The Life and Writings of
John Addington Symonds

Copyright © 1997 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. This edition may not be reproduced or redistributed to third parties without permission of the editor.

John Addington Symonds was in the forefront of the "bourgeois radical" men and women with socialist ideals who were destined to reform public opinion in the 1890s. He was a dynamic member of that remarkable group of men concerned with art who worked towards a revival of culture, often in conjunction with politics: John Ruskin, Walter Pater, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde. His specific contribution to the regeneration of society was as a pioneer in the field of gay rights; he was the first modern historian of (male) homosexuality, and the first advocate of gay liberation in Britain. When he read Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium in 1858, he realized that the ignoble behaviour of his fellow schoolboys at Harrow had an illustrious past, and when he read Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass in 1865 he became convinced that comradeship had the potential for a no less illustrious future. Most of his writings became part of a great magnum opus on the love of man for man, and much of what he did was devoted to the cause of homosexual liberation. He wrote the first, and still perhaps the best, history of Greek paiderastia in 1873, which he published, albeit in only ten copies, in 1883, and by the time he died in 1893, he had written an important defense of homosexual love in modern society, had instigated and contributed to the first sexological study of the subject, had discovered and publicized the suppression of the facts of Michelangelo's homosexuality (and was the first person to translate his sonnets into English), had popularized the works of numerous homosexual writers, especially Walt Whitman, and had helped to organize a network of gay writers and intellectuals who quietly worked behind the scenes to educate society and to reform the laws against homosexuality in England. In the 1960s the triumvirate of Walt Whitman, John Addington Symonds, and Edward Carpenter was a major inspiration to the intelligentsia of the Gay Liberation Movement in America and Britain, Whitman providing the fervour of comradeship, Carpenter providing the political idealism, and Symonds providing an awareness of gay history and the realization that gay culture was part of the mainstream of life. The central tenet of all three men was the celebration of the true self which became the foundation upon which gay pride developed. Symonds's enthusiastic love of men was the absorbing preoccupation of his life, to the extent that Swinburne was prompted to nickname him Soddington Symonds.

The following anthology contains a representative selection of five areas of Symonds's writings: his polemical studies of homosexuality, which comprise his most important contribution to modern ideas; his writings on the history of art, which established his reputation among his contemporaries; his poetry, which he personally valued most highly; his translations, which establish his literary reputation most firmly; and his autobiographical writings and letters which underline his fundamental beliefs and motivations.

The Life of John Addington Symonds
A Problem in Greek Ethics 1873 & 1883
A Problem in Modern Ethics 1891
Renaissance Painting 1873
Correggio 1874
Politian 1885
The Model 1887
Ideals of Love 1890
Michelangelo 1892
Whitman's Democratic Art 1893
Sappho: To a Maiden 1885
Sappho: Hymn to Aphrodite 1893
Poliziano: Song of Orpheus 1879
Bion: Lament for Adonis 1890
Benvenuto Cellini 1888
Clifton and a Lad's Love 1862
Eudiades 1868
What Might Have Been 1878
From Friend To Friend 1880
The Passing Stranger 1880
L'amour de l'impossible 1882
Stella Maris 1884
A Portrait 1884
The Sleeper c. 1878
Davos in Winter 1878
Swiss Athletic Sports 1891
Case XVIII c. 1897
Memoirs c. 1897

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