne started an overture to the story of Tristram and Iseult (published in 1871).


Finished ‘Hertha’ and ‘The Eve of Revolution’. Battle with Hotten, who threatened Swinburne with an injunction if another publisher brought out his work. The other publisher, Ellis, meanwhile delayed nervously about Songs before Sunrise. Drunken bouts in London again threatened his health; the Admiral brought him to Holmwood.

Publication of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poems (retrieved from the grave of his wife), which Swinburne reviewed with great enthusiasm. Declaration of the French Republic.


Ellis published Songs before Sunrise. Reviewed Simeon Solomon’s A Vision of Love and worked on Bothwell, the second and longest part of the trilogy about Mary Stuart. Dissolute living injured his health, and he was again retrieved by the Admiral. In October, Robert Buchanan launched a polemical attack on Rossetti and Swinburne, ‘The Fleshly School of Poetry’.


Published Under the Microscope, his response to Buchanan, in which he also mocked Tennyson’s Arthurian poems. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, under the stress of the controversy, collapsed and broke permanently with Swinburne. Theodore Watts (later Watts-Dunton) intervened on Swinburne’s behalf with Hotten.

Death of Théophile Gautier; Swinburne wrote elegies for him in Greek, Latin, French and English; they were published the next year.


Simeon Solomon arrested for soliciting at a men’s toilet; Swinburne expressed his loathing and they did not meet again.


Bothwell published in May by Chatto and Windus, who had bought Hotten’s press.


Songs of Two Nations (i.e., France and Italy). Discussed with Jowett the plan of Erectheus, his more rigorous imitation of a Greek tragedy. Wrote ‘A Forsaken Garden’ and ‘By the North Sea’. Mocked Buchanan in print, who then sued Swinburne for libel, and who won in court the next year.


Erechtheus published; began controversy with F. J. Furnivall and mocked the new Shakespeare Society; their quarrel would be revived in the early 1880s.


Serial publication of A Year’s Letters; translated Villon. Published ‘The Sailing of the Swallow’, which would form the first canto of Tristram of Lyonesse. Father died; inherited £5,000; more dissipation.


Poems and Ballads, Second Series published, the earliest poems of which dated from 1867; ‘inscribed to Richard F. Burton’. Very seriously ill.


Watts moved Swinburne temporarily into the house Watts shared with his sister; from there he went again to Holmwood, where Lady Jane Swinburne and Watts agreed that he must not live in London. Holiday on the coast in September, after which Watts and Swinburne moved into The Pines, Putney. Composed ‘On the Cliffs’ and ‘Thalassius’, which appeared in the next year in Songs of the Springtides.


Songs of the Springtides, Studies in Song (including ‘By the North Sea’ and a skilful translation from Aristophanes), and Heptalogia, a collection of seven parodies of contemporary poets, himself included.


Bertie Mason, Watts’s nephew, left The Pines for several months; Swinburne despondent.


Mary Stuart, the final instalment of the trilogy, published and coldly received. Death of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Watts, though not Swinburne, attended the funeral. Tristram of Lyonesse dedicated ‘to my best friend Theodore Watts’. At the end of November, travelled to Paris to see Le Roi s’amuse; met Hugo and Leconte de Lisle, ‘the Frenchman I most wanted to see outside of the master’s own peculiar circle’.


A Century of Roundels, dedicated to Christina Rossetti.


A Midsummer Holiday.


Death of Hugo. Death of Lord Houghton.


Met Thomas J. Wise, who later produced several forged ‘first editions’ of Swinburne’s poems.


Loctrine; essay and attack on ‘Whitmania’.


Quarrel with Whistler, ‘Mr Whistler’s Lectures on Art’.


Poems and Ballads, Third Series. Swinburne visited by writers of the ’Nineties. Max Beerbohm recounts his 1899 visit in the essay ‘No. 2. The Pines’. Arthur Symons’s visits over a decade recorded in his Memoirs.


Death of Richard Burton.


Renewed correspondence with Mary Disney-Leith (formerly Mary Gordon).


The Sisters.

Death of Tennyson; some writers (including Yeats) sought to have Swinburne made Poet Laureate.


Death of Jowett.


Astrophel, dedicated to William Morris.


Watts becomes Watts-Dunton. Publication of A Tale of Balen, with a dedication ‘to my mother’. In autumn, the death of William Morris, followed by the death of Swinburne’s mother.


Death of Burne-Jones.


Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards, dedicated to Mary Disney-Leith.


Began work on The Duke of Gandia, one act of which was published in 1908.


Publication of A Channel Passage (‘in memory of William Morris and Edward Burne Jones’) and of Poems, in six volumes (includes Atalanta and Erectheus).


Tragedies, in five volumes.


Death of Swinburne. His sister Isabel organized a Church of England burial despite his wishes.