Algernon Charles Swinburne

On this date in 1837, poet Algernon Charles Swinburne was born in London into a High Church family. Swinburne, who was very pious as a boy, later used his familiarity with religion and the bible to pillory Christianity in countless poems. At Oxford, Swinburne befriended the Pre-Raphaelite set. His poem "Atalanta in Calydon" (1865), which spoke of " . . . the supreme evil, God," launched his highly successful career. This was followed by "Poems and Ballads" (1866), whose eroticism scandalized Victorian England, but added to his poetic panache. In "Hertha," Swinburne wrote that "the gods of your fashion . . are worms that are bred in the bark that falls off; they shall die and not live." Swinburne closely followed politics, and was invited to represent English poetry in France at a commemoration of Voltaire's death in 1878. Considered "excitable" as a youth and enjoying a reputation as a decadent, Swinburne was rescued from ill health apparently caused by alcoholism, by legal adviser Theodore Watts. Swinburne lived his last 30 years at Watts' home in great comfort. Freethought biographer Joseph McCabe, in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, wrote: "No poet was ever less religious, or showed more plainly how little religion is needed for great artistic inspiration. 'Glory to Man in the highest, for Man is the master of things,' is his keynote" (from "Hymn to Man"). D. 1909.

“Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath.”

—-Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Hymn to Proserpine"

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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