Same-Sex Desire, Ethics and Double-Mindedness: the Correspondence of Henry Graham Dakyns, Henry Sidgwick and John Addington Symonds
Howard J. Booth
Journal of European Studies, June 1, 2002
Before there was even an increase in postal flows each Christmas, Victorian males were writing to each other about same-sex love affairs. (1) New postal services played a role in establishing the conditions in which an 'identity' for those who desired their own sex -- the modem homosexual -- could emerge. Letters capture valuable evidence of how the new sexual identities crystallized, and the split between desire and social convention. My project is to look at how letters were used to express, but also to discipline and shape, male same-sex desire in the years 1866-71. The letters discussed here are between the school-master and translator of Xenophon, Henry Graham Dakyns (1838-1911), the moral philosopher, Henry Sidgwick (1838-1901), and the cultural historian and writer on homosexuality, John Addington Symonds (1840-1893). Although the surviving correspondence between these three men has been used to discuss their lives and work, this article will foreground their use of the letter form. The focus is on a f ive-year period in the late 1860s and early 1870s when they were early in their careers. Examples will be given of the epistolary style of each, but most attention will be given to Symonds. His letters are the most directly concerned with sexuality, survive in the greatest numbers and have the most densely voiced writing style.
The coming of the railways and the reforms of the Post Office made possible new ways of living. A community could be sustained by those living at a distance. Dakyns, Sidgwick and Symonds kept the intensity of interchange common among undergraduates for longer than would have been possible a generation before. The extension of postal services had particularly important implications for minority groupings; the like-minded could now develop their contacts. Such advanced uses of the letter were at first only available to a small minority, due to the low level of education in the general population. It is important to guard against the assumption that the expanded postal volumes in the years after the inauguration of the penny post were made up of personal letters expressing innermost feelings to friends, lovers or family members. Most of the expansion of the post can be accounted for by business letters. (2) The number of items carried by the postal system in Britain grew from 76 million in 1839, just before Rowl and Hill's reforms, to 3,500 million items in 1914, and the same period saw literacy grow dramatically from a 50:50 split between the literate and the illiterate in 1839 to a level of less than one per cent illiteracy in 1914. Measures of literacy, however, do not take into account the proficiency in letter-writing of the author and the differences between regions, the sexes and generations. Efforts to measure literacy often focus on the ability to sign the marriage register, which does not guarantee the fluency required to write a complex letter. Among the children in primary education, for all the increase in numbers after the 1871 Education Act, no more than two per cent were given limited instruction in how to lay out a letter. There was an 'intensification' of the use of the new postal services -- a certain section of the population were sending and receiving letters at a greater rate -- rather than the 'extension' of the post to new users that the Whig reformers of the 1830s had hoped for. (3)
The men discussed here were all of the social and educational group that was the first to take advantage of the new possibilities. Many letters between Dakyns, Symonds and Sidgwick concern travel arrangements, social engagements or upcoming meetings. They take various forms. Some written between Dakyns and Symonds when both were in Bristol are very brief, and of just a few lines in length. Often the Post Office was used to convey the letter -- this was a time when there were collections and deliveries through the day, making the same-day exchange of letters a possibility -- but sometimes they were taken by a messenger. There are also medium-length letters that speak of recent feelings and emotions, and the more reflective longer letter. (4)
In these years Symonds began changing his attitude to sexual behaviour. He later saw a spiritual and religious crisis in Cannes in early 1868 as a turning point that led him to move away from idealized, Platonic, relationships with young males towards sexual relationships with working men. The new position, however, took time to come about, and there were further periods of transition. Symonds believed that he established a better balance in his personal life which helped his severe health problems. The greater physical well-being enabled him to undertake the body of work that included his studies of Dante, Greek poetry, the Renaissance (in seven volumes), Michelangelo and Whitman, as well as translations and volumes of poetry. He became probably the first person to write in English on 'homosexuality', including his A Problem in Greek Ethics and A Problem in Modern Ethics, and he was collaborating with Havelock Ellis on Sexual Inversion at the time of his death. (5)
Sidgwick also experienced a crisis in these years. His religious doubts led him to question whether he could retain his Cambridge Fellowship, which was dependent on his acceptance of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. He resigned his Fellowship, but was then relieved to find himself elected to one that did not depend on a religious subscription. The ethical questions raised by his resignation proved to be crucial for the future trajectory of his career. He wrote a pamphlet in order to help to clarify the issues underlying his dilemma. Committed to utilitarianism. He sent it to John Stuart Mill, who encouraged him to extend it into a frill-scale book. This Sidgwick did in his first and most important text, The Methods of Ethics (1874). (6) time he became Knightsbridge Professor of Ethical Philosophy.
Sidgwick's crisis of conscience appears to be at some distance from the problems Symonds experienced in these years; but Sidgwick's friends were what would now be called homosexual or bisexual: his brother Arthur, Symonds, Dakyns, Oscar Browning, Roden Noel and F. W. Myers. (7) He spent much time advising men who were worried whether it was right for them to act on desires for their own sex, insisting that there should be no sensual element in male-male relationships. This may suggest that he found personal satisfaction in offering such advice; perhaps, having made the decision not to act on his own desires, he then sought to convince others of his position.
A brilliant article by Bart Schultz has moved debate on from efforts to discover the truth of Sidgwick's underlying sexuality, focusing attention instead on links between Sidgwick's advice to men drawn to their own sex and his writing about ethics. A rigid Gradgrindian may have little use for human feeling but, as people do persist in attaching importance to such things, the utility of emotion needs to be considered in utilitarian thought. Sidgwick became fascinated -- preoccupied, indeed -- with the ethics of the few who think about the good of the many. What are the ethical issues involved in keeping something quiet? Issues of restraint, of silence by the intellectual elite until the mass of the population have been led to a new position, are often discussed and theorized in his writing. If one starts to see the arguments in The Methods of Ethics in relation to debates about sex as well as religion then, Schultz argues,
it fairly hits one in the face that Sidgwick had worked out, on various levels, a philosophical approach to the question of sexual orientation and to the problematic of coming out. [...] Sidgwick's was a philosophy so completely framed by the problem of hypocrisy and the double life that it fitted his personal situation as neatly as Stoicism did the slavery of Epictetus. It takes very little translation - the substitution of 'clerisy' for 'clergy', for example - to adapt his advice about when to come out on religious matters into advice about when to come out (or stay in) on sexual ones. The time was simply not ripe for Symonds's erotic poetry, or his work on sexual inversion. Hence conformity, experimentalizing of a type, was still expedient, while the knowing worked quietly for change. (8)
Though the time was not, in Sidgwick's judgement, appropriate for same-sex desire to break surface, he did support causes such as women's higher education, where the public was likely to be more responsive. (9)
Where Symonds often appears driven by internal conflict to make potentially damaging self-revelations, Sidgwick's whole career looks extremely cautious, especially on the issue of when and where to make public interventions. Stefan Collini, who has written an influential study on the British experience of the increasing role of authority figures from bodies of higher learning in public debate in the nineteenth century, has found Sidgwick to be 'a rather teasing case study'. As well as appealing to the public, Sidgwick also sought to influence the minority with power. (10) Sidgwick's view that the elite is most adept at judging difficult issues led one of the successors to his Chair, Bernard Williams, to dub Sidgwick's position 'Government House Utilitarianism'. (11) Well-connected through the marriages of his sisters, Sidgwick's brothers-in-law included his former pupil, Arthur Balfour, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson.
In Sidgwick's surviving correspondence from 1866-71 there is a long letter responding to Roden Noel, who had argued for a relativistic stance on ethics, where Sidgwick puts the case that the shared moral view of the majority should serve as the final touchstone. Sidgwick asks whether it is acceptable for an individual to act on an impulse which is not acceptable to society at large. The philosophical question can be applied to the man who loves his own sex in mid-Victorian Britain:
'What seems to you a general moral rule, ideally good for all, may not seem so to another, and may not be so.' Quite so [...] only do not let us confuse this with the very different and dangerous doctrine that A ought to act differently from B because he, A, has a strong impulse to do so. The impulse is not in itself a justification, though it is of course a difference of conditions, an element to be taken into account in considering whether the same rule applies to both A & B. But -- and this is my point -- it is an element which B can take into account, when he knows it as well as A. You may say that B is likely to underestimate it. So is A to overestimate it. Both must try together to estimate it accurately. I believe and will believe that there is no impossibility in their doing so, no eternal spiritual laws that forbid them to arrive at the One Truth on this or on any other subject. It may be hard, but as the Greek proverb says 'the fine things are hard'. (12)
Sidgwick argues that individuals should reconcile themselves to an internal division between desire and society's norms. He is well aware of the possible response that he is in danger of replacing the individualism with the prejudices of the masses; instead the moral code should develop and always be straining towards 'Right',
You see though I hold strongly that the Right is knowable, if not 'absolutely' [...] yet as an ideal, a standard to which we may indefinitely approximate:. I by no means assert that it is known that our general rules are even nearly the best possible. And I think it very probable that the current morality is faulty just in the direction you indicate: by having too general rigid rules and not making allowance enough for individual differences. At the same time I do think the broad lines of right conduct are pretty well ascertained. But I hope more than most men for progress in ethical conceptions, resulting, as progress in science does, from observation and experiment. But just as the scientific discoverer must not follow his own whims & fancies but earnestly seek truth: so it is not the man who abandons himself to impulse, but the man who, against mere impulse and mere convention alike, seeks and does what is Right, who will really lead mankind to the truer way, to richer and fuller & more profoundly harmonio us life. My ideal is a law infinitely constraining and yet infinitely flexible, not prescribing perhaps for any two men the same conduct: and yet the same law, because recognised by all as objective and always varying on rational & therefore general grounds, 'the same,' as Cicero says, 'for you and for me, here and at Athens, now and forever'.
It is difficult not to feel that 'Right' here is serving as a substitute for God. The individual just has to accept any tension between an impulse and society's norms. The subject may experience discomfort, but she or he should be able to cope, and impulses should, at least in time, be susceptible to the moderating effects of reason. The final valediction, 'Ever yours affectionately', comes as a surprise to the reader, as the letter has more of the feel of a lecture than a message to a close friend.
There is a rhetorical sweep to these lines that would not perhaps have been seen later in his career. Stefan Collini sees Sidgwick's ideas and writing becoming sclerotic. He points to
the major question which no honest reader of Sidgwick can avoid, namely, how was it that this exceptionally clever and, by all accounts, delightful man managed, in some of his later writings, to be so heart-sinkingly boring? Anyone who has read at all extensively in Sidgwick's writings from both the 1860s and the 1890s is bound, I think, to feel mildly depressed at what happened to his prose. (14)
Bart Schultz has noted evidence that Sidgwick felt that he had not gained the insights about life that Symonds' different approach had opened up.'5 The letters for this earlier period show a lighter side to Sidgwick, though he was clearly prone to dark moods, than is evident in later correspondence. His family, apparently, referred to his witticisms as 'Sidgwickedness'. (16) Examples in letters from these years are rather rigid, however. In 1866, aged 28, he wrote to his mother, 'My hay fever is somewhat abated of its virulence, and I can behold the face of nature without sneezing therein', and to Dakyns, 'I have not progressed since I saw you except backwards. At my age it is a great thing even to progress backwards; it shows that one is not stagnating'. (17)
Henry Graham Dakyns (he was known as 'Graham') had known Henry and Arthur Sidgwick from their schooldays at Rugby. Dakyns later acted as tutor to Tennyson's sons before taking up a teaching post at Clifton College, Bristol. He left teaching in 1890, and brought to fruition a long-term project to translate Xenophon, whose Life he also wrote. Arthur Sidgwick, and in particular Dakyns, were Symonds' closest friends at the start of this period, although in the following years it was the relationship with Henry Sidgwick that deepened. Few of Dakyns' letters from this time to these close friends appear to have survived, but it is clear that he had the ability to encourage personal expression from his friends. Symonds noted that 'Graham, like music, intensifies what is within those whom he loves'. (18) The correspondence of Dakyns suggests that he took the longest journey of the three in terms of the style and content of his letters. We move from febrile youthful crisis to the calm, caring maturity of his correspond ence with Henry Sidgwick in the period down to Sidgwick's death. In a letter probably from February 1868 Dakyns wrote,
Here I am aged between 27 and 30 (you know if I do not,) having struck an open hand agst. the sharp edge of destiny, having saved Christ & Comte, having run away from them with my ears boxed, having said to my soul 'or posarsi per sempre' and to my heart 'assai tu palpitusti' having scoffed at my own impotence so to lull the storm of my nature, having found peace in the end, having cast out all peace, having all and abounding, having nothing by comparison with that which I fain would have, sad about others more than about myself, ready to perish eager to rot in the grave, if it would make every thing plain for that which I love; black & filled with black forebodings, angry with God but unable to divest myself of the notion of him, discerning dimly like an unimaginative child the loveliness of God as he is, but resting tormented on the gnawing rack of an old first implanted notion of cruelty, turning & shrinking at the same moment; miserable without a God to sympathise, godlike without God, devilish because I am holy; full of despair at my blackness seeing none else like me knowing my youth, but that the elasticity of my youth is gone, t hat I am of mature age now devoid of ecstasy; and if this be done in the green what shall be done in the dry? (19)
Again the letter-writer sees his life in terms of crisis, mixing the loss of religion with a lack of direction and emotional fulfilment in life. The mental strain is reflected in the syntax of this extraordinarily long sentence, which for all its expressions of doubt ends by paraphrasing a verse from the New Testament (King James version, Luke 23: 31).
What survives of the correspondence today is not complete. The letters became subject to the effort to control what reached the eyes of the many. Most letters to Symonds from his friends were destroyed by him when he left Clifton Hill House in Bristol in 1880. In a letter to Henry Sidgwick dated to 8 July  Symonds wrote: 'I have parted with my past by destroying nearly the whole of my correspondence, together with diaries and poems. Among the mass of papers were a great many of your letters. I have kept a few. I was horribly unwilling to part with any.' (20) John Pemble has charted the posthumous destruction of many of Symonds' own papers. (21) The effort to protect his name, and that of his young daughters, was undertaken by Symonds' literary executor Horatio Forbes Brown, urged on by Symonds' wife and Henry Sidgwick. One letter from Sidgwick to Symonds from the period under discussion here is known to have survived, giving us a sense of how Sidgwick wrote to Symonds. (22) The letters of Symonds to Sid gwick come down to us as excerpts from the posthumous Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir (1906), produced by Sidgwick's wife and his brother Arthur, which was a carefully edited volume. Many letters do not survive, and among those that do are a number of incomplete letters: a reason for the gaps was the wish to remove references to same-sex relationships.
Literature and love are the central themes of Symonds' letters. Strongly represented is the response to the remarkable literary publications of these years. New texts mentioned and evaluated include verse from Tennyson, Browning's The Ring and the Book (1868-9), and George Eliot's The Scholar Gypsy (1868) and Middlemarch (1871-2). To these men literature meant, largely, poetry. Both Symonds and Sidgwick were working on Clough, an author of the preceding generation who brought together these concerns of scepticism, sexual mores and the establishment of a career. Symonds assisted Mrs Clough in work on her husband's Remains (1869). (23) At the start of the period Symonds was introduced by Myers to the work of Walt Whitman. These literary events and the arts are given much more weight in the correspondence than the political events of the time; the Second Reform Act and the first Gladstone administration are hardly mentioned. As for the international context, Symonds talks of the disturbances he saw in Italy in 1866, but comments that he is able to go on visiting art gallerie s and churches. (24) Later the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 produced some, short, comment. (25) Concerns about health, and the sense that life is fragile, fuelled the intensity of the letters. Among other symptoms, Symonds was affected by restlessness, an inability to concentrate, eye problems, and anxieties about diseased lungs. One has to wonder if medical interventions were in part responsible, as in these years Symonds was taking what he describes as 'phosphates'. (26) In his teenage years his father had prescribed quinine and strychnine for wet dreams, and, in his twenties, sensitivity and enlargement of the genitals were treated by cauterization of the urethra. Close relatives died in these years, for example Dakyns lost his mother, and Symonds his father and father-in-law; friends their own age died of tuberculosis.
In the discussion of Symonds' letters here, the focus will be on issues of vocation, desire, poetry and religion. Symonds wanted to write and to join the literary elite, and he asked his friends for support. The language he uses is that of becoming a priest, 'Literature is to be my vocation, it seems; verily a high one, a priesthood; but who shall dare to don the ephod or stand ministrant alone before the altar? Help me, my friends, with counsel, with exhortation; lift up my feeble knees; comfort my failing spirits; goad me when I flag; & tell me truly what I need'. (27) While seeking the assistance of his friends, he also measures himself against them, as is shown in a letter to Dakyns. Symonds is alone in Dakyns' study:
I spent some time yesterday in your empty study -- the first place I went to on coming back to Clifton, & where I hope to spend more hours environed by good thoughts & happy recollections. There I read & pondered over H Sidgwick's mind. I learned to know, love, & reverence -- to know imperfectly perhaps, but to love & reverence much. I think he is the greatest man of my generation of whom I have seen any record so intimate. Green alone is in the same class intellectually. (28)
Ambition and the wish to know and consort with the best of the age is present here, but so is self-loathing. In a letter from later in the same month, he says that 'H Sidgwick moved me profoundly. He will win the honour & reap the harvest of the Scholar', and, shocked to find his own letters kept with his friend's, Symonds 'was only constrained by a sense of duty from burning them. Why do you keep them in the same drawer with Sidgwick's? Do not you fear that their mildew & dryrot will spread?' (29)
The levels of closeness between the correspondents did not remain constant. At the beginning of the period the relationship structure was triangular, between Symonds, Dakyns and Henry Sidgwick's brother, Arthur. Symonds expressed this affection in strong terms; 'I want to tell you that I love you & love him, & that I have a reverence for you that is something sacred & for him also'. (30) This is further developed in a letter Symonds wrote to Dakyns from Rugby, where he was visiting Arthur:
Many & various were our discourses; & often did we talk of you. For this is our symbol, & I care not where
you put the names. (31)
Gradually, however, Arthur fades from the picture: he seems to have been a less willing correspondent and visitor. Symonds became much closer to the more serious Henry, (32) who was near Symonds during the spiritual and sexual crisis at Cannes. While he was in Cannes Symonds appears to have had a row with Dakyns; though discussed in the Dakyns-Sidgwick letters, its precise cause is unclear. (33) Perhaps Symonds' sense that Dakyns would inflame rather than soothe his mental state was in part behind it. Certainly the friendship, and the correspondence, were resumed when Symonds returned to Britain.
The correspondence registers the shared interest of Arthur Sidgwick, Dakyns and Symonds in young males. There is no evidence of sexual desire between the correspondents, but they clearly needed to use the letters to discuss their loves and the limits they imposed on their actions. Writing about their desires was probably itself pleasurable They agreed that the desire should be expressed as a Platonic idea residing in the boys, and that this should be used to intensify the pedagogic relationship. Symonds used his letters to discuss such an etherealized desire for young males. Arthur Lushington, a pupil o. Arthur's at Rugby, is described as having:
a face & form of unimaginable beauty, haunted by thoughts & passions wh as yet are undeveloped. Fancy a form of loveliness over wh its own predestined soul of power & passion hovers; not as poets have dreamed, the dead clay haunted by its ancient spirit, but the just dawning life environed by cloud shadows of the youth & strength to be. So is A.J.L. (34)
Earlier, Symonds had responded in similar terms to Tennyson's sons Hallam and Lionel. (35)
Symonds took the view that this Platonic conception of desire, and the society in which they lived, meant that giving physical expression to the desire would be wrong. Symonds felt that F. W. Myers and Arthur Sidgwick had transgressed the boundary here. He wrote to Dakyns: 'You know that I consider the tone of F Myers to be redically wrong in matters of passion, & that I regret the peculiar colour of A S's erotics, not to speak of the misery wh I have myself suffered'. (36) He had earlier expressed his doubts about Arthur's desires:
Is this eros Greek? No.
If it were Greek is it what Plato would allow? No.
Is it established in modern society? No.
Is it what the world at large would call romantic, sentimental effeminate, on the verge of vice? Yes.
Supposing the world wrong in a special instance, may not its general verdict be right? I think so.
What is the source of Arthur's love? Is it intellectual sympathy? No. Is it moral good? No. Is it consentaneity of tastes? No. Is it chiefly aesthetical enjoyment & pleasure of a highly refined sensuousness? Yes. Are these likely to produce moral & intellectual strength? No. Are they capable of producing moral or intellectual debility? Yes, capable. What has yr experience been of this eros? That if uncontrolled it is evil. In all cases of possible harm, what does Duty say? Avoid all appearance of evil. Is this Duty increased or diminished by Arthur's position? Increased. In case moral injury were to accrue, where wd the evil fall most heavily? On the boy, & if on him then through him on his fellow boys.
Does Arthur expose himself to external danger? Yes, to a very gt extent.
These questions by no means settle or exhaust the matter. It is a case of an absolutely new casuistry. There is no rule by wh to measure it as yet. (37)
Symonds felt strongly that the teaching of Greek in schools encouraged same-sex desire, a point he put in these years to the then Headmaster of Clifton College, John Percival. (38) Though Symonds was known to warn Dakyns gently -- for example, writing 'do not let your thoughts about Cecil absorb you' (39) -- when 'foolish gossip' reached Percival, Symonds gave Dakyns his support. (40)
Despite his disapproval of others, Symonds too had difficulty holding himself to affection and admiration and excluding any expression of sexual desire. After the Cannes crisis, and a transitional relationship with Norman Moor -- which began when Moor was still a schoolboy but about to go up to Oxford -- Symonds' object choices were to be adults; his relationships were to be sexual, and class-rather than age-asymmetrical. In his autobiography Symonds related this shift to his reading of Whitman. (41) Symonds' letters to Dakyns suggest that the process of change and transformation was not effected smoothly, and that there were many setbacks and difficulties in his relationship with Norman. His memoirs, drawing on a diary of the time, tell a story of a sustained pursuit, which aimed at and attained nights spent together, with physical contact but no sex.
These experiences inspired poetry on male-male desire, which Symonds described as 'palliative treatment': 'I began to make verse the vehicle and safety valve for my tormenting preoccupations. A cycle of poems gradually got written, illustrating the love of man for man in all periods of civilization. Of these the two best are perhaps "A Cretan Idyll" and "Eudiades."' (42) The cycle was called 'John Mordan' after a London newspaper boy Symonds had admired (on 30 January 1866 he wrote to Dakyns regretting that 'my J.M.' had 'gone from his place in the Regent Circus Piccadilly'). (43) Dakyns encouraged Symonds in his poetry-writing, and even Henry suggested possible topics. However, there were demands for the suppression of the verses. Symonds' wife found them and locked them away. We later learn that they were deposited with the bankers, Coutts and Co. (44) Symonds at times asks for poems to be destroyed, and he is concerned that they do not reach the eyes of others, but he continued to write more verse intended for the cycle. The possibility of destruction only seems to have added to the energized relationship between desire and restraint. He sent a poem to Henry Sidgwick with the request that the poem should be returned so that it could be burnt by Symonds himself; one has to wonder whether there was any intention of destroying the text. (45)
Not only was the process of writing these poems eroticized, Symonds responded strongly to reading his own work when finished. Engaging with his own verse strengthened a post-Cannes resolution to move further in his relationships. He was prepared to do this even if it meant disregarding Henry's advice:
Henry Sidgwick came to stay, and we thoroughly investigated the subject of my poems on Eros. His conclusion was that I ought to abandon them, as unhealthy and disturbing to my moral equilibrium. I assented. We locked them all up in a black tin box, with the exception of 'Eudiades', the ms. of which belonged to Graham Dakyns. Having done this, Henry threw the key into the River Avon on the 23rd.
There was something absurd in all this, because I felt myself half-consciously upon the point of translating my dreams and fancies about love into fact. And on 27 January occurs the entry, 'Norman dined with me alone: [in Greek:] most fair, untamed and deceitful.' I was launched upon a new career, with the overpowering sweetness of the vision of Eudiades pervading my soul. (46)
A 'thorough' consideration of any topic with Henry Sidgwick would, one can imagine, have taken some time. One notes that it is the key and not the box of poems that is consigned to the river. The locking away of the verse can be compared with Henry's position, outlined in the letter to Roden Noel, and quoted above, that impulses should be restrained if they are at variance with the social norm. The locked box is an appropriate way of figuring the gay psyche behaving on Sidgwickian principles.
Arthur Sidgwick, visiting Symonds the following week, was also shocked when he read 'Eudiades': he demanded that it be burnt. This came as a surprise to Symonds, as his poetry had been welcomed by Arthur in the past. Symonds says that he agreed to burn the poem, though he felt annoyed at 'Arthur's high and mighty ways'; however, Graham, in possession of the manuscript and unwilling to see the poem destroyed, refused to return it. (47) A letter to Arthur, which Symonds transcribed into his diary, notes:
As to my cycle, I determined in August to suppress these poems; and now the deed is done. I shake from my wings those drops of morning dew. What matters it if ephemera like 'Eudiades' perish? This brain holds a dozen Eudiadeses. And you were quite at liberty, so far as I am concerned, to burn it.
But about 'Eudiades' I have still something to say. This poem was written with an attempt to realize a historical situation. You asked me what I meant by the temptation of the lovers. I chose to depict one of those young men of Plato's Phaedrus, who recoil from acts which were permissible in Hellas. But I admit there is an element of pathos in the poem, which makes it what you called 'orectic' [appetitive] and therefore inartistic.
Lastly, you thought perhaps I ought to have mentioned Norman. I humbled my pride this morning, as one friend should do to another. But I could not speak of Norman. And even now it is chiefly pride which makes me write about him -- lest haply you should say I have omitted aught. Well: I promise that, through Norman, without the flapping of an aesthetic tail in puddles of imagined sin, I will fail or conquer [...]
Oh my brother, whom I love, whose life I have in these hours touched with keen delight, before whose strong swift sweet spirit I have bowed the neck of my soul, bethink thee yet awhile! Hast thou solved all things in the acid of thine understanding? (48)
In 'Eudiades' the elder lover is tempted from the Platonic relationship into sexual desire: 'Stay! What fierce and fiery thing/ Is this that threatens them with withering'. (49) Although the lovers resist temptation, the poem's language is highly sexualized, as can be shown in the description of their deaths. As Eudiades 'in the throes/ Of dying trembled', and Malanthias expires with 'quivering limbs', in this poem it seems that the 'little death' is figured as death itself. (50) These early readers of the poem must have wondered if Symonds was similarly 'tempted' in his relationship with Norman. From having been unwilling to talk of Norman to Arthur Sidgwick, he moves to defend the relationship. Something of the mobility of style that Symonds was capable of is shown in the way he moves from the image of a bird flapping its 'aesthetic tail' in 'puddles of imagined sin' to the declamatory and (perhaps unusually) self-assertive 'I will fail or conquer'. Symonds goes on to the attack, then, against Arthur's conf ident position. The letter captures the shifting relationship between desire and restraint.
The identification with examples of male-male love explored in his poetry cycle is one aspect of Symonds' use of images at a distance from his day-to-day life and its constraints. Another way in which he was able to imagine a different life -- which he was then able to discuss in letters to his friends -- was through his dreams and fantasies. His autobiographical text, and the case history he prepared for Sexual Inversion, show the importance of dreams and waking dreams to the history of his shifting object choices. (51) The art historian Whitney Davies has sensitively related this interest in fantasy images to Symonds' art criticism. (52) The discussion of the dreams is again a way of externalizing and debating his desires, and the temptation to live in this world of fantasy is yet another aspect of a divided subjectivity. Symonds was particularly interested in these years in Clough's Dipsychus -- as the title suggests, 'double mindedness' is central to the poem. (53) Symonds wrote to Dakyns in August 1868, 'If only there were not this division of my soul, this two edged Sword set in my life, -- & this godlessness'. (54) He gradually came to look for answers to this splitting of the self -- and his related sexual concerns -- in the work of Whitman. He began a correspondence with the American poet, and in 1872 he sent Whitman a poem from his cycle entitled 'Callicrates'. (55)
This sense of 'double mindedness' is also stressed by Symonds in his discussions of dreams. Symonds wrote to Dakyns about a party where his daydreams run parallel with his attendance at a social gathering. Indeed the fantasies give the greater feeling of reality.
I feel the truth of all I said to you on the downs one afternoon when I discussed my sentence of ostracism. I am afraid of forming a permanent double consciousness in my own mind, of being related to this world of phantoms, & moving meanwhile in the world of fact. But the phantoms are so beautiful to me & so real. Last night we had a dinner party, & over our wine I was listening to a certain Dr Marshall droning in a saccharine medical medicinal voice about local politics, when suddenly Myronides appeared before me, as he fell on Theron's neck & the dawn overspread the hills of Attica. It was too good. I enjoyed my double consciousness; for I talked to Dr Marshall about Lewis Fry and John Miles, & all the while I heard Athenian night breezes shuddering in the myrtle groves of Harmodius. (56)
The dream state is closely related to the world of his poetry -- indeed 'Eudiades' is narrated as arising from a waking dream. Symonds also imagined his mind or 'soul' leaving his body to visit a correspondent. In January 1869, Symonds wrote to Dakyns,
Will you tell me when you & Cecil [Boyle] are established in the Louvre what your room is like -- what storey it is on -- where it looks out -- whether you have one large room or two little ones. Ah! Me!! Tell me much about yourselves. I kiss the feet of you, divine lovers. If I know how it is with you, & can make a picture to my mind, (as, if you will give the hint, I can make it,) I shall often in the dark nights be with you. Do not fear me; even if you feel my Soul between you -- even if her lips come between your kisses -- & her heart is felt to throb in your embraces -- she can not harm or interrupt. When you sleep arm in arm she will be at Clifton. (57)
Symonds' very fleshy soul moves out to interpose itself in the Dakyns-Cecil relationship. His statement that he cannot harm or interrupt the lovers because when they sleep the soul will rejoin Symonds at Clifton is a surprise. Symonds appears to be saying that it is only the sexual side of the relationship in which he wants to share. Also, the soul is gendered female, which serves only to complicate further, or 'queer', the letter. He asks for some details, which he can then use for his day-dreams.
Symonds constructs himself in the correspondence as divided between desire and restraint, wish-fulfilment and guilt, the physical and the spiritual, faith and doubt, work and idleness, and good and bad. The language that Symonds used most often to express his feelings was a heightened religious discourse. This allows him to discuss health, sin, the attractive indulgence of fantasy in the poetry he was writing, and how these poems should, after judgement is placed upon them, be consigned to the fire. Symonds appeals to Dakyns to stand with him, and death-in-life and dream references are to the fore: 'As in a dream things alter & remain the same; as we see faces & know they have no souls; as we stand by the bedside & find death in living lips; so is it with me. Cry to me, o my brother! Kiss me, o my friend! Be firm beneath me, o my rock!' (58) The use of the language of religion may seem a surprising choice, given that the Church condemned same-sex desire. Within Christianity, however, there is at least an inte rest in addressing the issue, albeit in the terms of 'sin'. It is also possible to adapt the religious discourse of moral guidance and a solicitous concern for the health of another's soul.
One way of viewing Symonds' style in his letters is as a form of camp'. Always difficult to define -- it means different things at different times, perhaps -- Susan Sontag has suggested that examples of camp have an element of 'artifice' and 'exaggeration'. She also sees it as 'the sensibility of failed seriousness, of the theatricalisation of experience'. (59) Although Sontag's views on the relationship of camp to homosexuality will trouble many readers (on this her essay, from 1964, has not aged well) what she says can be applied to the letters of Symonds. But in his case, excess was the best way of making an advance, and so a serious strategy.
Symonds, however, was still often troubled by the anxiety and mental distress that follows from having internalized society's attitudes to same-sex desire. Two surviving letters to Dakyns of early 1869 are illustrated with a heart, pierced with arrows and bleeding. This at once suggests Cupid's arrow and, given that the heart is bleeding, a martyrdom (St Sebastian, perhaps). The heart is also shown as being on fire, which suggests the fires of desire, hell and the apocalypse. The later of the two surviving versions of the image appears to have the word 'hope' above the flames. (60) Imagery of the everyday being overwhelmed by fire, like his other religious language, was probably influenced by the evangelical sermons Symonds heard as a boy. The experience of doubt is itself said to be apocalyptic. He wrote to Dakyns,
It is very hard, my dearest, to be going through this commonplace diurnal tragedy of gradual dissolution. Yet it must proceed. This cup wh is no cup, baptism wh is no baptism, crown of thorns wh has no thorns, temptation wh is no temptation, where there is no God to be absent & no devil to be menacing -- but wh after all is & has all of these things enclosed in its ghastly immaterial unessential void -- ah! That it could be taken from me & that I could rest! [...]
We live in the midst of these miseries our daily life; I know not when or how or whether ever in any way & at any time the chasm will be torn in it & the real fire within shown. (61)
Symonds is disappointed by a world that gives him an experience like that given to Christ during the Passion, but which is without God. However, he is still left afraid that judgement will come suddenly. Such a concern with sudden shock in life can be related not only to his fragile health but also to the possibility of publicity about his sexuality.
In all these examples of Symonds' letters, what strikes the reader are the extremes of feeling captured in the prose style. Symonds uses his poetry, identifications with past periods and dream states to help him develop his response to same-sex desire. However, what makes possible this development is his urge to pass beyond the limits of convention -- for all that society's attitudes return as guilt or self-loathing. His writings press on the limits of a normal, restrained vocabulary and syntax. The approach can be compared with the control and rigour of Henry Sidgwick's letters. While certainly less ordered, Symonds' approach made possible a greater degree of personal development. Identity formation in any dissident group depends upon contact between the like-minded. Cities and the universities were clearly important to the emergence of the 'homosexual' identities in the second half of the nineteenth century, but the role of letters in helping to sustain groups with shared experiences and hopes was also high ly significant. The developing postal services allowed individuals to build up the networks that aided the development of their emotional and sexual lives. From that platform early homosexual apologists like Symonds were to start to make interventions in public discourse.
END NOTES AND REFERENCES
(1.) There was a 4.5 million item increase in the mail passing through the Inland Branch at Christmas 1877, which was the first time a seasonal increase was noted; David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, England 1750-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 45.
(2.) In France, as a group of scholars brought together by Roger Chartier to discuss model letters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has shown, the view that new postal services and spreading literacy resulted in an explosion of personal letters is unsustainable. The 1847 postal census in France suggests that only one or two letters in ten were personal communications, and the rest were business letters. See Roger Chartier, Alain Boureau and Cecile Dauphin, Correspondence: Models of Letter-Writing from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, trans. Christopher Woodall (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997), 12-13.
(3.) Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, 33, 22, 43. On the impact of the coming of the railways, see Michael Freeman, Railways and the Victorian Imagination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999).
(4.) For example, Symonds to Dakyns, 10 March 1869, shows that Symonds used the Post Office to mail Dakyns when both were resident in Clifton; Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters (eds), The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Volume II, 1869--1884 [hereafter Letters II] (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1968), 51. A letter from Symonds to Dakyns of 21 Dec. 1871 refers to a messenger being used to take a letter from Dakyns to Symonds (Letters II, 191). On 29 July 1869, Symonds wrote to Dakyns beginning 'It is perhaps a matter of no moment that I am writing you a letter after an interval of more than a year'; Herbert M. Schueller and Robert L. Peters (eds), The Letters of John Addington Symonds, Volume 1, 1844-1868 [hereafter, Letters 1] (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1967), 828. This is not borne out by the surrounding correspondence -- a letter to Dakyns survives from 21 July (Letters I, 823) -- so, unless there is an error in the editing, the word 'letter' was reserved for these f uller, more reflective communications.
(5.) J. A. Symonds: An Introduction to the Study of Dante (London: Smith, Elder, 1872); Studies of the Greek Poets (London: Smith, Elder, 1873); Studies of the Greek Poets. Second Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1876); Renaissance in Italy, 6 vols. (London Smith, Elder, 1875-86); The Life of Michelangelo Buonarroti, 2 vols. (London: John C. Nimmo, 1893); Walt Whitman, A Study (London: John C. Nimmo, 1893); A Problem in Greek Ethics (privately printed, 1883); A Problem in Modern Ethics (privately printed, 1891); Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds, Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Volume 1. Sexual Inversion (London: Wilson and Macmillan, 1897). There is a bibliography of Symonds, but it is now in need of updating: P. L. Babington, Bibliography of the Writings of John Addington Symonds (London: J. Castle, 1925).
(6.) Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1874).
(7.) Bart Schultz, 'Truth and consequences: the friendship of Symonds and Henry Sidgwick', in John Pemble (ed.), John Addington Symonds: Culture and the Demon Desire (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 24.
(8.) Schultz, 'Truth and consequences', 31.
(9.) His wife became Principal of Newnham College, where he lived in his last years. His concern with religious doubt and its relation to ethics also led him to play a role in work on psychical research. If the existence of another world could be empirically demonstrated, then that would secure debate about ethics. He was also interested in economics, specifically the theory and practice of taxation.
(10.) Stefan Collini, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850-1930 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). See also Collini, 'My roles and their duties: Sidgwick as philosopher, professor and public moralist', in Ross Harrison (ed.), Henry Sidgwick [Proceedings of the British Academy, 1091 (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2001), 9-49. Collini's other work on Sidgwick includes 'The ordinary experience of civilised life: Sidgwick's politics and the method of reflective analysis', in Bart Schultz (ed.), Essays on Henry Sidgwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 333-67.
(11.) Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Fontana, 1985), 108-10.
(12.) Henry Sidgwick to Roden Noel , in Bart Schultz (ed.), The Complete Works and Selected Correspondence of Henry Sidgwick, CD-Rom, 2nd edn (Charlottesville, VA: Intelex, 1999).
(14.) Collini also wonders if 'in his journal and his more intimate letters we do not catch glimpse of a certain straining against the constrictions of public judiciousness'; Collini, 'Sidgwick as philosopher, professor, and public moralist', 43.
(15.) Schultz, 'Truth and consequences', 32-3.
(16.) Jonathan Ree, 'Ethics, utilitarianism, and positive boredom', in Harrison, op. cit. (Note 10), 52.
(17.) Henry Sidgwick to his mother, 2 July 1866, and Henry Sidgwick to Dakyns, 8 Dec. 1866, in [Arthur and Eleanor Sidgwick], Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir by A. S. and E. M. 5. (London: Macmillan, 1906), 149, 157.
(18.) Phyllis Grosskurth (ed.), The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds (London: Hutchinson, 1984), 199.
(19.) Dakyns to Henry Sidgwick; in a note from July 1904 Dakyns dated this letter to 'Probably February 1868'; Schultz, 1999, op. cit. (Note 12).
(20.) Letters II, 639.
(21.) John Pemble, Venice Rediscovered (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 50-70.
(22.) What survives of Henry Sidgwick's letters to Symonds, correspondence between Henry and Dakyns, and letters to Henry from his brother Arthur, are reproduced in Schultz, 1999, op. cit. (Note 12). We know from this that in the months leading up to his death from cancer Henry Sidgwick asked to see his letters to Dakyns (letters from Dakyns to Sidgwick of 12 Aug., 14 Aug. and 15 Aug. 1900); Schultz, 1999, op. cit. (Note 12). At a later date they must have been returned to Dakyns, as they have long remained in his family.
(23.) Blanche Clough (ed.), The Poems and Prose Remains of A. H. Clough, 2 vols (London: Macmillan, 1869).
(24.) Symonds to Dakyns, 16 May 1866, Letters I, 635-6.
(25.) See, for example, Symonds to Dakyns, 5 Sept. 1870, Letters II, 113.
(26.) Symonds to Dakyns, 8 April 1867, Letters I, 706.
(27.) Symonds to Dakyns, 7 April 1866, Letters I, 633.
(28.) T. H. Green (1836-82), the Oxford philosopher, married Symonds' sister, Charlotte. Symonds to Dakyns, 19 Aug. 1866, Letters I, 661.
(29.) Symonds to Dakyns, 27 Aug. addition to letter dated 22 Aug. 1866, Letters I, 668.
(30.) Symonds to Dakyns, 18 Jan. 1866, Letters I, 611.
(31.) Symonds to Dakyns, 2 Nov. 1866, Letters I, 672.
(32.) They had met before, but it was after a visit in June 1867 that Symonds wrote to Dakyns, 'Henry Sidgwick has been with me a week. He is numbered among mine'; Symonds to Dakyns, 7 July 1867, Letters I, 742.
(33.) Symonds wrote to Dakyns from Cannes, 'Please do not write. I do not want to hear from you', though with the addition 'I am ever most affectionate for your love is exceedingly precious to me'; Symonds to Dakyns, 4 Jan. 1868, Letters I, 787.
(34.) Symonds to Dakyns, 2 Nov. 1866, Letters I, 672.
(35.) Symonds to Dakyns, 23 Nov. 1864, Letters I, 510-11.
(36.) Symonds to Dakyns, 22 Aug. 1866, Letters I, 666.
(37.) Symonds to Dakyns, 20 Jan. 1866, Letters I, 614.
(38.) For an example, see Symonds to Dakyns, 22 Aug. 1866, Letters I, 666.
(39.) Symonds to Dakyns, 20 Jan. 1867, Letters I, 692.
(40.) In a letter of 27 June Symonds wrote to Dakyns, 'All I know is that A[rthur] C[arre] suffered from foolish gossip & that you suffered for him & from the same cause - nothing worse.' (Letters 1, 654). There appear to be no surviving letters from Dakyns to Henry Sidgwick in this period.
(41.) Memoirs, op. cit. (Note 18), 189.
(42.) Symonds continues, 'The composition of the cycle lasted over the period between January 1866 and some time after 1875'; Memoirs, op. cit. (Note 18), 188-9.
(43.) Letters I, 617. He describes the cycle's contents in a letter to Dakyns of 29 July 1868 (Letters I, 829-30).
(44.) See Letters I, 617, 823, and Letters II, 118.
(45.) Symonds to Henry Sidgwick, 31 May 1871, Letters II, 148.
(46.) Memoirs, op. cit. (Note 18), 195.
(47.) Ibid., 199.
(48.) Memoirs, op. cit. (Note 18), 201-2. The letter is published in Letters II where it is dated to 1 April 1869 and said by the editors to be written to Henry Sidgwick (Letters II, 56-7, especially 57 n.1). They cite as their source the then unpublished text of Symonds' Memoirs. The Memoirs in fact give an earlier date and a different intended recipient. The text of the Memoirs has been preferred here.
(49.) Symonds, Eudiades (privately printed, n.d.), 24.
(50.) Ibid., 30.
(51.) The case history from Sexual Inversion is reprinted in Symonds' Memoirs, op. cit. (Note 18), 284-8.
(52.) Whitney Davies, 'Symonds and visual impressionability', in Pemble (2000), op. cit. (Note 7), 62-80.
(53.) See Howard J. Booth, 'Male sexuality, religion and the problem of action: John Addington Symonds on Arthur Hugh Clough', in Andrew Bradstock, Sean Gill, Anne Hogan and Sue Morgan (eds), Masculinity and Spirituality in Victorian Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 116-33.
(54.) Symonds to Dakyns, 5 Aug. 1868, Letters 1, 834; see also 803, 821.
(55.) Symonds to Walt Whitman, 25 Feb. 1872, Letters II, 205.
(56.) Symonds to Dakyns, 29 July 1868, Letters I, 829.
(57.) Symonds to Dakyns, 2 Jan. 1869, Letters II, 29.
(58.) Symonds to Dakyns, 29 Jan. 1867, Letters I,695.
(59.) Susan Sontag, 'Notes on camp', in A Susan Sontag Reader (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983), 115, 118.
(60.) Symonds to Dakyns, 2 Jan. 1869 and 10 Feb. 1869, Letters II, 30, 44.
(61.) Symonds to Dakyns, [9 March 1869], Letters II, 50.