Our Lady of Pain by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Swinburne's first collection, Poems and Ballads (1866), generated a storm of critical and public controversy, being attacked for licentiousness and anti-theism. His publisher withdrew the book within days of publication, and the author was forced to transfer his works to another house. The present selection of Swinburne’s verse focuses precisely on what the first reviewers of the 1866 book found most objectionable: erotic passion, in both its ‘normal’ and ‘perverse’ varieties. The anonymous review for the London Review called the poems ‘depraved and morbid in the last degree’; Robert Buchanan in the Athenaeum pronounced Swinburne ‘unclean for the sake of uncleanness’; and John Morley, in the most thorough and eloquent of the attacks (in the Saturday Review), called the poems ‘nameless shameless abominations’, Swinburne’s ‘a mind all aflame with the feverish carnality of a schoolboy over the dirtiest passages in Lemprière’, and Swinburne himself ‘the libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs’. Contemporary readers are less likely to condemn a poet for hinting at or even outrightly depicting sex, but Swinburne’s treatment of physical passion, and the varieties of passion about which he chose to write, retain the power to shock.