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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