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Friday, March 27, 2015

Lego: Swinburne by Sarah

A reader called Sarah recently told me that after seeing my 2011 blog post about Lego literary figures, she was inspired to create a favored author of her own: Algernon Swinburne.
made by reader Sarah
She recommends the opening lines of his "Hendecasyllabics":

In the month of the long decline of roses
I, beholding the summer dead before me,
Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent,
Gazing eagerly where above the sea-mark
Flame as fierce as the fervid eyes of lions
Half divided the eyelids of the sunset…

Sarah also provides some information about the books featured in the photo:


On "Poems and Ballads":

The book was originally published by Edward Moxon & Co. in July 1866, but withdrawn due to the negative reviews arising from its perceived licentiousness. There was quite the scandal about the whole affair: some of the reviews are a delight to read. In September John Hotten--who published, amongst other things, Victorian erotica--bought the remaining issues, gave each one a new title page with his name on it, and sold them. When those copies ran out, in November, Hotten reprinted his own edition.

The upper copy (you can see the title):

This is an 1866, Hotten reprint edition. The pages were printed on 8th November, and since there's a name inscribed in pencil with a date of January 1867, it must have been in one of the bindings made in November (12th, 21st, 29th) or December (1st, 19th), which means it was in the first 2,000 of this edition of 3,000.

The lower copy (you can see the publisher's name):

This is an 1866 Moxon Edition, published by Edward Moxon & Co., withdrawn from sale and bought by Hotten, who replaced the title page with one of his own.

The book has two armorial bookplates, one with the name "Henry E. Butler" and another, far more modern plate with the name "Mountgarret". This copy belonged to either the 13th or 14th Viscount Mountgarret, both of whom had the same name. However, opposite Hotten's stuck-in title page there is the signature of "Henry E. Butler". In 1866 the elder Henry was already Viscount and would not have been signing his name in that manner or, I imagine, at all in books. So, it's a safe bet that the book belonged to Henry E. Butler, 14th Viscount Mountgarret, who was 21 when it was published.

The 14th Viscount was, apparently, quite an insular fellow, but I found a section on him in "Yorkshire Leaders: Social and Political" (1908), which confirmed a suspicion that he attended Oxford. To find the dates of his time there I used a result from a cricketing website which recorded his playing for the Christ Church Cardinals in an 1866 game against Shropshire. (He was out for 18, caught by Sladen, bowled by Moore, incidentally. Christ Church won, though.) The Cardinals were (and are) a dining club at Christ Church, Oxford.

So, this copy was owned by the 14th Viscount Mountgarret, who was a student at Christ Church, Oxford when it was published. Given the edition I strongly suspect it was bought at the time. This is particularly interesting because it fits very nicely - right down to the edition - with the critic George Saintsbury's recollections of the publication, recounted in his "Corrected Impressions" (1895):

"Now we were told, first, that a volume of extraordinarily original verse was coming out; now, that it was so shocking that its publisher repented its appearance; now, that it had been reissued, and was coming out after all. The autumn must have been advanced before it did come out, for I remember that I could not obtain a copy before I went up to Oxford in October, and had to avail myself of an expedition to town to ‘eat dinners’ in order to get one. Three copies of the precious volume, with ‘Moxon’ on cover and ‘John Camden Hotten’ on title page, accompanied me back that night, together with divers maroons for the purpose of enlivening matters on the ensuing Fifth of November. The book was something of a maroon in itself as regards the fashion in which it startled people; and perhaps with youthful readers the hubbub did it no harm. We sat next afternoon, I remember, from luncheon time till the chapel bell rang, reading aloud by turns in a select company ‘Dolores’ and ‘The Triumph of Time’, ‘Laus Veneris’ and ‘Faustine’, and all the other wonders of the volume."

Saintsbury gave his extra copies to his friends Creighton (who went on to become a bishop) and Alleyne. Although he was at Merton he had friends in many colleges: his closest and oldest friend was at Christ Church. So, who knows, perhaps Henry was part of his discussion group, too.

Or maybe Henry used his volume for more romantic purposes. The only page with a dog's-ear is "Rondel" on page 148: "KISSING her hair I sat against her feet…"

Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing this.  I look forward to more news about how your project involving Swinburne works out!

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