Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909) was a talented writer, remembered best perhaps for his poetry. According to Colin Wilson’s The Misfits, he was also a sexual pervert, although of a fairly harmless variety.

Swinburne by Rossetti

“Ever since he was a child he had an obsession with being flogged. Most biographers assume that this began at Eton, which was notorious for its ‘swishings’ – one headmaster was said to be more familiar with his pupil’s behinds than their faces – but it was almost certainly an inborn tendency.


At the age of twelve, Swinburne was sent to Eton where he lived with his tutor, James Joynes, and his wife. Joynes would prepare the flogging room with burnt scent or make Swinburne put Eau de Cologne on his face before being beaten, which Swinburne found greatly increased his pleasure.

In later life he expressed nostalgia for the ‘glorious Eton beatings’ and said he would ‘give anything for a photo taken at the right moment on the flogging block – say the tenth cut or so.’

Eton flogging block found here

In 1866, with the publication of Poems and Ballads, Victorian England realised with horror that their neo-classical poet was an advocate of vice and profligacy, and a disciple of that unspeakable Frenchman, Baudelaire. Swinburne’s response to this was to become more defiant and to increase his intake of brandy. At the Arts Club in Hanover Square, he drank himself unconscious with dreary frequency, usually passing through a stage in which he talked in a loud voice about lesbianism, sodomy and sadism, or shrieked obscenities while he performed an impromptu dance like a demented puppet.


In 1867, American actress Adah Mencken knocked at his door. She had been asked by Swinburne’s friends to seduce the poet, one rumour asserting that Rossetti had paid her £10.00 to do so. She spent that night, and many subsequent nights, in Swinburne’s rooms but is said to have returned the fee to Rossetti, admitting that she could not ‘get the poet up to scratch’ or convince him that biting was no real substitute for intercourse.


Below: an extract from Swinburne’s Atlanta in Calydon (1865)

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 8:49 pm  Comments (39)  
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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Fleurs du mal for Algernon…?

    • I don’t think I’ve read any Baudelaire 😦

  2. As the old proverb goes: you can have sex with an actress, but you can’t beat a poet.

    • Your proverbs and mine may vary

      • haha…both are funny though.

  3. “…. convince him that biting was no real substitute for intercourse

    since when?

    • I’m a fan of the bite too daisyfae

  4. Thinking to ask a few friends of mine if they went to Eton now…

  5. Swinburne accused of liking a beating?Sounds like a bum rap to me!

  6. Algie was apparently painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti who I thought had a Blue Plaque Blue Plaque in the town I escaped from, Bognor Regis.

  7. Gingers are scary

  8. There’s a fascinating analysis of Swinburne in the compendium of medical analyses of writers by Dr. William Ober, titled “Bottoms Up.”

    I don’t care what he liked to be hit with as long as he could write like he did.

    • That sounds like a very interesting book. Do you own a copy?

  9. Yea, I’d hit that.

    • FJ! I am delighted to see you here again xx

  10. He should have gone into politics. He would have made an excellent Chief Whip for the Conservative Party.

    • Too funny! bwahahaha!

  11. She couldn’t get him up to scratch? But surely if he was keen on flogging and biting, scratching would have been child’s play?

  12. Was she doing the biting? When she said she couldn’t get him up to scratch, perhaps she meant it literally and had the itch..

  13. A “flogging room”? Every proper English home must have one. I do so like the line “time remembered is grief forgotten”.

    • Yes, my favourite line too

  14. the best part was the fact that after a bit of a row with the Engrish, he became more defiant and increased his intake of brandy and then bellowed about all of my favorite topics, Algie sounds like a top geezer to me, i’d have liked to hang out with him.

  15. Hmmm.

  16. Nice story, but Jaysus, what’s the story with his hair?

    • Jimmy…. wow you’re back! But I can’t see anywhere to leave comments on your new blog 😦

      • Aye hen, it’s kinda like being a priest. I can stand on a box and preach all the usual shite that I write, only this time no fecker can interupt me with a common sense reply. I always was a selfish man.

  17. Nothing wrong with a good thrashing …… never did me any harm ……..

  18. I’m glad you left out any reference to the stories about Swinburne and monkeys

    • But he made that up didn’t he? It’s just too gross.

  19. I imagine you also know of Australian composer Percy Grainger’s predilections in the realm of floggings? The Grainger Museum here in Melbourne, features, alongside all his musical history, the ‘Lust Branch Collection’: ‘comprising pornography, whips and clothing, and protective devices used by Grainger and his lovers during sexual activities.’

  20. I talk in a loud voice about lesbianism, too.

    • I bet you do darlin’

  21. Apparently Adah could not whip him into shape

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