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Swinburne walking

Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Walking poet on Dr John Dunn. Swinburne walking

From E. Gosse, The life of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Macmillan, London, 1917, pp. 247-8

His days were divided with an almost mechanical precision. Swinburne was never an early riser, but towards the middle of every morning, no matter what the weather, he went out for a long walk, generally in the one direction up Putney Hill and over the Heath, but sometimes along the Richmond Road to the Mortlake Arms and then through Barnes Common as far as Barnes Green and the Church. For many years he was a constant visitor at the shop of the Misses Frost, at the corner of Ridgeway and High Street, going into Wimbledon ; from these ladies he regularly bought his newspapers and ordered his books, and their house was the bourne of his walk in a southerly direction. Very seldom he crossed the river northwards into London.

In storm and rain, always without an umbrella, the little erect figure, with damp red curls emerging from under a soft felt hat, might be seen walking, walking, “pelting along all the time as fast as I can go,” so that he became a portent and a legend throughout the confines of Wandsworth and Wimbledon. He always returned home a little while before the mid-day luncheon, or dinner; and at 2.30, with clock-work regularity, he “disappeared to enjoy a siesta,” which sometimes lasted until 4.30. Then he would work for a while, and Watts-Dunton reported to Mr. Wise that in the afternoon he often sat in his study on the ground floor, and “heard Swinburne in his own room overhead walking round and round the floor for ten minutes at a time, composing, and then silence would fall for five minutes while Swinburne was writing down the new stanza or sentence, and then the promenade would begin again as before.” The rest of the day was mostly spent among his books, which were not only numerous, but included many that were choice and rare.

Pictured- Algernon Charles Swinburne, the last year of his life looked more the grandfather than the debauched alcholic. Oil on canvas by Robert M.B.Paxton, 1909. (National Portrait Gallery, London)

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