Selected Writings, Vol. 3, William Sharp



FORTY years ago the keener-sighted among the critics of the day recognised that a new poet had sounded a fresh if admittedly an unequal note in the music of English verse. To-day The Queen-Mother and Rosamund are little read; partly, no doubt, because of the rarity of the slim volume which has long been out of print. But within five years of its publication a common recognition agreed that English Poetry was enriched by a new and potent genius; a poet for whom one of the highest contemporary places was certain, and who might well prove to be of the few who do not pass with their period and vogue but are for time and literature. For in 1865 Atalanta in Calydon was published.
More than thirty-five years have passed since the appearance of this lyrical drama. It is a period wherein the mature genius of Tennyson, Browning, Matthew Arnold, Rossetti, William Morris, gave royally to our literature : wherein the brilliant later Victorian poetry flowered in unequalled fertility. Nothing of all this accomplishment better stands the test of time, change and comparative criticism than Swinburne's early masterpiece.

New things, and never this best thing again;
Seasons and song, but no song more like mine.

That this masterpiece should be the work of youth, of a writer in his "twenties," is a surprise to which we can never become accustomed.
Few of our great writers, either in prose or verse, have been born in London. Two notable instances, however, are those of Robert Browning and Algernon Charles Swinburne. But whereas Browning was in all respects a Londoner and the child of Londoners, it was a mere chance that the younger poet was not born in the North Country, in the Northumberland of his people. In that North-Sea province the Swinburnes are an old-established family ; even so far back as the time of Henry III. one Sir William de Swinburne was a Northumbrian to be reckoned with. The name is probably one of the oldest of Northumbrian clan-names : unquestionably the Swinburnes of Swinburne belonged to the native noblesse. In the time of Edward II. the direct line ended with Adam de Swinburne : and after a lapse we hear of his kinsman, Sir William, but of Swinburne Castle no more. The family seat is now, as it has so long been, Capheaton Castle: there the present head of the family, Sir John Swinburne, resides : and there and in the neighbourhood, his cousin, Algernon Charles Swinburne, spent much of his boyhood.
The poet's father, the late Admiral Charles Swinburne, was the second son of Sir John Edward Swinburne: he married Lady Henrietta Jane, daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham : and their eldest child, born in London on April 5, 1837, is the subject of the present memoir. As the Ashburnham family is also of pre-Conquest days, Swinburne may certainly claim to be of the oldest blood in the country.
Of the boyhood and early youth of the poet little is known, except to a limited circle of friends. Much of it was spent in an intimate, at times an impassioned communion with nature, and in particular the sensitive and imaginative boy was early subject to the spell of the wind and the sea, the two elemental forces which are echoed, reflected, and interpreted throughout his poetry. Above all other poets of our country, or of any country, Swinburne is the poet of the sea. The sound and colour of the moving wave live in almost every poem he has given us. . . .

The sea, that harbours in her heart sublime
The supreme heart of music deep as time,
And in her spirit strong
The spirit of all imaginable song.*

* Loch Torridon. (Astrophel.)

In his earliest prose writing---his impassioned rejoinder to the hostile outcry against Poems and Ballads---Swinburne alludes to Sappho is poetic fragments as 'akin to fire and air, being themselves 'all air and fire' : other element there is none in them." Of his own work, it might well be said that the sound and beauty of the sea, the voice and prophesying of the wind, are the elemental and dominant forces.
And since allusion has been made to his prose writings let me give here a passage from the Essay on Wordsworth and Byron (Miscellanies) which might be written of his own achievement in poetry :

The test of the highest poetry is that it eludes all tests. Poetry in which there is no element at once perceptible and indefinable by any reader or hearer of any poetic instinct may have every other good quality . . .it is not poetry--- above all, it is not lyric poetry---of the first water. There must be something in the mere progress and in the very resonance of the words, some secret in the very motion and cadence of the lines, inexplecable by the most sympathetic acuteness of criticism. Analysis may be able to explain how the colours of this flower of poetry are created and combined, but never by what process its odour is produced.

For the poet . . . for every artist, but perhaps for the poet above all . . . there is no period so important, no education so vital and enduring, as the period between the merging of childhood into boyhood and the merging of boyhood into manhood, as the education learned at first hand, in idle freedom, under the tutelage of the wind and the sun. In this early wisdom, the boy-poet (for he began to compose verse while yet a child) learned deeply, and as his work shows, unforgettably. Possibly too it was during the long pony-rides of his boyhood in Northumberland that the young Swinburne first came to dwell upon the contrast between the character and late of Queen Elizabeth of England and the character and fate of Queen Mary of Scotland: for in the little village of Cambo, at the top of the mile-long ascent from Wallington, the inn of the Two Queens had a swinging signboard on whose south side was depicted the face of Elizabeth and on whose north "the proud eyes" of the Queen o' Scots.
More, too, than from any tutor or "schooling" he learned from his mother much that was to influence him, and notably his love of Italy, its language, literature, and history. Shelley, Keats, Byron, Landor, Browning, Swinburne, each differing in so much, have shown themselves at one in a common love ; but none save the sixth knew and loved Italy and the Italian genius in boyhood. Lady Henrietta Ashburnham had been educated in Florence, and then and later spent much of her life there, and her love was doubtless the torch that lit the flame in her son's mind which reached to so great a height in Songs Before Sunrise and the Songs of Two Nations.
To William Bell Scott, had he been as capable with the brush and etching-needle as with the pen, every lover of our literature would be indebted: for it is to him we owe the earliest but unfortunately grotesquely exaggerated portrait of Swinburne as a young man, i.e. in 1860, when he was twenty-two, and had just published his first book. Of this portrait Scott writes in his Notes;

In 1860, when his first drama was published, I painted a small portrait of him in oil (afterwards etched). He used to come in and live with us in Newcastle, and when I was out or engaged he was to be seen lying before the fire with a mass of books surrounding him like the ruins of a fortification, all of which he had read, and could quote or criticise correctly and acutely many years after. This portrait (of himself) used to arrest him long afterwards, when he visited me, as if it was new to him. He was delighted to find it had some resemblance to what he called his portrait in the National Gallery. This was the head of Galeazzo Malatesta in the picture of the Battle of Sant' Egidio by Uccello, which certainly was not merely the same type, but was at this time exceedingly like him.

A good portrait of the poet, and at the same time a beautiful painting, is the "head" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painted in the early sixties. Here, with some allowance for Rossetti's very individual vision and method, is the best early likeness we have of the author of Atalanta in Calydon, after the remarkable portrait made about this time by G. F. Watts. It should be added that another excellent early likeness is in the stooping head of a picture by Rossetti now in the posession of Mr. Watts-Dunton. There is also a "hinted" portrait in Rossetti's well-known drawing of Mary Magdalene at the Door of Simon the Pharisee.
From Eton Algernon Charles Swinburne went to Oxford. There is no published record of his career at Balliol. Rumour says that he was diligent in all intellectual efforts save those conventionally required of him: a variation adds that despite his familiarity with Greek and Latin he was "ploughed" because he failed in "Scripture": at any rate he departed from Oxford without taking his degree. He left the University, however, with the knowledge that he had powers beyond those of other men, and that he had it in him to become a great poet: and he left it rich in the promise of life, for he had already made the intimate acquaintance of three men who were to be lifelong friends as well as rivals in genius, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who was then painting the frescoes on the walls of the "Union"), William Morris, and Edward Burne-Jones.
The influence of these friendships is unmistakable in the early work of Algernon Swinburne. It would have been impossible for any imaginative and responsive nature not to be influenced by Rossetti, and it is to Rossetti above all others that the younger poet owed that turning towards essential romance in life and art which gave so rich a glow to the Poems and Ballads. In another phase of poetic thought and artistry, Morris exercised only a lesser, if perhaps a more immediate and obvious influence. It is as evident in Poems and Ballads, as that of Browning is in Rosamund. Something of the young poet's indebtedness to the young painter Burne-Jones may be inferred from the circumstance of the dedication of the more famous volume, in stanzas not only of great beauty but of singular aptness. . .

In a land of clear colours and stories,
   In a region of shadowless hours,
Where earth has a garment of glories,
   And a murmur of musical flowers ;
In Woods where the spring half uncovers
   The flush of her amorous face,
By the waters that listen for lovers,
   For these is there place

*      *       *      *     *

Though the world of your hands be more gracious
   And lovelier in lordship of things
Clothed round by sweet art with the spacious
   Warm heaven of her imminent wings,
Let them enter unfledged and nigh fainting
   For the love of old loves and lost times
And receive in your Palace of painting
   This revel of rhymes.

From Oxford Algernon Swinburne went for a brief while to London, and then passed some time at his father's beautiful place in the Isle of Wight, East Dene near Bonchurch, on the seaward slope of St. Boniface Down. In Bonchurch graveyard are the graves of the poet's father and mother: but for other reasons also East Dene and its lovely neighbourhood are sacred to Swinburne. Between Bonchurch and the western side of Ventnor is one of the loveliest coast-tracts in England, and here the young poet spent many of his happiest days. A relative by marriage, Sir Henry Gordon (who had married the poet's aunt, Lady Mary Ashburnham), had a beautiful house and grounds on the Undercliff between St. Catherine's Point and Blackgang Chine: and here, and at East Dene, by the pineshadowed rocky slopes and grassy hollows of that sunny sea-washed region, many of the poems long so familiar to us were written. One of these, in flawless music, The Forsaken Garden, was inspired by and written near Old Bonchurch.
In the same year that he left Oxford Swinburne went abroad, to the Italy he already loved so well: and here he made a new memorable friendship. After Victor Hugo no contemporary had more of his reverence and admiration than Walter Savage Landor. His visit to the old poet at his villa on Fiesole was, for the younger, one of the chief events at the outset of his literary career : nor did he ever waver in the allegiance so signally expressed in the dedication of the first mature work of his genius, Atalanta in Calydon. To this visit we owe the fine quatrains which will be found in that volume, with their significant lines, "the youngest to the oldest singer, that England bore."
On his return to London Swinburne took his place as one of the most striking and interesting personalities in what was by far the most significant and fascinating literary group then leagued by common sympathies and ideals. At Oxford his two chief friends had been Burne-Jones and John Nichol : but now he saw little of the painter who was afterwards to become so famous, and Nichol had returned to Scotland, shortly to become the youngest University professor in the North. This remarkable man never fulfilled the rare promise of his Oxford days: for though he attained eminence both as a poet and critic, and as Professor of Literature at Glasgow had from the first session of his long career a notable influence, he lacked just the something that differentiates the most brilliant intellect from the creative imagination. But at Oxford it was commonly believed that of the younger generation of that day no one was more likely to achieve fame than the brilliant young Scot, with his fiery "Berserker" nature and his natural impulse of leadership. It was Nichol who founded and edited a college magazine, Undergraduate Papers, now so extremely rare that only a few copies are known to exist. Its literary value, however, has been grotesquely overrated. It is, of course, interesting to note that so early as in 1857 the future author of Tristram of Lyonesse was occupied, as a theme for his imagination, with the story of Queen Iseult : but in the twenty-five tercets which appeared under John Nichol's editorship there are at most only some half-dozen lines which reveal the poet, and these might as well have been written by Nichol or any other of the young men who at that time were under the spell of the newcomers, Rossetti and Morris. Nor is more than a passing notice called for of Swinburne's first piece of imaginative prose---the short tale called Dead Love which with a charming illustration by Lawless appeared in Once-A-Week in October 1862. This piece of quaint mediAEvalism in the manner of William Morris's short stories of Arthurian Chivalry was afterwards reprinted in London in 1864, but is now so rare that only three copies of the original edition are known to exist.
But all this, with other minor "Under-graduate " contributions, amounted to no more than the "cacoŰthes scribendi" of the ordinary literature-loving undergraduate. What is of interest is that before Swinburne left Oxford he had already begun to write verse with beauty, distinction, and of a music the first unmistakable notes that he has made his own. The Queenmother and Rosamund are youthful productions, but in Chastelard we have the evidence of a genius as unique as potent. Swinburne has himself put on record (in his Notes on the character of Queen Mary) that he wrote Chasteland in the last year of his life as an undergraduate.
On his return from Italy, full of enthusiasm for Landor and more than ever captivated by the spirit of freedom animating his heroes Mazzini, Aurelio Saffi, and Victor Hugo, Swinburne settled in London. For a time he shared with Rossetti and George Meredith a house overlooking the Thames : though of one co-tenant he saw very little, for Meredith was seldom at Chatham House, and as for the other, his own habits and those of Rossetti differed so much that the two friends, though much in sympathy, had little actual communion. It was at this time that Rossetti painted the beautiful portrait to which allusion has already been made : and in the face of the young poet, as delineated by his friend and compeer, it is impossible to ignore the look of an exceptional individuality and of conscious power. When this brief co-partnery ended, the youngest of the three friends occupied rooms elsewhere in London ; in North Crescent, Great James Street for a considerable time, and later in Guilford Street ; varying residence in town with occasional visits to Holmwood near Reading (whither the family home, after the death of his father, had been moved), or to the East Coast, or to the shores of Normandy where once (at Etretat) he had a narrow escape from drowning, having in one of his adventurous swims been caught in a dangerous current and saved by some fishermen when almost at the last gasp---an event recorded in the poem entitled Ex Voto.
Through Burne-Jones the young poet made another friendship, with G. F. Watts, afterwards to become so famous as a painter and then already accepted as a master; and to this we owe the best-known (and by some friends considered the most like) of all portraits of Swinburne.
After the publication of Bothwell in 1874 and of Erechtheus in 1876 the poet's health gave way under the stress of his too strenuous life, and shortly after the publication of the second series of Poems and Ballads (1878) he decided to leave London and settle in some quiet region within reach of and yet sufficiently remote from the metropolis. Too shaken in health to undertake this alone, he was accompanied by his devoted friend, Theodore Watts, already the foremost literary critic of his day (Rossetti's "friend of friends "---to introduce here, with adequate excuse I hope, the poet-painter's generous phrase concerning the man to whom of all others he certainly had most reason to be indebted), and in due time, under his later-assumed surname of Watts-Dunton, to become so well-known as the author of the romance of Aylwin and as the poet of The Coming of Love. Theodore Watts fixed upon a house with a long garden, called "The Pines," on Putney Hill near Wimbledon Common; and there, for the last twenty-two years, the two friends, each with a name so high in contemporary letters, have contentedly lived.
When Swinburne left Oxford all his friends knew that to no ordinary ambition he united powers of a kind which were to justify the faith of men like Rossetti and Morris. It was not till 1860, when he was in his twenty-third year, however, that he published his first book, comprising the two dramas, The Queen-Mother and Rosamund. The book has long been out of print, and the author has never cared to reissue it. In both dramas there are continuous pages of fine rhetoric and many passages of true poetry, but there is also much of immaturity both in conception and execution. The book deserved cordial recognition, for it was unquestionably remarkable as the work of so young a man.
The Queen-Mother of the first play is Catherine de' Medici, and the scene of the tragedy is in Paris at the period of the Massacre of the Innocents. Possibly it was during his study of the history and personages of this time that the author became fascinated by the character and tragic fate of Mary Stuart: though as the idea of a play on the fate of Chastelard had occurred to him in early youth it is as probable that the drama of The Queen Mother was a later outgrowth. As it stands, The Queen-Mother is almost of the nature of a prelude to the great dramatic cycle of Mary Stuart to which Swinburne gave the best years of his early and middle manhood.
The Queen-Mother and Rosamund was affectionately inscribed to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. "I remember Rossetti's telling me what pleasure he had in this first book of his friend, and how George Meredith said to him impatiently, "Wait till he mounts his own horse, and then you'll see how he'll ride---further than any of us foresees, I'll be bound."
Swinburne had already begun to feel dissatisfied with "failing into line" with time was Morris and Rossetti, and at no time was discipleship to Tennyson or Browning possible for him. A new departure, and in more directions than one, was silently being prepared, but it was not till 1865, when he was twenty-seven, that he published Atalanta in Calydon and at once took his place as one of the foremost poets of the Victorian age. But meanwhile he had also written, or in these intervening years wrote, some of the shorter poems which were afterwards to become so famous when issued in Poems and Ballads. Rossetti, Morris, Burne-Jones and others had copies of several, and the rumour of their magical music got about, and the small English public that is curious about new beautiful things in the art of words began to speak of "this young poet Swinburne." Two of these pieces, for instance, Laus Veneris and the Hymn to Proserpine, were certainly written not later than 1862, for W. Bell Scott has given in a few vivid lines a picture of the author in connection with these poems. About Christmas in 1682, he writes, he and his wife and a friend were going "to the wild sea-coast at Tynemouth," from Wallington, for a holiday, and were just about to start when "A. C. S. suddenly appeared, having posted from Morpeth early that morning." So the friends went to the then unfrequented Tynemouth seacoast, and it was on the long dunes and sands by the sea that the young poet recited in his peculiar chanting voice the sonorous Hymn to Proserpine and the not less musical quatrains of the Laus Veneris "with the breaking waves running the whole length of the long level sands towards Cullercoats, and sounding like far-off acclamations."
So though no book succeeded the first volume of 1860 until the appearance of Atalanta in 1865, the poet had been at work upon three books which were to take a permanent place in English literature Atalanta in Calydon, Chasteland, and Poems and Ballads.
Besides the short tale, Dead Love, Swinburne published in 1864, but not under his name nor in a book for which he was responsible, a very strange poem or dramatic allegory, The Pilgrimage of Pleasure. This was contributed to the fifth chapter of a friend's romance entitled The Children of the Chapel (where, also, are other fragmentary pieces by the same pen), but it has never been reprinted by the author. From reperusal of the copy before me I imagine The Pilgrimage of Pleasure to have been inspired by Calderon's Los Encantos de la Culpa, or Fitzgerald's translation of it, but it might quite well be that the English poet had at that time never read Calderon either in the original or in translation. The personŠ are Pleasure, Youth, Life, Discretion, Gluttony, Vain Delight, Sapience and Death: and the metrical narrative is correspondingly strange and unexpected. The style for the most part is archaic, the metrical invention peculiar and effective.
"Gluttony" has a Rabelaisian exuberance which is enhanced by his gloating delight in old savoury names of "delicates and delights." But as there is space for brief quotation only, the following will give some idea of the movement of this all but unknown poem of the master whose every collected line is familiar to his admirers.


Away from me, thou Sapience, thou noddy, thou green fool !
What ween ye I be as a little child in schools
Ye are as an old crone that mooneth by a fire,
A bob with a chestnut is all thine heart's desire.
I am in mine habit like to Bacchus the high god,
I reek not a rush of thy rede nor of thy rod.


Bethink thee, good Youth, and take Sapience to thy wife,
For but a little while hath a man delight of Life.
I am as a flame, that lighteth thee one hour
She hath fruit enow, I have but a fleeting flower.
          *         *          *         *


My sweet life and lady, my love and mine heart's lief,
One kiss of your fair sweet mouth it slayeth all men's grief,
One sight of Your goodly eyes it bringeth all men ease.


Ow, I would I had a manchet or a piece of cheese!


Lo, where lurketh a lurdan that is kinsman of mine
Ho, Gluttony, I wis ye are drunken without wine.


We have gone by many lands, and many glorious ways,
And yet have we not found this Pleasure all these days.
Sometimes a lightening all about her have we seen,
A glittering of her garments among the fields green
Sometimes the waving of her hair that is right sweet,
A lifting of her eyelids, or a shining of her feet,
Or either in sleeping or in walking have we heard
A rustling of raiment or a whispering of a word,
Or a noise of pleasant water running over a waste place,
Yet have I not beheld her, nor known her very face.

When in 1865 Swinburne published Atalanta in Calydon he passed at once, as already said, to the front rank of living poets. In this superb achievement he revealed a mastery of metre unequalled since Shelley and Coleridge, and with a wider and surer range and more sustained power than shown even by the greatest of our lyrical poets. Dedicated to Landor, in lines of pure and beautiful Greek, the whole volume has that harmonious completeness which is part of its high destiny. It had a welcome which few works of enduring value receive at first; and though naturally the "general reading public " did not care one way or the other, and but for the insistent talk and discussion concerning the new writer would have ignored the new masterpiece as it would, if left to its own instinct, ignore all other beautiful work, there were sufficient readers to give the book even from the publisher's standpoint an extraordinary success. No doubt this was in no small degree brought about by the emphatic and splendid eulogy of so influential a critic as Monckton Milnes, whose prompt article on Atalanta in the Edinburgh Review had an effect at once far reaching and immediate.
When the Prometheus Unbound was given to English literature it was realised by the few who then understood the new wealth of beauty, that the language had been proved a more wonderful instrument than even its masters had foreseen. Shelley, Keats, and Coleridge gave it that elasticity and grace which Tennyson carried to ultrarefinement and Swinburne to unequalled metrical variety and beauty. But Atalanta stands as unique as does the Pyometheus. There is no music like it in English poetry. In variety of metrical invention it is unsurpassed in any language, and yet there is no sense of experimental effort, no sense of incongruity or strain, no sense of the fortuitous or hap-hazard. The music is as inevitable and natural as the song of thrush or nightingale, and if as incalculable as the wind, owes not less than the wind to an imperative law. There is not a page of Atalanta that could be wished away. The blank verse is a triumph in a language which had known the magic use of Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton and Shelley. The lyrical measures are like nothing that preceded them in English, and have never been approached by any later writer. Perfect beauty in part is revealed as perfect beauty in the whole. In all that makes great poetry Atalanta in Calydon stands as perhaps the supreme instance in modern literature.
It is, however, a mistake to say, as is often said, that this noble drama is a modern example of the Greek genius. Atalanta in Calydon is not a Greek drama, but a drama on a Greek theme by an English poet, inspired by love and knowledge of the Sophoclean drama. Even in Erechtheus, which more closely follows the Sophoclean model, Swinburne is not a Greek, but an English poet inspired by the Greek ideal and Greek beauty. Throughout all his work, from Rosamund to Locrine, from Chastelard to the Tale of Balen, he reveals himself to be as essentially English as Shakespeare or Milton. Many of his contemporaries have written on Greek themes in the Greek manner---as understood, or as feasible now, and in English---but with the possible exception of the one rare achievement of Leicester Warren (the late Lord De Tabley) not one has even approached the Greek originals upon which they have been modelled. Doubtless Walter Savage Landor was the last who could have achieved the all but impossible. Keats, for all his sunny paganism, was not a Greek: perhaps just because of this for no stranger misconception exists than the idea that "sunny paganism" stands for the Greek mind. The Greek genius was the sanest the world has known; and sanity includes joyousness and "sunny paganism;" but it also includes the piercing vision which will not be baffled and the austere sadness which is the inevitable colour of thought. There is indeed much "paganism" in Atalanta in Calydon and Poems and Ballads, but it can hardly be called "sunny." The beautiful lines entitled A Lamentation more truly represent the spirit of sad world-wisdom and bitter weariness, which animate Swinburne's earlier work, than the anything but sunny however debonair revel of rhymes" on Faustine and Fragoletta, on Felise and Dolores.
The tragic beauty of the legend of AlthŠa and her son Meleager, of the scourge sent by Artemis and of the heroism of Atalanta, the hunting of the terrible boar of Calydon, and the untoward slaying of Toxeus and Plexippus by Meleager with the swift-following doom involved---all this is lifted from the vague beauty of dimly outlined legend into the actual beauty of rounded and complete, of harmonious and con-summate art. Although Erechtheus was not written till ten years later (and published in 1876) it must always be considered along with Atalanta. Here we have the mature intellectual expression of that Hellenic enchantment of which the earlier drama was the mature rhythmic expression. To superb diction the poet unites an almost terrible force and passion. Here, too, the choruses are magnificent, from that famous one which begins

Who hall put a bridle in the mony-ner's lips to chasten them

to the matchless Oreitliyia chorus beginning

Out of the north wind grief came forth,
And the shining of a sword out of the sea.

And yet Erechtheus has never had, perhaps never can have, either the spell over the love or the spell over the imagination exercised by its predecessor. Doubtless this is because of its remoteness from ordinary human emotions. The drama might have been written by an abstract intelligence, uninfluenced by ordinary human claims and needs. Presumably the poet did not realise this, since he dedicated the tragedy to his mother : and it is more than probable that he ranks it higher, and considers it with more pleasure even, than Atalanta. The music is so gravely noble, the construction and technical excellence so unsurpassable in kind, the poetry so alive with the flame of genius, that, for a few, Erechtheus will always have a place apart, an achievement on the remote heights of literature. But, for most readers, it is too surcharged with the terror of the irretrievable and the relentless, too given over to the cold unappeasable pitilessness of the divine powers who do the will of fate : in it rises too loudly and insistently "the confluent surge of loud calamities" of which Erechtheus speaks in that wonderful opening declamation whose dominant note is

And what they will is more than our desire,
And their desire is more than what we will.
For no man's will and no desire of man's
Shall stand as doth a god's will . . . .

I do not think it is too much to say that since Sophocles no such fate-surcharged dramatic verse, on the Greek model and in the Greek tradition, has been written as, for example, the pages from where the Herald of Eumolpus enters with

Old men, grey borderers on the march of death

to the advent of the Athenian Messenger with

High things of strong-souled men that loved their land

after the close of the magnificent chorus beginning

Many loves of many a mood and many a kind
Fill the life of man, and mould the secret mind. . .

Atalanta appeared early in 1865. Before the year was out, Chastelard (which, as will be remembered, was written or at least begun in the author's last year as an undergraduate at Oxford) was also published. The two dramas are as different as two works in dramatic form could be. The difference is not, as often averred, between the work of the romanticist and that of the classicist. The "classicism" of Atalanta does not hide the "romanticism" of the author. It was not an old-world Greek but a modern "romanticist" who wrote

When the hounds of Spring are on winter's traces,
   The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
   With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain
And the brown bright nightingale amorous
   Is half assuaged for Itylus,
For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,
   The tongueless vigil and all the pain---

The difference lies in the choice of model: in the selection of the Shakespearean method and manner instead of the Sophoclean method and manner. With the one the poet had a freer play for his unequalled metrical invention : with the other a more intimate and familiar method of development of his dramatic conception.
There is no modern dramatic trilogy that in length, sustained power, and continuity of beauty can be compared with the trilogy of Mary of Scotland---Chastelard, Bothwell, and Mary Stuart. Of these, the most difficult achievement is the third: the most sustained and powerful the second: the most beautiful, the first. Even if Swinburne had never written another line on the subject of Mary Stuart, Chastelard would retain its place as one of the finest of modern poetic plays. Certainly it is not a master-piece of the front rank like Atalanta, but it is none the less a masterly achievement with a beauty beyond that of any dramatic poem by any of Swinburne's contemporaries. This tragedy of the love of the poet Chastelard for a woman who could not possibly be true to one man, or true even to love, has an eternal significance. Chastelard wins us by his dauntless passion for the beautiful Queen o' Scots his defiance of death and contempt for all else that life can offer if it does not offer the supreme passion, and by his heroism of lealty to a false love: Mary commands our reluctant allegiance by her exquisite womanhood, her beauty, her youth, her high destiny and our knowledge of her tragic fate : and that other impressive "secondary person. age," Mary Beaton, compels our sorrowful and pitying love. Everything turns upon the truth and loyalty of one woman. But Chastelard is a poet, and reckless of life and all save love, and Mary is one of those women who lie by instinct and of necessity---

I know her ways of loving, all of them:
A sweet soft way the first is ; afterward
It burns and bites like, fire ; the end of that,
Charred dust and eyelids bitten through with smoke.

So Chastelard is heroically true to love and to his lover, and Mary for all her talk of truth and honour shows herself in her attitude towards the man to whom she has given her love both a coward and traitor. So intense is her self-sophistication that she remains unable to realise her perfidy, and thus the last irony is added to the bitter tragicomedy of her love-story. Even when, smitten by an unusual remorse, she obtains a reprieve to save the life of her lover, she remembers that her "fair name" might be further hurt if he should live, and so she comes ignobly to his cell to reclaim the reprieve, trusting to his loyalty of love even when he knows the full measure of her cowardice and falsehood. But Chastelard has known her far better than she could ever know him, and has already destroyed the document that was to give him freedom and life. With one lover's kisses on her lips she turns to another, and then, and later when "true love" ended on the scaffold, and the usher cried " make way for my lord of Bothwell next the queen," "laughed graciously." It is the eternal comedy of the poet and his mistress.
Bothwell is the longest play in the language. It is impossible for the stage, and is inevitably wearisome at times even as a drama for the mind. But it is wearisome only as life is wearisome, and has the same rhythmic swaying between the low levels and the high, the like monotonies and surprises, the like littlenesses and tragical miscarriages. Only, it differs in this, that it is without either the broad humour whose exagaeration is farce or the refined humour whose smile is comedy. It is a masterpiece on a colossal scale, but has to share the fate of colossal masterpieces, and be read only by students and enthusiasts. In parts it contains some of Swinburne's finest dramatic writing. The trilogy covers, in its period of cornposition, nearly twenty years, for though Chastelard was not published till 1865, it was a text revised from an earlier version, written before Atalanta in Calydon. Bothwell appeared in 1874, and Mary Stuartin 1881. Apart from the infinite beauty and charm of these plays considered as poetry, they have a deep interest as an historical interpretation, by a student profoundly versed in the complicated chronicles which deal with the problems of Scottish and English history at the period in question: and a perhaps deeper and more abiding interest for the psychologist, in the evolution of Mary's character, of her inward and outer life.
The year after the publication of Chastelard saw the issue of Poems and Ballads. Many of the poems had been written some years earlier (Faustine, for example, was printed in the Spectator in 1862, and, as we have already seen, Laus Veneris and the Hymn to Proserpine were in that year recited to a friend) : perhaps nearly all had been written when Atalanta appeared in 1865. In that year, the small literary public which "read" hailed Swinburne as a young poet of extraordinary promise and achievement: in 1866 the same public, or the major part, and the vast public beyond which followed as it ever follows any lead skilfully given to it, heaped anger and abuse upon the head of the brilliant offender against the conventionalities so dearly treasured. Where Swinburne had been welcomed he was now solemnly banned, when not metaphorically threatened with the doom of St. Stephen. No defence that has appeared has the convincing force of Swinburne's own famous defence. At this date, it seems enough to say that while the outcry was largely foolish where and sometimes malicious there was enough basis hostility a definite ground to take up a (?) to proclaim anathema: and to add that for some pages, for some poems or parts of poems, the best thing would have been a remorseless blue pencil. But it is commonly overlooked that the defects calling for the blue pencil were defects of immature judgment in art, not of "public morality."
This is neither the time nor place for the reopening of a controversy unlikely to afford persuasion to the public of any time or conviction to the artist of any period. A gulf separates the mental world wherein a few minds think and act, and the mental world wherein the many alternate between stagnation and a blind following. No controversies, no arguments, no persuasions, can ever be but temporary bridges which the next generation will everflood and bear away.
Nor can I enter here on a critical estimate of the Poems and Ballads and the Songs Before Sunrise. So for the present it must suffice to say that by common consent no volume of lyrical poetry such as Poems and Ballads has appeared in English, nor is like to appear again : that it has a music of its own absolutely unequalled and unapproached : and that among much of a loveliness, novelty, and charm beyond belief for those who do not know the book, there are poems which only a proudly reckless youth would write and only a youthful judgment include.
With the Poems and Ballads in 1866, and the Songs Before Sunrise five years later, Algernon Charles Swinburne took the pace that no other poet had been worthy to occupy since Shelley's death.
If one were to divide Swinburne's poetical career into two main periods, the first would end in 1881, with the publication of Mary Stuart. This period would comprise (after the "prelude" of the two early and immature plays) Atalanta in Calydon and Erechtheus, Poems and Ballads, the second series of Poems and Ballads (1878), Songs Before Sunrise, Songs of Two Nations, Songs of the Sprintlides, Studies in Song, and the great trilogy (1866-1881) of Chastelard, Bothwell and Mary Stuart.
The second period would comprise the part dramatic, part narrative, wholly lyrical Tristram of Lyonesse, one of the great works of the poet; the powerful drama of Marino Faliero; Locrine, so dramatic and moving ; the modern but surely far from convincing play The Sisters; the picturesque versified Arthurian narrative, The Tale of Balen; and the recent Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards ; with, for lyrical collections, the Century of Roundels, A Midsummer Holiday, the third series of Poems and Ballads, and Astrophel, one of Mr. Swinburne's finest books.
The period, however, which ends with the close of the trilogy of Mary Stuart and with the most noble elegiac poem written since Adonais, will to many seem the great period. This much may certainly be granted, that if Mr. Swinburne had written no dramatic verse after the conclusion of the Mary trilogy and no lyrical verse after the Ave atque vale, which throws so splendid a glow over the second series of Poems and Ballads, his fame and place would be no less and no lower than they are to-day, and would, so far as contemporary judgment can foretell, stand assured against any change or chance of the literary fates.
But it is still the indiscriminating vogue with the generality of reviewers to aver that there is nothing of the old magic in Swinburne's later poetry. I think it would be difficult to name any living poet whose work reveals more of essential poetry than is to be found in these later writings. This is not to compare one period with another, or one masterpiece and one gathering of song with another masterpiece and another gathering of song. If there are some who would say " we have 'the real Swinburne in Atalanta and Poems and Ballads," there are others who would make the same affirmation of Tristram of Lyonesse and Astrophel or Studies in Song. Recently I saw it stated that we might look in vain for any later verse by this poet which had any thought behind it or had anything of the old "pantheistic fervour and spiritual absorption of Hertha." The statement was not, and is not, worth refutation, but one would like to know if the writer had read The Nympholept, that splendid and strangely ignored nature-poem which once and for all should do away with the like foolish misstatements.
Apart from the nobly ordered verse of A Nympholept, what charm of music, simple and sweet, in The Mill-Garden and A Haven, in Heartsease Country and An Old Saying; * poems which should, I think, sufficiently meet the assertions of those readers and critics who aver that in his later period Swinburne has lost his old secret and can interest still but no longer charm.

* The beautiful little song Love laid his sleepless head, though interpolated in this section, belongs to the earlier period.

Swinburne's lifelong passion for the sea, a passion that might well be called adoration, has permeated his poetry so widely and deeply that on almost every page of lyrical writing we smell the salt savour or hear the surge of the wave or the long sigh of many waters. Swinburne is the one poet of the sea : the one poet to whom throughout his life the sea has been a passion and a dream, a bride and a cornrade' the "wild brother " of humanity and the mirror of Fate, the beginning and the end, the image of life and the countenance of death. We feel to be wholly true of him that intense obsession, that pantheistic ecstasy, which lives in lines such as

I shall sleep, and move with the moving ships,
  Change as the winds change, veer in the tide
My lips will feast on the foam of thy lips,
   I shall rise with thy rising, with thee subside.

I understand that Songs of the Springtides is one of the least known of Swinburne's writings. It ought to be known intimately to every lover of his poetry. Possibly more than any other of his books it affords; in glimpses, that direct autobiographical revelation which is rare in this poet's work. The three long lyrical compositions of which the volume consists are Thalassius, On the Cliffs, and The Garden of Cymodoce. They contain some of Swinburne's loveliest lines. Than the first there is no single poem more characteristic of the author, and for this and its autobiographical significance, it would but for its length have been given here. Behind the veil of Thalassius is the poetic self of the poet, as behind the veil of Alastor is the poetic self of Shelley. All the lines from, "High things the high song taught him " are a true revelation of the author of Songs Before Sunrise and of much else that falls into line with that famous echoing the voice of freedom, the cry of revolution.
For sheer genius in the wedding of sound and sense " what contemporary poet could have written the superb Bacchanalian passage, or that other of tempest : or who else could have written the lovely episode where the young Thalassius, goes seaward, to the

Dense water-walls and clear dusk waterways
The deep divine dark dayshine of the sea---

In the beautiful poem On the Cliffs the author discloses, what every intimate reader of his work must have discerned, his passionate sympathy with Sappho. In Ave atque Vale, and in the Latin and English poems to Catullus, and in On the Cliffs he has himself revealed what lovers of his strange muse knew, that his poetic kindred are Sappho, Catullus, and Baudelaire-as again (in the frank and memorable twentysixth stanza of In the Bay) with Marlowe and Shelley : that though so different from each in achievement, whether known fragmentarily or fully, he is allied in spirit and genius to these masters of beauty. Much of the poem is bathed in a lovely light of "pale pure colour"

Too dim for green and luminous for grey,

and it reads as though dreamed and written when

Between the moondawn and the sundown here
The twilight hangs half starless. . . .

The Garden of Cymodoce is more obscure on first perusal. Through it moves an air of that ancient incommunicable sorrow which finds an echo in one of its lines,

The wail over the world of all that weep.