Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Swain, Charles
SWAIN, CHARLES (1801–1874), poet, son of John Swain and his wife Caroline, daughter of Dr. Daniel Nünes de Tavarez, was born in Every Street, Manchester, on 4 Jan. 1801, and educated at the school of the Rev. William Johns [q. v.] At the age of fifteen he began work as clerk in a dye-house, of which his uncle, Charles Tavaré, an accomplished linguist, was part-proprietor. In this occupation he remained until about 1830. Some time afterwards he joined the firm of Lockett & Co., Manchester, a portion of whose business, that of engraving and lithographing, he soon purchased and carried on to the end of his life. The leisure hours of his long business career he occupied in literary pursuits. His first published poem came out in the ‘Iris,’ a Manchester magazine, in 1822. His first volume of verse appeared in 1827 and his last in 1867. In the interval he acquired a wide reputation as a graceful and elegant though not a powerful writer. Robert Southey said that ‘if ever man was born to be a poet, Swain was.’
Many of his songs were set to music and attained wide popularity, among them being ‘When the Heart is Young,’ ‘I cannot mind my Wheel, Mother,’ ‘Somebody's waiting for Somebody,’ ‘Tapping at the Window,’ and ‘I waited in the Twilight.’ He was held in great esteem in his native city, and was honorary professor of poetry at the Manchester Royal Institution, where in 1846 he lectured on modern poets. He received a civil list pension of 50l. 1 Dec. 1856. He died at his house, Prestwich Park, near Manchester, on 22 Sept. 1874, and was buried in Prestwich churchyard. A memorial is placed in the church.
He married, on 8 Jan. 1827, Anne Glover of Ardwick, who died on 7 April 1878. A daughter, Clara, who married Thomas Dickins of Weybridge, Surrey, late of Salford, has published two volumes of poems. There are oil portraits of Swain by William Bradley [q. v.] at the free library and the City Art Gallery in Manchester, and at the Salford museum.
Swain published, besides contributions to periodical literature:
- ‘Metrical Essays, on Subjects of History and Imagination,’ 1827; 2nd edit. 1828.
- ‘Beauties of the Mind, a Poetical Sketch, with Lays Historical and Romantic,’ 1831.
- ‘Dryburgh Abbey, a Poem on the Death of Sir Walter Scott,’ 1832; new edit. 1868.
- ‘The Mind and other Poems,’ 1832. Of this, his most ambitious work, a beautifully illustrated edition came out in 1841, and a 6th edit. in 1873.
- ‘Memoir of Henry Liverseege’ [q. v.], 1835; reprinted 1864. 6. ‘Cabinet of Poetry and Romance,’ 1844, 4to.
- ‘Rhymes for Childhood,’ 1846.
- ‘Dramatic Chapters, Poems and Songs,’ with portrait, 1847; 2nd edit. 1850.
- ‘English Melodies,’ 1849.
- ‘Letters of Laura D'Auverne,’ with other poems, 1853.
- ‘Art and Fashion: with other Sketches, Songs and Poems,’ 1863.
- ‘Songs and Ballads,’ 1867 (5th edit. 1877).
A collected edition of his poems was published at Boston, U.S., in 1857, and ‘Selections,’ with portrait, appeared in 1906.