Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909, Balliol 1856) may not be a household name today, but in the past he was infamous for his shockingly republican and sexual poetry. His work was introduced to children as a standard author in schools, and was so highly regarded by his fellow writers that he was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He remains one of Balliol’s most distinguished former students, and this exhibition uses items from the College’s printed and manuscript special collections to explore the lifelong influence on him of his time at Balliol and the friends he made here. It also marks the 150th anniversary of Atalanta in Calydon (1865), one of his earliest and most significant works. The critic John Ruskin claimed that it was ‘the grandest thing ever yet done by a youth – though he is a Demoniac youth’.
The exhibition will coincide with Oxford Open Doors, and visitors will also have the chance to explore St Cross Church, one of the oldest buildings in the city (the chancel dates from c.1080). Following a prize-winning restoration, it now houses eight centuries of Balliol’s administrative records, medieval manuscript books, early printed treasures and rich collections of C19-20 personal and family papers.