Swinburne’s Hellenism (Gosse, 1917)

1.41-43, 158. Edmund Gosse, The Life of Algernon Charles Swinburne, (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1917), pp.228-29. BL 2409.b.2

Extract from Edmund Gosse, Life of Swinburne (1917), on Swinburne’s Hellenism.

This passage is from a discussion of Swinburne’s Erechtheus of 1875, commenting on Swinburne’s Hellenism and his attachment to Athens in particular:

¶¶The theme of this drama is of the quintessence of tragedy, and the tale is rapidly conducted on a very high plane of heroic human virtue. It combines a tender and thrilling treatment of emotion with an appeal to civic patriotism in the truest spirit of antiquity. It is the most Greek of all the compositions of Swinburne, because it follows, with the greatest success, closely and yet vividly, the exact classical models. It is not merely Greek, but it is passionately Athenian, and Athens is considered, not as a theme for antiquarian curiosity, but as the living symbol of the virtue of citizenship. Swinburne was never tired of reciting, like a thrush singing Greek, and with gestures of ecstasy, the odes in praise of Athenian liberty which break up the scenes of the Persae. The state of Athens in the fifth century B.C. appeared to him to approach his ideal Republic more nearly than any other ancient or modern institution. Erechtheus may in this respect be considered in relation with the ode entitled “Athens,” written by Swinburne in 1881, although the latter is somewhat marred by the faults of verbosity and vociferation, which had during those years grown upon him. But in ode and drama alike, as well as elsewhere in Swinburne’s writings, there is full evidence of the enthusiasm with which he hailed the Athenian polity as the finest example in the world’s history of the ideal commonwealth —

The fruitful, immortal, anointed, adored
Dear city of men without master or lord,
Fair fortress and fostress of sons born free.

“I praise the gods for Athens,” Swinburne said all his life.