Symonds' delicate condition continued and he suffered from nightmares as a child in which corpses in and under his bed prompted sleepwalking, and on one such occasion he was almost drowned when sleepwalking in the attic of Clifton Hill House when he reached a cistern of rainwater. According to Symonds, an angel with "blue eyes and wavy, blonde hair" woke him and brought him to safety; this figure frequented Symonds' dreams and was potentially his first homosexual awakening.
In January Symonds received a letter from his friend Alfred Pretor — , telling of Pretor's affair with their headmaster, Charles John Vaughan. Symonds was shocked and disgusted, feelings complicated by his growing awareness of his own homosexuality. He did not mention the incident for more than a year until, in and a student at Oxford University, he told the story to John Conington , the Latin professor.
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Conington approved of romantic relationships between men and boys. He had earlier given Symonds a copy of Ionica, a collection of homoerotic verse by William Johnson Cory , the influential Eton College master and advocate of pederastic pedagogy. Conington encouraged Symonds to tell his father about his friend's affair, and the senior Symonds forced Vaughan to resign from Harrow.
Pretor was angered by the younger man's part and never spoke to Symonds again. In the autumn of , Symonds went to Balliol College, Oxford, as a commoner but was elected to an exhibition in the following year. In spring of that same year, he fell in love with William Fear Dyer — , a Bristol choirboy three years younger.
They engaged in a chaste love affair that lasted a year, until broken up by Symonds. The friendship continued for several years afterward, until at least Dyer became organist and choirmaster of St Nicholas' Church, Bristol. At University of Oxford, Symonds became engaged in his studies and began to demonstrate his academic ability.
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In he took a first in Mods and won the Newdigate prize with a poem on "The Escorial"; in he obtained a first in Literae Humaniores , and in won the Chancellor's English Essay. In Symonds was elected to an open fellowship at the conservative Magdalen. He made friends with a C. Shorting, whom he took as a private pupil. When Symonds refused to help Shorting gain admission to Magdalen, the younger man wrote to school officials alleging "that I [Symonds] had supported him in his pursuit of the chorister Walter Thomas Goolden — , that I shared his habits and was bent on the same path.
They married at Hastings on 10 November They settled in London and had four daughters: Janet born , Charlotte born , Margaret Madge born and Katharine born ; she was later honoured for her writing as Dame Katharine Furse. While in Clifton in , Symonds met and fell in love with Norman Moor January 10, — March 6, , a youth about to go up to Oxford, who became his pupil.
Symonds and Moor had a four-year affair but did not have sex, although according to Symonds' diary of 28 January , "I stripped him naked and fed sight, touch and mouth on these things.
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On one occasion he left his family and travelled to Italy and Switzerland with Moor. It also inspired his most productive period of writing poetry, published in as New and Old: A Volume of Verse.
Symonds intended to study law, but his health again broke down and forced him to travel. Returning to Clifton, he lectured there, both at the college and ladies' schools. From his lectures, he prepared the essays in his Introduction to the Study of Dante and Studies of the Greek Poets — Meanwhile, he was occupied with his major work, Renaissance in Italy , which appeared in seven volumes at intervals between and Since his prize essay on the Renaissance at Oxford, Symonds had wanted to study it further and emphasise the reawakening of art and literature in Europe.
His work was interrupted by serious illness. In his life was in danger. His recovery at Davos Platz led him to believe this was the only place where he was likely to enjoy life. Symonds became a citizen of the town; he took part in its municipal business, made friends with the peasants and shared their interests. There he wrote most of his books: biographies of Shelley , Philip Sidney , Ben Jonson and Michelangelo , several volumes of poetry and essays, and a translation of the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini There, too, he completed his study of the Renaissance, the work for which he is chiefly remembered.
He was feverishly active throughout his life. Considering his poor health, his productivity was remarkable. Two works, a volume of essays, In the Key of Blue , and a monograph on Walt Whitman , were published in the year of his death. His activity was unbroken to the last. He had a passion for Italy and for many years resided during the autumn in the house of his friend, Horatio F Brown , on the Zattere, in Venice.
He died in Rome and was buried close to the grave of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Symonds left his papers and his autobiography in the hands of Brown, who wrote an expurgated biography in , which Edmund Gosse further stripped of homoerotic content before publication. In , upon coming into the possession of Symonds' papers, Gosse burned everything except the memoirs, to the dismay of Symonds' granddaughter.
Symonds was morbidly introspective, but with a capacity for action. In Talks and Talkers , the contemporary writer Robert Louis Stevenson described Symonds known as "Opalstein" in Stevenson's essay as "the best of talkers, singing the praises of the earth and the arts, flowers and jewels, wine and music, in a moonlight, serenading manner, as to the light guitar. Hoffman, C. New York, Bookman Associates, Holder-Barell, A. Bern, Francke Verlag, Holland, L. Hughes, H. Jefferson, D.
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The Author of Beltraffio
Ward, J. Wiesenfarth, Jos. Andreach, Robert J. Bantock, G. Baumgaertel, G. Baxter , Annette K. Beebe , Maurice and Stafford, W. Reprinted in Edel, ed. Press, , pp. Reprinted in Dupee, ed. Bowman, Sylvia E. Brownell, W.