Biography of Algernon Swinburne

Photo of Algernon Swinburne

Algernon Swinburne was a Victorian aesthetic poet.

When and Where was he Born?

5th April 1837, 7 Chester Street, Grosvenor Place, London, England. Christened Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Family Background:

Algernon Swinburne was the eldest of six children. His father was an Admiral and his grandfather was Sir John Edward Swinburne, 6th Baronet. Sir John had lived in France and used to dress up in pre-revolutionary clothes. He lived at Capheaton Hall in Northumberland and Swinburne would spend many summers in Northumberland riding horses. He had a famous library at Capheaton and became the President of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. His maternal grandfather who was the Third Earl of Ashburnham. He was brought up as a high church Anglican.


Eton College. Expelled from Balliol College, Oxford.

Timeline of Algernon Charles Swinburne:

1848: Swinburne goes to live with the Reverend Foster Fenwick at his home Brooke Rectory on the Isle of Wight to prepare him for moving on the Eton College. The area was not new to him as both his parents and grandparents had homes on the Isle of Wight at East Dene in Bonchurch.

1849: He meets William Wordsworth whilst on a tour of the Lake District with his family. Goes to Eton College.

1857: Whilst at Oxford Algernon Swinburne meets the Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris whilst they are working on the Arthurian Murals in the Oxford Union debating chamber. This was to become the start of a major friendship with all of them. He was influenced by Nihilism at Oxford but never lost his sense of religiosity.

1858: He is expelled from Oxford University. Benjamin Jowett, the master of Balliol College was a great admirer of his poetic talents and failed in saving him from expulsion for publicly celebrating Orsini, the Italian patriot who had recently attempted to assassinate the Emperor Napoleon III.

1860: He is allowed to return briefly to Balliol but was never given his degree.

1862: After the death of Rossetti’s wife Lizzie Siddall Swinburne went to live with Morris and Rossetti at Tudor House, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London.He was never noted for his moderation throughout his life and would rush about the room declaiming poetry. He would drink to excess and was well known for his sexual excess, masochism and deviance. He was also prone to what he called “Algernonic exaggeration”. Oscar Wilde was not entirely convinced of his homosexuality and termed him a braggart. In December Swinburne accompanied William Bell Scott of the Newcastle Literary Society and his guests which almost certainly included Rossetti, on a trip to Tynemouth. Scott recalls that Swinburne spoke out aloud the unpublished “Hymn to Proserpine” as they walked by the sea. He was just over five feet tall but capable of exclaiming loudly.

House at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea where Swinburne lived with Dante Gabriel Rossetti (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1865: Algernon Swinburne’s first poem to be published in a periodical under his own name was “Atlanta in Calydon”. He was an accomplished poetical technician and invented the Roundel form of poetry.

1866: “Poems and Ballads” caused a sensation when it was published due to their erotic nature.

1867: Meets Mazzini the Italian patriot and revolutionary who was then living in England.

1874: Publication of the famous caricature of Swinburne by “Ape” in the periodical “Vanity Fair”.

1877: Death of his father. Swinburne held a great admiration for Charlotte and Emily Bronte and writes a short book and two studies describing them as “Those great twin sisters in genius”. His championing of Emily’s “Wuthering Heights” in particular raises the novel from the obscurity it met with after publication to be one of the classics we know today.

1879: Swinburne becomes gravely ill due to overuse of alcohol. Taken from his lodgings in London by his friend and legal advisor Theodore Watts to live at his house “the Pines” 11 Putney Hill, London, for the rest of his life. Here he becomes much more sober. His growing deafness also accounted for his increasing lack of sociability in later years.

1896: Death of his mother, Lady Jane Swinburne.

When and Where did he Die?

10th April 1909, “The Pines 11 Putney Hill, London, England of pneumonia.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1860: “The Queen Mother”, “Rosamund”.
1862: “Dead Love”.
1865: “Atalanta in Calydon”, “Chastelard”.
1866: “Notes on Poems and Reviews” (a reply to his critics), “Poems and Ballads”.
1867: “A Song of Italy”.
1868: “William Blake”, “Sienna”.
1870: “Ode on the Proclamation of a French Republic”.
1871: “Songs before Sunrise”.
1872: “Under the Microscope” (a reply to Robert Buchanan’s “The Fleshly School of Poetry”).
1874: “Bothwell”.
1875: “Songs of Two Nations”,”Essays and Studies”.
1876: “Erechtheus; A Tragedy”.
1877: “Charlotte Bronte”.
1878: “Poems and Ballads”.
1880: “Songs of the Springtides”, “Studies in Song”, “A Study of Shakespeare,” “The Heptalogia, or The Seven Against Sense”.
1881: “Tristram of Lyonesse”, “Mary Stuart”.
1882: “A Century of Rounde,” “Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems”.
1884: “A Midsummer’s Holiday”.
1885: “Marino Faliero: A Tragedy”, “A Midsummer Holiday and Other Poems”.
1887: “The Question”, “Gathered Songs”.
1892: “The Sisters” (Blank verse drama in contemporary setting).
1889: “A Study of Ben Jonson”.
1894: “Studies in Prose and Poetry”.
1896: “The Tale of Balen”.
1899: “Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards, a blank-verse drama.
1904: “A Channel Passage”.
1905: “Love’s Crosscurrents” (a novel first published in 1877 under the pseudonym of Mrs. Horace Manners as “A Year’s Letters”.
1908: “The Duke of Gandia, (Unfinished blank-verse drama).
1909: “The Three Plays of Shakespeare”.


Never married as homosexual.

Site of Grave:

St. Boniface’s Church, Bonchurch, Isle-of-Wight.

Places of Interest:




Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.


The Oxford Union.