Algernon Swinburne, Anthropologist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


In 1869 Swinburne told his friend William Michael Rossetti ‘I have begun (for my “Songs of the Republic”) another mystic atheistic democratic anthropologic poem called “Hertha”’. Taking this claim and Swinburne’s membership of the Anthropological Society as its starting points, this essay explores Swinburne’s engagement with anthropology in Songs before Sunrise (1871). It argues that he champions a minority position in the Anthropological Society and the Anthropological Institute in the late 1860s and 1870s, articulated by Thomas Bendyshe and Charles Staniland Wake, which called for anthropology to become a study of common humanity rather than of racial difference or cultural hierarchy. Through poetry, Swinburne practises anthropology in a wholly new way, radically redefining its methods and approaches to achieve the new anthropology that Bendyshe and Wake promised but could not realise, and extending the claim of poetry itself to be able to contribute directly to the growth of science.


Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Literature and Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2016