Lot 158
Sold for £1,920 (US$ 3,223) inc. premium
Lot Details
Autograph letter signed ("AC Swinburne"), to his sister Alice ("My dearest Ally"), giving news of himself and their family, and announcing that he has met Browning and renewed his acquaintance with Dante Gabriel Rossetti's menagerie, 4 pages, 8vo, minor creasing and weakness at folds, 16 Grafton Street, London, 31 March [1862]


  • SWINBURNE ON MEETING BROWNING, THE POEMS OF MRS BROWNING, AND WOMBATS: "I lately have been introduced to Browning to my great delight of course, but as yet have not seen much of him. His wife's latest poems are just out - some very fine things in them, & some weak & ugly ones. However, as coming just after her death, I suppose people will make much of them, which they deserve. I was at the Zoological gardens lately & saw various new beasts & monsters of all sorts - among others the Python with its eggs... She is a nice colour enough - black & pale varnished gold, very large & shapely. Perhaps envy might deny the latter quality, but you know I am partial to snakes. Both wombats, you will grieve to hear, have gone blind, owing either to the climate, or (some might suggest) to their not being let to borrow under ground, which they naturally would... Still they are very fat & funny, & look most amiable".

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning had died the previous years, and her posthumous Last Poems, edited by Robert, had just appeared. Swinburne was at this time extremely close to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whom he had met while he and his fellow Pre-Raphaelites were working on the Oxford Union murals. Rossetti had introduced the brotherhood to the cult of the wombat, and the whitewashed walls, prior to painting, had wombats sketched onto them; the best ones supposedly being by Burne Jones: "In the 1860s, Rossetti often took his friends to visit the wombats at the zoo, sometimes for hours on end. On one occasion Rossetti wrote to Ford Madox Brown: 'Dear Brown: Lizzie and I propose to meet Georgie and Ned [the Burne-Joneses] at 2 pm tomorrow at the Zoological Gardens-place of meeting, the Wombat's Lair.'" (Angus Trumble, 'Rossetti's Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England', a lecture given at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, 16 April 2003). That September Swinburne was to join Rossetti at Tudor House, Cheyne Walk, where he assembled his famous exotic menagerie, including a pair of wombats acquired in 1869, after Swinburne's departure.

    Letters by Swinburne of this period - dating as it does from the crucial early years of his career - very rarely appear for sale: none prior to 1865 is listed as having appeared at auction in American Books Prices Current. It is not published in either The Swinburne Letters, edited by Cecil Y. Lang (1959-62), nor the Uncollected Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne, edited by Terry L. Meyers (2004-5).
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