John Addington Symonds papers

Scope and Content

The papers consist in their majority of correspondence to and from Symonds, as well as manuscript and draft versions of Symonds' published and unpublished works, family and personal papers, biographical notes, pamphlets, photographs, newspaper clippings, notes on history, translation, prose and poetry. The majority of the collection focuses on Symonds' life in Italy and Switzerland and his literary career and social life.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Addington Symonds was born 5 October 1840 to John Addington Symonds and Harriet Symonds and was their only surviving son. He spent his early life in Bristol before being sent to school at Harrow (1854) and then university at Balliol College, Oxford (1858) where he became a disciple of Benjamin Jowett. Always frail, after a protracted period of academic work Symonds broke down and was sent to convalesce in Switzerland and Italy (1863-1864). In 1864, Symonds married Janet Catherine North, with whom he had four daughters - Janet, Katharine, Lotta and Margaret (Madge). He settled in London and took up the study of law, but gave it up in the face of illness and toured Normandy, Corsica and Italy for most of the next few years. In 1868 he settled in Clifton, Bristol, and devoted himself to a literary life. In 1877, after another episode of illness, he left England with the intention of travelling to Egypt. He stopped instead at Davos Platz, Switzerland, and decided to make the little-known resort his home. At Davos Platz he wrote several biographies of people as diverse as Shelley and Sir Philip Sidney. He also worked on translations of the sonnets of Michaelangelo and Campanella. He was also known for writing volumes on the Italian Renaissance and philosophical studies on subjects such as homosexuality. In his later years, he spent an increasing amount of time in Venice, Italy, where his eldest daughter, Janet, died in 1887. In 1893, Symonds caught a chill during a visit to Rome. It developed into pneumonia and Symonds died on 19 April. As well as Symonds' published works, noteworthy are his biographies by his close friend, Horatio Brown (1895), and by Phyllis Grosskurth (1964).

Access Information

Accessible to all bona fide readers.

Acquisition Information

The majority of the Symonds papers have been deposited at the University of Bristol Special Collections between 1962 and 1981 by Dame Janet Vaughan. Other papers were given to the University by Dame Katharine Furse between 1946 and 1953, and further papers have been purchased by the University from various sources. In 2001 a substantial collection of literary manuscripts was transferred to Special Collections from Bristol Central Library, where they had been deposited by Madge Vaughan in 1915.


Compiled by Martin Hall, Assistant Archivist, University of Bristol Information Services - Special Collections.

Other Finding Aids

Typescript catalogue available at University of Bristol Information Services - Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission must be obtained from University of Bristol Information Services - Special Collections.

Related Material

Biographies and published works of Symonds are available in the University of Bristol Arts and Social Sciences Library.