Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), the son of Admiral Sir John Swinburne, grew up in a conservative High Church Anglican family, and the poet, who was later an inspiration and a favorite of the Aesthetes and Decadents, had a very orthodox upper-class education, attending Eton and then Oxford. Influenced by the poetry of Shelley, the traditions of political radicalism, and the atheism that often associated with it, particularly in the working classes, the poet became, along with James Thompson, a kind of Poet Laureate of atheism. Jowett, the great translator of Plato and a famous Broad Church liberal in religion, reputedly prevented Swinburne's expulsion for atheism from Oxford with the statement that he did not want "Oxford to sin twice against poetry" (the expulsion of Shelley being the first).

Swinburne had an unusually detailed knowledge of the scriptures and the standard interpretative approaches applied to them. Like Carlyle, Ruskin, Tennyson, and Browning, Swinburne often uses language with biblical associations in part because his Victorian audience was accustomed to that language when discussing serious issues and in part because it suggested the existence of common ground where little may in fact have existed. Unlike his contemporaries, Swinburne, however, often outrageously satirizes, parodies, and directly attacks both Christian belief and the Christian establishment, which, especially in Italy, he saw as an agent of oppression.

Related Materials

Victorian Website Overview A. C. Swinburne

Last modified 25 August 2003