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A Study of Present-Day America 




From the original pen and ink drawing, by Samuel Richard,, 
in the possession of the Art Institute, Indianapolis 








Copyright 1914. by 
Mitchell Kennerley 

Press of J. J. Little & Ives Company 

East Twenty-fourth Street 

New Tork 




from their affectionate friend 


NINETEEN years have now passed since 
the death of Symonds. During that 
period no study of his life and work has ap- 
peared except the original Biography, com- 
piled from his Autobiography,, letters, and 
diaries, by his friend, Mr. Horatio F. Brown, 
the well-known author of Life on the Lagoons 
and other works dealing with Venice. Mean- 
while his reputation remains substantially un- 
altered in the fields covered by his writings, and 
he continues to hold a special and an honorable 
place in late Victorian literature. No English 
critic indeed is more universally known among 
popular students of culture, both in England 
and America. "There has, in our time," wrote 
William Sharp, in the year of Symonds' 
death, "been no mind more sensitive to beauty, 
and that not only in one or even in two, but 
in all the arts in nature to an exceptional 



degree, and in human life and human nature 
to a degree still rarer." And Frederic Har- 
rison, in an essay which remains the most sat- 
isfactory summing-up of the man, says of 
Symonds: "He has a wider and more erudite 
familiarity with the whole field of modern 
literature and art than had either Ruskin or 
Matthew Arnold. Indeed we may fairly as- 
sume that none of his contemporaries has been 
so profoundly saturated at once with classi- 
cal poetry, Italian and Elizabethan literature, 
and modern poetry, English, French, and Ger- 
man. Though Symonds had certainly not the 
literary charm of Ruskin, or Matthew Arnold, 
perhaps of one or two others among his con- 
temporaries, he had no admitted superior as 
a critic in learning or in judgment." 

But although his writings are known every- 
where and by all, the man is known very 
slightly. And the man was, as his friend 
Robert Louis Stevenson said, "a far more in- 
teresting thing than any of his books." Only 
a handful of his closest friends ever guessed 
the peculiar spiritual tragedy which accom- 
panied the development of a life in so many 


ways outwardly tragic. As it is chronicled in 
his private memoranda it presents the only 
really close parallel to the more familiar trag- 
edy of Amiel which is recorded in English 
literature. Psychologically the case of Sy- 
monds has a unique interest. 

Aside from Mr. Brown's work, the literary 
material bearing directly on Symonds is curi- 
ously meagre. The publications of his daugh- 
ter Mrs. Vaughn have proved helpful to me, 
as also the various essays, reviews, notices, or 
memorials by Frederic Harrison, Professor 
Dowden, Walter Pater, William Sharp, Mr. 
Hall Caine, Churton Collins, and Professor 
Villari. I have also made liberal use of the 
Life and Letters of Jowett, the Letters of 
Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mr. Horace 
Traubel's great work, With Walt Whitman in 
Camden. Dr. Symonds' Miscellanies con- 
tributed to form my view of Symonds' father. 
Aside from these sources, almost all the 
writings of Symonds himself are surprisingly 
autobiographical to anyone who reads them 
with some previous knowledge of the man. 

Few readers of Symonds may realize the 


obligation they are under to Mr. H. F. Brown, 
his literary executor, who has devoted years of 
entirely disinterested, patient, affectionate la- 
bor, as biographer and as editor, to the mem- 
ory and fame of his friend. I wish here to 
record my own grateful sense of this indebt- 




Page 1 

Birth of Symonds at Bristol, 5 October, 1840 -His 
grandmother Sykes Puritan ancestry His father's 
character Relation between father and son His 
mother Lonely childhood Susceptibility to trances 
Clifton Hill House Early studies in art The Greek 
spirit His suppressed character and morbid reserve * 
At Harrow School Discovers Plato. 


Page 28 

Symonds enters Balliol College Jowett's character > 
Influence of Jowett upon Symonds Spiritual condition 
of Oxford First meeting with Jowett Professor Con- 
ington ^Esthetic studies Poor health Jenny Lind 
Wins the Newdigate Prize Tours on the Continent 
His early style 111 effects of his Oxford training 
Lewes's Life of Goethe L' 'Amour de I'Impossible 
Comparison of Symonds with Amiel. 




Page 62 

State of mind on leaving college Study of Venetian 
painting Confusion of creative and critical faculties 
Attitude toward music Effects of introspection 
Elected Fellow of Magdalen Wins the Chancellor's 
Prize with an essay on the Renaissance Breakdown in 
health An idyllic episode in Switzerland With T. H. 
Green Richard Congreve and Positivism A dark in- 
terval in London Henry Sidgwick Marriage The 
question of a vocation First reading of Whitman 
Consultation with Jowett Translates Zeller Renais- 
sance Studies Woolner Speculations on Handel 
Resolution to enter criticism Attacked by tuberculosis 
Confused inner life Speculative crisis at Cannes 
Struggle between doubt and faith A final release. 


Page 84 

Settlement at Clifton Lectures at Clifton College 
Effect on his career Death of Dr. Symonds Intro- 
duction to Dante Begins The Renaissance Pater's 
review Symonds and Pater Symonds and Swinburne 
Greek Poets Symonds's attitude toward scholarship 
Style Italian Sketches Want of sociological imagi- 


nation Seeing without feeling The passion for the 
picturesque The peril of culture Revises Mallock's 
New Republic A physical crisis Effect on his charac- 
ter Goes to Davos Convalescence Many Moods 
Symonds as a poet The Life of Shelley Symonds and 


Page 121 

Davos in 1877 Symonds and Davos The Buols 
Settlement in Davos Letter on Sanitary Reform Am 
Hof The Renaissance in Italy Symonds and Gibbon 
Historical method Want of passivity Confusion of 
objective and subjective Nature of Symonds's scholar- 
ship Mark Pattison Scholarship and style Faulty 
proportions of The Renaissance A critical creed 
Friendship of Symonds and Stevenson "Opalstein" 
Animi Figura Attempts to conceal self -revelation 
The story of Symonds's inner life Wine, Women, and 
Song Its relation to his other books His theory of 


Page 156 

Isolation A modern Ovid Swiss gaiety Symonds's 
enjoyment of peasant life His knowledge of Grau- 
biinden Whitman's Calamus Symonds and Platonism 
Symonds on Whitman Friendship of Symonds and 


Whitman Whitman's atitude toward Symonds 
Shakspeare's Predecessors The theory of the milieu 
Churton Collins on Symonds's style A series of calami- 
ties Pessimism and happiness Davos life The cos- 
mic enthusiasm Henry Sidgwick's diary Loses heart 
in literature His attitude toward poverty A philan- 
thropic campaign His literary earnings A productive 
year The Life of Sidney The Life of Jonson 
Translation of Cellini Cellini and the Renaissance 
Significance of Cellini Encouraging letters from 




Page 188 

Carlo Gozzi Activities in Davos An impressive win- 
ter Autobiography Essays Speculative and Sugges- 
tive Symonds as a thinker Recklessness of Health 
Self-effectuation The Life of Michael Angela Growth 
of his critical method Later relations with Jowett 
Breakdown in health Premonitions of death The 
final journey Last illness and death of Symonds 
Burial in Rome Jowett's epitaph. 



Page 210 

Physiological basis of Symonds's work Religion his 
chief subject of thought Scepticism and stoicism - 


Position on leaving college Goethe and scientific pan- 
theism Greek and Christian ethics Three utterances 
expressing his position Symonds and evolution Possi- 
bility of a new religion Whitman Mental reservation 
from the "cosmic enthusiasm" Definitions of deity 
Dualism of Symonds's mind Sentiment of the Alps 
The sense of "greatness" Basis of Symonds's criticism 
Matthew Arnold Modernity of Symonds's basic 
principle The optimism of science His fundamental 
defects Relative position among his contemporaries. 




born at Bristol on the 5th of October, 
1840. The first eleven years of his life were 
passed in a gloomy old house, facing a city 
square, heavily respectable and associated to 
the end of his days with nightmare terrors and 
a troop of depressing relations. 

The general spirit of these relations seems 
to be summed up in his grim old grandmother 
Sykes, in whose house, gloomier even than his 
father's, he spent many a fearful night. Of 
this lady and her following we have a fine por- 
trait in the grandson's Autobiography. By 
nature distant and aristocratic, she had been 
converted to an evangelical sect and found 
herself, as a person of substance and quality, 
the acquiescent prey of a swarm of ill-con- 


ditioned gospellers. "She delighted in the 
Lamentations of Jeremiah, the minatory chap- 
ters of the prophets, and the Apocalypse. In 
a deep, sonorous voice, starting with a groan 
and rising to a quaver, she used to chant forth 
those lugubrious verses, which began or ended 
with, 'Thus saith the Lord.' I remember hear- 
ing nothing of the Gospel, or the love of 
Christ for the whole human race. . . . She 
concentrated her attention on the message to 
the chosen people, with a tacit assumption that 
all who lived outside the Plymouth fold were 
children of wrath. . . . Heavy teas, like 
those described by Dickens, were of frequent 
occurrence, after which the Chadband of the 
evening discoursed at a considerable length. 
Then followed prayers, in the course of which 
a particularly repulsive pharmaceutical chem- 
ist from Broad Mead uplifted his nasal voice 
in petition to the Almighty, which too often, 
alas, degenerated into glorifications of the 
Plymouth sect at Bristol, and objurgations on 
the perversity of other religious bodies. My 
grandmother came in for her due share of 
fulsome flattery, under the attributes of De- 


borah or Dorcas. My father was compared to 
Naaman, who refused to bathe in Jordan- 
Jordan being Bethesda, or the meeting house 
of the Plymouth Brethren." Pious old ladies 
before and since have delighted in being thus 
imposed upon, and I speak of this lady at 
length only because she throws out in strong 
relief that "dissidence of dissent and Protest- 
antism of the Protestant religion" which en- 
veloped Symonds' early childhood. One other 
point in connection with her is worthy of note, 
her passion for flowers, which no end of 
Lamentations could interfere with, and which 
appears to have been a family trait. 

The other side of the house indeed was more 
enlightened, and Symonds traces with some 
care the evolution of his father's family out of 
a like dissenting gloom in which for two 
centuries they had piously submerged them- 
selves. There was a tradition of gentle-born 
Symondses in some remote past, a Knight of 
the Garter in Edward Ill's time, and of one 
Elizabeth Symonds, heiress of Pyrton, who 
became the wife of John Hampden. But 


these vain memorials had been rudely scorned 
by the intervening generations. 

Medicine, meanwhile, had become the family 
vocation, in which two of its members came to 
something like eminence before the advent of 
Symonds' own father. These were the critic's 
great-great-uncle, Dr. John Addington of 
Bristol, a racy old-fashioned radical of the 
school of Hume; and his grandfather, Dr. 
John Symonds, pharmacopula to the Univer- 
sity of Oxford, who in his old age retired to 
Clifton and taught the boy his first Latin. 
"Remaining a Dissenter he became in mature 
life what may best be described as a Christian 
Stoic. He was a good Latin scholar, and 
wrote voluminous diaries and meditations in 
the style of Seneca. ... A severe uncom- 
promising sense of duty, a grim incapability 
of any transactions with the world, marked my 
grandfather out as the lineal and loyal de- 
scendant of his Puritan ancestors. These 
moral qualities were transmitted to my father. 
In my father they became transfigured and 
spiritualized. The advanced ground reached 
by my father was the soil in which I grew up. 


These three generations of men my grand- 
father, my father and myself correspond to 
the succession of JEschylus, Sophocles, and 
Euripides, to the transition from early pointed 
Gothic, through Decorated, to Flamboyant ar- 
chitecture. Medio tutissimus ibis. The middle 
term of such series is always superior to the 
first, and vastly superior to the third. How 
immeasurably superior my father was to me 
as a man, as a character, as a social being, as a 
mind I feel, but I cannot express." 

This very unhumorous though modest sum- 
mary is fairly suggestive, especially in the 
third term of each series, for unquestionably 
Symonds was something of a Euripides as re- 
gards all that may be called Sophoclean, and 
also without doubt there was something flam- 
boyant about him. But I am half inclined to 
suggest a third series, and to compare the suc- 
cession to that of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, 
and Saint Augustine, the mundane moralist, 
the spiritualized moralist, and the spiritualist 
who has relegated morals to the social plane 
and who illustrates the more ethereal tragedy 
of the soul. There was nothing Roman about 


Symonds, everything Christian or Greek. The 
stubborn will, the stoical persistence which he 
afterwards developed were devoted to the 
cause, not of duty but of self -effectuation, 
and, although these qualities were without 
doubt inherited from his Puritan forebears, 
their aim and motive were not properly stoical. 
I have said that his father was, relatively, a 
kind of Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps I may add 
that the attitude of the father toward the son 
was like what might have been the attitude of 
Marcus Aurelius to Christianity if he had 
seen it in any more essential aspect than as a 
political menace. He was one of those men 
who seem to be perfect except for the lack of a 
certain something not exactly love, or ten- 
derness, or sympathy, for Dr. Symonds pos- 
sessed all these but that special kind of en- 
lightenment by which one is perpetually "born 
again." Certainly Dr. Symonds never could 
have been born again. He was far too dig- 
nified, and too substantial; the place he filled 
in the world was far too definite. Virtue and 
man he measured on classic lines. "Tempera- 
ment" was the one thing that did not exist for 


him. It is therefore the mark of great no- 
bility either in father or son, or both, that the 
son entertained toward the father such an ex- 
travagant devotion. Symonds' later devotion 
to Marcus Aurelius was perhaps a reminis- 
cence of this relation. 

Dr. Symonds was in all ways a notable per- 
son; the most famous doctor of his day in the 
West of England, an infinitely hard-working, 
patient, careful, generous man; liberal in pol- 
itics at the expense of his early professional 
standing in conservative parts ; one of the first 
to embrace Darwinism, as he had been one of 
the first to admire Shelley. He had removed 
in 1831 from Oxford, his birthplace, to Bris- 
tol; and had become a great figure in the town 
and college, intimate with Francis Newman, 
Carlyle's John Sterling and all others of note 
a vastly acquisitive, laborious mind which 
very soon set itself to work, between hours, at 
ethnology and Egyptian antiquities, military 
science and the history of warfare, the topo- 
graphy of Greece, "the mathematical laws of 
musical proportion on which he believed beauty 
in all objects to be based," Italian and Greek 


art, sculpture, painting, engraving, the collect- 
ing of books and filling of portfolios beside 
the most profound studies in medicine of all 
branches, economics, public hygiene, psychol- 
ogy and general science. He wrote also, and 
rose each morning for two hours of composi- 
tion before breakfast. His Miscellanies,, pub- 
lished in the year of his death, include a num- 
ber of original and translated poems, marked, 
as his son says in the Introduction, "by cor- 
rectness of expression, distinctness of idea, 
precision of form, elevation of sentiment, har- 
mony and serenity of intellect." In the eve- 
ning he would read aloud to his children from 
well-chosen English classics, of whom, as the 
years passed, Milton came more and more to 
be his favorite. Even his holidays were a la- 
borious delight, undertaken in a spirit of al- 
most pious responsibility. In summer he 
would often take his family to the Continent, 
where by travelling at night the greatest pos- 
sible time was left free for study and sight- 
seeing. "The habit of constant labor which he 
had acquired in thirty years of hard profes- 
sional work could not be thrown off. The 


holiday itself became a source of exhaustion; 
nor was it surprising that the summers in 
which he stayed at home proved, according to 
his own confession, less fatiguing than those 
in which he took a tour." Mill's Political 
Economy, or some such book, he carried in his 
bag for study on the trains, "while the rare 
half -hours of idleness in wayside inns and 
railway stations were often devoted to the 
reading aloud of Milton or Tennyson," an 
admirably wretched habit, by the way, which 
descended to his son. Becoming interested in 
the principles of beauty, upon which he wrote 
an essay, he "set himself to observe the nature 
of sounds in harmony and discord, to interro- 
gate the monochord, to describe ellipses, to 
construct diagrams, and to calculate numbers. 
. . . The bent of his mind was classical, its 
most prominent features were firmness, solid- 
ity, and soundness. . . . His taste was sound 
and healthy. . . . He disliked the style of 
Dante because of its repulsiveness and want 
of form." For similar reasons he disliked Bal- 
zac, Victor Hugo, and Goethe. Raphael he 
admired, and Tennyson's elegance. "Form he 


greatly preferred to color. . . . Owing to 
this delicacy of taste he disliked emphatic 
writing and extravagant incidents in works of 
fiction." He took no interest in such memoirs 
as those of Cellini or Rousseau, "because the 
revelation of excessive or ill-ordered passions 
grieved him." His religious philosophy too 
was clear-cut and simple, as may be seen from 
a kind of credo taken from a private letter of 
his forty-fifth year, which is printed in his 
Miscellanies: "God is the centre of the moral 
as of the physical world. It has pleased Him 
to place our souls, like the starry spheres, in 
orbits that are governed by centripetal and 
centrifugal forces : the former draw us toward 
Him ; the latter propel us through those scenes 
of outward life where our work and our duty 
lie. Moved too centripetally, we become 
ascetic or fanatical. Carried away too cen- 
trifugally, it is well if we do not fly off at a 
tangent into chaos, or to the devil, the lord of 
that domain of lost intelligences." 

Nothing could be more interesting than to 
speculate on the relation between this father 
and the kind of son he had, so essentially dif- 


ferent yet with so many elements in common. 
Symonds, all his life, struggled to reach some 
such equilibrium as that expressed so calmly 
and assuredly in his father's creed. And all 
the passionate enthusiasms of the son lie there, 
embryonic, in the father's point of view in 
his pathetically mechanical straining toward 
poetry and art, his laborious grasp of modern 
culture, his insatiable curiosity. There exist 
those eminent qualities which by the nature of 
things the son could not attain, accuracy and 
solidity of equipment in facts, pure taste, pa- 
tience, calmness, strength. One observes 
again the profound antinomy in other points 
the father classical, the son romantic; the 
father a worshipper of form, the son a wor- 
shipper of color; the father in close touch with 
life and loving in literature precisely that 
which is remote from life, the son living in 
literature and straining to find in literature 
that which is closest to life; the father instinc- 
tively unfamiliar with art, struggling by logic, 
by hard work, by patient investigation for 
what can properly be grasped only by intui- 
tion; the son, as it were, blossoming as the re- 


suit of this toilsome preparation in the father 
and losing thereby all that calmness and 
strength the father so certainly possessed; a 
relationship so infinitely pathetic, and yet so 
easily grasped by the analogy of everyday life 
in epochs of quick social transition, between 
fathers and sons when fathers are close-allied 
to the social order and sons are children of the 

The first eleven years of Symonds' life, I 
have said, were unlovely enough. His mother 
died when he was four years old and he could 
recall nothing of her but "a pale face, a pink 
silk bonnet, and beautiful yellow hair," the 
morning of her funeral, and her grave. "My 
father never spoke to me much about her," he 
says, "and only gave me a piece of her hair." 
She must have been made of lighter, brighter 
clay than the rest, a delicate creature over- 
strained. Three of her children died, and 
Symonds without doubt inherited from her his 
neurotic temperament. There were three sis- 
ters left to populate the nursery, which was 
lively enough when the sun was up, but filled 
with terrors after dark by the tales of two dis- 


mal old nurses, one of whom would stick her 
needle into the little boy's pillow to frighten 
him into sleep, while the other, Mrs. Leaker, 
was a kind of gypsy sibyl conversant with 
spells, phantoms, and haunted castles. No 
wonder Symonds was early persuaded "that 
the devil lived near the doormat in a dark cor- 
ner of the passage . . . that he appeared to 
me there under the shape of a black shadow 
scurrying about upon the ground, with the 
faintest indication of a swiftly whirling tail." 
For a long time he believed that under his 
bed lay a coffin with a corpse in it, which was 
always on the point of rising up and throwing 
a sheet over him. He dreamed constantly of a 
disconnected finger that crept into the room 
crooking its joints. Fancies of this kind were 
stimulated by a collection of German murder 
tales, which greatly impressed him, and by a 
series of magazine articles on spectral illu- 
sions. Gastric fever had contributed to make 
him a nervous invalid from birth ; weak, puny, 
morbidly timid and suspicious. Until he was a 
grown man he believed he filled everyone with 


Apart from these things, all notable in their 
effect on his later life, two or three facts and 
incidents of his early childhood seem to me 
significant. Very early indeed traits of the 
artist appear. He mentions in his Autobiog- 
raphy the pediment of the front door in 
Berkeley Square. "I had a particular affec- 
tion for this pediment. It had style." Flow- 
ers too he loved and distinguished. He took 
long country walks with his grandfather, who 
told him the names of plants. Here one traces 
the beginning of that astonishing knowledge 
of botany of which he makes such effective use 
in his writings. At the same period he began 
to fall into a peculiar kind of trance, which he 
describes thus : 

"It consisted in a gradual but swiftly pro- 
gressive obliteration of space, time, sensation, 
and the multitudinous factors of experience 
which seem to qualify what we are pleased to 
call ourself . In proportion as these conditions 
of ordinary consciousness were subtracted, the 
sense of an underlying or essential conscious- 
ness acquired intensity. At last nothing re- 
mained but a pure, absolute, abstract self. 


The universe became without form and void of 
content. . . . The apprehension of a coming 
dissolution, the grim conviction that this state 
was the last state of conscious self, the sense 
that I had followed the last thread of being 
to the verge of the abyss, and had arrived at 
demonstration of eternal Maya or illusion, 
stirred or seemed to stir me up again. The re- 
turn to ordinary conditions of sentient exist- 
ence began by my first recovering the power of 
touch, and then by the gradual though rapid 
influx of familiar impressions and diurnal 
interests. . . . Often have I asked myself 
with anguish, on waking from that formless 
state of denuded, keenly sentient being, which 
is the unreality? the trance of fiery, vacant, 
apprehensive, sceptical self from which I issue, 
or these surrounding phenomena and habits 
which veil that inner self and build a self of 
flesh-and-blood conventionality ?" 

Is it possible that mystical experience of 
this kind prevents us from feeling that phe- 
nomena have any very serious finality? This 
mysticism in his nature may have been one of 
the elements which interfered with Symonds' 


special integrity as scholar and historian. It 
is enough to say here that the confusion of 
mundane and visionary values created in him 
a kind of natural duplicity. The distinction 
between "what we call true and what we call 
false" was learned by him artificially. One 
day he came home from school telling how he 
had been set upon by robbers ; though the rob- 
bers were entirely real to him, his father con- 
vinced him that he must not confuse day- 
dreams with literal experience. Thus he 
learned "the all-importance of veracity the 
duty and the practical utility of standing on a 
common ground of fact with average men and 
women in affairs of life." It may be recalled 
that Shelley even after his marriage was sub- 
ject to hallucinations of precisely the same 
kind, which have caused endless confusion to 
his biographers. 

In June, 1851, Dr. Symonds moved his 
family to Clifton Hill House at Clifton, on 
the heights above Bristol. Now for the first 
time Symonds was able to expand. The house 
itself was beautiful a fine Georgian mansion, 
built by an old merchant in the days of Bris- 


toFs glory: an ancient, liberal house, with great 
windows that looked over the ridge of the hill, 
over the city with its wharves and ships and 
church-towers, over the river Avon to the 
hills and distant villages. A garden was 
laid out upon the slope, half wild again after 
so many years, planted 'symmetrically with 
stately elms and copper-beeches, tulip-trees 
and cypresses overgrown with climbing roses. 
"Two ponds, quaintly enclosed with wired 
railings, interrupted at proper intervals the 
slope of soft green turf. Each had a fountain 
in its midst, the one shaped like a classic urn, 
the other a Cupid seated on a dolphin and 
blowing a conch. When the gardener made 
the water rise for us from those fountains, it 
flashed in the sunlight, tinkled on the leaves 
and cups of floating lilies, and disturbed the 
dragon-flies and gold fish from their sleepy 
ways." The spacious, airy, lofty rooms, 
flooded with light and filled with fragrance 
from the garden, seemed a world of poetry to 
the boy after his dolorous years in the city 

At Clifton he began to absorb the first im- 


pressions of Greek and Italian poetry and art 
which became the basis of his later studies; 
turning over and over the contents of well- 
assorted portfolios and teaching himself to 
draw in desultory fashion after designs of 
Flaxman and engravings from Raphael. He 
seems to have been profoundly torpid, slug- 
gish, half -awakened, still morbidly shy and 
given over to nightmares and sleep-walking. 
He describes himself as utterly wanting in will 
and application, impatient and visionary. His 
tutor was a kind of routine classicist, a dull 
conscientious man, incapable of striking fire in 
a boy. With him however Symonds began to 
read Greek and from this hour dates the 
formation of that Greek ideal of beauty which 
pursued him through life. Let me give the 
discovery in his own words: "With Mr. 
Knight I read a large part of the Iliad. 
When we came to the last books I found a 
passage which made me weep bitterly. It was 
the description of Hermes, going to meet 
Priam, disguised as a mortal . . . The 
Greek in me awoke to that simple, and yet so 
splendid vision of young manhood, 'In the 


first budding of the down on lip and chin, 
when youth is at her loveliest.' The phrase 
had all Greek sculpture in it. The overpow- 
ering magic of masculine adolescence drew 
my tears forth. I had none to spare for Priam 
prostrate at the feet of his son's murderer; 
none for Andromache bidding a last farewell 
to Hector of the waving plumes. These per- 
sonages touched my heart, and thrilled a tragic 
chord. But the disguised Hermes, in his prime 
and bloom of beauty, unlocked some deeper 
fountains of eternal longing in my soul." A 
passage in which the man and the artist stand 
plainly opposed already in their perpetual 
dualism. At the same time he discovered a 
photograph of the famous Cupid, the "Genius 
of the Vatican," over which he was wont to 
brood, somewhat to the discomfort of his fa- 
ther, who asked him "why he did not choose 
some other statue, a nymph or Hebe." This 
passion for adolescent masculine beauty, con- 
ceived in the true Greek spirit, was associated 
with trains of sympathy which first attracted 
him to Michael Angelo and to Walt Whitman, 
who was greatly perplexed by it, and led also 


to certain crass misunderstandings that have 
hardly yet disconnected themselves from 
Symonds' name. It formed one of the chief 
strains in his extremely complex nature, quali- 
fied almost all his ideas, and made him one of 
the principals of the obscure neo-Platonic 
movement of the later nineteenth century. 
And in this early incident of Hermes we see 
it illustrating in the boy a passion for ideal 
beauty deeper than any passion he possessed 
for sentiment, for human situations, for life. 
Symonds indeed recognized at once the valid- 
ity of the Greek spirit for us only as it is 
capable of what he calls "democratic" uses, 
"the divine spirit serving and loving in plain 
ways of pastoral toil." And he composed 
half -consciously, in daily walks to and from 
his tutor's house, a kind of endless unwritten 
poem on the theme of Apollo in exile, humbly 
tending the stables of Admetus. 

One can easily see that the subtle danger 
confronting Symonds was that of dilettantism. 
Very early his sensibilities had been stimulated 
far beyond any equally developed power of 
surmounting them. He was already alive to 


poetry, to painting, sculpture and music, to 
flowers, to historic states of mind, to nature 
in many aspects, to color at the expense of 
form, and to nuance more than color. Mean- 
while his character remained nebulous, flaccid, 
irresolute. This state of affairs continued un- 
til he was past thirty, thanks to the grinding 
mill of respectable education he was put 
through. "So far as my father was con- 
cerned," he says, "I grew up in an atmosphere 
of moral tension, and came to regard work as 
the imperative duty imposed on human be- 
ings." Yes, but what kind of work? Nothing 
is more entirely certain than this idea of work, 
as a blind, wholesale, mechanical imposition of 
conscience artlessly harnessed on human na- 
ture, conceived as a sort of mass-wind, to con- 
firm children of strong individuality in habits 
of essential idleness. For nothing is done to 
harmonize their work with their capacities. 
Especially was this true in the case of Sy- 
monds, a physically weak, nervous, susceptible 
boy, who worshipped assurance and force in 
others, and heroized precisely those who dealt 
most stupidly with him: a trait of real nobility 


in itself which postponed and permanently 
warped his proper self -development. As we 
shall see, he fell out of the hands of his father 
only to fall into the hands of Jowett, with like 
results. Through all these years his fancy 
ran one course, undirected, uneducated, chaotic, 
helpless, while his outward life followed the 
usual rut : and all the powers that be restrained 
him, levelled him, coerced him, appealed to all 
that was dutiful in him, to produce one more 
English gentleman. Wanting in the sense of 
a distinct personal purpose which might have 
controlled his private activities, he merely re- 
treated into a dim world of his own where he 
felt growing somehow a kind of defiant pas- 
sion to become something, to be his own man, 
illustrious in some fashion; and he describes 
himself in a phrase whose aptness we shall 
come to see, as "impenetrably reserved in the 
depth of myself, rhetorically candid on the 
surface." That rhetorical candor, forced upon 
him thus early as the only means of external- 
izing himself in a social world so essentially 
unreal to him, became at last a permanent lit- 
erary habit, which destroyed the value of his 


writings from the point of view of enduring 
art. Before Symonds was fourteen his out- 
ward life and his inward life had each defined 
itself so sharply, with such mutual antagonism, 
as to destroy forever the possibility of that 
final coalescence between purpose and result, 
between content and form, between thought 
and style, from which true literature, true art 
ensues. He was a ready writer, a clever pen- 
man, a charming personality but he remained 
impenetrably reserved. There was a profound 
Symonds which never got itself on paper : and 
it may be the shame of art or the glory of 
life that Symonds was thus unable to attain 
artistic sincerity as distinguished from per- 
sonal sincerity. For artistic sincerity does, 
without doubt, consist precisely of getting the 
real self into art, of externalizing in forms 
the profoundest intuitions of the heart. Sy- 
monds was never an artist in the proper sense. 
His life was apart: and he was an admirable 
writer. Outwardly he was that high-spirited, 
entertaining, engaging person who was to 
write so many pleasant and valuable books 
the Symonds his generation knew and which 


all but his intimate friends supposed was the 
whole Symonds. But the tragedy underneath 
is the modern story we ought to do our best to 

His father was too busy to direct his growth 
or to guess its peculiar nature, though he took 
him driving on his professional visits through 
the countryside and introduced him to the bril- 
liant circle of friends who had been attracted 
by his growing fame, his character and tal- 
ents. Symonds never ceased lamenting his 
morbid reticence at this period of opportuni- 
ties. He considered himself an Ugly Duck- 
ling. Constantly reminding himself that a 
doctor had no social position, he was persuaded 
that his father's aristocratic friends treated 
him only with flattering condescension. 

In the spring of 1854 he was sent to school 
at Harrow, after the machine tradition, to be 
made a man of. I hardly think it necessary to 
dwell on this dark lustrum so logically inter- 
vening between his father's tutelage and that 
of Jowett. "The situation," he says, "accen- 
tuated that double existence . . . which was 
becoming habitual." He took the discipline 


patiently and grew stubborner within. He 
kept repeating to himself, "Wait, wait. I will, 
I shall, I must." He dreamed of Clifton con- 
tinually. Meanwhile his studies advanced, 
after his own heart and out of class. We find 
him preparing his Greek by means of an 
Italian Bible, wandering about the hills and 
meadows in springtime; falling passively into 
ritualism without any clear religious convic- 
tions; detesting games of competition, yet 
more of an athlete and more of a regular stu- 
dent than he chooses to admit; forming one 
notable friendship with a kindly, humble cler- 
gyman, Mr. Smith, with whom he learned 
masses of English poetry ; writing poetry him- 
self, two hundred lines in two hours on one 
occasion, and forming the habit of that "fatal 
facility" which dogged him to the end of his 
days; rebelling against Butler's Analogy, 
whose conclusive logic, parroted by rule, ap- 
peared to him by no means conclusive at all; 
winning a medal for excellence in studies and 
also for two years the headship of his house, 
where he exercised his cane in at least one 
righteous cause. Yet on the whole it was all a 


dismal mistake based on a misunderstanding, 
for, as he says, his father had only sent him 
to Harrow because he had never guessed that 
he was "either emotional or passionate." 

Just before the end of his final term he first 
really discovered Plato. The experience local- 
izes itself in a certain moment, which I may de- 
scribe in his own words. In London one eve- 
ning, after the theatre, he had taken the book 
to bed with him. "It so happened that I stum- 
bled on the Phcedrus. I read on and on, till 
I reached the end. Then I began the Sym- 
posium, and the sun was shining on the shrubs 
outside the ground-floor in which I slept be- 
fore I shut the book up. . . . Here in the 
Phcedrus and the Symposium in the 'myth of 
the soul/ I discovered the revelation I had been 
waiting for, the consecration of a long-cher- 
ished idealism. It was just as though the voice 
of my own soul spoke to me through Plato. 
Harrow vanished into unreality. I had 
touched solid ground. Here was the poetry, 
the philosophy of my own enthusiasm, ex- 
pressed with all the magic of unrivalled style. 
The study of Plato proved decisive for my 


future. Coming at the moment when it did, 
it delivered me to a large extent from the tor- 
pid cynicism of my Harrow life, and con- 
trolled my thoughts for many years." 

In the autumn of the same year, 1858, he 
entered Balliol College. 


SYMONDS was a born hero-worshipper, 
and the adoration which hitherto had been 
bestowed on his father was now, for some 
years, to be bestowed equally on the Master 
of Balliol. 

Jowett's two outstanding traits were prac- 
ticality and scepticism, a scepticism always in 
the service of practicality. With an almost 
unlimited power and prestige, he stood at the 
crossways where so many young men had to 
pass on their way to maturity and, like a Soc- 
rates grown worldly-wise, reasoned away their 
vague dreams and overwhelmed them with 
feasibilities. He was a great doctor of the 
mundane, equipped with tonics and lotions for 
all the miasmas of youth. Few indeed are the 
poets, the dreamers, the artists who survived 
Jowett's treatment. "Poetry and that sort of 



nonsense," he would say: and is reported to 
have found men of poetical temperament the 
greatest of his difficulties. He was one of 
those worldly men who seem to he justified by 
their inexorable sense of duty. "The only way 
in which a man can really rise in the world," 
he said, "is by doing good in it" a sentiment 
the world will always endorse, the most popu- 
lar of all sentiments indeed, because by offer- 
ing to the spirit the sleeping-potion of useful- 
ness it permits men to be unspiritual with a 
calm conscience. To Jowett, indeed, rising in 
the world was almost the sole and conclusive 
sign of having done good in the world; and 
he was as unmercifully insistent that all his 
young men should be successful as he was 
careless whether the best of them should be, 
in the right sense, victorious. So long as there 
have to be wholesale professions which ignore 
personality, public works, public persons, men 
like Jowett have their important place. They 
serve the majority, they reinforce the best ele- 
ments in that rough amalgam we call society. 
It is only in relation to poetry, to art, to re- 


ligion, that they seem to miss the point of 

In these relations Jowett appears painfully 
external. He was just enough martyr to his 
religious beliefs to give piquant exception to 
the rule he illustrated. As regards the old 
metaphysical theology, as regards ritualism 
and dogma, he was one of the brightest libera- 
tors. But he did not fight with theology be- 
cause it was the enemy of the soul, but be- 
cause it was the enemy of society. Theology 
he rejected not because it interferes with re- 
ligion, but with the world, and he could not 
see that between religion and the world there is 
any essential opposition. He rejected theo- 
logy because it seemed to him just as fanciful 
as the vague aspirations of young men. To 
him reason was the supreme law because rea- 
son is the basis of the social contract, and he 
avoided the aesthetic and the spiritualistic be- 
cause in some degree reason could not operate 
in them. One thing he retained stubbornly, 
his belief in a definite, personal God. With 
him it was a kind of foible which did not in the 
least interfere with an all-corroding scepti- 


cism that doubted everything else and above all 
life. I think it is true that only men who in 
their heart of hearts doubt life believe so em- 
phatically, so exclusively in society and its 
usages. Only those who are without faith in 
anything else believe seriously in "the world." 
And Jowett was such a profound sceptic that 
he found a very solid basis in things temporal. 
He believed so strongly in duty, in work, in 
government, in rank, system, form, the fait ac- 
compli, because he did not believe at all in life, 
in human nature, in the soul. "There was no 
clinch in his mind," said Goldwin Smith, "he 
would have doubted and kept other people 
doubting forever. Whatever was advanced, 
his first impulse was always to deny." And he 
adds, "I cannot help thinking that Jowett 
sought in translation a mental refuge." These 
sentences will prove important when we come 
to see his influence over Symonds. They show 
us the man placed as a teacher of Greek and 
philosophy in constant touch with speculative 
matters, bringing to them no emotional re- 
sponse, no human finality, and resorting al- 
ways to a solid compromise, putting his ma- 


terials to practical employment without any 
sense of their ideal value. To Jowett Plato 
meant politics, and politics meant the Parlia- 
ment of England. With how much of a ten- 
der, hidden irony must Symonds have read 
that subtle parody of one of Jowett's sermons 
in Mr. Mallock's New Republic, a book which 
he himself was to revise in proof before its 
appearance that sermon in which Christ is 
so fatuously reconciled with a world which 
contains no real sorrow, no real sin, in which 
the eye of faith discerns "the beautiful spec- 
tacle of good actually shining through evil 
. . . the well-being of the rich through the 
misery of the poor, and, again, the honest in- 
dustry of the poor through the idleness of the 
rich": a sufficiently cheap faith which pro- 
claims glibly the difficult truth proclaimed 
with equal glibness by Pope: 

"All nature is but art unknown to thee ; 
All chance, direction which thou canst not see; 
All discord, harmony not understood ; 
All partial evil, universal good/' 

I am speaking of Jowett from a rather 
celestial point of view, yet it is the point of 


view that has to be emphasized to bring out 
his relation to a certain sort of pupil. Sy- 
monds had already heard much of work, of 
the necessity of achieving something in the 
orthodox way, of the prime necessity of util- 
izing all culture in action. The habit of hard 
work he had acquired, as also the fire in his own 
heart, made plain now that he was in no ulti- 
mate danger of shoddy dilettantism. A des- 
tiny of outward achievement was already 
marked out for him, which only his physical 
weakness could interfere with. But his per- 
sonality had had no guidance. Within he was 
vague, impressionable, chaotic, ardent. His 
inner self was all for poetry, for creation; his 
outer circumstances more and more were bend- 
ing him toward criticism, scholarship, "sub- 
stantiality," toward everything that universi- 
ties know how to deal with. This general ten- 
dency Jowett confirmed. 

Not alone Jowett, of course, but Oxford al- 
together. Other Oxford poets, Clough espe- 
cially, had broken their hearts with doubt and 
patched them up again with work. The real 
malady of Oxford was want of faith in life. 


Wanting that, theology had provided them 
with something to believe in, and when at Ox- 
ford theology fell an appalling vacuum re- 
mained. Only by some such explanation can 
we grasp the significance of that "cosmic en- 
thusiasm" which took such hold on the succeed- 
ing generation and made Walt Whitman the 
prophet of a new religion. Wherever life is at 
low ebb system flourishes. Therefore I find 
significance in the remark of Goldwin Smith in 
his Memoirs, that he could never get much 
from Emerson's writings because he could 
"find no system" in them. Goldwin Smith 
and his fellow-Oxonians of that day would 
have been puzzled by Nietzsche's aphorism that 
"the will to system is a lack of rectitude." 
Such minds are bound to believe that the lack 
of system in Emerson, or indeed in the Gospel, 
is only a weakness. That it is the essential con- 
dition of all illuminated thought, from the 
Analects of Confucius to Sartor Resartus, 
they could not have divined at all. The will to 
system built the Roman Empire, but that 
is all one can say of it except that it built the 
British Empire too. And Symonds, who 


should have been in another world, was living 
among the kind of men who build empires. 

His first meeting with Jowett, though it an- 
ticipated by a year the close and lifelong inti- 
macy of master and pupil, is worth repeating 
in his own words. In the autumn of 1858, 
upon first enrolling at Balliol, Symonds bore a 
letter to the great man from his father, who 
had lately met him in Oxford. "I found him 
dozing in an armchair over a dying fire. His 
rooms were then in Fisher Buildings, looking 
out upon the Broad. It was a panelled room, 
with old-fashioned wooden mantel-piece. He 
roused himself, looked at the letter, looked at 
me, and said, half dreamily, 'I do not think I 
know your father.' Then, after an awkward 
pause, he rose, and added, 'Good-bye, Mr. 
Symonds.' ' An inauspicious opening, cer- 
tainly; but it appears that Jowett had a way 
of dreaming over the fire and was by habit 
short in manner and a silent man. To be in- 
vited to his breakfast parties was the most cov- 
eted honor in Oxford; yet nothing was said, 
Jowett "stared vacantly," everyone was awk- 
ward and unhappy "the toast was heard 


crunching under desperate jaws of youths ex- 
asperated by their helplessness and silence." 

Before he came into close contact with Jow- 
ett, Symonds fell in with many of the older 
Oxford men then or subsequently famous: 
Goldwin Smith, Dean Stanley, Mark Patti- 
son, his future brother-in-law T. H. Green, 
and Professor Conington. With the last of 
these he became almost immediately intimate. 

Conington seems to have been a kind of in- 
tellectual bully, a hard man, who tasked Sy- 
monds unmercifully on the score of scholar- 
ship without having the least opinion of his 
powers. Here as elsewhere it was a case of 
incompatible temperaments, and as elsewhere 
Symonds exhibited his unhappy faculty for 
stumbling into the wrong hands. Conington 
knew and cared for nothing but literature, 
and in the strictly academic sense. Art, music, 
nature, philosophy, life he passed by. Beside 
the standard of human capacity set up in his 
mind, Symonds appeared a very wavering, in- 
effectual creature indeed, continually needing 
to be reminded of his inaccuracy, languor, and 
general vagueness. He criticised his pupil for 


wanting force and distinction in style and for 
"shady fluency," and he was openly vexed 
when that pupil won the Newdigate Prize. 
Yet he never suggested any practicable way 
in which his faults could be overcome. While 
Symonds, already formulating the cosmic 
principle "Though He slay me, yet will I 
cleave to Him," in his turn no sooner learned 
that his old master was dead than he set about 
admirably editing his Miscellanies. That Con- 
ington's influence, however limited, was most 
helpful to him and helpful because of its 
limitation, because it more or less clubbed him 
into form is proved by his later statement 
that, while Jowett taught him to write, Coning- 
ton taught him to see that "literature is some- 
thing by itself, not part of an iridescent neb- 
ula, including all our cult for loveliness." 
Without doubt he was dealing, however stu- 
pidly, with a difficult case. "The association 
with Conington was almost wholly good," 
wrote Symonds in his Autobiography. 

It was an atmosphere of criticism, and in a 
more and more critical spirit Symonds threw 
himself into aesthetic studies : Greek poets, Ro- 


man history, music, Plato, St. Augustine, 
Goethe. Stirred to religious speculation by the 
reactionary sermons of Bishop Wilberforce, 
he fought bitterly against the sceptical ten- 
dency of his own mind. It seemed, he said, 
to "check the unity of thought and will, and 
certainly to impair the sesthetical enthusiasm." 
This latter proved curiously the case with him, 
and he discovered that his enjoyment of music 
became less spontaneous. "I analyze and try to 
enjoy more; I have fewer ideas and less delight 
in hearing." This he attributed to a weakened 
faith in the supernatural. It was really caused 
by the weakening of his emotional power 
through his excessive mental activity. It is 
worth noting incidentally that as his religious 
speculation became acute he turned his back 
on the aesthetics of religion which had drawn 
him passively into ritualism. Perpetual read- 
ing, writing, discussing, analyzing, criticising, 
comparing notes all this he had in feverish 
abundance. He was constantly over-exerting 
himself, writing an essay a day, on subjects 
ranging from Swiss history already one of 
his fields of interest to the Criminal Respon- 


sibility of Lunatics; as well as countless poems. 
His diary meanwhile contains recurring notes 
like this : "slept very ill a night of overtaxed 
brain, and constant weary dreams. I must be- 
gin some strychnine, I feel so low," or "return 
of old cramped head feeling," or "curious talk 
of my want of sympathy, ambition, mad sui- 
cidal fancies." Body and brain racked and 
rushed, brought up against those hard, clear, 
successful intellects, he was running riot 
within. A profound nostalgia, deeper than 
homesickness what he called Seelensehnsucht 
possessed him. "The common defect of all 
aesthetics," he writes, "is that they raise a 
yearning which cannot be satisfied by them- 
selves except in creation." He fluttered about 
the arts, drawn almost equally to all. For a 
time music overshadowed the rest in his en- 
thusiasm, and he believed that with proper 
training he might ultimately find himself in 
musical expression. This tendency must have 
been stimulated by a visit to Clifton in 1862, 
where he found Jenny Lind spending some 
days in his father's house. In his diary he 
reported his conversations with her: "She com- 


ments on the charm of having a definite line 
in life, an art to live for," and says much of 
the kind of poetry which is suitable for sing- 
ing. "For singing we must have one feeling, 
one harmony, not a series of broken lights." 
So calm, intuitive, self-possessed artist, not 
aesthetician the image of all that Symonds 
had not yet found and would never quite find 
on his own horizon! One feels already that 
this universal aesthetic ferment of his must 
ultimately simmer down to criticism, that it is 
too much a "series of broken lights" to lead 
him into limited creation. 

Of the suggestive events of his undergrad- 
uate life only a few can be selected here. Ex- 
amined in the spring of 1859, he failed to con- 
jugate correctly, tense by tense, the verbs 
cifAi and /<**, a notable fact in one who was 
to write what Frederic Harrison called the 
classical and authoritative account of Greek 
literature. It gives color to the statement 
made by him and by his critics that he was by 
nature inaccurate in rudiments. But it gives 
more color to the charge against examinations 
as a real test of knowledge in sensitive minds 


which are easily confused, for as he said he 
would have had no readier command of the 
multiplication table. In the summer of that 
year he joined a reading party to the east 
coast, an experience repeated several times 
later in the Lakes and North Wales just 
such reading parties, "bathing and reading 
and roaming", as Clough describes in the 
Bothie : Green sympathetically helping him in 
Plato, Conington spurring, piquing, prodding 
him in composition and language. And in 
the summer of 1860 he won the Newdigate 
Prize with his poem The Escorted, which he 
recited on June 20 in the Theatre. Coning- 
ton, as I have said, was vexed by this occur- 
rence, having been twice unsuccessful in the 
same competition. Matthew Arnold, the Pro- 
fessor of Poetry, chastened him with sound 
words which were to apply with considerable 
accuracy to all of Symonds' verse: that he 
had won "not because of his stylistic qualities, 
but because he had intellectually grasped the 
subject, and used its motives better and more 
rationally than his competitors." 

Short tours to the Continent were frequent 


throughout this period: in the autumn of 1860 
through Belgium and again through Germany 
to Vienna, in the spring of 1861 to Paris and 
Amiens, and in the following June with his 
father to Switzerland and Italy, his first 
visit to the home and studio of his later life. 
Every detail of these tours is noted in his 
diary, wild flowers, pictures, minute points in 
architecture. In Switzerland he found him- 
self an agile climber and formed that com- 
radely sympathy with Swiss peasants which 
proved the great motive of his after years. 
On the Mer de Glace his father took from his 
pocket a volume of the Princess and read 
"Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain 
height" the good, busy father, always finding 
in Tennyson something to read aloud in ap- 
propriate places. The bent of his own mind 
is illustrated by his remarks on an English- 
man in the train to Como, whose "cunning cold 
gray eyes, sharp pale face, fresh light hair 
and thin lips" made evident that he had studied 
physical science exclusively. To Symonds, 
who had already begun to form for Switzer- 
land that passion which led him to say subse- 


quently, and with literal truth, "the Alps are 
my religion", he seems to have appeared as 
Tyndall appears in the famous remark, "At 
sunrise we came among the Alps; they were 
of sandstone, stratified very regularly." In 
Ruskin alone, I think, do we find the two 
points of view the religious and the geolog- 
ical united in any eminent degree. 

I have a mind in this place to quote from his 
diary the description of a mountain storm wit- 
nessed on his return to England. It illustrates 
his feeling for natural scenery, his earliest sen- 
timent for the Alps, and the degree to which, 
at this period, all his lines of thought con- 
verged in music. It illustrates too his early 
style and his gift for highly colored prose : 

''Friday, August 2 (1861). Conington and 
I walked through Redland to the Sea Walls 
and home by the observatory. There we 
watched a great thunder cloud, which for 
majesty of shape, size and color surpassed the 
Alps. Its change and progress was like a sym- 
phony. Far away, from west to north it 
stretched; above the channel the summits 
were of the pearliest white; domes and peaks, 


on which the sunlight rested; its middle was of 
light ethereal blue, like the base of Monte 
Rosa, but its feet were indigo, and a tawny 
fringe of angry red was driven, mixed with 
wind and tempest, all along the van. First 
it towered in simple beauty, transfigured with 
the sunlight that sat upon it, pouring bands 
of glory down its chasms, and shooting in 
broad columns on the trees and rocks and 
downs ever changing with the changing wind 
and scudding fleecy sands, fleeces that ran be- 
fore the armaments of thunder. Soon this 
aspect altered; more and more of the blue sky 
was hidden as the masses rose the cerulean 
blue was changed to deepest purple, and the 
indigo to sullen black. The wind swept furi- 
ously, the cloud came onward in a crescent, 
the sun was darkened, and scarcely flamed 
upon the topmost edges, and in a breath the 
gust of wind and rain were dashed upon us. 
For a moment all was dark and the landscape 
blurred, the vivid greens and delicately pen- 
cilled outlines of the hills were gone, the wind 
howled restlessly. But this again changed. 
The cloud had broken with its own fury. Like 


a squadron that rides upon the f oeman's guns 
and sweeps them off, and then returns scat- 
tered and decimated to its camp, so this pon- 
derous mass of thunder-cloud was tattered, 
rent, and dissipated by the fury of its onset 
its domes were ragged, and beneath its feet 
shone streaks of lurid sky, on which the 
jagged tops of the firs and beeches trembled. 
Now came the last movement of the symphony 
all the landscape was grey, but clear, and 
full of watery sunlight. An exhaustion like 
that of a child fallen asleep from crying 
seemed to hold the winds and woods and dis- 
tant plain. All was calm, but the broken 
clouds went sailing on overhead, dizzy with 
their own confusion, and, as it were, a ground 
swell of its passion still rocked the upper air. 
We turned and went homeward. In this sym- 
phony, or sonata, call it which you like, there 
were three distinct movements an Adagio, an 
Allegro, a Presto, and a Minuet. It should 
have been written in D flat, and no passage 
should have been free from agitation. But 
the first part should have most beauty. It 
should contain the germinal idea of the whole 


in a tremulous thought constantly recurring, 
and superinduced upon an air of calm ma- 
jestic sublimity, which should be the basis of 
the movement. This agitation should gradu- 
ally usurp the place of the calm air in the 
second movement. In the third it should reign 
supreme all mere beauty should be lost in the 
tempestuous passion. In the last the calm air 
of the first movement should return, but shorn 
of any superfluous ornament, sad and melan- 
choly, and often troubled by faint echoes of 
the central spasm." 

Meditations like this, more successful in les- 
ser fragments, make one feel that in time 
Symonds might have produced one lasting 
book, a purely personal book. Had it not been 
for circumstances which tossed him back and 
forth between his inner self and the outer 
world dragging from him works which are 
neither quite true to fact not yet quite true 
to the poet's consciousness, he might have left 
such a permanent book as the Opium Confes- 
sions or Amiel's Journal. This kind of pro- 
duction however meant nothing to Jowett and 


Conington, and Symonds took their word 
for it. 

At Oxford his intellect had been rushed far 
ahead of anything the total man could sup- 
port. It was ten years before the rest of him 
could grow up to his precocious ability, before 
there was any coalescence between brain and 
nerves. It may be doubted whether he ever 
shook off, even in his last, most human, active 
period in Switzerland, the burden of satiety 
that results from such excesses of aesthetic 
stimulation. His emotional nature was baf- 
fled. He was in a state of anarchy. Work, 
duty, cerebration had not been properly related 
to his insistent need of self-expression. "I 
could mention men," he says, "who might have 
been musicians or painters, but who wasted 
their time at Oxford in aimless strumming on 
the piano, or silly sketching, because there was 
no career of industry provided for them. They 
served the curriculum badly. Their natural 
talents found no strengthening exercise. 
. . . With this latter sort I can class my- 
self. I went philandering around music, her- 
aldry, the fine arts, and literary studies ruled 


by sentiment. I wrote weak poetry. I 
dreamed in ante-chapels. I mooned in canoes 
along the banks of the Cherwell, or among 
yellow water-lilies at Godstow. . . . But 
in all these things I got no grasp on any 
serious business." 

The practicality and the scepticism of Jow- 
ett were, in short, precisely those qualities to 
which Symonds ought not to have been sub- 
jected. Impracticality, properly guided, and 
faith, in himself and in life, he needed. It 
was impossible to make a good routine man 
of him, but it was highly possible to turn him 
out a wretched member of that modern 
race which has been shipwrecked on the arts. 
^Esthetic stimulation had made some sort of 
expression an actual physiological need, while 
his training had not provided him with 
strength, faculty, or direction. In his diary 
he notes the "brooding self -analysis without 
creation" that afflicts him. And in another 
passage (September 29, 1861) a propos of 
Lewes's Life of Goethe, he pictures the exact 
condition of his mind. 

* 'Reading this life teaches me how much of 


a poet's soul a man may have without being 
a poet, what high yearnings may plague him 
without his ever satisfying them, what a vast 
appreciation and desire may exist where there 
is no expression or formative will. And in all 
these cases the force is wanting, power is ab- 
sent, spontaneity is torpid. Susceptibility to 
beauty, capabilities of acute pain and pleas- 
ure, strong sesthetical emotions, these do not 
constitute a poet, though a poet must have 
them. . . . Power, all-pervading power, 
pushing the soul into activity beyond recep- 
tive susceptibility, covering all deficiency by 
concentrating itself on the passion of the 
moment this makes the difference between 
the man of genius and the dilettante driv- 

An age that is, or has been, interested in 
such characters as that of Amiel should note 
well how they are produced, for Symonds is 
the closest of all English equivalents of Amiel. 
Intellectual and emotional sophistication, 
poetry bottled up and fermenting in minds 
that lack vitality this produces that amour 
de ^impossible 7^ith all its chimeras and in- 


visible hippogriffs, just as, according to Vic- 
tor Hugo, the Apocalypse sprang from a pent- 
up virginity. The difference between Amiel 
and Symonds is mainly a difference of will. 
Incapable of that prolonged and chronic ten- 
sion which brought the malady of Amiel to 
such exquisite heights and has made it immor- 
tal, Symonds was capable of compromise with 
the ideal. In the very passage from which I 
have just quoted he goes on to say: "A man 
may have the susceptibilities of genius with- 
out any of its creative power; but if he has 
an atom of talent he cannot be without prac- 
tical energy." This indicates his readiness to 
accept a makeshift. It is true that Symonds, 
to the end of his days, pursued the Absolute 
with a hopeless passion. That alone is a mark 
of ill-health; for men who find themselves live 
gladly in the relative, and the greatest philos- 
ophers content themselves with a working-plan. 
Symonds himself in later years discovered a 
working-plan, which enabled him to live with 
assurance and to produce an immense quan- 
tity of adequate work. But his life as man of 


letters was, I think, really incidental. It was 
the expression of his natural energy, the satis- 
faction of his impulse for style, the unburden- 
ing of his tangible knowledge. His real self 
was always hidden, essentially unexpressed. 


WHEN Symonds took his degree on 
June 22, 1862, he was truly, as he de- 
scribed himself five years later, "like a sphere 
in contact at all points with nature, poetry, 
painting, philosophy, music, passion, yet with- 
out a motive force within it." A far-sighted 
reader might see in this very situation the per- 
sonal tabula rasa upon which ultimately criti- 
cism would appear. But the lack of a motive 
force did not proceed from any tranquillity 
within. Five years had yet to pass before the 
mischievous ferment of Oxford reached its 
agonizing climax, and five more before the 
heated brain settled down to productive 
activity. His first book was published in 1872 ; 
but from 1867 onward he began to see more 
and more clearly the possibility of a rational 
existence. The ten years 1862-1871 may there- 


fore be considered his period of probation. In 
the first of these years he left college, in the 
last his father died; and the death of his good 
father, as we shall see, brought him perma- 
nently to his feet. The crisis of 1867, midway 
between these two events, marks the end of his 
exclusively intellectual period. Thereafter, at 
first weakly and lamely, but with growing 
assurance and power, he made his peace with 

It is my belief that the five years of Sy- 
monds' life during which he reaped the whirl- 
wind of Oxford sestheticism form, as told in 
his letters and diaries, the most appalling rec- 
ord of its kind in English literature. But in 
the midst of the whirlwind and almost un- 
known to himself the critic was quite surely 
beginning his true education, gathering his 
materials, shaking down his impressions, form- 
ing his method. During these chaotic years 
the main lines of his after life were deter- 

A tour through northern Italy aroused in a 
much more definite way than heretofore his in- 
terest in painting. The Venetian school espe- 


cially captivated him because of its preoccupa- 
tion with life. Returning in August to Clif- 
ton, he began a book of private studies, labelled 
Art and Literature,, with an essay on the char- 
acteristics of Venetian art. He was begin- 
ning to feel his way into the theory of the 
milieu, which was to underlie all his critical 
writings. Music continued to occupy him. 
After a performance of Haydn's Creation at 
Gloucester we find him associating it with his 
Biblical and Platonic studies and trying to es- 
tablish a theoretical relation between music 
and the other arts. But here, as in all his spec- 
ulations, there is a significant conflict of mo- 
tives. "It illustrates," as his biographer, Mr. 
Brown, says, "the governing qualities of Sy- 
monds' personality, acute sensibility and in- 
tense intellectual activity; he felt profoundly 
through his aesthetic sensibility, but his intel- 
lectual vigor would not let him rest there; he 
desired to know as well as to feel. ... As 
it was, the internal clash and conflict of two 
such powerful appetites inside a delicate frame 
were wearing and grinding the man to pow- 
der." True criticism is not a second best, not, 


as it is often supposed, a compromise in theory 
on the part of men who cannot succeed in prac- 
tice. It is a wholly different function, the in- 
tellectual study of origins and relations. It 
regards the work of art, not as a record per- 
sonal to the critic, but as a specimen to be in- 
vestigated dispassionately, intellectually, in its 
relation both to art and to life. The difficulty 
with Symonds at this period was that he could 
not disentangle the objective and the subjec- 
tive. He felt every work of art as a poet, 
and at the same time could not refrain from 
analyzing it. For this reason neither the one 
impulse nor the other could function properly. 
"I am discontented," he wrote, "because I do 
not feel myself a poet, and do not see why I 
should not be one." To the choruses and ora- 
torios of Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, he 
brought the touchstone, not of a rationale of 
music, but of his own feverish religious diffi- 
culties ; or rather the two were perilously inter- 
twined. To quote Mr. Brown once more: 
"The situation seems clear enough; in one re- 
gion emotion and intellect are at war, in the 
other thought and action. Emotions generate 


a passion, an appetite; intellect analyzes the 
emotions into thoughts; thought is unsatisfy- 
ing to the appetite which emotion has created, 
and that appetite demands the translation of 
the thought into action, but health and con- 
science bar the way." In those really penetrat- 
ing sentences we have the whole story of Sy- 
monds that complex remained with him to 
the last. And although it ultimately resolved 
itself partially in action when he had gained 
a semblance of health and discovered types of 
action from which he was not debarred by 
conscience, he never quite shook off the dead- 
lock inherent in his nature. "It is one of the 
most terrible results of introspection," he 
wrote now, "that I find the weakness, vicious 
tendencies, morbid sensibilities, and discontent 
deepened and intensified by all that I have 
learned in study and by all that I have lost 
in faith. Old realities have become shadows, 
but these shadows still torment me. There is 
a restlessness of passion, an unending want of 
what can never be, that seem the peculiar 
Nemesis of a scholar's life. . . . I hear 
the great world of fact and action roaring for- 


ever around me unintelligibly; my own sphere 
is one of phantoms, and my own battle a mere 
sciomachy. Thoughts and words are the men 
and things I deal with; but they are direful 
realities, full of suasions to passion, and mad- 
dening with impossible visions of beauty. This 
constant contact with the intangible results, in 
a word, in the state of Faust." Along with 
this runs the unceasing undertone of bodily 
ailment: "My scalp is sore and my bones 
tingle"; "my head is full of neuralgic pains, 
my eyes feel boiled and are regular centres of 
agony, to move which is to set two instruments 
of torture in motion"; "a strained feeling in 
my head." 

At the end of October, 1862, he was unani- 
mously elected Fellow of Magdalen, and on 
the first of November he went into residence. 
The episode of his fellowship was brief and 
unhappy. We hear of his having a little group 
of six pupils in philosophy and, what is more 
significant, beginning a systematic study of 
the Renaissance, which resulted presently in 
his winning the Chancellor's Prize with an 
essay on that subject. A former friend ma- 


liciously sought to prove a charge against his 
character. The charge was a complete fiasco; 
but in his overstrained condition it naturally 
increased his morbid shyness, rendering any- 
thing like an easy friendship with the other 
Fellows impossible, and served mainly in pre- 
cipitating his final collapse. This seems to 
have occurred in April. He awoke one morn- 
ing after an unusually frightful dream with 
the feeling that "something serious had hap- 
pened to his brain." And indeed so it proved. 
Thereafter for three years he was unable to 
use either eyes or brain for severe study. What 
effect this had on the ultimate work of a mind 
naturally weak in its grasp of rudiments and 
constantly impressionable may be imagined by 
anyone who has formed an idea of Symonds' 
place in English criticism. During the spring 
of this year he struggled as well as he could 
to complete his prize essay, which was finally 
recited before the Prince and Princess of 
Wales. It was the closing event of his Ox- 
ford career. 

On June 25 Dr. Symonds sent him to 
Switzerland. This Alpine summer was a kind 


of pastoral interlude the only really poetical 
episode in Symonds' vexed life. Miirren was 
for some time his headquarters. Thither came 
one day an English family, Mr. Frederick 
North, member of Parliament for Hastings, 
with his two daughters. The elder was Miss 
Marianne North, the flower-painter, whose col- 
lection of sketches from rare tropical plants 
was housed after her death in a special build- 
ing at Kew. The younger, Catherine, was de- 
scribed by Symonds in his diary at the time 
as "dark and thin and slight, nervous and full 
of fun and intellectual acumen." And he 
adds, "Alpine inns are favorable places for 
hatching acquaintance and gaining insight 
into character." The Norths went away at 
the end of a week, but Symonds had formed 
an impression which he was very soon to trans- 
late into action. Another girl, meanwhile, had 
taken his fancy as the special genius of the 
place and the embodiment of all its shining 
suggestions. He calls her "Mile R E , 
daughter of a jeweller in Thun." She was a 
friend of the innkeeper at Miirren, and she 
helped him in the care of his guests. She wore 


a charming Bernese costume, and after the 
evening work was done she would sit with the 
other girls on the balcony and they would all 
sing together. For her each morning he 
picked bouquets of Alpine flowers, "climbing 
daily higher and higher up the mountains as 
the summer flowers retreated, until at last 
there were few left but white lilac crocuses and 
deep blue harebells." She was the subject of 
many sonnets; but when she found that Sy- 
monds had come back again to Miirren pur- 
posely to see her she kept shyly apart, not un- 
derstanding "what all this meant." She con- 
sented however to stand sponsor with him at 
the christening of a little daughter of one of 
the guides. At the christening too was T. H. 
Green of Oxford, his future brother-in-law, 
fresh from Heidelberg, his head swimming 
with German metaphysics and poetry. With 
Green he passed a week at the little wooden inn 
of Uetliberg, above Zurich, writing and study- 
ing at little beer-tables set beneath the beech- 
trees, whose opening branches revealed the 
far view below. Some of the poetry of this 
true wander jahr I find in an entry of August 


22, which resembles in a striking way a charac- 
teristic passage of Maurice de Guerin: 

"At nine this morning the sun shone out. 
We walked together in the deep snow, which 
lay thick upon those late autumn flowers. 
They, poor things, revived immediately be- 
neath the genial warmth, and lifted their 
pretty heads from wells of melting snow- 
wreaths. The whole world seemed to feel re- 
turning spring. Birds floated in dense squad- 
rons overhead, whirling and wheeling on the 
edges of the clouds, which kept rising and dis- 
persing in the eager air above the valley. Far 
away the mists rolled like sad thoughts that 
dissolve in tears." 

But the relief and happiness of this Alpine 
episode was destined to be short. After a few 
weeks in England, where he was received full 
fellow at Magdalen, he set out for Italy racked 
with neuralgia and unable to read or write 
after dark. In Florence he had many conver- 
sations with Richard Congreve, the English 
representative of Positivism in its religious as- 
pect. Symonds, whose faith in a personal God 
had been grievously shaken, and whose faith 


in humanity was gaining strength, could yet 
find no foothold in the dogmatic religion of 
Humanity, because he could not conceive col- 
lective man as possessing personality or con- 
sciousness, and the essence of religion seemed 
to him a personal relationship between the in- 
dividual and the Whole. This need of a per- 
sonality animating the universe he never shook 
off; later it modified, or tinged, his acceptance 
of Spencerism, and it is significant to see it 
emerging thus early, at the moment when his 
secular worship of humanity was on the point 
of blossoming forth. Unable to use eyes or 
brain for serious study, he was thrown upon 
more sensuous resources, and in Florence and 
Rome he gathered quantities of direct and in- 
valuable experience from pictures and build- 
ings. At Naples the old nostalgia for the im- 
possible awoke again, and the careless, joyous, 
idle existence of the Italians came over him as 
a kind of condemnation. "The world is wide, 
wide, wide; and what we struggle for, ten 
thousand happy. souls in one fair bay have 
never dreamed of." 

In March, 1864, he returned to London and 


took lodgings with his old Oxford friend A. 
O. Rutson at 7, Half Moon Street. Five 
months passed, aimlessly. He could neither 
sleep nor work, and the nervous need of in- 
cessant activity preyed upon him. He wrote a 
few brief articles for the Saturday Review and 
took what exercise he could, rowing and rid- 
ing. Subjected to an extremely painful treat- 
ment of his eyes, he sat on one chair with his 
feet upon another, in a dark room, unable to 
read or to bear the light. London with its 
noise and heat and the desolation of loneliness 
brought him dreams of Miirren and of the 
family he had met there. He formed a quick 
resolution, called upon Mr. North, and in Au- 
gust joined the latter 's family on the Conti- 
nent. On the 10th of November he was mar- 
ried to Catherine North at St. Clement's 
Church, Hastings. Early in 1865 he returned 
with his wife to London and settled in lodg- 
ings at 13, Albion Street. 

Symonds was now approaching twenty- 
five. The desire to devote himself to litera- 
ture had formed itself gradually and more and 
more surely in his mind. Already he had fallen 


into the three lines of study which were to oc- 
cupy him chiefly as a man of letters Greek 
poetry, the Renaissance, and the Elizabethan 
Drama. But the literary purpose was not to 
be finally confirmed for another five years. 
The true artist, it is said, will doubt himself to 
the end of his days but will never doubt his 
vocation. Symonds doubted both, and it was 
only natural. For he still believed more in 
Jowett and his father than in himself: his 
father doubted gravely that a man of his ex- 
treme fragility could spare enough energy 
from mere living to achieve anything of solid 
worth in literature, while Jowett 's cautious en- 
couragement was vitiated by his incurable 
doubt of everything. His education had un- 
done faith, and his broken health seemed to 
stand in the way of hope. At the same time he 
was one of those men who cannot stand still. 
The wheels of his life went on grinding, grind- 
ing, and when they could not find grist with- 
out they ground themselves. This condition 
became acutely critical in the summer of 1865. 
He had set up lawyer's chambers to give his 
activity an ostensible object and went on with 


his Elizabethan studies. But his physical con- 
dition rather grew worse eyes and brain al- 
most paralyzed, the smallest excitement shat- 
tering his whole system. "For a few hours," 
he wrote, "my heart has beat, my senses have 
received impressions, my brain has coined from 
them vigorous ideas. But vengeance follows 
after this rejoicing. Crack go nerves and 
brain, and thought and sense and fancy die." 
And close following the physical comes the 
spiritual condition: "To emulate others nobler 
than myself is my desire. But I cannot get 
beyond, create, originate, win heaven by pray- 
ers and faith, have trust in God, and concen- 
trate myself upon an end of action. . . . 
Literature, with these eyes and brain? What 
can I do? What learn? How teach? How 
acquire materials? How think? How write 
calmly, equably, judicially, vigorously, elo- 
quently for years, until a mighty work stands 
up to say, 'This man has lived. Take notice, 
men, this man had nerves unstrung, blear eyes, 
a faltering gait, a stammering tongue, and yet 
he added day by day labor to labor, and 
achieved his end!' " 


In the midst of this, however, two powerful 
restorative influences were taking hold upon 
him his wife and Walt Whitman. His wife 
certainly calmed his nervous excitability and 
made his life gradually more rational and hu- 
man. And his discovery of Whitman's writ- 
ings began to act upon his moral nature as a 
strong tonic. In the Cambridge rooms of his 
friend Frederic Myers, in the autumn of this 
year, he first heard read aloud passages from 
Leaves of Grass. "I can well remember," he 
says in his Study of Whitman, "the effect of 
his (Myers') sonorous voice rolling out sen- 
tence after sentence, sending electric thrills 
through the very marrow of my mind." The 
reading began with the words "Long I 
thought knowledge alone would suffice me," 
and one might well pause on these words, so 
profoundly symbolic of this moment in Sy- 
monds' life. Knowledge, or in the larger sense 
all that is implied in the word "cerebration," 
had occupied him almost exclusively. His 
health and education had almost prevented him 
from living, in the wide sense, at all. His 
brain had whirled on regardless of nerves and 


body, struggling to grasp the absolute, the in- 
finite, the impossible. And Whitman, with his 
lusty contempt for purely intellectual pro- 
cesses, his robust sweep of realities, and the 
mystical cosmic sense which held the world in 
solution, came over the young student like a 
wave of sea-water, invigorating, refreshing, 
smoothing out the heated brain, re-stringing 
the nerves, and giving him a new point of de- 
parture, in some degree at least serene, hope- 
ful, assured. It was to be some years still 
before he could profit very tangibly from 
Whitman's message, but for the moment it 
brought him through a dark passage and 
proved an antidote that cleared him forever of 
Jowett's power. 

To Jowett he had written about this time, 
begging his advice in the choice of a vocation 
and stating his belief that although the literary 
life was and had always been his main desire 
he realized that his bent was neither for the 
purely artistic nor the purely philosophic in 
letters. "The point seems to have been 
reached," he wrote, "at which I must definitely 
renounce writing, or make it the sole business 


of my life." Jowett replied, asking him to 
run down and have a talk with him at Oxford. 
The Master was cautiously encouraging. He 
had already expressed his opinion that Sy- 
monds had it in him to become eminent in liter- 
ature. Now he added makeweights to that 
opinion, urging him to finish his legal studies 
and get called to the Bar, to keep his eye on 
politics as a solid possibility to fall back upon 
and to translate Zeller's history of Aristotelian- 
ism. I cannot help adding that, when during 
the conversation the question of de Musset's 
tragic career came up, Jowett's comment was : 
"Men should keep their minds to duty." The 
whole abyss of Jowett's ineptitude lies in that 
sentence and that context. And I may here 
anticipate a little the fortunes of Zeller's Aris- 
totelianism. In a Symonds letter of 1867 oc- 
curs the sentence: "Zeller, that paradox of my 
unequal existence, keeps on his caterpillar pace 
from day to day. The slow muddy river of 
translated speech indeed stagnates now and 
then, forming into noisome pools and eddying 
in slime about perplexing boulders. Yet volu- 
minously thick it oozes on." And again at a 


later point, in the Autobiography : "Much time 
was wasted upon a translation of Zeller's his- 
tory of Aristotle and the Aristotelian school. 
This I undertook at Jowett's suggestion. Jow- 
ett, I may say in passing, had a singular way 
of setting his friends to do work undoubtedly 
useful, but for which they are not suited. To 
make me translate Zeller, instead of Cellini 
or Boccaccio, was nothing short of a gaucherie. 
I found it intolerably irksome. I did it abom- 
inably ill. It retarded the recovery of my eye- 
sight, and when it was done I abandoned it as 
worthless." I pursue the development of this 
little episode because it illustrates the Master's 
more than venial failure as regards the pupil, 
the pupil's dogged devotion to the Master's 
will, and most important of all the pupil's final 
sense of liberation from that will. 

For Jowett's advice, accepted as to Zeller, 
was negligible in the main. Symonds was rap- 
idly determining his own future. With his 
wife he was reading works on Michael Angelo 
and the Renaissance "I want to keep my 
mind on that part of European history," 
he wrote in a letter. Visiting Clifton 


in August he found Woolner the sculptor 
making a bust of his father. Woolner 
with his clear vocation, his vigor and single- 
mindedness in art, impressed him deeply, 
just as Jenny Lind had formerly done. 
4 'Woolner," he noted in his diary, "likes 
people to keep to their trade and not to med- 
dle. He has a profound contempt for Jow- 
ett's meddling criticism." The gulf dividing 
artistic sensibility from artistic power occu- 
pied his mind, but not quite with the old feel- 
ing of impotence. Woolner, the stout-fibred 
and opinionated sculptor, could yet compass 
the miracle of art ; and after hearing Israel in 
Egypt he ponders on such a man as Handel, 
greedy, coarse and garrulous in conversation, 
according to his biographer, fond of beer, 
without passions and without one intellectual 
taste, who could yet "express the feelings of 
mighty nations, and speak with the voice of 
angels more effectually than even Milton." 
Symonds, we may note, had the characteristic 
English enthusiasm for Handel. Throughout 
this period his diaries are filled with specula- 


tions on the nature of artists: one can see al- 
ready that he was a born biographer. 

Speculations of this kind led him to the con- 
clusion that he was not, and could not become, 
an originating artist himself. We find him 
noting, on November 30, 1865, an important 
date in relation to his ultimate career, his in- 
tention to fit himself "for being a good vul- 
gariseur" The one trait he could depend upon 
was irrepressible energy, a kind of energy 
which filled up every hour left vacant by 
bodily ailment, weak eyes and treacherous 
brain, even those perhaps which might better 
have been filled with passive reflection. If he 
could not be a poet he could at least set him- 
self, by industrious, persistent, effectual work, 
to learn the craft of letters. He could let the 
muses shift for themselves. And indeed for 
Symonds this determination, baffled as it was 
for some time to be, was highly essential. The 
mere semi-physical exercise of putting to- 
gether words and sentences was needed by him 
as a tonic, and to his dogged perseverance in 
this, often against medical orders, he attrib- 
uted his prolonged life. 


But now, when he had taken his resolve, a 
fresh disaster befell. His father, examining 
him on Christmas eve, discovered that the apex 
of the left lung was gravely affected. By 
the strange displacement of energy which 
often occurs in tubercular cases, the new 
trouble no sooner asserted itself than the old 
brain-weakness began to abate. The fresh 
evil, so much more serious as regards his out- 
ward life, enabled him to live more intensely 
and more successfully within. He became 
definitely happier and more capable of pro- 
longed study. But this again was a new main 
tendency which did not for some time exhibit 
noticeable results. 

On February 24, 1866, he set out for the Ri- 
viera. At Mentone he set seriously to work 
mastering Italian, of which he had had since 
Harrow days only a convenient knowledge, 
pressing through Dante, Boccaccio, and Ari- 
osto, writing the first of his Greek studies 
that on Empedocles, struggling to purge his 
style of purple patches and to grasp more in- 
cisively the truth about men, works, places. A 
stay in Switzerland on the way home brought 


back all his old dreams of poetry. He was 
growing more rapidly than he knew, but the 
growth was leading him inexorably away from 
what he chiefly longed for. In August he re- 
turned with his wife to 47, Norfolk Square, 
where ten months before his eldest daughter 
Janet had been born. His complex and scat- 
tered sympathies were gradually shaking down 
to a more settled programme; and it already 
appeared how much of that programme was 
to be occupied with the Renaissance and its re- 
lations. With Jowett, on a flying visit to Ox- 
ford, we find him considering the idea of a 
History of the Renaissance in England, which 
he never relinquished and to which he contrib- 
uted in his dramatic studies and his lives of 
Sidney and Jonson. 

Another journey through France, made 
necessary by an attack of pneumonia and ag- 
gravated brain-congestion, followed at the end 
of May, 1867. His journal at this time is ex- 
ceptionally full and illuminating: his varied 
sympathies begin to assume forms character- 
istic of his later complex though reasonably 
coherent point of view. He longs continually 


for the Alps, obscurely divining that among 
them he would eventually find health and 
strength. At Bayeux he finds, in the midst of 
his architectural studies, that there is a greater 
monotony among cathedrals than among 
mountains, and he adds significantly, "Nature 
increases, art diminishes, as we grow older." 
Passing strangers the theme of more than 
one of his published poems haunt him with 
the mysterious fascination of unknown and un- 
knowable destinies. "I hate the sophistication 
of my existence," he writes, "the being penned 
up in a cage of archaeology and literary pic- 
ture-making." He is tormented with a sense 
of idleness and wasted youth : the need of con- 
stant reaction, activity, recording of impres- 
sions grows upon him. He pours himself out 
in letters, in diaries, notes, essays, poems. Ev- 
erything that enters his brain tortures him un- 
til it is recast and thrown forth again. He 
seems to repeat feverishly over and over those 
appalling words of Marvell: 

"And ever at my back I hear 
Time's winged chariot hurrying near." 


A morbid fear of stopping, waiting, letting go 
possesses him. He cannot content himself that 
life, trusted a little, in its own mysterious, 
blundering, compulsive way, fulfils itself after 
a fashion which is from the beginning, in each 
case, inevitable. No disciple of Goethe was 
ever more fitted to profit by Goethe's paradox, 
Was man in der Jugend begehrt hat man im 
Alter die Fiille; that the life committed to na- 
ture works itself out mechanically, while the 
individual in becoming as disinterested as na- 
ture views himself with all the cold indifference 
of nature, passing through his seasons inexor- 
ably as the year and indestructibly as the wind: 
and takes a kind of artistic delight in the in- 
evitableness of nature's fulfilment of him. 
Some such faith as this the really scientific 
morale,, so vitally needful, was beginning to 
take form in him, fluctuating, vague, unac- 
countable, but of ever-increasing strength. 
"No one is happy," he says, "who has not a 
deep, firm faith in some ideal far beyond this 
world, in some law of majesty, beauty, good- 
ness, harmony, superior to the apparent mean- 
ness, ugliness, evil discord of the present 


dispensation. . . . Those who are not 'ten- 
oned and mortised' upon something inde- 
structible must be rendered wretched by the 
change fulness and barrenness of daily life." 
Doubt and faith, agitation and calm, intel- 
lect and emotion were struggling to gain the 
mastery : and the struggle was to continue un- 
til it reached its culmination in the great crisis 
so soon to follow. 

After this exhausting fortnight he returned 
to Hastings and London, where presently an- 
other daughter was born. The summer weeks 
were still more exhausting; brightened, how- 
ever, by the close friendship he now formed 
with Henry Sidgwick. His diary and letters 
become extravagantly rhetorical and incoher- 
ent, though often acutely and awfully vivid. 
How truly the virus of Amiel had poisoned 
his heart may be seen from one passage: "I 
seem to enter into a kind of Nirvana, thinking 
of mutability and youth that flows away 
until the senses slip off one by one, and 
thoughts slumber, and the conscious soul at 
last stands naked and alone, environed by 
eternal silence and everlasting nothingness. It 


is the glacial region of the soul, the death of 
all that warms or makes to move, the absolute 
indifference to pain or pleasure, of what is or 
what is not. From it I bring no message 
none at least that can be said in words but 
such a message as makes one feel what are the 
solitudes of the womb and of the grave. No 
doubt this state is of the nerves morbid ; but 
what does it not reveal to me of the uncolored, 
universal I?" 

Symonds was now passing through the bit- 
terest, blackest season of his life. The maladie 
de ridealj the demon of speculation, the thirst 
for the absolute had to play itself out before 
it was possible for him to strike the C-major 
of this life, before the invigorating earthiness 
of Whitman and the soothing calm of Goethe 
could prevail with him. 

The crisis came during a second tour in 
France, whither he had repaired with his family 
at the opening of September. At Melun dur- 
ing a sleepless night he wrote the most im- 
passioned of his poems, An Improvisation on 
the Violin. It is a dramatic monologue, the 
soliloquy of Beethoven during the performance 


of what appears to be the C-minor symphony 
or an improvisation based upon it. "The vic- 
tory and majesty of the soul are wrought out 
of its defeats and humiliations," he had writ- 
ten of this symphony only two weeks before. 
And in the poem and this context is exhibited 
the intensely personal and subjective nature of 
his attitude toward music, toward all the arts 
indeed. Nothing could illustrate more accu- 
rately his incapacity as yet for rational criti- 
cism. It seems to substantiate the theory that 
artistic expression literally springs from dis- 
ease a kind of blood-letting, as Goethe con- 
ceived it. For Symonds perpetually speaks of 
the relief he finds in writing out his miseries on 
paper. He clings to his pen as a shipwrecked 
man clings to a spar. 

On October 24 he arrived at Cannes. There 
were assembled some of his most brilliant 
friends, among them Jenny Lind, Henry 
Sidgwick, and Edward Lear, author of the 
Book of Nonsense. Lear was busily occupied, 
at this ironical moment, making rhymes and 
pictures with little Janet Symonds; among 
them the immortal Owl and the Pussycat who 


went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat. 
Neuralgia, worn-out nerves, increased lung- 
disturbances, shattered eyesight, digestive dis- 
order, and a sprained ankle made such consola- 
tions ludicrously impossible to Symonds. His 
difficulties suddenly came to a head and he 
passed through a kind of insanity. "All the 
evil humors which were fermenting in my 
petty state of man," he says in his Auto- 
biography, "poignant and depressing memories 
of past troubles, physical maladies of nerve- 
substance and lung-tissue, decompositions of 
habitual creeds, sentimental vapors, doubts 
about the existence of a moral basis to human 
life, thwarted intellectual activity, ambitions 
rudely checked by impotence all these miser- 
able factors of a wretched inner life, masked 
by appearances, the worse for me for being 
treated by the outside world as mere accidents 
of illness in a well-to-do and idle citizen, boiled 
up in a kind of devil's caldron during those 
last weeks at Cannes and made existence hell." 
And again: "The last night I spent at Cannes 
was the worst of my whole life. I lay awake 
motionless, my soul stagnant, feeling what is 


meant by spiritual blackness and darkness. If 
it should last forever? As I lay, a tightening 
approached my heart. It came nearer, the 
grasp grew firmer, I was cold and lifeless in 
the clutch of a great agony." Such without 
doubt is the state that in sensational natures 
precedes "conversion." 

Inscrutable and intangible as this crisis may 
appear, its intense reality is made plain by its 
very tangible effect upon his life from this 
time forward. Nothing more surely proves 
how really fortunate a man Symonds was than 
that he was capable of this purging crisis. 
Many men have lived Amiel their chief ex- 
emplar nursing the maladies that afflicted 
Symonds, standing, as Hegel says of the 
modern artist, in the midst of this reflecting 
world and its relations and unable by any act 
of will to withdraw from it. The dim and 
voiceless pain of the overcultivated mind which 
has lost its power of self-command creates a 
special limbo of lost souls. To the mind which 
has identified itself with Maya, which has ac- 
customed itself to the universal reality, 
phenomena possess only a wraithlike existence, 


men and women are shadows projected on a 
mist. Yet life with all its passions remains, 
life which has lost its faculty of katharsis, 
which cannot purge itself through action, 
which cannot satisfy its own fundamental de- 
mands, which is dead without being disem- 
bodied. This is what occurs when, in psycho- 
logical language, the motor activity has been 
wholly supplanted by the sensory, when the 
will has been fretted away by the imagination. 
This tendency in Symonds was brought up 
sharply. All the unhealthy, unguided, chaotic 
stirrings of his youth could not prevail finally 
against his truly amazing power of rebound. 
His original faculty for pure artistic creation, 
as I see it, had been very early swamped. 
Three things had caused this: his lack of the 
sheer physical power of self-assertion, the 
aesthetic studies which had dissipated it and 
diluted it with speculation, and the obtuse com- 
punction-philosophy of his father and Jowett. 
All these combined, acting either as positive 
or negative agencies, had turned him from art 
into aesthetics. The speculative element of 
aesthetics had gradually pursued its course, 


draining the imagination, the nerves, the will 
until it had reached its logical climax and put 
the last question to life. To this question there 
is no intellectual reply. Life itself can reply 
by continuing to roll on. The soul can reply 
by submitting blindly or enthusiastically to 
life. But for a few weeks it seemed to Sy- 
monds that he lacked the power of submission 
to life because the springs of his own life 
were sapped. He had become for the moment 
pure intellect, and intellect had reached its 
barrier. Nerves and emotions appeared to be 
in abeyance. In reality they were in a state 
of hideous tension and, being so, he felt all the 
agony of the position which he seemed only to 
know. It was, however, impossible for Sy- 
monds to lose his mind. He possessed very 
deep and strong recuperative powers whose ex- 
istence he had never guessed, and these pres- 
ently asserted themselves. It became quickly 
evident how much wiser nature is than the 
doubting brain. The total man surmounted 
the erring part quietly, without warning. 
And Symonds was no sooner on his feet again 
than he found himself in possession of some- 


thing he had never possessed before faith in 
life. The sceptical, the speculative, the 
analytical mind never left him, but it was never 
again to interfere with a robust sense of life 
in its totality, life which is more than cerebra- 
tion faith in the universe, in humanity, and 
in himself. "I emerged at last," he says, "into 
stoical acceptance of my place in the world, 
combined with epicurean indulgence. To- 
gether, these two motives restored me to com- 
parative health, gave me religion, and enabled 
me, in spite of broken nerves and diseased 
lungs, to do what I have done in literature. 
I am certain of this fact, and I regard the utter 
blackness of despair at Cannes as the midnight 
in which there lay a budding spiritual mor- 


His life was like a book broken in the back, 
which falls into two parts. 


IN the very midst of his ordeal at Cannes 
Symonds did not hesitate in his studies. 
We find him reading Richardson, Balzac, and 
Heine's letters, plodding on with Zeller, and 
projecting a sort of original version of Hegel's 
^Esthetics. The journey proceeded through 
Corsica and Italy where Symonds, busy and 
curious with renewed energy and life, resumed 
the study of Italian and wrote his essays on 
Aristophanes, Ariosto and Tasso. In Novem- 
ber he took his family to Clifton, engaging a 
house quite near his old home, where on Jan- 
uary 15, 1869, his daughter Margaret was 

Symonds was now eager for action, and for 
a time his activity took a social form. Clifton 
College had recently been founded, largely 
through the instrumentality of his father, and 



he arranged presently to give lectures on 
Greek Literature to the Sixth Form, which 
he extended also to ladies' classes in Bristol. 
This work I fancy was of great importance 
to his chosen career of vulgariseur. For the 
first time he learned the demands of an 
audience the kind of audience to which, per- 
haps against his dearest wishes, the greatest 
part of his writings have appealed and will 
appeal. For it must be remembered that this 
well-known apostle of culture to the majority 
mistrusted and disliked all the sentimentalities 
of culture, such as are not truly acclimated 
to the natural self. However, he was now 
required to find his level. Desultory, frag- 
mentary, agitated piece-work was no longer in 
the old way possible. He was forced to study 
the art of presentation and to get his material 
into shape. That the answering pull, the con- 
crete presence of listeners was exhilarating to 
him is evident from the fact that his first books 
were the direct outcome of these lectures. 
Whether, as he maintained, he lacked the art 
of lecturing or not, it is significant that he 
wrote in a letter of this time: "My emotions 


are less occupied and my imagination more 
exercised." The introspective habit was rapidly 
falling away, and he was consequently giving 
himself more generously to life. Some of his 
pupils have recorded the profound influence 
upon them of his great power in dialectics, his 
own tenacity of aim, and his wonderful sym- 
pathy with young men. He lectured once a 
week at the college, continuing the work talk- 
ing and reading aloud in his own library. 
"Get subjects outside yourself, he used to say, 
if you wish to show that you are strong; and 
if you intend to be a poet, you must begin 
and end with strength." So writes one pupil 
in a memorial notice of 1893. It exhibits 
pathetically the eagerness with which Symonds 
was himself endeavoring to get outside him- 
self and to find strength. He was rapidly 
assuming the position of public responsibility 
which later became him so well at Davos. All 
this fell in with the scheme his father had 
formed for him, with so many affectionate, 
mistaken, postponed hopes. And now that 
kindly, repressive influence was to be removed. 
On February 25, 1871, Dr. Symonds died. 


His father's death was a profound shock; 
yet Symonds almost immediately realized, with 
chagrin, how liberating a shock it was. It 
came at the moment when he had at last pre- 
pared himself for work, and it enabled him 
to carry out that work in his own way. "It 
is true," he says in his Autobiography^ "that 
the independence I now acquired added a de- 
cided stimulus to my mental growth. My 
father had been so revered and so implicitly 
obeyed by me that his strong personal influence 
kept me in something like childish subjection. 
I did nothing without consulting him, and 
when I was unable to repress those parts of 
my nature with which he could not sympathize, 
I resorted to subterfuge, half -measures, and 
concealments. Left without him, I had to act 
for myself, and insensibly I became more 
manly." And again, "I doubt whether I 
could have written as freely, and published as 
spontaneously, as I have done, had I been con- 
scious of his criticism." Pietas was the one 
strictly Roman virtue that Symonds pos- 
sessed. It is a virtue which, in some condi- 
tions, becomes the mother of many vices. 


With his wife and three daughters he now 
moved into his boyhood home, Clifton Hill 
House, and presently began to assume his 
father's place in the responsibilities of the 
town. He was elected to the Clifton College 
Council, served as secretary to an Invalid 
Ladies' Home, and was one of the founders 
of Bristol University. He gathered together 
a volume of Miscellanies by Dr. Symonds and 
edited the Remains of Conington, who had 
also died. In 1872 he published his first book, 
An Introduction to the Study of Dante. This 
was prepared from lectures given at Clifton 
College and in Exeter: it forms an appropriate 
opening to the long series of his publications 
dealing with the Renaissance. 

The idea of a monumental work on that sub- 
joct had been brewing since the latter part of 
1870. His friend Frederic Myers, with whom 
he had first read Whitman, had proposed a 
collaboration, which fell through; and Sy- 
monds, doubtful and hesitant, determined to 
proceed alone. "My heart bleeds," he wrote, 
"to think of my own incapacity for a great 
work. I must not think of it, for the thought 


paralyzes." Nevertheless, in February, 1871, 
the month of his father's death, we find him 
furiously at work upon the first chapter, a 
rapid survey of the whole of Italian life and 
history before Dante. This chapter seems to 
be the second and a part of the first in the 
volume called The Age of the Despots. Other 
trains of thought were also taking form. A 
long series of articles had been passing 
through the magazines: those on Ravenna, 
Orvieto, Christmas in Rome, Ajaccio, and 
many others, rewritten from his journals of 
travel ; as well as Greek studies on The Gnomic 
Poets,, Empedocles, The Idyllists, etc., some 
of which had been given as lectures at Clifton 
College. These appeared presently in book 
form, Studies of the Greek Poets in 1878 and 
Sketches in Italy and Greece in 1874. And 
at about this time John Morley, much taken 
with his Greek studies, invited him to form 
a connection as regular contributor to The 
Fortnightly Review, which he maintained dur- 
ing the rest of his life. 

To support his health and restrain him from 
excessive study the Continental tours continued 


regularly. In 1872 he was again in Switzer- 
land, and in the spring of 1873 he went with 
his wife to Greece. Athens, he notes, "is pure 
light"; and his essay on Athens became an 
elaboration of this phrase. Later in the same 
year he visited Malta, Tunis, Sicily, and Italy 
again, busily collecting material for his great 
work. "I read chronicles and histories and 
biographies on the very spot where the events 
happened, and make notes for future use 
which have the juice of life in them." 

In 1875 the first volume of The Renaissance 
in Italy appeared, dealing with the socio- 
political aspect of the period. In his Auto- 
biography Symonds deplores the declamatory 
tone which obstinately remained in the book 
after it was rewritten from his lectures. He 
doubts whether he could ever have launched 
his treacherous brain on so huge an enterprise 
had he not taken the first step by lecturing. 
Walter Pater, reviewing this first volume in 
The Academy, wrote: "The book presents a 
brilliant picture of its subject. ... As 
is the writer's subject so is his style energetic, 
flexible, eloquent, full of various illustrations, 


keeping the attention of the reader always on 
the alert. . . . The imagination in his- 
torical composition works most legitimately 
when it approaches dramatic effects. In this 
volume there is a high degree of the dramatic ; 
here all is objective, and the writer is hardly 
seen behind his work." To this hearty praise 
he adds one significant qualification the ab- 
sence of reserve: "I note the absence of this 
reserve in many turns of expression, in the 
choice sometimes of detail and metaphor." 

Between Symonds and Pater, I may men- 
tion at this point, there was a strange want 
of sympathy. Pater habitually referred with 
a kind of pitying contempt to his fellow- 
Platonist as "poor Symonds." Symonds, 
writing in 1885 of Marius^ shrinks from 
"approaching Pater's style, which has a pe- 
culiarly disagreeable effect upon my nerves 
like the presence of a civet-cat" ; and again, in 
1890, "I tried Pater's Appreciations to-day, 
and found myself wandering about among the 
'precious' sentences, just as though I had lost 
myself in a sugar-cane plantation." No one, 
I dare say, could have b^en so acutely annoyed 


by Pater's style who was not himself on the 
perilous edge of preciosity. This was indeed 
somewhat the case with Symonds, who was 
often preserved from preciosity only by the 
other extreme of half heedless improvisation. 
It is a little sadly notable to find the two best 
contemporary workers in a field so largely 
identical, so irreconcilable in temperament. 
Perhaps the field itself was to blame. At any 
rate, the gods of material progress may be 
amused to find the Greek spirit reincarnated 
so incompatible with itself, as if the modern 
Hellenist could remain himself only in the 
midst of barbarians. 

As with Pater, so with Swinburne. Sy- 
monds invariably wrote of Swinburne with the 
respect proper to a great poet. Of Bothwell 
he said, "I do not think anything greater has 
been produced in our age. ... It seems 
to me the most virile exercise of the poetic 
power in combination with historic accuracy 
that our literature of this century can show." 
But elsewhere and of another poem he adds, 
"He does not attend to the projection of his 
thought enough, but splashes it out as if he 


were upsetting a bucket." What Swinburne 
thought of Symonds may be gathered from 
one of the wickedest and most unjust of all 
his wicked and unjust criticisms. In his recol- 
lections of Jowett he writes of "such renascent 
blossoms of the Italian renascence as the 
Platonic amorist of blue-breeched gondoliers 
who is now in Aretino's bosom. The cult of 
the Calamus, as expounded by Mr. Addington 
Symonds to his fellow-Calamites, would have 
found no acceptance or tolerance with the 
translator of Plato." What Jowett really 
thought of Symonds we know well. Truly 
there is something catlike about modern 

The second series of Studies of the Greek 
Poets followed rapidly. On these two volumes, 
the most luxuriant of all his writings, I should 
like to pause. "Some will always be found, 
under the conditions of this double culture," 
Symonds had said, "to whom Greece is a lost 
fatherland, and who, passing through life with 
the mat du pays of that irrecoverable land upon 
them, may be compared to visionaries, spend- 
ing their nights in golden dreams and the 


days in common duties." Only a man like 
Symonds, perplexed by a thousand cross-cur- 
rents of thought, thwarted from the pure 
poetical faculty, could feel as a revelation that 
majesty of the early philosophers, that fire and 
sweetness of the early poets. The world has 
squandered since their day genius beyond 
measure; but they remain, immortal names, 
pure and clear as drops of wine embossing 
cups of crystal. Why? Because they are the 
immemorial prototypes, the inventors of all 
that usage and slovenly debasement have 
brought to us in the form of platitude. They 
lived when platitude was young and the dew 
of early morning lay shining on the first and 
simplest thoughts of men. They discovered 
those "happy thoughts" which are the points 
of departure for all speculation. It is hard 
for us to conceive the day when the idea that 
"not-being has no existence" could, in itself 
alone, fill the whole life of a philosopher, when 
he could become victorious and majestic 
through the discovery of it, when so simple 
a notion could buoy up a man of gigantic 
intellectual powers, satisfy him, enable him to 


look back upon a well-filled and exuberant life 
and bring him, as it brought Parmenides, the 
reverence of the greatest thinkers of his world. 
That is why the simplicity of the ancients is 
so hard for us to understand. We cannot 
grasp how pregnant that simplicity was we 
who grasp Goethe, Dante, and Shakespeare 
and even then feel unsatisfied, and unex- 
pressed. Happy is the man who, in our day, 
can find a thought larger than himself! He 
alone is capable of moral culture. But not 
among the early philosophers alone do we find 
that pregnant simplicity by which a little 
thing can greatly fulfil a life. In all ages of 
childhood and poetry we find it in our own 
Shakespearean age when Gabriel Harvey, the 
Cambridge scholar, expressed as his ultimate 
wish to have it written upon his grave that he 
had "fostered hexameters on English soil." 
No scholar could have had less of the sophisti- 
cation of scholarship than is there expressed. 
In reflections like these, in the passion of op- 
posites, we find the true nature of such eclectic 
affinities as those of Symonds with the Greeks 
and the Elizabethans. 


Symonds' attitude toward scholarship seems 
to me indicated in his chapter on mythology. 
He there states carefully the seven main 
philological explanations of the origin of 
myths, and parries each in favor of a vaguer 
explanation. He seems to feel that to get at 
the true origin of myths one has to be a poet. 
And indeed in the last analysis one can grasp 
such a thing only by a sympathetic under- 
standing of childhood; so that the method of 
approach becomes rather psychological than 
philological. Behind all study there lies a 
mystery, and the origins of things can be 
grasped only by clairvoyance. What is true 
of the origins of things human is true in a 
similar way of their definitions. One may 
stumble about endlessly among scientific defini- 
tions of the epic ; then one comes upon Shelley's 
definition as the "summing-up of the spiritual 
life of an age for the age that follows," and 
at once a flood of light falls over everything. 
Science could not have arrived at that defini- 
tion. Why? Because it is only suggestive 
and personal, not abstract and final. A hun- 
dred poets might have stated it in as many 


different ways and each way would have had 
a higher finality in it than exact scholarship 
could achieve. This of course is only to say 
that science provides a method, that it does not 
pretend to penetrate essences, that the true 
truth is the poet's. There are two kinds of 
truth: ideal truth and practical truth truth 
by divination and truth by logic, and both, 
alas! are mutually scornful. What must the 
logical historian think of Carlyle's French 
Revolution? And, on the other hand, what 
would Ruskin have said of the art-criticism of 
Mr. Bernhard Berenson? That is the ever- 
lasting dualism between the prophet of an 
ideal order and the interpreter of the fait 
accompli. Symonds, with his divided heart, is 
an example of the soul astray between two 
worlds. His scholarship is never quite of the 
orthodox kind. It is restless scholarship, seek- 
ing always to do what only poetry can do, to 
become poetry; scholarship not merely as hu- 
manism but as mysticism. I do not wish to 
emphasize this too much it is only a touch, 
which does not seriously vitiate the practical 
solidity of his work. But it is the kind of 


thing which, had it been done more courage- 
ously, conclusively, whole-heartedly, would 
have ruined Symonds' work as scientific pre- 
sentation and might have lifted it out of the 
scientific class altogether into the region of 
truly poetical interpretation. That perilous 
method results frequently in mere unsound- 
ness of thought; occasionally it results in such 
work as Carlyle's French Revolution, wherein 
the lack of practical truth is counterbalanced 
by a personality that makes it a piece of high 

In the Greek Poets I think Symonds pro- 
duced something more like a work of genius 
than he ever again achieved. The book is 
vibrant with golden pictures and bright 
phrases, such as this: "The sweetness of the 
songs of Phrynichus has reached us like the 
echo of a bird's voice in a traveller's narrative." 
It cannot be denied that the style is often over- 
studied and more often recklessly overblown. 
But who that loves beauty in words and rebels 
against our too unstudied and too sable English 
prose, and prose of scholarship especially, can 


regret a passage like this on Sappho and her 
sister poets for all its tricks of rhetoric? 

"All the luxuries and elegancies of life 
which that climate and the rich valleys of 
Lesbos could afford were at their disposal; 
exquisite gardens, where the rose and hyacinth 
spread perfume; river-beds ablaze with the 
oleander and wild pomegranate; olive groves 
and fountains, where the cyclamen and violet 
flowered with feathery maiden-hair; pine-tree- 
shadowed coves, where they might bathe in the 
calm of a tideless sea; fruits such as only the 
southern sun and sea- wind can mature ; marble 
cliffs, starred with jonquil and anemone in 
spring, aromatic with myrtle and lentisk and 
samphire and wild-rosemary through all the 
months; nightingales that sang in May; tem- 
ples dim with dusky gold and bright with 
ivory; statues and frescoes of heroic forms. 
In such scenes as these the Lesbian poets lived, 
and thought of love." 

Passages like this, modulated in tone and 
key to a whole pageant world of scenes and 
characters, and all as blossoms of severe learn- 
ing, corroborate Frederic Harrison's opinion 


that "Symonds was certainly far more widely 
and profoundly versed in Greek poetry than 
any Englishman who in our day has analyzed 
it for the general reader. And it is plain that 
no scholar of his eminence has been master of 
a style so fascinating and eloquent." 

The unending journeys back and forth were 
making of the fugitive from ill-health, in 
spite of his citizenlike position at home, a kind 
of scholar-gypsy. The second volume of The 
Renaissance feverishly went forward, at first 
in Switzerland and then for some months of 
1876 at San Remo, wherever in hotels or 
casual inns a writing-table and a free hour 
could be had. "I worked furiously, recklessly, 
at this period," he writes, "devouring books 
upon Italian history, art, scholarship, and 
literature, writing continually, and pushing 
one volume forward while another was going 
through the press." The travel sketches also 
proceeded between whiles, filled with exquisite 
pages of color and scraps of history, biog- 
raphy, criticism, picturesque word-painting. 

These papers, collected finally in three 
volumes which now bear the general title 


Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece, are 
so many chips from the workshop where the 
weightier books were being laboriously put to- 
gether. They bring us behind the scenes, and 
show us the anxious travellings to and fro of 
the quick-eyed scholar in search of the past. 
They are full of informal autobiography, and 
provide for us the ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic 
background, shimmering and iridescent, of his 
complex outer life. They are Symonds' 
Reisebilder, and yet with a very significant 
difference from those of Heine. F. Harrison 
acutely remarks that these sketches are records 
of things seen rather than of things felt. That 
I think is true, and Symonds was a victim of 
our modern passion for the picturesque. With 
all his intense feeling for individual men and 
women, his passion for comradeship, his cos- 
mopolitan sympathies, he remains always a 
sublimated tourist; unlike Heine and unlike 
Byron, to whom ancient monuments, lovely 
scenes, and all the grandeur of the past exist 
primarily as stimulants to modern liberty. 
Heine's sketches are the most exquisite that 
have ever been written about Italy, yet Heine 


never treats any phase of history or of art 
as an end in itself. Had he travelled in Italy 
in the days when Symonds was travelling there 
we feel that he would have had a great deal 
to say about Mazzini and Garibaldi and 
Cavour. But Symonds never once that I can 
recall appears to have any sense, of the "Third 
Italy." He never refers to Mazzini except in 
one or two historical passages of The Renais- 
sance. Of all the throbbing modern life of 
the nation, social, religious, political, of all 
that is Italy, he is almost as oblivious as the 
holiday tripper. The very years during which 
he was busily passing in and out of Italy, 
with eager, open eyes, were the years of Italy's 
greatest crisis. Yet the solitary published 
reference in his diary to any sense of great 
occurrences is a tell-tale entry of 1862. He 
was in Milan, and the people had been stirred 
to a demonstration against the Franco- 
Austrian Government by a speech of Gari- 
baldi. Four hundred were taken prisoners 
under his hotel window; and he observes, "I 
often wondered what a demonstration meant. 
This is a pretty and picturesque specimen." 


This amazing sociological insensibility might 
be consistent in an artist; in a historian it is, 
to say the least, singular. And it is all the 
more singular when we recall the sympathy 
of Symonds with historic liberators like 
Savonarola and Campanella. Human evolu- 
tion, the liberation of men was indeed an ani- 
mating principle of his entire critical and re- 
ligious philosophy. Are we forced to con- 
clude then that his major sympathies were in 
fact purely literary? His life at Davos seems 
to belie that, but the self-conscious pursuit of 
the picturesque is perilous to the most genuine 
types of intellectual integrity. 

Certainly this tourist attitude toward Italy, 
as a kind of museum filled only with beautiful 
dead things, gives a false perspective even to 
his magnum opus. Professor Villari remarked 
that he seems occasionally to forget that the 
Renaissance was only a single period of Italian 
literature and art, only one episode in a long 
evolution which has not yet worked itself out. 
He follows too rashly the historical method of 
Taine in treating the traits of the Italians ex- 
hibited in that epoch as essential and perma- 


nent rather than temporary and evolving. 
Even Ruskin, so fundamentally wanting in 
sympathy with the spirit of the Renaissance, 
brings to it a truer vision, because he thinks 
of it always as an episode however mistaken 
he may be as regards the quality and value 
of that episode in human history. Without 
doubt Symonds was so intensely occupied with 
the golden age itself that he neglected some 
of its wider aspects and ignored the modern 
Italy with which it has so vital a connection. 
The truth of this contention will be evident, 
I think, to anyone who reads his informal 
essays in their proper relation, as preliminary 
or subsidiary sketches for his formal work. A 
historian of old Italy so blind to young Italy 
must necessarily be wanting somewhat in the 
truest historical vision. For here the Italian 
people are used mainly as an adjunct to the 
picturesque, just as in his rather deplorable 
essay In the Key of Blue (which led Swin- 
burne brutally to characterize Symonds as the 
"Platonic amorist of blue-breeched gondo- 
liers") he represents his gondolier Antonio 
posed in various lights and with various back- 


grounds to bring out the aspects of a color. 
There preeminently we have the record of a 
thing seen rather than of a thing felt the 
painter is at work rather than the poet. But 
no one can read his Autobiography without 
realizing how the poet was struggling in him 
all this time to assert itself. It is one of the 
deepest facts of his pathological condition that 
he could never summon up the sufficient vitality 
to feel what he saw, to be the poet that he 
wished to be. He seems to echo the words of 
Coleridge, in his Ode to Dejection: 

"I see them all so excellently fair, 
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are !" 

And again: 

"I may not hope from outward forms to win 
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within." 

Just this insufficient vitality gave an element 
of truth to the harsh assertion of one of his 
reviewers, that his poems were "the vocabulary 
of passion served up cold." Symonds well 
knew what it is to be a poet; he knew the 
difference between pure emotional power and 


the nervous power he possessed. The re- 
viewers of his poetry rather wantonly told the 
truth, which has to be emphasized about his 
essays. For Symonds, who maintained as his 
first principle that life is more than art, failed 
here in the application of it. For him in Italy 
life is wholly submerged beneath art ; with the 
exception of the people of Venice, with whom 
later he came into close, friendly contact, his 
Italians have no life above their overwhelming 

Symonds provides so bright an illustration 
of that morbid passion for the picturesque 
which afflicted the world at the close of the 
nineteenth century, that I feel I should say 
more of it here. He describes the impulse in 
his Autumn Wanderings: "Why is it that 
Italian beauty does not leave the spirit so un- 
troubled as an Alpine scene ? Why do we here 
desire the flower of some emergent feeling to 
grow from the air, or from the soil, or from 
humanity to greet us? This sense of want 
evoked from southern beauty is perhaps the 
antique mythopoeic yearning. But in our per- 
plexed life it takes another form, and seems 


the longing for emotion, ever fleeting, ever 
new, unrealized, unreal, insatiable." This pic- 
tures an obscure, iridescent state of mind which 
must have haunted even the most casual tourist 
in an Italy saturated with old passions that 
seem struggling to revive in us as we stand 
among the memorials of them. We cannot 
suppress these "echoes of an antenatal dream." 
In places where life has been lived so fully 
death seems to lose its finality. Numberless 
ghosts beset the traveller clamoring to regain 
their old life in his life. One feels oneself 
actually a cloud of many witnesses, a composite 
of some phantom horde. One becomes the 
passive agent through which old histories re- 
enact themselves congregations of the dead, 
jealous of our trivial flesh and blood, struggle 
within us to find once again their wonted 
space and time. Symonds in one of his 
Venetian sketches describes himself as trying 
at the Lido to focus the spirit of it, when sud- 
denly an immense, swarthy swimmer leaped 
from the sea, like an incarnate Triton. There- 
upon he observes: "I have always held that 
in our modern life the only real equivalent for 


the antique mythopoeic sense that sense which 
enabled the Hellenic race to figure for them- 
selves the powers of earth and air ... 
under the forms of living human beings, is 
supplied by the appearance at some felicitous 
moment of a man or woman who impersonates 
for our imagination the essence of the beauty 
that environs us." But one is rarely fortunate 
to find satisfaction of this kind. The Circe of 
travel in our day is the accumulation, beyond 
our own power of recuperative integrity, of 
these impressions which demand an embodi- 
ment they cannot have except in creative 
imaginations. Culture provides us with a 
sympathetic knowledge of countless historic 
lives and points of view, which only robust 
personalities can subdue to themselves. The 
peril of culture lies in its tendency to sap one's 
own firm and present actuality, and vicarious 
experience is not at all the same thing as real 
experience. Symonds felt this, and he ex- 
presses it in his reflection: "Passion, nerve 
and sinew, eating and drinking, even money- 
getting, the coarsest forms of activity, come, 
in my reckoning, before culture." 


The Sketches contain some of his most 
beautiful writing, and I may not pass them 
by without giving an example of it. One must 
note, however, in the passage I have chosen, 
a certain heaviness of effect which is due to 
a characteristic abuse of the adjective and the 
want of a certain vigor of reserve which comes 
with tranquil recollection. It is to illustrate 
not only this, but Symonds' perpetual con- 
sciousness of it, his own consciousness of hav- 
ing passed beyond art, the alternate swing of 
his pendulum between rhapsody and journal- 
ism, that I have added the final sentence of 
qualification. It is a picture of Amalfi: 

"Over the whole busy scene rise the gray 
hills, soaring into blueness of air-distance, 
terreted here and there with ruined castles, 
capped with particolored campanili and white 
convents, and tufted through their whole 
height with the orange and the emerald of the 
great tree-spurge, and with the live gold of the 
blossoming broom. It is difficult to say when 
this picture is most beautiful whether in the 
early morning, when the boats are coming back 
from their night-toil upon the sea, and along 


the headlands in the fresh light lie swathes of 
fleecy mist, betokening a still, hot day or at 
noontide, when the houses on the hill stand, 
tinted pink and yellow, shadowless like gems, 
and the great caruba-trees above the tangles 
of vines and figs are blots upon the steady 
glare or at sunset, when violet and rose, re- 
flected from the eastern sky, make all these 
terraces and peaks translucent with a wondrous 
glow. The best of all, perhaps, is night, with 
a full moon hanging high overhead. Who 
shall describe the silhouettes of boats upon the 
shore or sleeping on the misty sea? On the 
horizon lies a dusky film of brownish golden 
haze, between the moon and the glimmering 
water; and here and there a lamp or candle 
burns with a deep red. Then is the time to 
take a boat and row upon the bay, or better, 
to swim out into the waves and trouble the re- 
flections from the steady stars. The moun- 
tains, clear and calm, with light-irradiated 
chasms and hard shadows cast upon the rock, 
soar up above a city built of alabaster, or sea- 
foam, or summer clouds. The whole is white 
and wonderful; no similes suggest an analogue 


for the lustre, solid and transparent, of 
Amalfi nestling in moonlight between the gray- 
blue sea and lucid hills. Stars stand on all 
the peaks, and twinkle, or keep gliding, as the 
boat moves, down the craggy sides. Stars are 
mirrored on the marble of the sea, until one 
knows not whether the oar has struck sparks 
from a star image or has scattered diamonds 
of phosphorescent brine. 

"All this reads like a rhapsody, but indeed it 
is difficult not to be rhapsodical when a May 
night of Amalfi is in the memory, with the 
echo of rich baritone voices chanting Neapoli- 
tan songs to a mandoline." 

The second volume of his great work, on 
the Revival of Learning, appeared in 1876, 
and the third volume on the Fine Arts went 
forward during the summer in Switzerland. 
We find him working at the Riederalp, in com- 
pany with his friend H. G. Dakyns and Oscar 
Browning, "at feverish speed, in the midst of 
damp fogs that crept into our rooms through 
chinks in the log-built walls." Mr. Browning, 
in his Memoirs, recalls that large packets of 
proof sheets would arrive each morning on the 


breakfast table. These proofs were of The 
New Republic, which Symonds was revising 
for Mr. Mallock. Early in 1877, whilst he was 
lecturing on the Medici in the draughty 
theatre of the Royal Institution, he caught a 
severe cold, which passed into bronchitis. Dr. 
Beddoe of Clifton (to whom The Renaissance 
was dedicated) found that his left lung was 
in a dangerous condition. Dispatched for 
Greece, Symonds stopped in Lombardy and 
as ever went recklessly on with his studies. The 
malady grew worse and, realizing that a dis- 
aster was impending, he hurried back to Clif- 
ton. The next day a severe hemorrhage be- 

Recovery was not believable. Supposing it 
to be the end, Symonds put his affairs in order 
and then quietly went on with what compara- 
tively simple work his condition rendered pos- 
sible. This was a translation of the sonnets 
of Campanella and Michael Angelo, already 
begun before the attack and finished shortly 
afterward in Switzerland. The account of this 
all but mortal crisis in his Autobiography is 
unusually touching, and he says that when 


finally after weeks of calm resignation to death 
life returned to him he seemed to have been 
born again. "The struggle for mere life had 
now absorbed and superseded the struggle for 
what I sought in life. ... I was a child 
in the hands of something divine, to which I 
responded with an infinite gratitude." These 
sentences are immediately followed by his own 
account of his religious development and final 
position. The tendency launched by his 
former mental crisis was now confirmed by his 
physical crisis at Clifton. His private struggle 
was now largely replaced by an eager delight 
in the whole of life. 

His English days were now, though he was 
not yet aware of it, permanently ended. By 
Sir William Jenner's advice he made arrange- 
ments to spend the coming winter in a dahabieh 
on the Nile, passing a few weeks in the High 
Alps as a preliminary tonic. As it happened, 
his sister Charlotte and her husband Professor 
T. H. Green were staying at Davos Platz. 
Enthusiastic letters about the place attracted 
Symonds thither; and on August 7, 1877, he 


arrived in the mountain village which was 
destined for the rest of his life to be his home. 
He was taken in hand by Dr. Ruedi, who 
found that his case required strict treatment. 
For three weeks he sat motionless in the sun- 
light, and was then permitted to lie in a ham- 
mock slung between pine-trees in the wood. "I 
lay watching the squirrels leap from pine to 
pine over my head and the clouds sail through 
the quiet places of the sky listening to my 
wife's reading of Boswell's Johnson noticing 
the children play, turning now and then a 
couplet in my translation of Michael Angelo's 
sonnets. I was not fit for work. Nature went 
healthily to sleep in me, and the first sign of 
convalescence was a slow dim sense of re- 
awakening mental energy, very different from 
the feverish and fretful activity of the past 
years." At the end of a month he was allowed 
a little exercise, driving first and then, more 
and more ambitiously, climbing. As all went 
hopefully he determined to ignore his English 
doctor's advice and take the risk of giving up 
the Egyptian plan. Sir William Jenner, in- 
formed of this decision, replied, "If you like 


to leave your vile body to the Davos doctors, 
that is your affair; I have warned you." He 
had in fact warned him that a fresh cold would 
mean the end. Certainly one motive actuating 
Symonds was the desire for an at least tem- 
porary abiding-place. Reviewing his life he 
found that in all the twenty-three years since 
he had gone to school at Harrow he had never 
passed more than three consecutive months in 
one place. Though he did not for three more 
years relinquish hopes of returning eventually 
to Clifton, he resolved now to stay where he 
was, and stubbornly set pen and brain in mo- 
tion again. The first fruits of this renewed 
activity were the published Sonnets of Michael 
Angela and 'Campanella, his first book of 
poems, Many Moods, and the Life of Shelley 
for the English Men of Letters series. 

Many Moods was dedicated to his friend 
Roden Noel, of whom he speaks habitually in 
his writings as one of the major Victorian 
poets, the only worthy heir of the cosmic en- 
thusiasm of Shelley, Wordsworth, and Goethe. 
It is a collection of travel-scenes, tales in 


rhyme, meditative sonnets, and songs, many 
of them in learned metres. A considerable 
number deal with aspects of Platonic love. 
They are essentially scholar-poems, and if they 
do not rise into the first order it is because they 
do not spring convincingly from direct ex- 
perience of life the central human emotions 
are over-subtilized and refracted through the 
prism of culture. Nor have they the power 
of precipitating the quintessential in remote 
moods which marks the somewhat similar work 
of Arnold and Clough. They suffer at every 
point from Symonds' usual fault of wordiness, 
his incapacity to seize quickly and victoriously 
upon bright moments of emotion and fancy, 
and his excessive use of unvitalized ornamenta- 
tion. Still, it is impossible to ignore, in this 
volume and its successor, New and Old (1880) , 
his really astonishing faculty in descriptive 
poetry. What he could do in calling up 
natural scenery, settings, barbaric pageants 
may be seen from The Valley of Vain Desires 
and the opening pages of Odatis and 


. . . "Now the tread 
Of elephants with vine leaves garlanded 
Went crushing blossoms with huge feet ; their gray 
Lithe trunks were curled to snuff the scents of May, 
And on their castled backs and shoulders vast 
Flamed cressets ; on the live coals negroes cast 
Spices of myrrh and frankincense, and boys 
Like naked Cupids made a merry noise 
Swinging from flank and dewlap, showering spray 
Of cakes and comfits from gilt quivers gay. 
Next came the priests, intoning as they went 
Praises and prayers their dusky foreheads bent 
Beneath the weight of mitres stiff with gems; 
And on their breasts and on the broidered hems 
Of their loose raiment glittered runes that none 
Might read, so far ago in ages gone 
By men whose very memories are flown 
Were those strange legends wrought in tongues un- 

Behind them followed oxen white as snow, 
Large-limbed, with meek eyes wild and round and slow; 
Lowing they went, and girls beside them held 
Red rosewreaths on their necks and shoulders belled 
With golden bubbles/' 

Yet this is less the work of a poet than of a 
student of Italian painting. Of all the poems 
in the two volumes the most inevitably touched 
seems to me that called To Rhodocleia, the 


last two lines of which are adapted from a 
Greek epigram of Rufinus : 

"To thee whose name and fame are of roses, 

Fair Rhodocleia, this wreath from me 
Shall speak of youth when the bloom uncloses, 
And speak of death and the days to be. 

Here in narcissus the rathe rain-lover, 

And here are wavering wind-flowers frail, 

And here are roses that wreathe and cover 
The foreheads of men by love made pale; ' 

Violets blue as the veins that wander 

O'er breasts we love when we dream Love true, 
And lilies that laugh to the sunlight yonder 

On meadows drenched with the morning dew. 

But when this crown on thy brow reposes, 
Learn from the blossoms, and be not vain; 

For time fades thee, as he fades the roses; 
Nor they nor thou may revive again." 

I think this would not be out of place in John- 
son-Cory's exquisite lonica. 

Of the Shelley book little need be said ex- 
cept so far as its subject throws light on Sy- 
monds himself. It is merely a competent ab- 
stract of previous records, like most of those 


in the series to which it belongs. What its 
publisher thought of it may be seen from a 
letter of Alexander Macmillan, November 22, 
1878: "I like your book very much and think 
it makes the clearest and simplest complete 
presentation of the man we have. ... I 
cannot help being gratified that we have had 
the honor of publishing what is on the whole 
the best, completest, and most rational account 
of so noble, beautiful, if also very erratic and 
perplexing, a character." There is something 
suggestive in the writing of this life of Shelley 
just at the moment when his own poetry was 
first being published. Shelley had been from 
earliest childhood one of the men to whose writ- 
ings he had submitted himself with "slow, 
dumb inhibition." With his own ruling passion 
for poetry he must have learned from Shelley, 
whose life was one long uninterrupted purga- 
tion through love, how impossible it is to be a 
poet when one's life is not poetical. He must 
have observed what a small part was played by 
taste in Shelley's education; devouring trashy 
novels, political economy, promiscuous science 
literature being only incidental with him, 


life appearing everywhere in the rough. That 
was the training, so unlike his own, cautious, 
respectable, directed by Jowett, overweighted 
with aesthetics, which went to the making of 
a poet of whom Symonds says: "A genuine 
liking for Prometheus Unbound may be 
reckoned the touchstone of a man's capacity 
for understanding lyric poetry." One recalls 
his remark at the close of his own Oxford 
career: "The fault of my education as a 
preparation for literature was that it was ex- 
clusively literary." We do only what we are, 
and we are what life has made us. 


DAVOS in 1877 was different indeed from 
the Davos of to-day. An ancient village 
with seven centuries of history, it had been, till 
1799, when it was incorporated in the Swiss 
Republic, a political centre of the Graubiinden 
or Gray League. Then at last its main fam- 
ilies, who held titles of nobility from France, 
Germany, and Austria and had provided gov- 
ernors, field-marshals, podestas, and ambassa- 
dors to most of the courts and armies of Eu- 
rope, relapsed into the condition of hardy 
peasants and frugal specimens of the mountain 
democracy: farmers, vintners, herdsmen, inn- 
keepers with immemorial pedigrees. Of its 
old grandeur not a trace remained, except in- 
deed the Rathhaus, the white church with tow- 
ering spire, and a few panelled rooms and 
family portraits in some of the substantial 


scattered farmhouses. In 1862 the local 
physician published in a German medical re- 
view his observations of the fact that tuber- 
culosis was unknown in the valley, while 
Davosers who had contracted the disease in 
foreign parts made speedy cures on their re- 
turn. A well-known German doctor, himself 
gravely afflicted, resolved to make the experi- 
ment, rash enough in those days when con- 
sumption was coddled in close rooms. This 
Dr. Unger, entirely cured himself, in a few 
years turned the forgotten village into what 
we know as an approved health-station. It 
was at first known almost exclusively to Ger- 
mans. Its ultimate fame among English and 
Americans was due more to the presence and 
activity of Symonds than to any other cause. 
In course of time his position there became 
almost patriarchal so far as that word may 
be used of an invalid artist dwelling among 
true patriarchs. Patriarch he was however by 
virtue of his reputation, his growing family, 
the money that he spent with such wise care, 
the sympathy, half brotherly, half fatherly, 
which he extended to the natives of the place, 


and the genial spirit of advertisement in which 
he spread abroad the fame of the valley, its 
robust life, its work and sports, its wines, and 
its inns. 

The first close friendship he formed among 
the Davosers was with Christian Buol, 
younger brother of Herr Buol, the innkeeper, 
who became a sort of guide, servant, and com- 
panion to him. Few noble houses of Europe 
are so illustrious in their ancestry as this 
peasant clan. Their cousins were Counts in 
Austria and Freiherrs of the German Empire 
and they retained a patent of nobility con- 
ferred upon them by Henri IV of France. 
The head of the clan, Herr Buol of the inn, 
could assemble on New Year's eve his wife and 
his mother, five brothers out of nine with four 
sisters, and could seat below the salt a host 
of porters, maids, serving-folk. Truly a sub- 
ject for Sir Walter Scott. The continued 
prosperity of the house was due to the wisdom, 
tact, and power of Symonds. As often hap- 
pens when an old and simple village is sud- 
denly transformed into a fashionable resort, 
the original inhabitants are deprived by shrewd 


promoters from sharing in the commercial 
benefit. Symonds, who knew the world very 
well, insensibly became the wise and helpful 
middleman between the two populations. He 
made a detailed study of the situation, throw- 
ing the weight of his influence on the side of 
the peasants and scheming in every possible 
way to place them in control. In a business- 
like way he advanced enough money to the 
Buols to place them abreast of the incoming 
capital. His disinterested skill, thus displayed 
so tactfully and successfully in a delicate cause, 
quickened his hold on Davos life, and he be- 
came the friend and counsellor of the whole 
village. Meanwhile he moved his family into 
a suite of rooms at the Hotel Buol, which con- 
tinued to be his home for three years and until 
his own house was built. 

Thriving so vigorously under his new condi- 
tions that he was able, at the close of the first 
winter, to take rough daylong jaunts through 
the snow in open sledges, he did not give up 
hope of returning to Clifton. We find him 
writing in February, 1878, to Edmund Gosse 
that he meditates "sending for a cartload of 


books in order to go on with The Renaissance." 
That year was interrupted by two journeys 
into Italy, in April, when the invalid colony 
was turned adrift by the doctors to avoid the 
intermediate conditions of melting snow, and 
in the autumn; and this became a part of his 
yearly routine. The prospect of a second 
winter, with its monotony, its imprisoned isola- 
tion, and almost excessive quickening of the 
spirit, was not easy; yet in November he 
wrote, "I will still take the tree of beauty and 
shake the apples on my head." 

The opening of 1879 found him issuing his 
twelfth book. In spite of renewed ill-health 
and hours of pain more terrible than he had 
ever endured, the year was a very active one. 
Between February and November he wrote, 
in their first draft, the entire two volumes on 
Italian Literature which form the fourth and 
fifth of The Renaissance. He also prepared 
American editions of the Greek Poets and the 
Italian Sketches, and revised the Age of the 
Despots. It was with the plan already formed 
of building a house at Davos and making it 
perhaps a permanent home that he returned to 


England in the early summer of 1880. The 
unfavorable report on his health of the London 
doctors now at last confirmed this prospect, 
and he resolved to make the final break with 
England. He went back to Clifton, dis- 
mantled his old home, prepared it for sale, and 
heaped a great bonfire in the garden with his 
own papers and depressing family archives. 
"It was rather pretty," he observes, "to see 
Catherine and my four children all engaged in 
tearing up the letters of a lifetime." Then, 
with feelings not unlike those of Adam and 
Eve in the last lines of Paradise Lost, sadly 
but with a consoling resolution, he returned to 
Switzerland. He was now exactly forty years 

Settling for a permanent stay in the autumn 
of 1880, Symonds began his new life with 
accustomed energy. An enthusiastic magazine 
article, Davos in Winter, which had more 
effect probably than any other influence in 
establishing the Anglo-American colony, was 
now followed by a letter to The Pall Mall 
Gazette calling attention to the urgent need 
of sanitary reforms in the place. This letter 


was reprinted in three principal French and 
German newspapers, and brought down upon 
him the fury of the village authorities. Sy- 
monds had foreseen the perils that were bound 
to come, and have come, with a swift-increas- 
ing population of invalids. His prompt ac- 
tion led to a complete overhauling of the 
town's drainage, and after the first ill-will had 
blown over it established his position as a dis- 
interested, energetic citizen and confirmed in 
Davos the career of public usefulness which 
had been cut short at Clifton. Having dis- 
charged this message he set about building his 
new home, Am Hof, a kind of glorified 
chalet, with high-pitched roof covered with zinc 
plates to shed the snow. Into this, at the end 
of two years, the family moved on September 
25, 1882. 

The year 1881 saw the publication of the 
fourth and fifth volumes of The Renaissance 
in Italy. The work was now complete, for the 
two final volumes on the Catholic Reaction 
(1886) in many ways the ablest of all seem 
to have been an afterthought. In its original 
plan The Renaissance was to have comprised 


probably only three volumes. The general 
idea that it was to discuss all the aspects of 
the period politics, social conditions, fine arts, 
literature, scholarship, religion had been as- 
sumed from the beginning. But this general 
idea was not, properly speaking, animated with 
any great coherent vision of the whole. From 
this vital defect the work without question suf- 
fers. It is a colossal patchwork, based on ele- 
ments entirely adequate in themselves, but exe- 
cuted in a casual fashion such as probably no 
other equally ambitious work has ever been 
subjected to. It is not, of course, intended to be 
a continuous narrative. Each volume or pair 
of volumes is complete in itself and sums up 
independently the special phase which forms 
its subject. In this way, and in the fact that 
it consists of a series of bright pictures, it re- 
sembles the Main Currents of George Brandes. 
The Renaissance, as we have seen, was the 
main subject of Symonds' study from Oxford 
days. It was the theme of his Chancellor's 
Prize essay in 1865. But for many years he 
wavered in his choice of schemes between the 
Renaissance in Italy and the Renaissance in 


England. He always felt that the spiritual 
connection between those two countries at that 
period was closer than between any others, 
English and Italian poetry being, as he said, 
twin sisters; and he found in the English 
drama and Italian painting the two most per- 
fect instances of his theory of evolution in art. 
The history of the English Renaissance was 
never carried out, although Shakspere's Pre- 
decessors should be regarded as an introduc- 
tory volume, complete in itself, while the lives 
of Sidney and Jonson may be taken as fur- 
ther fragments of the same long-projected 
scheme. To the history of the Italian Renais- 
sance, using that word in its wide sense, he con- 
tributed in seven complete works in addition 
to the magnum opus. Chronologically by sub- 
ject these works are: Wine, Women and 
Song, ballads of the wandering students in 
whom, at the breaking-up of the Middle Ages, 
the new spirit first blossomed ; the Introduction 
to Dante and the study of Boccaccio, the Life 
of Michael Angelo, the Sonnets of Michael 
Angelo and Campanella, and the translation 
of Cellini's Memoirs, to which may be added 


the Memoirs of Gozzi, the dregs and lees of 
the Renaissance spirit in the eighteenth cen- 
tury. Taken together then, the fourteen 
volumes, with countless isolated essays and 
poems, represent a close study in all its stages 
of that parabola which, in Symonds' favorite 
metaphor, describes the ascent and descent of 
a nation's spiritual evolution. 

Although almost every phase of this long 
evolution is discussed with impartial sympathy, 
and many of its moments are brilliantly pre- 
sented, this great mass of writings was not, as 
I have said, animated with any great coherent 
vision of the whole. The Renaissance in Italy 
is a work of almost the same compass as 
Gibbon's Decline and Fall. But the very name 
of Gibbon suggests the essential weakness of 
Symonds as a historian. Gibbon's was a pas- 
sive mind a mind which for long years could 
lie fallow, open to influences, inhibitive, capa- 
ble of long and silent absorption, untroubled 
by the furor scribendi. His history was the 
subject of an almost unbroken meditation and 
silent labor through twenty-four years, un- 
folding itself out of an obscure but inflexible 


purpose, minutely prepared before he ever put 
pen to paper. Cotter Morrison tells of the 
"calm stretches of thorough and contented 
work, which have left their marks on the 
Decline and Fall. One of its charms is a con- 
stant good humor and complacency; not a sign 
is visible that the writer is pressed for time, 
or wants to get his performance out of hand; 
but, on the contrary, a calm lingering over 
details, sprightly asides in the notes, which the 
least hurry would have suppressed or passed 
by, and a general impression conveyed of thor- 
ough enjoyment in the immensity of the 
labor." It is all this which made him what 
Lamartine describes in the phrase "an empty 
corridor through which the wind passes," the 
self -unconscious vessel from which classic 
works are distilled. A comparison with Gibbon 
serves admirably to throw into relief the 
method of Symonds. That method is de- 
scribed in an entry of 1866, which closes with 
a reference to the true method, so impossible 
to him. "When engaged on a subject," he 
says, "it is good to throw off casual jottings 
and short essays, infimce species, as it were, 


in the order of composition. These ought, 
however, to be frequently inspected, so that 
their results may be wrought into unity; in 
time a number of preliminary syntheses, media 
atfiomata, would thus be gained, and all lead 
up to the organic view. This, at least, is the 
idea of my method. Another way would be 
to keep all in solution in the mind until the 
final process of crystallization. No doubt this 
would be the most vigorous and artistic way." 
It is easy to see that this idea of "preliminary 
syntheses" in a large work is essentially a 
vicious one; for, as a result, the organic view 
springs from a combination of almost acci- 
dental points discovered in composition. 
Artistic truth is itself a whole, which is not 
composed of partial truths. 

The comparison of methods leads inevitably 
to the comparison of lives and characters. 
Gibbon could never have produced his work 
had he not been a strong-fibred, single-minded^ 
complacent, sedentary man, in health and cir- 
cumstances which permitted him to remain for 
long periods in one place had he not been, in 
short, everything that Symonds was not. 


With Symonds the "still air of delightful 
studies" was broken by all the breezes of 
Europe. His nature was almost infinitely 
resonant, thrilled by all the cross-vibrations of 
a complex age. He was neurotic, dissatisfied, 
fretfully active, the theatre of a lifelong and 
frantic battle between ambition and disease. 
With time and death at his heels he poured 
out book after book in the fearful hope of 
depositing some record of his having lived. 
The "well-ripened fruit of wise delay" could 
never spring from such a withered bough. 
Much of his life, moreover, was passed in in- 
tellectual isolation, a very different thing from 
intellectual solitude. Quick journeys back and 
forth, when over and over again his life was 
a mere hazard, enabled him to catch frequently 
the spirit of works and men with a poignant 
and almost terrible intensity where he could 
not remain to gather the more material sub- 
stance. Snatching life himself he snatched 
always at history; and the world became the 
mirror of his own soul, like him troubled, 
iridescent, racing against inscrutable, over- 
whelming forces, dominated by a few calm and 


majestic intellects, Goethe, Marcus Aurelius, 
Plato. Only men who feel, as Symonds felt, 
the interminable flux of things, who see the 
sky with its freight of worlds wheeling in- 
exorably on, can so adore the few fixed stars 
of the human firmament. 

Moreover, Symonds was far more of a 
writer than a thinker. I have already quoted 
his incisive statement that he was "impene- 
trably reserved in the depth of himself, 
rhetorically candid on the surface," and I have 
referred to Pater's comment that the Age of 
the Despots was wanting in reserve. It must 
have struck readers generally that his critical 
writings, and especially his travel-essays, are 
so far from reserved as to be even garrulous. 
The outward circumstances of his life are re- 
peated again and again, almost flaunted, in 
such works as Our Life in the Swiss High- 
lands. His passion for mere words was con- 
tinually running away with him. He enjoyed, 
required as a physical tonic, the sheer manual 
labor of writing. What he called "the im- 
possible problem of style" was with him the 
problem of winning restraint. Preparing his 


Introduction to the Study of Dante for a 
second edition in 1890, he wrote in the preface, 
"I have altered many turns of phrase which 
seemed to me deficient in sobriety or dubious 
in taste." He labored incessantly to prune 
and chasten his overblown, luxuriant manner. 
He speaks somewhere of Politian's "special 
qualities of fluency and emptiness of content," 
and his natural affinity with just these qualities 
is proved by the abundance of translations he 
has made from Politian and by the fact that 
precisely these translations are of all that he 
made surpassingly excellent. Politian, the gay 
scholar, the fluent, facile poet, found in Sy- 
monds his inevitable interpreter. It is plain 
from all this that Symonds, like shy people 
who talk too much through fear of them- 
selves, used literature as a refuge from self. 
"Heaven knows how difficult I find it to keep 
my mind healthy when I am not working," 
he writes in a letter of 1873, which recalls the 
complaint of Sainte-Beuve: "I eat my heart 
out when I am not up to the neck in work." 
And in a letter of 1867 he says, "We must 
make the machine of the brain go. It does 


not do to let it stop. Whatever happens, 
energize." How far did this sheer pathological 
necessity of turning out written words inter- 
fere with, determine the quality of his work? 
It produced twenty-five substantial volumes in 
the space of fourteen years, but it certainly 
prevented the composition of any one immor- 
tal paragraph. 

This is really the heart of the problem. The 
lack of that final, absolute touch in any of his 
writings is due, I think, to the confusion and 
intertwining of the subjective and the ob- 
jective the impenetrable reserve and the 
rhetorical candor. True literature strikes a 
middle term, where self and theme coalesce. 
In poems, essays, subjective work theme is 
harmoniously submerged in personality, just 
as in really great histories and biographies per- 
sonality is harmoniously submerged in theme. 
Symonds, not in his biographies, not in his 
magnum opus, reaches this point; certainly not 
in his poems or essays. He is not quite the 
true historian, the true biographer, who finds 
satisfaction in a just view of objects. In all 
his pseudo-objective books the history of the 


man or the epoch is, one feels, continually be- 
ing utilized, restlessly, half-consciously, in 
place of strictly creative work, to test the point 
of view of its author. As a corollary, in his 
subjective work, his poems, his personal essays, 
one feels that the author is trying to get away 
from himself, to submerge himself in objects. 
He cannot find himself because he cannot lose 
himself. Hence this morbid shyness getting 
himself by a kind of blunder into the fore- 
ground of his objective themes and on the 
other hand failing to subdue objects to him- 
self: neither the literature of knowledge nor 
yet the literature of power, but always a fatal 
mixture of both. 

Symonds felt that settling in Switzerland 
"put an end to his becoming a scholar in the 
exact sense." In reality nature had made that 
decision long before. Working through many 
anxious years when he could snatch the oppor- 
tunity, a fortnight now among the Perugia ar- 
chives, a hasty visit in England, composing in 
draughty village hotels, with treacherous eye- 
sight, perpetually on guard against physical 
collapse, he could be only what he called a 


"literary viveur" At the same time, consider- 
ing himself rather an artist than a scholar, he 
believed that he was justified in producing 
sympathetic studies where the paraphernalia 
of scholarship were inadequate. Mark Patti- 
son, the grim don, finding him at work on The 
Renaissance in a hotel room at Davos, ob- 
served, "Of course, you cannot be thinking of 
writing a book here." To what was, under 
the circumstances, a particularly supercilious 
insult, Symonds replied: "Certainly I am; 
since I write for my distraction and pastime, 
I intend to make the best of my resources, and 
I hold that a great deal of nonsense is talked 
about the scholar's vocation; men who might 
have written excellent books are sterilized by 
starting with fastidious conceits." It was not 
with any personal venom, we may believe, but 
the expression of that clash of irreconcilable 
temperaments and aims which may here be 
read between the lines, that led Symonds later 
to hold up Mark Pattison as an awful example 
of the slovenly prose of English scholarship. 
Both were entirely right, according to the 
lights of each. Exact scholarship at any price 


was the aim of Pattison: the art of letters to 
Symonds was the great matter. Yet where 
matters of scholarship were at stake the situa- 
tion is itself the most illuminating kind of 
criticism. Symonds had no continuous access 
to any libraries but his own, and he had not 
certainly the kind of memory which enabled 
Macaulay (when he wished to do so) to turn 
out extensive and accurate masses of fact on 
shipboard or in foreign lands without the aid 
of a single book. Circumstances of this kind 
made his efforts more laborious and his results 
less substantial than is conventionally the case, 
and he was probably right when he said, "Few 
writers, I take it, have undergone such pre- 
paratory labor as I am obliged to go through." 
So it is not surprising that The Renaissance 
in Italy presents no calm sweep, no truly co- 
herent vision, and a perspective which the most 
elementary student can see is at fault. Fred- 
eric Harrison observes that it contains hardly 
a word about the Science of the Renaissance, 
the great progress then made in astronomy, 
surgery, mechanics, geography, botany, medi- 
cine. The names of Columbus, Galileo, Car- 


dano are barely mentioned. The proportions 
are gravely at fault. Cellini receives a special 
chapter because his life illustrates the period: 
yet Leonardo, whose character is far more sig- 
nificantly typical, occupies only fourteen pages 
and a few scattered references, Titian and 
Tintoretto together hardly half that number, 
while Signorelli has fifteen pages, or five more 
than Raphael. These proportions, instead of 
being architectural in the right way, are 
whimsically personal. Cellini, for mainly ex- 
tra-artistic reasons, was a special favorite of 
Symonds; while Signorelli appealed to him 
unduly as a precursor of his hero Michael An- 

In the thirteenth chapter of the seventh vol- 
ume that on the Eclectic painters of Bologna 
occurs the well-known passage wherein Sy- 
monds sums up his critical creed. This pas- 
sage, I may observe, was taken as a kind of 
text, in his Criticism and Fiction, by William 
Dean Howells, who there remarks that the 
solid ground taken by Symonds is "not essen- 
tially different from that of Burke's Essay on 
the Sublime and the Beautiful/' After com- 


meriting on the revolutions of taste which have 
marked the history of aesthetics and which in 
particular have brought so low the idols of 
Sir Joshua Reynolds, he goes on: 

"Our hope with regard to the unity of taste 
in the future then is, that all sentimental or 
academic seekings after the ideal having been 
abandoned, momentary theories founded upon 
idiosyncratic or temporary partialities ex- 
ploded, and nothing accepted but what is solid 
and positive, the scientific spirit shall make men 
progressively more and more conscious of 
those bleibende Verhaltnisse, more and more 
capable of living in the whole; also, that in 
proportion as we gain a firmer hold upon our 
own place in the world, we shall come to com- 
prehend with more instinctive certitude what 
is simple, natural, and honest, welcoming with 
gladness all artistic products that exhibit these 
qualities. The perception of the enlightened 
man will then be the task of a healthy person 
who has made himself acquainted with the laws 
of evolution in art and in society, and is able 
to test the excellence of work in any stage 
from immaturity to decadence by^ discerning 


what there is of truth, sincerity, and natural 
vigor in it." 

This passage recalls his earlier statement in 
the Greek Poets that "no one should delude us 
into thinking that true culture does not come 
from the impassioned study of everything, 
however eccentric and at variance with our 
own mode of life, that is truly great." These 
two passages, widely separated in date, may 
then be taken as the permanent standpoint 
upon which he based his critical writings. It 
is notable to find so complex and over-subtle a 
character emerging upon ground so simple and, 
however true, so commonplace. Yet, rightly 
felt, such commonplace is of the true revolu- 
tionary kind. 

A book which, to illustrate the character of 
Symonds, ought to be read in connection with 
The Renaissance is Animi Figura, published 
in 1882. But before I speak of this I must 
resume the preliminary circumstances. 

During the previous winter Robert Louis 
Stevenson had come to Davos, bearing with 
him a letter of introduction from Edmund 
Gosse. In Davos he remained two winters, 


living next door to Symonds "at the foot of 
my Hill Difficulty." This friendship of two 
invalids, prolonged in letters till death in ad- 
joining years, was charming, without, I judge, 
being wholly sympathetic. Stevenson found 
Symonds "a far better and more interesting 
thing than any of his books," and Symonds 
nicknamed Stevenson the Sprite, "most fantas- 
tic but most human." Just how far Symonds 
understood and just how far he failed to un- 
derstand the special genius of Stevenson may 
be guessed from his suggestion that the latter 
should undertake a translation of the Charac- 
ters of Theophrastus. It was never carried 
out, but the suggestion is characteristic of Sy- 
monds and not wholly inept as regards Ste- 
venson. Another literary emblem of their 
friendship missed fire in later years when Ste- 
venson wrote and sent Symonds a very pretty 
fanciful bit of prose designed for a dedicatory 
letter of his book of South Sea Sketches: for 
some reason when the book appeared the letter 
did not appear with it. Cordial enough the 
friendship undoubtedly was between two men 
who so loved everything that is gay and were 


as well such ardent followers of Whitman. 
Under the name of "Opalstein," in his essay 
Talk and Talkers, Stevenson has left an im- 
pression of his friend's iridescent hidden fire. 
In this picture of the "troubled and poetic talk 
of Opalstein" we have a sidelight on Symonds 
which no other record gives with equal vivid- 

"His various and exotic knowledge, com- 
plete though unready sympathies, and fine, 
full, discriminative flow of language fit him 
out to be the best of talkers ; so perhaps he is 
with some, not quite with me proxime accessit, 
I should say. He sings the praises of the 
earth and the arts, flowers and jewels, wine 
and music, in a moonlight, serenading manner, 
as to the light guitar; even wisdom comes from 
his tongue like singing; no one is, indeed, more 
tuneful in the upper notes. But even while 
he sings the song of the sirens, he still hearkens 
to the barking of the sphinx. Jarring Byronic 
notes interrupt the flow of his Horatian hu- 
mors. His mirth has something of the tragedy 
of the world for its perpetual background ; and 
he feasts like Don Giovanni to a double or- 


chestra, one lightly sounding for the dance, 
one pealing Beethoven in the distance. He is 
not truly reconciled either with life or with him- 
self ; and this instant war in his members some- 
times divides the man's attention. He does not 
always, not often, frankly surrender himself 
in conversation. He brings into the talk other 
things than those which he expresses; you are 
conscious that he keeps his eye on something 
else, that he does not shake off the world, nor 
quite forget himself. Hence arise occasional 
disappointments ; even an occasional unfairness 
for his companions, who find themselves one 
day giving too much, and the next, when they 
are way out of season, giving perhaps too 

The two elements recorded here of Symonds 
the cryptic and the serenading are con- 
nected with Stevenson in two publications. It 
was at his suggestion and heartened by his 
bright praise that Symonds collected his meta- 
physical sonnets into the little book Animi 
Figura, the most quintessential and, as it may 
be called, the nerve-centre of all his writings. 
Just as we have seen that The Renaissance, 


and indeed all his other books, display the 
"rhetorical candor" of his nature, so this book 
displays that other quality of "impenetrable 
reserve." In this Portrait of a Mind (the title 
too, borrowed from the Agricola of Tacitus, 
was a suggestion of Stevenson's) he tries for 
once to delineate the true truth about himself ; 
yet, having resolved to unveil the sphinx of his 
own nature, he seems to turn back hesitating, 
and in the preface his impenetrable reserve 
makes a final, desperate stand. There address- 
ing students of sonnet-literature (not the 
poet's world, observe) he says it will be readily 
understood that he is not offering a piece of 
accurate self-delineation, and again that the 
sonnet- writer "shuns the direct outpouring of 
individual joys and griefs by veiling these in 
a complicated, artificial, stationary structure." 
Then having drawn attention from himself 
he launches into a technical discussion of his 
use of sonnets in a sequence so framed that 
the context in every case is necessary to the 
comprehension of the individual strophe. This 
he considered to establish a new precedent in 
the English sonnet-tradition, and I believe it 


was so taken with some shakings of the head 
by Mr. Hall Caine, who in those days was 
versed in matters of the kind. The point is not 
a grave one ; but it provided Symonds with an 
ingenious decoy-shelter and made it possible 
for his soul to pass muster as an experiment in 
versification. The truth is, after due allow- 
ance for this rebuff to the inquisitive, that the 
book formed as accurate a piece of self -por- 
traiture as an introspective man could produce : 
for it must be a truism that the best self-por- 
traits for example, those of Cellini and Gib- 
bon have been produced by men who were 
not introspective at all, were indeed so hardily 
objective that they could view themselves as 

The mind here presented, he says, is that of 
an artist whose sensibilities are stronger than 
his creative faculty, a speculative mind. "The 
craving for solitude which possesses the man 
after vain attempts to realize his earlier ideal, 
gives places to a conviction of sin and failure, 
inseparable from over-confident application of 
ethical theories to actual life." The only is- 
sue for such a mind appears to be "self-subor- 


dination to moral law. But the problem of 
solving human difficulties by communion with 
the divine idea is complicated in our age. The 
whole series ends, therefore, with the soul's 
debate upon the fundamental question of 
man's place in the universe." After this preg- 
nant little sketch it seems unwise to go too far 
into detail. The hundred and forty sonnets 
are divided into groups, some of a single son- 
net, one comprising as many as twenty-two. 
The Innovators discusses the pro and con of 
"swerving from the way of kindly custom"; 
Ygdrasil, life's eternal subversion of system; 
Personality, the impotence of men to reach 
out of themselves and really grasp one an- 
other; The Passing Stranger, a Platonic 
theme which occurs repeatedly in Symonds' 
other poems and essays; Paths of Life, the 
relation between lasting and passing loves; 
Debate on Self, the power of sin to awaken 
life in the soul, the power of courage to sub- 
due sin to the soul, the power of good deeds 
over fate; Pro and Con, the faculty of cour- 
age and good deeds, however powerless before 
appetite, to rally by freely testing love which 


purges lust; Eros and Anteros, the seduction 
of love, the pain of selfish love, the longing 
for spiritual love; Z/ 'Amour de V Impossible, a 
theme characteristic of Symonds, which may 
be summed up in the Greek proverb, "To de- 
sire impossibilities is a sickness of the soul"; 
Intellectual Isolation, the opportunity of the 
soul in solitude and its self -insufficiency ; Self- 
Condemnation, the soul humbled in weakness 
seeking God and hearing his voice without 
being able to find him; Amends, the soul crav- 
ing the good, finding itself in debt to sin, yet 
steadfastly resolving to strive upward; Ver- 
sohnung, the soul needing God and preparing 
to find him by forgetting the past and chas- 
tening itself; An Old Gordian Knot, the soul 
seeing that the former gods were only Brocken- 
images of itself, questioning, though without 
an answer, whether the sun which cast the 
images may not be God indeed; On the Sacro 
Monte, the death of gods and faiths, the en- 
durance of God and the soul ; The Thought of 

"Will not the large life of the universe 
Fulfill its children?" 


and the cosmic principle, "Though He slay me 
yet will I cleave to Him"; Mystery of Mys- 
teries, the necessity of rejecting all suggested 
explanations of life, and of enduring in dumb 
trust with hope. 

As an example I select the fifth sonnet in 
the group Intellectual Isolation, not perhaps 
the best but certainly one of the most char- 

" It is the center of the soul that ails : 

We carry with us our own heart's disease ; 

And, craving the impossible, we freeze 
The lively rills of love that never fails. 
What faith, what hope will lend the spirit sails 

To waft her with a light spray-scattering breeze 

From this Calypso isle of Phantasies, 
Self-sought, self-gendered, where the daylight pales? 
Where wandering visions of foregone desires 

Pursue her sleepless on a stony strand; 

Instead of stars the bleak and baleful fires 
Of vexed imagination, quivering spires 

That have nor rest nor substance, light the land, 

Paced by lean hungry men, a ghostly band 1" 

I have dwelt at length upon this little book 
because it really tells the story of Symonds' 
inner life, indicated even by the brief phrases 


into which I have been obliged to compress it. 
It is indeed the real Symonds, hidden from 
his generation. Although many of the prob- 
lems handled in it are discussed more philo- 
sophically in his prose writings, notably the 
Study of Whitman and the Essays Specula- 
tive and Suggestive, he appears in these son- 
nets as a spiritual force, in distinction from a 
man of letters; and the fortunes of the book 
suggest how little he was able to impress him- 
self, in that aspect, upon the world. It never 
passed into a second edition. Nor was Sy- 
monds urgent; for, as he wrote on the title- 
page of Many Moods, adapting a phrase of 
Whitman, "The song is to the singer, and 
comes back most to him." Two years after its 
publication in 1882, he wrote to William 
Sharp: "I have had it in my mind to con- 
tinue the theme of Animi Figura, and to at- 
tempt to show how a character which has 
reached apparent failure in moral and spiritual 
matters may reconstruct a life's philosophy 
and find sufficient sources of energy and 
health." The attempt was never made, and 
one doubts if it could have been more conclu- 


sive. For Animi Figura seems to show the 
inevitable extent of his mental reservation 
from the cosmic enthusiasm. 

A book more appropriately connected with 
Stevenson, to whom it was dedicated, was 
Wine, Women, and Song (1884) . This was a 
collection of Goliardic ballads from the Car- 
mina Burana and other sources, strung to- 
gether by a prose commentary. "They cele- 
brate," he says, "the eternal presence of mirth- 
making powers in hearts of men." Profound 
sympathy had Symonds, himself a kind of 
scholar-gypsy, with these vagabond students 
of the Middle Ages : perhaps he felt how much 
truer a poet's education was theirs than his at 
Jowett's Oxford. They at any rate were the 
prototypes of our modern insatiable seekers of 
picturesque adventure the open road, gay 
loves and poetry they had, and they were not 
afflicted with archaeology. Above all they had 
life abundantly. 

This mediaeval anthology bears a definite re- 
lation to all of Symonds' writings. In one 
way it serves as a kind of introduction to his 
many books on the Renaissance, for it pictures 


the first breaking up of the Ages of Faith, 
the first stirring of the revived antique feeling 
about the world and conduct. Moreover it 
strongly resembles in spirit the Elizabethan 
song-books of which Symonds wrote so much ; 
and again, in its "truth to vulgar human na- 
ture" it illustrates that favorite doctrine of his 
that life is more than literature, which drew 
him to the Elizabethan drama, to Cellini, and 
to Whitman. Symonds was always fascinated, 
as only a reserved, fastidious, intellectual man 
can be, by life in its rude, sheer, vulgar actual- 
ity. How precisely he found in these songs, or 
put into them, the Elizabethan spirit may be 
seen from a single example : 

"If she could love me when I love, 
I would not then exchange with Jove: 
Ah ! might I clasp her once, and drain 
Her lips as thirsty flowers drink rain ! 
With death to meet, his welcome greet, from life re- 
treat, I were full fain ! 
Heigh! full fain, I were full fain, 
Could I such joy, such wealth of pleasure gain!" 

I think we should not be surprised to find 
that in Ben Jonson. 


I find in the book a passage where Symonds 
gives his theory of translation, and as it is 
possible that he will live longer as a translator 
than as an original writer, as his translations 
are acknowledged by all to be among the best 
in the language, it is well to quote what he has 
to say: 

"It has always been my creed that a good 
translation should resemble a plaster cast; the 
English being plaque upon the original, so as 
to reproduce its exact form, although it can- 
not convey the effects of bronze or marble, 
which belong to the material of the work of 
art. But this method has not always seemed to 
me the most desirable for rendering poems, an 
eminent quality of which is facility and spon- 
taneity. In order to obtain that quality in 
our language the form has occasionally to be 
sacrificed. ... I am frequently enticed to 
repeat experiments, which afterward I regard 
in the light of failures. What allures me first 
is the pleasure of passing into that intimate 
familiarity with art which only a copyist or 
translator enjoys. I am next impelled by the 
desire to fix the attention of readers on things 


which I admire, and which are possibly beyond 
their scope of view. Last comes that ignis 
fatuus of the hope, forever renewed, if for- 
ever disappointed, that some addition may be 
made in this way to the wealth of English 

This passage gives not only his theory of 
translation, but the reasons why that art so 
repeatedly attracted him. Between the lines 
we read the whole history of a baffled and con- 
gested poet and the philosophy of what he him- 
self called a vulgariseur. 


ONLY during the first four or five years 
in Davos did Symonds maintain the com- 
parative exuberance of health that succeeded 
his collapse. It was indeed, as he said, a won- 
derful Indian summer, a ripe autumn, rich in 
fruit; but an autumn none the less declining 
appreciably towards the end. He felt most 
keenly the isolation from intellectual company 
and from adequate libraries. Knowing that he 
was out of the world's current, he imagined 
that all the rest of his generation was forging 
far beyond him. Achievements that look small 
enough in the world where achievements are 
common were magnified out of all proportion 
to Symonds in his retreat. The reviewers ap- 
peared to neglect or slight him or, as they 
sometimes did, to take shameful advantages of 
him. He tried to convince himself that for 



him literature was only a pastime; in reality, 
feeling that he had gained no foothold, he 
was made more sensitive by isolation and soli- 
tude. Naturally, under these circumstances, 
he strove pathetically to be, and to be consid- 
ered, one of the advance guard in criticism. 
Feeling himself left behind, dropped outside, 
he became more and more attentive to modern 
thought, on which, except in a general way, he 
had no very instinctive grasp. 

On one side of his nature he was very like 
Ovid: and his exile from the world of gaiety 
was like Ovid's exile on the Euxine. Deprived 
of the keener and more intimate wit of cities, 
he consoled himself with the Gothic wit of the 
mountains. He was the ringleader at many a 
village festival. He loved light music, and 
there was no greater connoisseur, in Switzer- 
land or Italy, of all the friendly vins du pays. 
"I supped with Cator last night," he writes. 
"A zither and guitar player two men came 
afterwards to make music for us. We had up 

the two Christians and S , drank enormous 

quantities of old wine, sang, laughed, danced, 
and made a most uproarious noise until 2 A. M. 


Then the two Christians and I descended on 
one toboggan in a dense snow-storm. It was 
quite dark, and drifty beyond description. I 
sprained my left side in the groin a little." 
His friend Mr. Brown recalls an evening when 
Herr Buol the innkeeper bade farewell to some 
friends with a patriarchal supper: after which 
the whole party, including Symonds, descended 
to the cellars and each one strode a tun of 
Veltliner, candle in hand, and sped the parting 

The fascination of rude and heartily active 
life led him to choose, even for study, the 
smoke-room of the inn, crowded as it was with 
burly working-men. He loved to sit in the 
stables, in the dim candlelight, smoking his 
pipe and talking with the herdsmen when the 
day's work was done. He would go toboggan- 
ing alone at midnight and in all weathers. He 
loved the falling snow, the smell of hay, the 
slow-breathing cattle. 

He was the friend of half the Swiss hotel- 
porters in Europe, knew their fathers and 
brothers at home and all the circumstances of 
their lives, so sympathetically indeed that he 


wrote in their behalf what strikes me as a most 
deplorable defence of the tipping system. 
Probably no foreigner has ever known the 
Graubiinden as he knew it, historically, geo- 
graphically, industrially, and humanly; and 
one of his long-cherished schemes was to write 
a history of the canton. He studied the cli- 
mate, and wrote voluminously on all the vari- 
ous kinds of avalanches and the history of 
memorable avalanches. And just as he had 
been led into this profound sympathy with the 
Davos peasantry, so now he began to study the 
living Italians. During the spring journey to 
Venice of 1881 he formed a friendship with 
Angelo Fusatto the gondolier, the faithful ser- 
vant and companion who was with him when 
he died. Through Angelo he came to know 
with an equal intimacy the familiar, water-side 
life of Venice, which he describes in The Gon- 
dolier's Wedding and other sketches. He cer- 
tainly did not have the faculty, for instance, 
of Stevenson, for communicating life of this 
kind in literature. He was too much the curi- 
ous student, possibly, with a touch of social 
conventionality; but there is no doubt of the 


reality of his fellow-feeling in all such adven- 

All this came about at the first through 
Christian Buol. Christian enabled him to 
bring into practice those ideas of comrade- 
ship and democracy which had first drawn him 
to Whitman. For Whitman had stirred him 
chiefly at first and through many years by that 
indefinite Platonic poem Calamus, the love of 
comrades. The subject is extremely complex 
in relation to a man like Symonds; yet per- 
haps I can do something towards unravelling 
it. It is clear that Whitman draws a distinct 
line between "adhesiveness," or the love of man 
for man, and "amativeness," or the love of the 
sexes. The sentiment, or rather passion, which 
he tries to adumbrate is something more spirit- 
ual than sexual affection. This "manly attach- 
ment," this "athletic love" is friendship raised 
to a higher power and conceived as the welding 
force of human democracy: a chivalrous en- 
thusiasm like that of soldiers fighting in com- 
mon for a great cause. At the same time one 
feels that there was about Whitman some- 
thing "soft," a something associated with his 


notion of intimacy that strikes a false note. 
This again is an extremely complex psycholog- 
ical point, and the question must remain at 
present de gustibus. I wish only to indicate a 
very human mental reservation from what 
everyone must recognize in candor as a truly 
sublime idea. It is enough to say that the 
Platonic idea, which has lately been a good 
deal flourished about, assumed in Whitman a 
sentimental form, and that with Symonds it 
was primarily artistic. How obscure, how un- 
defined in both men the impulse was may be 
judged from Whitman's complaint that for 
twenty years in letters Symonds had been pes- 
tering and catechising him on the meaning of 
Calamus. "My first instinct about all that 
Symonds writes," he said to Horace Traubel, 
"is violently reactionary is strong and brutal 
for no, no, no. Then the thought intervenes 
that I maybe do not know all my own mean- 
ings." Plainly it could not be reduced to the 
dialectical form of the Charmides; and as 
plainly, dim as it is, it cannot be ignored. It 
takes us back to Symonds' childhood when, to 
the discomfort of his father, he preferred to 


fall in love with an engraving of the Genius 
of the Vatican rather than with "some nymph 
or Hebe." It accompanied him through life 
in his passion for the aesthetic aspect of sports. 
It formed the motive of a large number of 
poems, many of which were published (Calli- 
crates,, for instance, a copy of which he sent to 
Whitman). It drew him uneasily to the sub- 
ject of Antinous, that beautiful, equivocal boy, 
an emperor's Ganymede. In his essay on 
Athens he tests it by the theory of the milieu. 
It plays its part in his physical repulsion from 
the style of Pater ("like the presence of a 
civet-cat") and again where he speaks, in a 
letter of 1878, of "something in the personality 
of Keats, some sort of semi-physical aroma 
wafted from it, which I cannot endure." The 
corollary of this physical repulsion, which is 
always a mark of neurotic people, is found in 
his essay on Swiss Athletic Sports,, where he 
quotes the remark of one of the athletes, 
a propos of the brotherliness of gymnasts: 
"That is because we come into physical contact 
with one another. You only learn to love men 
whose bodies you have touched and handled." 


Symonds' comment on this is, "True as I be- 
lieve this remark to be, and wide-reaching in 
its possibilities of application, I somehow did 
not expect it from the lips of an Alpine peas- 

This question belongs to the mysterious 
depths of aesthetic psychology. I must only 
add that it controlled Symonds in almost 
every issue, that it led him into Greek studies, 
attracted him to Whitman and the Davos peas- 
antry, and certainly explains his lifelong en- 
thusiasm for Michael Angelo, the supreme ar- 
tist of the adolescent masculine body. And in 
any case it provides us with a superb specimen 
of that philosophy according to which the soul 
with all its aspirations and activities is ex- 
plained by physiology. 

The friendship of Symonds and Whitman, 
though they never met, lasted continuously for 
nearly thirty years until the death of Whitman 
in 1892. Of Whitman's influence on Symonds' 
life I have already spoken and shall have oc- 
casion to speak later. Of the nature of his 
work, in Symonds' view, perhaps I may quote 
an eloquent though somewhat inflated passage 


from the Study of Whitman, published on the 
day Symonds died, which illustrates alike his 
power and misuse of words : 

"He is Behemoth, wallowing in primeval 
jungles, bathing at fountain-heads of mighty 
rivers, crushing the bamboos and the cane- 
brakes under him, bellowing and exulting in 
the torrid air. He is a gigantic elk or buffalo, 
trampling the grasses of the wilderness, track- 
ing his mate with irresistible energy. He is an 
immense tree, a kind of Ygdrasil, stretching 
its roots down into the bowels of the world, and 
unfolding its magic boughs through all the 
space of the heavens. His poems are even as 
the rings in a majestic oak or pine. He is the 
circumambient air, in which float shadowy 
shapes, rise mirage-towers and palm-groves; 
we try to clasp their visionary forms ; they van- 
ish into ether. He is the globe itself; all seas, 
lands, forests, climates, storms, snows, sun- 
shines, rains of universal earth. He is all na- 
tions, cities, languages, religions, arts, creeds, 
thoughts, emotions. He is the beginning and 
the grit of these things, not their endings, lees, 
and dregs. Then he comes to us as lover, con- 


soler, physician, nurse, most tender, fatherly, 
sustaining those about to die, lifting the chil- 
dren, and stretching out his arms to the young 
men. What the world has he absorbs. For 
him there is no schism in the universe, no force 
opposed to God or capable of thwarting Him, 
no evil ineradicable by the soul, no limit set on 
human aspiration. Vice and disease he re- 
bukes and pities. They are tainted, defective, 
miserable ; yet not to be screamed at ; rather to 
be cured and healed. He knows that purity 
is best, and health is best. But he also shows 
that what false modesty accounted unclean is 
the cleanest and the healthiest of all. In his 
return to nature he does not select inanimate 
nature or single out the savage state. He takes 
man first, as the height and head of things ; and 
after man the whole tract that human feet can 
traverse or human thought explore. Cities, 
arts, occupations, manufactures, have a larger 
place in his poetry than rivers or prairies; for 
these are nearer to man, more important to his 
destiny and education. He is the poet of fact, 
of the real, of what exists, of the last true, 
positive, and sole ontology." 


In this book and in his essay on Democratic 
Art are summed up Symonds' views on Whit- 
man as a gigantic spiritual force. 

Whitman in his turn was deeply devoted to 
Symonds. His first real recognition came 
from a few English and Irish scholars, and 
there is no doubt that he felt not only grateful 
but flattered. The great man was, in fact, ab- 
surdly and naively vain. He enjoyed the ex- 
uberant praise of men, so-called of culture, 
who seemed to have a kind of divine right to 
speak of him in the same breath with Homer 
and Dante. He did not stop to consider 
whether they themselves were little or big, so 
long as they satisfied him as crown-makers and 
weavers of laurel for him. One finds his atti- 
tude toward Symonds, as it is now revealed in 
that truly great work, the greatest biographical 
work in American literature, With Walt Whit- 
man in Camden, in all ways wholly and hu- 
manly delicious. Some of the things he said 
to Horace Traubel are in clear, disinterested 
praise of his friend; others illustrate his un- 
conscionable habit of self-advertisement and 
his utilitarian view of disciples ; all exhibit the 


American dialect and aroma of the man, as 
strong and pervasive as the Scottish dialect 
and aroma of Carlyle. In some cases the 
three are intermingled, as here: 

"Symonds surely has style do you notice? 
His simplest notes are graceful hang about 
sweetly after they are done seem to be heart- 
beats. I am very fond of Symonds often re- 
gret that we have never met : he is one of my 
real evidences; is loyal, unqualifying never 
seems ashamed never draws back never 
seems to be asking himself, Have I made a 
mistake in this Walt Whitman? . 
Symonds has got into our crowd in spite of 
his culture; I tell you we don't give away 
places in our crowd easy a man has to sweat 
to get in." 

And again : 

"Symonds is a royal good fellow he comes 
along without qualifications; just happens into 
the temple and takes his place." 

And again when, as it appears, Professor 
Dowden's first enthusiasm seemed to be letting 
up a little: 


"Symonds is a persistent fire; he never quails 
or lowers his colors." 

Symonds, who did not consider his admira- 
tion for Whitman in the light of propaganda, 
was a little nettled by just this aspect of the 
matter; but he had the good sense to overlook 
it. And indeed Whitman, who viewed his own 
cult almost as a disinterested worshipper, could 
return compliments in his own queer way: 

"Symonds could crowd all the literary fel- 
lows off the stage for delicacy directness 
of pure literary expression ; yes, honest expres- 
sion. Symonds is cultivated enough to break 
bred to the last atom overbred; yet he has 
remained human, a man, in spite of all." 

"Symonds is a craftsman of the first water 
pure as crystal fine, fine, fine dangerously 
near the superfine in his weaker moments." 

And how he felt toward Symonds personally 
may be gathered from the following: 

"I am always strangely moved by a letter 
from Symonds; it makes the day, it makes 
many days, sacred." 

"He is surely a wonderful man a rare, 
cleaned-up man a white-souled, heroic char- 


acter. I have had my own troubles but 
Symonds is the noblest of us all." 

"On the whole I do not regret that I never 
got to Europe, but occasionally it comes over 
me that Symonds is alive that we have never 
met ; then I want to drop everything and start 
at once." 

And in one other passage he seems to assign 
Symonds the chief seat in what he called the 
temple : 

"I suppose Symonds must always be first; 
his loyalty takes such an ardent personal form ; 
it has not the literary tang, except incidentally. 
. . . With Symonds everything is down 
we are face to face." 

In 1883 appeared Shakspere's Predeces- 
sors in the English Drama. Between 1862 and 
1865, before definitely resolving to enter liter- 
ature, he had begun as a private exercise a his- 
tory of the Elizabethan drama. He did not 
abandon the scheme for many years, and seems 
to have intended to incorporate the work in 
that history of the English Renaissance which 
we find him discussing as late as 1870 with 
Jowett, who urged him to undertake it in a 


severely historical spirit. A mass of material 
was collected and many written essays and 
fragments were stored away in his "desolation 
box" ; out of which at intervals came his life of 
Jonson, his General Introduction to the Mer- 
maid Series (1887), and his introductions to 
the Mermaid editions of Heywood and Web- 
ster and Tourneur (1888). Feeling that he 
was improperly prepared and cut off from 
sources of adequate investigation, he hesitated 
to enter a field where so many eminent scholars 
were at work. And he would probably never 
have resumed these early studies had he not 
been urged to do so by his nephew St. Loe 
Strachey in 1882, at a time when his Italian 
studies were practically finished. 

The Elizabethan drama attracted Symonds 
first through his favorite paradox that it was 
strongly anti-literary. Like Cellini's Memoirs 
it was a native, uncultivated growth, produced 
in sympathy with the whole people, demo- 
cratic. Secondly, it appealed to his critical 
sense as one of the few examples in the his- 
tory of art of a complete, organic whole, a 
spontaneous illustration of a people's growth, 


unhampered by academies or by ecclesiastical 
censorship a free record of racial evolution. 
Shakspere's Predecessors is therefore per- 
haps the best example of Symonds' critical 
philosophy, as that is indicated in his Essays 
Speculative and Suggestive. His attempt was 
to apply in England the method of Taine 
"the steady determination to regard all sub- 
jects of enquiry from the point of view of de- 
velopment." At the same time he found in 
Taine "a something inconsistent with the 
subtlety of nature" something not quite 
pragmatic, as we should say. He believed 
that English criticism would run little danger 
of carrying method and logic too far, little 
danger of running to excess in the uncongenial 
task of "shifting the centre of gravity from 
men as personalities to men as exponents of 
their race and age." The Carlylean idea of 
great men, so much more characteristic of 
English criticism, would provide a sufficient 
makeweight to prevent that. In the English 
drama, like the Greek sculpture, like Italian 
painting, he found one of those truly national 
types of art "which have occupied the serious 


attention of whole peoples for considerable 
periods/' and which thus enabled him to apply 
admirably the test of the milieu. 

The style of this book was a great affliction 
to Churton Collins, who made it the object of 
a stately anathema in The Quarterly Review. 
He found in it "every indication of precipitous 
haste, a style which where it differs from the 
style of extemporary journalism differs for 
the worse florid, yet commonplace; full of 
impurities; inordinately, nay, incredibly, dif- 
fuse and pleonastic; a narrative clogged with 
endless repetitions, without symmetry, with- 
out proportion." Among the guilty phrases 
which he attributes to the school of Swinburne 
is Symonds' characterization of one play as 
"an asp, short, ash-colored, poison-fanged, 
blunt-headed, abrupt in movement, hissing and 
wriggling through the sands of human mis- 
ery." But how can it be asserted that Symonds 
was in any way a follower of Swinburne? 
Phrases like this are, after all, matters of tem- 
perament. They are not classical; but they 
are far more consonant with the Elizabethan 
manner and the most nervous, native English 


than is the style approved by Collins. And 
they confirm the oft-suggested affinity between 
Elizabethan and Victorian literature. 

Throughout the year 1881 he had suffered 
from a more than usual depression, crushing 
fatigue, and morbid restlessness. This was ex- 
plained by a visit to England in May, 1882. 
Before leaving Davos he wrote, "My life 
seems to have become suddenly hollow, and I 
do not know what is hanging over me." In 
London he was examined by Dr. Clark and 
Dr. Williams, both of whom independently 
pronounced that the rifjht lung was now ac- 
tively affected as well as the left and had been 
so for at least a year. It was a deadly blow 
to all his hopes and expectations, for he had 
reasoned himself through all difficulties in the 
belief that Davos was gradually curing his dis- 
ease. Other trials befell. In March, 1882, his 
dear friend and brother-in-law Professor 
Green died. His sister Lady Strachey died. 
His daughter Janet fell ill, more and more 
hopelessly. Davos had lost its novelty and the 
allurement of promised health. Isolation 
preyed upon him, and he felt the pathological 


nature of that access of youthful spirits which 
accompanied the progress of his disease. 
Davos, he told a friend, made him "quarrel- 
some and conceited." Constant attacks of 
fever kept him shut up in his bedroom with 
ice-bags on his head. But energy and cour- 
age themselves without doubt symptoms and 
effects of his malady never failed him. "I 
want to tell you," he writes out of the depth 
of his miseries, "that my theory of existence is 
to sustain the spiritual, the energetic, the re- 
joicing element in self alive, as the one great 
duty to the world, the one function for which 
a man was framed"; and he brings to mind 
Branwell Bronte, who died upright on his feet. 
He took to reading James Thomson, whose 
absolutely rayless pessimism satisfied his own 
black broodings. Yet it is noticeable that he 
breaks off a letter on Thomson to tell about 
the international toboggan race which is oc- 
curring at Davos and for which he wishes to 
provide a cup: 15 is to be the cost of it, 
and he desires a solid, old-fashioned college 

Often he would join a singing-party of 


young and old men, or would go driving with 
his family for days together among the moun- 
tain villages. At home the routine of work 
occupied him till two or three in the morning. 
Sitting in his study, with its carpet chair and 
the cast of Cellini's Perseus upright on the 
serpentine stove, he was ready at all hours for 
a smoke and talk with the Davos natives, 
whose counsellor he was. Late at night he 
would go tobogganing in the moonlight or 
walk, dreaming and speculating, along the 
shore of the frozen lake and among the pines. 
The air of the Alps induced more and more 
constantly in his thought that mystical cosmic 
enthusiasm which was to him the divine idea. 
"We crave to lose self," he writes, "or to real- 
ize it all by merging it. We want to burn in- 
definitely, infinitely, inimitably, everlastingly 
upwards. There are potentialities in all of us 
of which we are aware, which we need to bring 
into this incandescence." That spiritual mood 
certainly is very closely allied to the hectic 
stimulation of tuberculosis. Everywhere in 
Symonds the mental, moral, and physical 
spring from a transparently common source: 


there is not, as in so many men, a deceptive 
separation of faculties. In the same way are 
to be explained those outbreaks of high spirits 
during which he was the Horace of so many 
peasant wine- festivals mirth-making as Hor- 
ace and a good deal more hilarious. How 
exotically braced his vitality was may be gath- 
ered from his habits of mountain climbing. 
One night he walked by moonlight up the 
Schwartzhorn, reaching the top just before 
dawn: nor was this expedition exceptional. 

His isolation was broken by a diary of news 
and reflections, dispatched each month by 
Henry Sidgwick, which brought him word of 
the stirring intellectual world of England. 
Yet this only confirmed his own sense of hav- 
ing no niche, no remembered place among his 
contemporaries. He consoled himself by feel- 
ing that he had risen above literature and had 
thereby become a more integral and contribu- 
tory part in the sheer life-force. "I have 
thrown off ambition and abandoned litera- 
ture," he writes on Christmas day, 1884. . . . 
"I am so very stupid, so proved thricefold 
stupid by my acknowledged and obvious fail- 


lire in the work I chose, that I cannot give 
the least rational account of what I expect 
from this Future. Only I will not take from 
its hands what I have asked from the past- 
literary success and literary hearing. I de- 
mand from the Future something finer, some- 
thing that concerns the naked soul." And 
again: "I am weary of things that seem to 
me so infinitely nugatory, face to face with 
mere human suffering. And so far as any 
energy is left in me, I strive now to spend 
my force (of will, and thought, and purse) 
in smoothing paths for happier people than 
myself. I have many opportunities here." 

Of these opportunities he made the most. 
Feeling, with some misgivings, however, that 
his large family of daughters made it neces- 
sary for him to keep intact his inherited capi- 
tal, he reduced his personal expenses to a mini- 
mum and made a practice of devoting all the 
proceeds of his literary work and everything 
else that could be spared from his other income 
to the welfare of Davos and his friends there. 
He certainly lacked the sociological imagina- 
tion; he knew nothing of economics and seems 


never to have realized the true bearings of 
wealth. He did not grasp anything beyond 
a personal campaign; but this he carried out 
with admirable science and unselfishness. It 
gave him an incentive to work when every 
other incentive failed him, and the skill and 
energy involved in schemes of practical affec- 
tion invigorated him. He concocted all sorts 
of ingenious measures to bring about, imper- 
sonally and secretly, a balance of opportunity 
between himself and those who were poorer 
than he: studying private cases where men 
could be helped to develop their proper facul- 
ties and circumventing by all sorts of diplo- 
matic wiles the obstacles of conventional pride. 
His attitude toward poverty and himself in 
relation to poverty exhibits in its best aspect 
both of heart and head the old-fashioned 
philanthropic idea. 

Yet for a comparatively popular writer his 
earnings were not large. At the end of 1885, 
when he had arranged to publish the Catholic 
Reaction, he estimated that his total returns 
for the seven volumes of The Renaissance in 
Italy amounted only to 1100, the remunera- 


tion for eleven years of steady, devoted labor; 
at least half of which had gone into books and 
traveling expenses without which the work 
w r ould have been impossible. Although this 
income was, of course, largely supplemented 
from his other books and articles mainly, no 
doubt, those which cost him the least time and 
effort it remains that <50 a year had been 
his average receipts from a work which had 
involved his best energies, which had been the 
fruit of many unremunerative years of study, 
and was undoubtedly a popular classic in its 

The year 1886 was the most productive in 
all Symonds' career as man of letters. He 
published the two final volumes of The Re- 
naissance; translated the whole of Cellini's 
Memoirs; wrote his life of Sidney for the 
English Men of Letters, his life of Jonson 
for the English Worthies, and his article on 
Tasso for the Encyclopcedia Britannica; and 
edited Sir Thomas Browne and Selections 
from Jonson. Most of this was merely the 
quick and sufficiently competent work of an 
expert in a single literary period, who could 


patch together in very short order an adequate 
monograph or popular edition. He had cov- 
ered the ground many times before. Yet, with 
any but a pure hack-writer, the choice of 
themes is never accidental it is in itself 
highly characteristic; and in Sidney and Jon- 
son we may find special affinities with Sy- 
monds which, with numerous others elsewhere, 
in the aggregate determined his general major 
sympathy with the Renaissance. 

It is not fanciful to see how naturally he 
was drawn to Sir Philip Sidney "the very 
essence of congruity," as Wotton said when 
his own soul had been for so many years the 
very quintessence of incongruity. And re- 
membering his favorite doctrine that life is 
more than literature and his own powerless- 
ness to subdue the furor scribendi, we may 
fancy with what half -envious satisfaction he 
recalled Fulke Greville's opinion of his com- 
rade that "his end was not writing, even while 
he wrote." So when he observes: "The whole 
tenor of Sidney's career proves his determina- 
tion to subordinate self -culture of every kind 
to the ruling purpose of useful public ac- 


tion" when he writes this we know that he 
was putting on paper the cherished ideal of 
his own, which Davos partially enabled him to 

So, also, in Ben Jonson he found a man 
freighted with learning who could breathe and 
exert beneath it the free will of his personal- 
ity, who could be monumentally a scholar and 
yet remain essentially an artist. And when 
he says, "It would not be impossible, I think, 
to regard Jonson's genius as originally of the 
romantic order, overlaid and diverted from its 
spontaneous bias by a scholar's education, and 
by definite theories of the poet's task, deliber- 
ately adopted and tenaciously adhered to in 
middle life" we can see again that he writes 
with one eye on his own career. It is this kind 
of slip, or hazard, or half -confession which 
makes the critical writings of Symonds never 
quite passionlessly, objectively true, and al- 
ways abundantly autobiographical. Incident- 
ally his admiration for Jonson leads him into 
a very unjust comparison with Dryden. A 
"parasite of public caprice . . . impudently 
confessing his mean and servile aims" is not 


the whole truth about the author of that ques- 
tionable line, "To please the people ought to 
be the poet's aim." It is worth noting as the 
only radically and deliberately unfair criticism 
I have found anywhere in his writings. 

The translation of Cellini was more impor- 
tant. It is probably the most popular of all 
Symonds' works ; and work of his it is by vir- 
tue of its style. Here he had to reproduce 
the "heedless animated talk" of a racy char- 
acter, ignorant of literature, often ungram- 
matical, but invariably sharp-witted, humor- 
ous, lively, direct. Symonds has made an 
English classic of the book which Goethe 
naturalized in German and Comte thought 
worthy as a human document of a place in 
the Positivist Library. The style of his ver- 
sion has all the nervous vitality, the mother- 
wit, the native idiom of the great Elizabethan 
translations: it is a masterpiece of literary 
archaeology, electrically alive. The labor spent 
in close intimacy with this book, coinciding 
with his own increasing sense of actuality, his 
ever-growing delight in human nature, had its 
effect on all his later work. To it I trace, for 


instance, the realism and vigor of his Auto- 
biography,, written three years later and re- 
garded by him as the most successful of his 
writings. And indeed almost all that he pro- 
duced in later life had in style some of that 
homely strength which is the genius of native 
English prose. 

To Symonds Cellini was a sort of human 
touchstone for the Renaissance a man who 
expressed in action the whole age, its pagan- 
ism, its brutality, its piety, its superstition, its 
sensibility, its curiosity, its passion for beauty. 
He lived "in the Whole," and thus fulfilled at 
least that third of Goethe's maxim which is 
the most inaccessible to modern complex men. 
The place that this translation holds among 
Symonds' Renaissance studies is indicated by 
a passage from his own Introduction to it: 
"It is the first book which a student of the 
Renaissance should handle in order to obtain 
the right direction for his more minute re- 
searches. It is the last book to which he 
should return at the close of his exploratory 
voyages. At the commencement he will find 
it invaluable for placing him at the exactly 


proper point of view. At the end he will find 
it no less invaluable for testing and verifying 
the conclusions he has drawn from various 
sources and a wide circumference of learning. 
. . . His Memoirs enable us to comprehend 
how those rarer products of the Italian genius 
at a certain point of evolution were related to 
the common stuff of human nature in the race 
at large." This indicates the importance and 
charm of the book to Symonds. And there 
were more personal reasons to be explained 
by that peculiar admiration of Symonds for 
everything directly opposite to himself. Cel- 
lini was objective and external, healthy, 
natural, free from introspection and incapable 
of brooding, a lover of form rather than color, 
a hater of "that accursed music," a man of 

May it not also be said that, like all true 
artists, Cellini was an ideal man? Transgress- 
ing every moral law, he erred only in relation 
to the social background and it is the task of 
society, not of the individual, to provide the 
proper background: living in the ideal society 
Cellini would have responded with equal ful- 


ness, mutatis mutandis, to ideal conditions, 
since he was one of those men who accept life 
unreservedly as they find it. The important 
thing to remember, and the thing which makes 
all-expressive human nature always ideal, is, 
that it can with spiritual or, in Cellini's case, 
artistic integrity accept life whole-heartedly 
and glorify it. That ideal faculty of the in- 
dividual is society's chief earnest, society's 
chief incentive to provide the proper back- 
ground. And if, as John Stuart Mill says, 
the peril which threatens the world is a de- 
ficiency of personal impulses and preferences, 
then it is easy to understand why the Memoirs 
of this immortal ruffian was regarded by 
Goethe and Comte as among the few all- 
important human records. 

It is astonishing to find Symonds amid the 
overwhelming work of this year eight vol- 
umes, either seen through the press, written, 
edited, or translated still energetically climb- 
ing, exploring, traveling. In September he 
made a tour of several days with his wife 
through the Lower Engadine and the Splii- 
gen. But the strain had been too great. His 


eyes gave way, he fell into another period of 
depression, his old habits of speculation and 
introspection came back, aggravated by his 
want of power to work. And in the midst of 
all this distress his eldest daughter Janet died, 
on April 7, 1887. Only a month before he 
had written to Henry Sidgwick, "a sublime 
system of ethics seems to me capable of being 
based upon that hope of extinction." And 
now at this critical moment he seemed able to 
prove for himself that love does not require 
the "bribe of immortality." 

During these years his old master Jowett 
had been in constant touch with him, spurring 
him on in letters and occasionally visiting him 
in his solitude. On March 2 he writes : 

"I was very glad to hear that you thought 
of having a period of retirement from litera- 
ture and of rest and thought before you pub- 
lish again. It is the only way to gain strength 
and escape from mannerism. You have great 
stores of knowledge and a wonderful facility 
and grace of style. But I want you to write 
something stronger and better, and in which 
the desire to get at the truth is more distinctly 


expressed. You told me once that some words 
of mine produced a great impression on your 
'green, untutored youth.' Let me add, what 
I am equally convinced of, that you may not 
only 'rise to eminence' that is already ac- 
complished but that you have natural gifts 
which would place you among the first of 
English contemporary writers, if you studied 
carefully how to use them." 

And a letter of March 30 contains this sen- 
tence : 

"I have no doubt that if you could concen- 
trate yourself and have a couple of years' 
average health, you might leave a name that 
would not be forgotten in literature." 

Jowett, it may be said, had accepted as well 
as given advice, for it was through Symonds 
that he was led to undertake the four years' 
task of revising his Plato. 


THE period of retirement from literature 
was more apparent than real. Symonds 
for two years published no fresh book, but the 
more inglorious phase of his craft went on as 
usual. After a brief spring visit in England 
he returned in July, 1887, to the drudgery of 
the Cellini proofs, a five months' labor, at the 
same time reducing to system his aesthetic 
principles in a series of papers that were sub- 
sequently published as Essays Speculative and 
Suggestive. And an autumn visit to Venice, 
coinciding with the great success of his Cel- 
lini, determined him to translate the Memoirs 
of Count Carlo Gozzi, the eighteenth century 
Venetian playwright. 

Gozzi continued to occupy him through 
1888, with ever-diminishing enthusiasm. His 
heart was never in it, he said. In a moment 



of light fascination he had engaged himself 
to the year-long company of the Venetians in 
their most corrupt, glittering, tawdry period 
with, for daily converse, what he calls "an odd 
unsympathetic bastard between Don Quixote 
and a pettifogging attorney" : certainly a dis- 
illusioning postscript to his Renaissance 

Although it became presently evident as the 
year wore on that the physical basis of his life 
was very gradually beginning to ebb away, he 
grew nervously and in human intercourse 
more and more active. He received visits 
from Jowett and his old friends Arthur Sidg- 
wick, H. G. Dakyns, and Horatio F. Brown. 
His correspondence had enormously increased 
with his growing fame and had brought him 
into touch especially with the younger genera- 
tion of English men of letters, with scholars 
in Italy, France, and Germany, and with the 
circle of Whitman's admirers in America. As 
President of the Davos Turnverein he was all- 
responsible middleman between the natives 
and the foreign colony. He had already con- 
tributed much to the building of a gymna- 


slum, and in 1889 he offered to give 10,000 
francs to clear it of debt and place it in the 
hands of the commune, reserving to the Turn- 
verein the right of special use. It was only 
after a general meeting of the communal as- 
sembly and many intricate negotiations that 
the burghers were prevailed upon to accept it. 
"I never got rid of 400 with more diplo- 
macy," said Symonds. In the summer of 1888 
he was chosen as one of the three delegates 
from the University of Oxford to the eleventh 
centenary of the University of Bologna. 
"With me," he writes, "life burns ever more 
intense, as my real strength wanes and my 
days decrease. It seems to me sometimes 
awful the pace at which I live in feeling 
inversely to the pace at which myself is ebbing 
to annihilation. ... I never seem to have 
lived until quite lately." 

During the winter of 1887-88 the snow fell 
in the Highlands in quantities exceeding all 
recorded seasons. Six hundred avalanches 
fell, thirteen lives were lost, one hundred and 
seventy-two buildings wrecked. Symonds, 
who, like Cowper, had an "awful admiration" 


for great storms, was deeply stirred by the 
experience. He had come, as he said, to "love 
the sternest things in life best," and storms, 
he wrote two years later, are "the kind of 
things which do the soul good: like most of 
the disturbances of nature." In a season like 
this he felt the culmination of that intensity 
of upper mountain air, that sense of abiding 
universal relations to which his own shattered 
mind had moored itself. His impressions of 
the winter and of his thrilling journey south- 
ward to Venice with his daughter Margaret 
through the whirling April snow are told in 
his essay, Snow, Frost,, Storm, and Avalanche. 
Driving over thirty feet of snow they could 
touch the telegraph wires. All traces of the 
road were obliterated. "Now we must trust 
to the horse," observed the postillion; "if he 
misses, it is over with us." Even the sledge 
bells had been left behind lest their faintest 
tinkling should dislodge an avalanche. In 
Venice they settled in an apartment which 
Symonds had engaged for a term of years in 
the house of H. F. Brown. How much he 
enjoyed his visits in Venice, full of amusing 


adventures among the water-dwelling folk 
with whose ways he had become familiar by 
long training among corresponding types in 
Switzerland, may be seen from his Venetian 
sketches. As a man he was certainly much 
more at home in scenes of this kind than as a 
writer. The free gaiety, the sensuous charm 
of Italian life showed him how starved he had 
been on certain sides in his icebound retreat 
and how much his feverish brain-activity had 
resulted from the congestion of a naturally 
expansive nature. 

In March, 1889, he began to write his Auto- 
biography. This work, which covered mi- 
nutely his early years and analyzed his later 
intellectual progress, has never been com- 
pletely published, although it forms the 
groundwork of the great biography by H. F. 
Brown. Certainly it strikes a tone almost con- 
sistently dark, and one of his closest friends 
maintained that he had given an "entirely 
wrong account of himself" and that the lova- 
ble, bright, gay, enthusiastic man known to 
his friends in conversation did not appear at 
all. Symonds himself lamented that one can 


appear so differently to others than to oneself. 
Without douht he succeeded in presenting 
faithfully the image in his own mirror: only 
the social phase was lacking all that is called 
up in company. And it is a question whether, 
in so complex a nature, it may be said with 
more truth that happiness or unhappiness was 
the predominating fact. The Autobiography, 
considered by him the most successful of his 
writings, is notable for concrete attention to 
fact, cool deduction, calm, direct, unwavering 
style, and general objectivity. 

These traits of strength are apparent also 
in the Essays Speculative and Suggestive, 
issued in 1890. "This," he wrote in a letter, 
"is in many ways the most important book I 
have written for publication." And again: 
"I am interested in this book more than I have 
been in any other." It was natural, for he had 
put on record his reasoned convictions in all 
the lines of thought which had occupied his 
life philosophy, religion, criticism, art, style. 
He regarded it as the fruit of a long and con- 
scious self -discipline towards wisdom, during 
which heliad ruthlessly cut away personal am- 


bition and liberated himself from the bondage 
of words. For once he stood before the pub- 
lic with mind unveiled, as a sheer thinker, not 
a man of letters. It is a revelation almost 
equally of strength and weakness strong as 
an earnest of the man's power of self -conquest 
and sincerity of principle, weak as an absolute 
contribution to thought. For the eminence of 
Symonds is based upon certain extra-intellec- 
tual qualities, sympathy, style, impression- 
ableness; and as often happens when these 
are shorn away or reduced to their lowest com- 
mon factor, the result is commonplace. Sy- 
monds was primarily an artist, and few artists, 
when all the glamour of the soul falls from 
them, can contribute anything very serious to 
pure thought. So here: although he believed 
he was breaking fresh ground, it was fresh 
mainly as regards himself; and although he 
considered some of his deductions almost reck- 
lessly in advance of his time, there must be 
few readers to whom they are not elaborate 
truisms. It is certainly a truism that the phi- 
losophy of evolution instead of routing the 
religious aspirations of men has reanimated 


our spiritual and spiritualized our physical life 
as dogmatic theology never did; a truism that 
science and religion are mutually explanatory ; 
that natural law, by involving all the func- 
tions of man, quickens the soul as no imagined 
law could ever do which appealed only to one 
or two functions; that our sense of identity 
with nature elevates our view of nature rather 
than lowers respect for ourselves; that private 
aspiration gains from its coalescence with so- 
cial duty; a truism that art, morality, lan- 
guage have to be explained on biological prin- 
ciples, and that age and race largely determine 
works and men; that great works remain dom- 
inant because of their grasp of abiding rela- 
tions, their hold on the perennial aspirations 
of men; a truism that Realism and Idealism 
instead of being antagonistic are both inevita- 
ble phases of any work of art. These are 
all truisms of the synthetic philosophy: the 
important matter being personal, that Sy- 
monds arrived at them not by intellectual ac- 
ceptance alone, but by the labor and suffering 
of a lifetime, and held them as convictions of 
experience. That fact alone elevates the 


truism into a human document, and places 
the essays, defective in bright ideas and re- 
dundant in illustration as they are, high 
among his writings. I should point especially 
to the paper on National Style as one of the 
most suggestive, learned, and eloquent of 
English essays. For the understanding of 
Symonds himself the essays on the Philosophy 
of Evolution, Nature Myths and Allegories, 
Landscape, and Notes on Theism are indis- 
pensable. Of the book in general Frederic 
Harrison observes: "For grasp of thought, 
directness, sureness of judgment, the Essays 
of 1890 seem to me the most solid things that 
Symonds has left." No doubt: but certainly 
not the most characteristic and therefore not 
the most admirable as literature. They show 
the steady growth of his mind toward ex- 
ternality and impersonal thought, and they 
speak from a happier and more contented life. 
But Symonds was essentially an artist, and a 
thinker only incidentally. 

As time went on and his malady left him 
with less and less hope he became extremely 
reckless of his health. Over and over again 


he sprained his ankles by heedless impetuosity ; 
once he did so in scrambling over the ice- 
coated tree-trunks after a bout of wood- 
cutting. He would spend days and nights in 
peasant huts, washing at the pump once 
when it was so cold that even a vial of quinine 
and sulphuric acid froze in his bedroom. He 
never missed a gymnastic meet, and would 
often clear the course and time the racers, din- 
ing and making merry and driving home at 
midnight in an open sledge against the icy 
glacial wind. "To-day," he writes to Mr. 
Gosse, "I started with my girls and our to- 
boggans, and ran a course of four miles, 
crashing at lightning speed over the ice and 
snow. We did the journey in about eleven 
minutes, and I came in breathless, dead-beat, 
almost fainting. Then home in the railway, 
with open windows and a mad crew of young 
men and maidens excited by this thrilling ex- 
ercise." . . . "Not a cure for bronchitis," he 

Under conditions of this kind the disease 
in his lungs was constantly fanned and the 
fuel was rapidly burning up. Only his brain 


was calmer, clearer, stronger than ever. Life 
had taken its last seat there and gathered force 
for a few vigorous efforts. Never had his 
work been so substantial. 

The constant aim which had buoyed him up 
for so many years found expression in a char- 
acteristic letter to Mr. Brown (July 2, 1891) : 
"You know how little I seek after fame, and 
how little I value the fame of famous men. 
You also know how much I value self -effec- 
tuation; how I deeply feel it to be the duty 
of a man to make the best of himself, to use 
his talents, to make his very defects serve as 
talents, and to be something for God's sake 
who made him. In other words, to play his 
own note in the universal symphony. We 
have not to ask whether other people will be 
affected by our written views of this or that; 
though, for my part, I find now, with every 
day I live, that my written views have had a 
wide and penetrating influence where often 
least expected. That is no affair of mine, any 
more than of a sunflower to be yellow, or a 
butterfly to flutter. The point for us is to 
bring all parts of ourselves into vital correla- 


tion, so that we shall think nothing, write 
nothing, love nothing, but in relation to the 
central personality the bringing of which 
into prominence is what is our destiny and 
duty in this short life. And my conclusion 
is that, in this one life, given to us on earth, 
it is the man's duty, as recompense to God who 
placed him here, or Nature, Mother of us all 
and the man's highest pleasure, as a potent in- 
dividuality to bring all factors of his being 
into correspondence for the presentation of 
himself in something. Whether the world re- 
gards that final self -presentation of the man 
or not seems to me just no matter. As Jenny 
Lind once said to me, 'I sing to God/ so, I 
say, let us sing to God. And for this end let 
us not allow ourselves to be submerged in pas- 
sion, or our love to lapse in grubbery; but let 
us be human beings, horribly imperfect cer- 
tainly, living for the best effectuation of 
themselves which they find possible. If all 
men and women lived like this, the symphony 
of humanity would be a splendid thing to 
listen to." Magnificently true and memorable 


words, which indicate the unwavering aim, in- 
dividual and social, of his vexed life. 

At the suggestion of two different pub- 
lishers he undertook a small book on Boccac- 
cio, which was carried through with little ef- 
fort, and his great Life of Michael Angela. 
The latter work occupied almost the whole of 
the years 1891-92. He approached it not 
only with a lifelong and profound sympathy 
with its subject, but with more patient and 
laborious research probably than he had ever 
specifically bestowed on any previous work; 
and he brought to it all the broad experience, 
the calmness and strength acquired in his later 
and more impersonal years. The archives of 
the Casa Buonarroti in Florence had been 
thrown open on Michael Angelo's fourth cen- 
tenary in 1875; and Symonds was the first 
student to utilize the voluminous correspond- 
ence, manuscripts, notes, and other papers in 
a great enterprise. His method of treatment 
is appropriately austere. How very far he 
had traveled in criticism may be gathered 
from his chapter on the Sistine frescoes, where 
in former years he would have revelled in sub- 


jective interpretation, after the fashion of 
Michelet, indulging in rapturous soliloquy 
over their hidden meanings. Here as else- 
where he searches dispassionately in a purely 
artistic spirit, no longer with any of the spirit 
of literature. Similarly in writing of the 
Medici tombs he casts aside the more con- 
genial, modern, Rodinesque notion, that the 
blocked-out forms were deliberately left un- 
finished to gain through their vagueness, as 
"sentimental, not scientific criticism." At the 
same time, as a student of Plato and a trans- 
lator of Michael Angelo's sonnets, he meas- 
ured everything by the spiritual touchstone 
of the master's mind. Like ^schylus, like 
Goethe, like Whitman, Michael Angelo ap- 
pealed to him as a superb tonic force, which 
"arrests, quickens, stings, purges, and stirs to 
uneasy self-examination." 

The Life of Michael Angelo involved, of 
course, journeys to Florence and Rome and 
through the Casentino, in the company of his 
Venetian servant Angelo. The condition of 
his nerves, largely from overwork, seems to 
have kept him in a state of constant irritabil- 


ity; and he complains of the repellent, heart- 
less, prosaic Apennines and the "t wangle, 
wrangle, jangle" of the southern folk. Twice 
he dreamed of Jowett: "the deepest, strangest 
dreams, in which he came to me, and was 
quite glorified, and spoke to me so sweetly and 
kindly as though he understood some ancient 
wrong he had not fathomed in me before, and 
blessed me and made me feel that this and 
all else would be right. . . . These two 
dreams have haunted me with a sense of atone- 
ment and softness." When he reached Rome 
he found a letter from his sister, Mrs. Green, 
who was nursing the old man at Balliol: he 
was very ill and, as it seemed, near death, 
though he was to live long enough to write 
the inscription for Symonds' grave. Jowett 
in later years had become infinitely more ten- 
der and sympathetic, and his biographers re- 
mark that he had come to feel the need of 
fusing intellect with emotion. The "inexora- 
ble mentor" who could give his friends no rest 
while any defect remained unreproved appears 
sweet-souled indeed in his letters to Charlotte 
Symonds, who was his god-daughter. "What 


a temple of peaceful industry!" he writes, 
early in 1892, "in which father and mother 
and you and Madge are all writing books. 
The world will not contain the books that are 
written in that house." 

In the autumn of 1891 Symonds' practice 
was to write from 9:30 to 12:30 in the morn- 
ing, to sleep two hours in the afternoon, dine 
at 6:30, and then resume work from 8 in the 
evening till 1 or 2 in the morning. His 
daughter Margaret served as his amanuensis. 
In this way Michael Angela was finished by 
December. It left him exhausted. Through- 
out 1892 he struggled on, attacked by influ- 
enza and constant fainting fits, and feeling, 
as he observed, threadbare. "I am writing in 
my study on a cold morning, before the sun 
has climbed the Jacobshorn. Out there in 
the void infinite, the unexplored, intangible 
what is to become of a soul so untamably 
young in its old ruined body, consuming its 
last drop of vital oil with the flame of 
beauty?" With Margaret Symonds he pub- 
lished Our Life in the Swiss Highlands. The 
great success of his Michael Angela cheered 


him. His chief work during the year was the 
Study of Whitman, suggested by the poet's 
death in March. In the summer he made his 
farewell visit to England. He knew now that 
he had but a short time to live, and he was 
haunted by premonitions of death: 

"Last Sunday night I was lying awake, 
thinking of death, desiring death; when, lost 
in this sombre mood, to me the bedroom was 
at a moment filled with music the 'Lontan 
lontano,' from Boito's Mefi&tofele, together 
with its harp accompaniment . . . 'Lontan 
lontano' has not yet left my auditory sense- 
stays behind all other sensations seems to in- 
dicate a vague and infinite, yet very near . . ." 

This was written on February 22, 1893, 
only a few days before his departure from 
Davos on that final journey which has been 
described in the now celebrated narrative by 
Margaret Symonds, Mrs. Vaughn. From 
this narrative, so minutely circumstantial, so 
tender, vivid and pathetic, I can only condense 
the final record. 

Symonds with his daughter left Davos in 
the middle of March and passed a few days 


in Venice, where he was occupied with his 
Whitman proofs. There Angelo joined them. 
On March 21 they travelled by express to Bari. 
Spending a day at Taranto, Symonds busied 
himself with a pickaxe, rooting up and pack- 
ing a great number of anemone and iris bulbs 
for a friend in the North. In the evening he 
joined the natives in a rough pizzica dance. 
Then they travelled northward to Salerno. 
They had one splendid day at Psestum, where 
Symonds tried to work out some theory of his 
about the roofing of the temples. They drove 
to Amalfi and thence to Naples, a visit of five 
days. Their mornings were passed in the 
museum. They ascended Vesuvius, where Sy- 
monds observed that Michael Angelo must 
have studied his figures for the Last Judg- 
ment from the writhing lava upon the slopes. 
Heedless of the damp chill, he spent hours iri 
the crypts of the churches, fascinated by the 
southern architecture, which was unfamiliar 
to him. 

From Naples, early in April, they jour- 
neyed to Rome. The silver wedding of the 
King and Queen was approaching and the 


city was in an uproar of preparation. So 
crowded were all the hotels that only after 
considerable delay did they procure rooms on 
the fifth storey of the Hotel d'ltalia. They 
found many friends in Rome, and accepted a 
number of invitations. Symonds' conversa- 
tion was unusually brilliant, his mind intensely 
active and buoyant. He went the round of 
the galleries, drove along the Appian Way, to 
the Palatine and the Trastevere Gardens. It 
was very warm; the sun blazed overhead, and 
the flowers ran riot everywhere. Symonds ex- 
plored the ruins, adventurous and happy. 

On Sunday, the 16th, he was especially ani- 
mated, and took an almost childish delight in 
certain effects of wisteria and yellow-berried 
ivy. That evening he felt ill arid went to bed 
at once upon returning to the hotel. There 
was much influenza in Rome, and he had been 
recklessly imprudent. The next morning his 
throat suggested diphtheria. He received a 
visit from his old school friend, Mr. Corbett, 
but he felt very tired and suffered from dif- 
ficulty in breathing. In the afternoon his 
mind wandered a little. In the evening the 


doctor talked to him about his books, and, 
turning to his daughter, remarked jestingly, 
"Your father is already immortal." The 
damp Roman night air made it increasingly 
difficult for him to breathe. He seemed to 
know that his end was approaching. On 
Tuesday, the 18th, he wrote a brief letter to 
his wife, who had fallen ill at Venice and 
could not come. His throat was too swollen 
to admit food or drink. He asked for a little 
book of texts which had been his mother's and 
in which from childhood he had read every 
day. In the afternoon an English nun came 
in to nurse him. He talked without inter- 
mission to himself. His daughter observes 
that he seemed to be wandering back through 
the thoughts, not the experience of his old life. 
The heat was excessive, and the city was in a 

On Wednesday, April 19th, it was evident 
that pneumonia had settled in both lungs and 
was gradually paralyzing them and the heart. 
He continued to talk incessantly to himself, 
but in a very faint voice. His face grew sud- 
denly much younger, and in the last hour his 


expression was almost that of a boy. He 
died quietly and peacefully, at the end of ex- 
haustion. It was the middle of a cloudless 
day. Outside, in the blazing sunlight, the fes- 
tivities went on tumultuously. In the evening 
the air was filled with the noise of music and 
salutes and brightened with innumerable fire- 

The first one to bring flowers to the death- 
room was the hotel porter, a Graubiinden 
peasant, who came with Roman lilacs for the 
friend of his people. They were followed by 
numerous wreaths, sent by strangers who 
knew Symonds through his books. In Eng- 
land, the same day, his Study of Walt Whit- 
man was published. 

A little plot was procured for him in the 
Protestant Cemetery, close to the grave of 
Shelley. At three o'clock on Thursday morn- 
ing his body was carried across the city and 
deposited at dawn in the mortuary chapel. 
The funeral took place at four o'clock on 
Saturday afternoon. It was a day of splen- 
did sunshine; the grass was full of April 
flowers and the birds sang in the cypress trees. 


The epitaph was written by Jowett, so soon 
to follow his old pupil in death; and on the 
gravestone it is followed by the prayer of 
Cleanthes the Stoic, in the version of Symonds 

Infra Jacet 


vir luminibus ingenii multis 

et industria singular!, 

cujus animus 

infirmo licet in corpore 

literarum et historiae studio ardebat. 

Bristolii natus V. Oct. MDCCCXL. 

Requievit in Christo XIX Ap. MDCCCXCIII. 

Ave carissime 

nemo te magis in corde amicos fovebat 
nee in simplices et indoctos benevolentior erat. 

Lead thou me, God, Law, Reason, Motion, Life! 

All names for Thee alike are vain and hollow : 
Lead me, for I will follow without strife, 

Or if I strive, still must I blindly follow. 



r I THE life, work, and philosophical position 
A of Symonds illustrate one another as in 
few recorded cases. Seldom has intellect so 
clearly reflected character, and character ma- 
terial facts. I think it would be possible to 
trace the man's peculiar quality, style, method, 
influence, and choice of themes in an unbroken 
chain to sheer physiological necessity. Neu- 
rotic from birth, suppressed and misdirected 
in education, turned by early environment and 
by natural affinity into certain intellectual and 
spiritual channels, pressed into speculation by 
dogmatic surroundings and aesthetic study, 
his naturally febrile constitution shattered by 
over-stimulation, by wanting vitality denied 
robust creation, by disease made a wanderer, 
by disease and wandering together aroused to 
an unending, fretful activity the inner his- 



tory of Symonds could be detailed and charted 
scientifically. A little imagination will serve 
as well to call up the human character of a 
development which is uncommonly fitted for 
psychological study. 

One cannot read extensively in Symonds 
without discovering two facts: first, that the 
matter of ever-uppermost concern with him is 
religion, the emotional relation which man 
bears to the whole scheme of things; and, sec- 
ondly, that his way of conceiving this rela- 
tion repeats itself constantly in similar state- 
ments and in references to a clearly defined 
circle of historic thought. With hardly an 
exception his critical volumes close on a com- 
mon note, which forms the kernel of his poems 
and speculations. I cannot say how often he 
refers to Goethe's Proemium to Gott und 
Welt and the prayer of Cleanthes, to Marcus 
Aurelius and Giordano Bruno, and above all, 
Whitman. This circle of recurring references 
expressed the emotional and vital elements in 
a point of view which found its purely intel- 
lectual basis in the evolution philosophy. A 
natural affinity thus predisposed him to estab- 


lish his theory of criticism upon the wider 
philosophical basis empirically provided by the 
nineteenth century. A natural affinity, I say, 
because I wish to show plainly that his accept- 
ance of evolution was not merely intellectual 
and that his writings were really the out- 
growth of his character and his fundamental 
emotions towards life. 

From that laborious, dutiful father of his 
he inherited a stoical habit of mind, at vari- 
ance indeed with his early tendencies, which 
yet in mature life became practically domi- 
nant. But in the son stoicism the sentiment 
of work and duty was wholly separated 
from its dogmatic and theoretical applications 
in the father. For Symonds was a conscious 
sceptic long before he was a conscious stoic. 
His scepticism seems early to have been se- 
cretly fostered by just the dogmatic nature 
of his father's stoicism. His youth was like 
the insurrection of a Greek province against 
the Roman Empire. ^Esthetic study, dialec- 
tics, neurotic activity destroyed for him the 
logical texture of Christianity and, combined 
with the scepticism of Jowett which questioned 


life without questioning God, destroyed in him 
the sentiment of faith: for losing faith in life 
he could not, as Jowett paradoxically did, re- 
tain belief in God. 

By the time he left college, then, his posi- 
tion was reasonably clear. With a substratum 
of stoicism, of which he was not yet aware, 
his mind was packed with miscellaneous 
knowledge of European culture and had a 
strong bias toward Greek thought. But the 
centre of his heart was not occupied. There 
was a void, a vacuum, and of this the man 
was desperately aware. Just here he differs 
from really small men, just in this fact lies 
whatever power of personality and achieve- 
ment finally marked him out. His heart 
would not let him rest. His mind was unable 
to occupy him calmly, to allow him to exercise 
a soulless literary gift. He was paralyzed 
by the want of a central animating principle. 
And with all his natural talent, his facility in 
words, his abundant learning, he could pro- 
duce nothing. It took him longer than most 
men to find himself, because his niche in the 
universe was more essential to him than his 


niche in the world. During all the years in 
which he was storing up knowledge he was a 
man passionately in search of religion. Natur- 
ally, then, he found this religion, and as 
naturally it had to be one consonant with his 
peculiar physical condition and the stock of 
his brain. In these respects he was a member 
of the post-Darwinian group at Oxford, who 
felt so keenly the vacuum which remained 
when the dogmatic elements of the old faith 
had been swept away. This point enables us 
to understand the English influence of Whit- 
man and that vague but powerful cult first 
called by Henry Sidgwick the "cosmic en- 

We must grasp the idea of a natural mys- 
tic, deprived of dogmatic outlet, an eclectic of 
culture, a man physically weak, intellectually 
sophisticated, over-educated, strangely suscep- 
tible to beauty, strength, powerful influences. 
Such a man finds his first foothold in Goethe, 
because Goethe is almost the only character 
which, as it were, includes a man of such wide 
range, and provides a generous margin, points 
out a path of cohesion. For Symonds, Goethe 


was an elaboration, a modern instance of the 
spirit which had drawn him into Greek 
studies the spirit of scientific pantheism. In 
Greek thought he found, first of all, a moral 
attitude. In their sense of a cosmic order, 
an all-embracing law, their sense of harmony 
with nature and of divinity in nature, he dis- 
covered the ground-plan of a modern creed 
which required only to be confirmed by experi- 
ment and animated by emotion. He found 
that in their submission to law they had sur- 
mounted the enervating elements of fatalism 
by resolutely facing and absorbing the sad 
things of life, including them in selected types 
of predominant beauty and strength. The 
logical apex of Greek ethics he found in Mar- 
cus Aurelius : its obedience to the common rea- 
son of the universe, its social virtue, its faith 
in the Tightness of things we cannot see. This 
attitude, except for its lack of compelling 
force, its inadequacy to men who have been 
indulged with a more celestial dream, seemed 
to him consonant with modern science, as 
Christian theology could not be. For Chris- 
tian theology made man an exile from nature, 


dependent for salvation upon a being external 
to the universe and controlling it from with- 
out. The crucial utterances of Christian the- 
ology such, for example, as St. Paul's "For 
if Christ be not risen indeed, then are we of all 
men most miserable," or Thomas a Kempis' 
"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain/' 
are contradictory to the idea of a divinity im- 
manent in nature of which man's conscious- 
ness forms a part. 

This moral attitude Symonds found ex- 
pressed in three utterances, to all of which he 
constantly recurs. The first, which he called 
his motto, is the maxim of Goethe, "To live 
resolvedly in the Whole, the Good, the Beauti- 
ful." The second is the prayer of Cleanthes 
the Stoic, which in his own version was written 
over Symonds' grave: 

Lead thou me, God, Law, Reason, Motion, Life! 

All names for Thee alike are vain and hollow: 
Lead me, for I will follow without strife, 

Or if I strive, still must I blindly follow. 

The third is Goethe's Proemium to Gott 
und Welt, Faust's confession of faith; trans- 
lated thus by Symonds: 


To Him who from eternity, self-stirred, 
Himself hath made by His creative word; 
To Him who, seek to name Him as we will, 
Unknown within Himself abideth still: 
To Him supreme who maketh faith to be, 
Trust, hope, love, power, and endless energy. 

Strain ear and eye till sight and sound be dim, 

Thou'lt find but faint similitudes of Him; 

Yea, and thy spirit in her flight of flame 

Still tries to gauge the symbol and the name: 

Charmed and compelled, thou climb'st from height to 


And round thy path the world shines wondrous bright; 
Time, space, and size and distance cease to be, 
And every step is fresh infinity. 

What were the God who sat outside to see 

The spheres beneath His finger circling free? 

God dwells within, and moves the world and moulds; 

Himself and nature in one form enfolds: 

Thus all that lives in Him and breathes and is, 

Shall ne'er His presence, ne'er His spirit miss. 

The soul of man, too, is an universe; 
Whence follows it that race with race concurs 
In naming all it knows of good and true, 
God yea, its own God and with honor due 
Surrenders to His sway both earth and heaven, 
Fears Him, and loves, where place for love is given. 


Characteristically this translation was writ- 
ten on the glacier at Heiligenblut, June 27, 
1870. I shall have occasion presently to con- 
nect it with his feeling about the Alps. 

This philosophical position, I have said, 
formed for him the ground-plan of a modern 
creed which required only to be confirmed by 
experiment and animated by emotion. The 
first of these requisites he found in the evolu- 
tion theory, the second in Whitman. 

Symonds' use of the word evolution has 
been severely criticised on the ground that he 
too laxly identifies it with growth. Whatever 
truth may be in the charge I think is due to 
two causes first, that he approaches the prob- 
lem rather imaginatively than in the spirit of 
exact science, and secondly that his data are 
historical and aesthetic rather than biological 
or geological. In short, the aspect of evolu- 
tion he has always in mind is the evolution of 
the human spirit, which is not yet so accu- 
rately determinable as the primary physical as- 
pects of life. In his application of evolution 
to criticism, in his effort to show that science 
and religion are complementary, he was a pio- 


neer and he had, so to speak, the pioneer's 
axe to grind; so that what he wrote on these 
themes must be taken, in his own spirit, as 
personal suggestions and speculations. Intel- 
lectually the evolution theory proved to him 
what the Greeks and Marcus Aurelius had di- 
vined, how truly man is part of nature and 
how "nature everywhere, and in all her parts, 
must contain what corresponds to our spiritual 


There is, however, a long step to take from 
the philosophy of nature to the religion of 
nature the step from what may be called the 
cosmic sense to what has been called the cosmic 
enthusiasm. The prayer of Cleanthes is a 
statement of submission: 

Lead me, for I will follow without strife, 
Or if I strive, still must I blindly follow. 

Indeed that is what man does whether he will 
or no; therein he still remains in bondage to 
fate, because he does not yet with hearty con- 
fidence affirm, "In Thy will is our peace." 
Powerless as man's will is before cosmic law, 


he may still believe that his happiness lies in 
opposition to cosmic law. His acquiescence is 
not yet enthusiastic. And as Symonds wrote 
in his Greek Poets: "The real way of achiev- 
ing a triumph over chance and of defying 
fate is to turn to good account all fair and 
wholesome things beneath the sun, and to 
maintain for an ideal the beauty, strength and 
splendor of the body, mind and will of man." 
The way to hold one's own in the swift-flow- 
ing stream is to swim with it, using the current 
for one's own progress. Under these condi- 
tions the possibility of a new religion is indi- 
cated in the following passage: "Through 
criticism, science sprang into being; and sci- 
ence, so far as it touches the idea of deity, 
brought once more into overwhelming promi- 
nence the Greek conception of God as Law. 
On the other hand, the claims of humanity 
upon our duty and devotion grew in impor- 
tance, so that the spirit and teaching of Christ, 
the suffering, the self-sacrificing, the merciful, 
and at the same time the just, survived the 
decay of his divinity. In other words, the 
two factors of primitive Christianity are again 


disengaged, and again demand incorporation 
in a religion which shall combine the concep- 
tion of obedience to supreme Law and of de- 
votion to Humanity, both of which have been 
spiritualized, sublimed, and rendered positive 
by the action of thought and experience. 
What religion has to do, if it remains theistic, 
is to create an enthusiasm in which the cosmic 
emotion shall coalesce with the sense of social 
duty." [The Philosophy of Evolution.] 

Here then the fire was laid, ready to be 
lighted. Whitman touched the match. I have 
already told how in 1865 Symonds dis- 
covered Whitman. Years afterward he wrote : 
"Leaves of Grass, which I first read at the 
age of twenty-five, influenced me more per- 
haps than any other book has done, except the 
Bible; more than Plato, more than Goethe. 
It is impossible for me to speak critically of 
what has so deeply entered into the fibre and 
marrow of my being." In Whitman all these 
smouldering theories, these gently, passively 
emotional thoughts sprang up as a flame 
warming and lighting all the implications of 
the cosmic idea: the universe, the individual, 


sex, friendship, democracy. Whitman's pas- 
sionate belief in life, stout subordination of 
the world's experience to the forthright soul, 
superb emotional grasp of the principle of 
development, glory in health, disregard of 
cerebration, innocence of the sinister power of 
creeds, customs, human laws to swamp the 
cosmic energy in man all this, on a dozen 
scores, was calculated to electrify a man like 
Symonds. He accepted the whole of Whit- 
man as he had never accepted the whole of 
anything before. And with Whitman he 
came to accept the whole of life. 

Was there something a little hectic about 
all this? The sheer physical health which un- 
derlay Whitman's exultation was just what 
Symonds did not possess. The question arises, 
can the cosmic enthusiasm, which is really the 
joy of living, exist healthily in those who are 
not healthy? And if the joy of living is to 
be identified with religion, can any but healthy 
people be truly religious? It is open to seri- 
ous question whether any man can love the 
universe whose digestion is faulty. The ques- 
tion is perhaps insoluble, yet in it lies the na- 


ture of Symonds' inherent sincerity, taking 
that word in its absolute sense. From his ac- 
ceptance of Whitman sprang the animated 
point of view which controlled his later life 
and underlay his writings. That alone is an 
earnest of sincerity! and yet I accept it with 
misgivings, because he never eradicated his 
even more fundamental scepticism, he never 
ceased interrogating the sphinx even in the 
midst of his adoration. Or perhaps I should 
say the cosmic law remained for him a sphinx, 
the projection of his own sphinxliness (I think 
Plato would forgive this word) instead of 
the more obvious, blunt, vital force Whitman 
felt it to be: which means merely that both 
men created the cosmos in their own image. 
I mention it because it qualifies our notion of 
this discipleship. It enables us to see that for 
Symonds the cosmic enthusiasm could really 
be only a working-plan, a literary and intel- 
lectual synthesis and a social platform, while 
the quintessence of the man remained as vola- 
tile, as evanescent, as unremoved and un- 
expressed as ever. The real Symonds the 
"Opalstein" of Stevenson could never flash 


itself into the rough colors of critical prose 
and common life. Behind the calm sweep of 
a more and more fruitful actuality, the mys- 
tery of life, dim, inscrutable, hidden away, 
seemed continually surging to the surface, 
questioning, warning, perplexing, troubling, 
like a soul seeking a body and always baffled. 
But for us, who can be students only of the 
fait accompli, the working-plan is there and 
must suffice. 

That the cosmic enthusiasm did not indeed 
altogether absorb or satisfy him is proved by 
certain notes and miscellaneous papers he pub- 
lished on the question of God. He was 
plainly not contented with the impersonality 
of Cosmic Law. He described himself as an 
agnostic leaning toward theism, which may be 
taken as a precise way of shadowing forth his 
need of a devotional object. Of the definition 
of deity he says: "What must of necessity 
remain at present blank and abstract in our 
idea of God may possibly again be filled up 
and rendered concrete when the human mind 
is prepared for a new synthesis of faith and 
science." [Notes on Theism.] 


To me it seems that the words agnostic and 
Whitman can hardly be uttered in the same 
breath: for the whole hopeless tangle of cold 
metaphysical processes involved in words like 
agnostic withers away before one luminous, 
heartfelt glimpse into the infinite. But this 
again illustrates the dualism of Symonds 
his incapacity to accept a soul-stirring intui- 
tion without submitting it immediately to 
analysis. It illustrates the lifelong struggle 
in him of the poet and the critic. A man who 
could write, near the close of his life, "If there 
is a God, we shall not cry in vain. If there is 
none, the struggle of life shall not last 
through all eternity. Self, agonized and tor- 
tured as it is, must now repose on this alterna- 
tive" a man who could write this could not 
have possessed essentially the spirit of the cos- 
mic enthusiasm. He could not have been so 
troubled with definitions, he could not have 
wavered so in faith. 

So far as he possessed it he found it imaged 
in the Alps. His feeling for the Alps once 
more illustrates the physical basis of religious 
emotion it was the longing of stifled lungs 


for oxygen, literally as well as figuratively. 
So far back as 1858 we find him speaking of 
grand scenery as an elevating influence which 
depreciates one's estimate of self. Visiting 
Switzerland for the first time at twenty-one, 
he fills his mind with haunting pictures and 
memorable sounds the murmurous air of 
waterfalls and winds, wild flowers that call 
to him more and more compellingly through 
days and years of illness and heated study in 
England. "I love Switzerland as a second 
home," he writes already in 1866, "hoping to 
return to it, certain that I am happier, purer 
in mind, healthier in body there than anywhere 
else in the world." A year later in London, 
in the roaring, dazzling summer streets, he 
dreams of sunrise over the snow-fields, the 
church bells ringing in the valleys, the dew 
upon the flowers ; and without forgetting their 
pitiless indifference to man he says, "I love the 
mountains as I love the majesty of justice. I 
adore God through them, and feel near to Him 
among them." At Miirren in 1863 he first 
read Goethe's Proemium; on the Pasteuze 
Glacier seven years later he translated it. In 


1869 he describes the Alps as his "only un- 
exploded illusion." Gradually the Alpine 
sentiment becomes central in him. He con- 
nects it with all his major impressions with 
Prometheus on Caucasus, with Beethoven and 
Handel, Cleanthes and Plato, Bruno and 
Whitman, Michael Angelo and Goethe just 
those men, observe, who became the subjects 
of his criticism. In 1867 he writes: "The only 
thing I know which will restore my physical 
tone and give me health is living in the Alps. 
The only prospect of obtaining spiritual tone 
and health seems to be the discovery of some 
immaterial altitudes, some mountains and tem- 
ples of God. As I am prostrated and rendered 
vacant by scepticism, the Alps are my religion. 
I can rest there and feel, if not God, at least 
greatness greatness prior, and posterior to 
man in time, beyond his thoughts, not of his 
creation, independent, palpable, immovable, 

Here, then, is indicated the relation between 
his physical condition, his religious attitude, 
and his controlling motive in criticism. The 
Alps which could give him health could give 


him also, and for the same reason, faith. And 
they gave him that sense of "greatness," the 
importance of which in his own work is 
indicated by a passage in one of his Greek 
studies: "No one should delude us into think- 
ing that true culture does not come from the 
impassioned study of everything, however 
eccentric and at variance with our own mode 
of life, that is truly great." There we have 
the logical basis for his literary, as well as his 
religious, enthusiasm for Whitman. In the 
Alps he not only found, as Obermann had 
found, an outlet for his mystical pantheism, 
but he found, what Tyndall admitted as a pos- 
sibility, the laboratory for placing some such 
pantheism on a scientific basis. He found 
moreover practical democracy among the 
peasants, he found his ideal of the human 
body, which drew him to Michael Angelo ; and 
he came to feel that "elevating influence which 
depreciates one's estimate of self" which 
troubled him at eighteen as a blissful relief. 
Years of introspection had given him too much 
of himself, and he was glad enough to be 
"sweetly shipwrecked on that sea." 


It is not surprising, then, that Symonds 
came to look in literature for everything that 
has tonic value. Health, moral and intellec- 
tual, and all that nourishes a high normality 
in man, was the object of his quest in art, his- 
tory and literature : not sensations that console 
the pessimist, nor distinction that implies a 
dead level to throw it into relief, nor the 
restoration of past ages lovelier than ours in 
specific points at the cost of true democracy. 
His vision was wide and sane : power and clair- 
voyance might have made it prophetic. For 
the underlying principle of his critical the- 
ory that life is deeper than thought is only 
in our day, after centuries of philosophical 
delusion, becoming recognized once more. It 
was a principle far more "modern" than that 
of a greater than Symonds, Matthew Arnold. 
Prose of the centre was Arnold's criterion, 
meaning prose of the social centre. But the 
criterion of Symonds, held with however much 
defect of power, was a more fundamental cen- 
tre than that of taste : one in which even taste, 
even the social centre, becomes provincial and 
which admits Rabelais, Burns, Thoreau, Whit- 


man and a hundred others who have no other 
centre at all than native humanity. "Life is 
deeper than thought" a contemporary plati- 
tude which with Symonds was notable for two 
reasons. In the first place it was with him 
a true discovery of experience, and that al- 
ways elevates a platitude. Secondly, it stands 
almost unique in an age of culture and in a 
man who contributed so much to culture in 
its popular aspects. "I am nothing if not 
cultivated," wrote Symonds once, "or, at least, 
the world only expects culture from me. But 
in my heart of hearts I do not believe in cul- 
ture, except as an adjunct to life. . . . Pas- 
sion, nerve and sinew, eating and drinking, 
even money-getting come, in my reckoning, 
before culture." In his day perhaps only a 
man deprived of life and submerged in litera- 
ture could have proclaimed that. Robust 
minds like Arnold or Browning could not feel 
so keenly the tonic element in thought. Life 
in its own abundance was tonic enough. To 
them it was a commonplace from the outset 
that life is deeper than thought they could 
not feel it as a revelation. It was from ex- 


cess of vitality that they were able, without 
losing their personal equilibrium, to emphasize 
the purely intellectual. In everything written 
by these men health and strength were im- 
plicit, and for this reason they were seldom 
explicit. Browning could afford to occupy 
himself with intricate psychological cases, and 
Arnold with writers of exquisite prose; but 
Symonds required vital forces like Michael 
Angelo and Whitman. 

Symonds again was one of the first of Eng- 
lish men of letters to grasp what may be called 
the optimism of science. To Tennyson, Bus- 
kin, Carlyle, Arnold, Clough, science ap- 
peared in one way or another as an enemy, a 
negative agent, a cause of melancholy, pessi- 
mism, or resignation, subverting God, revela- 
tion, personal immortality. To them it 
brought with it an overwhelming sense of loss. 
Arnold and Clough consoled themselves with 
duty and work, Carlyle and Ruskin passion- 
ately recalled the past, Tennyson credulously 
snatched at the hope that it might after all 
be theology in another form, Browning pro- 
claimed a totally unreasonable optimism. The 


positive aspects of science meanwhile remained 
hidden, unpopularized, uncompromisingly 
"scientific." Such an aspect as that of euge- 
nics, for example, has only in the last few 
years, and chiefly through Continental influ- 
ences, begun to take its place in our literature. 
Science, not as a destroyer, but as a builder, 
Symonds divined, and his training enabled him 
to link that modern view with the thought of 
the past. He would have gladly recognized 
the truth that doubt and faith are attitudes 
toward life itself, not toward figments of the 
brain, that states of mind like scepticism and 
pessimism are to be explained rather by ex- 
periments in circulation and digestion than 
by abstract metaphysical questions of immor- 
tality and God. And he would have recog- 
nized that this, instead of debasing our view 
of the human soul, glorifies our view of the 
human body. 

These, I say, are aspects of science that 
Symonds divined, largely because the prob- 
lem of his own life and consequently the na- 
ture of his experience was, unlike that of his 
greater contemporaries, more physical than in- 


tellectual. There was only a defect of power 
in the man to make it memorable, in the sense 
in which the teachings of Carlyle, or Ruskin, 
or Arnold are memorable. 

A defect of power; and also a defect of 
coherence. The writings of Symonds do not 
stand together as do those of Arnold or Rus- 
kin. There has never been a collected edition 
of his works, and the idea of such a thing is 
inconceivable. With all their community of 
tone and subject, their marked evolution of 
style, their consistently delivered message, they 
lack that highest unifying bond of personal- 
ity. Some of them are isolated popular hand- 
books, others are esoteric and for the few, 
others again are merely mediocre and have 
been forgotten. Individually they appeal to 
many different types of mind. Taken to- 
gether they do not supply any composite 
human demand, nor are they powerful enough 
to create any such demand. They are indeed 
rather the product of energy than of power. 

The conclusions of Symonds reduce them- 
selves, upon analysis, to sanity and common- 
sense: and it appears certain that nothing is 


more perilous to long life in literature than 
sanity and common sense when they are not 
founded upon clairvoyance. Only the su- 
preme geniuses Goethe and Tolstoy have 
been able to carry off the palm with platitude. 
That is because they not only see and experi- 
ence the truth in platitude, but feel it, with 
a dynamic and world-shaking passion. Sy- 
monds, in specific traits the equal of Arnold, 
or Ruskin, or Carlyle, falls short of their 
finality partly at least because more than any 
of them he saw life steadily and saw it whole. 
He saw life neither through the spectacles of 
the Zeit-geist nor of the Hero. To him Eng- 
land was not accurately divided into Barbari- 
ans, Philistines, and Populace, nor was the 
world wholly a world of Plausibilities. And 
he was obviously more sensible in his hard- 
won faith in human evolution than that nobler 
prophet who strove so tragically to restore the 
Middle Ages. But common sense unhappily 
is the virtue of equilibrium: and equilibrium 
is a state of the mind which has no counterpart 
in life or in men who, in the profound sense, 
in the normal sense, grasp life that is to say, 
the prophets.