They Asked For a Paper–Algernon Charles Swinburne Manuscript

Borrowing its title from a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, this series, They Asked For A Paper,” highlights interesting items from the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection and suggests topics for further research.

By Melinda Creech
Manuscripts Specialist, Armstrong Browning Library

Autograph Manuscript. [Algernon Charles Swinburne]. “To Barry Cornwall.” Undated.

To Barry Cornwall

Beloved of men, whose name on our lips was honey,
Whose words in our ears, & our father’s ears, were sweet, —
Like summer gone forth, form the lands his words made sunny,
To the beautiful glad bright world, where the dead souls meet; —
Child, father, bridegroom, or friend, or true rest,
No soul shall pass, of a singer than thee, more blest.

Blest for the heart’s true sakes, that were filled & brightened,
As a forest with birds, by the fruit & flowers of thy ^his^ song,
Blest for the Soul’s sweet sakes, who heard & their care was lightened,
By the sad & the lonely blest, who had leaned on his care so long;
By the living and dead lips blest, who had loved his name
And clothed with their praise, & crowned with their love of fame.

Fair & fragrant his fame as flowers that die not,
That don not for heat by day, nor for cold by night – – – – –

This manuscript was found among the pages of the Norris Album, a collection of letters, manuscripts, and autographs, many of which are addressed to Mrs. Norris. I have yet to determine Mrs. Norris’s identity. Many of the letters in the collection are written by artists and musicians.

This manuscript appears to be a sonnet written by Algernon Charles Swinburne and entitled “To Barry Cornwall.” Swinburne has several poems honoring Barry Cornwall, the pseudonym of Bryan Waller Proctor, nineteenth-century poet. Swinburne’s poem, “Lines to Barry Cornwall,” which begins “In vain men tell us time can alter,” was probably written in 1868, based on a letter which Swinburne wrote to Cornwall. In that letter Swinburne says that he has written his poem in response to a sonnet that Charles Lamb had written to Barry Cornwall. Swinburne’s poem was later published as “Age and Song (To Barry Cornwall).”

Swinburne has another poem “In Memory of Barry Cornwall (October 4, 1874),” written after Cornwall’s death. That poem is six stanzas of six lines each. The manuscript found in the Norris album, only fourteen lines, contains some of the lines of Swinburne’s “In Memory of Barry Cornwall (October 4, 1874).” There are, however, some variants within the text. Those variants are marked in red below:

In the garden of death, where the singers whose names are deathless
One with another make music unheard of men,
Where the dead sweet roses fade not of lips long breathless,
And the fair eyes shine that shall weep not or change again.
Who comes now crowned with the blossom of snow-white years?
What music is this that the world of the dead men hears?

Beloved of men, whose words on our lips were honey,
Whose name in our ears, and our fathers’ ears was sweet,
Like summer gone forth of the land his songs made sunny,
To the beautiful veiled bright world, where the glad ghosts meet,
Child, father, bridegroom and bride, and anguish and rest,
No soul shall pass of a singer than this, more blest.

Blest for the years’ sweet sakes that were filled and brightened,
As a forest with birds, with the fruit and the flower of his song;
[Blest] For the souls’ sake blest, that heard, and their cares were lightened,
For the hearts’ sake blest, that have fostered his name so long;
By the living and dead lips blest, that have loved his name,
And clothed with their praise, and crowned with their love for fame.

Ah, fair and fragrant his fame as flowers that close not,
That shrink not by day for heat, or for cold by night,– – – – –
As a thought in the heart shall increase when the heart’s self knows not,
Shall endure in our ears as a sound, in our eyes as a light;
Shall wax with the years that wane and the seasons’ chime,
As a white rose thornless that grows in the garden of time.

The same year calls, and one goes hence with another,
And men sit sad that were glad for their sweet songs’ sake;
The same year beckons, and elder with younger brother
Takes mutely the cup from his hand that we all shall take.
They pass ere the leaves be past or the snows be come;
And the birds are loud, but the lips that outsang them dumb.

Time takes them home that we loved, fair names and famous,
To the soft long sleep, to the broad sweet bosom of death;
But the flower of their souls he shall not take away to shame us,
Nor the lips lack song for ever that now lack breath.
For with us shall the music and perfume that die not dwell,
Though the dead to our dead bid welcome, and we farewell.

The embossed heading on the manuscript at the ABL reads: “Rydes Hill Lodge, Guildford.” I have not been able to connect Swinburne to that address. One reference in a letter indicates that Mrs. Norris  lived in Guildford.

Here are a few questions to consider:

Is this manuscript written in Swinburne’s hand?
Why are there so many variants in the text?
Why was the poem rewritten, or first written, as a fourteen line poem? Is it a sonnet?
Is there any other record of the poem written as a sonnet?
Can Swinburne or Mrs. Norris (perhaps Mrs. F. E. Norris) be connected to Rydes Hill Lodge, Guildford?