Case XVIII

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


[Symonds contributed his own case history to the pioneering study of Sexual Inversion, which was published in Vol. I of Studies in the Psychology of Sex, by Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, 1897. This edition was quickly suppressed, and reference to Symonds' authorship removed. I have used the version which Symonds transcribed into the manuscript of his Memoirs. The cases were renumbered in Ellis's subsequent revision for Studies in the Psychology of Sex, which perhaps accounts for the frequent error of ascribing "Case 17" to Symonds.]


About the age of 8, if not before, he became subject to singular half-waking dreams. He fancied himself seated on the floor among several adult and naked sailors, whose genitals and buttocks he contemplated and handled with relish. He called himself the "dirty pig" of these men, and felt that they were in some way his masters, ordering him to do uncleanly services to their bodies. He cannot remember ever having seen a naked man at that time; and nothing in his memory explains why the men of his dreams were supposed to be sailors. . . .

Between the age of 8 and 11 he twice took the penis of a cousin into his mouth in the morning, after they had slept together; the feeling of the penis pleased him.

When sleeping with another cousin, they used to lie with hands outstretched to cover each other's penes or nates. He preferred the nates, but his cousin the penes. Neither cousin, just mentioned, was homosexual; and there was no attempt at mutual masturbation.

He was in the habit of playing with five male cousins. One of these boys was unpopular with the others, and they invented a method of punishing him for supposed offences. They sat round the room on chairs together, each with his penis exposed. The boy went round on his knees and took each penis into his mouth in turn. This was supposed to humiliate him. It did not lead to masturbation. . . .

He was mentally precocious. When he began to read books, he felt particularly attracted to certain male characters: the Adonis of Shakespeare's poems (he wished he had been Venus), Anzoleto in George Sand's Consuelo, Hermes in Homer. He was very curious to know why the Emperors kept boys as well as girls in their seraglios, and what the male gods did with the youths they loved.

While at public school, he never practised onanism with other boys, though they often tempted him, and he frequently saw the act in process. It inspired him with a disagreeable sense of indecency. Still in his 15th year, puberty commenced with nocturnal pollutions and occasional masturbation. . . .

His old dreams about the sailors disappeared. But now he enjoyed visions of beautiful young men and exquisite Greek statues. Occasionally he saw in sleep the erect organs of powerful grooms or peasants. The gross visions offended his taste and hurt him; he took a strange poetic pleasure in the ideal forms. But the seminal losses which attended both kinds, were a perpetual source of misery to him. . . .

It was in his 18th year that an event which he regards as decisive in his development occurred. He read the Phaedrus and Symposium of Plato. A new world opened, and he felt that his own nature had been revealed. Next year he formed a passionate but pure friendship with a boy of 15. Personal contact with the boy caused erections, extreme agitation, and aching pleasure: not ejaculation however. Through 4 years of intimacy he never saw him naked, or touched him pruriently. Only twice he kissed him. He says that those two kisses were the most perfect joys he ever felt.

His father became seriously anxious both about his health and reputation. He warned him of the social and legal dangers attending his temperament. . . .

He now felt that he must conquer himself by efforts of will and by persistent direction of his thoughts to heterosexual images. He sought the society of distinguished women. Once he coaxed up a romantic affection for a Bernese maiden. But this came to nothing, probably because the girl felt a want of absolute passion in his wooing.

He was now strongly advised to marry by his father and other physicians. He did so when he was exactly 24 years and 1 month old. Then he found that he was potent. But to his disappointment he also found that he only cohabited with his wife faute de mieux. He still dreamed of men, desired them, even began to desire soldiers. He begat in all 4 children, females. His wife, the member of a noble family, disliked sexual connection and hated pregnancy. This was a great misfortune for him. His wife's temperament led to long intervals of separation a toro. During those months, this physical, mental and moral discomfort was acute. At last, unable to bear it any longer, he indulged his passion with a young man of 19. This took place when he was 30 years of age. Soon afterwards he wholly abandoned matrimonial connections. He did this with the full approval of his wife, to whom the step brought relief. The reason assigned was that his pulmonary disease made slow but sure advances, rendering the further procreation of children morally wrong.

When he had once begun to indulge his inborn homosexual instincts, he rapidly recovered his health. The neurotic disturbances subsided; the phthisis which had progressed as far as profuse hemorrhage and formation of cavity was arrested. By the age of 50, that is during the next 20 years, he made himself one of the leaders of English literature.

He has not informed me what form of homosexual intercourse he practises. He is certainly not simply passive and shows no sign of effeminatio. He likes sound and vigorous young men of a lower rank from the age of 20 to 25. I gather from his conversation that the mode of pleasure is indifferent to his tastes.

He believes firmly that his homosexual appetite was inborn and developed in exactly the same way and by the same exciting causes as the heterosexual appetite in normal persons. He is persuaded that, having in boyhood frequented the society of boys and girls alike, he leaned toward the suggestions of the male because there was in him a congenital bias of sex in that direction. He has no moral sense of doing wrong, and is quite certain that he suffers or benefits in health of mind and body according as he abstains from or indulges in moderate homosexual pleasure. He feels the intolerable injustice of his social position, and considers the criminal codes of modern nations, in so far as they touch his case, to be iniquitous. As an artist and man of letters he regrets the fate which has forced him to conceal his true emotions, and thereby to lose the most genial channels of self-expression.


Return to Symonds Table of Contents


Return to Gay History and Literature