Algernon Charles Swinburne


Swinburne strives to impress Adah Mecken to no avail
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Name:Algernon Charles Swinburne

Dates:1837 - 1909


Address: 16 Cheyne Walk , SW3

Dates at address:1862 - 1864


Swinburne was the son of Admiral Charles Swinburne, who “ridiculed and discouraged” his poetry, and Lady Jane Henrietta, who promoted it. Taught Italian and French by his mother he also studied at Eton and Oxford, but never got a degree. A withdrawn boy he developed a reputation in later life as a decadent troublemaker. Certainly an alcoholic he also encouraged rumours about his sexual practices. Wilde put this down with his usual acidity, calling him, “a braggart in matters of vice”. A marriage proposal to American actress Adah Mecken was rejected as she told Rossetti it was impossible 'to get Algernon up to scratch'.

Swinburne’s first critical hit was his poem Atalanta in Calydon in 1865. His following Poems and Ballads and Laus Veneris were, however, widely condemned for their republican politics and eroticism. The furore overshadowed his other diverse prose and poetic works. His editor Hotten probably stoked the flames, reprinting Poems repeatedly without Swinburne’s permission. After changing publishers to Chatto with the help of lawyer Watts-Dunton his writing calmed down.

Living with Rossetti at Cheyne Walk marked the height of his troubles. His drinking was out of control, rumours about his private life abounded and he was marked as the “libidinous laureate”. He is even accused of bringing about Rossetti’s breakdown. Forced out he continued destroying himself until rescued by Watts-Dunton. Moving Swinburne to his Putney house, he cut his drinking and gave him a stable home. It probably saved his life.

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