British poet. Born in Chester Street, near Grosvenor Place in London, the eldest child of Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne (1797-1877) and his wife, Lady Jane Henrietta Ashburnham, Swinburne was such a sickly child that he was not expected to live for more than an hour. Although he did survive, he was always nervous and slight; but, alhough he had no interest in organised games,he excelled in climbing and swimming. His parents were High Church, and he was brought up as a "quasi-Catholic" on the Isle of Wight and on the estate of his grandfather, the Earl of Ashburnham, in Northumberland. Until he reached the age of twelve, he was never allowed to read a novel; but, in that year, he was sent to Eton, where he became a voracious reader, although he was asked to leave the school on the grounds that he had become unresponsive to discipline. He went on to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he became an atheist and a republican. However, after his landlady complained of his late hours and general irregularities, he left in November 1859 without taking a degree, and moved to London, where he became an associate of Rossetti and Burne-Jones. His drinking, which had always been heavy, increased during this period, and he developed epilepsy. In the Summer of 1863, after a fall at the studio of James McNeill Whistler, he was nursed back to health by the artist's mother. At about this time, he is said to have had an affair with Adah Isaacs Menken, who appears in his writings under the name Dolores. His first major work, "Atalanta in Corydon," appeared in 1865, and was followed the next year by "Poems and Ballads." A later volume, "Songs Before Sunrise" (1871) reflects his friendship with the Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Mazzini. In the 1870s, however, his alcoholism became far worse, as did his deafness and his tendencies towards masochism. In September 1879, his friend, the writer Theodore Watts-Dunton, rescued him from a life of increasing degradation, and invited him to share his house at "The Pines" in Putney, South London. Swinburne's last three decades were spent in comparative health and happiness. In April 1909, the entire Watts-Dunton household caught influenza. In Swinburne's case, this developed into pneumonia, from which he died on April 10th. Five days later, he was buried next to his parents.
Bio by: Iain MacFarlaine