Poet Algernon Charles Swinburne was born April 5, 1837 in Grosvenor Place, London, but spent most of his boyhood on the Isle of Wight, where both his parents and grandparents had homes. He was educated at Eton and Oxford University but was expelled from Oxford before he graduated. Although some of his work had already appeared in periodicals, Atalanta in Calydon was the first poem to come out under his name and was received enthusiastically. "Laus Veneris" and Poems and Ballads, with their sexually charged passages, were attacked all the more violently as a result. Swinburne's meeting in 1867 with his long-time hero Mazzini, led to the more political Songs before Sunrise. In 1879, with Swinburne nearly dead from alcoholism and dissolution, his legal advisor Theodore Watts-Dunton took him in, and was successful in getting him to adopt a healthier style of life. Swinburne lived the rest of his days at Watts-Dunton's house outside London. He saw less and less of his old friends, but his growing deafness accounts for some of his decreased sociability. He died of influenza in 1909.
Jerome McGann is University Professor and John Stewart Bryan Professor of English at the University of Virginia.