John Addington Symonds

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Photo of J A Symonds, presented by him to Walt Whitman
John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) was an English poet and literary critic. Although he married and had a family, he was an early advocate of gay love, which he referred to as l'amour de l'impossible (love of the impossible). A cultural historian, he was known for his work on the Renaissance, as well as numerous biographies about writers and artists. He also wrote much poetry inspired by his homosexual affairs.

While a pupil at Harrow School, Symonds became aware of an affair between his friend Alfred Pretor and the Headmaster, Charles John Vaughan. In 1859 he became an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, and told the Latin Professor, John Conington, about Vaughan and Pretor. Conington urged him to tell his father about it. This led to Symonds senior threatening to expose Vaughan and forcing him to resign from Harrow. Pretor never spoke to Symonds again.

Symonds' A problem in Greek ethics (1883) was one of the first essays in English to defend homosexuality.

Symonds co-authored Sexual Inversion with Havelock Ellis, published in 1897. Symonds himself is said to be one of the case studies in the book, under the anonymous heading "XVIII -- Englishman, independent means, aged 49".[1]


  1. And So to Bed: Paul Robinson evaluates a century's worth of gay autobiographies.