London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company
A carte-de-visite portrait of the English poet and flagellant Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909).
The son of an admiral, Swinburne was born in London but spent his childhood on the Isle of Wight. He was educated in France and at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, which he left without a degree. As well as French and Italian, Swinburne mastered Greek and Latin and early on showed interest in the intricacies of poetic form.
He first attracted attention with the choruses of his Greek-style tragedy Atalanta in Calydon (1865) but he and Dante Rossetti were attacked as leaders of the ‘fleshly school of poetry,’ and the revolutionary politics of Songs before Sunrise (1871) alienated others.
Along with his friends Sir Richard Burton and Richard Monkton-Milnes, Swinburne wrote about – and indulged in – the English vice, flagellation. During the 1860s and 1870s, Swinburne wrote several poems on a flagellant theme, included in volumes of erotica entitled The Flogging Block and The Whippingham Papers, and much of his more openly published work contains eroticised images of death, vampires, and masochistic acts.
Burton and Swinburne also shared a virulent hatred of Christianity. Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads outraged pious Victorians, particularly the line ‘Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.’
Seriously addicted to alcohol by the beginning of the 1870s, Swinburne engaged the sympathies of Theodore Watts (later Watts-Dunton), who carried him off in 1879 to his home in Putney where, for the rest of his life, the enfant terrible of Victorian letters lived a passive, conventional and suburban existence. Thus rescued from an early death, under Watts-Dunton’s care Swinburne experienced an abundant creative resurgence.
Photographed by the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company.
Condition: the print presents some marks and spotting, mostly peripheral. The mount is in excellent condition, with crisp edges and sharp corners.