Swinburne (Robertson, 1897)

1.77. John Mackinnon Robertson, The Saxon and the Celt: A Study in Sociology, (London: University Press, Limited, 1897), pp. 6, 10-11. BL 8155.eee.4

Extracts from John Mackinnon Robertson, The Saxon and the Celt (1897), on Swinburne as Unionist

In the opening chapter ‘The Question of Race’, Robertson examines the depiction of the Celt by various English writers. Here is what he has to say about Swinburne:

That Irish Nationalists are “traitors,” is the beginning and end of the reasoning of many English Unionists, who find their fit poets in Mr Swinburne and Mr Kipling. . . . The spectacle of Mr Kipling’s political and ethnological propaganda leads us to a conclusion which it is often profitable to keep in mind — that a great deal of harm can be done in the world by irrational men of genius. For there is such a thing as irrational genius, as there is such a thing as witty stupidity; and both forces play a great part in most political strifes. In the case of Mr Swinburne, therefore, we may let the ascription of genius pass without qualification, leaving his verse in the mass to those who think it great poetry, only pointing out that of the several qualities which can fitly secure for the political opinions of a poet or anyone else a title to respect, Mr Swinburne’s poetry exhibits at most one — that of enthusiasm. Of wisdom or weight of character, of measure, of decent self-restraint, of gravity of reflection on disturbing themes, no English poet has ever given less sign. Furious abuse of Frenchmen in the mass, after loud laudation of Frenchmen in the mass; unworthy abuse of Walt Whitman after fervent acclamation of Walt Whitman; these are among the later illustrations Mr Swinburne has given us of his stability and his sense. If Irishmen lack strength, and self-control, and constancy, they are hardly to be convicted of it by the author of “Songs before Sunrise.”