A blog about the famous Victorian poet, designer, and Socialist, William Morris.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Algernon Swinburne, Sent to the Guillotine

"A.C.S. addressing the people"
Copyright: Syracuse University Library Special Collections

Many of William Morris's friends were famous in their own right. Algernon Charles Swinburne was one of these men, becoming well-known for his poetry in the late 1860s and the '70s. Swinburne is also well-known for his eccentricities. A tiny man with an enormous head crowned by fluffy red hair, he was a sight to see. He was also restless and enthusiastic. In short, he was easy to caricature. His friend Lady Trevelyan did just that in 1861, painting a silly watercolor of him on a Republican tirade.

This sketch, “A.C.S. addressing the people”, is now in the Special Collections of Syracuse University Library, where I stumbled upon it during a mission to read some of Morris's letters. The Library has kindly agreed to let me share the watercolor, which is directly referenced in Chapter IV of William Bell Scott's Autobiographical Notes. The quote explains why the figure of Swinburne is standing in front of a guillotine:

“Louis Napoleon, or, as Swinburne called him, "the Beauharnais," was now in his glory; Victor Hugo, and others dear to all of us, were refugees. Swinburne, always possessed by some pet subject of hatred or admiration, was carried away by un-governable fury at the success of the wretched adventurer ... now settled in the Tuileries, and practised his ingenuity in inventing tirades against him, sometimes full of humour and splendour, at other times grossly absurd. Lady Trevelyan, always ready to enter into his mood, used to assist him; but learning he was going to accompany his family to France, she predicted that he would be caught by the police, and sketched the fate that awaited him. The figure of A.C.S. addressing the people was wonderfully good.”

You can contact me at clarafinley1@gmail.com if you want to see a higher resolution image. Click to see more views and thumbnails! 

Lady Trevelyan's inscription at the bottom of the page.

Lady Trevelyan's Signature from the bottom-right corner.

Closer view of Swinburne (with vibrance and saturation increased.)
The inscription on what seems to be a statue of Louis Napoleon, on the left:
"JE SUIS LE NEVEU DE MON ONCLE" (I am the nephew of my uncle)
Clarity increased on this image
The sketch in its cardboard frame, as it looks today.

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