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Algernon Charles Swinburne Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: ASE
Date: May 1994

Biographical History

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was a Victorian era English poet.

Swinburne was born in London to Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne and Lady Jane Henrietta, a daughter of George, 3rd Earl of Ashburnham, but grew up on the Isle of Wight. Swinburne attended Eton college and then Balliol College, Oxford where he took several prizes for French and Italian but was "rusticated" (temporarily expelled) from the university in 1859. He is considered one of the Pre-Raphaelites, a collective term for a group of English artists, poets, critics and writers which included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Holman Hunt. Two early works, Atalanta in Calydon (1865) and Poems and Ballads, First Series (1866), established him as England's premier poet, though critics have noted with disfavor his florid style and his tendency to choose words for their fitness to rhyme scheme rather than their contribution to the meaning of a piece.

Besides his poetry, Swinburne was active as a critic, and authored several volumes of literary criticism including Note on Charlotte Brontë (1880), Study of Shakespeare (1877), and The Age of Shakespeare (1909). His criticism was less reasoned than passionate, being strongly influenced by his personal likes and dislikes.

Swinburne's personal life was often marred by controversy. He drank excessively, had nervous fits of energy, engaged in self-flagellation, and possibly had intimate relationships with men, a controversy at the time. When Swinburne received criticism for being homosexual, he countered with circulating a story that he engaged in bestiality with a monkey, a story that was almost surely fabricated (Oscar Wilde alleged that Swinburne was "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer."). By the end of the 1870s, Swinburne's overconsumption of alcohol started to negatively affect his health. In 1879 his legal advisor Theodore Watts-Dunton persuaded him to adopt a healthier lifestyle and focus on his writing. Watts-Dunton isolated Swinburne from his friends and family, and Swinburne lived the rest of his days at "The Pines," Watts-Dunton's house outside London.

Swinburne died of influenza in 1909.

[Portions of this biographical sketch adapted from "A. C. Swinburne: Biography" by Glenn Everett, Associate Professor of English, University of Tennessee at Martin.]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Spanning 1858 to 1962, the Algernon Charles Swinburne Collection consists of correspondence, drawings, financial material, photographs, and writings.

Correspondence comprises 76 outgoing letters, 10 incoming letters, and 32 letters, some referring to Swinburne, written by his contemporaries.

Writings comprises manuscripts, poems, miscellaneous writings, and writings by others.

Miscellany contains assorted material relating to Swinburne, including a drawing and photograph of Swinburne.

Cecil Y. Lang's The Swinburne Letters (1959-1962), as well as the curatorial files of John S. Mayfield housed in the Department of Special Collections, were used to establish many of the names and dates found in this inventory.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged chronologically.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Allingham, William, 1824-1889.
Alma-Tadema, Laurence, -1940.
Burne-Jones, Edward Coley, 1833-1898.
Gosse, Edmund, 1849-1928.
Hugo, Victor, 1802-1885.
Jowett, Benjamin, 1817-1893.
Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822-1898.
Locker-Lampson, Frederick, 1821-1895.
Pellegrini, Carlo.
Rossetti, William Michael, 1829-1919.
Shepherd, Richard Herne, 1842-1895.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles, 1837-1909.
Terry, Ellen, Dame, 1847-1928.
Trevelyan, Pauline, 1905-


Authors, English.
English literature -- 19th century.
English poetry -- 19th century.
Poets, English.

Genres and Forms

Manuscripts for publication.
Watercolors (paintings)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Algernon Charles Swinburne Collection
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Assembled through gifts by John S. Mayfield and Library purchases.

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