Oct 142014
Birthday cake

Happy 174th birthday. John!

About 40 people gathered at Goldney Hall, Clifton, on 5 October to celebrate the legacy of one of Victorian Britain’s greatest scholar-writers, John Addington Symonds.

Born in Bristol in 1840, Symonds was the author of numerous works including The Renaissance in Italy, in seven volumes, and the first major study of ancient sexuality A Problem in Greek Ethics, published in just ten copies in 1883.

The event was co-sponsored by the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition (IGRCT) at the University of Bristol and OutStories Bristol. In his introduction the IGRCT’s director, Professor Shane Butler, said that the institute promotes research into all aspects of Greco-Roman culture from antiquity to the present day in the belief that classical culture remains a vital influence in the modern world.

Shane described the significance of Symonds to academic study and to Bristol, and finished with a quote from Memoirs in which Symonds spoke of his first love as a youth, Willie Dyer, a chorister at Bristol Cathedral “I could not marry him; modern society provided no bond of comradeship whereby we might have been united. So my first love flowed to waste.”  How happy Symonds would be today to see gay marriage become a reality in Britain.

For OutStories, Andy Foyle said that while Symonds achievements as a writer, poet, critic and art historian were well acknowledged, his contribution to the early homosexual rights movement was largely ignored. It is OutStories’ aim to spread awareness and ensure that his significance is recognised.

The occasion was also the first public demonstration of a new map-based website Symonds in Bristol created by OutStories member Gemma.

After addresses, Shane cut a celebratory birthday cake. Louise Hopkins of University Heritage Volunteering led some of the guests across the road for a tour of the gardens of Clifton Hill House, Symonds’ home for many years, and described plans to restore the gardens and incorporate many elements of their original layout.


Photos: Leonardo Proietti and Chris Leigh