Virginia Lucas Poetry Scrapbook

Biography of Charles Swain


Charles Swain, also referred to as “the Manchester poet,” was an English poet and engraver, best known for his various essays and poetic works in the 19th century. Born on January 4, 1801, in Manchester, England, Swain was able to captivate audiences in both Europe and America, cementing his popularity across the literate world. His sweet love poems and entrancing compositions remain timeless in libraries, commonplace books, and scrapbooks worldwide, including the scrapbook of Virginia Lucas.

Born to an English father and French mother, Swain received an education at Reverend William Johns’s school in Manchester. Upon the death of both parents, Swain turned to his maternal uncle Charles Tavaré for both guidance and support. At the age of 15, Swain started working as a clerk for his uncle’s business, Tavaré and Horrock’s Dye-Works. While he remained in Manchester for most of his life, Swain fell in love with life outside the city, fawning over the beauty of the countryside; he fell in and out of both love and debt often, and in January 1827, he married Ann Glover. The couple went on to have six children, though only four daughters survived childhood.
Swain started regularly contributing poems to journals in 1822, expanding upon a myriad number of styles; some works had a “principal” poem with other shorter verses, while other works were dissertations covering multiple subjects. He paid homage to those close to him by dedicating works in their honor. He dedicated his
Metrical Essays on Subjects of History and Imagination (1827) to Tavaré, and Beauties of the Mind: a Poetical Sketch with Lays Historical and Romantic (1831) to friend and fellow poet Robert Southey. His greatest feat perhaps was the completion of his poem, The Mind (1832), which focused on nature’s creative capacities in relation to inanimate and animate objects. The piece comprised nearly 200 Spenserian stanzas and was often reissued with different assemblages of shorter poems.

After working fourteen years at his uncle’s business and two years as a bookseller, Swain went on to join Lockett & Co., a firm of lithographers and engravers in Manchester; he later bought and managed the engraving branch of the company. In the latter part of his life, he continued to write and experiment with different forms; during this time, he wrote pieces such as Dramatic Chapters (1847) and Art and Fashion (1863), as well as his most readable work, English Melodies (1849). He was awarded an honorary professorship at the Manchester Royal Institution in 1846 and gave lectures on modern poetry. His simple, delicate, and thoughtful pieces connected with audiences everywhere, and even Southey declared to Swain that “if ever man was born to be a poet, you are.” Charles Swain died in his home near Manchester on September 22, 1874, from an epileptic fit and is buried in the Prestwich churchyard.

Collin, Dorothy W. “Charles Swain.” Victorian Poets Before 1850, edited by William E.
Fredeman and Ira Bruce Nadel, Gale, 1984. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 32.
Literature Resource Center. Accessed 24 Feb. 2019

Sambrook, James. "Swain, Charles (1801–1874), poet and engraver." Oxford Dictionary of
National Biography.  September 23, 2004. VT University Libraries,


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