Algernon Charles Swinburne

 

 

Victor Hugo: L'Année Terrible

 

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A poem having in it any element of greatness is likely to arouse many questions with regard to the poetic art in general, and certain in that case to illustrate them with fresh lights of its own. This of Victor Hugo's at once suggests two points of frequent and fruitless debate between critics of the higher kind. The first, whether poetry and politics are irreconcilable or not; the second, whether art should prefer to deal with things immediate or with things remote. Upon both sides of either question it seems to me that many wise men have ere now been led from errors of theory to errors of decision. The well-known formula of art for art's sake, opposed as it has ever been to the practice of the poet who was so long credited with its authorship, has like other doctrines a true side to it and an untrue. Taken as an affirmative, it is a precious and everlasting truth. No work of art has any worth or life in it that is not done on the absolute terms of art; that is not before all things and above all things a work of positive excellence as judged by the laws of the special art to whose laws it is amenable. If the rules and conditions of that art be not observed, or if the work done be not great and perfect enough to rank among its triumphs, the poem, picture, statue, is a failure irredeemable and inexcusable by any show or any proof of high purpose and noble meaning. The rule of art is not the rule of morals; in morals the action is judged by the intention, the doer is applauded, excused, or condemned, according to the motive which induced his deed. In art, the one question is not what you mean but what you do. Therefore, as I have said elsewhere, the one primary requisite of art is artistic worth — "art for art's sake first, and then all things shall be added to her; or if not, it is a matter of quite secondary importance. But from him that has not this one indispensable quality of the artist, shall be taken away even that which he has. Whatever merit of aspiration, sentiment, sincerity, he may naturally possess, admirable and serviceable as in other lines of work it might have been and yet may be, is here unprofitable and unpraiseworthy." Thus far we are at one with the preachers of "art for art;" we prefer for example Goethe to Körner and Sappho to Tyrtæus. We would give many patriots for one artist, considering that civic virtue is more easily to be had than lyric genius, and that the hoarse monotony of verse lowered to the level of a Spartan understanding, however commendable such verse may [258] be for the doctrine delivered and the duty inculcated upon all good citizens, is of less than no value to art, while there is a value beyond price and beyond thought in the Lesbian music which spends itself upon the record of fleshly fever and amorous malady. We admit then that the worth of a poem has properly nothing to do with its moral meaning or design; that the praise of a Cæsar as sung by Virgil, of a Stuart as sung by Dryden, is preferable to the most magnanimous invective against tyranny which love of country and of liberty could wring from a Bavius or a Shadwell; but on the other hand we refuse to admit that art of the highest kind may not ally itself with moral or religious passion, with the ethics or the politics of a nation or an age. It does not detract from the poetic supremacy of Æschylus and of Dante, of Milton and of Shelley, that they should have been pleased to put their art to such use; nor does it detract from the sovereign greatness of other poets that they should have had no note of song for any such theme. In a word, the doctrine of art for art is true in the positive sense, false in the negative; sound as an affirmation, unsound as a prohibition. If it be not true that the only absolute duty of art is the duty she owes to herself, then must art be dependent on the alien conditions of subject and of aim, whereas she is dependent on herself alone, and on nothing above her or beneath; by her own law she must stand or fall, and to that alone she is responsible; by no other law can any work of art be condemned, by no other plea can it be saved. But while we refuse to any artist on any plea the license to infringe in the least article the letter of this law, to overlook or overpass it in the pursuit of any foreign purpose, we do not refuse to him the liberty of bringing within the range of it any subject that under these conditions may be so brought and included within his proper scope of work. This liberty the men who take "art for art" as their motto, using the words in an exclusive sense, would refuse to concede. They see with perfect clearness and accuracy that art can never be a "handmaid" of any "lord," as the moralist, pietist, or politician would fain have her be, and therefore they will not allow that she can properly be even so much as an ally of anything else. So on the one side we have the judges who judge of art by her capacity to serve some other good end than the production of good work; these would leave us for instance King John, but would assuredly deprive us of As You Like It; the national devotion and patriotic fire of King Henry V. would suffice in their estimation to set it far above the sceptic and inconclusive meditations of Hamlet, the pointless and aimless beauty of A Midsummer Night's Dream. On the other side we have the judges who would ostracise every artist found guilty of a moral sense, of the political faith or the religious emotion of patriots [259] and heroes; whose theory would raze the Persæ from the scroll of Æschylus, and leave us nothing of Dante but the Vita Nuova, of Milton but the Allegro and Penseroso, of Shelley but the Skylark and the Cloud. In consistency the one order of fanatics would expel from the poetic commonwealth such citizens as Coleridge and Keats, the other would disfranchise such as Burns and Byron. The simple truth is that the question at issue between them is that illustrated by the old child's parable of the gold and silver shield. Art is one, but the service of art is diverse. It is equally foolish to demand of a Goethe, a Keats, or a Coleridge, the proper and natural work of a Dante, a Milton, or a Shelley, as to invert the demand; to arraign the Divina Commedia in the name of Faust, the Sonnet on the Massacres in Piedmont in the name of the Ode on a Grecian Urn, or the Ode to Liberty in the name of Kubla Khan. I know nothing stranger in the history of criticism than the perversity even of eminent and exquisite critics in persistent condemnation of one great artist for his deficiency in the qualities of another. It is not that critics of the higher kind expect to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles; but they are too frequently surprised and indignant that they cannot find grapes on a fig-tree or figs on a vine. M. Auguste Vacquerie has remarked before me on this unreasonable expectation and consequent irritation of the critical mind, with his usual bright and swift sense of the truth, the quality which we are sure to find when a good artist has occasion to speak of his own art and the theories current with respect to it. In this matter proscription and prescription are alike unavailing; it is equally futile to bid an artist forego the natural bent of his genius or to bid him assume the natural office of another. If the spirit or genius proper to himself move him for instance to write political poetry, he will write it; if it bid him abstain from any such theme and write only on personal or ideal subjects, then also he will obey; or if ever he attempt to force his genius into unnatural service, constrain it to some alien duty, the most praiseworthy purpose imaginable will not suffice to put life or worth into the work so done. Art knows nothing of choice between the two kinds or preference of the one to the other; she asks only that the artist shall "follow his star" with the faith and the fervour of Dante, whether it lead him on a path like or unlike the way of Dante's work; the ministers of either tribe, the savours of either sacrifice, are equally excellent in her sight.

The question whether past or present afford the highest matter for high poetry and offer the noblest reward to tho noble workman has been as loudly and as long debated, but is really less debateable on any rational ground than the question of the end and aim of art. It is but lost labour that the champions on one side summon us to [260] renounce the present and all its works, and return to bathe our spirits in the purer air and living springs of the past; it is but waste of breath for the champions of the other party to bid us break the yoke and cast off the bondage of the past, leave the dead to bury their dead, and turn from the dust and rottenness of old-world themes, epic or romantic, classical or feudal, to face the age wherein we live and move and have our being, to send forth our souls and songs in search of the wonderful and doubtful future. Art knows nothing of time; for her there is but one tense, and all ages in her sight are alike present; there is nothing old in her sight, and nothing new. It is true, as the one side urges, that she fears not to face the actual aspect of the hour, to handle if it please her the immediate matters of the day; it is true, as the other side insists, that she is free to go back when she will to the very beginnings of tradition and fetch her subject from the furthest of ancient days; she cannot be vulgarised by the touch of the present or deadened by the contact of the past. In vain, for instance, do the first poetess of England and the first poet of America agree to urge upon their fellows or their followers the duty of confronting and expressing the spirit and the secret of their own time, its meaning and its need; such work is worthy of a poet, but no worthier than any other work that has in it the principle of life. And a poem of the past, if otherwise as good, has in it as much of this principle as a poem of the present. If a poem cast in the mould of classic or feudal times, of Greek drama or mediæval romance, be lifeless and worthless, it is not because the subject or the form was ancient, but because the poet was inadequate to his task, incompetent to do better than a flat and feeble imitation; had he been able to fill the old types of art with new blood and breath, the remoteness of subject and the antiquity of form would in no wise have impaired the worth and reality of his work; he would have brought close to us the far-off loveliness and renewed for us the ancient life of his models, not by mechanical and servile transcript as of a copying clerk, but by loving and reverent emulation as of an original fellow-craftsman. No form is obsolete, no subject out of date, if the right man be there to rehandle it. To the question "Can these bones live? " there is but one answer. If the spirit and breath of art be breathed upon them indeed, the voice prophesying upon them be indeed the voice of a prophet, then assuredly will the bones "come together, bone to his bone;" and the sinews and the flesh will come up upon them, and the skin cover them above, and the breath come into them, and they will live. For art is very life itself, and knows nothing of death; she is absolute truth, and takes care of fact; she sees that Achilles and Ulysses are even now more actual by far than Wellington and Talleyrand; not merely more noble and more interesting as types [261] and figures, but more positive and real; and thus it is (as Victor Hugo has himself so finely instanced it) "that Trimalchio is alive, while the late M. Romieu is dead." Vain is the warning of certain critics to beware of the present and abstain from its immediate vulgarities and realities; not less vain, however nobly meant or nobly worded, is the counter admonition to "mistrust the poet" who "trundles back his soul" some centuries to sing of chiefs and ladies "as dead as must be, for the greater part, the poems made on their heroic bones;" for if he be a poet indeed, these will at once be reclothed with instant flesh and reinspired with immediate breath, as true and as immediate, as palpable and as precious, as anything most near and real; and if the heroic bones be still fleshless and the heroic poems lifeless, the fault is not in the bones but in the poems, not in the theme but in the singer. As vain it is, not indeed to invite the muse to new spheres and fresher fields, whither also she will surely and gladly come, but to bid her "migrate from Greece and Ionia, cross out those immensely overpaid accounts, that matter of Troy, and Achilles' wrath, and Æneas', Odysseus' wanderings;" forsake her temples and castles of old for the new quarters which, doubtless, also suit her well and make her welcome; for neither epic nor romance of chivalrous quest or classic war is obsolete yet, or ever can be; there is nothing in the past extinct; no scroll is "closed for ever," no legend or vision of Hellenic or feudal faith "dissolved utterly like an exhalation:" all that ever had life in it has life in it for ever; those themes only are dead which never were other than dead. "She has left them all, and is here;" so the prophet of the new world vaunts himself in vain; she is there indeed, as he says, "by thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle undismayed — smiling and pleased, with palpable intent to stay;" but she has not needed for that to leave her old abodes; she is not a dependent creature of time or place, "servile to all the skiey influences;" she need not climb mountains or cross seas to bestow on all nations at once the light of her countenance; she is omnipresent and eternal, and forsakes neither Athens nor Jerusalem, Camelot nor Troy, Argonaut nor Crusader, to dwell as she does with equal good-will among modern appliances in London or New York. All times and all places are one to her; the stuff she deals with is eternal and eternally the same; no time or theme is inapt for her, no past or, present preferable.

 

 

 

 

Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 12, New Series, 1872, 1. September, S. 243-267.

Unser Auszug: S. 257-261.

Gezeichnet: Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).


The Fortnightly Review   online
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008882609
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006056638
URL: http://opacplus.bsb-muenchen.de/title/715786-1
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Zeitschriften-Repertorium

 

Aufgenommen in

 

Kommentierte Ausgabe

 

 

 

Werkverzeichnis

Verzeichnisse

Shepherd, Richard Herne: The Bibliography of Swinburne.
A Bibliographical List, Arranged in Chronological Order, of the Published Writings in Verse and Prose of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1857-1887).
New Edition. London: Redway 1887.
URL: https://archive.org/details/cu31924029651092

Wise, Thomas J.: A Bibliography of the Writings in Prose and Verse of Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Vol. 1. London: Clay 1919.
URL: https://archive.org/details/cu31924087913202

Wise, Thomas J.: A Bibliography of the Writings in Prose and Verse of Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Vol. 2. London: Clay 1920.
URL: https://archive.org/details/cu31924087913210

Wise, Thomas J.: A Bibliography of the Writings in Prose and Verse of Algernon Charles Swinburne.
London: Heinemann; New York: Wells 1927 (= The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Bd. 20).



Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Mr. George Meredith's "Modern Love:" –
(Letter to the Editor).
In: The Spectator.
Nr. 1771, 1862, 7. Juni, S. 998-632-633.
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000639061

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Baudelaire. Les Fleurs du mal.
In: The Spectator.
Nr. 1784, 1862, 6. September, S. 998-1000 (Ungezeichnet). [PDF]
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000639061

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Poems and Ballads.
London: Hotten 1866.
S. 65-76: Anactoria.
URL: https://archive.org/details/poemsballads0000swin
URL: https://archive.org/details/b29012685
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100629227
URL: https://books.google.de/books?id=H-hOAAAAcAAJ

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Notes on Poems and Reviews.
London: Hotten 1866.
URL: https://archive.org/details/notesonpoemsand01swingoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001024616
URL: https://books.google.fr/books?id=7K0OtUcnQlYC   [New York u. London 1866]

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Mr. Arnold's New Poems.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 2, New Series, 1867, 1. Oktober, S. 414-445.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008882609
URL: http://opacplus.bsb-muenchen.de/title/715786-1

Notes on the Royal Academy exhibition, 1868.
Part I. by Wm. Michael Rossetti.
Part II. by Algernon C. Swinburne.
London: Hotten o.J. [1868].
URL: https://archive.org/details/gri_33125011175656
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011606313

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: William Blake. A Critical Essay.
London: Hotten 1868.
URL: https://archive.org/details/williamblakecrit00swinrich
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000475323
URL: https://books.google.fr/books?id=mJ1RAAAAcAAJ

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: AVE ATQUE VALE.
In Memory of Charles Baudelaire.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 3, New Series, 1868, 1. Januar, S. 71-76.
URL: https://archive.org/details/fortnightlyrevi01morlgoog

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: The Poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 7, New Series, 1870, 1. Mai, S. 551-579.
URL: https://archive.org/details/fortnightlyrevi01bygoog
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006056638

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Under the Microscope.
London: White 1872.
URL: https://archive.org/details/undermicroscope00buchgoog   [Portland, Maine 1899].

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Victor Hugo: L'Année Terrible.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 12, New Series, 1872, 1. September, S. 243-267.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008882609
URL: http://opacplus.bsb-muenchen.de/title/715786-1

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Essays and Studies.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1875.
PURL: http://mdz-nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb11168133-5
URL: https://archive.org/details/essaysandstudie04swingoog
URL: http://reader.digitale-sammlungen.de/resolve/display/bsb11168133.html

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Songs of the Springtides.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1880.
S. 37-64: On the Cliffs.
URL: https://archive.org/details/songsspringtide00goog
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000122982

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: A Century of English Poetry.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 28, New Series, 1880, 1. Oktober, S. 422-437.
Aufgenommen
Algernon Charles Swinburne: Miscellanies.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1886, S. 25-49.
URL: https://archive.org/details/miscellanies01swingoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001112402

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Short Notes on English Poets:
Chaucer; Spenser; the Sonnets of Shakespeare; Milton.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 28, New Series, 1880, 1. Dezember, S. 708-721.
Aufgenommen
Algernon Charles Swinburne: Miscellanies.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1886, S. 1-24.
URL: https://archive.org/details/miscellanies01swingoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001112402

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Tennyson and Musset.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 136, New Series, 1881, 1. Februar, S. 129-153.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Wordsworth and Byron.
In: The Nineteenth Century.
Bd. 15, 1884: April, S. 583-609; Mai, S. 764-790.
URL: https://archive.org/details/nineteenthcentu05unkngoog

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: A Study of Victor Hugo.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1886.
URL: https://archive.org/details/astudyvictorhug01swingoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001796984

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Miscellanies.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1886.
URL: https://archive.org/details/miscellanies01swingoog
URL: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001112402

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Whitmania.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 42, New Series, 1887, 1. August, S. 170-176.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Mr. Whistler's Lecture on Art.
In: The Fortnightly Review.
Bd. 43, New Series, 1888, 1. Juni, S. 745-751. [PDF]

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Studies in Prose and Poetry.
London: Chatto u. Windus 1894.
URL: https://archive.org/details/studiesinprosea01swingoog
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001426660


Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Les Fleurs Du Mal and Other Studies.
Hrsg. von Edmund Gosse.
London: Printed for Private Circulation 1913.
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/002781737

Lang, Cecil Y. (Hrsg.): The Swinburne Letters.
6 Bde. New Haven: Yale University Press 1959/62.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: New Writings by Swinburne or Miscellanea Nova et Curiosa.
Being a Medley of Poems, Critical Essays, Hoaxes and Burlesques.
Hrsg. von Cecil Y. Lang.
Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press 1964.

Hyder, Clyde K. (Hrsg.): Swinburne Replies.
Notes on Poems and Reviews. Under the Microscope. Dedicatory Epistle.
Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. 1966.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Major Poems and Selected Prose.
Hrsg. von Jerome McGann u. Charles L. Sligh.
New Haven u. London: Yale University Press 2004.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Uncollected Letters.
Hrsg. von Terry L. Meyers.
3 Bde. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2005.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles: Selected Writings.
Hrsg. von Francis O'Gorman.
Oxford: Oxford University Press 2020.

 

 

 

Literatur

Apel, Friedmar: Konkurrenz im Traumland. Algernon Charles Swinburne bei Stefan George, Hugo von Hofmannsthal und Rudolf Borchardt. In: George-Jahrbuch 11 (2016/17), S. 13-26.

Bonnecase, Denis u.a. (Hrsg.): Tombeau pour Swinburne. Croissy-Beaubourg 2010.

Connolly, Thomas E.: Swinburne's Theory of Poetry. Albany, N.Y. 1964.

Christ, Carol T.: Victorian Poetics. In: A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Hrsg. von Richard Cronin u.a. Malden, MA 2002, S. 1-21.

Evangelista, Stefano: Swinburne's French Voice. Cosmopolitanism and Cultural Mediation in Aesthetic Criticism. In: Algernon Charles Swinburne. Unofficial Laureate. Hrsg. von Catherine Maxwell u.a. Manchester 2013, S. 15-32.

Lyons, Sara: Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater. Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation. Leeds 2015.

Marcus, Laura u.a. (Hrsg.): Late Victorian into Modern. Oxford 2016.

Martus, Steffen u.a. (Hrsg.): Lyrik im 19. Jahrhundert. Gattungspoetik als Reflexionsmedium der Kultur. Bern u.a. 2005 (= Publikationen zur Zeitschrift für Germanistik, 11).

Maxwell, Catherine u.a. (Hrsg.): Algernon Charles Swinburne. Unofficial Laureate. Manchester 2013.

Méry, Marie-Claire: L'art et la vie. Swinburne selon Hugo von Hofmannsthal et Rudolf Kassner. In: Le texte et l'idée 11 (1996), S. 65-89.

Neumann, Markus: Der deutsche Swinburne. In: Rudolf Borchardt. Hrsg. von Heinz Ludwig Arnold u.a. München 2007 (= Text + Kritik; Sonderband), S. 47-60.

Potolsky, Matthew: The Decadent Republic of Letters. Taste, Politics, and Cosmopolitan Community from Baudelaire to Beardsley. Philadelphia 2013.
S. 45-69: The politics of appreciation. Gautier and Swinburne on Baudelaire.

Raymond, Meredith B.: Swinburne's Poetics. The Hague u.a. 1971.

Rooksby, Rikky: A Century of Swinburne. In: The Whole Music of Passion. New Essays on Swinburne. Hrsg. von Rikky Rooksby u. Nicholas Shrimpton. Aldershot u.a. 1993, S. 1-21.

Scarpa, Sébastien u.a. (Hrsg.): Swinburne and France. Paris 2012.

Waithe, Marcus / White, Claire (Hrsg.): The Labour of Literature in Britain and France, 1830-1910. Authorial Work Ethics. London 2018.

Warner, Eric / Hough, Graham (Hrsg.): Strangeness and Beauty. An Anthology of Aesthetic Criticism 1840–1910. 2 Bde. Cambridge u.a. 2009.

 

 

Edition
Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer